ਸੂਰਾ ਸੋ ਪਹਿਚਾਨੀਐੈ
The unprecedented sacrifice of the two Chhote Sahibzadas Baba Zorawar Singh, and Baba Fateh Singh, two younger sons of Sri Guru Gobind Singh at Sirhind on Poh Sudi 13, 1761 B.S./ 1704 AD is unparalled in the annals of world history. It is unique both for the most inhuman cruelty perpetrated by the Mughal satrap Wazir Khan of Sirhind and the rare, exceptional forbearance and endurance shown by the infant shabibzadas during their week long incarceration and torture before their final execution, through the bone-chilling cold of the North Indian winter. The whole spectacle of the devilish monstrosity and the unmatchable superhuman endurance and steadfastness of the two combatants must have sent a shivering sensation down the spines of those who had witnessed this saddest spectacle in person as it sends a similar sensation among the pilgrims who visit the sacred sites of Sahibzadas’ execution and cremation on the anniversary days of their martyrdom at Fatehgarh Sahib every year as well as millions of others who watch the weeklong telecast of this unforgettable event on their television screens across the globe. A strange spell of somberness and solemnity seems to dawn upon us as we bow our heads in reverence to the departed souls. It is also a moment for deep introspection and thinking aloud and speculate whether one’s religion (Sikh religion in our case) and our Sikh identity only skin deep or something deeper which is inextricably embedded in our genetic DNA and psyche.
It may remain dormant in peaceful times but comes to the fore in moments of extreme diversity and provocation. Superme sacrifice of the Sahibzadas is a reminder of this unique resilience of Sikhi and Sikh identity.
Even greater and more agonizing painful role and sacrifice is of Mata Gujri who had to witness this macabre dance of death of her dearest grandsons. Continuously for three four days, she was made to part with them for facing the most excruciating trial and receive them back every evening after undergoing all kinds of humiliations, insinuations, temptations and torture and keep them alive and their morale high by hugging them close to her through the wintry nights. Hers was an ordeal of both helplessness and moral responsibility to uphold the Sikh heritage of resisting the Mughal tyranny like her husband and grand father-in-law representing the House of Nanak and Sikh religion. Thus, she was destined to be a custodian of both the suffering infant Sahibzadas as well as of her religious heritage at that crucial moment. She not only provided her motherly comfort to the badly bruised Sahibzadas every night but also recharged them for facing the more horrific trial every next day. She accomplished both these tasks excellently till the last ounce of energy in her system. Her agony was unbearable but her moral support was superhuman. She struggled to keep herself alive till the destined mission was completed and breathed her last the moment she learnt about its completion. Her revered soul joined the departed souls of her beloved grandsons and her mortal remains were cremated together with theirs on the same pyre. Thus, she remained united with them in life and death. Her mental agony and anguish has the same gravitas as the physical torture of the two Sahibzadas.
The acknowledgement of Sahibzadas' sacrifice at national level by Government of India and its declaration to celebrate this anniversary ever year at the national level is matter of satisfaction for the Sikhs and their religious identity. The nomenclature assigned to this anniversary as “Bal Veer Divas” is somewhat contentious and seems to be diluting the Sikh spirit of assigning the more hallowed status of Baba to these infant martyrs as given to some of the distinguished elderly Sikh martyrs. This anomaly between these two connotations, one evoking the Hindutva overtones and the other distinct Sikh identity independent of any other identity being disguised as national identity, can be resolved at a later stage through dialogue and discussion by emphasizing upon the authorities the Sikh aspirations of maintaining their distinct religious identity while remaining an integral part of the Indian nation. It is little early to expect from this newly empowered Hindutva political dispensation to realize the depth and intensity of Sikh feeling. For the moment, it should be a matter of satisfaction that the supreme sacrifice of Sahibzadas has won recognition at the national level.
