COMMEMORATING GURU TEGH BAHADUR on His Fourth Birth CENTENARY
The year 2021 marks the passing of 400 years since the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur, 9th Sikh Guru, in April 1621. Sikhs at that time were just 15 years past the martyrdom of the 5th Sikh Guru and nascent Sikhi was passing through a difficult period. It may help develop a clearer perspective of the role of Guru Tegh Bahadur, if we took an overview of the lead events since Guru Arjun’s martyrdom.
Historians mostly agree that robust growth of Sikhi made segments among the Hindus and the Muslims which made them turn increasingly inimical towards the Sikh Gurus. Additionally dissonance in the Guru families provided a sharper focus to those hostile towards Gurughar (House of Nanak). One effect of action by Jahangir to impose death penalty on Guru Arjun at the behest of orthodox Hindu coterie among his courtiers was that it demonstrated the reversal of Akbar’s ‘policy of religious neutrality and eclecticism’1 under the new Emperor. The brief internment of Guru Hargobind, successor of Guru Arjun, further confirmed the change in his policy. Post that period, Jahangir tried to moderate his relations with the Guru.
Guru Hargobind, while he maintained friendly relations with Jahangir, did not forget to explore other means to strengthen and consolidate the Sikh community. The Guru had accompanied Jahangir to Kashmir and Rajputana and subdued rebellion by Tara Chand of Nalagarh.2 He however discretely continued to organize and train his band of armed Sikhs and tried to bring the community together by attempting to heal the divide3 with the Minas. He did not succeed to turn Mina divide round but another opening came up.
In 1624, a few days after his eldest son Gurditta was married, Guru Hargobind with his four sons went to meet Sri Chand at Baarath. Baba Tegh bahadur was three at that time and was not with them. During their stay at Baarath, Sri Chand asked Guru Hargobind to give a son to him. Guru replied ‘if you desire, they all are available’. Sri Chand gave Udasi bhekh to Gurditta. After the Guru left, Gurditta stayed back. Sri Chand explained Udasi Mat and bestowed the Gadi of a Pramukh Guru of Udasi Sampardai on him before Gurditta left4. It helped to heal a divide in the Sikh community and Udasis soon became an active component of the Sikh parchar missionary.
In 1627, Jahangir fell ill in Kashmir and decided to go back to Lahore but died on the way. Shahjahan, known to be close to orthodox groups, succeeded in the struggle for succession to the throne and the Sikh-Mughal relations again turned inimical. Sikhs too were not at all hesitant to cross swords with adversaries. Guru Hargobind fought four battles with Mughal forces after which to avoid recurring conflicts, c. 1634 he moved to the hilly area of Shiwaliks and set up a base at Kiratpur, outside the territory under direct Mughal control.5 But Amritsar slipped into Mina hands.
Gopal Singh6 records that under Guru Hargobind seats of Sikhism were consolidated from Kabul to Dacca — His son Baba Gurditta, as the Pramukh Guru of Udasis, set up four Dhunas (monastic seats) that supplemented the system of sangat and masand to further spread teachings of Guru Nanak. Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Entry Dhuan, PUP, adds that these Dhunas were initially assigned to different areas but later each of the branches spread out and established their preaching centers over the country. The Dhunas headed by Bhai Almast, with its headquarter at Nanak Mata had branches in Eastern India including at Dhaka. A couple of decades later the sangats in Eastern India provided not only strategic depth to the Sikh community but also became the source of support and funds to the Gurus in the difficult times.
Guru Hargobind, before he passed away in 1644, installed Har Rai, the younger son of Gurditta, as the successor Guru. Gurditta had predeceased his father in 1638 and none of other children of the Guru ‘seemed suitable for the position’. Dhir Mal, elder brother of Har Rai was rejected because he had ‘formed an alliance with Emperor Shâh Jahân’. Dhir Mal also claimed to possess the original copy of Adi Granth to support his claim to Gurgadi and continued to intervene in later succession too7. After the ceremony, Guru Hargobind asked everyone to bow to Guru Har Rai, and Baba Tegh Bahadur, 24 and by passed, was the first to do so.8
Guru Har Rai had a peaceful disposition and he moved further into the interior hills of Sirmor and stayed there most of the time. During his ministry, three new branches of Udasis known as Bakshishes were added to the already large Udasi order. Guru Har Rai had blessed the Bakshishes known as Suthrashahis, Bhagat Bhagwanias and Sangat Sahibis. This was helpful to Guru’s missionary work in Shiwaliks.
Guru Har Rai’s relations with Shahjahan had improved after he helped treat his favorite son, Dara Shikoh. But Aurangzeb’s ascension to the throne ‘in 1658 marked the beginning of long, consistent and active policy to gain a control over the Sikh religious affairs9’- foreboding the testing times in the half century ahead.
Aurangzeb sent a message to Guru Har Rai ‘to deliver his son Ram Rai as a hostage for the Guru’s reported support of Dara Shikoh’. Aurangzeb asked Ram Rai after his arrival in Delhi, to explain a verse from Asa di Var in Adi Granth. Ram Rai replied that the text had been miscopied and should have been mitti beiman ki, instead of Mitti Musalman ki the dust left after cremating the bodies of faithless people. Guru Har Rai, on hearing of this, decided not to see Ram Rai again for changing the word of Guru Nanak10. Before his passing in October 1661, Guru Har Rai installed his younger son, aged five, Har Krishan as Guru.
