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  Gur Panth Parkash
Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh







The two historical facts that Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs, died at Nanded in the Deccan, now in Maharashtra, on October 6-7, 1708, and was cremated there, have been substantiated not only by contemporary and semi-contemporary evidence but also by other authorities of undeniable historical importance. It has also been authenticated beyond doubt that Guru Gobind Singh did not appoint anyone of his followers to succeed him as Guru and that he had commanded his followers to look upon the Word of the great Masters, as embodied in their holy book, the Granth Sahib, as their Guru, thenceforward known as the Guru Granth Sahib.

Like all his predecessors, from Guru Nanak to the Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh was a historical person who lived in this world. He was born at Patna in the eastern province of Bihar, he traveled throughout the length of the Uttar Pradesh on his way to Anandpur and spent the greater part of his life in the Punjab. He was neither a renunciatory recluse. nor an ultra-spiritualistic saint given to slumbering meditation and thus beyond the reach of his fellow beings. He was no doubt a godly being. But his godliness was not other- worldliness. He believed and declared that he had come to the world with a mission to protect, encourage and help the good and to chastise and uproot the evil-doers.

This could be done only by leading an active life in the world, not in the hiding retreats of mountains and jungles, far away from the people, but by living amongst them, teaching and guiding them both by precept and example, leading them at every step of their worldly lives, protecting them from aggression and oppression, ready to lay down his life in their cause, if need be. This was Guru Gobind Singh, both a teacher and a disciple-the real Khalsa-a saint and a soldier, a man of the world and yet detached.

As the son of a martyred father, he was the subject of the attention of both the oppressed people and of the oppressive rulers. While his people looked up to him as their saviour and socio-political guide, the power-mad rulers looked upon him as a dangerous enemy who was inspiring their meek and submissive subjects with a spirit of freedom and resistance. The latter, therefore, were ever watchful of his programmes and vigilant of his activities.

As a scholar of many languages and a writer of soul stirring poetry, practising the use of arms and training his men in it, he always acted in the open and kept himself in close and constant touch with those around him. As a commander of his armies fighting either against the Hill Rajas of the Sivaliks or Mughallevies of Sirhind and Lahore, he always occupied a prominent place within the sight of his men. Those were the days when it was darshan of the leader that inspired and sustained them in the field of action. He created out of the indistinguishable common people, the distinct Order of the Khalsa, with an uncommon form and symbols that helped distinguish them easily in a crowd of millions.

The Guru knew no despondency and did not give way to frustration under the most adverse circumstances. He lost not his heart at the death of his four young sons and his aged mother. Two of his sons he had himself sent into the battle-field at Chamkaur. He heard the news of cold-blooded murder of his younger sons at Sirhind with complete resignation to the Will of God. His letter addressed to Emperor Aurangzeb from Dina, popularly known as the Zafar Namah or Epistle of Victory, evidently in reply to one from the Emperor, in its style and content, bespeaks volumes for the unruffled and evercalm state of his mind.

With the cessation of war, Guru Gobind Singh again engaged himself in literary pursuits and completed and edited the Sikh’s holy Book at Talwandi Sabo, now known ad Damdama Sahib, in the Bhatinda district of Punjab.

Forgetful of the long-standing animosity and continued persecution by the Mughal emperors, the Guru favourably responded to the invitation of Aurangzeb for a meeting and set out for the Deccan where the Emperor tl1en lay encamped. But the Emperor died on February 20, 1707, while Guru was on his way to the south. He received the news near Baghaur in Rajasthan. He immediately marched back towards the Punjab and was in the neighbourhood of Delhi when the emissaries of the heir-apparent Prince Muhammed  Muazzam appealed to him for assistance. He was then face to face with a great trial of his life. And he was able to meet it boldly and in the right way. He was not to be deflected from the right decision by memories of past bitter relations with the prince’s ancestors. For him the bitter past had died with the past. He rose above the weaknesses of revengeful mortals and, like a true Guru and a chivalrous soldier that he was, he helped him with a detachment of men in the battle of Jajau in June 1707. He met the new emperor, Shah Alam Bahadur Shah (the old Prince Muhammed Muazzam) at Agra in a public darbar on July 23, 1707, when the royal host publicly acknowledged the Guru’s assistance in the war of succession and in token thereof, presented to him, a rich dress of honour, including a dhukh-dhukhi worth sixty thousand rupees. The Guru was then accompanied by a number of Sikhs. He kept his people in the Punjab and elsewhere fully informed through formal letters not only of his important activities but also of his future intentions and programme. He kept nothing secret from the Khalsa whom he had openly, and on many occasions, declared to be his very self-Khalsa mero rup hai khas, Khalse men hau karuan nivas. Nor did he ever, throughout his normal life, travel or move about incognito. In the company of Emperor Bahadur Shah moving to the Deccan, he was accompanied by a number of Sikhs and availed himself of the opportunity of visiting the various Sikh sangats on the way. The Tarikh-i- Bahadur Shahi tells us that, when accompanying the royal camp, “He was in the habit of constantly addressing assemblies of worldly persons, religious fanatics and all sorts of people.” (Elliot and Dowson, History of India, vii, p. 566)

At Nanded, where he arrived in the last week of August 1708, he performed the normal duties of life and regularly attended and addressed the assemblies of the Sikhs and other people both in the morning and afternoon when the dhadis headed by Nath Mall and his companions recited ballads on Sikh themes. He was in the best of spirits throughout his stay there. Although warned on his way to the Deccan by the Dadupanthi saint Jait Ram of the sorceries of the Bairagi ascetic Madho Das, the Guru visited his hermitage on the bank of the River Godavari on September 3, 1708, the day of Sun-eclipse and successfully reclaimed him to a normal life in the world. He then baptized him into a regular Khalsa and relumed him with Promethean fire to play in the Punjab the historic role of a valiant hero and a great martyr. Even when he had been stabbed near the heart and his imperfectly healed wound had burst open as the result of his bending a stiff bow, he maintained his usual cheerfulness and told his sorrowful Sikhs not to give way to mourning on his death.

In his last farewell message, he told the Khalsa: “I have entrusted you to the Immortal God…… I have infused my mental and bodily spirit into the Granth Sahib and the Khalsa…… Obey the Granth Sahib. It is the visible body of the Guru.” (Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. V, p. 244.)