Apart from the sacrificial aspect of Sahibzadas' martyrdom, this cataclysmic spectacle of Sahibzadas’ execution provides glimpses into the contradictory traits of human nature. As one looks into the behavior of different dramtis personne (main actors) of this grand drama, we come across the best and the worst, the noblest and the meanest and the most selfless and the most selfish traits of human nature. While the boatman Kuma Mashki, the widowed Brahmin lady Luxmi Devi and Moti Lal Mehra and Diwan Todar Mal displayed the noblest and completely motiveless gesture of providing succor to those in distress namely Mata Gujri and the two Sahibzadas at the grave risk to their own lives, Dewan Todar Mal goes to the extent of maintaining the dignity of the dead bodies of the deceased and arranges for their decent burial (cremation). He was fully aware of the enormous financial implications and even the liquidation of his own life and the grave danger to his family. Yet such was the pull of his conscience that he performed this noblest deed of his times. Similarly, Sher Mohammad Khan, the then Nawab of neigbhouring Malerkotla State whose brother Khwaza Khizhar was believed to have been slain by Guru Gobind Singh’s arrow in the battle of Chamkaur Sahib refused to swallow the bait thrown by Wazir Khan by refusing to take revenge from his sworn enemy by agreeing to kill his innocent infant sons. Why should the sins of the fathers be visited upon their innocent progeny, he told Wazir Khan and appealed to him to desist from committing the most heinous crime of killing the innocent children. By refusing to commit this sinful act, he displayed the highest, the noblest trait of a true warrior. On the contrary, how low human depravity can descend and to what an extent depraved human beings can fall in the same situation has been displayed by the caretaker-cum-cook of Guru’s household namely Gangu Brahmin who sold his soul to the devil for a handful of gold coins. As Jesus Christ was betrayed by one o his most trusted companions Judas Iscariot, so did this highly trusted but greedy/ avaricious personal servant betrayed his master’s family. Similar acts of human depravity were displayed by religiously vindictive Wazir Khan and his equally vindictive courtier Sucha Nand for settling scores with the House of Nanak for the alleged injustice done to him in the distant past. Yet another instance of human depravity comes to the fore when Gurus’ own appointed officials called Masands on Guru’s payroll named Sulakhan and Bulaki belonging to villages Raipur and Chanarthal from Sirhind area present in Wazir Khan’s Court during the trial failed to appeal or protest against the Sahibzadas’ persecution by abdicating their official duty and remaining silent as pointed out by Rattan Singh Bhangoo in his Sri Gur Panth Parkash episode 21, p. 145. Thus, this spectacle provides a deep insight both into the noblest and the most degraded aspects of human nature.
While there has always been an air of sacredness, solemnity and sanctimoniousness around this spectacle of Sahibzadas’ and Mata Gujri’s sacrifice during its anniversary, there has emerged a flip side to this sacred occasion during the last few years. As devout pilgrims travel to Fatehgarh Sahib from all the four directions to pay their tributes to the martyrs and pay their obeisance at the sacred shrines associated with their martyrdom, they have to confront a multiplicity of langars fitted with loud speakers at full volume exhorting the helpless pilgrims to partake dainty dishes like almond enriched hot milk, kheer, jalebis et al with the zealous organizers stopping passengers buses and other vehicles and aggressively throwing food packets in the passengers' laps. This author counted five such langars within a stretch of less than one kilometer. Despite SGPC’s directions to serve simple food minus any sweet dish during this festival, these langars have been serving every imaginable delicacy to the pilgrims. There seems to be a competition among these langar organizations and various Sikh societies to outdo each other without bothering about the sanctity of this sacred occasion. Not only they blocked the smooth flow of traffic, but the announcements from the loud speakers at the highest decibel grossly violated and diluted the solemnity and somberness of this sacred occasion. It also reflects indiscipline and misplaced religiosity in the present day Sikh society which mistakes performance of superfluous rituals like the frequent so-called Nagar Kirtans and lavish community kitchens for religiousness. The spirit of this momentous occasion demands that instead of creating this noisy food joints, the kirtani jathas like the Parbhat Pharees from each nearby village and town should walk on foot amidst the choral recitation of Gurbani to the hallowed site of Sahibzadas’ Martyrdom. Some sensible village Sikh youth should volunteer to organize such peaceful marches. Sahibzadas’ sacrifice, in defence of their faith and Sikh identity, holds a special lesson for the Sikh Youth, especially those cutsurds who are shedding their sacred keshas on their heads and trimming their beards. A Peaceful pilgrimage with Sahibzadas’ image in their hearts and waheguru’s sacred name on their lips will certainly ignite the true spirit of Sikhi among the Sikh youth if they adopt this model of pilgrimage. Another depressing scenario is there being a lack of readers of serious, good quality books on Sikhism among the Sikh masses assembled on this occasion. There were very few book lovers and customers for the Sikh literature put up for sale on the several book stalls set up by several publishers and Sikh institutions on the campus of Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University at Fatehgarh Sahib. Lack of reading habit among the Sikhs is a disturbing trend which affects the quality of human source among the Sikh society. It is likely to lead to an overall degeneration in our society. This solemn occasion calls for introspection, loud thinking and disciplining our instincts and be counted among the enlightened civil societies of other nations.
An avid reader of our Journal has asked me to raise the issue of distortions made in the Nanakshahi Calendar by pointing out that the birth anniversary of Sri Guru Gobind Singh is being celebrated by SGPC in Punjab this year on December 29, 2022 which falls in the midst of the week long celebrations of Sahibzadas’ martyrdom. It is for the information of our readers that Institute of Sikh Studies in cooperation of with the SGPC, S Pal Singh Purewal, the creator of real Nanakshahi Calendar under the leadership of Late Dr Kharak Singh who was then a member of the SGPC’s Dharam Parchar Committee had got this calendar promulgated after getting the seal of approval of Sri Akal Takht Sahib affixed on this document in 2003. But the vote bank hungry Sikh Akali Political leadership under the pressure of so-called Sant Samaj and other vested interests had once again distorted this historical, scientifically correct document. The results of this tampering with the rare historical document are there for everyone to see. While the rest of the world is observing Sikh festivals as per Nanakshahi Calendar, SGPC is blowing its own trumpet. How long will such a state of affairs will continue?