Ram Rai was rewarded by Aurangzeb with land grants in Dehra Dun region. After a few years, in Jan 1664, Aurangzeb summoned Guru Har Krishan, through Raja Jai Singh, to appear at his court11. The Guru came to Delhi and was lodged at the house of Jai Singh.
When Guru Har Krishan was summoned, Kunwar Ram Singh was present with Guru on the first day.12In the session, Ram Rai was emphatic that decision of his father to install his brother was based on cogent reasons. It went well but the next session planned for the following day could not be held because Guru Har Krishan passed away that night.
When Guru Har Krishan was sick with small pox, Baba Tegh Bahadur had arrived in Delhi on 21st March from his visit to sangats in Patna and the East from 1656 to 1664. He was on way back to Bakala and with his mother and visited Guru Har Krishan to offer condolences on the passing of Guru Har Rai.13
Guru Har Krishan passed away on 30 March, 1664 and his dying words were, “Baba Bakala”, indicating that his successor Guru was in Bakala. This was considered by many as a cryptic utterance but those in the know had no doubt who was the person in view of Guru Har Krishan.14
Tegh Bahadur – The Ninth Sikh Guru
Sikhs had witnessed the happenings over the decades since the martyrdom of the fifth Guru and had no doubt that the Mughal Kings had made continued attempts to contain the activities of each of the Gurus and possibly to install a person who would take the cue from them. This process firmed up the resolve of the Gurus and Sikhs to resist Mughal interference.
Baba Tegh Bahadur had stayed in touch with Guru Har Rai and had undertaken parchar to Patna at the Guru’s suggestion. His brother in law, Kirpal, a soldier in Guru Har Rai’s armed guard is also said to have kept Tegh Bahadur informed of the Sikh developments periodically.15 It is reasonable to infer that Tegh Bahadur had stayed sensitive towards Sikh happenings but without interfering in the matters. It is also possible that the Mughals with their ears to the ground, would have been conscious of the possibility of Tegh Bahadur becoming the Guru, with some trepidation, at a juncture when they were closing in to take control of the Guru institution.
Sangat Singh has speculated that the delay in announcing ascension of Tegh Bahadur to Gurgadi by months was a strategic ploy to keep Aurangzeb and his close coterie from guessing who was going to succeed the 8th Guru to Gurgadi16 lest they try to harm or in any way compromise the person.
As soon as news got out that the dying words of Guru Har Krishan were Baba Bakala, there was flurry of activity in Bakala as the local as well as outside aspirants of Gur Gadi set up shop as potential Gurus. Their total number is put at 22 that included Sodhis of various lineages like Minas, Dhir Mal, Sodhis of Lahore, and descendents of Suraj Mal plus a crop of local impostors17. Tegh Bahadur judiciously stayed aloof from this motley crowd. As per Surjit Singh Gandhi, Dhir Mal was the most vociferous of the claimants.
After over four months, a Delhi Sangat led by Diwan Dargah Mal and others including Mata Sulakhni, mother of Guru Har Krishan, Baba Gurditta son of Baba Budhha came to Bakala and Baba Gurditta performed the ritual ceremony of installing Tegh Bahadur as the next Sikh Guru. Sangat Singh says that the Guru asked for promise to maintain silence for the time being. Ranbir Singh records that it was a quiet, private ceremony. However, Surjit Gandhi’s version is that it was an open ceremony where grandson of Bhai Mohan, son of Guru Amardas, was also present.18
The news finally became public on the Diwali day, 9 October 1664, when Makhan Shah Lubana came to makeup his mannat - promised offering to the Guru for saving his prized merchandise on high seas and was aghast at the sight of so many people posing as Gurus. Each one of them accepted two gold coins he offered but when Makhan Shah got to Guru Tegh Bahadur, he asked for the 500 coins he had promised. That became the ‘gur ladho re’ moment – the joyful, spontaneous expression that Lubana Sikh is said to have uttered and has since become a part of Sikh memory. It continues to be retold by the kathakars and ragis lauding the miraculous finding and thankful acceptance of the true Guru by Sikhs. Gopal Singh sees the process of elevation of Tegh Bahadur to have been ‘an election by consensus’19 a speculation because consensus of aspirants was invariably sought but its absence did not change the choice that the earlier Guru has made!
Dhirmal continued to be sullenly skeptical and his Masand Sihan made a gun assault on the Guru one night. The Guru suffered a minor injury, was calm but Sikhs were upset. They plundered Dhir Mal’s house and took away the Saroop of original Adi Granth that he had appropriated. The Guru did not approve of the revenge attack and asked Sikhs to return the sacred Text to Dhir Mal which was done.20
Tegh Bahadur was now publically acknowledged as successor to Guru Hari Krishan. He appointed Bhai Mati Das and Sati Das as Dewan and Minister and Bhai Dayal Das as household minister.21
The Tegh BAhadur Ministry – Oct. 1664- Nov. 1675
In Nov. 1664 Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled to Amritsar to pay obeisance at Hari Mandir Sahib but ‘when he tried to enter the temple, its doors were closed upon him by the custodian of the temple [Harji]’ highlighting the continuation of familial hiatus. 22
Subsequently, the Guru reached Kiratpur in May 1665, and in June 1665 the Guru bought some land from Raja of Bilaspur near Makhowal village and founded a new town named after his mother as Chak-Nanki. Later this town was renamed as Anandpur. Baba Gurditta son of Sikh veteran Baba Buddha, had laid its foundation.
