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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Many celebrators of Diwali will gather over the weekend to celebrate the festival of lights at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Fort St. John.
Diwali is celebrated by a couple of different religions, including Hinduism and Sikhism, but also Buddhism and Jainism.
Diwali is officially on October 24th, 2022, but due to work and school commitments, it will be celebrated by most on Sunday, October 23rd.
Milli Patel, a Fort St.John resident originally from India, says that traditionally, Hindus celebrate Diwali to celebrate good overcoming evil.
“We celebrate it to create a belief in people that whatever bad is happening, there will definitely be something good after it, and we should be ready to welcome that with lights in our hands,” Patel explained.
“And there is always the victory of goodness over the evil.”
Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman were in exile for 14 years before Rama’s army of good defeated demon king Ravana’s army of evil, and they returned home to Ayodhya, she explains.
Patel says they reached Ayodhya on a new moon night.
“So the people welcomed them with thousands of lights, and they made the town much more brighter than any normal day,” she said.
They welcome back the good and celebrate the victory of good over bad by decorating their houses with lights, ornaments, and garlands of flowers and leaves.
“We do it as a gesture; we are welcoming the good energy, we are welcoming the guest to our place, we want our place to look nicer to them so that they are attracted to our house,” Patel explained.
She says nowadays, Diwali has been modernized, and it has become more about having parties where they make food and dress up.
“The meaning is still there. We wish well for each other,” Patel said.
“With changing times, the pattern of celebration is changing, but the concepts of traditions and spirits are still there. We still do worship our Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha on that day.”
Typically, Hindus would celebrate Diwali for five or six days, beginning three days before the day of Diwali, and they would have a break from school and work.
“They always have a mini-break, as we have during Christmas time,” she said.
This break starts two or three weeks before Diwali, when they will start cleaning their homes and gift shopping. She compared it to the preparations for Christmas.
Each day leading up to Diwali has a name and traditions that go with it, depending on the religion.
Patel says her parents and grandparents know all the rituals that happen each day leading up to Diwali.
In Canada, celebrations look a bit different for her.
“We don’t have a Hindu temple in town, but the Gurudwara is there, so we go there, we worship there, we take good blessings,” she explained.
“At home, we do a Goddess Lakshmi Puja. We offer some sweets and some fruits to the goddess.”
Patel also makes a point to contact her relatives, preferably over FaceTime video calls to greet one another and wish them well.
Another tradition she partakes in is Rangoli, which Patel calls one of the most common parts of Diwali.
“They are the powder colours we use to draw paintings on the floor,” she explained.
Patel adds that the day after Diwali is the Gujarati New Year, which is on October 25th, as it changes per the Hindu Calendar.
Bandi Chhor Divas: How Sikhs celebrate Diwali
In northern India, in the state of Punjab, Diwali is celebrated as Bandi Chhor Divas, which means “Prisoner Liberation Day,” to commemorate the day the sixth guru of Sikhs, Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, and 52 Kings were released from Gwalior prison.
Rajbir Kaur, now residing in Fort St. John, explains that the fifth guru of Sikhs and Shri Guru Hargobind Ji’s father, Shri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, was arrested by the Mughal emperor Jahangir.
Kaur says that because he refused to convert to Islam, Jahangir tortured and killed Shri Guru Arjan Dev Ji in 1606 AD.
“The martyrdom of Shri Guru Arjan Dev Ji is greatly remembered and venerated in the history of Sikhism,” she said.
Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji became the sixth Sikh Guru at the age of 11, after the martyrdom of his father by Emporer Jahangir.
She says that in 1612 AD, when Guru Ji was only 18 years old, Jahangir commanded his presence.
Despite opposition from some Sikhs in Amritsar, the guru went to the royal court, where Jahangir demanded the unpaid fine he had imposed on the late Shri Guru Arjun Dev Ji.
Like his father, Shri Guru Hargobind Ji refused to comply with the emperor’s demands, so Jahangir sent him to the political prison in Gwalior Fort.
Jahangir had already imprisoned 52 other rajas from other parts of India, many of whom had been forgotten there.
The Mughal emperor, Jahangir, met with Guru Ji several times during his imprisonment and became close to him.
Kaur says this was because the guru saved him from a lion while they were hunting and also because the guru’s prayers cured the emperor’s illness.
The emperor agreed to release Giri Hargobind Sahib Ji, but he refused, and Kaur says he would only agree if 52 other kings or rajas were also freed.
She explains that the emperor was initially reluctant but agreed to let the prisoners free who could hold onto the guru’s cloak, as he thought that would limit the number of prisoners freed.
Guru Ji outsmarted the emperor by creating a cloak with 52 tassels so all the rajas could hold on and walk to freedom with him.
Kaur says Guru Ji reached Amritsar on Diwali eve, and the entire Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) was lit with hundreds of lamps to celebrate his return, leading to the beginning of Bandi Chhor Divas celebrations.
This is also a time when Sikhs may pilgrimage to the Golden Temple, the most important pilgrimage site in the religion.
On Diwali, the Golden Temple in Amritsar is illuminated with Diyas (lamps), and fireworks are set off, Kaur said.
She says Bandi Chhor Diwas is celebrated in a “grand manner.”
“This Sikh festival includes processions, feasts, lighting of lamps in homes and Gurdwaras, charities and family get-togethers,” Kaur said.
She says to celebrate Bandi Chhod Divas this year at their Sikh Temple (Gurudwara Sahib) in Fort St. John. They will have “Akhand Paath” followed by religious Diwan (Kirtan, Katha, and prayer). Kaur says everyone from the community is welcome to join.
“Sikh temples are decorated gorgeously with lights and festoons [and] Sikhs visit Gurdwaras with their families on this day and spend their time involved in spiritual activities,” Kaur explained.
Sikhs remember Guru Ji through prayer and meditation.
Diwali is on October 24th this year, and Kaur says it will be celebrated with great enthusiasm.
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