It is a very significant thing indeed from historical point of view that he did not nominate anyone of his followers to succeed him as Guru of the Sikhs. Those who have studied the story of his life know that at the institution of the baptismal ceremony and, through it, of the creation of the Khalsa, on the Baisakhi day of 1756 Vikrami, 30th March, 1699, he had not only presented himself to be formally initiated into the fraternity of the Khalsa but had also submitted himself to the discipline which had been prescribed by him for the new Order of the Singhs (the Khalsa). This virtually meant the surrender of his high office of guruship to the Will of the Khalsa and its merger into the body politic of the New Order. And this is what he reaffirmed and declared from his deathbed. In the words of Sainapat, who was not only a contemporary of the Guru but was also one of his trusted courtiers at Anandpur and who wrote his Sri Gur Sobha in 1711, within three years of the Guru’s death:

“A day before his death, the Singhs asked him as to the form he was adopting (or the person whom he was nominating to succeed him). In reply he said that the Khalsa was his very self and that to them he had granted his robe-his physical self, and that the Eternal and the limitless Word uttered with the Lord’s light is our Supreme Master-Satguru hamara’ (XVIII, 40- 44, 805-809).

This is supported by Bhai Nandlal, a devoted disciple, who was present at Nanded at the time of the Guru’s death. He tells us in the Rehitnama that the Guru had told him that his one form is the formless Supreme Spirit and the other Granth Ji – the Gur-Sabda, the Word of the great Gurus incorporated in the holy Granth Sahib – “Dusar rup Granth ji jan…… mera rup Granth ji jan, is men bhed nahin kuch man (have no doubt about it).” The visible form is the Sikhs, the Khalsa, absorbed in the gurubani (the Word of the Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib), night and day.
Another close associate of the Guru and the author of a Rehit-nama is Bhai Prahlad Singh who has also recorded the Guru’s commandment in this respect saying: “With the order of the Eternal Lord has been established the (Sikh) Panth: All the Sikhs are hereby commanded to obey the Granth as the Guru.” (Rehit-nama Bhai Prahlad Singh). Similarly Bhai Chaupa Singh, another associate of the Guru, has mentioned this commandment in his Rehit-nama.

Thus Guru Gobind Singh abolished, for all time to come, the nomination of anyone person as the Guru of the Sikhs. After him the Khalsa, with Guru Granth Sahib as their eternal Guru, became the Guru- Panth, believing in the Unity and Uniqueness of the One Formless, Self-existing, All pervading and Eternal God. With this, the historical life of Guru Gobind Singh came to an end and he departed from this world on Katik” Sudi 5, 1765 Bikrami, October 6-7, 1708 A.D.

There is abundant reliable, original, contemporary and semi contemporary evidence available for comparative study of different versions of controversial events and for sifting fact from fiction. It is the light of such material that we propose to examine here the last event of the earthly life of Guru Gobind Singh, i.e., his death at Nanded and the appointment of his successor. It will greatly help us to understand the various points of this study if we know the different types of scholars who have written about the last days of Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded.

First of all there are those who were then present at Nanded or had been in its neighbourhood and had unmistakable knowledge of his death. To this type also belong those who had known the Guru personally, had met his companions and had received first-hand information about the end of his life.

The second type comprises the unattached scholars who have written on this topic purely from historical point of view. Only such of them have taken notice of his last command and farewell message as had studied the growth and development of the Sikh movement from the time of Guru Nanak and were interested in the religious life of the Sikh people after the death of their last Guru. They are mostly non- Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

To come to the story of the death of Guru Gobind Singh, it is agreed on all hands that, while at Nanded, he was one evening stabbed by a Pathan and that his wound was stitched and bandaged by a surgeon sent by the Emperor Bahadur Shah. It is also accepted without doubt that his imperfectly healed wound burst open when the Guru bent a stiff bow presented to him by a visitor. The news of the death of Guru Gobind Singh finds a prominent mention in the Royal Court News, Akhbarat-i-Darbar- i-Mualla, of October- November, 1708 A.D. and the Bahadur Shah Nama in a number of places. Emperor Bahadur Shah had crossed the river Godavari on October 7, 1708, to quell the rebellion of his younger brother Kam Bakhsh before the news about the death of the Guru was reported to him. For the next three weeks he was extremely busy preparing for the coming struggle. On October 28, the Emperor ordered the grant of a dress of honour to the son of Jamshed Khan Mghan who had died at the hands of the Guru. Apparently he was the same person who had under the assumed name of Gul Khan stabbed the Guru at Nanded and had fallen under his sword before he could escape. Or, he might have been the companion of Gul Khan killed by the Sikhs while he was trying to run away after the death of Gul Khan.

On Ramazan 9, 2nd Bahadurshahi (November 11, 1708), the Emperor’s orders were solicited about the movable property of the deceased Guru, which according to the Mughal practice, ought to have been confiscated. The Emperor, however, commanded that “These goods will not add to the affluence of the royal treasury. It is the property of saintly people. It should not be interfered with” – hukm shud as-in amwal khazanah-i-Badhshahan ma ‘mur na-mishawad, mal-i-daroeshan ast, mazaham nami shawand( Cf. Bahadur Shah Nama, Irvine Later Mughals, i. 90)

Dhadi Nath Mall was present in the camp of the Guru at Nanded and used to recite ballads in the afternoon assemblies of the Sikhs there. One such ballad known as the Amar Namah, composed under the name of the Guru himself in the first person, has come down to us through the son of Bhai Fatta, the seventh descendant of Nath Mall. According to its colophon, it was completed in the month of Katik 1765 Bikrami after the death of the tenth Guru. As the 30th of Katik of that year corresponded to 31st October, 1708, the Amar Namah was evidently completed within twenty-four days of the Guru’s death. Describing it in the first person in the words of the Guru, the Amar Nama says in lines 61-62: “I then resolved to set out for the lasting abode in heaven, which is the place of all peace and divine blissfulness. My Singhs (the Khalsa) shall remain firm, listening to vars from dhadi singers.”