After a brief stay there, in August 1665, Guru Tegh Bahadur, accompanied by his family and some Sikhs, set out for a missionary tour of sangats towards the East. The Sangats’ response was overwhelming, causing concern to Mughals. Upon reaching Dhamdhan in Banger area in December 1665, a Mughal enforcement officer Alam Khan arrested the Guru and some of his associates and produced them before Emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered to hand them over to Kanwar Ram Singh, son of Raja Jai Singh. Released after about two months, he resumed his mission and reached Patna via Agra, Allahabad, Benaras and Sasaram in May 1666. They halted at Patna as arrangements for the stay of the Guru’s family were made. Guru Tegh Bahadur proceeded to Dacca in October 1666. Mata Gujri, who was expecting and a son was born on 22 Dec. 1666 at Patna.
At Dacca the Guru established a Hazuri Sangat with the help of Bhai Almast. Gurdwara Sangat Tola now marks the place where Guru Sahib used to deliver his sermons. It was here that the Guru heard of birth of his son. From Dacca, Guru proceeded to Chittagong via Jatia Hills, Sylhet and Agartala and returned to Dacca in 1668.
Raja Ram Singh, deputed by Aurangzeb, was then in Dacca for his expedition to Assam. He met the Guru and requested him to accompany him on the expedition. Guru agreed and the Guru’s presence is credited to have made possible the historic avoidance of a bloody conformation between the ruler of Kamrup and Raja Ram Singh.
An alternate account is that Aurangzeb deputed Raja Ram Singh, under house-arrest for negligence since escape of Shivaji, to the tough task to recapture Gauhati seized by Raja of Kamrup. Ram Singh knowing that Guru Tegh Bahadur had gone to Patna, halted there and learnt from Masand Bhai Dyal Das, that the Guru was at Dacca and planned to go to Dhubri and Assam to revive the Sikh centers established by Guru Nanak. Ram Singh set off to Dacca, met the Guru who acceded to his request to accompany him. A negotiated settlement took place and Guru Tegh Bahadur was asked to mark the new boundry line between the two forces. Mughals and Assamese agreed to co-exist without interfering in each other’s territory.23
The Guru returned to Patna to learn that under orders of Aurangzeb, things had turned ugly for Hindus and some Gurudwaras too had been demolished. He decided to return to Anandpur immediately. As had happened on his way out, the Guru along with some prominent Sikhs, was arrested also on the return journey at Agra in June 1670 and then released by an imperial court at Delhi after a short detention.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the first Guru to visit Sikh sangats in Eastern India set up 150 years earlier at the instance of Guru Nanak. These sangats saw increase in the days of succeeding Gurus who placed them under Masands to collect offerings and minister to the spiritual needs of devotees. In the time of the sixth Guru, Sikh sangats were firmly established at several places including Agra, Bina, Burhanpur, Mongher, Prayag, Ujjain, Gujrat, Lucknow, Patna, Daaca and Raj Mahal.24
The Guru returned to Anandpur around 1671. He had spent about 5 ½ years, and as it turned out, 50 % of his total ministry in the missionary to the East. Besides this, he had earlier, prior to becoming Guru, spent some time in that area. The Guru also blessed the Udassi Mihan Shahi Bakshish. Guru Gobind Singh later blessed Jitmaliyas and Bakhatmalia udassi groups. The Udasis thus became active participants in the efforts launched by the later Gurus to spread the message of Guru Nanak and to the propagation of Sikh faith.25
Around 1672, the Guru set out on missionary to Malwa region of Punjab that lasted about 1 ½ years. The mission assisted in planting trees, digging community wells and cattle heads being distributed to encourage dairy farming. Several Muslim followers of Sakhi Sarvar adopted Sikhi. These developments did not sit well with fundamentalist Muslims and the ruling elite.
Concurrently Brahmins at major pilgrimage centers and Kashmir had been told to turn Muslims or face death. At this juncture, a group of Kashmiri Pandits led by Kirpa Ram came and met Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur in May 1675 to seek his protection. The Guru, ‘after long discussions with prominent Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits’ made up his mind to sacrifice himself for the cause of “Righteousness” and for the freedom of “Dharma.”
The script played out fully. The Guru’s offer was conveyed to Aurangzeb who was said to be pleased to accept it. The Guru with his three companions – Sati Das, Mati Das and Dayal Das – set out from Anandpur. All of them were arrested and brought to Delhi. In time, the authorities offered three alternatives to the Guru viz : (1) show miracles, or (2) embrace Islam, or (3) face death. The Guru accepted the last and did not budge from his resolve even after his three companions were tortured to death. He was publically put to death by severing the head from his body in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk on November 11, 167526. Gurdwara Sis Ganj marks the place where the execution took place.
