Kids Corner

Above: photo by Gurumustuk Singh. First photo from bottom: Courtesy, Anthony Jones. Second from bottom: detail from drawing by Amrit & Rabindra Singh.

1984

Is Diwali A Sikh Festival?
What is Bandhi Chhor?

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

 

Why do we celebrate Bandhi Chhor today? We celebrate the martyrs of 1984 - and all the others who came before, and have come after them - with every lamp we light, with every fire-cracker in the sky, with every sweet we savour. Blessed are they who gave their lives for the mere fact that they held up the light of their high beliefs in the midst of an otherwise enveloping darkness.

 

 

When I was a child, nothing grabbed the imagination of one growing up in India more than the magic and joie de vivre of Diwali. The festival of lights may have changed somewhat since then, but comparisons with Christmas are still unavoidable. But I don't believe they help at all in conveying the sheer magnitude and reach of Diwali.

Christmas is mostly an indoor affair. Diwali uses the vast outdoors and the majesty of the skies.

Christmas is, on the average, a string of coloured lights hung in your window. Diwali is hundreds and thousands of deevaas (earthenware lamps) and candles on your porch, and on your balcony, on the window sills and every ledge and nook, on the roof, along the driveway ...

Christmas is lights here and there. Diwali is lights EVERYWHERE.

Christmas is a private evening with family and loved ones. Diwali is with family and loved ones ... and with neighbours  and colleagues and the world.

Christmas is carols. Diwali is a billion  -  literally!  -  explosions of sound, light and colour.

Christmas is turkey and cake and shortbread. Diwali is ras malai and rasgulla, gulab jamun and barfi, cham cham and petha, halwa and palang torr. And jalebis.

Christmas is shopping till you drop. Diwali is celebration.

Christmas is cards and gifts -  the buying, and the making, and the giving and the receiving. Diwali is celebration.

Christmas is good cheer and goodwill. Diwali is celebration.

Christmas is being "merry". Diwali is being A-L-I-V-E!

No, I'm not suggesting that either is better than the other. All I want to say is they are so-o-o different, both magnificent in their varied ways.     

I remember when growing up in Patna, India, my personal calendar  -  as with all other children of the land  -  was anchored to and revolved around Diwali.

One cherished the memories of Diwali Past and impatiently counted the months and weeks, and then days, to Diwali Future.

Basket-loads of fireworks were acquired during the weeks and days leading up to D-Day. And hidden away by the grown-ups under beds and in almirahs and in the deep recesses of the pantry. We knew, but we pretended we didn't. They knew we knew and pretended they didn't. But the fireworks were safe: what could you do with one, without informing the whole world? The rules were simple: nothing until sundown on the night of Diwali.

It was a lesson in extreme patience, taught painfully and painstakingly each year, year after year. With no noticeable improvement, I might add, from year to year  -  other lessons in life would have to intervene before the virtue was truly imbibed.

And the ones you really wanted to get your itchy little fingers around were the 500x and the 1000x stringed patakas. The glorious skyscraper anaars. The sizzling chhur-chhuris. The star-spangled rockets. The onion bombs  -  mini-hand grenades, really. The Atom Bombs. And ah yes, the biggest of them all: The Hydrogen Bomb. True, there were a lot of bombs in ascending order ... to provide the grand finale. (Those were the days of the Indo-China and Indo-Pakistani Wars!)

And then. And then, there were the specialty cooks that were brought in, to produce mounds of sweets in a splash of colours. A multitude of things green and dry, powdered and lumpy, aromatic and yecchy, were hauled in. And rinsed, chopped, sliced, diced, shredded, dried, pummeled, kneaded, rolled, sculpted, cooked, ladled, fried, baked, silvered, cooled, carved, divided, boxed and piled into mountains of neatly stacked gift-boxes.

And for us kids, no sweets either until D-Day. Though there were times when needy and greedy little eyes could melt some hearts and a nibble here, a crumb there, was offered in solace. From cooks and servants only, I hasten to add. Never from our hard-hearted parents, who were adamant that they weren't really good for us. "Yeah?", our hearts screamed, "then why make tons of them before our very eyes, and pile them high around us?"

But we never had the gumption to give voice to these early human rights campaigns.

What we did get to talk about a lot for weeks were the legends behind Diwali. The lengthy Hindu festivals of Dusshera and Durga Puja had only recently been put to rest, and the myths around Ram and Sita and Ravan, and Durga and Kali had been lived and re-lived on every street corner, and memories of them were still warm and delicious.

Our Hindu servants were still in festival mode and regaled us with a new portfolio of tales. Of  Krishna and Ram, of Vishnu and Shakti, of Ganesh and Lakshmi. We would sit glued and mesmerized, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, conjuring up the gods and goddesses, heroes and villains, monsters and demons ... they invaded our sleep, but never as nightmares. Our parents had made it clear ... these were stories and parables and we Sikhs didn't take them literally.

