To read the reading of the Sikh story of Diwali and to think about how we can apply the principles in the story to our lives. The Sikh New Year occurs in April, but they too observe this popular festival of Diwali in ways very similar to Hindus. In Sikh homes, divas are lit, presents are exchanged and children enjoy fireworks and bonfires.
These festivities are used by Sikhs, however, not to remember the victory of Rama and Sita over evil, as is the case with Hindus: Sikhs use the festival to celebrate an important event in Sikh history, which actually happened at the time when Hindus were celebrating Diwali.
The Festival Story – GURU HARGOBIND
In the days of the fifth Guru Arjan, times were hard for Sikhs living in northern India. The Muslim emperor who ruled over India was called Jehangir; he arrested Arjan, who died while still the emperor’s prisoner. Arjan’s son, Hargobind, took over the leadership of the Sikhs in 1606. He established friendly relations with the emperor for a time since they both happened to be found hunting. It was not long, however before Hargobind was suspected of treachery because he had gathered an army together and constructed a fort in the city of Amritsar which later was to become the famous centre of Sikhism. Hargobind’s enemies told the emperor that the Guru was calling himself a king and was planning revenge for his father’s death. As a result, Guru Hargobind was imprisoned in a fortress at Gwalior.
At this time there were fifty-two Hindu princes being held in the same prison. They were badly treated and given little food because they had conspired against the emperor. Hargobind gladly shared with them whatever food he was given. Sikhs used to come to the prison every day. They were not allowed to see their leader so they simply stood outside the prison walls and prayed. This protest went on day after day and, each day, there seemed to be more and more Sikhs standing silently outside the fortress. Eventually, the emperor was told of this protest at the prison and he decided to investigate personally the charges against Hargobind. Finally he pronounced that the Guru was innocent and ordered his release: officers were sent to tell Hargobind that he could leave as a free man.
When the fifty-two princes heard the news, they were pleased for the Guru but felt rather sorry for themselves for there was no suggestion that they would be released and they would now be denied the extra food, to supplement their poor diet, which Hargobind had passed on to them.
Hargobind reassured them, however, saying, ‘I will not go and leave you here in this prison.’ He turned to the emperor’s officers and said, ‘Tell the emperor that I thank him for his investigations but 3 will not leave here without my fifty-two friends. They must be released with me.
The officers returned rather reluctantly to the emperor for they knew that such a message would not please him. The emperor was more puzzled than angry. He still wanted to release Hargobind to relieve the situation of unrest among the Sikhs, but he did not want to release the fifty-two rebel princes. Eventually, he decided to give the Guru a problem which he felt sure Hargobind would not be able to solve. The officers were told to return to the prison and give the following message: ‘The Guru must be released with honour but, as for the “princes, they are dependent on Hargobind and so only as many as you can pass through the doorway holding on to the Guru’s clothing shall be allowed to leave The emperor knew very well that the prison doorway was so narrow that not more than one person could pass through it at the same time! The officer laughed as they returned to the prison, and said, ‘These princes are starving, but they are not so thin that they can escape through that narrow exit.
Guru Hargobind received the message calmly and sent his thanks to the emperor saying that he would leave the prison the next day. Since the emperor had suggested he could leave with honour, he asked for a cloak, which he wore on special occasions, to be sent to the prison. The next day his cloak arrived. It was a long cloak with tassels all round the edges. The Guru told each prince to hold a tassel and said, ‘Now, follow me to freedom!’ One by one, the princes followed the Guru through the dark door of the prison into sunlight and freedom
This event took place when Hindus were celebrating Diwali and so Sikhs remember Guru Hargobind’s victory for truth and freedom in their celebration of the festival