Type to search

Books Mac

The Sikh Religion : Introduction




THE fifteenth century of the Christian era was a period of singular mental and political activity. Both in Europe and India men shook off the torpor of ages, and their minds awoke to the consciousness of intellectual responsibility. For this result, it is true, important preparations had been made in the fourteenth century, when the Christian reformers, Walter Lollard and John Huss, preached and suffered death for their opinions;[1] when the poetical literature of England assumed a tangible form from the genius of Chaucer and Gower; when the Musalmans in Europe penetrated into Thrace and Hungary; and when, after the overthrow and expulsion of Budhism from India by the astute and powerful Brahmans, there flourished the great exponents of Indian monotheism, the saint Kabir, and the enlightened Ramanand.

But it was reserved for the fifteenth century to bear the full fruits of the mental awakening of the fourteenth. In England the ancient language of Greece began to be studied; a further impulse was given to the reformation of the Christian religion; and villenage disappeared as a political institution. In France the Government was consolidated by the union of the great fiefs to the crown; and the daring monarch Charles VII made his successful expedition against the picturesque capital of Southern Italy. In Germany occurred the birth of Luther, and the revival and development of the invaluable art of printing in movable types.[2] In Italy there was a marvellous resuscitation of the fine arts, and

[1. Lollard and Huss were burned for heresy. Wickliffe would have suffered the same fate had not a paralytic attack anticipated the executioner.

2. Block printing was known in China before the Christian era.]

{p. xl}

then were born the renowned navigators Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, the great masters Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, and the illustrious patron of letters Lorenzo di Medici.

In Spain Ferdinand and Isabella, though they organized the inquisition in their intemperate religious zeal against the Saracens and Jews, were yet conspicuous for a worldly liberality which deserves the acknowledgement of posterity. In Portugal was born Vasco da Gama, who under the enterprising King Emanuel discovered the maritime route by the Cape of Storms to India. The Musalmans in Europe conquered Turkey and Greece, and seized on the ancient Italian city of Otranto. And in Asia, Taimur extended his victorious arms from Siberia on the north to the Arabian Sea on the south, and from the Ganges on the east to the Hellespont on the west.

There is a wonderful analogy between the spiritual condition of Europe and India during the dark ages. In Europe most religious works were written in Latin, in India they were in Sanskrit. In both continents all learning was in the hands of the priesthood, and this admittedly led to serious abuses. A great cyclic wave of reformation then overspread both continents. During the very period that Luther and Calvin in Europe were warning men of the errors that had crept into Christianity, several Indian saints were denouncing priestcraft, hypocrisy, and idolatry, and with very considerable success. Several of those great men who led the crusade against superstition, founded sects which still survive; but the most numerous and powerful of all is the great Sikh sect founded by Guru Nanak, which already forms a considerable section of the population of the Panjab, and which is scattered in greater or less numbers not only throughout the whole of India but Kabul, Kandahar, China, and Southern Asia.

A cognate cause is frequently assigned for the establishment of new religions, namely, that they appear at periods of great political or social depression, when it becomes necessary for men to have recourse to the superhuman for

{p. xli}

guidance and consolation. Then when the hour is darkest some prophet is born, perhaps in a lowly hamlet, to solace the heavy-laden and lift their thoughts to a brighter and happier world. A signal instance has been remarked by historians. Judaea was smarting from the tyranny and cruelty of Herod when he whom the most advanced races of the world call the Messiah was born.

The Gurus too appear to have been of the opinion that God sends a divine guide whenever required by the condition of the age and country. Guru Amar Das, the third Guru, wrote:–

When the world is in distress, it heartily prayeth.
The True One attentively listeneth and with His kind disposition granteth consolation.
He giveth orders to the Cloud and the rain falleth in torrents.

That is, the Guru comes by God’s order and gives abundant instruction to all who may be prepared to receive it.

