Commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur This Centenary – Part 1

2021 marks 400 years since birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur. In the first of a 4-part series, NIRMAL SINGH looks at the time when the ninth Sikh guru was born. It was merely15 years past the martyrdom of the 5th Guru and nascent Sikhi was passing through a difficult period.

Gurdwara Baba Bakala – Photo: Gurmit Gill / Flickr
By Nirmal Singh | Sikh History | Part 1 |

The year 2021 marks the passing of 400 years since the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur, our 9th Guru, in April 1621. Sikhs at that time were just 15 years past the martyrdom of the 5th Guru and nascent Sikhi was passing through a difficult period. Since the difficulties persevered through a century under ministries of the later Gurus and following several decades of struggle under evolving Sikh leadership before the community could look to some relief, it may help develop a clearer perspective of the role of Guru Tegh Bahadur, if we took an overview of the lead events since  Guru Arjun’s martyrdom.

Historians mostly agree that robust growth of Sikhi made segments among Hindus and Muslims turn increasingly inimical towards the Sikh Gurus. Additionally dissonance in the Guru families provided sharper focus to those hostile towards Gurughar. One effect of action by Jahangir to impose death penalty on Guru Arjun at the behest of orthodox coterie among his courtiers was that it demonstrated the reversal of Akbar’s ‘policy of religious neutrality and eclecticism’ [1] under the new Emperor. The internment of Guru Hargobind, successor of Guru Arjun, would have confirmed the change in policy. Post that Jahangir tried to moderate his relations with the Guru.

Guru Hargobind, while he maintained friendly relations with Jahangir, did not forget to explore other means to strengthen and consolidate the Sikh community. The Guru had accompanied Jahangir to Kashmir and Rajputana and subdued rebellion by Tara Chand of Nalagarh.[2] He however discretely continued to organize and train his band of armed Sikhs and tried to bring the community together by attempting toheal the divide [3] with the Minas. He did not succeed to turn Mina divide round but another opening came up.

Commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur This Centenary Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

In 1624, a few days after his eldest son Gurditta was married, Guru Hargobind with his four sons went to meet Sri Chand at Baarath. Baba Tegh bahadur was three and was not with them. During their stay at Baarath,  Sri Chand asked Guru Hargobind to give a son to him. Guru replied ‘if you desire, they all are available’. Sri Chand gave Udasi bekh to Gurditta. After the Guru left, Gurditta stayed back. Sri Chand explained Udasi Mat and bestowed the Gadi of Pramukh Guru of Udasi Sampardai on him before Gurditta left [4]. It helped heal a divide in the Sikh community going back to the passing of Guru Nanak and Udasis soon became an active component of the Sikh parchar missionary.

In 1627, Jahangir fell ill in Kashmir and decided to go back to Lahore but died on the way. Shahjahan, known to be close to orthodox groups, succeeded in the struggle for succession to the throne and the Sikh-Mughal relations again turned inimical. Sikhs too were not any more hesitant to cross swords with adversaries. Guru Hargobind fought four battles with Mughal forces after which to avoid recurring conflicts, c. 1634 he moved to the hilly area of Shiwaliks and set up base at Kiratpur, outside the territory under direct Mughal control. [5] But Amritsar slipped into Mina hands.

Gopal Singh [6] records that under Guru Hargobind seats of Sikhism were consolidated from Kabul to Dacca — His son Baba Gurditta, as the Pramukh Guru of Udasis, set up four Dhuans that supplemented the system of sangat and masand to further spread teachings of Guru Nanak. Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Entry Dhuan, PUP, adds that these Dhuans were initially assigned to different areas but later each of the branches spread out and established their preaching centers over the country. The Dhuan headed by Bhai Almast, with its headquarter at Nanak Mata had branches in Eastern India including at Dhaka. A couple of decades later the sangats in Eastern India provided not only strategic depth to the Sikh community but also became the source of support and funds to the Gurus in the difficult times – notwithstanding the dislocation forced by adverse disposition of the Mughal Government and family rebels.

Guru Hargobind, before he passed away in 1644, installed Har Rai, the younger son of Gurditta, as the successor Guru. Gurditta had predeceased his father in 1638 and none of other children of the Guru ‘seemed suitable for the position’. Dhir Mal, elder brother of Har Rai was rejected because he had ‘formed an alliance with Emperor Shāh Jahān’. Dhir Mal also claimed to possess the original copy of Adi Granth to support his claim to Gurgadi and continued to intervene in later succession too [7]. After the ceremony, Guru Hargobind asked everyone to bow to Guru Har Rai and Baba Tegh Bahadur, 24 and by passed, was the first to do so. [8]

Guru Har Rai had a peaceable disposition and he moved further into the interior close to Sirmor and stayed there most of the time. During his ministry, three new branches of Udasis known as Bakshishes were added to the already large Udasi order. Guru Har Rai had blessed the Bakshishes known as Suthrashahis, Bhagat Bhagwanias and Sangat Sahibis. This was helpful to Guru’s constrained missionary in Shiwaliks.

