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Sikh Movement
– A Fight Against Tyranny, not Tyrant –

Bhai Ashok Singh

Very often when historical facts are presented in an unbalanced and one-sided manner, these tend to mislead the readers. As a result of these distortions, the very idea and concept behind these facts is changed. This is what seems to be happening with the history of the Sikh Movement.

I feel highly concerned, when I find that history is being written these days in a manner which projects Sikhism and Sikh struggle as anti-Islamic. This is a serious misinterpretation of Sikh principles and the vision of the Sikh Gurus. This could partly be due to the fact that the majority of those wo contributed to the sources of Sikh history were non-Sikhs who chronicled the events of Sikh history according to their own fancy and point of view. Very often, the writers of history are influenced by the ruler of the day. This trend seems to have picked more speed recently. This trend is trying to project Sikhism as a sub-sect of Hinduism or its revised edition which projects Sikhs in the form of an armed brigade to protect the Hindus. This minimises the universality of Sikhism as a distinct religion with its distinct principles and doctrines. A single line, Tilak Janju Rakha Prabh Tanka interpreted in a distorted manner conveys a wrong message. The word Tanka is sought to denote a third party or "their" religion. It is wrong to say that Guru Tegh Bahadur protected Hindu religion. He sacrificed his life to defend the right to practise any religion of one's choice or the right of the Hindus to practise their religion. In modern parlance, Guru Tegh Bahadur was a champion of human rights per se.

It is due to this concern that I am narrating some of the historic happenings of Sikh history, so that basic doctrines and ethos of Sikhism and Sikh religion are properly understood, and Sikhism rid of the subjective mental-constructs calculatedly created by certain historians for their own interests.

Legend goes that when Guru Nanak was born, Daultan, the midwife refused to accept honorarium for her services of midwifery from Mehta Kalu, as she had felt amply rewarded by having a glimpse of the divine radiance on the newly-born offspring. No financial compensation could match the bliss that she had felt during the moment of Guru Nanak's birth. Thus, she was the first to perceive the divinity in Nanak. It was a phenomenon perceived by Daultan – a Muslim lady rather than by Mehta Kalu – a Hindu.

Sikh history begins practically with the advent of the Mughal period. When Babur rounded up some Indians at Eminabad, Guru Nanak was one of them. A similar legend tells that Babur, a Muslim emperor, also saw divinity in Nanak as he found the hand-operated stone grinders (chakkis) moving on their own inside the prison. He realised that Guru Nanak was a man of God, and released him consequently. History does not record any major confrontation between the Sikh Gurus and the rulers after that for a long period. Emperor Akbar paid a visit to the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amardas. The visit was necessitated by a series of complaints that Guru Amardas was preaching against Islam in his daily sermons. After his visit, Emperor Akbar was not only satisfied with the falsity of the complaints, but also with saintly conduct of the Guru. So much so, that he offered land for establishing the city (Amritsar) which the Guru graciously refused to accept.

Guru Arjun Dev, while compiling the bani of Guru Granth Sahib, included the bani of not only the Sikh Gurus and Hindu Bhagats but also of Muslims Fakirs as well as that of the so-called untouchables. The writings of Muslim men of God, Kabir and Farid, are twice the size in volume than the writings of all other saints taken together. It was, perhaps, because both Farid and Kabir believed in monotheism of God or unity in Divinity : fs;/ ;ohe B e'fJ - tkjd bkFohe .