Indeed several events occurred during the Muhammadan conquests of India in the Middle Ages to force the Hindus to consider life in a serious aspect. Though many of the followers of Vishnu, Shiv, and the other gods of the Hindu dispensation adopted during that period the faith of the Arabian prophet, as the result of force or with a view to worldly advantages, yet others whose minds were powerfully directed to religious speculation sought safety from persecution and death in the loneliness of the desert or the retirement of the forest, and lived single-minded investigators of religious truth as in the primitive golden age of their country.

We shall here give, from the written accounts of Muhammadan historians, some examples of the treatment of Hindus by Muhammadan conquerors of India.

Shahab-ul[1]-Din, King of Ghazni, the virtual founder of the Muhammadan Empire in India (1170-1206), put Prithwi Raja, King of Ajmer and Dihli, to death in cold blood.

[1. The l is generally silent in such combinations.]

{p. xlii}

He massacred thousands of the inhabitants of Ajmer Who had opposed him, reserving the remainder for slavery. After his victory over the King of Banaras the slaughter of the Hindus is described as immense. None were spared except women and children, and the carnage of the men was carried on until, as it has been said, the earth grew weary of the monotony.[1]

In the Taj-ul-Ma’asir by Hasan Nizam-i-Naishapuri it is stated that when Qutb-ul-Din Aibak (A.D. 1194-1210) conquered Merath he demolished all the Hindu temples of the city and erected mosques on their sites. In the city of Koil, now called Aligarh, he converted Hindu inhabitants to Islam by the sword and beheaded all who adhered to their religion. In the city of Kalinjar he destroyed one hundred and thirteen Hindu temples, built mosques on their sites, massacred over one hundred thousand Hindus, and made slaves of about fifty thousand more. It is said the place became black as pitch with the decomposing bodies of the Hindus. And in the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri by Minhajul-Siraj it is stated that when Muhammad Bakhtyar Khilji conquered Bihar he put to the sword about one hundred thousand Brahmans, and burnt a valuable library of ancient Sanskrit works.

Abdulla Wassaf writes in his Tazjiyal-ul-Amsar wa Tajriyat ul Asar that when Ala-ul-Din Khilji (1295-1316) captured the city of Kambayat at the head of the gulf of Cambay, he killed the adult male Hindu inhabitants for the glory of Islam, set flowing rivers of blood, sent the women of the country, with all their gold, silver, and jewels, to his own home, and made about twenty thousand maidens his private slaves.

Ala-ul-Din once asked his qazi what was the Muhammadan law prescribed for Hindus. The qazi replied, ‘Hindus are like the earth; if silver is demanded from them, they ought with the greatest humility to offer gold. And if a Muhammadan desire to spit into a Hindu’s mouth, the Hindu should

[1. The Kâmilu-t Tawârîkh by ibn Asîr. See also Elphinstone’s History of India.]

{p. xliii}

open it wide for the purpose. God created Hindus to be slaves of the Muhammadans. The Prophet hath ordained that, if the Hindus do not accept Islam, they should be imprisoned, tortured, and finally put to death, and their property confiscated.’ At this the monarch smiled and said he had not been waiting for an interpretation of the sacred law. He had already issued an order that Hindus should only possess corn and coarse clothes sufficient to last them for six months.

During the reign of the same monarch men formerly in easy circumstances were reduced to beggary, and their wives obliged to resort to menial labour for their maintenance. In front of the palace were generally seen the corpses of forty or fifty Hindus. Hindus were punished with merciless severity for the most trifling offences. The monarch had his own brother and nephew flayed alive on the mere suspicion of disloyalty. He then had their flesh cooked and forced their children to eat it. What remained after the repast was thrown to the elephants to trample on.

The historian, Ibn Batuta, who visited India in the lime of the Emperor Muhammad Bin Tughlak, wrote of him: ‘Such was his inexorable and impetuous character that on one occasion when the inhabitants of Dihli revolted against his oppression and wrote him a letter of remonstrance, he ordered them to quit the place for Daulatabad, a city in the Dakhan (Deccan), at a distance of forty days’ journey. The order was so literally obeyed that when the Emperor’s servants searched the city after the removal, and found a blind man in one of the houses and a bedridden one in another, the bedridden man was projected from a catapult and the blind one dragged by his feet to Daulatabad. But the latter’s limbs dropped off on the way, and at the end of the journey only one leg was left, which was duly thrown into the new city, "for the order had been that all should go to this place." We shall subsequently see how Muhammad bin Tughlak persecuted the Maratha saint Namdev, an account of whose life and writings will be given in this work.