The divine miracle followed in the form of a storm when a devotee Lakhi Shah Lubana, retrieved the Guru’s dead body and cremated it by burning down his house and young Jaita, who separately took the severed head of Guru Tegh Bahadur to Anandpur, was honored by the young Guru Gobind Rai as “Rangretta Guru Ka Beta” and the head was cremated with full honor and proper ceremonies the next day.27
Testimony of Guru Gobind Singh and Some other Views
The event of martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur has been briefly but succinctly recorded by Guru Gobind Singh. His testimony is recorded in Dasam Granth Canto 5, Verses 13-16 in the following words:
Divine Lord is protector of the tilak and Janeo
A great saga of sacrifice in kaliyuga was performed by (Guru Tegh Bahadur)
Such a great deed was done in defence of the pious,
He offered his head without even a whisper.
He made this sacrifice indefence of religious freedom,
Sacrificing his head (life) without compromising his dignity.
Performance of miracles and magic feats are dirty tricks,
Which Divine Lord's devotees feel ashamed of indulging in.
Holding the Delhi's emperor blamesworthy for his mortal death,
Did Guru Tegh Bahadur Bahadur leave for his heavenly abode,
It was a unique deed done by Guru Tegh Bahadur,
Like of which none had done before indeed.
A pall of gloom descended upon earth following Guru Tegh Bahadur's departure,
While a wail of cries spread across the world,
Shouts of joy and victory rent the skies.28
(English translation by the Editor)
Besides his supreme sacrifice, he had done a substantial Sikh missionary work in Eastern India. The Guru reorganized management of Sangats in the eastern region by a well-defined structural hierarchy working under his authority; thus creating a network of relations between the different Sangats, so far working in isolation independence. Eastern region had two Subas - Suba of Benaras and Suba of Patna. Both the Subas were placed under Bhai Dyal Das, the chief Masand of the eastern region. The Sangats of Patna city and Monghyr were under Patna Suba. Bhai Dayal Das was Masand of Patna Sangat and in charge of Patna Suba too. Sangats of Benaras city and Mirzapur were under Benaras Suba with Bhai Javehari Mal in charge of Benaras Suba.
In one hukamnama, the Sangat of Benaras was instructed to entrust their offerings to Bhai Javehari. It was Bhai Javehari’s duty to send offerings to Bhai Dayal Das who then transferred these to the Guru. Thus a networked system of checks and controls was brought into being which could facilitate coordination.
The system set in place expected a Sikh to contribute a part of his earning - known as kar or karbar - to the Sangat. Sikhs also paid money for getting some ceremonies like engagement performed; made donations on fulfillment of desire or wish – mannat – and offered gifts and presents for the Guru – bhet. There are hukamnamas in which the Guru had asked Bhai Dyal Das to send such receipts.
An unconnected paper by Hardip Syan29 investigating a different historical perspective on Sikh experience of that period offers evidence of other factors that may explain some of the developments that Sagar reflects upon in his study.
Khatris from Punjab had affinity with Guru Nanak and successor Gurus, all of whom were Khatris. They noted the growth of commerce along the Gangetic and north-west trade routes and started moving to those parts during 1500-1700. They maintained ties with the Guru.
Migration of Khatri Sikhs resulted in the formation of significant Sikh sangats in Delhi, Mirzapur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Benaras and Patna by the early seventeenth century. It is also said that the sangats were predominantly managed by Khatris.
In Guru Hargobind’s letter in early 17th century, he reminded Sikhs of the east [purb di sangat] that sewa is directly beneficial for rozgar in this life because Guru’s blessing is for now - not afterlife. Later in seventeenth century when Guru Tegh Bahadur sent letters to Sikhs in Patna and Benaras to help fund langar to support so many Sikhs who travelled with him on all his missionaries and construction at the new township at Makhowal, he continued to stress the relationship between sewa and rozgar, and introduced the catchy phrase ‘sewa ki bela!’30
Syan says ‘Melding of religion and materialism was a unique feature of Sikhism in this period. In order to obtain divine protection a Sikh had to abide by the Guru’s teachings’ including simran, kirtan and sewa. The Sikh who did this would gain rozgar in this life and peace hereafter. He also says that possibly the Khatris donated gold at the call of the Guru in late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Khatri merchant network developed almost parallel to Sikh sangats and the Gurus used it to support their fund needs and get direct transmission of fund offerings by the use of hundies by individuals and sangats especially after the Masands were discontinued.
Syan says that it appears from Hukumnamas of early 18th century, that the ability of the Guru to raise a sizable war chest to fund Khalsa army is likely to have been a factor that influenced establishing Khalsa insurgency against Mughals in Punjab.
With the above factors added, the study by Syan seems right to infer that the ‘Sangats of eastern region not only served the Panth under Guru Tegh Bahadur but also became backbone of the Panth which is evident from the hukamnamas of Guru Gobind Singh.’
Sangats in East held on in support of the Guru, but started to peel off and wither away after the Guru’s passing possibly due to the lack of the Guru person that had been the focal point of their contact and support from the early days.
Let us also look at how history gets made if Sikhs engage with the society at large – an example came from Brandon, Manitoba, Canada where the Sikh community of the City met with the Mayor Rich Chrest in the year 2021 about the 400th anniversary of the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur and shared with him the story of martyrdom of the Guru.
The Mayor issued a proclamation saying ‘Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life for the Human Rights and dignity of humankind —— The City of Brandon honors Sikh history and culture, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s place in South Asian history, and the City’s valued relationship with the Sikh Community’ and proclaimed April 1, 2021 to be “Guru Tegh Bahadur Day” in the City of Brandon.