In our homes and lives, we were told, wealth and prosperity, the victory of good over evil, the dispelling of darkness through light, all came through one and only one path ... the path of worship of One God, in hard and honest work, and through the service of humanity.

There were no ifs, ands, or buts.

And no idols. No "auspicious" signs and markings. No lakshmis and ganeshes.

In Sikhi, I remember my father telling us, there are no brokers, no go-betweens, no proxy, no scapegoats. It's you and God and the connection is a direct one.

So why do we celebrate Diwali, Dad?

Diwali for Sikhs, he said, is a celebration of freedom ... Freedom from Oppression, in particular.

It is sometimes called Bandhi Chhor Diwas  -  A Celebration of Freedom!

Specifically, it marks an event in 1619. The Sixth Master, Guru Hargobind (not to be confused with the Tenth, Guru Gobind Singh), had been imprisoned in Gwalior Fort by the Moghul Emperor, Jahangir -  the same tyrant who had earlier tortured and martyred Guru Arjan, the Fifth Master, in Lahore!

Jahangir still felt threatened by the nascent Sikh movement and worried that they continued to steadfastly reject all overtures to change their faith, even when threatened by or inflicted great pain and death. But he also knew that his last atrocity had instigated the community into being poised for an armed revolt ... Hargobind now symbolically wore the two swords of miri and piri.

Good counsel led the Emperor to announce the release of the Guru from captivity. The Guru refused to leave.

Imprisoned in the same fort at the same were fifty-two other rajas and princes from a scattering of kingdoms around the country. Hargobind said if Jahangir was to show good faith, then all prisoners were to be released, or none!

Jahangir relented but, in his feudal arrogance, set a condition: anyone who could hang on to the coat-tails of the Guru's robe could leave with him, he declared.

The Guru ordered a special robe ... a huge one, with fifty-two tassles on its tails. Each of the fifty-two Hindu princes held on to one each, and was allowed to leave.

A grand procession marking the triumphant return of Guru Hargobind to Amritsar is celebrated ever since at the Durbar Sahib and known as Diwali! 

There are many other reasons, most centred on the Durbar Sahib and Amritsar, for celebrating Diwali in the grand way it is by Sikhs everywhere.

Earlier, 1577 saw the laying of the foundation of the Harmandar Sahib by Sayeen Mian Mir. On Diwali Day.

Later, in 1737, the great scholar and Granthi of the Harmandar, Bhai Mani Singh, skillfully subverted and averted secret plans by the then Mughal Governor of Punjab, Zakarya Khan, to ambush and massacre a group of Sikhs scheduled to meet at the Durbar Sahib.  It had been the assembly place of the bi-annual Sarbat Khalsa convocations, one of which was held each year on Diwali to discuss the affairs of the young and far-flung community of Sikhs.

For his role, Bhai Mani Singh was taken prisoner, gruesomely tortured and executed.  Ever since, we also celebrate the life of the Grand Old Man of Amritsar on Diwali.

So, Diwali in our household was glorious: lamps galore, sweets galore, fireworks galore.

A celebration from beginning till end. It began at sundown ... dressed up in fresh new clothes ... a sumptuous feast ... and then we clambered up to the roof for the real fun to begin!

And then, all hell broke loose ... or, to be more accurate, was let loose! The next three hours were a series of blinding, deafening, dazzling, terrifying conflagrations. But the best part was to watch, from our fifth-floor roof-top, similar orchestrations from virtually every household in sight. Until clouds of smoke and the acrid smell of burnt explosives enveloped the city, and we ran out of things to blow up or explode.

We were then shepherded into our car, and off we went for a jaunt around town, with quick and short stops at close friends' homes ... to wish them a "Happy Diwali" and to drop off gift-boxes of sweets. En route and while visiting, we gorged on sweets like there was no tomorrow. Our little tummies seemed to be infinitely flexible ... until nature and pain took hold of things.

We'd head home just short of midnight  -  and once there, we'd disembark and Dad would drive away into the night.

For years, I had no idea where he'd disappear at that late hour. And we'd be too sick to ask. And had no idea for a long, long time that he wouldn't be back until the wee hours of the morning, by which time we were all long gone into the dream world of gods and demons.

I must have been about twelve years old when, one Diwali, as we headed home at the end of the day, Dad asked me if I would like to come with him on a drive.

Prolong the Diwali night? Of course!

It was close to midnight.

Our stop was on Exhibition Road, at a store called "Motor Spares". I  knew the store: they were my Dad's main competitors in town, in his business of tires and auto parts.

All the doors were wide open, everything lighted up. And behind the long and meandering sales counter, sitting cross-legged on a traditional marwari gaddi, was the entire staff and proprietorship of the business.

They stood up in unison as we got out of the car and welcomed us with hugs and embraces. It puzzled me. I knew they were acquaintances and business "colleagues", to use the term loosely, but I certainly didn't remember them as my Dad's friends.

We were invited behind the counter ... something utterly unusual ... and offered, yes, sweets! Dad took a crumb in his mouth, and urged me to take a bite too, difficult though it was.