Guru Har Rai’s relations with Shahjahan had improved after he helped treat his favorite son, Dara Shikoh. But Aurangzeb’s ascension to the throne ‘in 1658 marked beginning of long, consistent and active policy to gain a control over the Sikh religious affairs [9]’-  foreboding the testing times in the half century ahead.

Aurangzeb sent a message to Guru Har Rai ‘to deliver his son Ram Rai as a hostage for the Guru’s reputed support of Dara Shikoh’. Aurangzeb asked Ram Rai after his arrival in Delhi, to explain a verse from Asa ki Var in Adi Granth. Ram Rai replied that the text had been miscopied and should have been mitti beiman ki, the dust left after cremating the bodies of faithless people. Guru Har Rai, on hearing of this, decided not to see Ram Rai again for changing the word of Guru Nanak [10]. Before his passing in October 1661, Guru Har Rai installed his younger son, age five, Har Krishan as Guru.

Ram Rai was rewarded by Aurangzeb with land grants in Dehra Dun region. After few years, in Jan 1664, Aurangzeb summoned Guru Har Krishan, through Raja Jai Singh, to appear at his court [11]. The Guru came to Delhi and was lodged at the house of Jai Singh.

When Guru Har Krishan was summoned, Kunwar Ram Singh was present with Guru the first day. [12] In the session Ram Rai was emphatic that decision of his father to install his brother was based on cogent reasons. It went well but the next session planned for the following day could not be held because Guru Har Krishan passed away that night. Gandhi says that appearance with Aurangzeb was fixed for 28th March but the Guru went into a retreat for 5 days on 25th March due to which, the appearance did not take place at all.

When Guru Har Krishan was sick with small pox, Baba Tegh Bahadur arrived in Delhi on 21st March from his visit, at the urging of Guru Har Rai, to sangats in Patna and the East from 1656 to 1664. He was on way back to Bakala and with his mother visited Guru Har Krishan to offer condolences on passing of Guru Har Rai. [13]

Guru Har Krishan passed away on 30 March, 1664 and his dying words were, “Baba Bakala”, indicating that his successor Guru was in Bakala. This was considered by many as a cryptic utterance but those in the know had no doubt who was the person in view of Guru Har Krishan. [14]


Sikhs had witnessed the happenings over the decades since the martyrdom of the fifth Guru and had no doubt that the Mughal Kings had made continued attempts to contain the activities of each of the Gurus and possibly install a person who would take the cue from them – an effort in which they succeeded only to distract but in the process firmed up the resolve of the Gurus and Sikhs to resist Mughal interference.

Baba Tegh Bahadur had stayed in touch with Guru Har Rai and had undertaken parchar to Patna at the Guru’s suggestion. His brother in law, Kirpal, a soldier in Guru Har Rai’s armed guard is also said to have kept Tegh Bahadur informed of the Sikh developments periodically.[15] It is reasonable to infer that Tegh Bahadur had stayed sensitive to Sikh happenings but without at any time interfering in the matters. It is also possible that the Mughals with their ears to the ground, would have been conscious of the possibility of Tegh Bahadur becoming the Guru, with some trepidation, at a juncture when they were closing in to control of the Guru institution.

Sangat Singh has speculated that the delay in announcing ascension of Tegh Bahadur to Gurgadi by months was a strategic ploy to keep Aurangzeb and his close coterie from guessing who was going to succeed the 8th Guru to Gurgadi [16] lest they try to harm or in any way compromise the person.

As soon as news got out that the dying words of Guru Har Krishan were Baba Bakala, there was flurry of activity in Bakala as local as well as outside aspirants of Gur Gadi set up shop as potential Guru choice. The total number is put at 22 that included Sodhis of various lineages like Minas, Dhir Mal, Sodhis of Lahore, and descendents of Suraj Mal plus a crop of local impostors [17]. Tegh Bahadur judiciously stayed aloof from this rush. Per Surjit Singh Gandhi, Dhir Mal was the most vociferous of the claimants.

