13. Data Bandi Chhor the Great Deliverer
During October/November, the worldwide Sikh Sangat (community) celebrates the safe return of the sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind from detention from Gwalior Fort in about October 1619. The day of his return to Amritsar coincided with the Hindu festival of Diwali, ("the festival of lights"). This concurrence has resulted in a similarity of celebrations amongst Sikhs and Hindus. When Murtaja Khan, Nawab of Lahore, noticed that Guru Ji had constructed the Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, 'The Throne of the Almighty', at Amritsar, and was also strengthening his army, he informed the Mughal Emperor Jahangir about this. He also, incorrectly, emphasized that the Sikh Guru was making preparations to take revenge for his father's torture and martyrdom. When Jahangir heard about this he at once sent Wazir Khan and Guncha Beg to Amritsar in order to arrest Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji. But Wazir Khan, who happened to be an admirer of Guru Hargobind, rather than arresting him, requested the Guru to accompany them to Delhi telling him that Emperor Jahangir wanted to meet him. Guru Sahib accepted the invitation and soon reached Delhi.
Jahangir meets the Guru
On their first meeting when Jahangir saw the Guru, he was completely won over by his youthful charm and holiness. Jahangir asked the Young Guru whether the Hindu or Muslim religion was better. The Guru quoted some lines of Kabir. Jahangir was very impressed with this answer. Deciding to become friends with the Guru he gave him a royal welcoming. Learning that the Guru was also an avid hunter he invited Guru Hargobind to accompany him on his shikars (hunts). On one of these hunts the Moghul Emperor was hunting a lion which had been terrorizing a small village. Suddenly out of the bush the ferocious beast charged at Jahangir. Gunshots and arrows failed to end the attack of the lion. The beast was almost upon the Emperor when Guru Hargobind jumped between them. Yelling to the lion that he must first deal with him he raised his shield to deflect the lion and with a single stroke of his sword, the lion fell dead. The appreciative Emperor and Guru Hargobind were now becoming good friends. But Chandu Shah could not bear this. A rich banker with much influence in Jahangir's court he had once refused, with very derogatory remarks, sugestions that he arrange a wedding between his daughter and the young Hargobind, son of Guru Arjan.
Chandu Shah continues his evils ways
Later when he realized the match could be very beneficial he tried to arrange the wedding. But Guru Arjan, having heard of the unkind remarks by then, refused the proposal. Chandu's anger and intriques then played a large part in Guru Arjan's death. Now seeing the growing friendship of the two leaders and still smarting over his rejection by Guru Arjan Dev (his daughter was still unmarried and thus the rotten sore on his ego was still bleeding) he began his intrigues again this time taking aim at Guru Arjan's son, Guru Hargobind. While at Agra, the Emperor fell seriously ill. The royal physicians tried their best but they failed to cure him. Chandu Shah now saw his chance, conspiring with the astrologers, he asked them to tell the Emperor that his sickness was due to a bad convergence of the stars. Jahangir was told that the disease could be cured, only if some holy man would go to Gwallior Fort and continuously offer prayers to the deity there. He suggested that there could be none more appropriate than his new friend Guru Hargobind Ji and that he should be asked go to Gwallior Fort. At the Emperor’s request the Guru readily agreed and left for the Fort with several companions. In the fort Guru Ji met many Hindu Princes who were detained there due to political reasons. Their living conditions in the fort were very deplorable. With the help of Hari Dass, the governor of fort, the Guru had their conditions improved. The princes soon joined the Guru in his daily prayers. Unknown to Chandu Shah Hari Daas was a Sikh of Guru Nanak and he had become an ardent devotee of Guru Hargobind. When Chandu wrote to Hari Daas telling him to poison Guru Sahib, he had at once placed the letter before Guru Ji.
Mian Mir intervenes
When several months had passed without their Guru being released, Baba Buddha Ji and a group of Sikh devotees traveled to the fort to meet with the Guru. They told the Guru that the whole of Amritsar, his family, devotees and all the pilgrims who had come, from near and far to visit him, were missing his presence dearly. They were worried that their Guru might never leave the prison. The memory of his father's recent imprisonment, torture and death weighed heavily on their hearts. The Guru assured them that they should not worry, he would join them soon. Outside the fort Sikhs gathered and began to carried out Parbhaat-Pheris (singing Gurbani), as they walked around Gwallior Fort waiting for their beloved Guru's release.
