Come Divali, our scholars and Sikh commentators pull out their kalams (metaphorically pens – to start writing) to present their research or just comment on whether we Sikhs should celebrate Divali or not. More often they write about why we should not – simply because all the historical facts point towards the fact that Divali has very little to do with us Sikhs except perhaps our proximity to Hinduism, Indian sub-continent traditions and close Hindu relationships. (We need to acknowledge that we Sikhs have sprouted mainly out of the traditions and ancient religions and practices, and people of the Indian subcontinent; that most intermarriages did and still do take place with others from Indian backgrounds and at least 75-80% of Sikhs are Indian born, live in India and have close proximity with India and all things Indian.)
There is no doubt that our long-term objective is, and should be, to untie ourselves from the apron strings of ‘Indian’ traditions and especially Hinduism simply because we need to grow up and stand on our own two feet. We are now a global phenomena.
In terms of major ‘religions’ of the world, we now stand at number five after Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Even Judaism, which still gets mentioned amongst the top religions of the world and certainly is better known than ‘us’, has less numbers than Sikhism. It gets greater mention because it is one of the oldest religions. We are the youngest. We are still ‘the new kids on the block’ and as such need to start growing up and finding our own complete identity.
Divali or Deepavali plays its part. This is my Divali experience. Initially – perhaps up to about 50 years ago, there was no question. Every Sikh did so simply because everyone else did and in Malaysia, it took on a south Indian flavour and we called it Deepavali. We dressed up. We even had gurdwara services – modest, not the way Indian Sikhs celebrate with lighting of candles and divas. We helped to make and enjoyed home-made methiyan, sekerparay and pekaudian, mesoo and barfi mainly. (My mother, with help from our south Indian neighbours, made great sweet rice pinian (balls). They were delicious! I never experienced any huge gurdwara programmes and Sikhs flocking to gurdwaras with candles and divas to light them there until a Nishan Sahib almost burnt down in a gurdwara in the Midlands in UK when I was there! In fact, I was flabbergasted that Sikhs directly from India and probably in India, went to those extremes to celebrate Divali!
I remember a friend from India trying to convince me that Darbar Sahib is lit up on Divali because when Guru Hargobind was returning back from Gwalior the custodians of Darbar Sahib lit up Darbar Sahib to welcome Guru Ji back. He was not happy when I laughed and told him that he was confusing that story with the original fable of Ram, Sita and Laxman returning after 14 years of exile. Guru Hargobind Ji ‘may’ have been released as a goodwill gesture by the Moghul emperor for Divali, but with travel those days and the amount of sangats on the way he probably reached Darbar Sahib (if he went back to Darbar Sahib because his station was Kiratpur), he probably reached close to Christmas Day. (Greater reason for us, perhaps, to celebrate Christmas!!)
Then, about 50 years ago onwards, some eyebrows were raised and as questions were raised, our ‘spiritual leaders’ came up with Bandhi Shod Devas and Guru Hargobind’s release from Gwalior prison and the release of another 52 ‘rajas’. That became the popular story and excuse – even if no one questioned the fact as to why were we celebrating Guru Harkrishan Ji’s release from prison but not the release of Guru Nanak from Babur’s prison almost 150 years earlier.
I am not against our celebrating Divali but do it for the right reason. And that is:
The Sarbat Khalsa (Khalsa Council) mostly on the run from the Moghuls and other enemies after the jyoti-jyot (passing on) of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, used to meet twice a year to plan for the next six months, settle disputes and discuss other matters affecting them and the Panth. Those two occasions were Vesakhi and Divali.
So , perhaps we should call Divali the second Khalsa Day or Khalsa Day Divali, (after Khalsa Day Vesakhi), so that we know why we are celebrating the day and teach our younger generations the glory of the Khalsa, Akal Purakh Ki Fauj.
We do not need to light divas and candles but bring on the sekerparay, jalebian, ledu, methian, pekoray, pekorian, pinian, curry puffs and samosay and more such eats. Let us dress up well and go to gurdwara to celebrate our 2nd Khalsa Day! Or Happy Khalsa Day Divali.
Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Diwali and Sikhi (Asia Samachar, 26 Oct 2019)
Bandi Chhor Divas – Sikh Divali: The harbinger of Enlightenment and Freedom (Asia Samachar, 21 Oct 2019)