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Singh Ji's Mission: Connecting the Dots
Gobind Singh Ji's Mission: Connecting the Dots
“Faced with threats from outside and dissension
within the Sikh Panth, Guru Gobind Singh thought long and deeply
about his own position as the successor of Guru Nanak.”
(Dr J S Grewali, The Sikhs of Punjab p 76)
Like the dots which are connected to produce a picture, the clarity
of the image depends on the correct location of the dots. Similarly,
the profile and the significance of the achievements of a great
leader depend on the accuracy of the events and dates relating to
him. The same is true when we meditate on the incredible
achievements and personality of Guru Gobind Singh as a spiritual
preceptor, poet, peerless saint-warrior, nation-builder and a living
martyr who sacrificed his entire family (sarbans daan) for
his beloved Khalsa and for the freedom of his country.
Confirmation of the accuracy of Sikh chronicles is the first
challenge for a student of Sikh history. Fortunately, dedicated
research by scholars in recent time has made available contemporary
records denied to earlier students of Sikh history and we are
beginning to get a clearer picture of important events and dates.
This article touches on some aspects of Guru Gobind Singh’s life and
mission from different perspectives in the light of more recent
research. The aim is to give pointers to further lines of inquiry.
Nevertheless, the continuity of Guru Nanak Sahib’s mission through
worthy successors to Guru Gobind Singh ji, becomes self-evident.
The great importance of the Guruships of Guru Har Rai and Guru Har
Krishan (Seventh and Eight Nanaks respectively) during a crucial
period in Gur-ithaas (Guru history) in the essential
continuity of Guru Nanak Sahibs mission is for another discussion.
Nirmala literature and Bhat vahis (chronicles)
Before discussing Guru Gobind Singh’s response to the challenges he
faced on being consecrated Nanak X, it would be worthwhile to
understand the underlying reasons for the confusion about events and
dates in Sikh historyii. That is, other
than the obvious reason that Sikhs have been too busy making history
rather than recording it!
Gur Partap Suraj, popularly known as Suraj Parkash,
is the magnus opus of the great poet Bhai Santokh Singh, doyen
of the Nirmala Sectiii. It
describes in sakhi (anecdotal) style the lives of the nine
Gurus after Guru Nanak Sahib and was completed in 1843. It is
recited regularly in gurdwaras and is popular with preachers and
Sikh historians alike. The Nirmala tradition interpreted Sikh
ideology and episodes relating to the lives of the Gurus through the
lens of Vedic literatureiv. Accuracy of
events and correct dates was given lower priority. Many would regard
any questioning of the strong Vedic influence or the accuracy of the
episodes described in Suraj Parkash as poetic as well as
In contrast were the records kept by generations of Bhat scholars
and poets and Panda genealogists. Their livelihood depended on
keeping these records. They had no reason to give any ideological
bias to the records they kept. However, it is true that many Bhats
became dedicated Sikhs of the Guru. Some Bhats wrote poetic eulogy
for the Gurus and described Guru succession up to Guru Arjan (Fifth
Nanak). It was sanctified in Guru Granth Sahib as Bhat Bani. Thus,
it can be said that the Bhat records enjoyed recognition by the
Gurus. The records kept by the Bhats about the Guru families and
important episodes, including rites of passage, can be cross-checked
with Panda vahisv, and give much more reliable contemporary
evidence than Nirmala literature.
Therefore, although this is a topic which should be approached with
caution, in recent years, due to research by scholars like late
Prof. Piara Singh Padam, contemporary records kept by the Bhat poets
and Panda genealogists have been made available to research
students. One historical source is Guru Kian Sakhian by Bhai
Sarup Singh Koshish and published by Prof. Piara Singh Padamvi. This is an invaluable source for cross
checking dates and events and enables more objective interpretation
In his introduction, Prof Padam points to the need for further
research into the dates of birth of some Gurus including the date of
birth of Guru Gobind Singh.
