Bandi Chhor diwas

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Stuti Malhotra, Oct 22, 2022: The Times of India

Deepavali is celebrated as Bandi Chhor Diwas among the Sikhs all over the world. ‘Bandi’ means ‘prisoner’, ‘chhor’ – ‘release’. On this day, the Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind, was released by Jahangir from the Gwalior Fort and he arrived in Amritsar. Son of Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind became the sixth Sikh guru at the age of 11. And when he returned to Amritsar, he was not alone. Along came 52 rajas from different states, who had been imprisoned by the Mughal ruler under different pretexts – for political reasons, or for not being able to pay hefty tributes to him. They had been languishing in the prison in deep misery for years.

Legend has it that when Jahangir ordered the release of Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru refused to leave unlessaccompanied by the 52 rajas imprisoned there. Jahangir agreed but with a condition – ‘whoever can hold on to the Guru’s cloak can be released’.

Out of deep compassion for the prisoners, Guru Hargobind had a unique cloak designed. It was a garment with a hem that had 52 corners, tails. The Guru then walked out of the fort with 52 rajas in tow, each holding on to a tail of the Guru’s special cloak. Guru came out of the fort reciting the Bani of Guru Arjan Dev: “Gayee bohore bandi chhor Nirankar dukhdari” – I fall back to the favour of one and only one, thus my chains are loosened and my miseries are banished by the emancipator – the Bandi Chhor. Since then, the Guru came to be known as Bandi Chhor – the Great Deliverer. The Sikhs light candles in their homes to celebrate this event. To them too, the light symbolises the triumphing of goodness over evil and darkness.

The way Guru Hargobind showed generosity to the imprisoned rajas, the same model of compassion needs to be followed in contemporary times. The Guru taught us that one should be open-minded and not have any bias against anybody. Though he had been imprisoned by Jahangir, they later became friends when the Guru jumped in front of a charging lion that was about to kill the Mughal king and saved him. He subsequently became Jahangir’s royal guest at the fort. They would go hunting together. This is possible only when one has compassion for all and is beyond any hatred and jealousy. Guru Hargobind later went on to set up the Akal Takht that faces the entrance to the Golden Temple. It was here that the Guru sat as an administrator, brandishing two swords – Miri and Piri – representing temporal authority and spiritual investiture, respectively.

When Swami Ramdas first met Guru Hargobind, in Kashmir, he was astounded by the latter’s military and regal garb and inquired as to how his saintliness blended with it. The Guru replied, “Batan fakiri, zahir amiri” – saintliness within and authority outside.

We too need to follow the teachings of the Guru and balance our spiritual life, saintliness within, with our worldly life, the authority outside, to liberate ourselves from daily challenges. And think of everyone’s wellbeing, not just your own, because in everyone’s welfare is hidden your own wellbeing too.

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