He then said something to our hosts, one sprang to his feet, disappeared into a back-room and returned with a box containing a new set of wrenches.

Dad pulled out some paper money (Rupees!) and offered it to them. One of them took it, touched it to his forehead and then passed it around to his brothers/co-owners. Someone returned some loose change to Dad.

He got up, saying he had many more stops to go ... and warm goodbyes were said all around.

Back in the car, I confronted him: you do know, don't you, that we have dozens of boxes of this very product in our store? They are stacked up on one prominent shelf; I had seen them. So, why did you buy one more? And from these chaps? Our competitors?

As he drove away, he explained: These people are members of the Jain religion, and today, on Diwali, they celebrate Lord Mahavir's nirvana. For them, as for the Hindus, midnight on Diwali marks the beginning of a New Year. They keep their stores open from the stroke of the hour, so that they are there to greet Lakshmi, the goddess of Prosperity, as she makes a quick tour, Santa Claus-like, of the land. She bestows good fortune on those who are there to welcome her.

Yeah, I queried, but what has that got to do with us? I thought we don't believe in that sort of thing.

We don't, he said. But they do. For some inexplicable reason, they consider me a good omen. So they have asked me to come at the stroke of the hour and be their first customer of the New Year. I buy one item. They call it an auspicious bohni  -  a "beginning".

But, I interjected, what's in it for you. You just bought a very expensive wrench set, didn't you?

There is nothing in it for me, and yet, everything. It costs me nothing: a few rupees here and a few there. And, for a little bit of cost to me, it means a world to them. Their prosperity is not at my cost. There is so much out there in the universe, the more we have, the more there is to share.

It didn't make sense. I sat there, puzzled and a bit annoyed, as we continued to do the rounds that night, stopping at each of his Hindu and Jain competitors and acquaintances, and buying one little thing from each. As soon as we would be ready to leave, they would announce ... "Good! Now we can go home and rest".

I did these rounds with him every year thenceforth.

But it took me a long, long time to understand why.

 

Happy Bandhi Chhor!

 

Originally posted: November 8, 2007; republished on October 18, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Bikramjit Singh (Hillside, U.S.A.), November 09, 2007, 8:39 AM.

Nice article. I wish we could all see others with such an eye.

2: Manjit Kaur (North Potomac, MD, U.S.A.), November 09, 2007, 9:32 AM.

That was a nice Diwali story relating to the past for most of us. Even though my childhood celebrations took place in East Africa, they were similar to the author's. Sadly, Diwali is not celebrated to that extent in the West, but we try to offer our family at least a taste of it. Reading about eating all those sweets definitely had my mouth watering and wanting to eat them now!

3: Gagandeep Bajaj (Delhi, India), November 09, 2007, 10:56 AM.

Thanks ... First time I've known why we Sikhs celebrate Diwali in such grand way ... very nice article.

4: Puneet Singh Lamba (Boston, U.S.A.), November 09, 2007, 1:58 PM.

Enjoyed it! Thanks and happy holidays!

5: Harmeet Singh (Chicago, IL, U.S.A.), November 09, 2007, 7:43 PM.

Nice story. Thanks for sharing your feeling about the charming festivities and pleasures of Diwali. From what you have explained about the reason Sikhs celebrate Diwali - all I could infer is that there was no active participation of any Sikh gurus in Diwali and its celebration. All I know is that the Gurus never celebrated any particular "day" as they considered the whole life a celebration. And, if there was no participation of the Gurus in "celebrating" Diwali, why should Sikhs celebrate Diwali anyway? Secondly, what is the point of lightning up Darbar Sahib and homes from a Sikh point of view? I ask these questions because Bhai Gurdas says something quite different: Bhai Gurdas Vaar 19 Pauri 6 Diwali Di Raat Devey Baliyan Tarey Jaat Sanat Ambar Bhaliyan Phula Di Bagat Chun Chun Chaliyan Tirath Jati Jat Nain Nihaliyan Har Chandauri Jhat Vasaye Uchaliyan Gurmukh Sukh Ful Daat Sabad Smaliyan Lamps are lit on the night of Diwali; stars of different kinds appear in the sky; In the gardens, flowers are plucked selectively; the pilgrims are going on the pilgrimages. The imaginary habitats come into being, and then vanish. All these are momentary, but the Gurmukhs get true happiness from the gift of the Shabad Guru. [Editor: As I.J. Singh had pointed out in his article, "Not Holy Writ", Diwali should only be celebrated by those who are cognizant of their intent, and appreciate the substance or meaning of what they are doing. Without these two elements, either one shouldn't celebrate it or merely treat it as a mela, nothing more. As to whether the Gurus themselves did something or not, by itself, it is not much of a test. Is it okay for me to wear a tie or trousers even though none of the Gurus wore either? First and foremost, Sikhi is based on common sense, not on exotic analyses. Each one of us can figure out the answer as it should apply to us respectively ... and it is okay if we arrive at different conclusions, based on our intent and understanding!]