Guru Gobind Singh’s date of birth
For example, it would certainly affect our interpretation and
understanding of Guru Gobind Singh ji’s response to the many
challenges he faced when he succeeded Guru Tegh Bahadur as the Tenth
Nanak, if we knew with some certainty that he was a few years older
at the time than traditionally believed.
As late Prof Piara Singh Padam noted in his introduction to Guru
Kian Sakhian, contemporary evidence of Bhat Vahis needs
further research to determine the dates of birth of the Gurus. It is
probable that both, Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Das were some
years older than traditionally believed when they succeeded to
Regarding Guru Gobind Singh’s date of birth, evidence of Sakhi
number 14 in Guru Kian Sakhian is relevant: “Sri Tegh Bahadur ji,
at the age of 35 years, on the day of Samat 1713 Asad Sudi Ekam
started his tirath yatra ( pilgrimage) from Kot Guru Har Rai. When
Sri Guru Har Rai ji passed away he [Tegh Bahadur] with family was
in Patna. Here on Samat 1718 Pokh Massay Sudi Saptmi on Wednesday
Gobind Das was born. Being far away from Punjab he did not get
news of the demise of Guru Har Rai ji sooner. For that reason he
came to Delhi and then Punjab in 1721 to condole with the family.”
(translated from Punjabi by the author).
A rough conversion of the Bikrami (Indian calendar) years mentioned
above gives year 1656 CE as the year when Tegh Bahadur started the
tour of north-eastern Indian subcontinent, year 1661 as the year of
birth of Gobind Das (Guru Gobind Singh) and year 1664 as the year
when he returned to Punjab via Delhi. Prof. Piara Singh Padam
confirms that this was a prolonged tour and Guru Gobind Singh was
born during the later part of this tour at Patna on Poh Sudi
Saptmi in year 1718 Bikrami. That gives Guru Gobind Singh’s
date of birth as 18 December 1661vii.
Although, the Sikh belief is that the Guru Jote-Jugat
succession is not related to age. Nevertheless, age and physical
aspects do assume importance in view of the challenges faced by the
young successors of the two martyr Gurus, Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh
Bahadur i.e. Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh respectively.
When Guru Tegh Bahadur returned from his preaching tour of north and
eastern India by 1670, the family stayed together at Lakhnaur, a
town near Ambala in Haryana, for some time and later toured the
Malwa and Bangar countryside (areas between Sutlej and Delhi).
Gobind Das (later Guru Gobind Singh) accompanied him on these
preaching tours and was in his early teens at the time if Bhat
Vahi evidence is accepted. Before that he had highly
educational experience with the moving vaheerviii
for some months when travelling from Patna to reach Lakhnaur on 13
He was deeply touched by Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Bani as the latter took
Guru Nanak’s egalitarian message far and wide to the ordinary
people. He discussed the plight of the Brahmin representatives led
by Kashmiri Pandits with Guru Tegh Bahadur before the latter’s
departure for Delhi to meet emperor Aurungzeb. He fully understood
the nationwide impact and far-reaching consequences of Guru Tegh
Bahadur’s unique martyrdom mentioned in the Bani traditionally
attributed to him.
By that age he would also have been well trained by the Guru himself
in the use of arms, horse riding and huntingix.
Guru Tegh Bahadur had excelled at the battle of Kartarpur at the age
of 14 years in 1635. Chronicles show that he had always kept up his
interest in hunting and the use of armsx.
In fact, he was out hunting with some Sikhs when he was first
arrested at Dhamtan on 8 November 1665.
Vedic literature in people’s language
Young Guru Gobind Dasxi,
initiated as Guru Gobind Singh on the Khalsa Vaisakhi Day of
1699, took over the great responsibility of Guru Nanak’s gaddi
(seat of Guruship) as the Tenth Nanak, following the martyrdom of
his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, at Delhi in 1675. His grandfather,
Guru Hargobind (Sixth Nanak), too had faced similar challenges on
accession to the Gurgaddi following the martyrdom of his father,
Guru Arjan, in 1606. So, both Guruships faced similar external
threats following Guru martyrdoms, and in both cases the need was
felt to protect the garden of Sikhi with the spiky fence of arms.
