Guru Tegh Bahadur: A Symbol of Forgiveness and Fearlessness
Harpreet Kaur Bains
Guru Tegh Bahadur, ninth Guru of the Sikhs, was born at Amritsar on 1 April, 1621. As his name suggests, he was skilled in the art of wielding sword and was brave in doing his duty. In fact he was a multifaceted personality and commanded a great respect, even during his time, not only among the Sikhs but also among the people of other communities and religions. To them he appeared to be a source of great courage, determination and strength on whom they could depend in the hour of crisis. The great Guru was indeed a man of very high stature whom believers in all faiths and creeds approached for advice and refuge.
While some scholars have studied his life in detail and have described him as a symbol of peace, friend of the oppressed, defender of religion, unparalleled martyr, “Hind di chadar”, etc., others have examined the various aspects of his philosophy of life reflected in his auspicious poetry. The scope of this article is limited and it aims at studying only two prominent traits of his character : readiness to forgive others and fearlessness in thought and action. But before discussing them in detail it would not be without interest to have a close look at his family environment and the contemporary situation which must have contributed a great deal in shaping his personality and thought.
His father was Guru Hargobind, sixth Guru of the Sikhs, whose “miri piri” gospel must have had a deep influence on the young Tegh Bahadur’s impressionable mind. The parents could read his forehead correctly and gave him a beffitting name Tegh Bahadur indicative of strength, courage and fearlessness. When still a boy of tender age, he took part in one of the four battles fought by his father and showed his courage and bravery. His elder brother, Baba Gurditta, was a renowned warrior who had killed in this very battle Osman Khan with his arrow. Like Guru Nanak, the ninth Guru had the courage to say what was true. The impact of the personality of peaceful Guru Arjun Dev could be easily perceived in him. He had also seen his father Guru Hargobind in action and the ungrateful Painde Khan was killed before his eyes. At the age of 11, he was married to (Mata) Gujri, daugher of Shri Lal Chand, Khatri by caste, and their only child, Gobind Singh, was born many years after their marriage.
After the death of Guru Hargobind, Gurgadi was given to Shri Hari Rai and Tegh Bahadur went to Baba Bakala in Amritsar where he did “bhagti” for long 21 years in an underground mansion. Guru Hari Krishan died on 30th March, 1664 without naming the heir to the Gurgadi and indicated only the place. «Baba Bakala» where the next Guru lived. This caused a good deal of confusion because many aspirants started staking their claim to the Gurgadi. Finally thanks to the efforts and wisdom of Makhan Shah Lubana, inhabitant of Jehlam, the real Guru was discovered and Baba Gurditta, grandson of Baba Buddha, formally declared Guru Tegh Bahadur as the ninth Guru of the Sikhs by putting a tilk on his forehead on 20th March, 1665.
Aurangzeb took control of the administration in 1658, that is, just six years before Tegh Bahadur became the Guru. He was a Sunni Muslim with strong prejudices and was very cruel at heart. In order to achieve power he treated his father and brothers cruelly and did not even spare his sons. He punished Shia Muslims and Sufis alike. In his book Life of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Macauliffe writes, «He kept his father Shah Jahan in jail for many years where he died of thirst. He also got killed his three brothers Dara Shikoh, Murad and Shujah. He mistreated his eldest son Mauzim and again Bahadur Shah and turned his wife out of the house, all naked». In order to win the sympathy of the Muslims Aurangzeb let loose a reign of terror in which Hindus were the worst victims. He committed many excesses against the Hindus and was in fact more cruel than his father Shah Jahan in his treatment of the non-Muslims. Soon after capturing power he took vow for the establishment of an Islamic Empire. Dr S.S. Bal, a well-known historian, writes, «Aurangzeb had come to the throne as the champion of Sunni orthodoxy in the Empire. He had earned the reputation of being a fit representative of that sect even as a prince. In 1645, soon after his appointment to the Governorship of Gujrat he had not only converted the temple of Chintamani into a mosque but as if that was not enough, had slaughtered a cow in the temple also. He continued demolishing the temples throughout his governorship in the Deccan in the belief that he was fulfilling a divine duty enjoined upon every true Muslim.» He issued from time to time proclamations against the Hindu religion such as dismissing the royal astrologers, making compulsory the use of the expression «Salam Alekam» in stead of «Namaste» at the time of meeting each other, demolishing the temples at Banaras, Mathura, Jodhpur, Udeypur, Jaipur, Golkunda, etc. imposing «jazia» and travel-tax upon the Hindus, depriving the Hindus of jobs in the revenue department, disallowing the Hindus to become Heads of Departments in which Muslims worked, stopping the cremation of the Hindus at the bank of the river Sabarmati, prohibiting the Hindus to ride the Turkish horses or elephants, discouraging the non-Muslims to keep weapons at home, etc. All this led to despair and helplessness among the Hindus. Many Hindus embraced Islam out of fear or greed. Those who crossed over to Islam were given many favours or facilities.
