Significance of Contemporary Persian Sources Relating to Guru Gobind Singh
Dr Kirpal Singh
Persian was the court language when the Sikh Gurus gave their sermons. It is therefore very significant that the contemporary Persian sources are studied minutely in order to reconstruct the early Sikh history. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the contemporary Persian sources relating to Guru Gobind Singh.
The most important Persian source of information relating to Guru Gobind Singh is his Zafarnamah1 - letter addressed to the Mughal Emperor.2 It is believed that it must have been addressed in prose as was the custom in those days and later on versified by the Guru himself with the title Zafarnamah. This letter was written in 1706 AD and Bhai Daya Singh was asked to take it to Aurangzeb.3
The opening lines, about twelve couplets, are in the praise of God. The first portion of the letter is known as Dastan and it has been supplemented by eleven Hakayat which have very remote bearing on Dastan itself and its subject matter. It is most probable that twelfth Hakayat might have been added to Dastan later on. So the first chapter of Zafarnama, i.e., Dastan4 is one of the most important source of information about the later life of Guru Gobind Singh ji.
In Zafarnamah, Guru Gobind Singh has complained to Aurangzeb about the treachery of his governors, who attacked the Guru breaking their oaths. The Guru informs that he had forty followers to face the hosts of Mughal army.
“What can hunger stricken forty persons do when they are suppressed by ten lac of army.”
“Those promise breakers came without any delay and attacked with sword, arrow and guns.” (19-28)
The Guru asserts that he had been forced to wage war against Mughal Army: "Forced by the circumstances, I came forward and planned the use of arrow and gun."(21) When all other means failed it is lawful to have a last resort to the sword." (22) The Guru describes the Mughal army in the following lines:
“In black uniform they came like flies and all at once they began to make hue and cry.”(26)
Guru Gobind Singh describes the battle of Chamkaur in the following lines:
“Whosoever came out of the shelter, he was drowned in blood even with single arrow.
“When I found that Nahir Khan had come to battle field, he was also struck with an arrow without any delay.( 28-29)
“What bravery can be expected in the battlefield when forty persons are attacked by the countless numbers”(41)
Guru Gobind Singh admonishes Aurangzeb that he should recognise true God in everybody:
“You should recognise God and not injure others on the advice of somebody.”(65)
Guru declares his firm faith in God and intimates Aurangzeb that he was not afraid of his kingly powers:
“If you look at your army and wealth, my refuge is God’s contentment. If you are proud of country and wealth, then my shelter is God.” (105-106)
Ahkam-i-Alamgiri5 is another very important source of Aurangzeb’s reign and a significant document for study of Guru Gobind Singh’s last phase of life. It was written by Inayat Ullah Khan, son of Shakar Ullah Khan Kashmiri. He had been newswriter during Aurangzeb reign. Born in Kashmir, he was appointed teacher of Zebu Nissa, daughter of Aurangzeb who recommended him to her father for employment. Starting from a lower post, he became one of the most trusted officer of the Emperor, and rose to a high rank. Later on he was appointed as Governor of Kashmir by Emperor Jahandar Shah. He died in 1726/27. According to the author of Maathur-ul-Umra, he had agreeable disposition and was known for his respect for the faquirs. He collected the orders, which were issued through him and gave them the name “Ahkam-i-Alamgiri” (Maathur-ul-Umra, eng trans, Vol I, p 682). J N Sarkar writes that he also persuaded Saqi Musta Khan to write “Muasur-i-Alamgiri.” He writes in its Introduction, “After his (Aurangzeb’s) death in 1707, his last secretary and favourite disciple in State policy and Religiosity, Inayete Ullah Khan Kashmiri urged Saqi Musta’d Khan to complete the history of such a model king.” (eng trans, Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1947, p v)
The following extracts from Ahkam-i-Alamgiri have been translated into English by the writer of these lines. These relate to the life of Guru Gobind Singh:
“Report was received based on Nanak worshipper Gobind, reaching from twelve kos from Sirhind and sending reinforcement of seven hundred horsemen with arsenal and beseiging the Guru in the haveli of Chamkaur and killing of his two sons and his other companions, and arrest of one of his sons alongwith his mother.”6 (Here the last statement is wrong – two of his sons were arrested along with their grandmother).
