When a country is home to a population of over a billion who are practicing any or none of nine recognized religions, traditions and festivity will fill the air often. As those communities migrate to new lands, cultures evolve. It can be expected then, to have many questions around who celebrates which festival and why.
For our friends who are celebrating Diwali, we hope the Festival of Lights is filled with warmth and love. For members of the Sikh community, today we celebrate Bandi Chhor (pronounced Bundee Shohr).
Although the origin of each story is unique, the two festivals coincide on the calendar and both reflect the theme of light and hope.
For Sikhs, Bandi Chhor Diwas marks an event in 1619, when the sixth Guru was released from a prison at Gwalior Fort, in what is now central India. Many rajahs were imprisoned there too – for pretty much the same reasons we are experiencing human rights violations today – the emperor’s greed for power.
When the emperor commanded the release of Guru Hargobind Sahib, the Guru chose not to leave without those that had shared stories of fear and injustice with him. The Guru requested for them all to be released, which of course, was denied. When the emperor finally agreed to offer a token gesture – allowing anyone who could hold onto the tail of the Guru’s coat to be freed – he was outsmarted. The Guru had had a new coat tailored and hushed into the prison, with a tassel for every rajah to hold as he left the prison. Fifty-two rajahs were freed that day.
Candles are lit for this occasion, but I wonder how many of us remember that light is missing in so many lives the rest of the year too. As we celebrate Bandi Chhor, I hope our family can be mindful of the people suffering in silence, whether because of mental health, or the many social injustices still taking place in our world today.
We have to not only speak out about injustices, but also take action – however small it may seem – to create a more peaceful and kinder place. We have a collective responsibility to look out for each other, and never stand by while humanity suffers. Bandi Chhor is a reminder that we can all be warriors of change.