Compositions of Guru
We know that the Pothi Sahib known as Adi Granth was compiled by Guru Arjun and it contained the compositions of the first five Gurus. The 6th, 7th and 8th Gurus did not leave any composition but subsequently Guru Tegh Bahadur did and his compositions were added by Guru Gobind Singh to Adi Granth. We thus have access to Shabads in 15 Ragas and 54 Sloks written by Guru Tegh Bahadur in the SGGS. We will dwell briefly on the Guru’s compositions to grasp some facets of his preaching and persona.
Guru Tegh Bahadur’s grasp of Sikh thought and lived Sikhi enabled his uncanny skill to understand the finer points of the reality that the Panth faced. This set his ministry as an exemplar visionary and a catalyst. Coming to occupy Gurgadi just half a century after the execution by torture of his grandfather, Guru Arjun, he went about followed by his unarmed Sikhs. He talked to them, sought their views in an open and accessible manner – truly a people’s Guru.
He was thoughtful and pensive in expressions – that brought mellow sweetness, seen in Guru Arjun’s bani, to his compositions. In a world that is ephemeral and where all relations seem guided by fickle self interest, one does tend to feel lonesome and that is the feel one gets reading his bani. A careful reading of his compositions though reveals a veneer of resolute compassion seeping through, suggesting his inspiration emanating from the ideals of Sikh resistance. He commends the fundamental teaching of Gurmat – naam is the real blessing; imbibing it is the way to nirbaan – so contemplate on naam and live by it. The message comes in various forms – all in simple words and familiar metaphors, going straight to one’s heart!
The verses of Guru Tegh Bahadur are characterized by the flow of complex emotions and thoughts using simple language and easily graspable mataphors. They express the human dillemma of sharing one’s psychic anxieties arising out of the human inability to cope up with the onslaught of human vices, the regret at missed opportunities of meditating upon the divine sacred name despite listening to the scriptures and the human ideal of achieving a state of complete detachment leading to complete synchronization and communion with the Divine.
The man that in suffering feels not affliction;
Is by pleasures, attachment and fear unaffected,
And holds gold and dust alike;
Who by slander and praise is not affected,
Nor by avarice, attachment and pride,
Who to joy and sorrow keeps unattached,
Nor by Honour and dishonour is swayed;
Who renounces lure of the world and covetousness,
And frees himself from all desire;
Abjures lust and wrath
In the mind of such a one dwells the Supreme Being.
One by Divine grace favoured
Does this way of life learn.
Saith Nanak: Such a one into the Lord is merged,
As water into water.31
Legacy of the Guru
The Guru had stayed on in Bakala from the time of demise of Guru Hargobind  till he was called up to Gurgadi after the demise of Guru Har Krishan . During the intervening years, he had stayed in touch with Guru Har Rai who had suggested to him in 1656 to take on the missionary work in the Eastern part of the country and the Malwa region of Punjab.
Baba Tegh Bahadur left for the sangats in the East and learnt of the passing of Guru Har Rai when at Patna. It was on his return journey, that when he arrived at Delhi, he heard that Guru Har Krishan was in Delhi and he, with his mother, went to see the Guru and pay their condolences after the passing of Guru Har Rai in 1664. He therefore could have been in Eastern UP and Bihar for 3-8 years in his pre-Guru days.
After his Gurgadi, the Guru left Anandpur for the sangats in the East in August 1665 and returned in or after 1671 – after 5 ½ years, half of his ministry. He had revived and added to Sikh sangats all over the East during his travels to the present day Haryana, UP, Bihar, Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Bangladesh areas.
The Sikh sangats in the East became a strong backup support and a source of funds for the Sikhs during the time of Guru Tegh Bahadur continuing in the time of Guru Gobind Singh and is speculated to have helped in funding the latter’s resolute resistive struggle against Mughal oppressive rule. This missionary initiative in the East however lost its sheen as it gradually withered away later in the 18th century, possibly due to lack of any continuing active contact, post Guru Gobind Singh that would have facilitated the Sikh sangats in the far flung Eastern areas to transition in tandem with changes taking place in the Punjab region.
The Guru was a very active missionary, leading the missionary activities from the front himself and spending most of the time on missionary work even as he used the Udasis to help as much as they could. He also was the first Guru to have visited and spent few years reviving and extending Sikh foot print in the Eastern parts. What happened that we now hardly come across any local Sikhs from those parts? I found this to be the case in Hyderabad too. I met several Dakhani Sikhs but I found out that their forebears were Sikhs from Punjab. Old Sehjdharis of Hyderabad were Sikh supporters but had melded back into Hindu fold. The same seems to be true of Sehjdharis from Pakistan, they have almost fully merged into Hindus. My sense is that the transition that Sikh sangats of the East missed was amrit parchar. They stayed Sikhs as long as the Guru connection lasted. With Masands also gone, there was no link left to remain Sikhs.
Let us now come to the question of legacy of missionaries in the East. If we go by the simple yardstick of the missionary’s effect on the Faith community, the initiative in the Eastern India may end up creating an increasing burden for the Sikh community as more heritage sites are discovered and activated per their historical significance, with no local Sikh help to maintain the heritage. This is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, Bangladesh, Iran and in India too. Nor is this withering away experience unique to the Sikhs. It has happened to the Jewish community, Budhhists, Bahais, Zoroastrians, Jainas and lot more. We have to set our own priorities and thoughtfully select heritage to revive and the manner in which it should be maintained.