The fifth Sikh Guru, having realised that the Sikhs were then mentally and physically prepared to resist tyranny, gave the Sikh movement a tilt towards taking up arms in defence of their religion and protect their faith and themselves against any ideological and physical attack. The following verse from Gurbani symbolises this crucial transformation in the mission of Guru Nanak :

huix hukmu hoAw imhrvwx dw ] pY koie n iksY r\wxdw ]
sB suKwlI vuTIAw iehu hoAw hlymI rwju jIau ]

Conflict with the State starts whenever the rulers perceive a defiance of authority in any religious movement. Guru Arjun had extended normal hospitality to Prince Khusro, though a rebel being pursued by Mughal forces, like any other pilgrim, being a man of God in his own right. But this was construed as an act of defiance and collusion with the forces of rebellion against the State. Some historians have accepted it as such, whereas Guru Arjun Dev's gesture should have been interpreted in the proper context keeping in mind Guru Arjun's occupation of the seat of Sikh Gurus known for their cosmopolitan outlook. It is under dictatorship and autocratic rule that people are executed without a fair trial on subjectively perceived grounds of helping a rebel.
Guru Arjun, while going to the river for his final ablutions, had sent a message to his infant son Hargobind not to mourn his death. Instead, he should sit on a throne fully armed and maintain an army to the best of his ability. The Guru had already entrusted the military training of his son to Baba Budha Ji to make him worthy of occupying a royal throne :

qKiq bhY qKqY kI lwiek ] pMc smwey gurmiq pwiek ]

It is again noteworthy that it was through the good offices of a Muslim Sain Mian Mir that Guru Hargobind came to restore harmonious relations with Emperor Jahangir – the killer of Guru's father.

While in Gwalior prison, a regular listener to Guru Sahib’s sermons was the Jailor of the prison. When Guru Sahib was released from there, the jailor requested him to give him some memento to remember the Guru. I was told by the guide in the fort Gwalior, that Guru Sahib gave his chola (a loose apparel) to the jailor. On hearing about the demise of the Guru, the jailor buried that chola there within the fort and raised a small mazaar which still existed there when I visited.

According to Mr M A Macauliffe, at the time of Guru Sahib’s release from Gwalior, Jahangir requested the Guru to accompany him to Kashmir. On the way, at Amritsar, “The emperor asked, May I too behold thy sacred temple,” The Guru, seeing the Emperor’s friendly curiosity, consented to conduct him to Amritsar. The Emperor sent sacred food and offered to defray all the expenses for the completion of the temple. The Guru, however, wishing to retain for the Sikhs exclusive proprietary rights over it, replied, ‘The place where the money of one person is spent becometh that person’s property. This temple erected to God belongeth to God.....” “The Empress Nur Jahan and her co-queens, went again to visit the Guru. They also went to see the temple, and ended by visiting the Guru’s mother.”

Gurdwara Chhatam Patshahi in Srinagar Kashmir along with the fort built by Jahangir is a living witness to the joint visits of Jahangir and Guru Hargobind to Kashmir. Guru ki Masjid – built by Guru Hargobind for his Muslim soldiers is still there.

Here, the Guru had transformed Jahangir from a tyrant to a friendly ruler.

“Now a few words about the nature of wars fought by the two warrior Gurus. Mohsin Fani, a contemporary of the Sixth Guru, says in his Dabistan that Hargobind did not use his sword in ‘anger’. “Both the warrior Gurus often declared that their sword would always be used for defence, nor was it drawn against anybody out of revenge. These wars were not communal. Both Hindus and Muhammadans enlisted themselves in the Guru’s armies and fought for him. The Guru fought against oppressors of both the communities, Hindu and Muhammadan.” – Philosophy of Sikhism by Giani Sher Singh

Now there is a lot of controversy being created about Sain Mian Mir’s laying the foundation of Sri Harimandar Sahib. Sikh tradition has it that Guru Arjun Dev requested Sain Mian Mir to lay the foundation of Sri Harimandir Sahib. According to a recently published book by Punjabi University, Patiala, written by Dr Mohm. Habib, the earliest reference to Sain Mian Mir laying the foundation of Harimandar Sahib appears in Punjab Notes and Queries (1849-1884) by the then Secretary Municipal Committee, Amritsar, Mr E. Michol. Another reference is to Umdat-ul-Tawarikh by Sohan Lal Suri (1885), according to which Guru Sahib himself went to Lahore to bring Sain Mian Mir. Yet another reporting is in Punjab District Gazetteers by Barkat Rai Chopra.

