Mata Sundari ji
Mata Sundari ji was wife of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), was the daughter of Bhai Ram Saran, a Kumarav Khatri of Bijvara, in present-day Hoshiarpur district of the Punjab. She was married to Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur on 4 April 1684. On 26 January 1687, at Paonta, she gave birth to Sahibzada Ajit Singh, the eldest son of Guru Gobind Singh. Consequent upon the evacuation of Anandpur on the night of i6 December 1705, Mata Sundari, along with Mata Sahib Devan, was escorted by Bhai Mani Singh to Delhi. She rejoined Guru Gobind Singh in 1706 at Talvandi Sabo, where she heard the news of the martyrdom of her son and the other Sahibzadas as also of the death of her aged mother-in-law, Mata Gujari. She went back to stay at Delhi while Guru Gobind Singh left Talvandi Sabo for the South. At Delhi, Mata Sundari adopted a young boy whom she named Ajit Singh because of his resemblance to her own late son. After the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded in October 1708, the Sikhs looked up to her for guidance. She appointed Bhai Mani Singh to manage the sacred shrines at Amritsar and also commissioned him to collect the writings of Guru Gobind Singh. She also issued under her own seal and authority hukamnamas to sangats. The hukamnamas since discovered and published bear dates between 12 October 1717 and 10 August 1730. Mata Sundari was disappointed in her adopted son, Ajit Singh. Emperor Bahadur Shah treated him as the successor of Guru Gobind Singh, called him to his court and gave him a robe of honour in September 1710. This went to his head and he started 1iving in style as a courtier. He grew arrogant and haughty even towards Mata Sundari who disowned him, and migrated to Mathura. Ajit Singh was later convicted for murder and was put to death on 18 January 1725. Mata Sundan returned to live in Delhi where she ,died in 1747. A memorial in her honour stands in the compound of Gurdwara Bala Sahib, New Delhi.
Why did Guru Gobind Singh have more than one wife?
How many marriages did Guru Gobind Singh have?
The wrong impression that the Guru had more than one wife was created by those writers who were ignorant of Punjabi culture. Later authors accepted those writings indicating more than one marriage of the Guru and presented it as a royal act. During those days kings, chiefs, and other important people usually had more than one wife as a symbol of their being great and superior to the common man. Guru Gobind Singh, being a true king, was justified in their eyes to have had more than one wife. This is actually incorrect.
In Punjab, there are two and sometimes three big functions connected with marriage, i.e., engagement, wedding, and Muklawa. Big gatherings and singings are held at all these three functions. In many cases, the engagement was held as soon as the person had passed the infant stage. Even today engagements at 8 to 12 years of age are not uncommon in some interior parts of India. The wedding is performed a couple of years after the engagement. After the wedding, it takes another couple of years for the bride to move in with her in laws and live there. This is called Muklawa. A dowry and other gifts to the bride are usually given at this time of this ceremony to help her to establish a new home. Now, the wedding and Muklawa are performed on the same day and only when the partners are adults.
A big befitting function and other joyful activities were held at Anand Pur, according to custom, at the time of the engagement of the Guru. The bride, Mata Jeeto Ji, resided at Lahore, which was the capital of the Mughal rulers who were not on good terms with the Gurus. When the time for the marriage ceremony came, it was not considered desirable for the Guru to go to Lahore, along with the armed Sikhs in large numbers. Furthermore, it would involve a lot of traveling and huge expenses, in addition to the inconvenience to the Sangat, younger and old, who wished to witness the marriage of the Guru. Therefore, as mentioned in the Sikh chronicles, Lahore was ‘brought’ to Anand Pur Sahib for the marriage instead of the Guru going to Lahore. A scenic place a couple of miles to the north of Anand Pur was developed into a nice camp for the marriage. This place was named Guru Ka Lahore. Today, people are going to Anand Pur visit this place as well. The bride was brought to this place by her parents and the marriage was celebrated with a very huge gathering attending the ceremony.
