Diwali Festival of Lights 'essential to keep history alive', says Sikh family from Gravesend

  • ITV News Meridian's Megan Samrai visits the Gill family in Gravesend who share their memories of the festival

Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Newar Buddhist families across the South East are celebrating Diwali today, October 24.

Three generations of one Sikh family, from Gravesend, believe the celebration is essential to keep tradition alive.

Taran Gill, 17, said Bandi Chhor Divas also unites the people of Sikhism together.

He said: "I think it's important to preserve the history of what happened in Sikhism.

"When we grow older, we have to tell our children and the people younger than us like what we did and we have to carry on the story of my father and grandfather and grandfather have done."

Sikhs refer to the day as Bandi Chhor Divas to commemorate the release of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind ji and 52 Rajahs (kings) from prison in 1619.

After being freed, Guru Hargobind ji arrived in Amristar during Diwali, so people lit candles and lights to celebrate.

The Gill family celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas every year. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Pete Gill, 55, said most of his childhood memories involved going to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple).

Pete said: "When I was growing up, the temple was a smaller place. It's just got bigger and bigger.

"Back in the day it was a very small community, now it's people coming from outside of Gravesend, Rochester, and from Birmingham.

"When you go to the temple, everyone's there. It's all lit up, especially in the evening.

"The lights are on, there's a nice ambiance. Listening to the prayers, it's quite calming."

Kanwar Surjit Singh Gill, 81, said he remembers when he first came to the UK from India in 1963 as a 22-year-old qualified civil engineer.

Gravesend is home to one of the largest Gurdwaras in Europe. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Explaining how the Punjabi community in Gravesend was much smaller, he said: "There was only a number of people, you knew their names, their villages, their ages, where they worked."

But now, he says it is not only Sikh people that visit the Gurdwara to celebrate Diwali.

Kanwar continued: "It's everybody, locally and surrounding the town they all come to celebrate. They join in. There's no difference between them and us, we're all together."

Also known as the festival of lights, people typically celebrate Diwali by lighting candles and fireworks.

They also visit Mandirs (Hindu temples) and Gurdwaras, and exchange presents and sweets.

The story of Bandi Chhor Divas

  • The Guru did not want to leave prison without the 52 Rajahs

  • The Emperor Jahangir said however many people could hold on to the Guru's coat could leave with him

  • So the Guru had a coat made with 52 tassels so everyone was able to hold on and be freed from imprisonment

Taran said: "My favourite thing would probably be the food. The mithai (Indian sweets) and the tea and samosas.

"I think that's probably the easiest answer to give but I think it's quite interesting to learn about the history of why we celebrate this."

His father Pete agreed, and describing the social side of celebrations as one of his favourite things.

Pete said: "You go to the temple, you haven't seen people for a long while, you see them there and you can have a little bit of a catchup as well, so it's good."

Besan is a popular Indian sweet. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Taran's grandfather Kanwar said Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas gives you a chance to do your prayers and get closer to God.

Kanwar and Pete hope the family traditions will continue every year adding: "It's so important, we have to tell the younger generation to carry on, otherwise if you don't tell your background and history, it will fade away.

"We've just got to keep it alive I think, it's like any history isn't it, you've just got to keep it going through the generations."