Research Scholar, JNU
This year we will be celebrating the 400th birth of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikh religion who holds a special place in the history of India. The times of Guru Tegh Bahadur coincide with the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who was a religious fanatic and wanted to convert his entire Empire and beyond to Islam by all means possible. During his reign of terror, thousands of Hindus were either forcefully converted to Islam or were persecuted. It was in the storm of this reign of terror the ninth Sikh Guru raised his voice, at the behest of a delegation of Hindu Brahmans from Kashmir.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, took it upon himself to make Emperor Aurangzeb realise the folly of his ways and persuade him to stop exploiting and persecuting Hindus and people following a religion other than Islam. He told the delegation to inform their persecutors, the Governor of Kashmir, that they would convert to Islam if their Guru and elder Guru Tegh Bahadur did so. This message was duly passed to Emperor Aurangzeb who looked upon it as an opportunity to convert the entire Hindu populace to Islam by first converting Guru Tegh Bahadur. He, accordingly ordered Guru Tegh Bahadur to be arrested and be brought to Delhi. In the mean-time the Guru had already proceeded to Delhi with his petition to stop the persecution of non-Muslims.
In Delhi the Guru was given two orders by the Kotwal and Qazi of Chandni Chowk under whose watch the farcical trail of the Guru was carried out. He was told to perform a miracle in order to prove his spiritual standing as a Guru and convert to Islam or he would have to face the consequences. Guru Tegh Bahadur refused to perform any miracle since it went against his faith and refused to convert to exercise his rights as a human being to follow the religion of his choice as was the right of every human being. He showed a resolve to stand by his ground and said that he would give his head, but not his faith. Eventually, he was martyred for not converting to Islam. Later, Guru Gobind Singh wrote of his father’s martyrdom in Bachitar Natak, ‘Dharam Het Saka Jin Kiya, Sis Diya Par Sirar Na Diya’.
It is not to argue that after martyrdom of the Guru the persecution of Hindus stopped. But his act of defiance and the supreme sacrifice that he made for stopping the persecution of innocent Indians, became a shining example for the faithful, to stand up and struggle for their religion, even in the face of mortal death. His martyrdom did not stop the forceful conversion on the part of the Mughal state, but it did give the necessary mandate to the people to be adamant in their religion.
In any struggle the courage of the leader decides the level of commitment of his followers and when the leader is ready to give away his life to the cause, he inspires thousands of followers to struggle on. We can argue that with his commitment to preserve the faith of Indians, Guru Tegh Bahadur had shown the highest level of courage and fearlessness through the example of his own martyrdom.
Guru Pratap Sooraj makes a poignant case that it was the presence of Sikh Gurus in the North India that stopped the juggernaut of Islamic conversion in the area, even when Delhi was the seat of power of the Mughals. If the Guru had not stood up against the atrocities of the Mughals, rampant conversion as well as bloodbath of the believers of Hinduism would have been an acute reality.
Kavi (poet) Santokh Singh writes:
‘Chhaye jaati ekta anekta billaye jaati hovat kuchilta kateban kuran ki !!
Paap hi parpakh jaate dharam dhasak jaate baran garak jaate sahet bidhan ki !!
Devi dev dehure santokh singh dur hote reet mit jaati katha bedan puran ki !!
Sri Guru Gobind Singh paavan param soor murat na hoti jo pe karuna nidhan ki !
The Kavi is arguing that if there were no Sikh gurus in India, the Sanatana Dharma would have lost, the tradition of reciting Vedas and Puranas which would have vanished, and monotony of a single religion would have been left.
It is in this light, that we should analyse the legacy of Guru Tegh Bahadur, because it was his martyrdom that snowballed the struggle of Hindus against conversion to Islam in northern India.
There are lesser-known aspects of Guru Tegh Bahadur including his missions in East and North East of India, when he went to Assam with Raja Ram Singh of Amer in 1666. Aurangzeb, as bigoted as he was, hated his Hindu Mansabdars and the chief among the Hindu generals in Aurangzeb’s court were the influential Rajas of Amer, first Raja Jai Singh and then his son Raja Ram Singh. Raja Ram Singh had helped Shivaji to escape from the Mughal trap and clearly, he had an affinity towards his own people vis a vis the Mughals. To punish him, Aurangzeb sent him on the expedition of conquering the Ahom Kingdom of far east under King Chkardhwaj. Ahoms were ferocious tribe controlling the geographically challenging Ahom region which coincide with the present-day Assam. Aurangzeb’s plan was either to get Ram Singh killed in an attempt to win Ahom Kingdom or he would get another territory under the Mughal flag. Ram Singh was aware of it, and he prayed to Guru Tegh Bahadur to accompany his on the expedition to Assam. The Guru complied with it. In the Guru’s presence in Dhubri, Ram Singh started his expedition against Chakradhwaj. Both sides endured heavy casualties without any victory in sight. Eventually Guru Tegh Bahadur was asked to bring peace to the region and warring parties. The Guru mediated a peace accord between the warring sides and effectively saved Ram Singh’s life. The Guru also preached the Sikh faith to the Ahoms and he was revered in Assam for his pious conduct and as the harbinger of peace in the region. The place where he camped in Dhubri, Assam, was converted into a Gurudwara. The Sikh Sangat of Assam has kept alive his memory even today.
In reality, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji is guru of all of humanity, his benevolence is for everyone. The tendency to believe that the Sikh gurus were limited to a specific geographic region belies the fact that many of the Gurus had actually undertaken extensive tours within India. Guru Tegh Bahadur ji took the message of Sikhism to Assam and the people of Assam embraced him with open arms. Most importantly, his visit accentuates one spirit of One India that resides everywhere in our beloved country. More than anyone else it was the life of Guru Tegh Bahadurji that exemplified this oneness of our country along with the courage to protect the essence of India with his life itself.