Guru Gobind Singh Sahib
The tenth and the last Guru or Prophet-teacher of the Sikh faith, was born Gobind Rai Sodhi on Poh Sudi 7th, 23rd Poh 1723 Bikrami Samvat (22 December 1666) at Patna, in Bihar. His father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Guru, was then travelling across Bengal and Assam. Returning to Patna in 1670, he directed his family to return to the Punjab. On the site of the house at Patna in which Gobind Rai was born and where he spent his early childhood now stands a sacred shrine, Takht Sri Harimandar Sahib, one of the five most honoured seats of religious authority (takht, lit. throne) for the Sikhs. Gobind Rai was escorted to Anandpur (then known as Chakk Nanaki) at the foothills of the Sivaliks where he reached in March 1672 and there his early education included reading and writing of Punjabi, Braj, Sanskrit and Persian languages. He was barely nine years of age when a sudden turn came in his life as well as in the life of entire Sikh community, he was destined to lead. Early in 1675, a group Kashmiri Brahmans, driven to desperation by the religious fanaticism of the Mughal General Iftikar Khan, visited Anandpur to seek Guru Tegh Bahadur’s intercession. As the Guru sat reflecting what to do, young Gobind Rai, arriving there in company with his playmates, asked “Why he looked so preoccupied”. The father, as records Koer Singh in his Gurbilas Patshahi 10, replied, “Grave are the burdens the earth bears. She will be redeemed only if a truly worthy person comes forward to lay down his head. Distress will then be expunged and happiness ushered in.” “None could be worthier than yourself to make such a sacrifice,” remarked Gobind Rai in his innocent manner. Guru Tegh Bahadur soon aftenwards proceedcd to the imperial capital, Delhi, and courted death on 11 November 1675.
Guru Gobind Singh was formally installed Guru on Maghar Sudi 5th (11 Maghar), 1732 Samvat (11th Nov, 1675). In the midst of his engagement with the concerns of the community, he gave attention to the mastery of physical skills and literary accomplishment. He had grown into a energectic youth. He had a natural genius for poetic composition and his early years were assiduously given to this pursuit. The Var Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki, popularly called Chandi di Var. written in 1684, was his first composition. The poem depicted the legendary contest between the gods and the demons as described in the Markandeya Purana . The choice of a warlike theme for this and a number of his later compositions such as the two Chandi Charitras, mostly in Braj, was made to infuse martial spirit among his followers to prepare them to stand up against injustice and tyranny.
Much of Guru Gobind Singh’s creative literary work was done at Paonta, he had founded on the banks of the River Yamuna and to which site he had temporarily shifted in April 1685. Poetry as such was, however, not his aim. For him it was a means of revealing the divine principle and concretizing a personal vision of the Supreme Being that had been vouchsafed to him. His Japu and the composition known as Akal Ustati are in this tenor. Through his poetry he preached love and equality and a strictly ethical and moral code of conduct. He preached the worship of the One Supreme Being, deprecating idolatry and superstitious beliefs and observances. The glorification of the sword itself which he eulogized as Bhaguati was to secure fulfilment of God’sjustice. The sword was never meant as a symbol of aggression, and it was never to be used for self-aggrandizement. It was the emblem of manliness and self-respect and was to be used only in self-defence, as a last resort. For Guru Gobind Singh said in a Persian couplet in his Zafarnamah:
When all other means have failed,
It is but lawful to take to the sword.
During his stay at Paonta, Guru Gobind Singh availed himself of his spare time to practise different forms of manly exercises, such as riding, swimming and archery. His increasing influence among the people and the martial exercises of his men excited the jealousy of the neighbouring Rajput hill rulers who led by Raja Fateh Chand of Garhwal collected a host to attack him. But they were worsted in an action at Bhangani, about 10 km northeast of Paonta, on 18 Assu 1745 sk/18 September 1688. Soon there after Guru Gobind Singh left Paonta and returned to Anandpur which he fortified in view of the continuing hostility of the Rajput chiefs as well as of the repressive policy of the imperial government at Delhi. The Guru and his Sikhs were involved in a battle with a Mughal commander, Alif Khan, at Nadaun on the left bank of the Beas, about 30 km southeast of Kangra, on 22 Chet 1747 Bk/20 March 1691. Describing the battle in stirring verse in Bachitra Natak, he said that Alif Khan fled in utter disarray “without being able to give any attention to his camp.” Among several other skirmishes that occurred was the Hussain battle (20 February 1696) fought against Husain Khan, an imperial general, which resulted in a decisive victory for the Sikhs. Following the appointment in 1694 of the liberal Prince Muazzam (later Emperor Bahadur Shah) as viceroy of northwestern region including Punjab, there was however a brief respite from pressure from the ruling authority.