In keeping with the tradition of the ancient balladists, Nath Mall did not enter into the details of the painful event. Except in the case of deaths occurring in the thick of battle, the reciters or writers of vars generally skipped over the mention of deaths or made a casual reference to them in a prose sentence. In support of this observation we have the example of Bhai Gurdas. He was one of the closest relative of Guru Arjun on the mother’s side, and was also one of the most revered and knowledgeable Sikhs of his, time. In his varam he has in a systematic manner, given brief accounts not only of the Gurus from the time of Guru Nanak to Guru Hargobind but also of the various sangats and important Sikhs in the Punjab and outside. But he does not make any clear and direct statement on the martyrdom of Guru Arjun which gave a sharp turn to the development and transformation of the Sikh movement. He has quietly passed over the event with only a casual reference to his death in a line or two.

In his Ibrat Namah or the Swaneh, 1705-19 AD., Mirza Muhammad Harisi had devoted some thirteen pages to the contemporary account of the Sikhs, with particular reference to Banda Singh. He tells us that Guru Gobind Singh had travelled in the train of Emperor Bahadur Shah to the Deccan and was killed there in 1120 al-Hijri, 1708 AD. by an Afghan, an old enemy of his, and his body was cremated.

The Sri Gur Sobha by poet Sainapat, mentioned as Saina Singh by Bawa Sumer Singh in his Pothi Gur-Bilas ki, was completed in 1768 Bikrami, 1711 AD., i.e., within three years of the Guru’s death. He was an old Sikh of his and had lived with him at Anandpur. His is the first book which could be said to have been a reliable biography of the Guru. His narrative was evidently based on the first hand information received from the Sikhs who had returned from Nanded and had been eyewitnesses to what they had related to Sainapat. As far as we can see, the purity of his account, though brief in many places, is not muddied with the mixture of imaginary myths introduced later into the life of the Guru, beginning with the Gur-bilas Patshahi Das by Koer Singh, written in 1751, forty three years after the death of the Guru. Mentioning the death of the Guru (XVIII, 34-37) without any poetical embellishments, the Sri Gur Sobha tells us that a day before the event, the Guru had, in reply to a question of the Sikhs, said that he had bestowed his physical form upon the Khalsa-bakhsh dio Khalis ko jama (XVIII-41) and that the Limitless and the Eternal Word was the Satguru- Satguru hamara apar apara Shabad bichara ajarjaran (XVIII-43). This was Guru Gobind Singh’s last message and his final commandment saying in unmistakable language and clear words that he was not appointing any particular individual as the succeeding Guru and that the Khalsa under the guidance of the Divine Word-the gurbani — was to be the future physical and spiritual representative of the Guru.

This has since become the accepted creed of the Sikhs as inculcated by Bhai Nandlal in his Rehit Nama or the Rules of Conduct. Bhai Nandlal, as history knows, was a devoted Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh and had stayed with him for some time at Anandpur. According to the Amar Namah, line 42, Bhai Nandlal was present in the Emperor’s camp at Nanded as one of his ministers during the Guru’s stay there. He was a distinguished scholar of Persian and panjabi and, out of his ten works known to us, eight-five in Persian and three in Panjabi-are commentaries on Sikh life and teachings. One of them, the Rehit-nama, which is written in the form of a dialogue between the Guru and the Bhai, lays down the rules for Sikh conduct. Therein, as already mentioned in one of the previous paragraphs, the Guru had told Bhai Nandlal that his two forms were the Granth-mera rupa Granth ji jan-embodying the gurbani and the Sikhs (the Khalsa) deeply absorbed in it. This not only clarifies but also supports the Guru’s last message and commandment to the Khalsa mentioned in the Sri Gur Sobha.

The Gur-bilas Chhevin Patshahi leaves no doubt about the recognition by the Sikhs of the Guruship of Guru Granth Sahib after the death of Guru Gobind Singh. The Gur-bilas was begun by its author, poet Sohan, in May 1717 and was completed on July 22, 1718 (Sawan 22, Sudi 5, 1775 Bikrami), within ten years of the Guru’s death. Its fourth chapter is devoted to the compilation of the holy book by Guru Arjun and the first twelve verses of the fifth chapter to its, formal installation in the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Therein the author has invariably used the then accepted prefix Guru to the Granth and has called it the Guru Granth. The following verses of chapter IV are very significant indeed.

Hear ye all, this precept of mine as true and certain. Recognize the Granth to be the same as the Guru, think not of any difference (between the two). In the Kali-yuga, the Guru Granth has assumed the form of the Sri Guru. Recognize the Guru Granth to be the very self of the Ten Gurus. (412) He who wishes to see the Guru, let him see the Guru Granth. And, he who wishes to speak to the Guru, let him read the Granth with a devoted mind. (413) (Chapter IV old ed. p. 75; new ed. p. 90)

We have available to us in a collection of manuscripts the accounts of Guru Gobind Singh’s meeting with Emperor Bahadur Shah in 1707 (Bahadur Shah ke Mulaqat ka Prasang), of his last days and death at Nanded in the Deccan in 1708 (Guru Sahib Daswen Patshah ji ke Jori Jot Samawane ka Prasang) and of the first battle of the Sikhs at Amritsar with the Mughal forces of Lahore in 1709 (Var Amritsar ki) during the governorship of Aslam Khan. Copies of the first two manuscripts are also available in the Amrit Gutka preserved in the Punjab State Archives, Patiala. According to the Guru Sahib Daswen Patshah ji ke Jori Jot Samawane ka Prasang, which is based on the information received from the companions of the Guru himself – Hazur ke khas Sikh an di rasna thin – the Guru, before his death, told the Sikhs that he was not appointing anyone to succeed him as Guru, that he was entrusting them to Sri Sahib and the Sabda, the great Word, as given in the Granth Sahib which should be accepted by them all.

The Parchian Sewa Das, according to the date mentioned in the manuscript preserved in the Panjab University, Lahore, was written in 1798 Bikrami, 1741 A.D., while the manuscript in the Central State Library Patiala, bears 1896 Bikrami, 1839 A.D. as the date of its transcription. Sewa Das was an Udasi Sadhu. Writing in the style of a mystic, he tells us that the Guru had his funeral pyre prepared under his own supervision. He mounted if fully dressed and armed, sat on it cross-legged and that his light blended with the Divine Light- Joti meh jot samane. Heaps of flowers and scent were then showered on the pyre. After pouring plenty of ghee thereon, the pyre was set alightbahur baisantar lagava diya. The Sikhs standing there started crying loudly. Several of them tried to jump into the flaming pyre, but they were not allowed to do so. When the pyre was all reduced to ashes, they found no trace of the dead body or of the Guru’s arms. “All then so thought that the Guru Baba had gone (to heaven) bodily.”

