Commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur This Centenary – Part 2

2021 marks 400 years since birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur. In the second of a 4-part series, NIRMAL SINGH tells us that in November 1664, custodians of Hari Mandar, Amritsar, had closed the doors when Guru wanted to pay obeisance. What happens in the next one decade?

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Baba Bakala_photo manorr_2008_1
By Nirmal Singh | Sikh History | Part 2 |
(Click here for Part 1)
THE TEGH BAHADUR MINISTRY Oct. 1664- Nov. 1675

In November 1664 Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled to Amritsar to pay obeisance at Hari Mandir Sahib but ‘when he tried to enter the temple, its doors were closed upon him by the custodian of the temple [Harji]’ highlighting the continuation of familial hiatus. [22]

The Guru reached Kiratpur in May 1665, and in June 1665 the Guru bought some land from Raja of Bilaspur near Makhowal village and founded a new town named after his mother as Chak-Nanki. Later this town was renamed as Anandpur. Baba Gurditta son of Baba Buddha, had laid its foundation.

After a brief stay, in August 1665, Guru Tegh Bahadur, accompanied by his family and some Sikhs, set out for a missionary tour of sangats towards the East. The response was overwhelming, causing concern to Mughals. Upon reaching Dhamdhan in Banger area in December 1665,  a Mughal enforcement officer Alam Khan arrested the Guru and some of his associates and  produced them before Emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered to hand them over to Kanwar Ram Singh, son of Raja Jai Singh. Released after about two months, he resumed his mission and reached Patna via Agra, Allahabad, Benaras and Sasaram in May 1666. They halted at Patna as arrangements for the stay of the Guru’s family were made. Guru Tegh Bahadur proceeded to Dacca in October 1666. Mata Gujri was the expecting and a son was born on 22 Dec. 1666.

At Dacca the Guru established a Hazuri Sangat with the help of Bhai Almast. Gurdwara Sangat Tola now marks the place where Guru Sahib used to deliver his sermons. It was here that the Guru heard of birth of his son. From Dacca, Guru proceeded to Chittagong via Jatia Hills, Sylhet and Agartala and returned to Dacca in 1668.

Raja Ram Singh, deputed by Aurangzeb, was then in Dacca for his expedition to Assam. He met the Guru and requested him to accompany on the expedition. Guru agreed and the Guru’s presence is credited to have made possible the historic avoidance of a bloody conformation between the ruler of Kamrup and Raja Ram Singh.

An alternate account is that Aurangzeb deputed Raja Ram Singh, under house-arrest for negligence since escape of Shivaji, to the tough task to recapture Gauhati seized by Raja of Kamrup. Ram Singh knowing that Guru Tegh Bahadur had gone to Patna, halted there and learnt from Masand Bhai Dyal Das, that the Guru was at Dacca and planned to go to Dhubri and Assam to revive the Sikh centers established by Guru Nanak. Ram Singh set off to Dacca, met the Guru who acceded to his request to accompany him. A negotiated settlement took place and Guru Tegh Bahadur was asked to mark the new boundry line between the two forces. Mughals and Assamese agreed to co-exist without interfering in each other’s territory. [23]

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

The Guru returned to Patna to learn that under orders of Aurangzeb, things had turned ugly for Hindus and some Gurudwaras too had been demolished. He decided to return to Anandpur immediately. As had happened on his way out, the Guru along with some prominent Sikhs, was arrested also on the return journey at Agra in June 1670 – released by an imperial court at Delhi after a short detention.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was the first Guru to visit Sikh sangats in Eastern India set up 150 years earlier at the instance of Guru Nanak. These sangats saw increase in the days of succeeding Gurus who placed them under Masands to collect offerings and minister to the spiritual needs of devotees. In the time of the sixth Guru, Sikh sangats were firmly established at several places including Agra, Bina, Burhanpur, Mongher, Prayag, Ujjain, Gujrat, Lucknow, Patna, Daaca and Raj Mahal. [24]

The Guru returned to Anandpur around 1671. He had spent about 5 ½ years, and as it turned out, 50 % of his total ministry in the missionary to the East. Besides this, he had earlier, prior to becoming Guru, spent some time in that area. The Guru also blessed Mihan Shahi  Bakshish. Guru Gobind Singh later blessed Jitmaliyas and Bakhatmalia groups. The Udasis thus became active participants in the effort launched by the later Gurus to spread the message of Guru Nanak and to the propagation of Sikh faith. [25]

Around 1672, the Guru set out on missionary to Malwa region of Punjab that lasted about 1 ½ years. The mission assisted in planting trees, digging community wells and cattle heads being distributed to encourage dairy farming. Several Muslim followers of Sakhi Sarvar adopted Sikhi. These developments did not sit well with fundamentalist Muslims and the ruling elite.

Concurrently Brahmins at major pilgrimage centers and Kashmir had been told to turn Muslims or face death. At this juncture, a group of Kashmiri Pandits led by Kirpa Ram came and met Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur in May 1675 to seek his protection. The Guru, ‘after long discussions with prominent Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits’ made up his mind to sacrifice himself for the cause of “Righteousness” and for the freedom of “Dharma.”

The script played out fully. The Guru’s offer was conveyed to Aurangzeb who was said to be pleased to accept it. The Guru with his three companions – Sati Das, Mati Das and Dayal Das – set out from Anandpur. All of them were  arrested and brought to Delhi. In time, the authorities offered three alternatives to the Guru viz : (1) show miracles, or (2) embrace Islam, or (3) face death. The Guru accepted the last and did not budge from his resolve even after his three companions were tortured to death. He was publicly put to death by severing the head from his body in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk on November 11, 1675 [26]. Gurdwara Sis Ganj marks the place where the execution took place.

The divine miracle followed in the form of a storm when a devotee Lakhi Shah Lubana, retrieved the Guru’s dead body and cremated it by burning down his house and young Jaita, who separately took the severed head of Guru Tegh Bahadur to Anandpur, was honored by the young Guru Gobind Rai as “Rangretta Guru Ka Beta” and the head was cremated with full honor and proper ceremonies the next day. [27]

 

TESTIMONY OF GURU GOBIND SINGH & SOME OTHER VIEWS

The event of martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur has been briefly but succinctly recorded by Guru Gobind Singh. His testimony is recorded in Dasam Granth Canto 5, Verses 13-16 in the following words [28]:

“God manifested a great event in the Iron age to protect their [ਤਾ ਕਾ] forehead mark [tilak] and sacred thread [janeou]. For the sake of believers[ਸਾਧਨ], he [Tegh Bahadur] laid down his head without even uttering a sound. 13.

He sacrificed himself for the sake of Dharma by giving his head but did not waiver at all from his creed. The saints of the Lord have abhorrence for performance of miracles and other malpractices. 14.

Breaking the potsherd of his body head of the king of Delhi [Aurangzeb], he left for the abode of the Lord. None could perform such a feat as that of Tegh Bahadur.15

The whole world bemoaned the departure of Tegh Bahadur. While the world lamented, his arrival was hailed by the gods in the heavens.16.

The above verses were written within years of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur and clearly say that the Guru gave his head to protect their [ਤਾ ਕਾ] forehead mark [tilak] and sacred thread [janeou]. Fenech [29], in his book, says that “– as we examine this passage closely, we find no reason to maintain that the Guru died according to the contemporary Tat khalsa understanding. The Tat Khalsa arrived at this interpretation through a simple syllogism. According to this view, the Guru sacrificed his life for the Hindu community because the items mentioned in the passage above and in all the earlier literature, the sacred thread, janeou, and frontal mark, tilak, were not recognized as religious emblems by the Sikhs but by the Hindus. This notion is emphasized in English translation of the passage by including the pronoun ‘their’ before the terms to imply that these symbols had no part in the Guru’s community. To assume that the sacred thread and the frontal mark were not a part of the Sikh religious culture in which the author of the Bachiter Natak was raised is an understanding clearly rooted in later Tat Khalsa thinking.”

Fenech is in error to say that the pronoun ‘their’ is addition by English translators – if he had tried to translate the verse himself he would have found that the English translation is pretty faithful representation of the original verses written by Guru Gobind Singh and that the Guru meant what he wrote. By using the words ਤਾ ਕਾ, the Guru explicitly implied that the martyrdom was for ‘them’. Fenech is not pushing his view and says that ‘the attempt above is simply to dispel the Tat Khalsa notion that the community for which the Guru died was a different one from his own’ [pp.153-54]. It perhaps is so but he gives an impression that, in a roundabout manner, he is trying to diminish the ideals of Guru Tegh Bahadur as testified in Dasam Granth. That would be misreading of text.

Most readers would likely be familiar with the controversy about the depiction of Guru Tegh Bahadur negatively by NCERT [30] in books for the Class XI School students. This has since been corrected and one does not hear of it any more but future attempts to contest the reasons for shahidi of Guru Tegh Bahadur by detractors cannot be ruled out.

In fact the above apprehension played out in 2019 when Lord Indarjit Singh, decided to snap his decades long association with the BBC because an overzealous producer made an attempt to censor a script referring to Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom due to fear of Islamophobia! [31]

Let us also look at how history gets made if Sikhs engage with the society at large – an example came from Brandon, Manitoba, Canada where the Sikh community of the City met with the Mayor Rich Chrest about the 400th anniversary of the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur and shared with him the story of martyrdom of the Guru with the objective to enable Hindus to practice their faith without fear of being put to death.

The Mayor issued a proclamation saying ‘Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life for the Human Rights and dignity of humankind —- The City of Brandon honors Sikh history and culture, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s place in South Asian history, and the City’s valued relationship with the Sikh Community’ and proclaimed April 1, 2021 to be “Guru Tegh Bahadur Day” in the City of Brandon.

 

HUKAMNAMAS HELP CONNECT SOME DOTS

Hukamnamas were started by Guru Hargobind on his ascension as Guru to facilitate the implementation of changes in the Panth as per the direction of Guru Arjun before his martyrdom. The mode of written communication must have helped the Gurus in staying connected with the vast spread of increasing number of Sikh sangats in distant places, pass instructions and help resolve any issues.

Guru Tegh Bahadur seems to have continued to use this mode during his ministry. His hukamnamas provide additional insights on some of the lesser known details that did not get to be recorded by other sources. We wanted to explore that area and have found some recently published studies helpful. In the following paragraphs we share the gist of relevant findings from two such sources.

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s hukamnamas cover almost the entire period of his ministry. We gather from a 2002 study [32] that even though his hukamnamas do not bear dates, the contents suggest that the Guru started to send these out at the start of his ministry. The scribe of Guru Tegh Bahadur seems to have written a hukamnama sent out earlier at the instruction of Guru Har Krishan. This indicates continuity of office support in spite of the delay in transition and disruptions.

An emerging finding is that while the hukamnama at the time of Guru Harkrishan was addressed to Bhai Ani Rai, Bhai Jasu, Bhai Ranga, Bhai Hazuri and Bhai Nehchal – then all Masands and prominent Sikhs. But these names do not figure ‘in the hukamnamas of Guru Tegh Bahadur.’ Out of his early hukamnamas, six are written on instructions of the Guru to Bhai Batha, as the Masand of Pattan Sangat.  Bhai Batha, who was transmitting collections to the previous Guru, ‘was elevated as Masand of Pattan sangat’. The study infers that it is indicative of the Guru’s assertive response to a crisis of deep dissent that took long time to subside. [33]

The Guru reorganized management of Sangats in the eastern region by a well-defined structural hierarchy working under his authority; thus creating a network of relations between the different Sangats, so far working in isolated independence. Eastern region had two Subas – Suba of Benaras and Suba of Patna. Both the Subas were placed under Bhai Dyal Das, the chief Masand of the eastern region. The Sangats of Patna city and Monghyr were under Patna Suba. Bhai Dayal Das was Masand of Patna Sangat and in charge of Patna Suba too. Sangats of Benaras city and Mirzapur were under Benaras Suba with Bhai Javehari Mai in charge of Benaras Suba.

In one hukamnama, the Sangat of Benaras was instructed to entrust their offerings to Bhai Javehari. It was Bhai Javehari’s duty to send offerings to Bhai Dayal Das who then transferred these to the Guru. Thus a networked system of checks and controls was brought into being which could facilitate coordination.

The system set in place expected a Sikh to contribute a part of his earning – known as kar or karbar – to the Sangat.  Sikhs also paid money for getting some ceremonies like engagement performed; made donations on fulfillment of desire or wish – mannat – and offered gifts and presents for the Guru – bhet. There are hukamnamas in which the Guru had asked Bhai Dyal Das to send such receipts.

An unconnected paper by Hardip Syan [34] investigating a different historical perspective on Sikh experience of that period offers evidence of other factors that may explain some of the developments that Sagar reflects upon in his study.

Khatris from Punjab had affinity with Guru Nanak and successor Gurus, all of whom were Khatris. They noted the growth of commerce along the Gangetic and north-west trade routes and started moving to those parts during 1500-1700. They maintained ties with the Guru.

Migration of Khatri Sikhs resulted in the formation of significant Sikh sangats in Delhi, Mirzapur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Benaras and Patna by the early seventeenth century. It is also said that the sangats were predominantly managed by Khatris.

In Guru Hargobind’s letter in early 17th century, he reminded Sikhs of the east [purb di sangat] that sewa is directly beneficial for rozgar in this life because Guru’s blessing is for now – not afterlife. Later in seventeenth century when Guru Tegh Bahadur sent letters to Sikhs in Patna and Benaras to help fund langar to support so many Sikhs who travelled with him on all his missionaries and construction at the new township at Makhowal, he continued to stress the relationship between sewa and rozgar, and introduced the catchy phrase ‘sewa ki bela!’. [35]

Syan says ‘Melding of religion and materialism was a unique feature of Sikhism in this period. In order to obtain divine protection a Sikh had to abide by the Guru’s teachings’ including simran, kirtan and sewa. The Sikh who did this would gain rozgar in this life and peace hereafter. He also says that possibly the Khatris donated gold at the call of the Guru in late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Khatri merchant network developed almost parallel to Sikh sangats and the Gurus used it to support their fund needs and get direct transmission of fund offerings by the use of hundies by individuals and sangats especially after the Masands were discontinued.

Syan says that it appears from Hukumnamas of early 18th century, that the ability of the Guru to raise a sizable war chest to fund Khalsa army is likely to have been a factor that influenced establishing Khalsa insurgency against Mughals in Punjab.

With the above factors added, the study by Sagar seems right to infer that the ‘Sangats of eastern region not only served the Panth under Guru Tegh Bahadur but also became backbone of the Panth which is evident from the hukamnamas of Guru Gobind Singh.’

Sangats in East held on in support of the Guru, but started to peel off and wither away after the Guru’s passing possibly due to the lack of the Guru person that had been the focal point of their contact and support from the early days.

 

NOTES

[22] See Gopal Singh, ibid, p. 246

[23] Ranbir Singh, ibid, pp. 81-83. Accounts by other sources are on similar lines and  describe the high respect that Guru Nanak’s message enjoyed with all segments of people, reinforcement and renewal of existing Sangats and establishing of new Sangats in some places. It was a very successful mission.

[24] See Gopal Singh, ibid, text and note* p. 248.

[25] See Sikh Encyclopedia entry Udasi, Mahan Kosh, pp. 9-10 and SGPC Website

[26] Fenech has identified some similarities in martyrdom of Gurus Arjun and Tegh Bahadur. See Louis Fenech, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, Oxford, New Delhi, 2002pp. 84-5. There are more similarities, not taken up in this search.

[27] Unless otherwise indicated, the lead parts of the narrative in this section draws upon the account given at the web site of the SGPC.

[28] ਤਿਲਕ ਜੰਞੂ ਰਾਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਤਾ ਕਾ ॥ ਕੀਨੋ ਬਡੋ ਕਲੂ ਮਹਿ ਸਾਕਾ ॥ ਸਾਧਨ ਹੇਤਿ, ਇਤੀ ਜਿਨਿ ਕਰੀ ॥ਸੀਸੁ ਦੀਯਾ, ਪਰੁ ਸੀ ਨ ਉਚਰੀ ॥੧੩॥ ਧਰਮ ਹੇਤ ਸਾਕਾ ਜਿਨਿ ਕੀਆ ॥ ਸੀਸੁ ਦੀਆ; ਪਰੁ ਸਿਰਰੁ ਨ ਦੀਆ ॥ ਨਾਟਕ ਚੇਟਕ ਕੀਏ ਕੁਕਾਜਾ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਲੋਗਨ ਕਹ ਆਵਤ ਲਾਜਾ ॥੧੪॥ ਠੀਕਰ ਫੋਰਿ ਦਿਲੀਸ ਸਿਰਿ; ਪ੍ਰਭ ਪੁਰਿ ਕੀਯਾ ਪਯਾਨ ॥ ਤੇਗ ਬਹਾਦੁਰ ਸੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਆ; ਕਰੀ ਨ ਕਿਨਹੂੰ ਆਨਿ ॥੧੫॥ ਤੇਗ ਬਹਾਦੁਰ ਕੇ ਚਲਤ; ਭਯੋ ਜਗਤ ਕੋ ਸੋਕ ॥ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਸਭ ਜਗ ਭਯੋ; ਜੈ ਜੈ ਜੈ ਸੁਰ ਲੋਕਿ ॥੧੬॥ Dasam Granth Canto 5, Verse 13-16

