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Biography and teachings of Sikh Gurus

Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji
The shield of Hind

(1 April 1622- 11 November 1675)

Born: 1 April 1622

Place of birth: Amritsar 

Parents: Sri Hargobind Sahib and Mata Nanki Ji

Spouse: Mata Gujjari, daughter of Sri Lal Chand Khatri of Kartarpur

Children: The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Period: Emperor Aurangzeb was forcibly spreading Islam all over the country Received Guruship: 30 March 1664 Martyrdom: 11 November 1675

Teachings: liberation from attachment, fear and dependence. To inculcate strength through truth, worship, sacrifice and knowledge. To sacrifice self for the deprived and the exploited.

The ninth place in Guru Nanak’s order went to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. His life was an example of sacrifice, knowledge, fearlessness and fortitude, few parallels to which may be found in history. He was born to Mata Nanaki Ji and Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji on 1 April 1622. His given name was Tyag Mall. It is said that one day, when he was about five years old, he saw a destitute child with no clothes. He immediately took out his beautiful apparel and gave it to that needy child. Then he went to his father and expressed his contentment. He was merely thirteen years old when in the battle of Kartarpur he wielded the tegh (sword) with great dexterity. Guru Hargobind Ji was much impressed and gave him the name Tegh Bahadur (the sword wielder).

He married Bibi Gujjari, daughter of Lal Chand Khatri of Kartarpur. They had a son who was named Gobind. After the death of Guru Hargobind Ji in 1701 Bikrami he shifted to his maternal grandfather’s village Bakala along with mother Nanaki Ji and wife Gujjari Ji. Guru Ji lived here for twenty years. He led a simple and pious life in this solitude. Although he was not bequeathed the guruship, he remained an integral part of the spirituality of the house. During this time Guru Ji pondered over the prevailing social conditions and put his mind on how to eradicate the ignorance all around. Guru Ji was aware that caste divisions, religious bigotry and superstitions had shackled Indians and made them powerless and weak. Mental freedom, true piety, social fearlessness and political astuteness were completely missing. He became acutely aware of the fact that a big movement and possibly an even bigger sacrifice will be required to reform the society.

He wrote:

‘Sukh ke het bahut dukh

pavat sev karat jan jan ki,

Duareh duare suan jiyun dolat

na sudh ram bhajan ki’

(To attain peace, one has to go through a lot of anguish as well as serve others, like a dog one goes from door to door, not finding time for worship even)

When Guru Harikrishan Ji breathed his last he merely uttered the words ‘Baba Bakale’, thereby indicating that the inheritor of guruship was sitting in Bakala. Twenty-two contenders to guruship set up their centres in Bakala to stake their claim. Sikhs and ordinary people were totally perplexed as to who was the real guru. These pretenders exploited the confused followers to the hilt. Distressed by all this, Mata Nanki wrote letters to leading Sikhs like Baba Dwarka Das and Bhai Garhiya at Goindwal. Both of them came to Bakala and told the people that Tegh Bahadur was the guru but nobody was ready to believe it in the prevailing confusion. Then a devout Sikh called Makhan Shah Lubana came visiting. He was extremely troubled to see twenty-two contenders. He bowed before each one of them but could not attain mental peace. Somebody told him that there was one more being that meditates in solitude. Makhan Shah Lubana went to see him, held discourse with him and was convinced that this person was the real guru. He climbed on the rooftop and announced that the Guru has been found. All the followers congregated and recognised Tegh Bahadur Ji as the Guru; the impostors all ran away.

After taking on the responsibilities, Guru Ji reached Amritsar via Taran Taran, Khadoor Sahib and Goindwal. Inside the temple precinct, he camped at Tharha Sahib (sacred platform) but was not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum to pay his respects. The opponents shut the doors on him. Guru Ji propagated Sikhism in Majha and Doaba areas and then went across river Sutlej. From King Kehlur he bought land in village Makhowal and founded the city of Anandpur here. Gradually this place turned into the centre of Sikhism. Guru Ji spent a lot of time here. He went to Kashmir from here. Then he undertook a journey right up to Assam and visited all the pilgrimage centres. He propagated Sikhism amongst people and rulers of small princely states and warned them about the dangers of tyranny spreading around them. Via southern Punjab and Bangar Guru Ji reached Kurukshetra. He toured Khanesar too. He cautioned the people against superstitions and blind faith and spread the message of Sikhism in Bidarpur, Garh Mukteshwar, Mathura, Agra and Triveni. Then he visited Kashi, where he had Bari Sangat gurudwara constructed. In Sasaram he stayed with Phagoo Chacha and appointed him the Sikh preacher of the area. From there he went to Patna where he left his family behind and proceeded towards Bengal and Assam. He reached Dhaka via Bhagalpur and Munger.

He was still on tour when he received the news that his wife had given birth to a son Gobind (later Guru Gobind Singh Ji). He sent a missive to the followers to take care of his family and the child while he was away. In 1670 Guru Ji had truce signed between the King of Assam and Raja Ram Singh. Gurudwara Sobti was built here. Meanwhile his followers sent him a message about increasingly violent atmosphere in Punjab, so he left for Punjab.

Aurangzeb’s reign lasted from 1658 to 1707. He was very suspicious and insecure by nature and not only had his father imprisoned but eliminated his brothers Dara, Shujah and Murad too. He even incarcerated his own son Bahadur Shah. He destroyed many Hindu pilgrimage centres and tried to spread Islam through repression and force. Under his command Sher Afghan of Kashmir province started forcefully converting Kashmiri Hindus to Islam.