The success of Guru’s Malwa missionary to draw converts from Sakhi Sarvar Muslims in the region caused alarm among Muslim Ullama and may have been one additional factor in Aurangzeb’s decision to pass the order for Guru’s execution in 1675. This is a project SGPC might gladly hand over to Rashtriya Sikh Sangat!
Strategic Value Addition by Eastern Sangats
Another aspect that may bear examination is the likely effect that the initiative to revive and reinforce sangats in the East may have had on the course of Sikh and Indian history at that critical juncture. Later Sikh Gurus saw two imminent threats: oppressive Mughal rulers and dissident truants from Guru household. This caused their move to Shiwaliks that had created financial difficulties. [harji d 1696, sons ousted 1698 minas wikipedia]
Guru Tegh Bahadur no doubt saw two imminent needs: the town, Chak Nanaki, had to be constructed and the Sikhs had to stay fortified for their own safety. They needed the bheta to keep flowing. He had spent some time visiting sangats and knew that they also had experienced similar split and confusion that had hit Sikhs in Punjab post the passing of Guru Har Krishan. He showed excellent astuteness to immediately repair to the East and put the sangats there on path of stability. Hukamnamas based discussion should make that need abundantly clear. It was achieved by the Guru through bringing about changes in personnel, systems and structure. If 18th century Sikh leaders were similarly endowed, the Sikh story may have been truly glorious.
In any case, the changes came. Harji died in 1696 and Minas were ejected in 1698 from Amritsar. After a series of see saw actions, Khalsa finally snatched control over parts of Punjab and were able to hasten the down fall of Mughals. In the long run, the real gain accrued to India as a whole, partly as a consequence of the strategic shift to go East by Guru Tegh Bahadur. This deserves to be recognized and added to his legacy.
Managing Sikhs & Sikhi
The Guru obviously realized that with the wide spread of Sikhs, he needed trustworthy and reliable persons in charge of sangats and an organization to ensure co-ordination and control. He attempted a model of regional, suba and city sangat set up that seemed to have worked.
His leadership qualities and management style also seemed to have worked. There are a few characteristics relating to these matters that came to notice in the literature scanned for this paper. The main feature that emerges is the use of simple and easily understood language and metaphors in his letters, Bani and surely in his speech. He certainly had the assets of being a great communicator. Apart from that he addressed a cross section of Sikhs, not just his close confidants, and invited suggestions from the sangat members - seen essentially as more participative than paternalistic for the times he lived in. His insistence to seek information on collections for special services shows his penchant for detail and ability to handle relations with the Masands with finesse.
Dwelling a bit further on the above, we know that the participative style of Guru Tegh Bahadur got further developed by Guru Gobind Singh by a series of his actions. One was his demonstration of aapae gur chela and the related institution of panj pyaarae. The next was recognition of inhi kee kripaa sae sajae hum hain – that put Khalsa on a different pedestal as a collective body. The third was the creation of conditions for the eventual emergence and continued evolution of the institution of Guru Panth.
Cumulatively it is these norms of room for individual contribution and initiative within the collective ideal of ek pita ekas kae hum balak and sarbat ka bhalla that make Sikhs vie for sewa, that has been equated to prayer for seeking govind milan or liberation. Sikhs are not perfect and have taken several missteps along the way but eventually the Sikhs will, hopefully, develop a model for their corporate religious life that is sensitively suited for their religious culture. That will be consummation of the modernizing process of Sikh institutions – the legacy of initiating this process belongs to Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Martyrdom & Other Unique Points
There are three exceptional features to Guru Tegh Bahadur’s life that make him unique in the Sikh annals. He was:
· The only person who was present and available, yet was overlooked twice for the Gurgadi and yet was installed as Guru the third time in a unique sequence of events
· The only Guru whose Bani was added to Adi Granth after its first installation at the Harmandir Sahib in 1604
· The only martyrdom of a religious Preceptor at Sikh Guru’s level who put his life on stake for the religious freedom of the followers of another Faith
These points are important for any evaluative analysis of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s life and contribution both for the Sikh causes and the larger issues relating to the amelioration of human foibles and suffering. These have variously been mentioned and explained in our brief discussion but my suggestion would be that the explanation of these points may be more realistic and less biased if attempted through wider consultation.
It was perhaps the divine hand that stayed Tegh Bahadur being picked to be made the Guru when his father died, or when Guru Har Rai passed away, for the call had to come later when the level of oppression were to become unbearable and sacrifice would have been the only way to give voice to the sense of utter helplessness of the people.
The Guru gave life for the sake of freedom for the ‘others’ to be able to nirbhau hoe bhajo bhagwan. This is a Sikhi advisory and an aspiration that Sikhs value. It matters little who was the oppressed and who was the oppressor. The Guru made the sacrifice because of his own belief, not to earn gratitude from any group. Embracing martyrdom is the very ultimate in expression of a high principle and that recognition is its reward.
The Guru’s sacrifice was important then – it is important today, and its importance may continue undiminished as long as the religious differences continue to trigger hate for the ‘other.’ It is for all of us to work towards reduction of the prejudices that sow seeds of hate in us. This is a shared burden for us all and we should, as individuals, try to get actively engaged in helping to create and maintain peace and harmony in the society we live in.
