Guru Tegh Bahadur: The apostle of peace and sacrifice

Jaibans Singh

Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth master of the Sikhs, is remembered for his simplicity, piety and more so for his strong will that changed the course of history. He is known for the firm and principled stand that he took against forced conversions of Hindus to the Muslim religion by Emperor Aurangzeb. He sacrificed his life to stand by his principles and for the sake of the weak and the downtrodden.  

The Guru was born on Vaisakh Vadi 5, Bikrami Samvat 1678 that, on the western calendar, coincides with April, 1, 1621.  He was the fifth son of Guru Hargobind and his second wife, Bibi Nanki. His birth place was the holy city of Amritsar in a house known as Guru ka Mahal. Guru Hargobind had three wives – Damodri, Nanki and Mahadevi and he had children from all three. As a child he was named Tyaga Mal.

Young Tyaga Mal was given an education befitting a son of a Guru and a Prince and in accordance with Sikh tenets and teachings. He learnt languages, social sciences and philosophy from Bhai Gurdas and martial skills like archery and horsemanship from Baba Buddha. It is said that Guru Hargobind personally taught swordsmanship to his son Tyaga Mal.

Bhai Gurdas was a disciple of the fifth Sikh master, Guru Arjan Dev, who had on instructions of the Guru inscribed the Adi Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs. He has many academic and scholarly milestones to his credit. Baba Buddha had been a disciple of the house of the Gurus from the times of the first master, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who had given him a blessing of a very long life. He carried out the initiation ceremonies of Six Gurus up to Guru Hargobind.

Tyaga Mal was married to Gujri in 1632 at a very young age. Gujri was the daughter of a wealthy and noble man, Lal Chand and his wife Bishan Kaur who were residents of Kartarpur. It is notable here that their first child, Gobind, was born on Poh Sudi Saptmi Samvat 1723, which coincides with the western calendar as December 22,1 666 and is 34 years after their marriage. By then, Tyaga Mal had already been anointed the ninth master of the Sikhs and was called Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. Gobind went on to become the tenth master of the Sikhs and was called Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Gujri, later called Mata Gujri, died of heartbreak in Sirhind when she heard about the martyrdom of her two grandsons Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Sahibzada Fateh Singh in 1705.

With such an illustrious upbringing and education young Tyaga Mal grew into a wholesome personality with a brave, adventurous spirit. He got an opportunity to prove his military acumen when he was barely 13 years of age. He fought bravely against Mughal forces in the Battle of Kartarpur in 1635. The Mughal Forces under Paidane Khan were defeated and the victorious Sikhs rechristened their new hero, Tyaga Mal as Tegh Bahadur (Brave Sword Wielder).

Despite his proven ability as a soldier and military strategist, Tegh Bahadur exhibited a religious and meditative bent of mind.   He remained immersed in the teachings of the Gurus and spent long hours in meditation. It is here that he lived up to his original name of Tyaga – renunciation.

Bhai Gurditta, the eldest son of Guru Hargobind Ji from his first wife Bibi Damodari, died on 15, March, 1938, at a young age of 24. It was at this stage that Guru Hargobind started grooming his grandson, Har Rai son of Bhai Gurditta, to be the master of the Sikhs after him. On being questioned about his decision by Bibi Nanki he is said to have told her that hat one day her son will be Guru and will beget a son and both will be known for the fight for justice. 

The Sikhs under Guru Hargobind remained in a state of conflict with the Mughals; four battles were fought between the opposing forces. Even though he Sikhs emerged victorious in all the battles, Guru Hargobind decided to retreat to Kiratpur Sahib, in the foothills of the Himalayas to stay away from the Mughals. At his stage Tegh Bahadur with his wife Mata Gujri went to live in the ancestral place of his mother Bibi Nanki in Bakala near the River Beas. It is said that Guru Hargobind also joined the family there for some time before is passing away in 1644.

Tegh Bahadur remained at Bakala for twenty years till he was anointed the ninth master of the Sikhs in 1966. It is said the he was a reclusive medicate, but there is also historical evidence of his attending to his family responsibilities. He also visited many holy and historical places like Goindwal, Kiratpur Sahib, Haridwar, Prayag, Mathura, Agra, Kashi and Patna. He had meetings with Guru Har Rai and even met Guru Har Krishan at Delhi.

In those times, the seat of the Guru was being subjected to intense pressure. Guru Nanak Dev chose Guru Angad Dev over his son Baba Sri Chand the latter made his own ascetic sect called the Udasis.  Later when Guru Ram Das anointed Guru Arjan Dev as the fifth master over his elder son Baba Prithi Chand the latter created a parallel seat known as the Minas and forcibly controlled the Haramndir sahib for a better part of the 17th century.