The strategy followed by Guru Gobind Das was to awaken and energise
a downtrodden people by reminding them of their own great
Indic heritage. The analogy would be that of a great saint-warrior
arriving amongst a humiliated and divided people living in fear of
tyrannical rule and seeking help. The Pandits of Kashmir leading a
deputation which included heads of other Hindu centres in India, had
sought such help from Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Guru Gobind Singh decided to awaken the dormant spirit of the
ordinary people by making available to them literature in the
language they understood about the great deeds of their own
folk heroes: the mythical gods and goddesses, who (in their
belief system) were the forces of good who had fought and
destroyed the forces of evilxii. He
would use the ordinary language of the people, a medium hitherto
forbidden to the lower classes by the high priests, and not the
complex language and mantras in Sanskrit reserved for the
high castes only. Guru Gobind Das had a precedent to follow: Guru
Nanak Sahib also had liberally used folklore and popular idiom in
Gurbani, albeit, imparting new meanings to preach love of One
Timeless Unborn (existing without birth or beginning) Creator
Being before Whom all were equal and in Whose service no
sacrifice was too great.
By doing so, the Guru would unite and rouse the masses and start a
people’s freedom movement. However, he was well aware that in the
process he would also antagonise the priests and the kings of the
very people he would be helping. Therefore, it is not surprising
that the first test of his armed resistance was against the hill
chiefs who had forgotten their true dharam (duty) to protect
and look after the well-being of their own people. He denounced the
priestly class, the biprans, who misled and exploited the ordinary
At the same time, he also offer the people the choice to join the
path followed by his Sikhs. That path required great sacrifice,
death defying courage and total dedication to the worship of One
Supreme Timeless Being.
That is one strategy which Guru Gobind Singh followed. Encouraged by
him, scholars and poets flocked to him and wrote about the heroes of
folklore. He encouraged translation of Vedic literature so that it
could be demystified and people could understand it.
The literature associated with Guru Gobind Singh should be seen in
its proper context as above, as a means of awakening the people to
their own past which showed the triumph of good over evil. Yet, in
another sense, it also exposed the content of ancient myth and lore
to the scrutiny of the more discerning. Many decided to give up the
old ways to join the expanding ranks of the Guru’s mar-jeevra
(reborn) Khalsa. From Guru Nanak Sahib onwards, the Guru Jote
(divine Light) warned that Sikhi demanded one’s ego-centric head!
Sikhi was a challenging and difficult path of love and sacrifice to
follow. A Path of detachment and yet fully participative in the
Creators world-play. It rejected the opt-out lifestyle of the Indic
The Guru’s mission
As the true successor of Guru Nanak Sahib, the Guru was the chosen
instrument of the Timeless Being with the mission to destroy
evil and to protect the saintly and the downtrodden. Presented in
these terms, a parallel connection between his mission and the deeds
of the ancient Indic heroes was made in the people’s psyche. It
motivated them to make great sacrifices under his lead in their just
war against subjugation and all sorts of persecution.
Guru Tegh Bahadur’s teachings and supreme sacrifice for the
universal right to follow one’s chosen religious path had left a
deep impression on Guru Gobind Singh.
While Guru Tegh Bahadur’s teachings bear witness to the truths
enunciated by Guru Nanak and his successors and the conformity of
Guru Tegh Bahadur to their religious ideology…. there is a new
dimension, a new note of urgency, and a sense of intense
concern…Life is short; it hastens away; but it provides
opportunity for those who would take it. Participation without
entanglement is ideal, which can be realized only through conquest
of fear. The idea is not altogether new, but the insistence is.