Kashmiri pundits: Persecuted by the oppressors, a delegation of Kashmiri pundits reached Anandpur Sahib where Guru Ji was staying with his family. They appeared at his congregation and asked for his help against Aurangzeb’s tyranny. Their tales of woe made Guru Ji go into deep thought. Nine years old Gobind was standing next to him and enquired about the cause of his anxiety. Guru Ji replied, " Son, the Emperor’s tyranny is on the increase and the people are suffering. These Kashmiri Pundits need help. To stop this tyranny a great personality may have to sacrifice his or her life."

Young Gobind said, "Father, there is no bigger personality than you today. Only you can undertake this immense responsibility." The congregation was surprised at the daring and the way of thinking of a nine-year-old child. Guru Ji hugged his son and announced to the congregation that the time had come for a sacrifice and he was ready to do so.

He instructed the Kashmiri pundits to go to Delhi and tell Aurangzeb to hold negotiations with Guru Tegh Bahadur.

Aurangzeb was extremely annoyed by this message and ordered Guru Tegh Bahadur’s arrest. Meanwhile, In Anandpur Guru Ji had delegated all the duties to the leading Sikhs and had already left for Delhi. Five of his Sikhs, Bhai Gurditta, Diwan Mati Das, Bhai Dyala, Bhai Udha and Bhai Chima accompanied him. On the way they camped in Agra where the imperial forces followed and arrested them. They were brought to Delhi and put in confinement. The Kazis told Guru Ji that the Emperor wanted him to convert to Islam; he would be granted all he could wish in return. In reply Guru Ji said that he already had everything he could wish for and did not need any riches earned through oppression. As far as changing the religion was concerned, his religion was the liberator of all and he did not believe in forced conversions. In reply to some other questions put by the Kazis, Guru Ji proclaimed that only that rule can be called commendable where the followers of other religions and creeds were also granted equal rights.

The rulers punished Guru Ji’s Sikhs first of all. Bhai Mati Das was sliced with a saw and then Bhai Dyala was executed.

In Anandpur the Sikh community and Mata Gujjari Ji were in agony as the news coming from Delhi was clearly indicative of Aurangzeb’s evil intentions. Guru Gobind Singh Ji sent a Sikh to Delhi who managed to meet Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji in jail with the help of a sentry. After hearing about their anguish, Guru Ji a wrote a letter to the community:

‘Gun gobind gayo nahin janam akarath keen, kaho Nanak hari bhaj mana jihi bidh jal ko meen’

(If you do not worship Him, consider your life a waste One should go on chanting His name like a fish continually splashing in water)

Then he addressed Mata Gujjari and wrote:

‘Ram gayo ravan gayo ja kau bahu parvar,

kaho Nanak thir kuch nahin supne jiyon sansar’

(Big men like Rama and Ravana, with their large clans, too went away O Nanak everything is transient in this world, since the world is but a dream)

Further in this letter, pointing towards the helpless situation of Indians, he wrote to his prodigious son Gobind:

‘Bal chutkiyon bandhan pare kachu na hot upaye,

kaho nanak ab ote hari gaj sion hot sahaye’

(We are powerless today, trapped in chains and cannot find the way out, O Nanak, it is only He who will give us shelter and lead the way)

In reply to this, Guru Gobind Singh sent a letter to his imprisoned father in Delhi and paid his respects.

After Aurangzeb had exhausted all his tricks and coercive methods he gave orders for Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji’s execution. Guru Ji, who had been confined in a cage, was brought out to Chandni Chowk where people with grieving hearts had gathered. According to the chroniclers Guru Ji first had a bath and then recited JapJi Sahib: this was a battle between fortitude and brutality.

The Kazi asked him why he was called Tegh Bahadur.

Guru Ji replied, "You will know when you wield the sword."

Kazi asked the executioner to use the sword and Guru Ji was beheaded.

Bhai Jaita, who had come from Anandpur stealthily picked up the head, covered it with a sheet and set out for Anandpur. After reaching Anandpur he proffered the head to Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Guru Ji hugged him and said,"Ranghreta guru ka beta" (You are the Guru’s son, ranghreta — term used for Sikhs who had converted from so-called lower castes).

Guru Ji and the community cremated the head with full honours. In Delhi, Lakhi Shah Vanjara took care of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji’s body. He put the body in his own house, lit it and started shouting that his house was on fire. Now Gurudwara Sis Ganj stands at the place where Guru Ji was martyred.

In Indian history the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji is exemplary because it shook the weakened soul of India out of stupor and instilled courage in people’s hearts. Bigotry can have no place in true religion. True religion is the manifestation of truth, justice and equality. His martyrdom enhanced the tradition of ‘sabhe sanjhiwal sadayin’ (everybody is an equal partner). It was his call to awaken the soul that led to the birth of valour seen during the times of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. His martyrdom was not merely to save Sikhs or Hindus. By then India had become a multinational and multiracial country. This martyrdom was for the cause of co-existence and equality of all people irrespective of their varied beliefs and against the tyranny of the rulers.

Gurdwara Guru Ka Mahl, Dist. Amritsar

Gurdwara Baba Bakala, Dist. Amritsar

Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, Dist. Patiala

Gurdwara Bahadurgarh, Dist. Patiala

Gurdwara Pathshahi Nouvin, Talwandi Sabo, Dist. Bathinda)