6: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), November 11, 2007, 3:03 PM.

The story of the meaning of Diwali for Sikhs is something I find personally inspiring and beautiful. But I also find it beautiful as a moment in which we can celebrate and be together with family and friends and have fun. Our gurudwara has a delightful firework display, and it is a special and exciting time for children, especially. I also personally find the mythology behind the Hindu story of Diwali to be quite beautiful and appreciate it as a nice part of their tradition.

7: Satinder Gill (Khanna, India), November 11, 2007, 6:42 PM.

We learn something new everyday. I thought I knew all there is to know about Diwali. Yes, the childhood memories of celebrating Diwali in India cannot be described in words. My daughter has just started school here in India and this year my husband and I, keeping in mind our collective Diwali memories, went all out to make it a memorable Diwali for her. She came back from school a day before Diwali and informed us that her teacher had told her class to say no to fire crackers. Sure enough, on the day of Diwali, she did not want to be outside where our family was bursting fire crackers. She stayed indoors and there was not much I could do to persuade her. I can understand the concern for the environment and thought of the less fortunate anad I have promised her that next year we will give more to the poor children who beg on the streets. I am a great fan of David Suzuki and share his concern for the world we live in. Despite all this, I think we over-hype everything and deny our children the pure pleasures of childhood. I forgot to mention that my baby is only four years old. Headed in the right direction, are we not?

8: Balvinder Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 11, 2007, 11:09 PM.

Diwali ... Bandi-Chhorr Diwas?

9: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), November 12, 2007, 8:00 AM.

There are a few matters in which Sikh tradition and lore make meaningful suggestions, but without further elaboration, that I believe need to be considered and explored. (I have been mulling over this for sometime, but finally matters gelled after a provocative sermon by our erudite local granthi - Amarjit Singh - last week.) Guru Hargobind was arrested, but why? And then he was incarcerated in the Gwalior fort that held many other minor rulers - what would be their crimes? Obviously, this was a facility for political prisoners, not ordinary thieves and robbers. Don't forget, Guru Arjan had been martyred in the reign of the same emperor! What prompted Jehangir (emperor) to want to release Guru Hargobind, and furthermore, why would the Guru insist that others also be released. It seems that by that time the Sikh movement had created institutions for self-governance, an internal system for justice and conflict resolution, and also a system of daswandh, which would be interpreted by the government as a system of taxation, independent of the existing government. This is like creating a semi-autonomous state within a nation. It would surely be considered a challenge to government authority, hence the arrest and detention in a facility for political prisoners. How did the sikhs react? Our tradition tells us that, under the guidance of Baba Buddha, bands of Sikhs would march to Gwalior peacefully, offer prayers in front of the fort and march back. The groundswell of peaceful resistance and protest must have alarmed the government, indicating the possiblity of massive rebellion. Hence the signals of friendship, because all this looked too threatening - like a parallel government. The release of the Guru, and his demand that other political prisoners also be released, would be consistent with such a model. We often neglect the political overtones, but they are important to the further development of the Sikh faith that continued and later led the the events of 1699. Keep in mind that Guru Hargobind was a master not just of piri, but also miri and its affairs.

10: Hakam Singh (Godsown, U.S.A.), November 13, 2007, 6:16 PM.

To an ordinary person like me, it looks like a strange way of celebrating the inhuman torture of a saintly person like Bhai Mani Singh, which resulted in his martyrdom. But may be the author is a "Brahm Giani" for whom "dukh" and "sukh" are equal, pain and pleasure are the same and, as Guru Tegh Bahadur has said, "Jo nar dukh mein dukh nahi maanai, sukh saneh ar bhai nahi jaake kanchan maati maanai ... Nanak leen bhaio Gobind seo jeo paani sang paanee". [Editor: we celebrate the LIFE and achievements of Bhai Mani Singh.]

11: Dr. Harminder Singh (Gurgaon, India), December 08, 2007, 6:08 AM.

After reading this, I realized how little we know about our religion. I am happy that there are people keeping our religion and history alive. Thanks.

12: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), November 05, 2010, 6:45 AM.

After reading all the details about Diwali, one can ask the question: why are these details not widely known to all Sikhs. Some still celebrate like others do. Recently, in October 2010, I was at Hazoor Shaib, Nanded, Maharashtra. But was shocked to learn that at Hazzor Shaib, they celebrate Dussehra with a big Nagar Kirtan with horses descending from Guru Gobind Singh's stable. I could get no answers as to why this celebration at a Sikh Takht. These may be local influences, I expect. Does anyone know the answer?

13: Kirat Kaur (U.S.A.), November 05, 2010, 8:59 AM.

Why do we celebrate bandhi chhor divas of Guru Hargobind Sahib ji, but not the release of Guru Nanak Dev ji from the prison of Babar?

14: Major Singh (Wales ), November 05, 2010, 10:25 AM.