The Sikhs are asked to acknowledge him alone as truly wise who is
not afraid of others and who inspires no fear in others. Himself
prepared for the worst eventualities, Guru Tegh Bahadur wanted
others also to face life with couragexiii.
For Guru Gobind Singh, his own mission had been made clear to him by
his father Guru Tegh Bahadur as he was making preparation to go to
Delhi to confront the emperor Aurungzeb with his policy of religious
bigotry. Guru Arjan Sahib also had instructed his son Guru Hargobind
about the need for armed defence before he was martyred in Lahore in
1606. Similarly, Guru Hargobind had mandated his youngest son (Guru)
Tegh Bahadur with the mission to revive the network of Guru Nanak’s
sangats as the Guru’s Khalsa, a mission which he accomplished with
total dedication but at the cost of his own lifexiv.
Thus, such briefing was more apparent in Guruship successions from
Guru Arjan onwards to ensure next-steps continuity in Guru Nanak
Sahib’s miri-piri (temporal and ideological) mission. It is
almost certain from Bhat Bani that this tradition started with Guru
Nanak Sahib when he passed on Guruship to Bhai Lehna as Guru Angad
(Nanak II) and onwards.
Guru Gobind Singh’s great grandfather, Guru Arjan (Fifth Nanak) and
his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur (Ninth Nanak) had given one type of
response to the bigotry of the rulers through their martyrdoms. He
was destined to give another through armed defence. He would unite
people from diverse backgrounds and turn them into invincible
saint-warriors. The myth of Mughal superiority in the battlefield
had already been exploded by the Sikh saint-warriors of his
grandfather, Guru Hargobind.
Thus, the ultimate choice for responding to the urgency - imminent
external threat hinted at - in Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Bani, was clear.
Aurungzeb’s policy of converting all the sub-continent to Islam and
establishing a one religion Islamic state was being ruthlessly
pursued by overzealous regional commanders throughout the empire
through forced mass conversions. Many Hindu sacred temples had been
demolished. In addition there was tax - the jizya - imposed
on non Muslims, also referred to in Guru Nanak Sahib’s Asa ki
Yet, this massive threat faced by young Guru Gobind Das belie the
underlying strength of his heritage. As the successor of Guru Nanak,
there was much which the Guru had inherited. The network of Guru
Nanak’s sangats had been revived by Guru Hargobind in the districts
between Sutlej and Delhi and by the extensive parchaar
(preaching) tours of Guru Tegh Bahadur which covered the Indian
subcontinent and beyond. (see more under “Internal dissensions”
Physical fitness, marshal arts, swordsmanship and horse-riding had
already become an established Sikh tradition progressively
introduced from the time of Guru Angad (Nanak II) and continued by
experienced tutors liked Baba Budha ji. The Sikh fighting skills
were demonstrated in the battlefields of Amritsar and Kartarpur by
the sahibzadas (sons) and the Sikhs of Guru Hargobind. The
hitherto invincibility of professional Mughal generals and warriors
had been shattered by the Guru and his trans-caste people’s army in
which the highest was equal to the lowest.
The Guru, and later, the Khalsa armies, had sustained supply of men
and women (Singh-Singhania) warriors from different social
backgrounds. Ordinary people sided with and willingly sheltered Sikh
freedom fighters. The Mughal power, backed by a vast empire, was
overwhelming at first but not sustainable over the decades as
revolts broke out. Moderate Muslims too turned against the cruelty
of the local nawabs. Egalitarian Khalsa institutions of langar,
sharing, daswandhxvi and sewa
(community service) sustained the Khalsa armies fighting the war of
independence. They learnt about mutual interdependence as they
fought for freedom from the invaders from the north-west
collectively called the turaksxvii.
Spiritually and morally, the Panth of Guru Nanak, now led by Guru
Gobind Singh was in a strong position against an empire which was
already facing rebellions.