“When this report throwing light on these matters was seen by the exalted Majesty he gave detailed instructions to Mirza Yar Beg. Details of that subject has not been received.”
“With order of World conquering king, it was recorded that after receiving the letter of Gobind (Guru Gobind Singh) Rais (Chief or Governor) worshipper of Nanak, containing his intention of seeing his Majesty the king, for making request for which he had sent his vakil. With generosity and kindness, the exalted king honoured by issuing an order that Mohammad Beg Mace Bearer and Sheikh Yaar Mohammad Mansabdar be appointed to deliver the royal order to Wazir Munim Khan. The revered Khan was ordered by the exalted king that he should pursuade him (Guru Gobind Singh) and invite him to his presence. After giving the orders to Khan’s trusted persons, Mace Bearer the mansabdar may return to the king.
“Whichever place in the neighbourhood of Sirhind Gobind (Guru Gobind Singh) reaches that man of high status may be allowed to pass after giving him protection. This may be done openly or secretly if (Guru Gobind Singh) hesitated he should be conciliated and persuaded (to come to the south). If (Guru Gobind Singh) demands expenses of travelling he should be given cash money according to the need from the wealth taken from that revered person.”7
Another significant source of the Guru’s time was Muntakhib-ul-Lubab (1722 AD) by Khafi Khan. It is the history of Mughals from the very beginning to the early years of the reign of Mohammad Shah by Muhammad Hasham, also called Hasham Ali Khan and popularly known as Khafi Khan. His father, Khwaja Mir was in the service of Aurangzeb. Khafi Khan has described the rise of the Sikhs under Banda and he has furnished great details though in the usual abusive language often used for Sikhs in those days. A careful study of the writings of Khafi Khan will yield valuable details and information about the Sikhs. About the early Sikh history, i.e., 1469-1708 AD, Khafi Khan has not written much. He has written the following few lines about the Sikhs during the times of Sikh Gurus:
About Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Khafi Khan has written only the following lines:
“During those days when Bahadur Shah had set out on his march towards the Deccan, a person named Gobind, one of the leaders of that notorious sect, come to his presence and accompanied him with two or three hundred horsemen, lancers and footmen and two or three months later, he died (from a wound of a dagger though his murderer remained unknown).”8
Another important work referring to Guru Gobind Singh is Tarikh-i-Bahadur Shah. This is anonymous work extending from the death of Aurangzeb to the Accession of Muhammad Shah, written forty years after the death of Aurangzeb, and therefore in 1747 AD. As its title indicates, Bahadur Shah’s reign is a leading subject. About Guru Gobind Singh’s death following account has been given:
“At the time the army was marching southwards towards Burhanpur, Guru Gobind one of the grandsons of Nanak, had come into these districts of travel, and accompanied the royal camp. He was in the habit of constantly addressing assemblies of wordly persons, religious fanatics, and all sorts of people. One day an Afghan who frequently attended these meetings, was sitting listening to him, when certain expressions, unfit for the ears of the faithful, fell from the tongue of the Guru. The Afghan was enraged, and regardless of the Guru’s dignity and importance, he gave him two or three stabs with a knife and killed him.”9
Another contemporary mine of information was Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla.10 The newsletter called Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla were not exclusively the news of the imperial court as the title would suggest, but were generally the summaries of the news submitted to the Emperor by the official newswriters, Waqai-Nawis, Waqai Nigar, etc. The representatives of various states and provinces of the country stationed at the capital passed on these news to their respective masters. Such collections of letters were available at Jaipur as well as Poona. Dr Ganda Singh examined these letters at Jaipur in 1944 and brought a copy of the letters from 1707 AD to 1718 AD for Sikh History Research Dept, Khalsa College, Amritsar. These letters relate to the last years of Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Singh Bahadur.