It is here for the first time, thirty-three years after the death and cremation of the Guru, that a suggestion has been made my a mystical minded Sadhu of the Guru having ascended to heaven bodily. This is only a reflection of the thinking of an ultra-devotional mind of an ascetic fed on the mythology of ancient Hindu Puranas full of supernatural fables added to the lives of their avatars-and also of the Gurus including Guru Nanak and his sons.

Ten years later, in 1808 Bikrami, 1751 A.D., Koer Singh wrote his Gur-bilas Patshahi Das, making a liberal use of the Sri Gur Sobha. He has, however, covered a broader canvas and given an extensive and a coherent picture of the Tenth Guru’s life. In his twenty-first chapter devoted to the death of the Guru, Pyan Gur ker, based on the commentaries of Bhai Mani Singh, as mentioned in the colophon, Koer Singh tells us that, in reply to a question of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh had said that he would (always) be with the Sikhs and that he had raised his worthy sons (the Khalsa) to wreak vengeance (XXI, 60-61).

This is clearly a reflection of the mind of Koer Singh under the influence of the brutal treatment that had been meted out to Bhai Mani Singh, his preceptor, during the latter’s captivity and martyrdom at Lahore in 1734 when he was hacked to pieces limb by limb under the orders of Nawab Zakariya Khan, the Governor of Lahore. Koer Singh has also made some very disparaging observations on the lowering standard of morality of the so called religious teachers of his time moving about from house to house and begging for alms. “Without meditation, these immoral people”, says he, “call themselves sant, while in their minds they think of other people’s women. As such, in the dark age of Kali, the real saints have disappeared like sun in the clouds.” “Therefore, my virtuous Sikhs”, says Guru, “should acknowledge the Guru Granth as supreme and worthy of worship (and not any pretender sant of the type mentioned above) (XXI, 89-93). Koer Singh then goes on to say, in the words of Guru Gobind Singh, in the next verses that Guru Nanak had himself told Baba Buddha of Ramdas :

“Recognize Ten of our incarnations when your family will be supreme”. (94-95)
He then goes on to say: “When the Ten incarnations disappear (from this world with the death of the Tenth one), then the ancestral line — Kuit — will not continue.” It is no longer the time for Guruship : I will not appoint anyone (now). “Consider the entire Khalsa to have been entrusted to the protection (lap) of the Wielder of the Sword (Asi Ketu)-the Divine Protector.” “I have given to you to hold the sheet of the embodiment of Word (shabad ka mp). He who accepts it shall be an incomparable-really true Singh.” Recognize Sri Granth ji as ever-ready (readily available, everpresent darshan (sight, appearance or embodiment) of the Guru. “Bring it here to this place.” (96-98)

The Guru had then grown very weak, as has been mentioned in verse XXX-56. The Holy Book was, therefore, brought to him. Coming to know of it, he said: “Let us go to the Adi Sat-Guru (the great Adi Guru Granth Sahib)”. Evidently, he could then see that his end was fast approaching. Then he got up along with all of his Sikhs; took five paise and a coconut with him; offered them himself (to the Holy Book), bowed down, circumambulated with all reverence and said: “He who wishes to talk to me should read the Guru (Granth Sahib) and receive the peace of mind. ‘There is no other Guru equal to it. Without any hesitation, I utter this truth. ‘There is no other Guru like it anywhere. Therefore, it should be accepted as the True Guru. ‘With its study (darshan) sins disappear. And by realizing its Word in practice, salvation is obtained’.” (XXI, 90- 102) Saying this, he calmly prepared himself for the end and desired a funeral pyre to be raised with the sandalwood worth five thousand rupees previously purchased from a Labana Sikn. He told his wife Sahib Devi not to immolate herself on his pyre and sent her to Delhi. He then consoled the sorrowful Sikhs explaining to them the inevitableness of the end of human life saying: “He who has full faith in the Gum Granth and does not place his reliance on anything else, shall have his wishes fulfilled by the Guru.

With full faith in it, all suspicions will disappear.” He then bowed to Sri Granth, prayed in all reverence, made offerings to rababi musicians and was absorbed in the Word of the Granth Sahib”. (XXI, 124-37). The Guru died a little before midnight and was cremated in a place enclosed by a tent-wall, a Sikh setting fire to his dead body. The Sikhs then went out of the enclosure and stood there. Flames went up and the body of the Guru became all ashes. “Then came all the gods (from Heaven) blowing conches and showering flowers and, amidst shouts of victory, took the Master away with them, with all the heavens (lokas) singing his praises.” (Ibid., 140,142-3).

On the fourth morning they searched the ashes, washing them with diluted milk, and found only a dagger therein. The Sikhs were all drowned in sorrow. At that time appeared on the scene an Udasi Sadhu and said that it was not becoming of the Sikhs to be sorrowful, for he had met the Guru in full dress on horse-back and the Guru had told him (the Sadhu) to convey his message to the Sikhs not to go into mourning (ibid, XXI, 144-5),

Better accomplished in the art of writing, Koer Singh has not only supplied more details to his story but has also given clarity to it. He tells us in explicit language that Guru Gobind Singh discontinued the line of personal Guruship and did not appoint anyone to succeed him as Guru. In fact, he had surrendered his personality to the Khalsa when he became one of them at the baptismal ceremony and he publicly declared this merger on many an occasion afterwards, and especially a little before his death at Nanded. Entrusting the Khalsa to the care of the Divine Protector, as declared by the great Master, Koer Singh narrates at some length, the formal installation of the Gum Granth Sahib as the Guru. He had been in close touch with Bhai Mani Singh who was a contemporary and close associate of Guru Gobind Singh and was the first person to be appointed as the reader of the Guru Granth Sahib in the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar by Mata Sundri after the Guru’s death. As such, he was the best informed person on the subject in addition to being the most qualified to explain the significance of the Gum Granth Sahib to Koer Singh. He also tells us that a dagger had been found in the heap of the ashes of the Guru’s pyre.