After over four months, a Delhi Sangat led by Diwan Durga Mal and others including Mata Sulakhni, mother of Guru Har Krishan, Baba Gurditta son of Baba Budhha came to Bakala and Baba Gurditta performed the ritual ceremony of installing Tegh Bahadur as Guru. Sangat Singh says that the Guru asked for promise to maintain silence for the time being.  Ranbir Singh records that it was a quiet, private ceremony. Surjit Gandhi’s version is that it was an open ceremony where grandson of Bhai Mohan, son of Guru Amardas, was also present. [18]

The news finally became public on the Diwali day, 9 October 1664, when Makhan Shah Lubhana came to make his mannat – promised offering to the Guru for saving his prized merchandise on high seas and was aghast at so many people posing as Guru. Each one of them accepted two gold coins he offered but when Makhan Shah got to Guru Tegh Bahadur, he asked for the 500 coins he had promised. That became the ‘gur ladho re’ moment – the joyful, spontaneous expression that Lubhana is said to have uttered and has since become a part of Sikh memory. It continues to be retold by the kathakars and ragis lauding the miraculous finding and thankful acceptance of the true Guru by Sikhs. Gopal Singh sees the process of elevation of Tegh Bahadur to have been ‘an election by consensus’ [19]- a speculation because consensus of aspirants was invariably sought but its absence did not change the choice that the earlier Guru has made!

Dhirmal continued to be sullenly skeptical and his Masand Sihan made a gun assault on the Guru one night. The Guru suffered a minor injury, was calm but Sikhs were upset. They plundered Dhir Mal’s house and took away the Saroop of original Adi Granth that he had appropriated. The Guru did not approve of the revenge attack and asked Sikhs to return the sacred Text to Dhir Mal which was done. [20]

Tegh Bahadur was now the publicly acknowledged successor to Guru Hari Krishan. He appointed Bhai Mati Das and Sati Das as Dewan and Minister and Bhai Dayal Das as household minister. [21]

(To be continued)



[1] Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs, Manohar, New Delhi, 1999, p. 44.

[2] This assertion is found in several accounts. Surjit Singh Gandhi, History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606-1708, p. 506, has attributed it to Sikh tradition.

[3] Prithia died in 1618.  Guru Hargobind met Meharban and talked of need to get past the differences that existed between their fathers. Meharban was adamantly opposed to reconciliation. For more, read Gandhi,  Ibid.

[4] Life History: Baba Sri Chand Ji & Founding of Udasi Sect, Giani Ishar Singh Nara, Translated into English by Harinder Singh Bedi, MS, pp. 274-76

[5] Encyclopedia Brittanica site – accessed 16 March 2021.

[6] Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People, Allied Publishers, 2002, note on p. 228. See also Gandhi, ibid, from challengers, the Udasis had turned supporters, p.631.

[7] This account is per Encyclopedia Brittanica site, accessed 20/3/2021.

[8] Ranbir Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Chief Khalsa Diwan, 1975 – full text of the book can be accessed at:

[9] Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History, New Delhi, 1999, p. 53

[10] Ibid, Brittanica

[11] Ibid, Sangat, p. 55

[12] Ibid, Sangat, p. 56; Gandhi, quoting Malcom’s Sketch of the Sikhs, says in note 23 on p. 626, ibid, that the dispute between Ram Rai and the Guru went to Aurangzeb and he had ruled that Sikhs were allowed to elect their own priest [Guru]. They picked Guru Har Krishan.

[13] See Sangat, ibid, p. 55: Gopal Singh ibid, note* on p. 249; for a detailed account see Gandhi, ibid, p. 622

[14] See DSGMC site and Wikipedia entry Guru Har Krishan. In any case, the insiders present in Delhi knew about the call by Baba Tegh Bahadur on the Guru and that he was headed to Bakala.

[15] Gandhi, ibid, p. 621.

[16] Sangat, ibid, p. 57

[17] ibid

[18] See Sangat, ibid, p. 57; Ranbir Singh, ibid; Gandhi, ibid, p. 623.

[19] See Gopal Singh, ibid, pp. 244-45 and note*

[20] See Gopal Singh, ibid, p. 245

[21] See Gandi, ibid, p. 625.

[Nirmal Singh has written six books on Sikhs and Sikhi and several of his articles have been published in journals like Sikh Review, Journal of Sikh Studies and Comparative Religion and Abstracts of Sikh Sudies (IOSS) as well as in the US mainstream news media. Resident in Orlando, he spends considerable time in Delhi. The article will also appear in The Sikh Review‘s Special 4th Centenary of Birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur issue due 1 May 2021]



Conundrum of religion for peace and tricky reality for Sikhs – Part 1 (Asia Samachar, 20 Jan 2020)

The story of Guru Tegh Bahadur reads like a novel (Asia Samachar, 1 Aug 2020)

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