As Dr Gopal Singh wrote:
While the Guru had such a hostile array of forces
against him, he also had many positive assets. His followers
spread far and wide….made their offerings regularly, visited him
at least once every year, and no sacrifice was too great for
them in the Guru’s cause. Mostly small peasants, artisan and
traders ( though occasionally these also included sovereigns of
state and rich merchants), their one aim in life was to achieve
salvation through the Guru’s door by seeking his benediction. It
is them that the Guru wanted to organise into a more cohesive,
more determined, more self-sacrificing group, cutting across all
intermediaries like the masands, and infusing in them the spirit
of nationhood as much as spiritual hope.xviii
Emperor Aurungzeb had further antagonised the Brahmins who had
sought protection from Guru Tegh Bahadur, thus also acknowledging
him as the True Guru on Guru Nanak Sahib’s Gurgaddi.
The circumstances of the well-publicised unique martyrdom of Guru
Tegh Bahadur at Delhi for religious freedom, witnessed by the
leaders of Islam, Hinduism and other religions and sects had sent a
massive shock wave across the Indian subcontinent and beyond. Guru
Gobind Singh was well aware of the great impact amongst the masses
of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom which had added a new urgency to
resist Aurungzeb’s bigotry
Serious divisions in the Guru family had started when Prithi Chand,
the eldest son of Guru Ramdas (Fourth Nanak) opposed the succession
of his youngest brother, Guru Arjan as the Fifth Nanak in 1581. The
disputes reached the emperors of Delhi in the years that followed.
Many pretenders to Guruship had appeared at the village of Bakala
following the demise of Guru Har Krishan (Eight Nanak) towards end
These internal divisions amongst the followers of Guru Nanak
resulted in small gurudoms with own masands (regional
representatives or preachers) touting their own guru business. Yet,
a response to these internal rivalries had already been started by
the Gurus before Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Hargobind (Sixth Nanak) had
already started the process of linking the sangats directly
with the Gurgaddi as the Guru’s Khalsaxix.
Later, the initiation of Khande ki pahul was introduced by
Guru Gobind Singh on the Vaisakhi of 1699 when the full identity of
the Khalsa was revealed.
This was a setback for the gurudoms and deras set up by the rivals
in the Guru family and the masands. Thus, they were confined
mostly to Punjab west of river Sutlej. In later years, following the
battles of Anandpur in 1704, the loyalty of the sangats in
the Malwa area (south and east of Sutlej) ensured Guru Gobind
Singh’s safe passage to Damdama Sahib and beyond.
Guruship impersonalised and the process of decision-making
passed on to the Khalsa Panth
The process of impersonalising Guruship had in fact started with
Guru Nanak Sahib. From the outset, the Guru preached the importance
of Bani-Guru (Word Guru) enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib and
Gur-Sangat (the holy congregation). Bhai Gurdas confirmed
that the true image (moorat) of the Guru was the Guru’s Shabd,
the Guru’s Word, or teaching. Guru Gobind Singh submitted himself to
the collective will of the Khalsa by undergoing the Amrit
initiation from the Panj Piaray (the Five Beloved Ones). He
proclaimed that the Khalsa was in his own image and represented him.
After Guru Gobind Singh, by his own injunction, the Guruship
continued from the person Guru to the joint Guruship of Bani Guru,
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and Gur Sangat as the Guru Khalsa.
He took up arms to resist bigotry and tyrannical rule to empower the
ordinary people. He fought 14 battles between 1688 (Battle of
Bhangani) and 1705 (Battle of Muktsar) against impossible odds to
see the fall of the bigoted emperor Aurungzeb in 1707. He laid the
foundation for the people’s rule in Punjab as the Khalsa raj in
which all were equal partners. He sacrificed his whole family and
thousands of his beloved Khalsa gave their lives willingly for his
cause, but he always remained in Chardhi Kalaa (in positive
spirit while accepting God’s Will).
