The Sikh December Blues: The separation of Guru Gobind Singh’s family

In this second of a 4-part series, B. S. BAINS looks at the events leading to the tragic separation of Guru Gobind Singh family

An artist impression of Guru Gobind Singh and his Fauj crossing the Sarsa River – Source: Unknown

By Dr. B. S. Bains | Sikh History |


River Sarsa in Punjab holds a somber significance in Sikh history, being regarded as a cursed river. In connection with my article titled The Sikh December Blues (Asia Samachar, Dec 6, 2023), I invite readers to delve deeper into the second part. This crucial moment transpired in December 1704, during the winter season, marking a pivotal juncture in the life of Guru Gobind Singh—the last living Guru of the Sikhs. It signifies the historical separation of his family, never to reunite again.

Emerging from the Shivalik foothills in Southern Himachal Pradesh, a state located to the east of Punjab, with Shimla serving as its capital, the river Sarsa courses its way towards the western part of the Solan district before entering Punjab. Eventually, Sarsa converges with the river Sutlej, the longest among the renowned five tributaries (Jhelum, Bias, Chenab, and Ravi) of the Indus River, a region where the ancient Indus civilization once thrived. Collectively, these five rivers bestow the name Punjab, with “Panj” denoting FIVE in the northern undivided Panjab province. Upon joining the Sutlej at the eastern border of Punjab in the Rupnagar district, near Chandigarh, the river continues its journey towards the western Indian Ocean, passing through part of today’s Panjab in Pakistan.


Formerly known as “Chak Nanaki,” Anandpur is a town situated to the east of Punjab, founded by Guru Teg Bahadur, the 9th Guru of the Sikhs and the father of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Following the brutal decapitation of his father, under the order of Mughal King Aurangzeb, Guru Gobind Singh Ji erected a fort in Anandpur to safeguard and alert the city from invaders. Positioned between the Shivalik hills to the east and the river Sarsa to its southwest, Anandpur holds a significant historical presence.

The Sikh Gurus posed a formidable challenge to the Mughal Kingdom that held sway over India at the time. The Mughals sought to compel the entire Indian populace to embrace Islam as their religion. In the face of this, the Sikhs of Punjab emerged as a staunch resistance, confronting numerous wars initiated by the Mughals. Demonstrating remarkable resilience, unwavering loyalty to their faith, and being spiritually and physically charged by their Gurus, the Sikhs stood firm. After the assassination of Guru Teg Bahadur, the Mughals targeted the young Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who was merely 9 years old, but was imbued with the divine wisdom of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, guided by the Will of the Almighty.

PART 1: The Sikh December Blues

PART 2: The Sikh December Blues: The separation of Guru Gobind Singh’s family

PART 3: The Sikh December Blues: The Chamkaur Chapter of the Sikhs (Part III)

PART 4: The Sikh December Blues: Chamkaur & Thence After: The Guru’s Momentous Escape (Part IV)

Believing that the Sikhs would be weakened after the assassination of Guru Teg Bahadur and anticipating no resistance, the Mughals endeavored to annihilate Anandpur Sahib and eradicate the Sikh faith entirely. Contrary to their expectations, young Guru Gobind Singh, a spiritual prowess, proved to be a formidable adversary, outsmarting them and presenting a significant challenge. Despite multiple Mughal attacks, the Mughals suffered substantial defeats

Their military engagements were strictly defensive, with the primary objective of preserving humanity and ensuring the rights and dignity of the people in the Northern Indian region at that time. The goal was to create an environment where individuals could live harmoniously and freely practice their faith without fear. Guru Ji’s protection extended not only to Sikhs and his followers but also encompassed Hindus, Buddhists, Shia Muslims, and Jains in the region. He demonstrated profound love and affection, encouraging them to remain in tune with the Almighty. This sentiment is encapsulated in his renowned sayings:

  • Manas ki Jaat sabhe eke pehchanbo” (ਮਾਨਸ ਕੀ ਜਾਤ ਸਬੈ ਏਕੈ ਪਹਿਚਾਨਬੋ) – Recognize the entire human race as of one caste.
  • Deora masit soi, pooja namaz ohi” – The temple and mosque are the same, and worship and prayer are the same

As Guru Ji strengthened his followers spiritually, he recognized the need to prepare them as warriors against the Mughal Kings and the Rajput Hill Rajas. To achieve this, he established an institution known as the Khalsa, which he referred to as the Pure Defenders of Humanity. This development heightened tensions with the Hill Rajas, who were opposed to Guru Gobind Singh remaining at Anandpur on his own terms. Despite numerous attempts by the hill chiefs, they failed to dislodge him from Anandpur in most of the battles.

Facing diplomatic challenges, the hill chiefs, supported by the Mughal authorities, urged Guru Ji to leave Anandpur. In a diplomatic maneuver, they promised a safe evacuation of Anandpur Sahib town. Seeking assurance from Aurangzeb, they secured his pledge on the Qur’an for a peaceful and voluntary evacuation. Faced with pressure from the town’s residents, including some of his Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh reluctantly decided to leave Anandpur against his own judgment, as he knew the oaths sworn upon by the Mughals and Hill Rajas will not be honored.


