This has been a year of advocate voices rising. It’s been a time of people recognizing that change can only happen through action. We have been reminded to step up because allyship is not supportive from the sidelines. It has been a time of solemn awareness – a time that has demanded our strength for healing and action.
Sikh communities around the world remember Bandi Chhor Divas today.
Our sixth Guru (spiritual guide) had been imprisoned at Gwalior Fort in 1619. The emperor had been advised that Guru Har Gobind Sahib had gathered too great a following and it was rumoured that he intended to attack political power. These opinions were based on stoking fear of the unknown.
While held in prison for no proven crime, Guru Har Gobind Sahib heard stories from Hindu rajahs (princes) who shared social and political opinions, which differed from those of the standing emperor. They feared for their communities and their people faced many forms of injustice. They felt defeated.
When the emperor did order the release of Guru Har Gobind Sahib, thanks to the tireless advocacy of Mian Mir – a Muslim Sufi – and community strength, the rajahs pleaded not be left behind. Guru Sahib refused his own release unless all political prisoners could leave with him. The emperor denied the request. After much back and forth, the emperor was advised on what was considered the perfect solution – Guru Sahib could leave with as many rajah prisoners who could hold on to his chola (long coat/shirt).
That night, Guru Sahib sent out a message. The next day, when Guru Sahib left the prison gates, he did not leave alone. He had had a chola tailored with 52 tassels hanging from it, one for each of the princes.
Guru Har Gobind Sahib’s chola is a metaphor for what we are still trying to achieve today. Liberation does not belong to any one person, or to a single community. True liberation takes place when you ensure that your freedom is tied to the freedom of every person you meet along the way. It’s a reminder that allyship is about recognizing privilege and then not being afraid to use it to uplift those who need it the most.
(Image of original Chola worn by Guru Har Gobind Sahib on Bandi Chhor Divas 1619)
Today, Bandi Chhor Divas propels us to focus our lens and find the voices that feel silenced. It is day that sets our social justice goals for the rest of the year. It’s a day to explore humanity and to act on our awareness. Light your candles tonight and spread hope and peace for our tomorrow.