Divali is a Hindu festival that is celebrated by lighting oil lamps, called diva. Many Sikhs celebrate Divali, often disguised as Bundi Chhor Divas, within their local gurdwaras. This occasion is typically observed as a full-scale program with kirtan, katha and Ardas, with the added spectacle of lighting the premises with excessive lights and divaas, and encouraging the sangat to bring extra sweets for langar.
The parbandhaks, parchaaraks and raagis of these gurdwaras propagate Divali by distorting Sikh history to connect Divali to our Gurus, falsifying Bhai Gurdas’ writings to link Divali to Sikh teachings, and feigning ignorance to follow the diva extravaganza at Darbar Sahib and other takhats on Divali.
DISTORTING SIKH HISTORY
And, are some Sikhs so eager to celebrate Divali and so fervent to want to link it to Sikh practice and tradition that they simply have to find or concoct an incident that is suggested to have happened around that day and use it as a pretext to celebrate?
Note: It is unclear when Guru Hargobind was arrested and whether he spent his entire imprisonment at Gwalior Fort. Juhaangeer arrested Guru Hargobind some time after the completion of the Akal Takhat, in 1609, probably around 1612. He was likely imprisoned in Gwalior Fort around 1617. And released in 1619.
Note: Guru Hargobind had several important admirers in Juhaangeer's court. Among them were Hakim Aleem u Din Ansari, popurlarly known as Wazir Khan, who was the governor of Sirhind. He also was a master of the Arabic language and of medicines. Also among his admirers was Baba Sain Mir Mohammed Sahib, popularly known as Mian Mir. He was a famous Muslim Sufi saint, from Lahore. He also was the spiritual guide of Noorjahaan, Juhaangeer's favorite wife who held great influence over his administration. According to the "Bansiwala Nama dus Padshahian," junumsaakhi by Kesar Singh Chibber, dated 1769, Noorjahaan told her husband that the holy man, Guru Hargobind, is like God, and that he should not have arrested him. With Guru Arjan's martyrdom, Guru Hargobind's imprisonment and with local raajas imprisoned, the emperor became fearful of a mass rebellion.
Note: Bhatts were bard poets that recorded historical events. According to thesikhencyclopedia.com, the first Guru to have bhatts in his darbar was Guru Arjan. A few of them became devout Sikhs and wrote hymns in praise of Guru Arjan and his predecessors, which are preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib. Some also took part in Guru Hargobind`s battles against the Mughals. The saakheeaan are narratives of Guru Hargobind to Guru Gobind Singh, and Bunda Singh. They also include vahees, genealogical records of ancestry, date, day, tithi and even exact times of particular events connected with the Gurus.
Note: “The Vaars of Bhai Gurdas clearly indicate that Bhai Gurdas was fully conversant and proficient in the art of history writing,” writes Kuldip Singh, former president of the Institute of Sikh Studies, in Chandigarh. “This is borne out by his narration of only significant events from the life of Guru Nanak.” There is no doubt that he was prevented, likely by Guru Amra Das ji, from writing about the remarkable events concerning the Gurus and the Sikhs, which were happening in front of him, because it would have resulted in something akin to writing the Ramayana and would have taken the Sikhs away from Gurbani.
A cursory examination of the language used by Bhai Gurdas also reveals his intention. Lamps are lighted. The word for lighted is "jagaaeeani." However, bhai ji uses the word "baaleeani," meaning burned. He says, “Lamps burn away.” The emotion behind lighting a lamp is generally positive. Lighting lamps give one a sense of creating light and brightness. But the emotion he evokes here is concerned with the temporariness of that emotion – that divaas, no matter how many nice feelings they evoke on Divali night, eventually burn out or burn to cinder. He uses divay on Divali night to explain the concept of temporariness of joyful things in life as opposed to the permanence of the joy felt in understanding the Shabad – which is his main concern.
To interpret this line as a call by Bhai Gurdaas to Sikhs to “burn” lamps on Divali night is to miss the point all together. Attempts by some of our raagees and parchaaraks to stretch to the breaking point the meaning of this line requires nothing short of distortion.
About the author: Karminder Singh Dhillon has a doctoral degree in international relations and is a regular contributor to The Sikh Bulletin and The Sikh. He is currently an administrative and diplomatic officer in the Malaysian civil service, and the Deputy Undersecretary at the Ministry of Defence. He has degrees from several universities, including Harvard University; the University of Nottingham, UK; the National Defence University, Beijing; and Boston University. This article was first published in 2010, and has been edited and republished for awareness of the Panth.
Commentaries are the opinions of the authors, and not necessarily that of Sikh Free Press.