The Power Play That is Bandhi Chhor Divas

Today, on the 7th of November 2018, the Sikh nation will celebrate Bandi Chor Diwas marking the release of Guru Hargobind Sahib and 52 Princes from Fort Gwalior. Although we currently celebrate this event by creating space for discourse on Gurbani/ GursedanthGurmatprinciples; Gurughars typically host fireworks displays and encourage the Sangat to light diveh. This article is to argue why the latter ought to be updated and revised to truly commemorate this great occasion.

When discussing Bandi chor diwas, I personally believe we should ask ourselves why was Guru Hargobind Sahib incarcerated in the first place? The answer is politics. In the Mughal era, the Sikh nation was growing into an increasingly influential community. The concept of sovereignty as bestowed upon by the Shabad of Guru Nanak Sahib had several socio-political implications whereby the Sikhs declared allegiance to no authority other than the Guru and hence ultimately Akaal Purakh. In addition, the Gurus observed and combatted the tyranny imposed by the Mughal durbar. As a result, instead of working within the framework of the Mughal durbar, Guru Sahibs decided to establish their own cities, their own tax collections, their own arsenals and their own armies. By creating a Sikh state in parallel to the Mughal empire, Guru sahibs broke the status quo and challenged the stronghold the empire had on the population. However due to Guru Arjan Sahibs martyrdom, there was an increasing risk of civil unrest from the sovereign Sikh state and to suppress dissent Jahangir issued for their ‘leader’, Guru Harbobind Sahib, to be incarcerated.

Whilst the Guru was held in detention at Fort Gwalior, a few Sikhs used to pay homage to him by performing a parkarma (circumambulation) around the fort. Slowly this number grew and the Sikh masses were becoming increasingly restless at the Gurus detention. It is through Guru Sahib and his zeal of activism imbued in his Sikhs that Jahangir began internal discussions on the release of the Guru to prevent Fort Gwalior from being besieged by the Sikhs. Whilst Jahangir agreed to release the leader of the Sikhs, through his infinite benevolence Guru Hargobind Sahib advocated for the Princes incarcerated alongside him to also be released. The interaction between Guru Sahib and Jahangir continues as they discuss the conditions of release (mainly the chola of Guru Hargobind Sahib) of the Princely political prisoners. The fact that Jahagir is receptive and compromises to the demands of the Guru shows the latters colossal political influence. Either Guru Sahib remains in detention alongside the Princes in protest of their freedom, and thus risk besieging of the Fort by the Sikhs outside, or Jahangir compromises and also agrees to their release. The fact that Guru sahib, representing the Sikh state as established by Guru Nanak Sahib, is able to lobby the Mughal darbar government to release the political prisoners shows first and foremost an exercise of politics and sovereignty.

In the post Guru period, Bandi Chor Diwas was one of the biannual dates a Sarbat Khalsa was held, the other being Vaisakhi. By calling a Sarbat Khalsa the entire Khalsa Panth formed an assembly, similar to a Parliament in the Western political system, at a single location to discuss political affairs concerning the Panth aswell as the allocation of resources and decide on a direction to take the Quam,  – a form of quasi-democracy. It was through the institutional Sarbat Khalsa that personalities such as the honourable Nawab Kapoor Singh were elected as the Jathedar of the Dal Panth which had colossal significance on Sikh history.

On the Sikh calendar, there is no denying that Bandi chor diwas has always been a political event. With this in mind, why has the event deteriorated by engaging in gluttony of jalebis/barfis and lighting fireworks which seem completely unrelated to the historical event as a whole. Instead we ought to once again make this event Guru centred by invoking and studying Gurbani and Gur-Ithihas to reinvigorate vivid imagery when we as a Quam actually thought as a State rather than the deeply fractured loose collective we have today. There will need to be a worldwide reform of this event however for the meanwhile I can only imagine it getting worse with Gurdwareh getting bigger and better firework displays to compete with each other. It seems as through the ages something has been lost, perhaps our ability to learn from the past.

Jasvin Singh

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