The Guru is released, but refuses to go alone
In the meantime Sai Mian Mir, a noted Sufi Sant and friend of both the Guru and his father, had travelled to the Emperor's Court to meet with Jahangir asking him to release the Guru. Jahangir, who had fully recovered then ordered Wazir Khan to release Guru Sahib. Reaching Gwallior Fort Wazir Khan informed Hari Daas of the Emperor's order to release the Guru. Hari Daas was very pleased to hear this and quickly informed Guru Ji about the message from the Emperor. But the Guru refused to leave the fort unless the 52 princes were released as well. Emperor agrees but sets a condition. When Wazir Khan informed the Emperor of the Guru's desire, the Emperor first refused, but finally agreed, after Wazir Khan reminded him of the debt he owed the Guru for his recovery. Not really wanting to free the prisoners the Emperor cleverly added the following condition :
"whoever can hold on to the Guru's cloak can be released."
The fifty–two princes who had been detained for political reasons or for defaulting on large sums of tribute owed the Emperor, had suffered in the fort for years. The Guru with his heart full of compassion for the plight of others was determined to get the prisoners freed. He had a cloak made with 52 corners or tails, the cloak was soon delivered. So, as the Guru walked out of the gate of the fort the fifty-two princes trailed behind, each holding on to his own tail of the Guru's special cloak. The Guru's cleverness had trumped Jahangir's clever condition and liberated the fifty-two princes. Guru Hargobind is therefore also known as Bandi-Chhor (Liberator).
Celebrations held at Gurdwara Bandi Chhorh
Gurudwara Bandi Chor is built at the place where the Guru stayed during his detention. Jahangir advised Wazir Khan to bring Guru Hargobind in his court at Delhi with great honour. Jahangir had realised that he was wrong for allowing the torture and killing of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who had not committed any crime or offence. Wanting to exonerate himself of any guilt in the death he indicted the crime on Chandu Shah and other officers. So in order to show his innocence he wanted to meet Guru Hargobind Ji. On meeting with the Emperor Guru Ji wasted no time in telling Jahangir that there was no such thing as a bad convergance of the stars. The Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandi Chhorr Divas i.e., "the day of release of detainees". So in the evening, illuminations are done with "Deewalee" (earthen oil lamps), candles and fireworks. The celebrations are held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes.
What do we learn from Bandi-Chhor Diwas ?
52 Hindu Princes were freed with Guru Sahib. Guru Sahib could have left the Fort when he was offered the chance. However, Guru Ji thought of others before himself. To the Guru others' freedom and rights were more important than his own. Guru Ji is always thinking not of his emancipation but everyone's emancipation. This is the attitude and virtue which Guru Ji filled within his Sikhs, by putting into reality this positive message.
Bandi Chhorh Divas
Bandi Chorh Diwas is a day on which Guru Hargobind Sahib was released with 52 Kings from Gwalior Prison. The word "Bandi" means "imprisoned", "Chhor" means "release" and "Divas" means "day" and together "Bandi Chhor Divas" means Prisoner Release Day.
Bandi Chhorh Diwas is not Diwali
Bandi Chorh Diwas and Diwali are separate festivals and the events actually fall on different days; however, commonly in the popular calendars, they are celebrated on the same day. For this reason, many people often think of these events as if they are the same. In real terms, the day of release of the sixth Guru with the 52 rajahs (kings) was actually a few days before Diwali in 1619. These two celebrations represent two quite different events in history. On Bandi Chorh Diwas, the long imprisoned Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior, taking with him 52 long imprisoned Rajas, whose release was a result of the Guru's wit. Diwali (a Hindu festival) was being celebrated on the day when the Guru reached Amritsar. On the arrival of the Guru in Amritsar, the people lit up the whole city with thousands of candles, lights and lamps like they had never done before; there was much celebration and joy. Bandi Chorh Diwas falls on the night of Amavas in the month of Assu; this actual Bandi Chorh Diwas is celebrated each year at Gurdwara Data Bandi Chor Sahib, Gwalior with much gaiety and joy, a few days before Diwali.