The two elaborate functions, one at the time of engagement and the other at the time of the marriage of the Guru, gave the outside observers the impression of two marriages. They had reason to assume this because a second name was also there, i.e., Mata Sundari Ji. After the marriage, there is a custom in the Panjab of giving a new affectionate name to the bride by her inlaws. Mata Jeeto Ji, because of her fine features and good looks, was named Sundari (beautiful) by the Guru’s mother. The two names and two functions gave a basis for outsiders to believe that the Guru had two wives. In fact, the Guru had one wife with two names as explained above.
Some historians even say that Guru Gobind Singh had a third wife, Mata Sahib Kaur. In 1699, the Guru asked her to put patasas (puffed sugar) in the water for preparing Amrit when he founded the Khalsa Panth. Whereas Guru Gobind Singh is recognized as the spiritual father of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Kaur is recognized as the spiritual mother of the Khalsa. People not conversant with the Amrit ceremony mistakenly assume that Mata Sahib Kaur was the wife of Guru Gobind Singh. As Guru Gobind Singh is the spiritual but not the biological father of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Devan is the spiritual mother of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Devan is the spiritual mother of the Khalsa but not the wife of Guru Gobind Singh.
From ignorance of Punjabi culture and the Amrit ceremony, some writers mistook these three names of the women in the life of Guru Gobind Singh as the names of his three wives. Another reason for this isunderstanding is that the parents of Mata Sahib Devan, as some Sikh chronicles have mentioned, had decided to marry her to Guru Gobind Singh. When the proposal was brought for discussion to Anandpur, the Guru had already been married. Therefore, the Guru said that he could not have another wife since he was already married. The dilemma before the parents of the girl was that, the proposal having become public, no Sikh would be willing to marry her. The Guru agreed for her to stay at Anand Pur but without accepting her as his wife. The question arose, as most women desire to have children, how could she have one without being married. The Guru told, “She will be the “mother” of a great son who will live forever and be known all over the world.” The people understood the hidden meaning of his statement only after the Guru associated Mata Sahib Devan with preparing Amrit by bringing patasas. It is, therefore, out of ignorance that some writers consider Mata Sahib Devan as the worldly wife of Guru Gobind Singh.
The worthy consort of Guru Gobind Singh, Mata Sundri, was a distinguished guide of the Sikhs for 40 years after the death of the tenth Master, her husband. As her life story will reveal, she was the champion of truth and high values. She courageously faced a life full to the brim with misery and stood fast in leading the followers of her husband at a critical time. She has the foremost rank in the Indian women leaders. Her original name was Jito. In those days brides were given a new name by their in laws after the marriage So she was named Sundri after marriage. She was born in Lahore in 1670. Her father, Harjas Subhikhi, was a respected rich man of Lahore, capital of the Punjab. Out of respect, we call her Mata (mother) Sundri. Her father was head of a clan, so she was brought up in the lap of luxury and enjoyed the life of a happy child. Nothing is known about her schooling, but her literary taste shows she was well educated. Her father started searching for a suitable match for her, as early marriage was the custom in those days. He was a devotee of Guru Tegh Bahadur and had seen Gobind Rai during his visits to Anandpur .He selected the young Gobind Rai as his would be son –in- law. He approached Mata Gujri, mother of Gobind Rai, and his maternal uncle, Kirpal Chand with the proposal. They agreed and accepted the proposal. Harjas wanted that the marriage should take place at Lahore. Gobind Rai did not like the idea in view of the prevailing circumstances and assured Ram Saran that he would establish a new city at a distance of 10 miles from Anandpur before marriage. Consequently, a new city called Guru Ka Lahore or New Lahore was built by Guru Gobind Rai. Historians write that the hustle and bustle of this new Lahore was commensurate with the old Lahore. It still exists under the same name, but now it is only a village. It is said that the wedding of Mata Sundri surpassed in grandeur all other marriages solemnized in the families of the Gurus. This new city seemed to be a lovely gift for the bride to welcome her. This marriage took place in 1677,but the’ Muklawa’ ceremony was performed after some years In 1685 the whole family left for Nahan, a hill state nearby, at the invitation of the king of Nahan. Mata Sundri was now a beloved member of the Guru’s family. She saw her husband giving military training to his followers. It was a new experience for her. After a few months, Guru Gobind Rai shifted to Paonta, on the bank of the River Yamuna. Here he built a fortress. Sahibzada Ajit Singh was born here in 1689. The Guru had fifty-two poets in his court and created some of his literary works here. Mata Sundri assisted her husband in every possible way in his compositions. Here, Guru Ji fought the battle of Bhangani and defeated the hill chiefs. Mata Sundri was deeply impressed by the bravery of her husband and his soldiers. These happenings prepared her for the challenges that were to follow.
