Each autumn, most of those of South Asian descent around the world celebrate Diwali, the “festival of lights” that is rooted in the Hindu tradition. Bandi Chhor Divas is a Sikh celebration that often takes place around the same time as Diwali, in October or November. Special Gurdwara programs are often held, often with fires, candle lighting or fireworks.
Bandi Chhor Divas commemorates the release from the prison at Gwalior Fort (in Madhya Pradesh, India) of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, in 1619. This holiday is a commemoration of the “Day of Liberation” for Sikhs.
Sikhs not only celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind, but also Guru Hargobind’s actions to secure the release of 52 other kings and princes who were also locked up in the prison by India’s Mughal ruler of the time, Jahangir.
Emperor Jahangir long had an antagonistic relationship with the Sikhs, a new religious community rising from within his kingdom, so much so that he had ordered and carried out the execution of Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru. When Emperor Jahangir was eventually convinced to release Guru Hargobind, the Guru indicated that he would only leave when the other prisoners were also set free.
The Emperor then set forth a counter-condition: “whoever can hold onto the Guru’s cloak can be released.”
Guru Hargobind had a cloak made with 52 strands, onto which each prisoner could hold and walk out of the fort with the Guru. And, in doing so, he secured the release of his fellow inmates.
~ “Reflection on Bandi Chhor Divas: A Lesson in Selflessness,” Sikh Dharma International.