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Bandi Shorr – The Emancipator

This blog post will focus on:

  • Why do we, as Sikhs, celebrate Diwali?
  • Do we only celebrate Bandi Shorr Divas?
  • What’s the difference or are they both the same?

The fifth Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee, had been martyred whilst peacefully undergoing five days of inhumane torture at the hands of the minister, Chandhu. Chandu had enmity with the Guru for refusing the hand of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee, in marriage to his daughter. After the martyrdom of the fifth Guru, Chandu still pursued his poisonous enmity and then tracked the sixth Guru.  He worked a devious plan with the astrologers of the emperor Jahangir, as the emperor had developed cordial relations with the Guru. The astrologers said you have bad omens for the coming months which can only be averted by a saintly soul meditating for your well-being. In this way, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib was approached to meditate for the well-being of the emperor and Guru Jee voluntarily took up residence in Gwalior Fort. The assigned length of time was agreed to be 40 days but Chandu worked his evil ways and the Guru was held for months on end.

The Sikhs, seeing no way to break the impasse, took it upon themselves to resolve the matter. Bhai Jetha Jee and Bhai Piraana Jee were two spiritually gifted Sikhs who had been eye-witnesses to the martyrdom of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee. They took on the form of tigers and entered the chamber of Jahangir whilst he slept and started to threaten him with death should he not release Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee. Jahangir thought he was losing his mind and couldn’t ascertain if the tigers were real or imagined through nightmares.

Jahangir ordered the immediate release of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee from Gwalior Fort but the Guru added a condition to his release: that they would only leave the prison if other fellow prisoners are released too.  Many of these prisoners were those subjugated by the emperor and prisoners of political conscience. The emperor tried to be cunning and said that the Guru is at liberty to leave with however many prisoners can hold on to his chola (upper garment). The all wise Guru thus got a 52 tassel chola made; 52 kings held onto these tassels and were freed in this way. This is the day of the Bandi Shorr (1919 CE). It used to be marked on Sikh calendars as ‘Bandi Shorr Divas’. This occasion usually falls about one month before the public holiday of Diwali. With all the bickering over calendars and dates in the Sikh community, we have turned the real date of ‘Bandi Shorr Divas’ into one of insignificance as it has been erased from our calendars and is no longer celebrated on the actual date.

‘Dussehra,’ which is the date the demonic king of Sri Lanka, Ravan, was killed by Sri Raam Chandar (Hindu Avatar of Vishnu). In comparison to the date of ‘Bandi Shorr Divas,’ the date of ‘Dussehra’ is etched on calendars permanently and is a public holiday in India – even Sikh organisations have Smagams around this date due to it being a holiday. When Sri Raam Chandar got back to Ayodhya along with his wife, Mata Seeta Jee, Diwali was celebrated to acknowledge her freedom and return to their kingdom. Yet we, the Sikhs, have already made very giant leaps to erase the actual date of Bandi Shorr Divas. Sri Guru HarGobind Sahib Jee travelled back from Gwalior Fort in Rajasthan and Their return was celebrated on the public holiday of Diwali at Amritsar. So, we celebrate Diwali on the same date as all other traditions but for our own specific Sikh reasons: the fact that the Guru saved all other prisoners, not just themselves.

After being freed, Sri Guru HarGobind Sahib Jee said to Jahangir: ‘‘We will not punish you in this world but you will have to give account of your misdeeds in the afterlife. We will punish you then.’’ Jahangir was told to hand over Chandu for all his evil deeds against the Gurus. Jahangir complied and Chandu was beaten to death by the Sikhs over a number of days.

What does Bandi Shorr Divas or Diwali mean to us today? The freedom of prisoners of conscience and fighting for justice against tyrannical regimes. We have had many mass movements linked to prisoners of conscience in the Sikh nation in recent time: Bhai Gurbakash Singh’s attempts to get prisoners in India freed who have served their mandatory sentences, the stay of execution of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana and the associated orange movement, and the current Free Jaggi campaign – fighting for the freedom of Bhai Jagtar Singh Johal. Help and support any Sikhs and non-Sikhs that are wrongfully imprisoned and/or imprisoned for spurious reasons to fulfill political agendas. Many Sikhs have been doing this work for the last 30 plus years due to the continued and continuing crises in Punjab. For example, the amount of court arrests in the current farmer protests is anyone’s guess.

We must continue to fight for our azaadi/freedom – be that wherever we reside, fighting for justice, equality and righteousness. This is what the story of Bandi Shorr Divas teaches us: it is not a mere lighting of a symbolic candle, sharing sweet treats and a time to be jovial. It is a time to reflect on how we can help others enjoy freedom that we have, that they do not have. Light a candle…hey, blaze a bonfire of a fight of altruistic actions to help one another – that’s what this has always been about and always will be about (freedom).

Dhan Sri Guru HarGobind Sahib Jee – may you free us from worldly physical prisons. May you free us from the prisons of our own mind. May we merge into Your Light and attain real freedom.

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