Commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur This Centenary – Part 3

2021 marks 400 years since birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur. In the third of a 4-part series, NIRMAL SINGH examines some of the Guru's compositions. They reveal a veneer of resolute compassion seeping through, suggesting inspiration emanating from ideals of Sikh resistance.

Gurdwara Baba Bakala – Photo: Gurmit Gill / Flickr
By Nirmal Singh | Sikh History | Part 3 |

We know that the Pothi Sahib, known as Adi Granth, was compiled by Guru Arjun and it contained the compositions of the first five Gurus. The 6th, 7th and 8th Gurus did not leave any composition but subsequently Guru Tegh Bahadur did and his compositions were added by Guru Gobind Singh to Adi Granth. We thus have access to Shabads in 15 Ragas and 54 Sloks written by Guru Tegh Bahadur in the SGGS. We will dwell briefly on the Guru’s compositions to grasp some facets of his preaching and persona.

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s grasp of Sikh thought and lived Sikhi enabled his uncanny skill to understand the finer points of the reality that the Panth faced. This set his ministry as an exemplar visionary change catalyst. Coming to occupy Gurgadi just half a century after the execution by torture of his grandfather, Guru Arjun, he went about followed by his unarmed Sikhs. He talked to them, sought their views in an open and accessible manner – truly a people’s Guru.

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

He was thoughtful and pensive in expressions – that brought mellow sweetness, seen in Guru Arjun’s bani, to his compositions. In a world that is ephemeral and where all relations seem guided by fickle self interest, one does tend to feel lonesome and that is the feel one gets reading his bani. A careful reading of his compositions though reveals a veneer of resolute compassion seeping through, suggesting his inspiration emanating from the ideals of Sikh resistance. His advice is sane and practical when he says, “only worry over what is unusual”- in his Slok 51.  He commends the fundamental teaching of Gurmat – naam is the real blessing; imbibing it is the way to nirbaan – so contemplate on naam and live by it. The message comes in various forms – all in simple words and familiar metaphors, going straight to one’s heart! Enjoy some sampling below:

Pray, Guide Me!

The compositions of the ninth Guru are characterized by the flow of complex emotions and thoughts using simple language and easily graspable metaphors. Read the way he has shared a dilemma that many of us would have experienced – “to whom should I tell the state of my mind? Engrossed in greed, running around in the ten directions, I cling to my hopes of wealth. For sake of some gain, I suffer all this and cringe before each and every person wandering from one door to another like a cur. I am wasting this precious life, unaware if others even laugh at me.” [36] The message could not be clearer – place not your integrity, dignity or belief at stake for petty gain!

To Merge with Divine

Here is the simplest enumeration of qualities that may make a person receive the divine  blessing to merge with God: The one – who in the midst of pain, does not feel pain, who is not affected by pleasure, affection or fear, and who looks alike upon gold and dust; is not swayed by slander or praise, nor affected by greed, attachment or pride; remains unaffected by joy and sorrow, honor and dishonor; has renounced all hopes and desires and has no expectation; who is not touched by sexual desire or anger – within his heart, God dwells – such a person, O Nanak, merges as easily with the Lord of the Universe, as water merges with water! [37] The Guru himself was such a person and such attributes are repeatedly stressed in his Bani.

ਹਰਖੁ ਸੋਗੁ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਨਹੀ ਬੈਰੀ ਮੀਤ ਸਮਾਨਿ ॥ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਤਾਹਿ ਤੈ ਜਾਨਿ ॥੧੫॥

Missed Opportunities

Sample now another genre that addresses self for own failings; goes directly to heart as a grim yet gentle reminder, witness: your life is slipping away, slipping away aimlessly. You ignorant fool, night and day, you listen to the Puraanas but understand them not! Where will you escape to, now that death is knocking at the door? You believed that the body was for keeps, but it shall turn to dust. Why don’t you chant Naam of Hari, you shameless fool? Abandon your intellectualism and let devotional worship of the Lord enter your heart. Lowly Nanak tells this, the way to live in this world. [38] The imagery of not doing what one should have done, being entangled in the web of distractions keeps coming see Slok:

ਕਰਣੋ ਹੁਤੋ ਸੁ ਨਾ ਕਓ ਪਰਿਓ ਲੋਭ ਕੈ ਫੰਧ ॥੩੬

Imbibe Humility

Guru places value on humility in relations – get sense of pride out of one’s mind and control urge to be judgmental of others by expressing of praise or blame. To savor the true essence of life, restrain yourself from sex, anger and evil company. Relate to pain- pleasure or honor- dishonor, as the same and treat joy and sorrow with detachment, Renounce; and tread the complex path to Nirvaanaa that  only rare Gurmukhs understand! [39] There is simplicity of expression and a sense of indifference to worldly affairs.

