Though most gurdwaras participate, many devout Sikhs feel that commemorating the release of 52 princes along with Gur Har Govind from prison with Bandi Chhor is just an excuse to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lamps. Various writers argue that the actual date of release cannot be proven and cast doubt about the holiday's origins pointing out that no such celebration occurred when Emperor Babar granted the release of Guru Nanak from Multan prison even though the Guru negotiated the freedom of every one imprisoned with him. Indeed, I have found no record of the Bandi Chhor release date in my own research, as apparently reliable historians are unwilling to put their names to disputed, and unsubstantiated, evidence when even the actual year that the imprisonment occurred is unknown.
As a Sikh born and raised in the West, I did not learn of these holidays until decades after my initial conversion to Sikhism, until meeting Sikhs of Punjabi origin who migrated to the USA. Although I have researched both, I have never actually celebrated either Diwali or Bandi Chhor, and would hardly give them a second thought were it not for all the felicitations flying about the web this time of year, (which in my un-humble opinion is already over inundated with Western holidays which I conspire to avoid in true humbug fashion). I'm of a mind with Guru Nanak, who stressed that one day is not more auspicious than the next, but like most people I do enjoy festivities now and then. As a Sikh observing Bandi Chhor makes much more sense to me than celebrating other holidays unrelated to Sikhism. Whether the original incident occurred at Diwali really makes no difference to me. Bandi Chhor serves as a diversion from other holiday hype and serves as a focal point for celebratory energies, (just in case the Guru Gaddi Nagar Kirtan parade celebrations left any restive festive inclinations unfulfilled). So as an abject, afterthought, here's sincerely wishing all who seasonally celebrate,"Happy Holidays" whatever they may respectively be.
Bandi Chhor Illuminates Golden Temple
Photo © [Courtesy Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]