Tegh Bahadur rose above these petty precedents and remained loyal to his father and the tenets of the Gurus despite being sidelined from the seat. He remained engrossed in his meditations for twenty long years before being called upon to become the ninth master.

There is an interesting story behind the anointment of Tegh Bahadur as the ninth master of the Sikhs. Guru Har Krishan did not specifically name the ninth master as he prepared to leave the world. He simply said the two words “Baba Bakala” implying that his successor would be found in Bakala. On hearing the news many imposters set themselves up there, even as Tegh Bahadur remained aloof and immersed in meditation.

The identification of Tegh Bahadur as the next Guru was done by a wealthy trader, Makhan Singh Labana on the basis of a test that he carried out. Labana had been in great danger when his ships got stuck in a storm in the high seas; at that stage he had promised to donate 500 gold coins to the House of the Guru if his life was saved. On reaching the shores Labana set forth to make good his promise and found that Guru Har Krishan had passed away after saying that the next master would be found in Baba Bakala.  He then set forth to Baba Bakala where he found many contenders to the seat. He tested each one of them by offering two Gold coins for his safety which they accepted. He was quite desperate when somebody told him that the ascetic Tegh Bahadur also lived in Baba Bakala. He went to Tegh Bahadur and offered the two gold coins to which the master smiled, gave his blessings and told him that he had promised 500 gold coins. At this Labana understood that he had found the true Guru and told all the people.  A congregation of Sikhs from Delhi also arrived and Tegh Bahadur was anointed the Ninth Nanak and master of the Sikh community.

Guru Tegh Bahadur then went to Amritsar to pay obeisance at the holy Harmandir Sahib, but he was denied entry by the Sodhi clan and the Minas of Baba Prithi Chand who had control over the holy place.  The Guru waited in a place nearby that got to be named Thara Sahib (Pillar of patience). When the stalemate could not be resolved, without getting into conflict or creating a scene in the holy place, the Guru retreated from Amritsar.

Thus Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth master of the Sikhs, a poet, philosopher, thinker, warrior and a medicate set forth to preserve the light and divinity of Guru Nanak. His Gurbani (the word of the Guru) is included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh community. These works are in the form of 116 Shabads (holy hymns) placed in 15 Ragas (sections)

Guru Tegh Bahadur, however, could not remain immersed in reflecting the glory of the Akal Purukh (Almighty) as he would have wished to. He was destined to serve his community and also humanity in many ways. Thus, while maintaining all the royal trappings of a Guru and performing his duties, he remained an austere ascetic at heart.  

The first necessity was to create a seat for the community since Harmandir Sahib was in the control of imposters and the Guru had no desire to get into conflict. Accordingly he brought a site near Kiratpur Sahib, comprising land from three villages, for a sum of Rs 500/-. Here he proposed a township and called it Chak Nanki, after his mother. Later he named it Anandpur Sahib (City of Bliss) and it is here that the “Khalsa” (Pure ordained Sikh) was created by Guru Gobind Singh.

Guru Tegh Bahadur visited many areas of the country and propagated the message of Guru Nanak Dev. He was accompanied in his mission by many Sikhs and members of his family. His efforts were successful in creating the required confidence and enthusiasm for the mission of Guru Nanak among the common people. It also raised the ire of the Mughals and attempts were made to arrest him but his followers, many of whom were well established in the Court of Emperor Aurangzeb, managed to get the arrest warrants nullified. The Guru paid homage at many places which Guru Nanak had also visited.

In October 1666, Guru Tegh Bahadur proceeded towards Dacca but left his family behind at Patna since Mata Gujri Ji was expecting.  His stay at Dacca is now marked with Gurudwara Sangat Tola. It was here that he received the news of birth of his Son, Gobind, at Patna on the 23rd day of the month of Poh, Bikrami Samvat 1723. The day coincides with December, 22, 1666. The Guru, however, continued with his schedule and went on to Chittagong via Agartala.

This was the time when Emperor Aurangzeb started becoming increasingly intolerant towards the Hindus and other communities including the Sikhs. Temples were desecrated and forced conversions resorted to; the infamous religious tax, Jazia, was reimposed. Guru Tegh Bahadur had completed his religious mission in the eastern parts of the country and he decided to get back to Punjab to be with his community at this time of religious crisis. Accordingly he, along with his family and entourage of loyal followers proceed back to Anandpur Sahib. On the way back, the Guru was arrested at Agra in July 1970 but was released. He reached Anandpur Sahib in February 1671 and for about two years he preached from there peacefully.