Dispelling of Anxieties

When one keeps introspecting, looking within, one learns of own failings and prays in humility: Now, what should I do to dispel my anxieties about how will I cross over the terrifying world-ocean? Born human and having done no good deeds; makes me full of fear! I worry that neither in thought, word or deed, have I sung the Lord’s Praises. Nor by listening to Gurmat, did spiritual wisdom well up within me. I just kept filling my belly like a beast.  Nanak realizes that it is only through Thy Merciful disposition that a sinner like me can be saved. [40] Another sound advisory is that anxiety is well placed if only the happening is unexpected:

ਚਿੰਤਾ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਕੀਜੀਐ ਜੋ ਅਨਹੋਨੀ ਹੋਇ ॥੫੧॥Slok M IX, p.

Naam & Maya

Holy people: what way should I now adopt, to dispel all my evil propensities so that my mind may vibrate in devotional worship to the Lord? My mind entangled in Maya, knows nothing at all of spiritual wisdom. What is the Naam, contemplating which the world might attain the state of Nirvaanaa? The Saints became kind and compassionate and told me that whoever sings the Kirtan of God’s Praises, has performed all religious rituals. One who enshrines the Lord’s Naam in his heart even for an instant in night and day, his fear of Death is eradicated and his life approved and fulfilled. [41] For the sake of Maya, the mortal wanders constantly, night and day. Among millions, O Nanak, there is scarcely anyone, who keeps the Lord in his consciousness:

– ਨਿਸਿ ਦਿਨੁ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾਰਨੇ ਪ੍ਰਾਨੀ ਡੋਲਤ ਨੀਤ ॥ਕੋਟਨ ਮੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਕੋਊ ਨਾਰਾਇਨੁ ਜਿਹ ਚੀਤਿ ॥੨੪॥ Slok M IX, p.

Spiritual Wisdom

Says Nanak, listen my mind, call spiritually wise the one who neither frightens any, nor is afraid of anyone else. [42]

Vacillations to Abhaypadh

My associates and companions have all deserted me; no one remains with me. Says Nanak, in this tragedy, the Lord alone is my Support. [43] My strength is exhausted, and I am in bondage; I cannot do anything at all. Beseeches Nanak, now, please Lord be my Support and help me, as You did the elephant. [44]

My strength is restored and my bonds are broken: now, I can do everything. Nanak tells that all and everything is in Your hands, O Lord, and You are my Support. [45]



In social transactions Guru Tegh Bahadur persuades:

ਭੈ ਕਾਹੂ ਕਉ ਦੇਤ ਨਹਿ ਨਹਿ ਭੈ ਮਾਨਤ ਆਨ

bhai kahoo ko daet naa, naa bhai maanat aan [Slok 16, M IX, p. 1427].

This verse defines the concept of resistance that Guru Tegh Bahadur gave voice to and that he demonstrated by accepting request of Kashmiri Pandits to plead their case against forced conversion to Islam even at the risk of his own life. Kabir has shared a similar thought saying:

ਆਪਿ ਨ ਡਰਉ ਨ ਅਵਰ ਡਰਾਵਉ ॥

Āp na dara▫o na avar darāva▫o – fear not yourself, nor strike fear into any other – Gauri Kabir, p. 327

An extract from my 2005 Paper [46] on ‘Sikh Culture of Resistance’ relating to the thought and actions by Guru Tegh Bahadur is relevant here and is reproduced below:

“Guru Tegh Bahadur has dwelt on the theme of fearlessness in his compositions quite a few times. Fearlessness is one of the attributes of God mentioned in the opening line, the creedal statement, in the Granth. Guru Tegh Bahadur seeks the gift of fearlessness for his own self and bares his soul saying ‘the fear of death has entered my heart and I cling to the protection of Your sanctuary. O, ocean of mercy please save my honor. I am a great sinner, foolish and greedy who has now realized that sinful life is futile but I cannot forget the fear of dying and this anxiety is consuming my body. To achieve liberation I have run around in all directions but have not understood the secret of mystery of the pure, immaculate One who abides deep within my heart. I have no merit, and I know nothing about meditation or austerities; please tell me what should I do now? Says Nanak, I am exhausted and seek Your sanctuary; please bless me with the gift of fearlessness.’ [47]

The influence and corrosive effect of fear on the lives of men was his continuing concern. He believed that in an ideal setting people should neither live in fear nor cause others to live in fear. One who realizes the truth of this dictum, call him spiritually wise. [cited earlier] This no doubt was the inspirational thought defining his approach to resistance.

Guru Gobind Singh later wrote in his autobiographical account saying that ‘in a great event in the Iron Age Tegh Bahadur protected the forehead mark and sacred thread (of Hindus). For the sake of saints— [cited earlier in the paper – p. 8, note 28]

Guru Tegh Bahadur gave his life so Hindus could have their freedom of faith. This he understood to be his dharma, his creed that all men, without distinction must have this freedom even if it takes him to give up his life to arouse people’s consciousness. His concern could not have been more forcefully articulated in any other way. There surely was a man whose prayer for gift of fearlessness had been accepted in the Divine court!”



[36] ਬਿਰਥਾ ਕਹਉ ਕਉਨ ਸਿਉ ਮਨ ਕੀ ॥ ਲੋਭਿ ਗ੍ਰਸਿਓ ਦਸ ਹੂ ਦਿਸ ਧਾਵਤ ਆਸਾ ਲਾਗਿਓ ਧਨ ਕੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ਸੁਖ ਕੈ ਹੇਤਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਤ ਸੇਵ ਕਰਤ ਜਨ ਜਨ ਕੀ ॥ ਦੁਆਰਹਿ ਦੁਆਰਿ ਸੁਆਨ ਜਿਉ ਡੋਲਤ —॥੧॥ਮਾਨਸ ਜਨਮ ਅਕਾਰਥ ਖੋਵਤ ਲਾਜ ਨ ਲੋਕ ਹਸਨ ਕੀ – Asa M IX,  p.  411

[37] ਜੋ ਨਰੁ ਦੁਖ ਮੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਨਹੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥ਸੁਖ ਸਨੇਹੁ ਅਰੁ ਭੈ ਨਹੀ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਕੰਚਨ ਮਾਟੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਨਹ ਨਿੰਦਿਆ ਨਹ ਉਸਤਤਿ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਲੋਭੁ ਮੋਹੁ ਅਭਿਮਾਨਾ ॥ ਹਰਖ ਸੋਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਆਰਉ ਨਾਹਿ ਮਾਨ ਅਪਮਾਨਾ ॥੧॥ਆਸਾ ਮਨਸਾ   ਤਿਆਗੈ ਜਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਰਾਸਾ ॥ ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਜਿਹ ਪਰਸੈ ਨਾਹਨਿ ਤਿਹ ਘਟਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਨਿਵਾਸਾ ॥੨॥ ਗੁਰ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਜਿਹ ਨਰ ਕਉ ਕੀਨੀ ਤਿਹ ਇਹ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਪਛਾਨੀ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਲੀਨ ਭਇਓ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਸਿਉ ਜਿਉ ਪਾਨੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਪਾਨੀ – Sorath M IX, p. 633

[38] ਬੀਤ ਜੈਹੈ ਬੀਤ ਜੈਹੈ ਜਨਮੁ ਅਕਾਜੁ ਰੇ ॥ਨਿਸਿ ਦਿਨੁ ਸੁਨਿ ਕੈ ਪੁਰਾਨ ਸਮਝਤ ਨਹ ਰੇ ਅਜਾਨ ॥ਕਾਲੁ ਤਉ ਪਹੂਚਿਓ ਆਨਿ ਕਹਾ ਜੈਹੈ ਭਾਜਿ ਰੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ਅਸਥਿਰੁ ਜੋ ਮਾਨਿਓ ਦੇਹ ਸੋ ਤਉ ਤੇਰਉ ਹੋਇ ਹੈ ਖੇਹ ॥ਕਿਉ ਨ ਹਰਿ ਕੋ ਨਾਮੁ ਲੇਹਿ ਮੂਰਖ ਨਿਲਾਜ ਰੇ ॥੧॥ਰਾਮ ਭਗਤਿ ਹੀਏ ਆਨਿ ਛਾਡਿ ਦੇ ਤੈ ਮਨ ਕੋ ਮਾਨੁ ॥ਨਾਨਕ ਜਨ ਇਹ ਬਖਾਨਿ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਬਿਰਾਜੁ ਰੇ –  Jaijawanti M IX, p. 1352

[39] ਸਾਧੋ ਮਨ ਕਾ ਮਾਨੁ ਤਿਆਗਉ ॥ ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਸੰਗਤਿ ਦੁਰਜਨ ਕੀ ਤਾ ਤੇ ਅਹਿਨਿਸਿ ਭਾਗਉ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ਸੁਖੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਦੋਨੋ ਸਮ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਨੈ ਅਉਰੁ ਮਾਨੁ ਅਪਮਾਨਾ ॥ ਹਰਖ ਸੋਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਅਤੀਤਾ ਤਿਨਿ ਜਗਿ ਤਤੁ ਪਛਾਨਾ ॥੧॥ਉਸਤਤਿ ਨਿੰਦਾ ਦੋਊ ਤਿਆਗੈ ਖੋਜੈ ਪਦੁ ਨਿਰਬਾਨਾ ॥ ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਇਹੁ ਖੇਲੁ ਕਠਨੁ ਹੈ ਕਿਨਹੂੰ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਨਾ – Gauri M IX, p.  219

[40] ਅਬ ਮੈ ਕਉਨੁ ਉਪਾਉ ਕਰਉ ॥ਜਿਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਮਨ ਕੋ ਸੰਸਾ ਚੂਕੈ ਭਉ ਨਿਧਿ ਪਾਰਿ ਪਰਉ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ਜਨਮੁ ਪਾਇ ਕਛੁ ਭਲੋ ਨ ਕੀਨੋ ਤਾ ਤੇ ਅਧਿਕ ਡਰਉ ॥ਮਨ ਬਚ ਕ੍ਰਮ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਨ ਨਹੀ ਗਾਏ ਯਹ ਜੀਅ ਸੋਚ ਧਰਉ ॥੧॥ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਸੁਨਿ ਕਛੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਉਪਜਿਓ ਪਸੁ ਜਿਉ ਉਦਰੁ ਭਰਉ ॥ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਬਿਰਦੁ ਪਛਾਨਉ ਤਬ ਹਉ ਪਤਿਤ ਤਰਉ  – Dhanasari M IX, p. 685

[41] ਸਾਧੋ ਕਉਨ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਅਬ ਕੀਜੈ ॥ ਜਾ ਤੇ ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਸਗਲ ਬਿਨਾਸੈ ਰਾਮ ਭਗਤਿ ਮਨੁ ਭੀਜੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਇਆ ਮਹਿ ਉਰਝਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਹੈ ਬੂਝੈ ਨਹ ਕਛੁ ਗਿਆਨਾ ॥ਕਉਨੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਗੁ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਸਿਮਰੈ ਪਾਵੈ ਪਦੁ ਨਿਰਬਾਨਾ ॥੧॥ ਭਏ ਦਇਆਲ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾਲ ਸੰਤ ਜਨ ਤਬ ਇਹ ਬਾਤ ਬਤਾਈ ॥ਸਰਬ ਧਰਮ ਮਾਨੋ ਤਿਹ ਕੀਏ ਜਿਹ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਗਾਈ ॥੨॥ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਨਰੁ ਨਿਸਿ ਬਾਸੁਰ ਮਹਿ ਨਿਮਖ ਏਕ ਉਰਿ ਧਾਰੈ ॥ਜਮ ਕੋ ਤ੍ਰਾਸੁ ਮਿਟੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਿਹ ਅਪੁਨੋ ਜਨਮੁ ਸਵਾਰੈ –  Ramkali M IX, p. 902

[42] ਭੈ ਕਾਹੂ ਕਉ ਦੇਤ ਨਹਿ ਨਹਿ ਭੈ ਮਾਨਤ ਆਨ ॥ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਤਾਹਿ ਬਖਾਨਿ ॥੧੬॥ ibid, p. 1427

[43] ਸੰਗ ਸਖਾ ਸਭਿ ਤਜਿ ਗਏ ਕੋਊ ਨ ਨਿਬਹਿਓ ਸਾਥਿ ॥ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਇਹ ਬਿਪਤਿ ਮੈ ਟੇਕ ਏਕ ਰਘੁਨਾਥ ॥੫੫॥ ibid, p. 1429

[44] ਬਲੁ ਛੁਟਕਿਓ ਬੰਧਨ ਪਰੇ ਕਛੂ ਨ ਹੋਤ ਉਪਾਇ ॥ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਬ ਓਟ ਹਰਿ ਗਜ ਜਿਉ ਹੋਹੁ ਸਹਾਇ ॥੫੩॥ibid

[45] ਬਲੁ ਹੋਆ ਬੰਧਨ ਛੁਟੇ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਹੋਤ ਉਪਾਇ ॥ਨਾਨਕ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਤੁਮਰੈ ਹਾਥ ਮੈ ਤੁਮ ਹੀ ਹੋਤ ਸਹਾਇ ॥੫੪॥ibid

[46] See Nirmal Singh, Militant or Compassionately Resolute? Exploring Culture of Resistance In Sikh Thought, pp. 18- 60 in his book ‘Searches in Sikhism’ Hemkunt, 2008 – book text @ Discover Sikhism site.

[47] har joo raakh layho pat mayree. jam ko taraas bha-i-o ur antar saran gahee kirpaa niDh tayree. . mahaa patit mugaDh lobhee fun karat paap ab haaraa.bhai marbay ko bisrat naahin tih chintaa tan jaaraa. kee-ay upaav mukat kay kaaran dah dis ka-o uth Dhaa-i-aa. ghat hee bheetar basai niranjan taa ko maram na paa-i-aa.  naahin gun naahin kachh jap tap ka-un karam ab keejai.naanak haar pari-o sarnaagat abhai daan parabh deejai –  Jaitsree, M IX, p. 703


[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)

Commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur This Centenary – Part 2 (Asia Samachar, 23 April 2020)

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

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