According to Giani Gyan Singh, Raja Ram Singh, a General in Aurangzeb’s army, requested Guru Tegh Bahadur to accompany him on his expedition to Assam. Guru conceded to the request and accompanied Raja Ram Singh. There were some twenty-five followers with Guru Sahib including Bhai Rup Chand and his son Dharam Chand. Dharam Chand was instrumental in striking a compromise between the Mughal forces under Raja Ram Singh and the ruler of Kamrup (Assam). Roop Chand was left at Patna Sahib to attend to Mata ji.
It is very often said that it was Guru Gobind Singh who transformed the Sikhs into Militants by creating the Khalsa. Here I would like delve deeper into history. Just two points would negate this hypothesis. Guru Gobind Rai’s first battle was against Hindu Rajas at Bhangani 13 years before the Khalsa came into being. In this battle, Pir Budhu Shah lost two of his sons and men, fighting along side the Guru.

The places from where the five piaras came from (Bhai Daya Singh, a Khatri of Lahore; Bhai Dharam Singh, a Jat of Delhi, Bhai Mohkam Singh, a washerman of Dwarkapuri, Bhai Sahib Singh, a barber of Bidar, Bhai Himmat Singh, a water-career of Jagannathpuri), were never visited by Guru Gobind Rai. These were visited by Guru Nanak. Guru Gobind Singh never said or did anything which one cannot find in the Guru Nanak's Bani.

jau qau pRym Kylx kw cwau ] isru Dir qlI glI myrI Awau ]
iequ mwrig pYru DrIjY ] isru dIjY kwix n kIjY ]

pihlw mrxu kbUil jIvx kI Cif Aws ]
hohu sBnw kI ryxukw qau Awau hmwrY pwis ]

Those unfamiliar with the Sikh scripture would easily take these lines to be authored by Guru Gobind Singh, as these are in keeping with the martial spirit that was to be given final physical shape by Nanak in the tenth form.
How this commandment of Guru Nanak was followed and put into practice, can easily be seen in 1716 AD. When Banda Bahadur was executed and his 742 soldiers were put to death, not a single Sikh sought pardon.
While initiation of Panj Piaras by Guru Gobind Singh indicates the spirit of the first line of the above quoted verse, the sacrifice of 742 Sikhs along with their leader Banda Singh Bahadur embodies the essence of the second line.

First fight of Guru Gobind Singh was against the Hill Rajas – Hindus. It was at their invitation, that Mughal forces came into conflict to help the Hindu rajas against Guru Gobind Singh.

According to Daulat Rai, “The Second defeat was rankling in the mind of the Rajas. They tried to involve the Subedar of Sirhind fully now. It is said that Rupees twenty thousand were given to the Subedar in cash and Raja Bhim Chand offered him the hand of a female from his family. The Subedar was won over to their side.”
When Guru Gobind Singh left the besieged Anandpur fort, it is often said that the Mughal forces violated their oath taken over the holy Quran, and attacked the Guru’s entourage. But in this betrayal Hindu Rajas also broke their oath taken over the sacred cow.

Nawab Sher Mohammad Khan Maleria, as everyone knows, protested against the execution of innocent Sahibzadas. But few would know that the Nawab did so in spite of the fact that his brother Nahar Khan was killed in the battle of Chamkaur Sahib by Guru Gobind Singh himself. Yet the Nawab remained loyal to the state and fought against Baba Banda Bahadur in which he was slain.

Amongst the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh at Keshgarh Sahib is a saif, a sword given by Bahadur Shah to Guru Gobind Singh as a token of thanks for Guru Sahib’s assistance in the war of succession. We are told that this saif belongs to Hazrat Ali. This shows that Bahadur Shah realized that Guru Gobind Singh was a man of God, worthy of receiving the sacred weapon. He could not have given such a precious relic to an enemy.

