[My Diwali- in this series, Shoma Ghosh tells about a parallel Sikh tradition, writing in from Calcutta]
My Sikh friends celebrate Bandhi Chor Diwas, their own festival of lights during Diwali. It celebrates an epic escape alongside an epochal homecoming. My home is Calcutta, and I have seen how much joy the festival brings, in the nearby Behala Gurudwara.
84-year-old Santosh Sodhi, makes it to the Gurudwara every Diwali. Bandhi Chhor Divas is one of the few occasions in a year that she steps out of home with her family to light lamps and pray at the Gurdwara. “My grandmother wouldn’t miss this visit to the gurdwara for anything. She looks forward to meeting her old friends and their children,” said Dashmeshbir Singh Sodhi, her grandson.
The family of Dashmeshbir, a young chartered accountant, was among the 1,000-odd congregation at the Behala Gurdwara that also included many people from other communities.
The story goes that when Jahangir offered freedom to Guru Hargobind, he refused to leave the fort until all 52 Rajput princes incarcerated there were freed as well. What followed added to the legend of the sixth Sikh Guru, whose father, Guru Arjan, had been executed on Jahangir’s orders around 13 years before.
“Jahangir set the condition that only those rajas who were able to hold on to Guru Hargobind’s cloak would be freed with him. Legend has it that a special cloak was made with 52 tails for each of the rajas to hold and walk out free with the guru,” Ahluwalia said.
On his return to Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar on the eve of Diwali in 1619, Guru Hargobind was welcomed into a shrine that had been lit up in celebration along with the rest of the city. This was the genesis of the tradition called Bandi Chhor Divas (prisoner liberation day).
In Calcutta, all 12 gurdwaras organise kirtan and discourse along with the customary illumination on Bandi Chhor Divas. One of the highlights of the evening is the narration of stories centred on Guru Hargobind by the granthi or head priest of the gurdwara.
Though there are no crackers sent off from the Gurudwara, the occasion is a noisy and robust affair, full of the joy of living.. balle balle!