Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas: How can you support employees during these festivals?

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Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas are two important religious celebrations that offer an opportunity for colleagues to get involved with celebrations and help celebrate different cultures. Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas take place in the autumn and this year it falls on Sunday 12 November.

Here Varinder Gosal and Vijay Patel take a look at the celebrations of Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas, and how employers can support those employees who choose to celebrate these festivals.

What is Diwali?

Diwali is a festival of lights and one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and some Sikhs and Buddhists. The name is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Deepavali’, meaning ‘row of lights’. The festival generally symbolises the victory of light over darkness and traditionally marks the start of a new year. Diwali is one of the most important holidays celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world.

In Hinduism, Diwali is a five-day festival that marks the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to their home after 14 years in exile, having defeated the Demon Ravana. Lord Rama and Sita were welcomed with a path lit with divas.

The festival signifies the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil and marks the start of the Hindu New Year.

In the lead-up to Diwali, people will prepare by cleaning and decorating their homes and workplaces with diyas (oil lamps) and rangolis (colourful art circle patterns) light fireworks, and partake in family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared.

What is Bandi Chhor Divas?

Bandi Chhor Divas (meaning Day of Liberation) commemorates the day the sixth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Hargobind Ji, released 52 prisoners from Gwalior Fort, who had been imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The day falls in autumn and often overlaps with Diwali.

Bandi Chhor Divas is also celebrated by the lighting up of homes and Gurdwaras (celebratory processions).

In 1619, the Mughal emperor had imprisoned hundreds of innocent political prisoners, including the Sikh’s sixth Guru, Sri Guru Hargobind Ji and 52 Rajas (Princes). After many negotiations, the Emperor agreed to release the Guru, however the Guru refused to leave the fort unless 52 Rajas were also released. Not wanting to agree to this demand, the Emperor declared that “whoever can hold on to the Guru’s cloak can be released”. The Guru had a cloak made with 52 tails which enabled the Guru and all 52 Rajas to leave the fort in which they had been imprisoned for years. The day of their return to Amritsar coincided with Diwali and the city was lit up with divas and lamps to celebrate.

To all those celebrating, it symbolises the ‘day of freedom’ and reminds us of Guru Hargobind Ji’s actions to continue to fight against injustice and always stand up for the rights of others.

How can employers and colleagues support employees during Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas?

As is the case with all religious holidays, employers and employees should take steps to support their colleagues who wish to celebrate important dates in their religion’s calendar. In order to support those celebrating either or both of these festivals, employers and colleagues should:

  • Take the time out to educate themselves and learn about the differences in both festivals and why it is an important time in the calendar.
  • Be flexible when it comes to requests for annual leave, where employees may want to take time off to go and celebrate Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas with family and friends.
  • Where possible, if their attendance is essential, avoid booking important meetings and scheduling events during the day for those who wish to take annual leave.
  • Speak to Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist colleagues and ask respectful questions which will help you to appreciate and learn about the culture. This will help to show colleagues that you’re interested to learn about what is important to them.
  • Appreciate that not all employees will choose to celebrate Diwali and/ or Bandi Chhor Divas in the same way, so take time to understand the individual and how they celebrate with friends and family.

We would like to wish everyone celebrating a happy and prosperous Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas.

* This article was co-written by our Senior New Business Executive, Varinder Gosal.

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