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The Sikh Martyrs

A Review by Gajindar Singh*

Author : Lakshman Singh
Edited by : Dr Prithipal Singh Kapur
Published by : Singh Brothers, Amritsar & with Association DSGMC, New Delhi.
Pages: 187+index; Price: Not mentioned

The book has been re-published after 76 years of its first appearance by the approval of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, dedicated to the quadcentenary of the Martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjun Dev ji. It is a befitting tribute to all the martyrs in the Sikh history, of which the Fifth Nanak was the first to show the way by his serene and peaceful acceptance of the Lord’s Will, against gruesome tortures to break his will. It stood in good stead for the galaxy of the noble souls who followed him to fight and die for the high ideals of the Faith with rare equanimity and equipoise.

Bhagat Lakshman Singh wrote the book on the Sikh Martyrs with loving care and dedication. He has mentioned in the Introduction that there were hardly any books in English by Indian authors at that time, although there was sufficient literature in vernacular. Nowadays, we have a large number of well-researched and documented books by eminent authors in English, besides many other foreign languages, with detailed accounts of the martyrs. Sikh History is centred on the deeds of the brave martyrs who stood their ground against extreme pressure and utter cruelty by the state and the opposing communities intolerant of the Sikh ethos and their path-breaking doctrine. Yet, the present book presents the theme of Sikh martyrs in a vivid but concise manner in “energetic” style as described by the editor, Dr P P S Kapur, an able and well-known historian and Sikh writer, formerly Pro-Vice Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. In his masterly Editorial Introduction, he has described the factual conditions and the prejudices of the administration of the times and the resentment of the major communities, Hindus and Muslims alike, against the egalitarian Sikh concepts which, according to them, were harmful and objectionable to their dogmas. It is a welcome addition to the Author’s Introduction, which sets the mood for the sombre subject of organised killings in cold blood.
The Editor has meticulously gone through the narrative and mentioned in footnotes, errors in the original without amending the text as written by Bhagat Lakshman Singh. The only exception is the chapter on Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, which was not included by the author in his original publication in 1928. The Editor rightly felt this as an omission in the list of the prominent martyrs and decided that Baba Banda Singh Bahadur deserved a place of honour in the list of the Sikh Heroes who underwent inhuman treatment and utmost cruelty but adhered to their Sikh ideals and doctrine.

Another noticeable omission is the absence of narrative about Bhai Sati Das, an ardent Sikh accompanying Guru Tegh Bahadur, along with Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Dayala. He was suffocated to death wrapped in cotton and set on fire, for his refusal to abjure the Master and his Faith. It was a vain bid to influence and inspire awe in the Guru.
The chapters, ‘The Carrier of the Haideri Flag’, and ‘Turarian Atrocities’ make interesting reading. The author’s last note on ‘Guru Gobind Singh’s Cosmopolitan Ideal’ is a fitting tribute to the great Guru who had not an iota of antagonism against any community, Muslim or Hindu, despite the sufferings he endured and violent opposition he faced from his childhood till his passing away, and remained steadfast in his benign treatment of all as he firmly believed in ‘manas ki jatti sabhe eke pehchan bo.’

Bhagat Lakshman Singh treats impartially the violent opposition to the Sikh movement by the Muslims and Hindus alike. He does not blame Islam as a religion in the antagonism of the Muslims towards Sikhs. He considers it more of a political expediency in the turmoil of the weakening Mughal authority of Delhi and the scheming of the wily governors of Lahore and Sirhind, who were watching their own vested interests in siding with Abdali and even their overtures to the Sikhs to keep their shaky seat. However, it was a struggle of life and death to which the Khalsa was grimly committed against overlords of Delhi and Kabul who rightly gauged the danger to their supremacy from one disturbing factor, the emergence of the Khalsa.

The narration is racy and poignant and keeps the interest of the reader steadfast, while it is written in simple style. It should be widely circulated, especially to the youth to rekindle their appreciation of the spade-work done so admirably by our founding fathers, with very little resources and repeated stunning blows like the Chhota Ghalughara, Vada Ghalughara and the erasing of the Harimandir Sahib itself. Yet, they did not lose heart but persistently flocked to the banner and cause of Sikhism in ever greater numbers. There is adequate material in this book to arouse interest and inspire them through the true stories of sacrifice against heaviest odds. They may get the message that the going has been tough for the Sikhs to stick to their ideology from the very beginning, and not only a recent phenomenon. And the marvel is that the Sikhs could not be exterminated, but rather they multiplied in spite of such ruthlessness and hostile state machinery and propaganda.

The publishers, Messrs Singh Brothers have admirably produced the book with fine printing and quality paper.


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