GURU GOBIND SINGH: A Tribute and Homage on his 354 th Birth Anniversary
Guru Gobind Rai was born on 22 December 1666 at Patna. Pir Bhikan Shah came all the way from Punjab to see the new born child and test his secularism and neutrality towards Muslims and non-Muslims. Gobind was only nine years old when he became the Guru on 11 November 1675. He was a saint, scholar, poet and warrior and he was also a polyglot. He knew Sanskrit and Persian in addition to Hindi and Punjabi and had knowledge of the Quran. He was a poet of considerable talent and composed poetry. Contemporary poets sought Guru Gobind’s patronage and at one time there were fifty-two (52) poets in his court. He was a versatile genius and in elevating the lowly and downtrodden, he did pioneering work long before the birth of Karl Marx and Lenin.
On assessing the situation in the country, Guru Gobind Singh found that a foreign power was ruling the masses and had reduced them to virtual slavery. The state was being converted into form of a purely Islamic nation. There were forced conversions and religious apartheism. In the words of Dr S. R. Sharma, “the Hindus had been reduced to mere “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” The Guru’s paramount observation was that the people were meek, timid and cowardly and were segregated on the basis of caste and creed. On being confronted or in dire straits, they denied their identity and begged their oppressors for mercy. Above all, he realised that being truthful, good, right, just, peace loving, humane and principled had no value unless it was backed with power. Guru Gobind had a keen insight into human nature and was a natural leader of men. He contemplated the whole problem and came to the conclusion that nothing could be achieved unless assiduous preparations were made to fight tyranny. He defined his mission from Bachittar Natak as: “to uphold right in every place and destroy sin and evil; that right may triumph, the good may live and tyranny is uprooted from the country.” He said, “When all modes of redressing a wrong have failed; raising the sword is just and pious.” and “Take the broom of divine knowledge in thy hand and sweep away the filth of timidity.” Thus did he embark on his mission of making the sparrow hunt the hawk; converting the jackal into a lion and making one man fight a legion.
On Baisakhi day of March 29, 1699 Guru Gobind Singh put his plan into action. He sent hukamnamas (edicts) to his Sikhs and invited them to assemble en masse at Anandpur Sahib for the Baisakhi festival. He addressed the gathering and selected five Sikhs; created the Khalsa and gave them the five K’s. The purpose of the formation of the Khalsa and the Five K’s had been to choose five men of tested courage and loyalty to constitute the nucleus of the new order, the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh was seeking to infuse into a somewhat disorganized band of followers a spirit of unity, courage and discipline. And nor can we doubt his tremendous influence which it has exercised in the moulding of the Sikh character. Khalsa is an order of ‘soldier saints’ dedicated to both piety and justice, and pursuing both with a determination, which when necessity compels, may involve the use of the sword. This is the Khalsa ideal and much that we find in subsequent Sikh history is an obvious response to this ideal.
Guru Gobind’s motto was: manas ke jaat sab ek he pahchanbo – recognize all mankind as one caste. Thus the phrase ‘Deg Teg Fateh’ came in vogue. Charity and wielding of the sword for a just cause hold a special place in the Sikh Faith. Charity is the greatest gift that saveth life. The Guru said, “He, who serves the poor and needy, serves me. The mouth of the poor and hungry is the Guru’s receptacle of gifts - (Graib da Munh Guru Ki Golakh).” The Sword eradicates oppression and tyranny and establishes righteousness. These two things contributed the most to the popularity and power of the Sikhs and their church.
The Khalsa leadership, therefore, came to be comprised mostly of those who from the time of Manu had been denied any respectable status in the Varna based Hindu society and the Khalsa movement became synonymous with the rise of hereto neglected classes/groups/individuals. It was observed that even those people who had been dregs of humanity were changed, as if by magic into something rich and strange. The sweepers, barbers and confectioners who had never touched a sword, and whose ancestors had lived as groveling slaves of the so-called higher classes, became doughty warriors under the stimulating leadership of Guru Gobind Singh. They never shrank from fear, and were ready to jump into the jaws of death at the bidding of the Guru.
Guru Gobind did not allow his movement to become anti-Islamic, although his father, the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675) had been executed by the order of Arungzeb in 1675. And, also despite the fact that two of his sons died fighting the Mughals and the remaining two were executed by the orders of the Muslim Governor of Sirhind, he continued to have Muslim friends and attendants. It is indeed ironical that he was stabbed in October 1708 by two of his Muslims followers. When some Sikhs complained against Bhai Kahnaiya for serving water to wounded soldiers, including those belonging to the enemy camp during the battle, the Guru patted him on the back and said that it was Kahnaiya who had imbibed the real spirit of Sikhism. He asked him to give the wounded soldiers of both the Combatants..