After 200 years of armed conflict with the Muslims, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was able to establish a Sikh rule in the Punjab. A most notable character of a devout Sikh comes to notice, as there was no revenge killing of any Muslim, nor any mosque was destroyed or even desecrated. Muslims were amongst his trusted ministers, and negotiators. Sir Lepel Griffin writes in Ranjit Singh, “The most conspicuous figure in the eyes of foreigners visiting the court of the Maharaja was Faqir Azizuddin, his Foreign Minister. He, with his brothers Nuruddin and Imamuddin, descended from a Muhammadan family of Bukhara of great respectability... Trusting implicitly to his good faith, he would leave with his whole army on distant expeditions leaving only the Fakir with a few orderlies for the protection of Lahore. Azizuddin was occasionally employed on military service. Whenever it was necessary to send a special ambassador, as the one to Lord William Bentinck in 1831 and to Amir Dost Muhammad in 1835, the Faqir was always selected and was always equal to exigency.” Ilias Khan, Gaus Khan were amongst the generals in Maharaja’s army.

Very often Sikhs are accused of not supporting the mutiny of 1857. Just consider the Sikh psyche during that period and the immediately preceding years to understand the Sikh character.

Mutineers were supporting Bahadur Shah Zaffar, a Mughal Emperor, against the British. The Sikhs had fought for over two centuries against his predecessors and bore untold atrocities. The other factor, equally if not more important, was the fact that Sikhs were betrayed in the Anglo-Sikh wars by Misr Tej Singh, Lal Singh, the Bhaiyas of UP. How could Sikhs support those who were responsible for their defeat and loss of their kingdom, and help the Mughal rule whose wounds inflicted on Sikhs were too raw to heal so soon?

"Had Tej Singh attacked the Britishers at Pheroo Shah, the British rule in India would have ended 100 years earlier. There was no movement of troops on 19th and 20th December though both at Mudki and Ferozepur, the adversaries remained very close to each other. The Sikhs used this respite to their best ability by building an earthen defence without guidance from senior officers or expert technicians. Lal Singh conveyed this development to the British through his emissary Shams-ud-din... Even relinquishing his superior civil status as Governor General, he decided to take part in the battle as a second in command to Lord Gough... On the other hand, Tej Singh, with a force of ten thousand under him, remained idle in the neighbourhood of the battlefield absurdly pretending that he was guarding Ferozepur although Littler’s force had left the place in broad day light.” (Sita Ram Kohli, Sunset of the Sikh Empire quoted in Anglo-Sikh Wars by Karnail Singh)

Dr Kirpal Singh and M S Ahluwalia in The Punjab’s Pioneer Freedom Fighters, quote Col G B Malleson who writes, “Then among many panic set in. The cry of “India lost” was heard from one commanding officer who tried in vain to rally his men. The left attack on the Khalsa had failed so signally that it could not be renewed. The Sikh army had repulsed the British attack...... What was more, they had still 10,000 men under Tej Singh. Had a guiding mind directed the movement of the Sikh army, nothing could have saved the exhausted British.”
Hence the first real war of Independence of India was lost due to the betrayal of UP Bhaiyas – (Hindustanis). Shah Mohammad had truly written that now war between Hind and Punjab had started.

In 1968, BA history paper of Punjab University had a question maliciously worded. It read, “Give circumstances that brought Guru Gobind Singh in conflict with Aurangzeb and account for his ultimate failure.” This is an insinuation that Guru Gobind Singh failed against Aurangzeb.

Reply to the first part of the question has been given earlier in the words of Dault Rai. As for the second, it would be appropriate to mention what a Muslim writer has to say about Guru Gobind Singh:

np eh ej{ B sp eh, nro Bk j's/ r[o{ r'fpzd f;zx s' j'sh ;[Bs ;G eh

But for Guru Gobind Singh, all would have been circumcised.

In the end, I would like to say that I am not a historian, but the trend of writing history that I have noticed in the past half a century, has created a lot of wrong impressions about the Sikhs and Sikh mission. I have ventured to put down my ideas in an attempt to say that Sikh mission was not against any religion as such, whether it was the struggle against the Mughals or the British or at present. It had been and is a resistance to tyranny, and injustice, without bothering about the religion of the tyrant.



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