Another work of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, which we may refer to here, is the Bansawali Nama of Kesar Singh Chhibar completed in 1826 Bikrami, 1769-70 A.D. Kesar Singh’s ancestors had been in the service of Guru Gobind Singh as dewans. He claims to have seen and consulted in his early days, a bahi or account book of the house of the Guru. The tenth charan, or chapter of the book deals with the life of Guru Gobind Singh. Towards the end of it, in stanzas 678-83, he mentions the death of the Guru and his last commandment saying in reply to the questions of the Sikhs: “The Granth is the Guru; you hold the garment (seek the protection) of the Timeless Godbachan kita Granth hai Gum, lar pakro Akal (679), Two hours (ghari) later the Guru went to heaven; his light blended with the Light. The same night he was cremated after he had been bathed in the rose water.” (653) Kesar Singh makes no mention of any heavenly reception or anything else of the kind.

Thee account of the death of Guru Gobind Singh as given in sakhi 27 of Sakhian Patshahi Das chapter of the Mehma Prakash by Sarup Das Bhalla, pp. 891-93, may on the whole be said to be nearest the truth and may be accepted as objective and historical. Written by a descendant of Guru Amar Das and based, apparently, on reliable evidence, it was completed in January 1801. The first part of the chapter regarding the excitement to the Pathan who attacked and wounded the Guru, seems to have come from earlier writers. But the second part is based entirely on independent evidence. In the absence of any poetical embellishment and. unnatural, mysterious or supernatural element introduced into it, the account may be accepted as historically correct.

According to the Mehma Prakash :
“When the Guru took the bow in his hand and wished to pull it, the Sikhs submitted that the wound had not yet completely healed. The Guru said that there was no cause for fear. He then pulled the bow, and the stitches gave way. At this time the Guru said that the tiine for his death had come. He called the Sikhs to his presence and he was pleased to see them. The Sikhs then asked him where they would have the darshan (of the Guru). The great Guru, merciful to the lowly, said: ‘Our Ten forms have come to end. Now recognize the Gum Granth Sahib in my place. He who wishes to talk to me should read the Adi Granth Sahib. This will be like talking to me. I have entrusted you to the lap of the Almighty.’ Having said this, he desired them to prepare the biban (the wooden board to carry the dead body to the cremation ground). After this was done, he lay down and covered himself with a sheet and liberated himself from human existence (or merged himself in the Divinity). Neither did he come anywhere nor did he go anywhere. Seeing this spectacle, all people fully believed that the great Guru was a part of the Divine Light. The Guru’s body was then cremated and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib was . recognized in place of the Guru.”

This is a simple and straightforward account of the death of Guru Gobind Singh with no mystery or embellishment enshrouding it. And it agrees in all its essentials with the contemporary and the earliest known accounts.

Munshi Sant Singh, a vakil of the Bedis, wrote an account of the Bedi family of the Una under the title of the Bayan-i-Khandan-i-Karamat Nishan-i-Bedian from the time of Guru Nanak to that of Baba Sujan Singh. It was completed in May 1865. The first sixty-five pages of the work are devoted to the account of the Ten Gurus which ends with the death of Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded in 1765 Bikrami, 1708 A.D. According to it:

“When on Katik Sudi 5, 1765 Bikrami, Guru Gobind Singh was about to die at Nanded in the Deccan, all the Singhs and disciples asked him as to who would be the future Guru. The Guru then said: ‘Guru Khalsa, Khalsa Guru. He who shall observe the Sikh rehit or the rule of conduct and morality and meditation, him know ye to be my very Self.’ Then thinking that there should be a definite centre of faith for all the Sikhs, the Guru with five paise and a coconut in his hand (as offering) bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib and said : ‘Ye all community should recognise the Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru after me and obey the commandments contained therein.’ And then he uttered the following couplet:

Recognize the Guru Granth as the visible body of the Guru. The Sikh who wishes to meet me should find me therein. “ In this the author of the Bayan has reiterated the last commandment of Guru Gobind Singh in the words of his contemporary and well known disciple Bahi Nandlal who was present at Nanded at the time of the Guru’s death. There could be no better and more reliable authority than him on the subject.

The author of the Bayan is all devotion and praise for Baba Sahib Singh Bedi of Una, whom he has called ‘Guru Sahib’ throughout his book. He also tells us that, according to Guru Gobind Singh’s promise, he was reborn in the house of Baba Kaladhari Bedi as his grandson- Sahib Singh (pp. 57-58, 66). But inspite of it, Munshi Sant Singh does not claim formal Guruship for him in place of the Tenth Guru who, he says, had formally declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be the Guru after him. Born in 1756. A.D., within fortyeight years of the Tenth Guru’s death and being the most respected Sikh of his time, commanding overwhelming influence with the Sikh Sardars, Rajas and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he had a better chance than all the later pretenders. Baba Sahib Singh, however, preferred to be an humble disciple, a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh-a Khalsa-than to pretend to be an equal of his. In 1780 he presented himself at Dera Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur and received Khande ki Pahul, the amrit of the Khalsa, there. According to the Bayan, Baba Sahib Singh was the first of the Bedis to receive the Khalsa baptism which he himself later on administered from time to time to a large number of Sikhs throughout the country.

Having referred to official records, contemporary works and hagiological literature, we now come to historical works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries based on the information available to, or collected by, professional historians. They are either in Persian or in English. The works written by Indian scholars, both Hindu and Muslim, are in Persian while those of the Europeans are in English. As almost all the Indian writers belonged to the Punjab or its neighbourhood, they had either lived amongst the Sikhs as neighbours or had close associations with them in day-to- day life. As such, most of them had first-hand knowledge of the prevalent beliefs, practices and ceremonies of the Sikhs and could, therefore, speak with a certain amount of authority. Some of them might have differed with the Sikhs in matters theological or might as well have had political prejudices against them, but about the broad facts of their history there could be no misgivings. Moreover, as writers, they are expected to be impartial and objective. And to be as near truth as possible, they must have relevant sources. As the subject under our immediate study here belongs to the prevalent beliefs of the Sikhs through the centuries and is purely historical, their mention in the historical works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries carries special weight with students of history and cannot be ignored by serious scholars.

