Monday morning. Diwali done, my daughter has left on a 5-day school camp. Yesterday, we celebrated Naraka Chaturadashi, the Chotti Diwali of North India which is celebrated as Deepavali in South India, with puja in the morning. In a twist to our family tradition, our daughter, instead of her father, recounted the story of the slaying of the demon Naraka by Krishna and his wife Bhudevi.
Over a breakfast of uppuhuli dosas - spicy sweet sour dosas of Mangalore, my husband’s native place - we swapped stories that are associated with Diwali, Rama’s return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya being the best known. Later I narrated the story of ‘Bandi Chhor Diwas’ and how it is linked to Diwali for Sikhs. Emperor Jahangir, feeling threatened by the popular appeal of the fifth Sikh Guru, had him executed. Later he imprisoned his son, the sixth Guru, in Gwalior fort. However, Jahangir was under pressure from moderate Muslim leaders like Hazrat Mian Mir - who laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple - and agreed to free Guru Hargobind Singh. The Guru assented but only if the other Indian chiefs imprisoned with him were also freed.
Jahangir relented, adding that only those who could hold on to the Guru’s coat tails could walk out of prison, assuming 4 or 5 would manage it. The story goes that the Guru outwitted Jahangir by getting a special coat made. He walked out of Gwalior jail with 52 rajas hanging on to the 52 tails of his coat. And thus came about the deliverance of the those rajas. When the Guru reached Amritsar, it was the day of Diwali, the Golden Temple was lit with diyas and thus began the marking of the ‘bandi chhor divas’.
Jahangir was Muslim, as was Mian Mir, the Guru was Sikh, the rajas were mostly Hindus, Ram was Kshatriya while Ravan was Brahmin, Krishna was either of Yadav or Kshatriya, and Bhudevi and Sita were both avatars of mother Earth.
The stories tell us that religion does not matter, neither does caste or gender - what matters every time is the people at the heart of the story, their courage and dignity. This Diwali, and in the days to come, forget the outer trappings - make people matter.