We as human beings like anniversaries - they help us remember key events, turning-points, cross-roads, etc. Therefore, birthdays, shaheedi days, etc. easily become focal points of celebration. I suspect the reason why Guru Hargobind's victorious march from Gwalior is celebrated, and not Guru Nanak's release from Babar's prison, is because the first is identified in history as an "event" and lends to celebration. On the other hand, we are told very little about the day of Guru Nanak's release; hence, I guess, it never became a high holiday. Moreover, we humans tend to identify one or two days to highlight the lives of those we love. Otherwise, we would be celebrating much of the year by ear-marking every significant milestone. And, for the same reason, we have focused on the birthday gurpurabs of our First and Last Guru, and the shaheedi of the Fifth and the Ninth Gurus.

15: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 05, 2010, 11:51 AM.

What a nostalgic trip! It has transported me back to my childhood days. I wistfully remember the 'Krishan Bomb' and the missiles fired using empty soda water bottles as launch pads. The atom bomb and hydrogen bomb were invented much later. I suspect our Krishan Bomb must have provided them with some blue prints. It used to be such fun when all joined in - young and old - in such a warm brotherhood. When you live in a land of myriad religions and cultures, where each of the religions finds an expression and each joined in the celebrations that came naturally, therein lay the strength of Sikhs in particular to demonstrate the sense of brotherhood as a part of their daily lives and particularly so during the festivals. We don't celebrate Diwali as one would celebrate a Gurupurab. Let's remain a robust and hearty people and keep spreading light without confining ourselves in narrow limits and to appear holier-than-thou. We join in the celebrations of Christmas and Halloweens in the land of our adoption without any ill effect, passing on the infection of good cheer.

16: N. Singh (Canada), November 05, 2010, 4:36 PM.

Sangat Singh ji: I appreciate your Chardi Kala, but let's be frank ... the only reason Sikhs participate in all festivals is because they don't really have a choice, do they? Being homeless, one has no option but to participate in other people's choices. Whilst the Muslims and Kashmir, who have never lowered their standards, are on the verge of Azaadi, the poor Punjabis with their brotherhood of festivals are on the verge of a failed state ... go figure!

17: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), November 05, 2010, 8:51 PM.

In what can be described as a senseless waste of funds, money and energy sincerely contributed by Sikhs who look to the Harmandar as their spiritual guidance, parbandhaks of this seat of holiness conduct, at virtually every Diwali night, an ostentatious display of fireworks, deepmaala and distribution of sweets.

18: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), November 05, 2010, 9:04 PM.

N.Singh, I agree with you. Celebrating Diwali for me is the sign of subservience to the Indian culture (servilism as they call it). Coat it as Bandi Chhor diwas or Bhai Mani Singh's Shaheedi diwas ... at the core, it is what it is. Personally to me, I stopped celebrating Diwali after the 1984 carnage. Just days after the carnage, the whole country of India celebrated Diwali with more enthusiasm than ever, as if they had triumphed over another evil - The Sikhs - whereas our homes and pains hid in darkness - unnoticed, unshared. The sight and sound of the firecrackers brought alive the burning of the tyres around our necks for a long time. Till this day, I get upset when Sikhs celebrate Diwali and send me Diwali greetings. I can educate non-Sikhs but what to do with our own? Call me bitter, call me intolerant ... Diwali does not mean anything to me. We have far more important gurpurabs that go un-noticed.

19: Gurjendra Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), November 06, 2010, 6:23 AM.

Gurmeet Kaur ji: I agree with you about 1984. Unfortunately most of the Sikhs or gurdawaras have stopped mentioning and talking about the 1984 Sikh carnage.

20: Balbir Singh (Germany), November 06, 2010, 9:28 AM.

Pray for Truth for all and say Sat Sri Akaal. The cosmos is made of sounds denoted by fifty-two letters (Baavan Akhree). All get liberation when attached with the Shabad Guru. The Saakhi of Bandhi Chhor has a spiritual essence to convey. The result is enlightenment, a festival to celebrate with lights on. Others may also enjoy the day with candles, fireworks, delicious food, gifts ...

21: Sukh Singh Dhiman (Surrey, Brtish Columbia, Canada), November 09, 2010, 1:34 AM.

As an interesting note, for the first time in my life, the fireworks were more plentiful in my area of Surrey (B.C., Canada) on Diwali than for Halloween.

22: Tushar (Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.), November 27, 2010, 12:28 AM.

This was a great feel-good nostalgic story by T. Sher Singh, and evidently his father displayed a humanity and gentlemanliness that is often missing these days. Posters 16, 18 & 19 have chosen to focus on bitterness and a disgusting event. And #16 - Punjabis a failed state? Suggest you Google Pakistan and 'failed state' before saying such things. And what about Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India - a Sikh is running the whole country let, alone Punjab - Where do you see failure? Also, read up on Bangladesh, Azad Kashmir, Afghanistan, and any other *stan" ... Chechnya, Saudi Arabia ... I would say Sikhs have done well - across India and the world due to their industry and I think due to the same humanity and gentlemanliness that the author's father displayed.

