The Truth of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji’s Martyrdom

One common narrative tells us that Guru Teg Bahadur ji gave his life in defense of a particular religion and particular symbols of that religion. The messages are in fact a betrayal of the sacrifice, argues KARMINDER SINGH DHILLON. So, what is the actual story of the martyrdom of the 9th Sikh Guru?

Guru Tegh Bahadur Memorial in New Delhi, India. – Photo: TripAdvisor

By Karminder Singh Dhillon | OPINION |

The Sikh world celebrates the Shaheede Diharra – the Supreme martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur ji on the 24th of November. The Global Sikh Council appeals to the Sikh world to ponder on the following three issues.

  • 1) What was this event about?
  • 2) What is the truth of it? And
  • 3) What were the message behind this event?

Guru Teg Bahadur ji was put to death – by the order of then Emperor Aurangzeb – in the public square of Chandni Chowk, Delhi on the 11th of November 1675. The ninth Guru thus became the second of the two Guru martyrs in the Sikh faith. The first was Guru Arjun ji.

While commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur ji on the 24th of November, our clergy – granthis, parcharaks, ragis and dhadees will tell us that Guru Teg Bahadur ji gave his life in defense of a particular religion and particular symbols of that religion. And that the ninth Guru did so at the behest of 500 Kashmiri Brahmins who had come to him to save themselves, their religion and their symbols.

While commemorating the martyrdom, our clergy will sing – as kirtan – poems that are taken from compositions that are not contained within the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Poems that they have been singing for decades. Poems that are not Gurbani. But poems that fit the narrative that Guru Teg Bahadur laid his life to protect particular symbols of a particular religion. The verses of this poem are:

ਤਿਲਕ ਜੰਞੂ ਰਾਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਤਾਕਾ । ਕੀਨੋ ਬਡੋ ਕਲੂ ਮਹਿ ਸਾਕਾ।…

ਧਰਮ ਹੇਤ ਸਾਕਾ ਜਿਨ ਕੀਆ। ਸੀਸ ਦੀਆ ਪਰ ਸਿਰਰ ਨਾ ਦੀਆ।

Tilak Janju Rakha Prabh Taka. Kino Bdo Klu Meh Saka…

Dharm Heyt Saka Jin Keeya. Sees Diya Par Sirer Na Diya.

Translated they mean: The massive event of the sacrifice in Kalyug was in defense of the sacred mark (tilak) and the sacred thread Janju. Tilak Janju Rakha Prabh Ta(n)ka. He gave his head in the name of religion (Dharam Heyt) for these symbols, but not his faith in them (Sirer na diya)

Our ragis and parcharaks have told us the lie that Guru Gobind Singh penned these verses. Based on the messages of these verses – the Sikh world has been told that Guru Teg Bahadur is Hind Dee Chador – the protector of Hind –  protector of the Hindu nation to whom the symbols of tilak and Janju belong.

Click here for the video in English entitled ‘The Truth of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji’s Martyrdom’ by Karminder Singh Dhillon

The dishonor of singing – as kirtan – compositions that are not from within the Sri Guru Granth Sahib aside; the messages that are contained within this composition – are the greatest of disservice to what Guru Teg Bahadur stood for. The messages are in fact a betrayal of the sacrifice.  One wonders if this poem was composed by the same people who wanted to imprison Guru Teg Bahadur within their own narrowness. And then claimed – falsely – that it was Guru Gobind Singh who gave us this narrative. And our ragis, kirtanias and parcharaks have regurgitated this fiction unthinkingly.

Young Sikhs belonging to the generation of the millennials as the custodians of Guru Nanak’s Sikhi in the next generation ask –  if indeed we have understood and presented the reasons for the martyrdom of our beloved Guru in the real and accurate sense. Or if we have presented the martyrdom in a way that reduces its significance and narrows its importance. More importantly our youth ask of the real messages that emanate from the supreme sacrifice. Messages that are relevant to Sikhs in particular and humanity in general.

ਗੁਰੂ ਤੇਗ ਬਹਾਦੁਰ ਜੀ ਦੀ ਸ਼ਹਾਦਤ ਦੀ ਅਸਲੀਅਤ

These questions give us reason to pause and reflect. To say that the Guru gave his life in defense of two symbols of a particular religion is to reduce the enormity of the sacrifice. To say that the Guru sacrificed himself in defense of any one particular religion is to severely narrow the magnanimity of the sacrifice.  To propagate such may indeed be the agenda of people who want us to believe that Sikh gurus were no more than defenders of a particular religion and its symbols. But the truth is something else.

