Guru Tegh Bahadur ji has a unique place in world history among those who laid down their lives to protect religious freedom and human ideals, values and principles. What should be the responsibility of the even most peaceful and non-violent person of the society against the despotic and fanatic ruler taking away people’s religious and ideological freedoms and persecuting the people who possess different beliefs- the life of Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur ji and his supreme sacrifice to protect it, is an outstanding historical example of its kind. How much can restore the highest paradigms of fearless conduct, religious firmness and moral generosity among the people by offering supreme sacrifice to protect Sanatan Hindu swayamdharma? To understand this phenomenon, it is challenging to find a better personality than Guru Teg Bahadur ji.
The Guru was born on Vaisakh Vadi 5, Bikrami Samvat 1678, which, on the western calendar, coincides with April 1, 1621. He was the fifth son of Guru Hargobind and his second wife, Bibi Nanki. His birthplace was the holy city of Amritsar in a house known as Guru ka Mahal. Guru Hargobind had three wives–Damodri, Nanki and Mahadevi and he had children from all three. As a child, he was named Tyaga Mal.
He got an opportunity to prove his military understanding when he was barely 13 years of age. He fought bravely against Mughal forces in the Battle of Kartarpur in 1635. Defeated the Mughal Forces under Paidane Khan, and the victorious Sikhs rechristened their new hero, Tyaga Mal, as Tegh Bahadur (Brave Sword Wielder).
Despite his proven ability as a soldier and military strategist, Tegh Bahadur exhibited a religious and meditative bent of mind. He remained immersed in the teachings of the Gurus and spent long hours in meditation. Here, he lived up to his original name of Tyaga–renunciation.
The Sikhs under Guru Hargobind remained in conflict with the Mughals; fought four battles between the opposing forces. Even though the Sikhs emerged victorious in all the battles, Guru Hargobind decided to retreat to Kiratpur Sahib, in the foothills of the Himalayas, to stay away from the Mughals. At his stage, Tegh Bahadur, with his wife Mata Gujri, went to live in the ancestral place of his mother, Bibi Nanki, in Bakala near the River Beas. It is said that Guru Hargobind also joined the family there for some time before passing away in 1644.
Tegh Bahadur remained at Bakala for twenty years’ till anointed the ninth master of the Sikhs in 1966. He was a reclusive medicate, but there is also historical evidence of his attending to his family responsibilities. He also visited many holy and historical places like Goindwal, Kiratpur Sahib, Haridwar, Prayag, Mathura, Agra, Kashi and Patna. He had meetings with Guru Har Rai and met Guru Har Krishan in Delhi.
In those times, the seat of the Guru was subjected to intense pressure. Guru Nanak Dev chose Guru Angad Dev over his son Baba Sri Chand. The latter made his ascetic sect called the Udasis. Later, when Guru Ram das Anointed Guru Arjan Dev as the fifth master over his elder son Baba Prithi Chand, the latter created a parallel seat known as the Minas and forcibly controlled the Haramandir sahib in the later part of the 17th century. Tegh Bahadur rose above these petty precedents and remained loyal to his father and the tenets of the Gurus despite being sidelined from the seat. He remained engrossed in his meditations for twenty years before being called upon to become the ninth master.
There is an interesting story behind the anointment of Tegh Bahadur as the ninth master of the Sikhs. Guru Har Krishan did not specifically name the ninth master as he prepared to leave the world. He said the two words “Baba Bakala”, implying that his successor would be found in Bakala. On hearing the news, many imposters set themselves up there, even as Tegh Bahadur remained aloof and immersed in meditation.
