DIVALI, festival of lights (from Sanskrit dipamala or dipavali meaning row of lamps or nocturnal illumination), is observed all over India on amavasya, the last day of the dark half of the lunar month of Kartika (October-November). Like other seasonal festivals, 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.

Among the Sikhs, Divali came to have special significance from the day the town of Amritsar was illuminated on the return to it of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) who had been held captive in the Fort at Gwalior under the orders of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir (1570-1627). Henceforth Divali, like Baisakhi, became a day of pilgrimage to the seat of the Gurus. Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636) in his Varan, XIX. 6, has drawn an image of “lamps lighted on the night of Divali like the stars, big and small, twinkling in the firmament going out one by one bringing home to the gurmukh, one who has his face turned towards the Guru, i.e. he who is attached to the Guru, how transitory the world is.”

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 endeavour 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. Amritsar still attracts vast numbers of Sikhs for the festival and although all gurdwaras and Sikh homes are generally illuminated on Divali night, the best and the most expensive display of lights and fireworks takes place at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar. S.S.V.B. DIVAN, in Persian, means royal court, conference, audience.

Appearing as diban or dibanu in Guru Nanak`s compositions, the word stands for both the divine court of justice and the law courts of the State. In the Sikh tradition, divan has come to mean the court of the Guru or a congregation in the name of the Guru. The Guru was addressed by Sikhs 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 Volum was installed was called the divan.

A gathering of devotees in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib at which holy hymns are sung and the holy Name is meditated upon is a divan. Nowadays Sikh social and political gatherings and conferences, with Scripture presiding over them, are also designated divans. The term nevertheless applies primarily to Sikh religious assemblies in gurdwaras or elsewhere. At a Sikh divan, Guru Granth Sahib is seated on a high pedestal or throne. Sikhs enter reverentially with folded hands and kneel down touching the ground in front of it with their foreheads and making offerings, usually of money.

They will, thereafter, greet the assembly, and, where the hall is spacious enough to permit this, circumambulate the Sacred Volume in token of allegiance to the Guru before taking their seats on the ground among the sangat. Dispersal is in the same reverent style; the departing member will leave his seat, stand before the Guru Granth Sahib, with hands clasped, fall on his knees making a low bow and retreat respectfully, taking care not to turn his back towards the Holy Book. In Sikh gurdwaras commonly two divans take place daily one in the morning and the second in the evening.

In the morning, the service will begin with the induction and installation of the Guru Granth Sahib. After the ardas or supplicatory prayer, the Book will be opened to obtain from it what is called hukam, i.e. the Guru`s command or lesson for the day. This will be followed by kirtan or chanting by a choir of musicians of holy hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, if not of the entire composition entitled Asa ki Var. At larger gurdwaras, kirtan will be preceded by the recitation of Guru Arjan`s Sukhmaniand of morning nitnem, i.e. texts comprising the daily regimen of Sikh prayers for that hour.

Then there will take place katha or exposition of the hukam of that morning or of any other hymn from the Guru Granth Sahib, followed by a discourse or lecture on Sikh theology or history. Recitation of the six cantos by the whole assembly from Guru Amar Das`s composition, the Anand, and of the last sloka of the Japu, ardas, proclamation of the hukam from the Guru Granth Sahib and distribution of karahprasad or communion will bring the divan to a conclusion.

At the evening divan, besides kirtan, two banis prescribed for the service, Rahrasi and the Kirtan Sohila are recited. At the central shrine at Amritsar, the Harimandar, the divan remains in session continuously from early hours of the morning till late in the evening, with kirtan being recited uninterruptedly. Special divans are held to mark important anniversaries on the Sikh calendar and social events in families. The format allows for variations to suit the occasion, but one binding condition is that the congregation occurs in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib.