Thursday, December 14, 2017
Gateway to Sikhism


Zafar Nameh

Dr. Hira Lall Chopra

The Zafar Nameh is a poetical composition, in Persian of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth and the last in the continuous line of Sikh prophets.

In 1922, the Nagri Pracharni Patrika of Banaras published an article by Babu Jagan Nath Das, in its July or August issue. In this article the writer had claimed that some thirty or thirty-two years prior to writing that article he had seen two letters in Persian verse with the Mahant or the Granthi-in-Charge of Sri Hari Mandir Sahib of Patna - one was written by the great Maratha warrior king, Sivaji, to Mirza Raja Jai Singh, a compatriot of Aurangzeb and the other, by the Founder of the Khalsa Guru Gobind Singh - to Aurangzeb. In the latter, Auranzeb was admonished for his misdeed and his tyranny over the Hindus. Babu Jagan Nath Das had copied out both the letters in or about 1890 and he got Sivaji’s letter published in the Nagri Pracharni Patrika.It thus came to be properly preserved. Immediately afterwards, Mr. Bulaki Ram Chopra Shastri, Barrister-at-Law of Dehra Dun, got it reprinted in Persian script with a picture of the Maratha king in the centre, and thus it was made available to Persian-Knowing lovers of Indian history; but unfortunately, the letter of Guru Gobind Singh was mislaid by Babu Jagan Nath Das himself and he transcribed portions of it from memory and had them published in the Nagri pracharni Patrika also. Pandit Raj Vallabh Misra, who was then a collector in Patna got this letter, in Persian verse, of Guru Gobind Singh printed and Babu Jagan Nath Das sent a copy of it to Sardar Umrao Singh Shergill, of Majitha, who gave it to the library of the Khalsa College, Amritsar.

It could not be known as to how these two letters came into the hands of the Mahant of Patna. This remains a mystery even today.

It is a fact that, for the consolidation of the nation, Guru Gobind Singh had collected around him fiftytwo scholars of Persian and Sanskrit. The object was that a proper assessment of the sacred scriptures of Hindus and Muslims be made. Among the scholars at Guru Singh’s court was the great Bhai Nandlal Goya - an acknowledged poet and scholar of Persian, who had his education in Kabul and spoke Persian as his mother tongue. It is said that whenever Bhai Nandlal Goya came to the durbar of Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru would stand up and receive him with honour and deference. It is conceivable that constant association with Bhai Nandlal inculcated a love for Persian poetry in the Guru. The Guru seems to have attained sufficient proficiency in Persian and must have been able to communicated with the rulers of the land in the official language.

Between July 1703 and January 1704 the Fort of Anandpur was besieged by the Mughal Army and when the latter realized that it was not possible to break through the firmly entrenched forces of the Khalsa, Aurangzeb is said to have sent an emissary, with oaths written on the Qur'an, offering to sign a treaty. On the basis of Aurangzeb’s solemn sworn assurances, Guru Gobind Singh, who did not believe in these, bowed to the hard-pressed and starving garrison of Anandpur, and came out of Anandpur. The enemy retracted from the contract and attacked the Khalsa. In the melee that ensued practically all literary treasures of Guru Gobind Singh were lost and the members of his family and the Sikh forces were thrown helter -skelter. Guruji’s mother, Mata Gujri and his two younger sons were betrayed by their brahmin servant Gangu to the Governor of Sirhind and Guru himself was confined in Chamkaur for a few days and had to fight his way out.

It cannot be said with any degree of certainty when the Zafar Namah was composed.

The first part of the Zafar Nameh appears to have been completed in Machhiwara and the latter half at a place known as Kangar near Rupar. There are 135 verses in the epistle and it was sent to Aurangzeb in Hyderabad through Bhai Daya Singh. At the time this epistle was received, the Mughal Army had lost its hold on the Punjab and the very foundations of the Mughal Empire were tottering. Aurangzeb was taken aback to read this divine warning, which was nothing short of a writing on the wall so far as the future of the Mughal Empire was concerned.

Guru Gobind Singh’s knowledge of Persian will be acknowledged by all who read the Zafar Namah. Because it was desired to attune it with the martial tone of the events that were referred to by the Guru, the Mutaqarab metre of the Shahnama of Fridausi was chosen by Guru Gobind Singh for this letter. This metre was also elected by Sivaji Maratha and both the leaders have proved themselves to be perfect masters of Persian.

Not only is the Zafar Nameh full of poetic embellishments, it is also replete with historical allusions and of moral and ethical principles.