The identification of Tegh Bahadur as the next Guru by a wealthy trader, Makhan Singh Labana, is based on a test he carried out. Labana had been in great danger when his ships got stuck in a storm on the high seas; at that stage, he had promised to donate 500 gold coins to the House of the Guru if he saved his life. On reaching the shores, Labana set forth to make good on his promise and found that Guru Har Krishan had passed away after saying that the next master would be found in Baba Bakala. He then set forth to Baba Bakala, where he found many contenders for the seat. He tested each of them by offering two Gold coins for his safety which they accepted. He was desperate when somebody told him that the ascetic Tegh Bahadur also lived in Baba Bakala. He went to Tegh Bahadur and offered the two gold coins, to which the master smiled, gave his blessings and told him that he had promised 500 gold coins. At this, Labana understood that he had found the true Guru and meant all the people. A congregation of Sikhs from Delhi also arrived, and Tegh Bahadur was anointed the Ninth Guru and master of the Sikh community.
Guru Tegh Bahadur then went to Amritsar to pay obeisance at the holy Harmandir Sahib. Still, he was denied entry by the Sodhi clan and the Minas of Baba Prithi Chand, who had control over the sacred place. The Guru waited in an area nearby that got to be named Thara Sahib (Pillar of patience). When they could not resolve the stalemate without getting into conflict or creating a scene in the holy place, the Guru retreated from Amritsar.
Thus Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth master of the Sikhs, a poet, philosopher, thinker, warrior and a medicate, set forth to preserve the light and divinity of Guru Nanak. His Gurbani (the word of the Guru) is included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh community. These works are in the form of 116 Shabads (sacred hymns) in 15 Ragas (sections).
However, Guru Tegh Bahadur could not remain immersed in reflecting the Akal Purukh (Almighty) ‘s glory as he wished. He was destined to serve his community and also humanity in many ways. Thus, while maintaining all the royal trappings of a Guru and performing his duties, he remained an austere ascetic at heart.
The first necessity was to create a seat for the community since Harmandir Sahib was in the control of imposters, and the Guru had no desire to get into conflict. Accordingly, he brought a site near Kiratpur Sahib, comprising land from three villages, for a sum of Rs 500/-. He proposed a township and called it Chak Nanki after his mother. Later he named it Anandpur Sahib (City of Bliss), and it was here that Guru Gobind Singh created the “Khalsa” (Pure ordained Sikh).
Guru Tegh Bahadur visited many areas of the country and propagated the message of Guru Nanak Dev. He was accompanied in his mission by many Sikhs and his family members. His efforts successfully created the required confidence and enthusiasm for the task of Guru Nanak among ordinary people. It also raised the ire of the Mughals, and attempts were made to arrest him, but his followers, many of whom were well-established in the Court of Emperor Aurangzeb, managed to nullify the arrest warrants. The Guru paid homage to many places which Guru Nanak had also visited.
In October 1666, Guru Tegh Bahadur proceeded towards Dacca but left his family behind at Patna since Mata Gujri Ji was expecting. His stay at Dacca is now marked with Gurudwara Sangat Tola. He received the news of the birth of his Son, Gobind, at Patna on the 23rd day of the month of Poh, Bikrami Samvat 1723. The day coincides with December 22, 1666. The Guru, however, continued with his schedule and went on to Chittagong via Agartala.
This was when Emperor Aurangzeb started becoming increasingly intolerant toward the Hindus and other communities, including the Sikhs. Temples were desecrated and forced conversions resorted to; the infamous religious tax, Jazia, was reimposed. Guru Tegh Bahadur had completed his spiritual mission in the eastern parts of the country, and he returned to Punjab to be with his community during a religious crisis. Accordingly, he, along with his family and entourage of loyal followers, proceed back to Anandpur Sahib. On the way back, the Guru was arrested at Agra in July 1970 but was released. He reached Anandpur Sahib in February 1671, and for about two years, he preached peacefully.
