Diwali - Significance in Sikhism
The story of Diwali for the Sikhs is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founder of Sikhism, popular seasonal or folk festivals like the harvest festival of Baisakhi, or previously ancient Hindu festivals such as Holi and Diwali began to take on a new significance for the Guru’s students, the Sikhs. The Guru used these festivals and special days e.g. first day of each lunar month, as symbols or pegs for his teaching themes. The enlightened ideology of Guru Nanak gave new significance to ancient festivals like Diwali and Baisakhi.
Diwali - Bandi Chhorh Divas For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, (hence also called "Bandi Chhorh Diwas" or "the day of release of detainees") and 52 other princes with him, from the Gwalior Fort in 1619.
The Sikh tradition holds that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Guru Hargobind and 52 other rajas (princes). Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned the sixth Guru because he was afraid of the Guru's growing following and power. The Emperor was asked to release Guru Hargobind which he agreed to do. However, Guru Hargobind asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave.
However, Guru Hargobind had made a large cloak with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string and leave prison. Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind Ji by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.
Diwali - Martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh Ji : Another important Sikh event associated with Diwali is the martyrdom in 1734 of the elderly Sikh scholar and strategist Bhai Mani Singh, the Granthi (priest) of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple). He had refused to pay a special tax on a religious meeting of the Khalsa on the Diwali day. This and other Sikh martyrdoms gave further momentum to the Khalsa struggle for freedom and eventually success in establishing the Khalsa rule north of Delhi
Bhai Mani Singh was a great scholar and he transcribed the final version of Guru Granth Sahib upon dictation from Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1704. He took charge of Harmandir Sahib's management on 1708. In 1737, he received permission from Mughal governor of Punjab, Zakarya Khan for celebrating Diwali at Golden Temple for a massive tax of Rs. 5,000 (some authors say it was Rs 10,000). Invitations were sent to the Sikhs all over India to join Bandi Chhorh Diwas celebrations at Harmandir Sahib. Bhai Mani Singh thought he would collect the tax-money from the Sikhs as subscriptions who would assemble for the purpose of Diwali Celebrations. But Bhai Mani Singh Ji later discovered the secret plan of Zakarya Khan to kill the Sikhs during the gathering. Bhai Mani Singh Ji immediately sent message to all the Sikhs not to turn up for celebrations. Bhai Mani Singh could not manage to arrange the money to be paid for tax. Zakariya Khan was not happy about the situation and he ordered Bhai Mani Singh's assassination at Lahore by ruthlessly cutting him limb-by-limb to death. Ever since, the great sacrifice & devotion of martyr Bhai Mani Singh Ji is remembered on the Bandi Chhorh Diwas (Diwali) celebration.