We have already referred to the contemporary accounts of Mirza Muhammad Harisi’s-Ibrat Namah (1705-19 AD.). To almost the same period belongs Sayyed Muhammad Qasim Husaini Lahauri’s Ibrat Namah (1135 al-Hijri, 1722 AD.) and Ibrat Maqal (1144 A.H., 1731 AD.) written within fourteen and twenty-three years, respectively, of the death of Guru Gobind Singh. Giving the usual account of the Guru having died of the wound inflicted on him with a jamdhara dagger-by a Pathan at Nanded, Muhammad Qasim tells us that the Guru’s body was cremated by his disciples with aloe and sandal wood according to the necessary Sikh rites. (p. 36).

Muhammad Ali Khan Ansari has to his credit, two very important historical works, the Tarikh-i-Muzaffari (1225 AH., 1810 AD.) and the Tarikh-i-Bahr-ul-Mawwaj, carrying the history of the Mughals to the beginning of the reign of Akbar Shah II (1806-37 AD.). These works deal extensively with the struggles of the Sikhs against the Mughals and Durranis and are considered to be important sources on the history of the Punjab during the eighteenth century. Before the end of Guru Gobind Singh’s account, Muhammad Ali Khan writes that “after him (Guru Gobind Singh), according to the faith of these people (the Sikhs), the descending of Guruship and of internal spiritualism came to end and the book, the Granth, was established in place of Guru” (Tarikh-i- Muzaffari, p. 152; Bahrul-Mawwaj, p. 208).

At the same time in 1810 A.D. (1225 AH.) was completed Ahmed bin Muhammad Ali’s Mirat-ul-Ahwal-ijahan Numa. According to it, “the sons of Guru Gobind had been killed in the battle of Alamgir. After him there is no Khalifah (successor, Guru).”

Rai Chatarman, the author of the Chahar Gulshan Akhbar-un-Nawadar, also known as the Chatar Gulshan or Khulasat-un-Nawadir, compiled his work in 1759 soon after the death of Mata Sundri about whom, and about Ajit Singh, her adopted son, and Mata Sahib Devi, he seems to be well informed. According to him, the Pathan’s dagger put an end to the Guru’s life. “As declared by Guru Nanak”, says he, “there are Ten persons (to be recognized). These Ten Khalifahs (Gurus) are called Das Mahal. Anyone else sitting on the gaddi after them is not acceptable to them (the Sikhs). Some recognize him” (Ajit Singh, the adopted son of Mata Sundri). He was later disowned by Mata Sundri (pp. 35-36).

In the Maima-ul-Akhbar (1214-20 A.H., 1799 A.D.), its author Har- Sukh Rai says about Guru Gobind Singh that “He is the Tenth Mahal and is the last Zahur (appearance Or successor) of Guru Nanak.” (p. 481).

This was the time when Maharaja Ranjit Singh had been on the throne of Lahore for some eleven years. He had occupied the traditional capital of the Punjab in 1799 A.D. and had fully established himself as the undisputed Maharaja of the Land of the Five Rivers. He had not only been accepted as such by a number of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh chieftains but had also been recognised by the greatest foreign power in India, the British East India Company, which had entered into a political treaty with him. This attracted the attention of a number of British and Indian scholars who wrote historical works devoted exclusively to the Sikhs. A few pamphlets, it is true, had also been written on the Sikhs in the eighteenth century by men like Antoine L.H. Polier (1780), William Franklin (1798-1803), etc., but they were too sketchy to contain any detailed account of the Sikh Gurus. George Forster alone has referred to the Gurus in his Letter No. XI of 1783 in his A journey from Bengal to England and says:

Govind Singh was assassinated during this expedition (of Emperor Bahadur Shah to the Deccan) by a Pathan soldier and he died of his wounds in 1708 at the town of Nanded without leaving any male issue; and a tradition delivered to the Sicques, limiting their priests to the number of ten, induced them to appoint no successors to Govind Singh. (vol. I, pub. 1798, 263).

Talking about the change in the inscription on the Sikh coins, Major James Brown has casually referred to Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh as the first and the last Gurus of the Sikhs, respectively, and has indirectly given us the confirmed belief of the Sikhs of about 1787-88. He says in his History of the Origin andProgress of the Sicks, published in 1788:

“...but after they had been current about fifteen years, the grand Diet of the sick chiefs (called Goormutta) determined to call in all those rupees, and to strike them in the names of Gooroo Nanuck and Gooroo Gobind Singh, the first and last of their Gooroos or religious leaders (pp. vi, viii).”
In referring to the historians of the nineteenth century, we would prefer to mention at first the Indian writers who should presumably be better informed about the Sikh Gurus than Europeans. It may, however, be mentioned that some of the Indian writers wrote their books at the instance of Europeans who were at this time feeling interested in the history and religion of the Sikhs with whom they expected to come in close political contact in the near future. For this purpose they desired to obtain as correct and reliable information as possible.

Khushwaqt Rai’s Tarikh-i-Sikhan, also called the Kitabi- Tawarikh-i- Panjab, was written in 1811. Therein he says that “at Afzal (Abchal) Nagar (Nanded) the Guru purchased a piece of land and moved in all happiness from this transitory world to the world Eternal. The disciples of the Guru collected from all sides and cremated his dead body with aloe and sandalwood with all the necessary rites..... This event that is his death, took place on Katik Sudi 5,1765 Bikrami. The generation (of Gurus) of Guru Nanak up to Guru Gobind Singh came to an end.” (pp. 36b-37a).

In 1233 al-Hijri, 1817-18 A.D. was completed Ahmad Shah Batalias’ Tawarikh-i-Hind,’ Bayan-i-Ahwal-i-Mulk-iHind wa Maluk-i-an az Zamani- qadim ta 1233 Hijri, a part of which, the Zikr-i-Guman wa ibtida-i-Singhan wa Mazhab-i-eshan, fonns an appendix to Daftar I and II of the Umdat-u- Tawarikh by Munshi Sohan Lal Suri. In it Ahmad Shah tells us that Guru Gobind Singh, who had accompanied Emperor Bahadur Shah to the Deccan, died at Nanded in 1765 Bikrami, 1708 A.D. and that the place was known as Abchal Nagar. He says that some Sikhs also lived there and that the Nizam of Hyderabad had fixed a daily allowance for them. In addition to it, Maharaj Ranjit Singh also made handsome donations for the upkeep of the sanctuary and the maintenance of its custodians (p. 11).

