Guru Hargobind (Nanak 6) and the Freedom of Religion and Belief

Today, Sikhs around the world are celebrating Diwali or more correctly Bandi Chhor Divas (Day of Liberation). The events celebrated by Sikhs revolve around Guru Hargobind. There are many events in the life of Guru Hargobind that are worthy of remembrance, not least the adoption of the two swords symbolising miri-piri when he became Guru. Miri-piri is symbolic of the secular and the spiritual aspects of life; these had always been harmonised within Sikhi, and this was emphasised when Guru Hargobind took on leadership of the Sikh panth.

The events that preceded his Guruship at the age of 11 perhaps make his statement, and also the events of Bandi Chhor Divas that much more impactful. His father, the previous Guru, has been martyred/murdered by the Mughal Emperor after refusing to convert to Islam. This act of Guru Arjan was in response to the petition of many Hindus who were being tortured to convert; he acted as intermediary and ‘scapegoat’ as he died so that others would not have to convert.

Guru Hargobind was being held prisoner by the Mughal Emperor, Jahingir Khan. There are various stories that suggest how he came to be interred at Gwalior Fort, but whatever the truth, he was being held prisoner. Also, being held prisoner were 52 Hindu prisoners. In approximately 1612 or 1619 CE (dates vary according to different records) Jahingir offered to free Guru Hargobind. He responded that he would only leave if he was allowed to take the princes with him. Jahingir compromised out of respect for the Guru and said that he would be allowed free with as many princes as could hold his coat as he left. 

The Guru had a coat made with 52 tails, and thus when he was released he had the 52 Hindu princes holding onto his coat tails and all were able to be freed. Thus, the Day of Liberation. It is said that when he was freed, he was welcomed home to Amritsar with deva lamps; and the festival of lights became a celebration of liberation and freedom.

Central to all of the efforts of the Gurus in Sikhi is the teaching that all are equal in the sight of Waheguru. As such, in the words of Guru Nank, ‘There is no Hindu or Muslim’. We are all interconnected through the divine:

No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone (Guru Granth Sahib 1229).

The lives of the Gurus provide great examples of people who lived to build up all sections of society and humanity. Foremost in Sikh teaching is the equality of all; the Gurus, and in this case especially Guru Hargobind, showed their willingness to offer support and care without fear or favour. In one conversation with Jehingir Guru Hargobind taught this truth quoting Kabir:

God first created light, All men are born out of it. The whole world came out of a single spark; Who is good and who is bad? The Creator is in the creation, and the creation in the Creator, He is everywhere. The clay is the same, the potter fashions various models. There is nothing wrong with the clay or the potter. God the true resides in all…

Those attitudes that would trample on the rights of one religion can be used to restrict the rights of all. As such the Gurus taught of, and fought for, the rights of all people. They recognised that humanity could not be lifted, if one portion of it is subject to ill-treatment.

As I reflect on freedom of religion and belief this Bandi Chhor Divas I am very conscious of my responsibilities for all people to have their human rights protected and active in their lives.

Questions I am asking myself today:

  • How am I using the freedoms that I have to ensure that all people have the same freedoms?
  • Am I speaking up on behalf of those without the same rights, or those without a voice that can be heard?
  • Am I at ease in the comfort of my life without considering the needs of others?

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