Forgiveness par excellence
Such were the circumstances under which Tegh Bahadur became the religious Head of the Sikhs. He had to face a lot of opposition at the time of becoming the Guru. Since Guru Hari Krishan could not specify the next Guru, a number of Soddhis including Guru Tegh Bahadur’s cousin, Dhir Mal, became anxious to get the Gurgadi. Dhir Mal could not accept the Guruship of Tegh Bahadur and out of jealousy attacked him with the help of a Masand named Sihan. They shot at the Guru but he had a providential escape. Later his men looted the goods belonging to Tegh Bahadur but the Guru kept his cool. However, his disciples could not tolerate the assault on their Master and ransacked Dhir Mal’s house taking away his goods as well as the religious book of Adi Garanth Sahib. Sihan was brought in shackles to the Guru. But Guru Tegh Bahadur did not like all this. He returned the goods to Dhir Mal and forgave his attacker Sihan and released him. Even the copy of Granth Sahib was returned to Dhir Mal. This goes to prove that the Guru was highly tolerant and forgiving in dealing with his enemies.
Another instance of Guru’s forgiving nature came to light when he paid a visit to Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar. The selfish and pro-government worshippers shut the doors of Darbar Sahib. Since the departure of Guru Hargobind from Amritsar in 1630, these men were enjoying the money offered there for the purpose of worship. They were afraid lest the Guru should stay on there depriving them of their illtaken livelihood. When the doors of Darbar Sahib were closed on him, his feelings must have been hurt but he neither protested nor uttered anything bad. He came back after having offered his obiesance from outside. These are perhaps the best two examples to show to what extent the Guru could forgive his opponents and adversaries.
Possessor of Fearless mind
Aurangzeb selected especially Kashmir as a centre for the conversion of Hindus into Islam. Sher Afgan, Governor of Kashmir, put almost daily a good number of Hindus to death for not changing their religion. Brahmans of Kashmir were terribly scared with these daily murders and went at first to the Amarnath temple for a prayer and later approached Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur Sahib for protection. The Guru was a supporter of freedom of religion and was ready to make any sacrifice for stopping the oppression and cruelty. The proposal which he made to these Brahmans reflects his intelligent and fearless mind. He sugested to them to tell Aurangzeb if he could convert Tegh Bahadur into Islam they would also embrace this religion. Aurangzeb accepted this proposal gladly and called for the Guru.
In 1674, the Guru left Anandpur Sahib and started moving towards Agra. On the way, he met a large number of people and preached them lofty principles of life. Having reached Agra, the Guru got himself arrested. At first the Guru was asked to change his religion and many temptations were given to him. When he declined everything, the three Sikhs - Divan Mati Dass, Bhai Dial Dass, Bhai Sati Dass - accompanying him were boiled, one by one, in hot water and were cut into pieces before the Guru. But he remained firm and peaceful. On 11th November, 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded at Delhi by Jalal Din of Samana by the orders of the Emperor.
The martyrdom of the peaceful and fearless Guru brought about a new turn in the history of India. After the peaceful means having been tried, Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa Panth which fought against oppression and protected the innocent. The ninth Guru’s sacrifice made the Sikhs fearless and they were consequently ready to give up everything for the cause of the weak and the down-trodden. Prof. Puran Singh rightly observes, “The Hymns of Tegh Bahadur were composed to infuse the spirit of fearlessness into disciples, as there were times coming when the Sikhs would be called on to embrace death as a bride.” (The Ten Masters, p. 91). Through his speech and action Guru Tegh Bahadur proved that those who fought for the noble principles and public cause could not be cowed down by threats, torture or even death.
1. Macauliffe, Life of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Language Department, Panjab, 1971.
2. Puran Singh (Professor), The Ten Masters, Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar, 1969.
3. S.S. Bal, Circumstances leading to the Martydom of Guru Tegh Bahadur, The Punjab Past and Present Vol. IV-1, April, 1975).
4. Trilochan Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Prophet and Martyr, Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committe, Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1967.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All