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Bandi Chhor Divas at the White House

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Monday, November 07, 2011 | 01:11 am

Gallery

Photo Source: SCORE

President Barack Obama conspicuously recognized Bandi Chhor Divas during the White House Divali celebration on Oct. 26.

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Photo Source: SCORE

Amardeep Singh, a White House advisor and program director for the coalition, was among the speakers at the White House Divali ceremony.

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Photo Source: SCORE

Rajwant Singh (left), president of SCORE; Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Bijay Singh of the SGPC; Varinder Kaur; Mohinder Singh Taneja, Sikh activist from New York.

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Photo Source: SCORE

Surendar Singh Dhall (left), Long Island, NY; Ravjot Singh Bhasin, Long Island NY; Sapreet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition; Mohinder Singh Taneja, Long Island, NY; Jaspaul Singh, Boston, MA.

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President Barack Obama conspicuously recognized the Sikh gurpurab, Bandi Chhor Divas, during the official celebration of Divali, a Hindu festival, and for the first time welcomed a Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee representative to the White House, Sikh groups said.

Although not on the official White House transcript of his speech, the president added a remark that Divali also is a significant day for Sikhs because Guru Hargobind returned from being jailed by the ruler of India at the time, said Amardeep Singh, a White House advisor and program director for the Sikh Coalition.

Amardeep Singh was one of the speakers at the White House ceremony on Oct. 26. He also mentioned the significance of the gurpurab before talking about his work with the White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Bandi Chhor Divas and Divali are typically celebrated on the same day although they occur a few days apart and have very different significances. President Obama has been recognizing Bandi Chhor Divas since 2009.

The White House event was closed to the press, but according to a separate news release from the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, the president welcomed more than 200 Indian Americans to the White House.

He recognized Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao; Deputy Chief of Mission Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh, of the Indian Embassy; Kiran Ahuja, executive director for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Pratima Dharm, the first Hindu chaplain for the U.S. Army.

The president also recognized Bijay Singh, assistant secretary of the SGPC’s Dharam Parchar Committee. He and the other dignitaries stood as the president welcomed each one to the celebrations.

According to the news release, this was the first time that a representative from Darbar Sahib was recognized by the president at the White House.

“It is a kind gesture for President Obama to acknowledge my presence, and it reflected that he has deep respect for Sikhs and all minorities,” Bijay Singh later stated in the news release. “His welcoming me as a representative from the Golden Temple, Amritsar, at the official center of American government will be seen (as) extremely positively by Sikhs all across the globe.”

Rajwant Singh, chairman of SCORE, a Maryland-based advocacy group, arranged for his attendance at the event during his visit to Washington.

In his speech, President Obama said: “Today, here in America and around the world, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists will celebrate the holiday of Divali – the festival of lights. Many who observe this holiday do so by lighting the diya, or lamp, which symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. I was proud to be the first president to mark Divali and light the diya at the White House.”

The Hindu Festival

According to TheSikhEncyclopedia.org, Divali, the festival of lights, comes from the Sanskrit word dipamala or dipavali, meaning row of lamps or nocturnal illumination.

“Divali has been celebrated since time immemorial. In its earliest form, it was regarded as a means to ward off, expel or appease the malignant spirits of darkness and ill luck. The festival is usually linked with the return to Ayodhya of Lord Rama at the end of his fourteen-year exile. For the Hindus it is also an occasion for the worship of Laksmi, the goddess of good fortune, beauty and wealth.”

The Sikh Gurpurab

According to SikhiWiki.org, Bandi Chhor Divas, the day that the Sixth Guru arranged his release and that of 52 rajas from Gwalior Fort where they were imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jahangir, actually occurred a few days before Divali.

“Divali, a Hindu festival, was being celebrated on the day when the Guru reached Amritsar (from Gwalior). On the arrival of the Guru in Amritsar, the people lit up the whole city with thousands of candles, lights and lamps like they had never done before…

“This actual Bandi Chhor Divas is celebrated each year at Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhor Sahib, Gwalior, with much gaiety and joy, a few days before Divali.”

According to TheSikhEncyclopedia.org, “during the turbulent eighteenth century, it was customary for the roaming warrior bands of Sikhs to converge upon Amritsar, braving all hazards to celebrate Divali. It was for his endeavor to hold such a congregation at Amritsar that Bhai Mani Singh, a most widely revered Sikh of his time, was put to death under the imperial fiat.

The word divali also has its origins in the Persian word, divan, which stands for both the divine court of justice and the law courts of the State. Divan, or dibanu, appear in Guru Nanak’s compositions.

“In the Sikh tradition, divan has come to mean the court of the Guru or a congregation in the name of the Guru. Sikhs addressed the Guru as Sachcha Patishah, or True King, whose audience was given the name of divan, or court. As the office of Guru became vested in the Guru Granth Sahib, any assembly in the hall or court where the Sacred Volume was installed was called the divan.”

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