Aurangzeb, in his pursuit of the ambition to Islamise the whole of India, built on a strategy of targeting Hindu Pundits and Brahmins, especially those from the holy towns of the country like Kashi, Prayag, Kurukshetra, Haridwar and Kashmir. The Governor of Kashmir, Iftikhar Khan, was particularly energetic in applying the orders of the Emperor; he let loose a reign of terror on the Pundit community residing there. A delegation of desperate Kashmir Pundits led by Pandit Kirpa Ram Dutt approached Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur Sahib in May 1675 and requested his support to save them. Pundit Kirpa Ram was associated with the Sikh community since his great-grandfather, Bhai Brahm Das, was a devoted disciple of Guru Nanak.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, after due consultation with the Sikh community, decided to peacefully present the case of the Kashmir Pundits in New Delhi. The Pundits accordingly informed their Governor that if Guru Tegh Bahadur converted to Islam, they would also do so. Conveyed this message to Aurangzeb, who was, as it is, quite prejudiced against the Guru. He disliked the trappings of royalty of the Guru and the use of the word “Bahadur” with his name. He looked upon the Guru’s support to the Kashmir Pundits as a direct assault on his authority. He immediately ordered the arrest of the Guru. The Guru was accordingly summoned to Delhi, but before the summons reached him, he had already named his son, Gobind, the tenth master of the Sikhs and proceeded to Delhi with his close associates. This was in June 1675.
Attempts to intimidate the Guru into submission started before the party reached Delhi. He was detained and tortured at Bassi Pathana, Ropar, by Mirza Nur Mohammad Khan. The attempt did not succeed, and after detaining him in Sirhind for four months, the Mughals were compelled to move the party to Delhi in November 1675. The Guru was given three options through his detention and extreme torture. One, show a miracle; two, embrace Islam; three, prepare to die. The Guru consistently chose the third option.
How the execution was carried out was particularly savage, even by Mughal standards. First, his three main disciples were done to death in his presence. Bhai Mati Das was sawn from the head downwards while standing in an erect position; Bhai Dayal Das was thrown into a massive cauldron of boiling oil, and then came the turn of Bhai Sati Das. Bhai Sati Das sought the blessings of the Guru before embracing martyrdom. The Guru praised him for his lifelong devotion to him and his family and bid him to embrace the will of God. Bhai Sati Das touched the Guru’s feet, then he was tied to a pole, wrapped in cotton and burnt alive. The Guru absorbed the entire disgusting proceedings most calmly and peacefully. The Guru did not change his stand, and the Mughals decided to execute him.
Early next morning, Marghsheersh Panchami Har Samvat 1732, which coincided with November 11, 1675, in the western calendar, the Guru was beheaded by an executioner called Jalal-ud-din Jallad. The place where the execution took place in Chandni Chowk, Shahjahanabad (Now Old Delhi), is marked by Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib. His body was retrieved by a disciple, Lakhi Shah Vanjara, who carried the remains to his hut in a cart and cremated the same by burning the cabin; Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib marks the place. The head of the Guru was retrieved by another disciple, Bhai Jatta, and was taken to Anandpur Sahib, where the nine-year-old Guru Gobind Singh carried out the cremation rituals. The jailer, Khwaja Abdulla, a pious man who tried to help the Guru as much as possible, resigned from his post after the execution and went to live in Anandpur Sahib.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was ascetic and spiritually inclined, with less involvement in worldly affairs. He rooted for peace and stayed away from conflict when he could. Yet, he remained faithful to his duty. His teachings guide humanity towards indifference to misery and happiness in pursuit of praise of the Almighty.
The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur had an electrifying effect on the Sikh community and other communities. By sacrificing his life in protest against injustice to humanity, he set an enduring precedent of humankind based on truthfulness and godliness. It is from him that the Sikhs learnt to stand up for the weak and the underprivileged. His principles and values were upheld and taken forward by his son and the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh, leading to the creation of the Khalsa. It was from there that the fight for righteousness and justice commenced. The ordinary people, especially the Sikhs, started raising their voices; atrocities and persecution continued, but the people found the courage to stand up to them, leading to a downtrend in conversions.