And we can only get to the truth if we seek the truth. And seek it courageously and judiciously. And if our clergy – ragis, granthis, kirtanias and parcharaks – stop preaching these narrow and agenda based messages to our sangats. And stop singing poems that are composed with the aim of propagating these same narrow messages.  And stop narrating the untruth that these poems are written by Guru Gobind Singh. He could not have written what was never the truth. And the truth is that Guru Teg Bahadur’s martyrdom had nothing to do with any two symbols or any one religion. It had everything to do with the freedom to practice one’s faith. It had everything to do with celebrating diversity as a divine characteristic of the creator.

In 1670 Emperor Aurangzeb announced his policy of Ek Mazhab – or one religion. The foundational justification of this policy was that the only way to have peace and unity was for everyone to profess just one religion.  Aurangzeb had decreed the destruction of all places of worship and education belonging to faiths other that the one he subscribed to. He further ordered the discontinuance of all customs, rituals and practices that contravened his ek mazhab dictate.

 In the mind of Guru Teg Bahadur, the notion of a single mazhab was anti-thesis to the foundational principle of nature – which was diversity. This principle of diversity was a foundational belief of Guru Nanak’s Sikhi as encapsulated in the verse on page 385 of the SGGS:

ਏਕੁ ਬਗੀਚਾ ਪੇਡ ਘਨ ਕਰਿਆ ॥ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਤਹਾ ਮਹਿ ਫਲਿਆ ॥ 1 ॥

Eyk Bageecha Peyd Ghan Kariya. Amrit Nam Tha Meh Faliya.

Meaning: The Orchard – meaning Humanity – is One, But the Vegetation Within it – meaning the people – is Diverse Aplenty. It is Within Such Kind of a Diverse Creation That Divinity Comes to Fruition.

Here is yet another verse on page 1056 that says that diversity was the foundational tenet of creation.

ਮੇਰੈ ਪ੍ਰਭਿ ਸਾਚੈ ਇਕੁ ਖੇਲੁ ਰਚਾਇਆ ॥ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਕਿਸ ਹੀ ਜੇਹਾ ਉਪਾਇਆ ॥

Mairaiy Prabh Sachaiy Ek Kheyl Rchaya. Koye Na Kis Hee Jeha Upaya.

Meaning: The creation of my Master Lord is such. None is like the other.

Guru Teg Bahadur thus decided to take a stand on the issue in a very public way – the purpose of which was not just to send a message to Aurangzeb that his One Mazhab dictate was unacceptable, but to convey to the humanity at large that defending the right to one’s beliefs was an unassailable right. And for such a stand and message he laid down his life.

The narrative of standing up for one particular religion and laying down his life for two particular symbols is akin to encapsulating the depths of an ocean into a tea-cup. It’s an attempt to fit the heights of a mountain into a wheelbarrow.

It wasn’t a particular religion or its symbols that Guru Teg Bahadur stood for.  It could have been any religion. It could have been any belief or symbol. It could have been 50 Jainis from Gujrat in place of 500 Kashmiri brahmins who had called upon Guru Teg Bahadur. It could have been a group of Buddhists from, Bengal, or Yogis from Utrakhand. The particular religion, belief or symbol was inherently irrelevant. What was relevant was standing up for the oppressed – no matter their faith and beliefs.  What was relevant was to stand up even when faced with certain tyranny and death. And he stood up on his own, not at the behest of any number people from any particular religion.


Having said that, the question that the Sikh world needs to answer is this. Have we honored the sacrifice of our beloved Guru? Have we inculcated the messages and lessons of the Shaheedee within our lives?

A cursory look around us tells us that we have not. We have reduced a sacrifice of earth-shattering proportions and equally great messages to the giving up of life in the defense of two symbols. We have accepted the narrow narrative of Tilak Janju Rakha Prabh Ta(n)ka as all there was to it.  We have reduced Guru Teg Bahadur ji to Hind Dee Chadur, when even to address him as Manukhta Dee Chadur or Insaniyat Di Chadur would be an understatement.

Come the 26th of November, it would be 347 years to the event under discussion. To honor the great sacrifice of Guru Teg Bahadur ji, I urge all Sikhs to awaken and enlighten ourselves on the real lessons and messages behind. I urge you to read my recent book on this issue titled Understanding Salok Mehla 9. In this book you will find the biography of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, a chapter containing a commentary of his bani as contained within the SGGS and a full and complete translation of his bani Salok Mehla 9. The link to this book is The Global Sikh Council wishes you a meaningful and purpose filled Shaheedee Diharra of Guru Teg Bahadur ji our beloved ninth Guru.

Sikh thinker, writer and parcharak Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston), is a retired Malaysian civil servant. He is the joint-editor of The Sikh Bulletin and author of The Hijacking of Sikhi. This article appeared in The Sikh Bulletin – 2022 Issue 3 (July-September 2022). Click here to retrieve archived copies of the bulletin. The author can be contacted at 


Roles and functions of a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 11 Dec 2015)

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  1. Karminder jee I really get impressed with the way analyse the whole situation and bring the truth. My big confusion is how Guru Harkrishan jee was bestowed guru gadhi at the age of six.

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