It is an interesting coincidence that the Sikh ardas begins with a salutation to the sword (Bhagwati) and the Zafar Nameh also begins with the Lord of the Sword and other implements of war. Those who have established their name as warriors in the battlefield are remembered next, and then there is a frontal attack on the Mughal Emperor, and an open admonition, that he was perpetrating all heinous acts in the name of God and religion, whereas, the Khalsa would never indulge in such hypocrisies. The Emperor’s outward demeanour of a pious Muslim was only a camouflage to entrap innocent people into his snare. With the blood of his brothers and persecution of his father on his hands, how could he be trusted? With such inhuman acts, he had built a shaky structure on unsound foundations, and this was bound to be washed away by the "holy waters" with which he had initiated the Khalsa, who were destined to fight to the end so as to exterminate the entire empire. The Emperor was warned that, just as he had returned sorrow-stricken from the Deccan after his fight with the Marathas and the failures in Mewar and Rajasthan, he was destined to face the same fate if he tried to trample upon the sacred soil of the Punjab.

The loss of his two sons was nothing serious for the Guru, for he believed that hundreds of thousands of his followers (the Sikhs) were there to vindicate the honour of the Khalsa. All the professions of the Mughals in the name of God and theoath taken on the holy Qur'an had no value for the Sikhs and the only thing which could set the Mughals right was the sword. The Guru threw a challenge to the Emperor to come into the battlefield personally and fight with him and not to get innocent people killed to satiate his thirst for blood.

Verses 25-37 are in praise of the Lord as He is believed by the Sikhs, and the Guru gives to Aurangzeb the right idea of God and his firm faith in His glory and might. Anything with which the name of God was associated must be accomplished with equally pious and sacred means. The Mughals deceived people under the camouflage of their swearings in the name of God and their inscribing the agreements on the pages of the holy Qoran to which they hardly attached any value. This was demonstrated by their subsequent behaviour. The Guru, being a teacher from his very birth, does not decry the evil-doer but tries to reform him as far as possible. The means as well as the ends must conform to each other and the sanctity of the either must not be destroyed by the grossness of the other.

In the Zafar Nameh, Guru Gobind Singh has tried to synthesise knowledge, action and devotion. Viveka or discrimination be taken to be the first step towards knowledge and it is therefore that the first few verses pertain to what should be the criterion of choice in the circumstances in which one is put. The second stage is that of detachment where the aspirant is free from all idea of the lower self but works for the macrocosm. His own children have suffered martyrdom, and his father was beheaded - not for any personal fault but - for the sake of the nation and principles of justice. The Emperor, on the other hand, had indulged in the murder of his own brothers and the torturing of his father just for personal ends. The Guru shows him the difference between the ideals followed by each. Just means must always be employed for a sacred end. This is Guru’s philosophy of action. All possible peaceful means must be adopted first to bring home to the aggressor the futility of his high handedness; but if he proves to be incorrigible, resort to violent means achieve the end was permissible:

cun kar az hama hilate dar guzasht
halal ast burdan ba shamsher dast


When all other means fail
it is proper to take the sword in one’s hand

This verse signifies the true nature of action and a high water-mark in practical politics. Good means can be effective when used against enemies who have any sense of goodness in them.

The whole of this Epic poem is full of classical Persian allusions and shows a perfect mastery of the history and literature of the Muslims and the pre-Muslim Persians, whose language the Mughals had adopted for their courts. The mention of the names of Kaikhusrow, Jamshid, Faridun, Bahman, Isfandyar and Iskandar give us an idea as to how these non-Muslim predecessors or the Persians had glorified themselves in theatres of war and upheld the cause of their country against the aggressors. The mention of the name of Sher Shah Suri is more of a political nature as it was he who ousted Aurangzeb’s ancestor, Humayun, out of India and obliged him to take refuge in Persia where the state religion was Shiaism, of which Aurangzeb was an arch-enemy. This mention of the name of Sher Shah was to make Aurangzeb realize the truth of his past history. The reference to the names of Timur, Babar, Humayun and Akbar was intended to bring home to Aurangzeb that all of them had gone and he had also to suffer the same fate and it was of no use to perpetrate tyranny on people who were his subjects.

The epistle, as a whole, is a remarkable piece of enunciation of ethics. It is equally remarkable for its poetry and diction. However, no authentic original version of it has been discovered so far. Many lines which are faulty in metre seem to have been interpolated. It is desirable that it be purged of the dross and a genuine version presented to the lovers of the literature of Guru Gobind Singh. When the Zafar Nameh is edited critically, it will have a place in Persian literature equal to that of Firdausi’s Shahnama or Nizami’s Sikandarnama.

Article taken from : The Sikh Review will strive to be most comprehensive directory of Historical Gurudwaras and Non Historical Gurudwaras around the world.

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