In 1698, Guru Gobind Singh issued directions to Sikh sangats or communities in different parts of India not to acknowledge masands, the local ministers, against whom he had heard complaints. Sikhs, he instructed, should come to Anandpur straight without any intermediaries and bring their offerings personally. The Guru thus established direct relationship with his Sikhs and addressed them as his Khalsa, Persian term used for crown-lands as distinguished from feudal chiefs. The institution of the Khalsa was given concrete form on 30 March 1699 when Sikhs had gathered at Anandpur in large numbers for the annual festival of Baisakhi. Guru Gobind Singh appeared before the assembly dramatically on that day with a naked sword in hand and, to quote Koer Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, spoke: “Is there present a true Sikh who would offer his head to the Guru as a sacrifice?” The words numbed the audience who looked on in awed silence. The Guru repeated the call. At the third call Daya Ram, a Sobti Khatri of Lahore, arose and humbly walked behind the Guru to a tent near by. The Guru returned with his sword dripping blood, and asked for another head. At this Daram Das, a Jatt from Hastinapur, came forward and was taken inside the enclosure. Guru Gobind Singh made three more calls. Muhkam Chand, a washerman from Dvarka, Himmat, a water-carrier from Jagannathpur, and Sahib Chand, a barber from Bidar (Karnataka) responded one after another and advanced to offer their heads. All the five were led back from the tent dressed alike in saffron-coloured raiment topped over with neatly tied turbans similarly dyed, with swords dangling by their sides. Guru Gobind Singh then introduced Khande Di Pahul, i.e. initiation by sweetened water churned with a double-edged broadsword (khanda). Those five Sikhs were the first to be initiated. Guru Gobind Singh called them Panj Piare, the five devoted spirits beloved of the Guru. These five, formed the nucleus of the self-abnegating, martial and casteless fellowship of the Khalsa. All of them surnamed Singh, meaning lion, were required to wear in future the five symbols of the Khalsa, all beginning with the letter K-the kesh or long hair and beard, Kangha, a comb in the kesh to keep it tidy as against the recluses who kept it matted in token of their having renounced the world, Kara, a steel bracelet, Kachch, short breeches, and Kirpan, a sword. They were enjoined to succour the helpless and fight the oppressor, to have faith in one God and to consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and creed. Guru Gobind Singh then himself received initiatory rites from five disciples, now invested with authority as Khalsa, and had his name changed from Gobind Rai to Gobind Singh. “Hail,” as the poet subsequently sang, “Gobind Singh who is himself Master as well as disciple.” Further injunctions were laid down for the Sikhs. They must never cut or trim their hair and beards, nor smoke tobacco. A Sikh must not have sexual relationship outside the marital bond, nor eat the flesh of an animal killed slowly in the Muslim way.
These developments alarmed the casteridden Rajput chiefs of the Sivalik hills. They rallied under the leadership of the Raja of Bilaspur, in whose territory lay Anandpur, to forcibly evict Guru Gobind Singh from his hilly citadel. Their repeated expeditions during 1700-04 however proved abortive . They at last petitioned Emperor Aurangzeb for help. In concert with contingents sent under imperial orders by the governor of Lahore and those of the faujdar of Sirhind, they marched upon Anandpur and laid a siege to the fort in Jeth 1762 sk/May 1705. Over the months, the Guru and his Sikhs firmly withstood their successive assaults despite dire scarcity of food resulting from the prolonged blockade. While the besieged were reduced to desperate straits, the besiegers too were chagrined at the tenacity with which the Sikhs held out. At this stagy the besiegers offered, on solemn oaths of Quran, safe exit to the Sikhs if they quit Anandpur. At last, the town was evacuated during the night of Poh suds 1, 1762 sk/5-6 December 1705. But soon, as the Guru and his Sikhs came out, the hill monarchs and their Mughal allies set upon them in full fury. In the ensuing confusion many Sikhs were killed and all of the Guru’s baggage, including most of the precious manuscripts, was lost. The Guru himself was able to make his way to Chamkaur, 40 km southwest of Anandpur, with barely 40 Sikhs and his two elder sons. There the imperial army, following closely on his heels, caught up with him. His two sons, Ajit Singh (b. 1687) and Jujhar Singh (b. 1691) and all but five of the Sikhs fell in the action that took place on 7 December 1705. The five surviving Sikhs bade the Guru to save himself in order to reconsolidate the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh with three of his Sikhs escaped into the wilderness of the Malva, two of his Muslim devotees, Gani Khan and Nabi Khan, helping him at great personal risk.
Guru Gobind Singh’s two younger sons, Zorawar Singh (b. 1696) and Fateh Singh (b.1699), and his mother, Mata Gujari, were after the evacuation of Anandpur betrayed by their old servant and escort, Gangu, to the faujdar of Sirhind, who had the young children executed on 13 December 1705. Their grandmother died the same day. Befriended by another Muslim admirer, Rai Kalha of Raikot, Guru Gobind Singh reached Dina in the heart of the Malva. There he enlisted a few hundred warriors of the Brar clan, and also composed his famous letter, Zafarnamah or the Epistle of Victory, in Persian verse, addressed to Emperor Aurangzeb. The letter was a severe indictment of the Emperor and his commanders who had perjured their oath and treacherously attacked him once he was outside the safety of his fortification at Anandpur. It emphatically reiterated the sovereignty of morality in the affairs of State as much as in the conduct of human beings and held the means as important as the end. Two of the Sikhs, Daya Singh and Daram Singh, were despatched with the Zafarnamah to Ahmadnagar in the South to deliver it to Aurangzeb, then in camp in that town.
Guru Gobind Singh thus passed on the succession with due ceremony to the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib, ending the line of personal Gurus. “The Guru’s spirit,” he said, “will henceforth be in the Granth and the Khalsa. Where the Granth is with any five Sikhs representing the Khalsa, there will the Guru be.” The Word enshrined in the Holy Book was always revered by the Gurus as well as by their disciples as of Divine origin. The Guru was the revealer of the Word. One day the Word was to take the place of the Guru. The inevitable came to pass when Guru Gobind Singh declared the Guru Granth Sahib as his successor. It was only through the Word that the Guruship could be made everlasting. The Word as contained in the Guru Granth Sahib was henceforth, and for all time to come to be the Guru for the Sikhs.