With the example of sacrifice by the Guru, we should try to promote the dictum ‘bhai kahu ko daet neh, neh bhai maanat aan’ (Whom do you frighten when I do not feel frightened) that the Guru persuaded us to internalize. It is a non sectarian call by the Guru that could enhance our ability to overcome difficulties in life and accomplish the near impossible through resurgence of ‘bal hua bandhan chhuttae’ (I feel energized and all fatters broken) state of mind that he experienced. A crown of glory - Jai jai jai surlok ( shouts of victory echoed in heavens) - as said by Guru Gobind Singh certainly awaited the apostle of societal peace and harmony, Guru Tegh Bahadur!
Memorializing & Conclusion
Religious communities develop traditions to honor the memory of their preceptors and leaders in various ways. Sikhs, however, have displayed a marked indifference to the use of museums to display their faith and faith practices, history, trauma and achievements. One of the inhibiting factors could have been the Sikh opposition to idol worship which can get whipped up easily by activist groups opposing any proposal.
Whatever the reasons, the fact is there is only one Sikh museum worth a visit in India – Virasat–e–Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib that exhibits 500 years of the Sikh history and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Khalsa, based on writings attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. It attracts tourists and pilgrims.
Sikhs realize that little is known about them and their faith by lay public and post 9/11 have made serious efforts to spread awareness about their Faith, history and culture but still have not paid attention to clear evidence that “Among all the media and means through which a broad swath of the public comes to understand religious lives and traditions, museums have emerged as some of the most prominent social institutions influencing the popular conceptions and imaginaries of religion —- museums actively shape how people come to know about beliefs and practices other than their own.”32
We, the Sikhs have used various facets of memorializing so that the preserved memory assumes an aura of the sacred and thus turns into a powerful expression to showcase the Sikh survival, renewal and moral victory in the face of extreme adversity.
We also have used oral media like phrases, verses, lyrics, stories et al to summarily describe our traumatic experiences and in many cases to trivialize or even challenge the oppressors in extremely trying circumstances, with view to reinforce the sense of pride and courage in the community.
We have established Gurdwaras at various historical sites associated with our trauma. Gurdwaras Sis Ganj and Rakab Ganj in Delhi respectively are intended to remind us of the martyrdom of Guru Tagh Bahadur and the isolation of Sikhs of Delhi but do not in any way give expression to the event or symbolize the ideals that inspired the Guru to put his life on the stake. We can make some alterations and displays to mould popular religion, narrative and history and let the visitors savor the significant memories that the site would invoke.
Delhi has been home to all hues of memorials for centuries but Guru Tegh Bahadur still awaits a befitting memorial by Sikhs and a grateful nation. This fourth centenary of the Guru’s birth has the grapevine saying that memory of the Guru is likely to be suitably recognized in a national martyr’s museum to be created in Delhi. We have made brief comments in various segments of this Paper more particularly the legacy part hoping it may trigger some conversation on the subject.
1 Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs, Manohar, New Delhi, 1999, p. 44.
2 This assertion is found in several accounts. Surjit Singh Gandhi, History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606-1708, p. 506, has attributed it to Sikh tradition.
3 Prithia died in 1618. Guru Hargobind met Meharban and talked of need to get past the differences that existed between their fathers. Meharban was adamantly opposed to reconciliation. For more, read Gandhi, Ibid.
4 Life History: Baba Sri Chand Ji & Founding of Udasi Sect, Giani Ishar Singh Nara, Translated into English by Harinder Singh Bedi, MS, pp. 274-76
5 Encyclopedia Brittainica site – accessed 16 March 2021.
6 Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People, Allied Publishers, 2002, note on p. 228. See also Gandhi, ibid, from challengers, the Udasis had turned supporters, p.631.
7 This account is per Encyclopedia Brittanica site, accessed 20/3/2021.
8 Ranbir Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Chief Khalsa Diwan, 1975 – full text of the book can be accessed at: http://www.gurmatveechar.com/books/English_Books/ Guru.Tegh.Bahadur.Ji.by.Ranbir.Singh.(GurmatVeechar.com).pdf
9 Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History, New Delhi, 1999, p. 53
10 Ibid, Brittainica
11 Ibid, Sangat, p. 55
12 Ibid, Sangat, p. 56; Gandhi, quoting Malcom’s Sketch of the Sikhs, says in note 23 on p. 626, ibid, that the dispute between Ram Rai and the Guru went to Aurangzeb and he had ruled that Sikhs were allowed to elect their own priest [Guru]. They picked Guru Har Krishan.
13 See Sangat, ibid, p. 55: Gopal Singh ibid, note* on p. 249; for a detailed account see Gandhi, ibid, p. 622
14 See DSGMC site and Wikipedia entry Guru Har Krishan. In any case, the insiders present in Delhi knew about the call by Baba Tegh Bahadur on the Guru and that he was headed to Bakala.
15 Gandhi, ibid, p. 621.
16 Sangat, ibid, p. 57
18 See Sangat, ibid, p. 57; Ranbir Singh, ibid; Gandhi, ibid, p. 623.
19 See Gopal Singh, ibid, pp. 244-45 and note*
20 See Gopal Singh, ibid, p. 245
21 See Gandhi, ibid, p. 625.
22 See Gopal Singh, ibid, p. 246
23 Ranbir Singh, ibid, pp. 81-83. Accounts by other sources are on similar lines and describe the high respect that Guru Nanak’s message enjoyed with all segments of people, reinforcement and renewal of existing Sangats and establishing of new Sangats in some places. It was a very successful mission.