Now the family shifted to Anandpur. Here were born the Sahibzadas – Jujhar Singh in 1690, Zoravar Singh in 1696, and Fateh Singh, in 1699.They were lovely children and were looked after by their mother and grandmother, Mata Gujri. In 1699, Gobind Rai created saint-soldiers by baptizing his followers; he himself got baptized by the five beloved ones and was called Gobind Singh. Mata Sundri remained by the side of her husband. She sweetened the water of ‘Pahul’ at the creation of the Khalsa. She was highly impressed and happy seeing the army of the Khalsa undergoing military instructions.
From 1701 to 1704, Anandpur was attacked by the hill chiefs and the Mughal forces, but Guru Gobind Singh and his Sikhs repulsed every attack and defeated the enemy. Mata Gujri, sometimes, yielded to the requests of some weak-hearted Sikhs, asked Guru Ji to give up the conflict with the enemy and vacate the fort, but Mata Sundri never agreed to this proposal. She was a bold and inspiring lady, who showed no sign of weakness. In 1704, Guru Gobind Singh agreed with the Sikhs to vacate the fort on the assurance by the Mughals that none would be harmed, but it proved to be a false assurance and a great crisis befell. As soon as the Sikhs vacated the fort, they were attacked. It was decided to send Mata Sundri with Jawahar Singh and Dhana Singh to Delhi. It is said that they covered the distance of two hundred miles in disguise. Mata Gujri, with her two younger grandsons, left for Sarhind with a servant. Guru Ji, with his two elder sons and forty Sikhs, left for Chamkaur. This was a period of great anxiety for Mata Sundri who faced it bravely. At Delhi, she stayed in Jawahar Singh’s house in Ajmeri Gate. It was here that she learnt the news of the martyrdom of the four Sahibzadas and her beloved mother-in-law. The elder two were myrtyered while bravely fighting against the Mughal forces. The younger two were bricked alive by the chief of Sarhind as they refused to be converted to Islam. Mata Gujri also breathed her last at Sarhind. In the meantime, Guru Gobind Singh reached Damdama Sahib in District Bhatinda after encountering many hardships and dangers. It was here that Mata Sundri met Guru Gobind Singh after covering a long distance from Delhi. She wanted to confirm the news of the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas from their father who said, “I have sacrificed four sons for the Sikhs. It does not matter if four have died as we have been blessed with thousands of sons.” She was consoled on hearing these words and did not complain about the loss of comforts and Sahibzadas. She stayed there and served her husband, who was engaged in literary pursuits. Her stay at Damdama Sahib was short as Guru Gobind Singh left for the South India on the invitation of Aurangzeb. She along with Bhai Mani Singh, returned to Delhi.
