Pickled Politics would like to wish our Sikh and Hindu readers a very Happy Diwali.
Hindus around the world celebrate Diwali (the “festival of lights”) for a range of reasons, most popularly to commemorate the return of the victorious Hindu deity Rama to the city of Ayodhya, as described in the Ramayana. The inhabitants of the city decorated it with lamps to celebrate Rama’s return. The festival symbolises the triumph of good over evil.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali to commemorate the return of the 17th century Sikh Guru Hargobind to Amritsar after he had been imprisoned for political reasons. The Guru had eventually negotiated the simultaneous release of 52 imprisoned kings; his arrival in Amritsar coincided with Diwali, and the overjoyed population adorned the city with lights to celebrate his return. You can see a photo of modern-day Diwali celebrations at the Golden Temple in Amritsar at the top of this article. Guru Hargobind’s supporters included Mian Mir, the Muslim saint who had laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple and was later the main religious teacher of the Mughal crown prince Dara Shukoh.
The Golden Temple’s architecture symbolises the core Sikh principles of the unity of God irrespective of the name people call their deity by, and the inherent unity & equality of mankind irrespective of people’s religious background. Like the other 9 Sikh Gurus, Guru Hargobind himself embodied these principles and therefore had a mosque built for the Muslim population of the town he’d founded in Punjab (the mosque was recently renovated by a major joint Sikh-Muslim project in India). Guru Hargobind was also responsible for initiating the militarisation of the Sikh population by raising a standing army, and for founding the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of Sikh authority which now forms part of the Golden Temple complex.
Some suitable music to mark the occasion:
The Indian singer Kailash Kher giving a live performance of “Aaj Mera Piya Ghar Aavenge”, meaning “Today my Beloved will come Home”. Kailash is a very successful recording artist and also contributes to the soundtracks of Bollywood films. His music is heavily influenced by Sikhism, Sufi Islam and devotional Hinduism. As mentioned at the start of the video, the lyrics for this particular song are actually an allegory for the final journey of the human soul in the afterlife, and metaphorically describe the majestic celebratory preparations to meet God. The son of a Hindu priest, Kailash wrote this deeply moving song after his father passed away.
The Indian singer Jagjit Singh giving a fantastic live concert performance of “Ahista Ahista”, one of his most famous ghazals. As recently discussed on Pickled Politics, Jagjit Singh passed away a couple of weeks ago (more information via the BBC, the Telegraph and NDTV). He was the most high-profile signatory of the joint statement condemning the English Defence League, as discussed on Pickled Politics here.
Jagjit Singh was a Sikh and was originally trained in Indian classical music, initially by a Hindu and later during 6 years with a Muslim member of a traditional Indian classical music “house” with historical origins at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Although Jagjit Singh occasionally recorded albums of religious music, such as this hymn based on a prayer by the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, he is most famous as a ghazal maestro (by tests forge severly). During India’s medieval era, especially the Mughal period, ghazals originally consisted of songs based on Persian poetry combined with North Indian classical music influences; during the past couple of centuries, the lyrics have tended to be in Urdu. Ghazals are generally philosophical in nature, although these days they are known more for their romantic connotations. Jagjit Singh was widely regarded as the world’s greatest modern-day Indian proponent of this popular musical genre.
Jagjit Singh regularly performed at international concerts to huge audiences, and was in the middle of a joint concert tour with his Pakistani counterpart Ghulam Ali when he passed away. The following video of one of Jagjit Singh’s wonderful concerts shows him at his very best, not only as a phenomenal ghazal singer but also as a man of tremendous warmth and dignity. He will be deeply missed by hundreds of millions of South Asians worldwide, including myself, and I am dedicating this Diwali article to him. As Kailash Kher’s song above describes, Jagjit Singh has now returned Home.
Happy Diwali, everyone. Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.
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