Guru Ji opted for the early hours of the day to depart from Anandpur. In the bleak and ominous night, marked by a chilling wind hinting at an approaching thunderstorm, Guru Ji, accompanied by his beloved Sikhs and family, vacated the fort in December 1704.

True to form, despite the adverse weather conditions and the rising tide of the Sarsa, the Mughals and Hill Rajahs betrayed Guru Ji, breaking their oaths. In fact, they clandestinely trailed Guru Ji’s entourage with a substantial force of soldiers and initiated a fierce attack, commencing from the rear, at Shahi Tibbi 14km away from Anandpur, with utmost intensity, aiming to capture Guru Ji.

Guru Ji had previously organized groups in anticipation of an impending attack. The group led by Sahibzada Baba Ajit Singh Ji, the eldest son of Guru Ji at the age of 17, made the decision to confront the attackers and stood resolute to prevent them from advancing any further, thereby protecting Guru Ji and the rest of the group.

Nevertheless, Baba Ajit Singh Ji received a recall on the directive of the Five Beloved (Panj Pyare), the individuals initiated by Guru Ji to form the first Five Khalsa in Anandpur. They commanded him to rejoin Guru Ji and traverse the Sarsa River, as a formidable army led by Mughal Generals Zabardast Khan and Wazir Khan, in collaboration with the Hill Rajas, sought to obliterate the entourage, capture Guru Ji, and bring a conclusion to the Sikh chapter. Reports indicate that a force of 500,000 soldiers was mobilized with the aim of eliminating Guru Ji’s entire entourage, resulting in a devastating loss of life. The victors, unsurprisingly, were the Mughals and the Hill Rajas, as Guru Ji witnessed a significant toll on his Sikh followers.

It stands as one of the most sorrowful moments in Sikh history; not only did Guru Ji lose numerous cherished fellow Sikhs in this battle, but also invaluable possessions, documents, and writings. Crossing the wild and unforgiving River Sarsa amidst a thunderstorm and high tide, Guru Ji and some of his entourage experienced a tragic separation, with the family never to reunite again.

Left with only 40 Sikhs, Guru Ji and his two elder sons, Sahibzada Ajit Singh and Sahibzada Jujhar Singh proceeded towards Bhoor Majra and eventually reached Chamkaur. Guru Ji’s wife Mata Sundar Kaur, Mata Sahib Kaur, and Bhai Mani Singh Ji, Guru Ji’s close associate, journeyed towards Delhi, while Mata Gujari, mother of Guru Ji. along with Guru Ji’s younger sons Sahibzada Zorawar Singh Ji and Sahibzada Fateh Singh Ji, was escorted by Ganggu, their cook, to his village Kheri. All of these villages are situated in today’s Ropar District, 45km east of Chandigarh.

This historical separation of Guru Gobind Singh represents an unparalleled agony, surpassing any suffering that a saint may endure on the surface of the earth. These immense sacrifices remain etched in the collective memory of Sikhs. Despite efforts to chronicle the events, the harrowing scenes call upon us to imagine and empathize with the grief and agony embedded deep within our beloved Guru Ji.

Even in contemporary times, it remains a tradition for Sikh passersby to express their discontent when crossing the River Sarsa. Some pedestrians opt to remove their shoes and strike the riverbank, while others may vocalize their frustration towards the river. A Gurdwara named Parivar Vichora (Family Separation Gurdwara) has been erected at the site, commemorating Guru Gobind Singh’s separation with artifacts recovered from the river. Additionally, another Gurdwara stands in memory of the location where Guru Ji’s entourage was attacked before crossing the River Sarsa, known as Gurdwara Sahib Shahi Tibbi.

(Parts III and IV of “The December Blues of the Sikh” are currently in the process of being constructed.)

Dr Balwant Singh Bains is a Malaysia-based kirtan enthusiast and a practicing physiotherapist with a chain of physiotherapy clinics.


Who gave Sikhs their turban? (Asia Samachar, 25 Sept 2023)

Guru Nanak’s Life and Works: A Scientific Perspective (Asia Samachar, 27 Oct 2022)

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  1. Great wrriteup on Gurujiji sarsaa crossing the 2nd example of our Great Guru not showing any kala or miracle to save his Precious Sikhs he asking the RoaringSarsa to give way to his army leaving to Tera bhana mitha lage 1rst incidence when Guru Arjan Dev was put on Tati.Lo the burning plate with burning sand pot on His head also was tera Bhana Miitja lage whereas when Maharaja Ranjitbsingh took his army to reach his wounded Great General Hari Singh Nalwa the rever Atak was raged same way as Sara Bhai Veer singh did ardaas and read the tuk of Japji sahib sunie haath hove asgah and read this tuk 13 times resulting in the rive gave way the water parted giving way to the whole army with not loosing a single soilder same was the same way asMoses parted the Dead Sea Thets how the river in Pashawar got the name Atak meaning Stop your flow Here power of bani is demonstrated by a great Saint Bhai Veer singh ji How Great were our Gurus Who Never exhibited the power They had Gurufatheh ji

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