Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas will be celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs on Sunday 12 November. Although both occasions coincide timewise, they differ in origin with both communities marking these events by celebrating the power of light.
I was walking through the aisles of my local supermarket with my nearly two year old daughter, gazing at what was on offer in the seasonal shelves. With Christmas less than seven weeks away, a generous amount of floor space is given to the advent calendars, chocolates and biscuits. Though it was when I walked past the Diwali gifts and merchandise that the following thoughts occurred to me.
Firstly, how cultural and religious events trigger a significant momentum in economic activity, but more importantly, and more so to the point of this article, what I wanted my daughter to take away from participating in religious events is to encourage her to celebrate her own differences as well as others.
On Sunday 12 November this year, Hindus and Sikhs around the world will be celebrating Diwali, or what you may have seen more commonly referred to as the ‘Festival of Lights’.
I was brought up in a Sikh household and this annual celebration is known as Bandi Chhor Divas which literally translates to ‘prisoner release day’ (coinciding with Diwali).
Sikhs celebrate the victory of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was freed from imprisonment along with 52 Hindu Rajahs (Princes) and their return to Amritsar in 1619. Hindus celebrate Diwali to remember the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to Ayodha after a 14 year exile after having defeated the demon king, Ravana.
On their respective arrivals, rows of candles and lamps were lit to shine brightly to celebrate their triumphs. The key message of the stories above is to celebrate the victory of good over evil and lightness over darkness.
In the lead up to Bandi Chhor Divas and Diwali, we’ll be decorating our home with divas (candles) and helping our daughter draw a rangoli (a colourful drawing of flowers and divas) at the front of the house.
On Sunday, I’ll be attending prayers at the Gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship) and lighting a diva with my family. We’ll head home for our Diwali dinner party and indulge in a range of savoury Indian dishes such as pakorahs (onion bhaji’s) and vegetable curries, and sweet desserts called mitaai. There’ll be plenty of music, singing and dancing, followed by a colourful and vibrant display of fireworks.
When I was younger the fireworks were all that I cared for. But this year, I’ll be taking the time to remember the teachings of Guru Hargobind Ji and teach my daughter some of the key values, which I’d like to think she’ll find useful in her lifetime. These include to treat others with compassion, to stand up for what she believes in and using our privilege to help those in need.
I wish you and your families a happy and fun filled Bandi Chhor Divas and Diwali.
If you would like to try to make your own traditional Indian dishes, here are my favourite recipes for a sweet and savoury dish:
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