Diwali

For Sikhs, Diwali is a festival that celebrates the historic day known as Bandi Chhor Divas, the day that Guru Hargobind was released from an unjust imprisonment and returned to Amritsar. For Sikhs, this historical event represents a fulfillment of the eternal story of good triumphing over evil and the reinstatement of order from disorder. It's celebrated on Kartik Amavasya in the Bikrami calendar. Here are the Kartik Amavasya dates converted to Gregorian for the next few years:

Diwali is typically celebrated by lighting candles, fireworks, sparklers, and singing kirtan. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown this year, we're sharing an activity my husband and I created a few years ago to celebrate this holiday at home with your children.

 

Activity:

Tassels of Freedom

This activity teaches your children about the story of Bandi Chhor Divas and the virtue of selflessness. It includes a fun craft activity to connect the lessons of the story to their own lives. 

Materials Needed:

  • At least 1 yard of tassel trim for each child

  • 5 inches of yarn or string for each child

  • 1 sheet of white Cardstock Paper or a decorative card for each child

  • A few dozen Round Tags for each child

  • Scissors

  • Hole Puncher

  • Pens and Pencils

  • Markers

  • Sparkler for each child

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Instructions:

 

Start by sharing a simple story with your children about the triumph of good over evil and using Guru Hargobind Sahib's decision not to leave prison without other innocent prisoners as an example. The younger they are, the simpler the story should be. The key is to emphasize the importance of dharam (righteous living). Below is one telling of the story you can use. Feel free to make it your own.

Storytime

"Long time ago the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, was wrongfully imprisoned by a cruel emperor who also held 52 other innocent men captive. When the emperor fell ill, he asked a holy man why God was punishing him. The holy man replied that in the eyes of God, keeping the innocent Guru captive for 12 long years was a grave sin. Hearing this, the emperor ordered the Guru to be released at once, but Guru Hargobind refused. He said he would only accept freedom when the other innocent prisoners were set free as well. The emperor didn't want to free all the prisoners so he told Guru Hargobind that he could take as many prisoners with him that could hold onto his coat.

 

Knowing that he couldn't leave any innocent man behind, he thought long about how to meet the emperor's condition. The next day Guru Hargobind asked each of the prisoners to find a tassel and give it to him. The prisoners spent many days finding tassels on carpets, upholstery, and even the guards' old clothing! They gave the tassels to Guru Hargobind and he tied them to each other and to his coat. One morning when the coat was ready, each of the 52 prisoners held onto a tassel and joined the Guru as he began walking towards the prison gates. Seeing the commotion, the guards alerted the emperor who came to see what was happening. Upon seeing the Guru's coat and realizing the efforts he made to ensure the freedom of others, the emperor bowed his head in a sign of deep respect. He then ordered his guards to open the gates and allow Guru Hargobind and all the prisoners to leave.

 

Guru Hargobind returned to Amritsar on the day of Diwali, an ancient holiday that celebrated a mythical king's return to his throne. All the people heard of the great deed that he had done for the other innocent prisoners and seeing him enter the city on Diwali they knew that their Guru was the great king that would bring peace and order to the world. From then on, the people associated Diwali with the righteousness of Guru Hargobind and it became the day that their king (Sacha Patshah), like the mythical king, triumphantly gained his freedom and returned from exile to take his place on the Eternal Throne (Akal Takht).

 

We celebrate this day because it reminds us that principled people with good morals always triumph over those who are evil. Guru Hargobind Sahib never once considered leaving behind the other innocent prisoners. Instead, he willingly stayed in prison until he found a way to gain freedom for everyone. So the moral of the story is to be steadfast in your principles and always uphold dharam (righteousness) no matter what the circumstances are."      

Keep in mind that this version of the story embellishes certain details to make it more engaging for young children. For a more factual telling, please consult historical books that delve into the sociopolitical context of Guru Hargobind's imprisonment and release.

In addition to telling them the story, you can print some pictures of the historical figures and show it to them. Here is a picture book we created that you can print:

bookthumbnail.jpg

Craft Activity

Tassels of Freedom is a craft decoration that gives your kids a way to connect their lives to Guru Hargobind Sahib's selfless act. As with any activity on this website, its meant to teach a lesson about an important virtue. If they don't enjoy the activity or they aren't learning anything, don't do it. The last thing you want to do is create an empty ritual for your children.

  1. Using card stock or a decorative card, ask each child to create a name card by cutting out a 3" x 5" piece and have them write their name on it. Alternatively, if you own a printer you can print a picture of your child on a cardstock sheet. When they're done, punch a hole on each side of the card.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

  2. Ask each child to say the names of all their loved ones (immediate family, cousins, friends, etc) and write them down.

  3. Tally up the number of loved ones for each child and give each child a stack of Round Tags equal to the number of loved ones they named.

  4. Have them write the name of each loved one they mentioned on a Round Tag.  

  5. Cut a length of tassel trim for each child that has enough tassels to equal the number of loved ones you counted in step 4. Pull a little extra and cut a few tassels off on each side because you will need the extra line to tie it to something.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

  6. Give each child the piece of tassel trim you cut for them

  7. Have your child tie each Round Tag to a tassel on their piece of tassel trim

  8. Tie the extra portion of each child's tassel trim to the hole on one side of the name/picture card they created in step 2

  9. Tie a small piece of yarn or string to the hole on the other side of the name card. This can be used to hang the decoration somewhere in your home

  10. You can hang it up on your child's bedroom doorway or your fireplace mantle for 12 days, each day representing a year that Guru Hargobind Sahib was imprisoned. Emphasize that this is only a decoration, our Guru would want them to practice real selflessness in their daily lives.

In the evening after nightfall, give each child a sparkler and light it. Tell them that we celebrate Diwali to remind ourselves that whether in stories or in real life, good always overcomes evil. Just like a small sparkler can light up the backyard, a small act of righteousness can shine brightly in a world of darkness.