English translation of Dr Ganda Singh’s collection had been done by Dr Bhagat Singh which was published in the Punjab Past and Present. Only translation of letters pertaining to Guru Gobind Singh are given below:
During the reign of Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707-1782 AD) (July 24, 1707 – Thursday. (Jamadi-ul-Awwal, First Bahadurshahi reignal year. A H 1119)
In response to the Emperor’s instructions (Guru Gobind Singh)(the 9th) successor of Guru Nanak, came duly armed and joined his company. The Guru made a nazar of one thousand gold mohars to the Emperor and received in return, a khillat (robe of honour) and a medal studded with precious jewels as a present and got his leave.
Oct 28, 1708 – Thursday (24 Shaban, 2nd Bahadurshahi, A H 1120)
It was reported to the Emperor that Guru Gobind Rai had killed Jamshed Khan – an Afghan. A dress of mourning was bestowed upon the son of the (killed) Khan.
October 30, 1708 – Saturday (26 Shaba n, 2nd Bahadurshahi, A H 1120)
On the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the Emperor ordered that a mourning dress be sent to the son of the Guru – the Nanak Panthi.
November 11, 1708 – Thursday (9 Ramzan, 2nd Bahadurshahi, A H 1120)
The Emperor was informed that the deceased Guru Gobind Singh had left behind a lot of property. The Emperor’s order regarding the confiscation of the Guru's property was solicited. He said that with that property/wealth, the royal treasury would not become replete. It was the property of the darveshes. It was ordered to be left untouched.
(The news of Royal Mughal Court: The Punjab Past and Present), Vol. XVIII- II, October 1984, Serial No 36, Punjabi University, Patiala.
There is no doubt that Guru Gobind Singh addressed the letter to Emperor Aurangzeb and sent it to him through Bhai Daya Singh. It is confirmed by Ahkam-i-Alamgiri, wherein the receipt of the letter from Guru Gobind Singh has been specifically mentioned. Gurmukhi contemporary source Gursobha by Senapat also mentions the despatch of letter to Emperor Aurangzeb. The contents of the letter give details regarding the besiege of the Guru at Chamkaur which has also been mentioned in Ahkam-i-Alamgiri. It is most important point as to why Aurangzeb and his successor wanted the Guru to go to the South. In Ahkam-i-Alamgiri it has been recorded that Guru Gobind Singh should be “conciliated and pursuaded to go to South.” Evidently, Mughal Emperor considered Guru Gobind Singh to be a source of danger in the north as he had a large following there.
The most important source of information about the last phase of Guru Gobind Singh is Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla. It has been stated there that Guru Gobind Singh met the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah in the fort of Agra, where he was granted a khillat and a medal studded with precious jewels. This is confirmed by contemporary Gurmukhi source Gursobha by Senapat.
This persian source also gives valuable information regarding the killer of Guru Gobind Singh as has been recorded that Jamshed Khan, an Afghan attacked the Guru and he was killed by the Guru. Subsequently, the Emperor bestowed on the son of the killed Khan a robe of mourning. That implies that the attack on Guru Gobind Singh was within the knowledge of Mughal Emperor and he knew the killer. Outwardly the Mughal Emperor was friendly towards the Guru but inwardly he wanted to get rid of him, somehow or the other. This is proved by this Persian source and this information is not available anywhere else.
1. Zafarnamah is the last verse in Dasam Granth (Gurmukhi). I have depended on the text of Zafarnamah from the book with the same title. Published by Punjab Govt’s Language Dept, Patiala.
2. There is no doubt that Guru Gobind Singh addressed the letter to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb as its receipt has been recorded in Ahkam-i-Alamgiri.
3. Gursobha edited by Dr Ganda Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1996, p 134
4. Tarikh-i-Makhaz-i-Sikhan, published by SGPC, Amritsar, 1949, p 66.
5. Ahkam-i-Alamgiri, ibid., pp 72-75
6. Ibid., pp 72-75
7. Ibid., p 74
8. Muntakhab-ul-Lubab, published by the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1874, Vol II, p 652
9. Tarikh-i-Bahadurshahi, History told by its own historians, Vol VII, p 565-7
10. Akhbarat-i-Darbar-i-Mualla, News of the royal Mughal Court, Punjab Past and Present, Vol VIII, Part 2, October 1984, Punjabi University, Patiala.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2009, All