A very important trait of the Guru’s splendid personality was his equipoise. Nothing could ruffle him. He took the greatest of difficulties in his stride. Among the disastrous misfortunes, setbacks and circumstances, he stood rock solid and did not lose his equanimity in thought, action and behavior. In the Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh occupies a very high and important place and the Sikhs are intensely loyal to his precept and deeds. In the times of Guru Gobind Singh this was more so because it was an adverse and tumultuous period. Guru Gobind was also a military leader of great stature; his inspiring and towering personality supplied a nucleus around which the Sikhs could rally; his disposition, charisma and dynamism gave the Sikhs integration, cohesion and a sense of corporate unity. It was unity of purpose and ‘One for All and All for One.’
The beau ideal of the Punjabis, Guru Gobind Singh was a handsome man, whose feats as a cavalier, swordsman and archer were so much captivating as to endear him to a people who gauged a man by his physical prowess. Stories of his prodigious strength and valour multiplied, and he became a legendary figure in his lifetime. The tips of his arrows were said to be mounted with gold to provide for the family of the foe who was fatally hit and he was reputed to be able to send his shafts as far as the eye could see. The Punjabis pictured him leading them to battle on a roan stallion. On one hand fluttered his white hawk; in the other flashed his sabre. Their favourite titles for him were, the rider of the blue horse (nile ghore da asvar), the lord of the white hawks (chitian bajan vala), and the wearer of plumes (kalgidhar). While Gobind Singh’s picture was in the minds of the people, his words were on their lips. For the amant, there was the sensuous poetry of the earlier days at Paonta; for the downcast, there was the inspiration and reaffirmation of faith; for the defeated, there was his Epistle of Victory (Zafarnama), breathing defiance in every line, for the crusader, there was the heroic ballads full of martial cadence in their staccato lines with a beat like that of a wardrum. Above all, in everything he wrote or spoke or did there was a note of buoyant hope (carhdi kala) and the conviction that even if he lost his life, his mission was bound to succeed. His immortal lines:
dyh isvw br moih iehY SuB krmn qy kbhUM nw troN]
n froN Air so jb jwie lroN inscY kr ApnI jIq kroN]
Oh lord these boons of Thee I ask,
Let me never shun a righteous task,
Let me be fearless when I go to battle,
Give me faith that victory will be mine,
Give me power to sing thy praise,
And when comes the time to end my life
Let me fall in mighty strife.
- Guru Gobind Singh
These lines still inspire millions of crusaders, freedom fighters and fighters for human rights.
In the Zafarnama (epistle of victory) Guru Gobind describes Aurangzeb as a deceitful fox and an irreligious man whose oaths on the Koran were not to be trusted. He also mentions: “It matters little if a jackal through cunning and treachery succeeds in killing two lion cubs, for the lion himself lives to inflict retribution on you.” “I shall strike fire under the hoofs of your horses,” he wrote to Aurangzeb, “and I will not let you drink the water of my Punjab.” When he learnt about the death of his younger sons and mother, he took the news with stoic calm. “What use is it to put out a few sparks when you raise a mighty flame in-stead?” he wrote.
Guru Gobind fought fourteen battles. The only change Guru Gobind Singh brought in religion was to expose the other side of the coin. Whereas Nanak had propagated goodness, Guru Gobind condemned evil. One preached the love of one’s neighbour, the other the punishment of transgressors. Nanak’s God loved His saints; Gobind’s God destroyed His enemies. (A History of the Sikhs Vol.1 Page 88 by Khushwant Singh). By creating the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh defied the might of the Mughal Empire. He had to fight against heavy odds and he sacrificed his parents, four sons, thousands of Sikhs and ultimately himself. Here was a man who sacrificed all that he had for the cause that he espoused. What greater sacrifice can there be? At Nanded Guru Gobind Singh met Banda Singh Bahadur (the famous Sikh general) and passed his baton to him for carrying on his struggle. He passed away an hour and a half after midnight on October 7, 1708 after bestowing the Sikh Guruship on the Guru Granth Sahib.
True Guru Gobind Singh did not leave his followers a kingdom; but he laid the foundation of the Sikh military might by setting up a tradition of relentless valour which became a distinguishing feature of Sikh soldiery. They came to believe in the triumph of their cause as an article of faith, and like their guru asked for no nobler end than death on the battle field.
With clasped hands this boon I crave
When time comes to end my life
Let me fall in mighty strife.
Exactly a hundred years after Guru Gobind Singh’s call to arms in 1699, the Sikh Kingdom was founded in 1799 by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
It is this rich composite legacy and heritage of Guru Gobind Singh which continues to inspire the Sikh generations after generation. for the Sikhs, he is an icon of human struggle against discrimination, injustice and inequality. he is an embodiment of a complete unity of being of soldiership, scholarship and spiritualism.
1. The Encyclopedia of Sikhism – Harbans Singh (Editor-in Chief)
2. Sikhism: Glimpses and Glances – Bhupender Singh
3. History of the Sikhs and their Religion (Volume 1) – Edited by Kirpal Singh and Kharak Singh (published by SGPC).
4. A History of the Sikhs (Volume 1) – Khushwant Singh
5. The Sikhs and their Scriptures – C H Loehlin
6. Glimpses of The Sikh Gurus (For Children) – Mukhtar S Goraya