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Remembering Guru Hargobind And His Indomitable Doctrine of Miri-Piri

Onkar Singh

Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, was much more than a spiritual prophet. He was a gifted man of action, who combined spiritual conviction with heroism, to set out the indomitable doctrine of Miri-Piri, a doctrine of faith in righteousness and human indomitability. And he triumphed in both.

Quintessentially, a holy man given to contemplation and prayers though, he came to destroy tyranny and establish peace. He had revolted at the Savage torture-to-death of his revered father, Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, and an apostle of peace. The thought of the same thing happening again was unbearable. The people had to be protected from the grim challenge to their faith.

Guru Hargobind placed high value on tolerance, independence and freedom to practise one’s faith. He braced himself to meet the challenge posed by the ruthless Mughal regime. Injustice and cruelty must be met with force. Oppression was unacceptable.

He conceptulised the authority of Miri (temporal) and Piri (spiritual), and decided to wear two swords; a sword of Shakti (power) and a sword of Bhakti (meditation). One was to smite the oppressor and the other was to protect the virtuous and innocent. It offered boost to help the Sikhs handle any threat. Now, they were to arm themselves as they were most exposed to dangers of persecution and oppression.

Guru Hargobind had an unequivocal commitment to spur social change and build up the morale of the people to be courageous. He encouraged them to live an active life of fearlessness. Being a keen sportsman, he made them interested in horsemanship and hunting. An armed force of volunteers and vigorous youth was organized. It was primarily for self defence. His followers carried weapons, rode horses and took part in parades, displaying their valour and skills. They brought him gifts of horses and weapons. They would neither frighten anyone nor be afraid of anybody. This was their maxim. They grew increasingly aware of the need to protect themselves. No more did they believe in self-abnegation.

It was a turning point in Sikh polity. The concept of saint-soldier had taken shape. This new orientation to Sikh polity found its finest expression in Guru Hargobind’s grandson, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and the last Sikh Guru, who skillfully synergised the peaceful and saintly heritage of Guru Nanak, the founding prophet of the Sikh faith, with martial spirit. He created the Khalsa. It was a fraternity of the pure in spirit, unalloyed with any pretension of class or caste. It was dedicated to peace, harmony and the service of humanity, yet willing to dare and ready to die fighting for a righteous cause. It was a fight for self-defence and against religious intolerance and human oppression. It was never a war of aggression.

The shock of Guru Arjun Dev’s martyrdom spurred Guru Hargobind to offer an effective challenge to the oppressive rulers of the country. He had to fight a number of battles with the militant Mughal forces. He won many battles because the cause was righteous. Every time he came out triumphant against heavy odds. His inspired men, fought bravely and convincingly to thwart the pernicious attacks though outnumbered by the well-equipped and huge hostile forces. Neverthless, he felt overwhelmingly sad for those killed in the battlefield. He was equally concerned with welfare of the casualties from combat.

With a spiritual reformer’s vision for the Sikhs, he laid particular stress on scriptures to be read with full understanding and meaning. He told them that anyone who could recite the Japji, (the celestial hymn of Guru Nanak) with undivided attention, devotion and understanding, would have his wish fulfilled. It inspired a great religious devotion in devotees.

It is ironical that the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, under whose orders Guru Arjun was brutally tortured to death, became friendly to Guru Hargobind. It is believed that the moment the king met Guru Hargobind, after being summoned to Delhi, his youthful charm and holiness completely won him over. The King posed the question:” which religion is better, Hinduism or Islam?” The Guru replied quoting Kabir:

God first created light; All men are born out of it,
The whole world came out of a single spark.
Who is good and who is bad; The creator is in the creation
And the creation in the creator; He is everywhere.
The clay is the same; The potter fashions various models.
There is nothing wrong with the clay or the potter.
God, the true, resides in all; Whatever happens is His doing…

It impressed the king very much. He had been told that Guru Hargobind was a great sportsman. He invited the Guru to a tiger hunt. During the hunt, the king was attacked by a ferocious tiger. Suddenly, Guru Hargobind, riding a horse, pounced on the tiger, killing it with his sword. The king admired the way the Guru risked his life to save him.

Now, Guru Hargobind became a constant companion of the King. He would take the Guru along wherever he went. He accompanied the king to Agra, Kashmir, Amritsar and Lahore. At Amritsar, the king stayed as a guest of Guru Hargobind.

At agra, the the king was taken seriously ill. The royal physicians couldn’t cure him. As tradition goes his astrologiers told him that as the malady was due to a conjunction of stars, it could only be remedied if a holy man was sent to the Gwalior Fort to offer prayers. Who could be holier than Guru Hargobind? The Guru readily agreed to move when requested to do so. At Gwalior, he found several princes detained in the fort. They lived in deplorable conditions. The Guru had their living conditions improved. They joined him in prayers.
Meanwhile, the king had completely recovered. But the Guru wouldn’t leave the fort unless the detained princes were also released. Eventually, the king agreed. Guru Hargobind left the fort along with all the fifty two princes, who had been languishing there for years. The spot where Guru Hargobind stayed in the Gwalior fort is well known as Bandi Chhor, the liberator of the detainee.

As it transpired, one wealthy and resentful Chandu Shah had conspired, in league with the astrologers, to have Guru Hargobind sent to Gwalior to seek revenge for the alleged indignity suffered by him due to the Guru;s refusal to accept his daughter’s hand. He even incited the Governor of the fort, Haridas to poison the Guru, not realizing that Haridas was an ardent devotee of the Guru.

When the king met Guru Hargobind in Delhi to thank him for prayers for his recovery, the Guru disabused the king’s mind about the so called unfavourable conjunction of stars. He plainly told him about Chandu’s villainy and also about his plotting the appalling torture of Guru Arjun. Perhaps, already aware of Chandu’s perfidy, the king lost no time in handing over Chandu to the Guru whose escorts seized upon Chandu and paraded him in the streets of Delhi and Lahore where he met with verbal abuse and insults hurled at him. In Lahore, the violent locals beat him to death and threw his body into the river. When the Guru learnt about it, he prayed for Chandu to be pardoned for his crimes.

The miri piri authority conceptulised to meet the challenge of the times, is Guru Hargobind’s distinctive contribution to the Sikh ethos. It infused a new religious fervour among the Sikhs, who got inspired to challenge the oppressor.

His other great contribution is the founding of Akal Takht (Throne of the Eternal) to be the seat of temporal authority. It’s a famous shrine facing Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple). It has since become the seat of supreme authority in both religious and secular matters concerning the Sikhs who are enjoined to accept its decisions without demur.

The pristine glory and authority of the Akal Takht must be maintained, more so now with a vibrant Sikh global presence of 25 millions. This great institution, created by Guru Hargobind, has served as the fountain head of power in both political and religious matters concerning the valiant Sikh Panth. Unfortunately, its pristine status and position has suffered a setback in recent times.

The valuable suggestions made by well-known Sikh historian and author Dr Kharak Singh, in his keynote address, delivered at a seminar on Akal Takht, organized by the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, in November 2006, need serious consideration for a meaningful action to strengthen the Akal Takht Sahib as the supreme authority of the Sikhs.



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