24 See Gopal Singh, ibid, text and note* p. 248.
25 See Sikh Encyclopedia entry Udasi, Mahan Kosh, pp. 9-10 and SGPC Website
26 Fenech has identified some similarities in martyrdom of Gurus Arjun and Tegh Bahadur. See Louis Fenech Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, Oxford, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 84-5. There are more similarities, not taken up in this search.
27 Unless otherwise indicated, the lead parts of the narrative in this section draws upon the account given at the web site of the SGPC.
28 ਤਿਲਕ ਜੰਞੂ ਰਾਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਤਾ ਕਾ ॥ ਕੀਨੋ ਬਡੋ ਕਲੂ ਮਹਿ ਸਾਕਾ ॥ ਸਾਧਨ ਹੇਤਿ, ਇਤੀ ਜਿਿਨ ਕਰੀ ॥ਸੀਸੁ ਦੀਯਾ, ਪਰੁ ਸੀ ਨ ਉਚਰੀ ॥13॥ ਧਰਮ ਹੇਤ ਸਾਕਾ ਜਿਿਨ ਕੀਆ ॥ ਸੀਸੁ ਦੀਆ; ਪਰੁ ਸਿਰਰੁ ਨ ਦੀਆ ॥ ਨਾਟਕ ਚੇਟਕ ਕੀਏ ਕੁਕਾਜਾ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਲੋਗਨ ਕਹ ਆਵਤ ਲਾਜਾ ॥14॥ ਠੀਕਰ ਫੋਰਿ ਦਿਲੀਸ ਸਿਿਰ; ਪ੍ਰਭ ਪੁਰਿ ਕੀਯਾ ਪਯਾਨ ॥ ਤੇਗ ਬਹਾਦੁਰ ਸੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਆ; ਕਰੀ ਨ ਕਿਨਹੂੰ ਆਨਿ ॥15॥ ਤੇਗ ਬਹਾਦੁਰ ਕੇ ਚਲਤ; ਭਯੋ ਜਗਤ ਕੋ ਸੋਕ ॥ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਸਭ ਜਗ ਭਯੋ; ਜੈ ਜੈ ਜੈ ਸੁਰ ਲੋਕਿ ॥ Dasam Granth Canto 5, Verse 13-16
29 Hardip Singh Syan, SOAS University, UK, The Merchant Gurus: Sikhism and the Development of the Medieval Khatri Merchant Family, June 2014, Indian Economic & Social History Review. Hardip has taught and worked at the University of London, the British Museum and the Institute of Historical Research. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285490501_The_merchant_gurus_Sikhism_a nd_the_development_of_the_medieval_ Khatri_merchant_family/citations
30 The actual word used is ‘vela’ [masculine] – popular in braj as ‘bela ’[feminine]. Both have been used in SGGS but none by M IX. In East the message would have been received as ‘bela’- sewa kee - is ‘feminine’ Bela has connotation of auspicious day, auspicious chance, blessed moment, blessed time one would be sacrifice to - ਓਹ ਬੇਲਾ ਕਉ ਹਉ ਬਲਿ ਜਾਉ —ਭਲੇ ਦਿਨਸ ਭਲੇ ਸੰਜੋਗ —ਸਫਲ ਮੂਰਤੁ ਸਫਲ ਓਹ ਘਰੀ – Gauri M V, p. 191. The word is popular in Braj and has been used by Guru Arjun in a shabad that could inspire altruistic spirit of giving – savor the text ਕਰਉ ਬੇਨੰਤੀ ਸੁਣਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਮੀਤਾ ਸੰਤ ਟਹਲ ਕੀ ਬੇਲਾ - Gauri Poorbi M V, p. 13.
31. ਜੋ ਨਰੁ ਦੁਖ ਮੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਨਹੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥ ਸੁਖ ਸਨੇਹੁ ਅਰੁ ਭੈ ਨਹੀ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਕੰਚਨ ਮਾਟੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥ 1 ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਨਹ ਨਿੰਦਿਆ ਨਹ ਉਸਤਤਿ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਲੋਭੁ ਮੋਹੁ ਅਭਿਮਾਨਾ ॥ ਹਰਖ ਸੋਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਆਰਉ ਨਾਹਿ ਮਾਨ ਅਪਮਾਨਾ ॥ 1 ॥ ਆਸਾ ਮਨਸਾ ਸਗਲ ਤਿਆਗੈ ਜਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਰਾਸਾ ॥ ਕਾਮੁ ਕ਼੍ਰੋਧੁ ਜਿਹ ਪਰਸੈ ਨਾਹਨਿ ਤਿਹ ਘਟਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਨਿਵਾਸਾ ॥ 2 ॥ ਗੁਰ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਜਿਹ ਨਰ ਕਉ ਕੀਨੀ ਤਿਹ ਇਹ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਪਛਾਨੀ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਲੀਨ ਭਇਓ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਸਿਉ ਜਿਉ ਪਾਨੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਪਾਨੀ ॥ Guru Granth Sahib, p. 633.
32. S. Brent Plate, Getting Religion in the Museum, Sacred Matters, May 24, 2017 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48348938