Aurangzeb, in his pursuit of the ambition to lslamise the whole of India, built on a strategy of targeting Hindu Pundits and Brahmins especially those from the holy towns of the country like Kashi, Prayag, Kurukshetra, Haridwar and Kashmir. The Governor of Kashmir, Iftikhar Khan, was particularly energetic in application of the orders of the Emperor; he let lose a reign of terror on the Pundit community residing there. A delegation of the desperate Kashmir Pundits led by Pandit Kirpa Ram Dutt approached Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur Sahib in May, 1675 and requested for his support to save them. Pundit Kirpa Ram was associated with the Sikh community since his great grandfather, Bhai Brahm Das, was a devoted disciple of Guru Nanak. 

Guru Tegh Bahadur, after due consultation with the Sikh community, decided to peacefully present the case of the Kashmir Pundits at New Delhi. The Pundits accordingly informed their Governor that if Guru Tegh Bahadur converts to Islam they all would also do so. This message was conveyed to Aurangzeb who was, as it is, quite prejudiced against the Guru. He disliked the trappings of royalty of the Guru and the use of the word “Bahadur” with his name. He looked upon the support to the Kashmir Pundits by the Guru as a direct assault on his authority. He immediately ordered the arrest of the Guru.

The Guru was accordingly summoned to Delhi, but before the summons reached him he had already named his son, Gobind, as the tenth master of the Sikhs and proceeded to Delhi with his close associates. This was in June 1975.

Attempts to intimidate the Guru into submission started much before the party reached Delhi. He was detained and tortured at Bassi Pathana, Ropar, by Mirza Nur Mohammad Khan. The attempt did not succeed and after detaining him in Sirhind for four months the Mughals were compelled move the party to Delhi in November 1975.

The Guru, all through his detention and extreme torture, was given three options. One, show a miracle; two, embrace Islam; three, prepare to die. The Guru consistently chose the third option. 

The manner in which the execution was carried out was particularly savage even by Mughal standards. First his three main disciples were done to death in his presence. Bhai  Mati Das was sawn from the head downwards while standing in erect position; Bhai Dayal Das was thrown into a huge cauldron of boiling oil and then came the turn of Bhai Sati Das. Bhai Sati Das sought the blessings of the Guru before embracing martyrdom. The Guru praised him for his lifelong devotion to him and his family and bid him to embrace the will of God. Bhai Sati Das touched the Gurus feet and then he was tied to a pole, wrapped in cotton and burnt alive.  The entire disgusting proceedings were absorbed by the Guru in the most calm and peaceful manner. The Guru did not change his stand and the Mughals decided to execute him.

Early next morning, on November, 11, 1675, the Guru was beheaded by an executioner called Jalal-ud-Din Jallad. The place where the execution took place in Chandni Chowk, Shahjahanabad (Now Old Delhi) is marked by Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib. His body was retrieved by a disciple, Lakhi Shah Vanjara, who carried the remains to his hut in a cart and cremated the same by burning the hut; the place is marked by Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib. The head of the Guru was retrieved by another disciple, Bhai Jatta, and was taken to Anandpur Sahib where the nine year old Guru Gobind Singh carried out the cremation rituals. The jailer, Khwaja Abdulla, a pious man who tried to help the Guru as much as he could, resigned from his post after the execution and went to live in Anandpur Sahib.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was ascetic in nature and sprirtually inclined with less involvement in worldly affairs. He rooted for peace and stayed away from conflict when he could. Yet, he remained true to his duty. His teachings guide mankind towards indifference to both misery and happiness in pursuit of praise of the Almighty.

The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur had an electrifying effect on the Sikh community and the other communities too. By sacrificing his life in protest against injustice to mankind, he set an enduring precedent of humanity based on truthfulness and godliness. It is from him that the Sikhs learnt to stand up for the weak and the underprivileged. His principles and values were upheld and taken forward by his son and the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh, leading to the creation of the Khalsa. It is from there that the fight of righteousness and justice commenced. The common people, especially the Sikhs, started raising their voice; atrocities and persecution continued but the people found the courage to stand up to them leading to a down trend in conversions.

(Jaibans Singh is a reputed scholar and author)

Jaibans Singh
About Jaibans Singh 491 Articles
Jaibans Singh is a Delhi based analyst of defence and security affairs specialising in J&K and Pakistan. He is Post graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication from Punjabi University with a Gold Medal. His areas of interest are Analysing defence and security aspects which impact national security, sharing views in reputed think tanks like CLAWS and CENJOWS of which he is a member, providing consutancy to defence based visual media projects of noted channels like DD and National Geographic and other freelance defence related work.

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