In the meantime, Aurangzeb died and his son, Bahadur Shah, requested Guru Gobind Singh to help him against his younger brother, Azam Shah. After a fierce battle, Bahadur Shah won, thanked the Guru for his help, and took the Guru to Delhi where he stayed as a royal guest. Here Mata Sundri brought her five-year-old adopted son, Ajit Singh, to Guru Gobind Singh. Seeing the boy, the Guru said, “This child will be the cause of your troubles, be cautious.” Mata Sundri could not give up her affection for the boy. As Ajit Singh grew up, he proved a nuisance and created many enemies. He decorated himself with the Guru’s arms, which were held in high esteem by Mata Sundri. She snubbed him for his misbehavior, but he attacked her with his dagger. His rude behavior and murder of an innocent beggar led him into trouble with the Moghal government. Like a coward, he gave up his faith and cut his long hair. Mata Sundri was annoyed and refused to see him ever again. Overwhelmed with grief, she left for Mathra as the ruler of Mathra was known to her. She stayed there for a short period and returned to Delhi. On her return she started living in a new house built for her by her followers there. Mata Sundri College for Women, run by the Sikhs of Delhi is housed there these days. Guru Gobind Singh went from Delhi to the south, where he left this world in 1707. Now Mata Sundri took the responsibility of guiding the Sikhs. She contributed in many ways to fulfill her responsibility till her death. She maintained the unity among Sikhs during very difficult times. Now the Sikhs were divided in two groups. Followers
of Banda Singh Bahadur, known as Bandai Khalsa, and the remaining known as Tat Khalsa (Pure Khalsa) were ready to kill each other at Amritsar. There was a possibility of bloodshed. She sent Bhai Mani Singh to Amritsar as head priest and asked him to settle this dispute. As he was respected by both the parties, the dispute was resolved peacefully. Moreover, all the Sikhs had a deep respect for Mata Sundri and had a firm belief in her impartiality. The credit of preserving the unity among the Sikhs goes to Mata Sundri. She foiled attempts made by her adopted son and others to declare themselves the eleventh guru of the Sikhs. If she had not intervened, a lot of Sikh blood would have been shed and the community would have been weakened
She undertook another important task started by Guru Gobind Singh. She encouraged Bhai Mani Singh to teach the Sikhs critical appreciation and the meaning of Gurbani. He started the Gurmat Institute at Delhi and later at Amritsar. This is still continuing at Amritsar in street Sattowali. Teaching Gurmat in those adverse circumstances was not an easy job. She also saw that more copies of handwritten Guru Granth Sahib were prepared.
In 1779, a lady with her child, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, came to see Mata Sundri and left the child with her. The child grew up under her loving care. She groomed him as a saint soldier. When he grew up, he was sent to Nawab Kapoor Singh for further training. He was also given some arms used by Guru Gobind Singh and blessings by Mata Sundri. With her blessing and training, he became a leader of the Sikhs and was known as Badshah (King). It shows Mata Sundri’s house was a haven of refuge for the needy.
Edicts (Hukumnamas) written by her to the Sikhs in different parts of India provide us with good evidence concerning her life. In those edicts, she often addresses the Sikhs as her beloved sons. Her language is overflowing with love. In one edict, which is addressed to the Sikhs at Patna, she asks them for twenty-five rupees to be given at the marriage of a needy Sikh’s daughter. This shows her concern for the needy. In another edict, she advises to bridge the differences among her followers. It proves that she was very much concerned about the unity among the Sikhs. In most of the edicts, she asks her Sikhs to send money for running of the common kitchen. It shows she continued the tradition of the common kitchen. These edicts also show that she was loved and respected by the Sikhs. One edict shows that Sikhs sent some gold for the wife of her adopted son. In her old age, she remained absorbed in meditation. She used to sit in meditation in front of the weapons of her husband. Before her death, she sent weapons of Guru Gobind Singh to Akal Takhat at Amritsar. She breathed her last in 1747 at Delhi. According to her desire, her body was cremated near the cremation site of Guru Harkrishan Sahib, the eighth Master. The small room where the Mata lived is still kept as it was. A Gurdwara was constructed by S.Baghel Singh at this place, when he conquered the city. Now this Gurdwara is being managed by the Gurdwara management committee of Delhi.
None can deny the fact that Mata Sundri, the serene Mother, completed most of the works left unfinished by the Tenth Master. When the time required, she did not hesitate and shouldered the leadership of the Khalsa courageously. She was the epitome of selflessness and austerity. She did not waver in the face of misfortunes. Her contribution to the Sikh community is much more than the contribution of any other Sikh lady. She was a champion of truth and high values. She disowned her faithless adopted
son and did not save him from the death punishment although she could have done so as she was respected by the Mughals. She will always shine like a star and guide the people to the right path. She was an ideal woman. I bow my head as a mark of respect before the greatness of her soul.