23: Dr. Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 18, 2011, 5:35 AM.

Lights illuminate our lives and the more colourful they are the better. The deafening myriad sounds of fire crackers is joyful and awesome. Just to ignite a cracker is an adventure, especially when kids are daring you. Sweets are my ultimate weakness. These are the few selfish reasons for which we celebrate "Diwali" and I must confess we would do all these things any day of the year to celebrate (Hola Mohalla, Vaisakhi, Yom Kippur, Christmas...) if we could. Why not indulge yourself during Diwali? Having said that, I want to emphasize that I fully understand various other reasons for which people celebrate Diwali ... and also reasons for which people don't celebrate Diwali.

24: Ravinder Singh Oberoi (Mumbai, India), October 18, 2011, 8:31 AM.

I think that our Gurus tell us to celebrate festivals through Naam simran), Daan(sharing or fair society) and Ishnaan (purity of body, mind and environment)-the three pillars of Sikhi. Any festival celebrated by a Sikh should be in such a way that it enables to get him closer to his Guru as this is the aim of our human life.

25: Joe (Canada), October 19, 2011, 7:08 AM.

Nice article.

26: Gurpreet Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), October 19, 2011, 8:09 AM.

Clearly we got hijacked/ influenced by this massive hindu festival and at some point in the history had to use the excuse of Bandhi Chhor Divas. We have turned this into a mela in our gurdwaras now.

27: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.), October 19, 2011, 11:55 AM.

Last week I asked my South Indian colleague as to whether South Indians celebrate Dussehra and Diwali? His answer was - "Diwali: Yes, Dussehra: No". When I further asked about the reasons, he mentioned that South Indians do not consider Ravan as a demon. So they do not celebrate Dussehra. However, they celebrate Diwali as on that day in history, Lord Krishna killed his Uncle (Kans). To me it appeared as if South Indians have found a 'story' to celebrate this festival. Is it the same with Sikhs?

28: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 19, 2011, 2:14 PM.

The Hindu Diwali is connected with the mythological epic Ramayan and is over 5000 year old, while Bandi Chhor is a fact of history less then 400 year old. The latter has been adopted by some unscrupulously as an excuse for Sikhs to take part in the general festivities. But there is no reason for gurdwaras to be getting into the act, because for us it is no more than a secular fest.

29: Nav Kaur (Australia), October 19, 2011, 5:26 PM.

A beautiful description by T. Sher Singh. Brings back many wonderful childhood memories. Diwali is no doubt a very good excuse for children to have fun and for families to get together. And yes, it certainly has a very worthy meaning for Sikhs to celebrate as well - freedom. A little disappointing that sometimes we narrow our minds to a point where we no longer can see the joys and simplicities of such celebrations - without becoming so judgmental.

30: R. Singh (Canada), October 20, 2011, 12:25 PM.

Kirat Kaur ji (#13): If we look at history, Guru Nanak's incarceration was not politically motivated. It was the result of a indiscriminate rounding up of people following mass killings, looting and plunder, as was the hallmark of invaders seeking to steal the land's resources. Guru Nanak was quickly identified as a person of substance and brought before Babar, who was made to see the other side of the picture, the violence his vicious assault had inflicted upon innocent people. The times changed vis a vis the Sikh faith, which thereafter took on the shape of a defined movement of resistance to tyranny, following Guru Nanak's teachings, and then began to be seen as a threat to the establishment. Therefore Guru Hargobind's incarceration (as the head of the movement) was political in nature. It became a landmark event in our history. As to how people should celebrate it today is now up to us. We can continue to waste resources at the behest of the businesses who must sell stuff at any cost by urging spending of frivolous items in bad times, or like some of our youngsters, save and conserve the resources of our mother earth, by indulging in celebrations in a more thoughtful way. It is up to us to tell our gurdwaras to take a mature attitude, by not blowing up resources and energy on pataakas, mithaaee and lights, when we still have the children of 1984 needing our help.

31: Amanpreet Kaur (U.S.A.), October 25, 2011, 3:46 AM.

I think it is a big mistake to call Bandji Chhorr Diwas, Diwali.

32: Amandeep Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 06, 2011, 7:25 PM.

Wow. What a great example of brotherhood, of living together in the spirit of Diwali.

33: Christine Kaur (Houston, Texas, USA), November 13, 2012, 2:31 PM.

I agree with Amanpreet Kaur #31. The title of this article is a bit misleading. I would never say that I celebrate Diwali, it kind of makes me sound like a Hindi (not that there is anything wrong with Hindus!). But I'm a Sikh. I acknowledge Bandi Chor Diwas. I don't need to light a candle to remind me of Guru Hargobind. I think singing and listening to gurbani and kirtan would be a better remembrance ...

34: Sarjit Kaur  (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), November 13, 2012, 5:08 PM.

