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Perspectives: Clean Air on Bandi Chorr Diwas

Bandi Chorr Diwas, ‘Freedom Day,’ or ‘Day of the Release of Detainees’ in the Sikh history is the day when Guru Hargobind Sahib ji was released from Gwalior Fort after Jahangir held him captive upon suspicion that the Guru would be a threat to his empire. Guru Hargobind Sahib just finished construction of the Akal Takht Sahib and the Sant-Sipahis were becoming an impressive force, creating suspicion within the emperor’s court. The Guru was detained, and while being captive observed the squalid conditions of the other prisoners. When Guru Hargobind Sahib was eventually released, he refused to leave the fort unless all fifty-two of the prisoners had left with him. Guru accepted his freedom only with freedom of others and became known as Bandi Chhor.
Sikhs have remembered the historic occasion Bandi Chorr for four centuries, which falls on the same day as Diwali. In recent years, however, air pollution during celebrations has reached new levels due to the heavy use of firecrackers around our Gurdwaras. According to Punjab Pollution Control Board head K.S. Pannu, the use of fire crackers during celebrations create air pollution five times the levels considered healthy. These small particles get trapped in the air we breathe and are connected to a number of diseases of the heart and lungs, including asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease and should be avoided to maintain proper health according to environmental health experts.
It is important that we remember this day with reverence as Sikhs have done in the past. According to historical accounts by Bhai Vir Singh in Asht Guru Chamatkar, the day was full of happiness. People from the surrounding villages rushed towards Amritsar to seek darshan of the Guru. The streets were full of gardeners selling flowers and women made garlands of flowers to shower upon the Guru’s arrival. The streets were cleaned and the markets were decorated. In Harmandir Sahib karah parshad was cooked langar was prepared, and the sangat sang the praises of the Almighty. The Guru’s Sikhs in Amritsar waited for their Guru with candles and diyas on their baneras and front doors uttering Waheguru.
We can still preserve the memory of Bandi Chorr by taking time for activities that capture the essence of freedom. Freedom for ourselves and freedom for others around us through the principle of sarbat da bhalla, the upliftment of all.
On this day we can:

  • Clean and decorate our cities or villages with lights, plants, and flowers to keep a healthy living environment.
  • Share our clothes and other gifts with those in need at an orphan or old age home
  • Share meaningful gifts with relatives and kids
  • Plan a road side langar that is both clean and respectful of the surroundings

If we are part of a special event at our Gurdwara, we can participate by:

  • Planning sound and light laser shows at Gurdwaras instead of traditional firecrackers
  • Light oil lamps rather wax candles or use decorative electric lights for any festivities

As Bhai Gurdas Ji writes, ‘Satgur bandhi shhorr hai jeevan mukath karai oudeenaa,’ Satguru is the giver of freedom of bondages and makes the detached ones liberated in life. Let us remember and reflect on this day in the spirit of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji had done on Bandi Chorr, and live our lives with the true essence of freedom. May we enshrine our Gurus’ bani in ourselves and free the hearts and minds of others with each step we take in this world.
Guru Ang Sang.