The Umdat-u-Tawarikh of Lala Sohan Lal Suri is a very important work on the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors up to 1849. Although its first volume dealing with the Guru and the Misal periods was published in 1885, it was originally begun in the form of notes somewhere in the middle of the eighteenth century during the time of Sohan Lal Suri’s grandfather and father, Lala Hakumat Rai and Lala Ganpat Rai. It tells us that during the last moments of Guru Gobind Singh’s life a disciple of his asked him as to whom he had appointed as Guru after him. Thereupon the Guru replied that “the Gum is Granthji. There is no difference between the Granth and the Guru. From the darshan of Granthji one shall have the happy darshan of the Guru Sahib.” (Vol. I, pp. 64-65).

So intense was the faith of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Guru Gobind Singh and so ardent was his desire to raise a befitting memorial on his last resting place at Nanded that he occasionally sent large sums of money and a number of his men for the purpose all the way from the Punjab. The name of one Sardar Chanda Singh is mentioned in the Umdat-u- Tawarikh (Vol. Ill, part Hi, p. 355) as having been deputed by him on the 1st of Magh, 1893 Bikrami, to proceed to Abchal Nagar with twenty-five thousand rupees, with promise to remit more money, for the renovation and construction of buildings of the Sachkhand Gurdwara there. (Also see Ibid.Ill, Hi, 77, 187, 267, 455.)

Ratan Chand Bal, the author of the Khalis Namah (1846 A.D., p. 13b, 14a) and Ganesh Das Badehra of the Char Bagh-i-Panjab (1855 A.D., p. 118) also confirm the information about the death of the Guru.

Ghulam Muhy-ud-Din alias Bute Shah in his Tarikh-iPan jab (1848, p.. 206) and Mufti-Ali- ud-Din in his Ibrat Namah of 1854 (vol. I, p. 178) have both recorded the death of the guru as an historical fact. Bute Shah in his abridged recension of the Tarikh-i-Panjab (preserved in the panjab Public Library, Lahore) has followed Lala Sohan Lal’s Umdatut- Tawarikh in not omitting to include the last commandment of the Guru regarding the Granth being the Guru after his death and that “there is no difference between the Guru and the Granth.” (p. 62)

The last Persian work to be referred to on the subject is Kanhaiya Lal Hindi’s Zafar Namah-i-Ranjit Singh published in Lahore in 1876. In the introductory pages he has given a sketch of the Gurus at the end of which he says that “Guru Gobind Singh died at Abchala Nagar (Nanded in the Deccan) in 1765 and that no one (of his disciples) succeeded him to the gaddi (throne of Guruship). With him ended the gaddi of leadership (masnad-i-sarwari and  with him came to end the custom of the (succession ot) Gurus (shewa-i-rahbari). (p. 52).

European writers on history are generally more objective and precise, and those who have written on the Sikhs in the first half of the nineteenth century, were seasoned scholars like Sir John Malcolm, the Hon’ble W.G. Osbome, Dr. W.L. M’Gregor and captain Joseph D. Cunnigham. The last of them incurred the displeasure of his superiors and lost his political appointment for his frank and honest observation in his History of the Sikhs. All of them had been in close contact with the Sikhs in the Punjab and may be safely relied upon for their information on the historicity of Guru Gobind Singh’s death, of his being the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs and of his declaration and commandment regarding Guru Granth Sahib being the Guru after him. We would, therefore, quote here only the relevant passages from their works without going into any particulars about them, following only the chronological order of their publication.

Malcolm Lt., Col. Sketch of the Sikhs, London, 1812. Osborne, W.G., The Court and Camp of Runjeet Singh, London, 1840. “The tenth and the last of their spiritual leaders was called Gooroo Govind, whose plans of ambition were different from those of his predecessor Nanak “ (p. xiv).

“We accordingly set the old Faqueer Uzeezoodeen to work with him, and much to our satisfaction heard, in the course of the evening, that on his mentioning our wishes to the Maharaja, he had consulted the Granth, or sacred volume of the Sikhs, and that, as the oracle was propitious we might be prepared to set off for Lahore in four days’ time.” (p. 121).

“Runjeet Singh rarely undertakes any expedition ofimportance without consulting this holy book……(p. 122)”. “Guru Govind was the last acknowledged religious ruler of the Sikhs. A prophecy had limited their spiritual guides to the number of ten .................................................................. (p. 76).

This sect, as has been before stated, has never admitted a spiritual
leader since the death of Guru Govind (p. 89).”
M’Gregor, W.L. The History of the Sikhs, London, 1846, Vol. I.

“The wound was sewed up, and to all appearance, healing, but Govind was determined to die. He called for a strong bow, which he bent with all his force, and in doing so the stitches of his wound gave way, his bowels again protruded, and he died almost immediately (p. 100).

“This event occurred in the year of the Hijera 1132, Samwat 1765, and A.D. 1708, at the city of Nadshur (Nander) in the reign of Buhadoor Shah (p. 100).

“Aware that since the death of his brave sons there was none among his adherents capable of following up his views and conquests, he fixed upon a Byragee fukeer, named Bunda who became his successor, though not as Gooroo. That title died with Gobind Singh, the tenth and last. (p. 104).”

Cunningham, J.D. History of the Sikhs, 1849.
“The expiring Gooroo was childless, and the assembled disciples asked in sorrow who should inspire them with truth and lead them to victory when he was no more. Govind bade them be of good cheer; the appointed Ten had indeed fulfilled their mission, but he was about to deliver the Khalsa to God, the never dying. “He who wishes to behold the Gooroo, let him search the Granth of Nanak. The Gooroo will dwell with the Khalsa: be firm and faithful; wherever five Sikhs are gathered together, there will I also be present (p. 88).