[29] See Fenech, ibid Martyrdom in Sikh tradition, , p. 152-54

[30] Panthic. org report @ https://www.panthic.org/articles/2532 Distortion of  Sikh History Continues In Indian Books, June 11, 2006. Also see: History and Sensibilities, Naunidhi Kaur, Frontline, Print edition : October 27, 2001 https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/article30160048.ece

[31] https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/world/british-sikh-quits-bbc-after-producer-tries-to-censor-script-related-to-sikh-guru-martyrdom-554608

[32] For full text of the book Hukamnamas of Guru Tegh Bahadur by Sabinderjit Singh Sagar,2002, GNDU, go:http://www.discoversikhism.com/sikh_library/english/hukamnamas_of_guru_tegh_bahadur_a_historical_study.html

[33] The difficulties Guru Tegh Bahadur faced were that while some Masands were not loyal to the Guru, many Sikhs were confused by the propaganda. Early hukamnamas suggest that reorganization was done with the help of loyal Sikhs. In the case of Bhai Batha, the Guru asked Sikhs to obey his injunctions and termed him as his son to buttress his authority.

In a hukamnama Sikhs are also blessed to be his sons. Unlike earlier hukamnamas written to Sangats in Punjab, hukamnamas written to Patna and Benaras Sangats are not only addressed to a Masand and a few prominent Sikhs but are addressed to a large number of local Sikhs. Two hukamnamas addressed to Patna Sangat contain names of more than sixty Sikhs. Hukamnamas, written in Guru’s own hand, emphasize Guru’s blessings on ‘means of livelihood’ – a change from the earlier hukamnamas to Sangats in Punjab.

The Guru asked for twenty Bihar turbans possibly for the purpose of honoring Masands and prominent Sikhs. Hukamnamas to the sangats of eastern region show that the Guru sought advice of the Sangat on a number of occasions.

Sagar thinks that the Guru’s use, in his hukamnamas, of verses from his Bani, written in relatively simple language and with familiar examples, would have helped in more effective communication with people in those parts of the country. The situation obviously needed the Guru to use all his persuasive and decision making skills.

[34] Hardip Singh Syan,  SOAS University, UK, The Merchant Gurus: Sikhism and the Development of the Medieval Khatri Merchant Family, June 2014, Indian Economic & Social History Review. Hardip has taught and worked at the University of London, the British Museum and the Institute of Historical Research. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285490501_The_merchant_gurus_Sikhism_and_the_development_of_the_medieval_Khatri_merchant_family/citations

[35] The actual word used is ‘vela’[masculine] – popular in braj as ‘bela’[feminine]. Both have been used in SGGS but none by M IX. In East the message would have been received as ‘bela’- sewa kee – is ‘feminine.’ Bela has connotation of auspicious day, auspicious chance, blessed moment, blessed time one would be sacrifice to – ਓਹ ਬੇਲਾ ਕਉ ਹਉ ਬਲਿ ਜਾਉ —ਭਲੇ ਦਿਨਸ ਭਲੇ ਸੰਜੋਗ –ਸਫਲ ਮੂਰਤੁ ਸਫਲ ਓਹ ਘਰੀ – Gauri M V, p. 191. The word is popular in Braj and has been used by Guru Arjun in a shabad that could inspire altruistic spirit of giving – savor the text ਕਰਉ ਬੇਨੰਤੀ ਸੁਣਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਮੀਤਾ ਸੰਤ ਟਹਲ ਕੀ ਬੇਲਾ – Gauri Poorbi M V, p. 13.

(To be continued)

 

[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]

 

RELATED STORY:

Commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur This Centenary – Part 1 (Asia Samachar, 11 April 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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