My childhood of celebrating Diwali was somewhat like the author's ... fire crackers at daytime, lots of food to eat and distribute to neighbors, and candles at night. But only due to us living amongst Hindus, and following their traditions unknowingly. Today, if I burn a candle or fire cracker, it is to please my child or to get rid of bad odor, or due to power outage. To celebrate Sikh gurpurabs, holidays ... Guru Maharaj has left us gurbani and naam. I love Him, so I will honor His Hukam.

35: H Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), November 13, 2012, 5:40 PM.

Diwali - I celebrate it as a cultural festival.

36: Jaspreet  (Canada), November 14, 2012, 4:30 AM.

Candle fumes are carcinogenic and very bad for the lungs. Firecrackers too cause pollution and scare animals. For the animals, Halloween with firecrackers is hell. So is Diwali. My cat's vet had sheets educating pet owners. Amongst other things the office recommended we talk to neighbours about this issue and convince them not to use fire crackers. Lots of animals panic blindly and start running and get injured by vehicles due to fire crackers. I did not celebrate Diwali. It is just a Hindu thing imposed on Sikhs and we did use some brains and drag out stuff from our history to at least not get swallowed up. The Sikh people have enough wedding parties to go to without additional nonsense. Just think of all the money wasted on the parties, if even a tenth could be spent on the betterment of others less fortunate in the community, be it unwanted pets, the homeless, the addicted wanting to quit, it would make such a big difference. What do the party goers do, go to the washroom and release the food they ate the night before, puke up the alcohol, and then still slam the party for not being good enough or decide to go into debt so theirs will be grander. Foolishness, foolishness. Reminds me of the people Guru Nanak talks about in Babar Bani, the people who spent so much on weddings and on eating and drinking and their clothes and then when Babar came they had nowhere to go and could find no succour.

37: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 15, 2012, 7:40 AM.

In the Guru Granth Sahib, there are 5,867 shabds, but there is not a single reference about the festival of Diwali. The era of Sikh Gurus spans nearly 240 years, from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469, through the life of Guru Gobind Singh, 1708. Our Gurus must have witnessed this festival of Diwali during their lifetime; still none of them mentions anything about lamp (deevaa or deepmala) during the span of two and a half century. On page 358, Guru Nanak said: "deevaa mera aek naam dukh vich payaa tael" - "God's True Naam is the lamp for me, and the oil of suffering has been put in it to burn and light up." Further, on page 878, Guru Nanak says: "Focus your consciousness in deep absorption in the Almighty God. Make your body a raft, to cross over. Deep within is the fire of desire; keep it in check. Day and night, that lamp shall burn unceasingly. || 1 || Float such a lamp upon the water; this lamp will bring total understanding. || 1 || Pause || Understanding is the good clay; a lamp made of such clay is acceptable to God. So shape the lamp on the wheel of good actions. Thus, the Divine-lamp guides the devotee throughout. || 2 || When God bestows Grace, then, as Gurmukh, one may realize God. Within the heart, this lamp is permanently lit. It is not extinguished by water or wind. Such a lamp will carry you across the water. || 3 || Wind does not shake it, or put it out. Its light reveals the Divine Throne. The Kshatriyas, Brahmins, Sudras and Vaishyas cannot find its value, even by thousands of calculations. If any of them lights such a lamp, O Nanak, that person is emancipated."

38: Darminder Singh (York, United Kingdom), March 28, 2013, 12:29 PM.

Thank you for this article which I have just seen. We have in the past celebrated Diwali at York St. John University for the last few years but am not convinced of Bandhi Chhor as the reason. Bandhi Chhor, in my opinion, is a minor historical event in Sikh History.

39: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, USA), October 22, 2013, 9:06 AM.

Your article states: "This year Diwali falls on Sunday, November 3. It has added meaning: we will celebrate the martyrs of 1984 with every lamp we light." This is only true if we have fulfilled our duties to support the widows and children of 1984. After 29 years, this is a continuing shame for us and our so-called leadership not to have resolved this issue and helped the needy financially. Their wounds, as a result, are still not healed.

40: H. Singh (USA), October 22, 2013, 9:57 AM.

Diwali reminds me of a collective moral corruption among Hindus who deny and ignore the racist meaning behind the celebration of a Hindu king who mass-murdered the inhabitants of Sri Lanka as a symbolic victory for Hindu caste imperialism.

41: R Singh (Canada), October 25, 2013, 8:23 PM.

While the widows in colonies await justice, their kids on drugs, their lives still hanging in the balance, we have no reason to blow up resources in gaudy displays of fire-crackers and lightigs. We channel our enthusiasm into more productive ways, if we must.

42: Charandeep Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), October 26, 2013, 12:24 PM.

The bloody days are here - do not forget the genocide. 'They' will tell you to forget, but look, they have themselves not forgotten their Ravan and burn his effigy every year ... the one who happened to abduct their Sita thousands of year ago (no comments over it being real or myth). We cannot forget 1984. Justice has not been done yet ... and whatever I have read tells me that the Bandi Chhor incident was in February. Even if that event occurred on the day of Diwali, it is not a very big event. Our great gurus have done so many good deeds for the sake of humanity.