“Govind was killed in 1708 at Nuderh on the banks of the Godavery” (pp. 88-89), Trump, Ernest. The Adi Granth, 1877.
“The Guru felt that his dissolution was near at hand, and ordered his Sikhs to keep ready wood (for cremation) and shroud. Having done so they all joined their hands and asked: ‘O true Guru, whom will you seat, for the sake of our welfare, on the throne of the Guruship?’ He answer: “As the nine Kings before me were at the time of their death, seating another Guru on their throne, so shall I now not do; I have entrusted the whole society (of the disciples) to the bosom of the timeless, divine Male. After me you shall everywhere mind the book of the Granth-Sahib as your Guru; whatever you shall ask, it will show to you. Whoever be my disciple, he shall consider the Granth as the form of the Guru. “…..Having uttered these verses he closed his eyes and expired A.D. 1708 (pp. xcvi).”

The last important writer of the nineteenth century on the history of the Punjab in English is Syed Muhammed Latif of the Punjab Judicial Service. His well known book History of the Pan jab was published in 1891 and is still one of the best books on the subject. Some time. before the death of Guru Gobind Singh when Sikhs asked him to who would be Guru after him, the dying apostolic hero, according to Syed Muhammad Latif, told them:

“I entrust my Khalsa to the bosom of the ever-lasting Divine Being. Whoever wishes to behold the Guru, let him offer karah parshadworth Re. 1-4 or less, and bow before the Granth and open it, and he shall be given an interview with the Guru. The Granth shall support you under all your troubles and adversities in this world, and be a sure guide to you hereafter. The Guru shall dwell with the society of disciples, the Khalsa, and wherever there shall be five Sikhs gathered together, there shall the Guru be also present.”

The Guru also gave them sundry warnings, telling them that there were impostors in the world who would try to dissuade them from the right path, but that his disciples should be on their guard against them and give no ear to what they say. They must have belief in One God and look on the Grangh as His inspired law… He then closed his eyes and began to pray, and expired in the performance of his devotions (p.269).

Of the writers of the twentieth century, we would refer only to M.A. Macauliffe, whose book The Sikh Religion, in six volumes published in 1909, was begun in the eighties of the nineteenth century and is considered to be a standard work on the lives of the Gurus and of the Bhaktas whose hymns are incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. In the compilation of this work, Macauliffe was assisted by a number of well-known Sikh scholars of his time like Bhai Hazara Singh, Bhai Sardul Singh, Bhai Dit Singh and Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha who was closely associated with it up to the last stage of its publication at Oxford in England. The views expressed in The Sikh Religion, therefore, represent the views and beliefs not only of the orthodox section of the Sikh community but also of their reformist intelligentsia in the beginning of the twentieth century. Writing about the last commandments and the death of Guru Gobind Singh, he says:

“When the Sikhs came again to take their last farewell of the Guru, they inquired who was to succeed him. He replied, ‘I have entrusted you to the Immortal God. Ever remain under His protection, and trust to none besides. Wherever there are five Sikhs assembled who abide by the Guru’s teachings, know that I am in the midst of them. He who serveth them shall obtain the reward thereof the fulfillment of all his heart’s desires. Read the History of your Gurus from the time of Guru Nanak. Henceforth the Guru shall be the Khalsa and the Khalsa the Guru. I have infused my mental and bodily spirit into the Granth Sahib and the Khalsa. “After this the Guru bathed and changed his dress. He then read the Japji and repeated an ardas or supplication. While doing so, he gave instructions that no clothes should be bestowed as alms in his name. He then put on a muslin waistband, slung his bow on his shoulder and took his musket in his hand. He opened the Granth Sahib and placing five paise and a coconut before it solemnly bowed to it as his successor. Then uttering’ Wahguru ji ka Khalsa, Wahguru ji ki fateh’, he circumambulated the sacred volume and said, “O beloved Khalsa, let him who desireth to behold me, behold the Guru Granth. Obey the Granth Sahib. It is the visible body of the Guru. And let him who desireth to meet me, diligently search its hymns.’

There is another class of evidence which is particularly relevant to our study here. It is known as the Gur-parnalian or Genealogies of the Gurus. As they deal mainly with the parentage, births, deaths, descendants and successors of the Gurus, they are a very useful source of information for determining the order of succession of Guruship. Six of these Gurparnalis by Bhai Kesar Singh, Poet Saundha, Bhai Gulab Singh, Kavi Ram Singh, and anonymous poet and by Kavi Gulab Singh repectively, are available, and all of them without exception, accept the death of Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded in 1708 as an indisputable historical fact.

Under the heading ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ in his wellknown book the Gurmat Martand, Vol. I, p. 411, Bhai Kahan Singh refers to the holy book as Sri Guru Granth Sahib and tells us on page 415 that the use of the word ‘Guru’ with Granth Sahib began in Samvat 1766 Bk., (A.D. 1708) when Guru Gobind Singh invested the Granth, the basic scripture of the Sikh faith, with Guruship at Abchal Nagar (Nanded in the Deccan).

Bhai Kahan Singh has also answered the question of those who at times asked about the volume which was invested with Guruship. He writes on page 415 of the book mentioned above:

“We believe that it was that volume which the Tenth Guru had compiled at Damdama Sahib after including therein the compositions of the Ninth Guru and which was lost during the great Holocaust (Wadda Ghalughara) and of which Baba Dip Singh had previously prepared several copies. But even if no volume was available at the time of the death of the Tenth Guru, could there be any difficulty in the investiture? Was Guru Tegh Bahadur present at Delhi at the time of the death of Guru Har Krishan (Who invested Guru Tegh Bahadur with Guruship)? The Guruship could be entrusted by mental contemplation or through Word (of the mouth).”

These statements and writings of Bhai Kahan Singh leave no doubt about his belief that:

(i) Guru Gobind Singh did not appoint any person to succeed him as Guru, and

(ii) The Tenth Guru had invested the Guru Granth Sahib with Gruship, and commanded the Sikhs to accept it as their future Guru.

Recently a contemporary Bhatt Vahi has been traced by Gyani Garja Singh which contains an entry regarding the succession of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as Future Guru of the Sikhs ending personnel line of succession. This has been quoted by Guninder Kaur in her recent book’ Tbe Guru Granth Sahib, Its Physics and Meta-Physics’1
1 Sterling Publishers, 1981, pp. 20-21. The relevant entry has been reproduced by Prof. Harbans Singh at page 257 of this volume




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