Thus, Guru Gobind Singh ji completed his mission:
“For this purpose was I born: to spread righteous
living, to raise the saintly people and to destroy the evil
(Guru Gobind Singh, Bachittar Natak)
Truly there was and never will be another like Guru Gobind Singh,
the greatest saint-warrior of all times.
References and notes:
i Dr J S Grewal, The Sikhs of Punjab,
Cambridge University Press 1995, p 76
ii I was faced with this problem from
the outset when invited to study the life and martyrdom of Guru Tegh
Bahadur ji in early 2016. The work was completed by April 2017 and
published by the Sikh Missionary Society UK with the title, Guru
Tegh Bahadur: The True Story.
iii Nirmala teachings incorporated Sikh
teachings and doctrines within a largely Hindu/Vedantic framework.
iv Nirmala teachings incorporated Sikh
teachings and doctrines within a largely Hindu/Vedantic
framework…... In addition to the Adi Granth, they rely on the Vedas,
Shastras, Puranas and Epic literature.
v Pandas were professional genealogists
vi Guru Kian Sakhian, (Punjabi) by
Saroop Singh Koshish, edited and published by Piara Singh Padam,
Singh Brothers, Amritsar 3rd edition 1995.
vii For further reading: Guru
Gobind Singh's Date of Birth by Gurinder Singh Sacha
viii A sizeable group of men, women
and children moving along like a caravan with carts, luggage and
animals with armed guards. Prominent Sikh preachers accompanied the
vaheer which made prolonged stops at sangat centres in India.
ix More about Guru Tegh Bahadur’s keen
interest in weapons and hunting in Guru Tegh Bahaur: The True Story,
by the author, published by the Sikh Missionary Society UK 2017.
x Guru Tegh Bahadur’s daily routine when
he stayed at Lakhnaur with his family including (Guru) Gobind Das is
well described by Koer Singh in his Gurbilas Patshahi 10 at p 42.
Translation in the author’s publication Guru Tegh Bahadur: The True
Story,ibid, p 39
xi Hukamnamas of Guru Tegh Bahadur and
the Bhat Vahis confirm Gobind Das as the Guru’s name and not Gobind
xii “What was common to these crucial
figures of the old Shaktas in the hills and the new Vaishnavas of
the plains was the use of physical force made by the ‘instruments’
of God in favour of the good. The use of physical force was
sanctioned by God” (Grewal JS, The Sikhs of Punjab, Cambridge
University Press, 1995 p 76.)
xiii Dr J S Grewal, The Sikhs of
Punjab, Ibid, p 71
xiv More about Guru Tegh Bahadur’s
mission in Guru Tegh Bahadur: The True Story, by this author,ibid..
xv Gaoo Brahman kau kar laavao Asa ki
Vaar SGGS ang 471.
xvi Daswandh is contribution of one
tenth of one’s income for charitable causes.
xvii Turak (derived from Turk) is
described as the enemy in Sikh writings and should be understood as
referring to the cruel invaders from the north-west who terrorised
ordinary people of all religions. Otherwise, Guru Gobind Singh had
many Muslim supporters and companions. Muslims joined the Khalsa to
repel these plunderers and played a prominent role in the powerful
Khalsa army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839).
xviii Dr Gopal Singh Guru Gobind
Singh, National Book Trust, India 1966, P.9.
xix Khalsa (a term derived from Mughal
land law, as land belonging directly to the sovereign), were the
Sikhs and sangats (congregations) who were directly linked to the
Guru. They did not recognise the masands who were local preachers
appointed by earlier Gurus, and who received offerings on behalf of
the Guru. In time many started enriching themselves by keeping the
offerings. Also, rival gurudoms appointed own masands. The whole
system had become corrupt by the time of Guru Hargobind. Guru Gobind
Singh punished the corrupt masands and abolished the system
altogether by making all sangats his Khalsa..
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