43: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), October 27, 2013, 8:10 AM.

As a Sikh, every day is special. I have no Diwali, nor do I dwell in any other Hindu or for that matter Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc., practices in my own household! Every day I see the Creator's fireworks and lights in the beauty of nature, art and naam shabad.

44: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 27, 2013, 4:10 PM.

Guru Nanak says: Focus your consciousness in deep absorption in the Almighty God. Make your body a raft, to cross over. Deep within is the fire of desire; keep it in check. Day and night, that lamp shall burn unceasingly. Float such a lamp upon the water; this lamp will bring total understanding (Pause). Understanding is the good clay; a lamp made of such clay is acceptable to God. So shape the lamp on the wheel of good actions. Thus the Divine-lamp guides the devotee throughout. When God bestows Grace, then, as gurmukh, one may realize God. Within the heart, this lamp is permanently lit. It is not extinguished by water or wind. Such a lamp will carry you across the water. Wind does not shake it, or put it out. Its light reveals the divine throne. The Khatris, Brahmins, Sudras and Vaishyas cannot find its value, even by thousands of calculations. If any of them lights such a lamp, O Nanak, that person is emancipated. [GGS:878]

45: Gurjender Singh  (Maryland, USA ), October 30, 2013, 4:57 AM.

This year some of the organizations requested the Akal Takht that since this year Diwali falls on the day of the mass killing of Sikhs in 1984, therefore we should not perform the fire works and that money should be given to 1984 welfare. But they and the SGPC refused.

46: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), November 12, 2015, 7:00 AM.

It's absolutely not a Sikh festival! We go by Bandhi Chhor, and we must keep this festival as the focus for our celebration. I would like someone to come up with a fixed date in accordance with the Nanakshahi Calendar, so that it can be observed consistently across the diaspora. Guru Hargobind Sahib negotiated with Jehangir for the release of all prisoners (belonging to various faiths) in Gwalior Fort, before accepting his own release. What an act of nobility!

47: Kaala Singh (Punjab), November 14, 2015, 10:31 PM.

@45: The SGPC, as it stands right now, is just a bunch of rascals who did not have the ability to make a living elsewhere. The combined annual earning of the gurdwaras controlled by the SGPC, mainly in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, exceeds half a billion dollars with Delhi gurdwaras being the "richest". It is a matter of shame that victims of 1984 have not received any substantial help from the SGPC and a matter of grave concern that the shared resources of the community are being eaten away instead of being invested for the betterment of the community.

48: Mohan Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 18, 2017, 3:31 PM.

"Use this oil to light this lamp. Light it, and meet your Lord and Master. || 1 || Pause || This body is softened with the Word of the Guru's Bani; you shall find peace, doing seva (selfless service)." ... "All the world continues coming and going || 3 || In the midst of this world, do seva, and you shall be given a place of honor in the Court of the Lord. Says Nanak, swing your arms in joy! || 4 || 33 || [GGS:26, Guru Nanak]

49: Sarvjit Singh (Millis, Massachusetts, USA), October 19, 2017, 7:11 AM.

This discussion has been going on for many years now ... Diwali and Holi, why and how do Sikhs celebrate them? Sikhs have long been congregating in the Darbar Sahib on Diwali. Why did the ruler want to release Guru Sahib and other prisoners before Diwali? Because the populace - then consisting mostly of Hindus, including the rajas who were released along with Guru Sahib - celebrated and congregated on Diwali. One of the dates for the Sarbat Khalsa, which occurred after the time of Guru Hargobind Sahib, was on Diwali.

50: Kulwant Singh Kang (Oakvile, Ontario, Canada), October 20, 2017, 9:37 AM.

Diwali, for me as a Sikh and as a human being, stopped being a celebration after 1984, when it - the Genocide of '84 - was celebrated by the Hindu masses in India and abroad, right on the eve of Diwali that year. I have a lot of Hindu friends and some family as well, who all send me their Happy Diwali greetings but none of them has ever said even once to me that they are celebrating Diwali as a tradition but with a heavy heart to honour the innocent tens of thousands who were murdered in 1984 in cold blood.

51: Brig Nawab Singh Heer (Retd) (Mohali, Punjab), October 21, 2017, 8:21 AM.

Traditionally, we as Sikhs have been celebrating Diwali at least since Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time. Mostly because our Hindu neighbours celebrated it. Just as we celebrate Christmas today, to share our Christian neighbours' celebration. That is typical Sikh magnanimity. Also, we have been holding one of our annual, seasonal Sarbat Khalsa gatherings on Diwali day because it suited us weather wise, administration wise and because our masses used to come to Harmandar Shaib on that day. Furthermore, we have traditionally associated Guru Hargobind Sahib's Bandhi Chhor with Diwali day. Therefore, we have every reason to celebrate the day today - for our own reasons. No one has ownership of the day. My thanks to T Sher Singh ji for describing Diwali celebrations so very vividly. There is no reason why we cannot continue to be big-hearted ... see how far we have come around the world with our inclusivity!

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