In every home, diyas cast a warm glow to celebrate Lord Rama’s return from Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. Among Sikhs, this day of Diwali brings along another reason to celebrate, known as the Bandi Chhor Divas (meaning Day of Liberation). Behind this celebration is a tale of valour, sacrifice, and grit—in essence, the triumph of good, which also characterizes Lord Rama’s lore. This is perhaps the beauty of India’s multicultural ethos and rich history, which gives us many reasons to celebrate.
The Story Behind Bandi Chhor Divas
The Sikhs celebrate this day to commemorate Guru Hargobind Ji’s courageous act of releasing 52 kings from Emperor Jehangir’s capture. As the story goes, Guru Hargobind was always on the Mughal Emperor’s radar after he succeeded to the throne in the aftermath of his father and the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev’s execution in 1606 CE.
When he took to the throne at the age of 11, he committed himself to developing his military's strength to the maximum capacity, jolted by his father's gruesome death. At the same time, Guru Hargobind Singh also placed an emphasis on maintaining spiritual authority, which led him to construct the Sri Akal Takhat Sahib (The Throne of the Almighty) in Amritsar. Naturally, the increasing power of the Guru's empire alerted other rulers. As a result, the Nawab of Lahore, Murtaja Khan, informed Emperor Jehangir and told him that the Guru was doing so to seek vengeance.
Upon receiving this news, Jehangir ordered his long-time trusted aide, Wazir Khan, to arrest Guru Hargobind. However, because Wazir greatly admired the Guru, he invited him to meet the Emperor in Delhi, which he accepted. When the young Guru reached Jehangir's court, he was imprisoned and ensnared in the Gwalior Fort.
Along with Guru Hargobind, many Rajput princes were also held hostage at the Fort. Even inside, there were many attempts made to disempower the Guru, but his faith fueled him. Well-wishers from his court and empire went all the way to Gwalior to pay homage to his sacrifice. One of them was the renowned Sufi Saint, Mian Mir. When the Saint reached Gwalior, he requested the Emperor to grant freedom to Guru Hargobind. The Emperor obliged, and Guru Hargobind was free to return.
However, he refused to leave until the other 52 Rajput princes were also freed along with him. Hearing about this, the Emperor posed a challenge he thought would be unachievable—to be released, each prisoner must hold the Guru’s chola as he walks out of the prison. Guru Hargobind took up the challenge and ordered his tailor to stitch a special chola with 52 panels so each prince could hold a part of it. And that is how they all walked out of the gates of Gwalior Fort and into freedom.
How It Is Celebrated
Bandi Chhor Divas celebrations are very similar to Diwali. Gurudwaras are lit up extravagantly, where thousands of Sikhs and other worshippers light candles in respect. There are also elaborate feasts or langars served in the gurudwaras that are prepared by the volunteers. During the day, a procession called Nagar Kirtan is held to commemorate the Guru's victory and valour.