{p. xliv}

Amir Khusrau writes in his Tawarikh Alai or Khazain-ul-Futuh that when the Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlak (A.D. 1351-88) took the city of Bhilsa in Bhopal, he destroyed all its Hindu temples, took away their idols, placed them in front of his fort, and had them daily bathed with the blood of a thousand Hindus. Firoz Shah twice plundered the country of Malwa, and took away everything he could find except earthen pots.

Farishta relates that a Brahman called Budhan, who dwelt in a place called Kayathan or Kataen near Lakhnau (Lucknow), was put to death by Sikandar Khan Lodi for stating that as Islam was true, so also was the Hindu religion. The saint Kabir lived under Sikandar Khan Lodi, and was tortured by him.[1]

The Emperor Babar’s cruelty to the inhabitants of Saiyidpur we shall find described by Guru Nanak, who was an eye-witness. Both he and his attendant were taken prisoners and obliged to work as slaves.

The Guru thus describes the Muhammadan rulers and the state of India in his time:–

This age is a knife, kings are butchers; justice hath taken wings and fled.
In this completely dark night of falsehood the moon of truth is never seen to rise.
I have become perplexed in my search;
In the darkness I find no way.
Devoted to pride, I weep in sorrow;
How shall deliverance be obtained?[2]

There is a glamour of romance cast round the person of the Emperor Jahangir, partly owing to the poetry of Moore and partly owing to his possession of Nur Jahan, the most beautiful and gifted woman of the East; but Jahangir’s memory is entitled to no historical commiseration. His

[1. Farishta elsewhere describes Sikandar Khân Lodi as just, God-fearing, and religious. He prayed five times a day, bestowed large sums of money on indigent and religious persons, and was, according to the historian, a model of a Musalmân prince.

2. Mâjh ki Wâr.]

{p. xlv}

father Akbar was disposed to free thought in religion, and it was believed that in this he was encouraged by Abul Fazab the famous Persian historian. Jahangir caused Abul Fazal to be cruelly assassinated. After big accession he compassed the death of Nur Jahan’s husband in order to possess her. He tells in his Memoirs how he disposed of robbers. ‘I accomplished about this period the suppression of a tribe of robbers, who had long infested the roads about Agra; and whom, getting into my power, I caused to be trampled to death by elephants.’

Sir Thomas Roe, the British Ambassador at his Court, gives the following further information regarding Jahangir’s method of dispensing justice: ‘A band of one hundred robbers were brought in chains before the Great Mogul. Without any ceremony of trial, he ordered them to be carried away for execution, their chief being ordered to be torn in pieces by dogs. The prisoners were sent for execution to several quarters of the city, and executed in the streets. Close by my house the chief was torn in pieces by twelve dogs; and thirteen of his fellows, having their hands and feet tied together, had their necks cut by a sword, yet not quite through, and their naked and bloody bodies were left to corrupt in the streets.’

‘The trials are conducted quickly, and the sentences speedily executed; culprits being hanged, beheaded, impaled, torn by dogs, destroyed by elephants, bitten by serpents, or other devices, according to the nature of the crimes; the executions being generally in the market-place. The governors of provinces and cities administer justice in a similar manner.’

The following gives Jahangir’s treatment of harmless lovers: ‘Happening to catch a eunuch kissing one of his women whom he had relinquished, he sentenced the lady to be put into the earth, with only her head left above the ground, exposed to the burning rays of the sun, and the eunuch to be cut in pieces before her face.’

Sir Thomas Roe describes how Jahangir vented his displeasure on some of his nobles: ‘Some nobles who were

{p. xlvi}

near his person he caused for some offence to be whipped in his presence, receiving 130 stripes with a most terrible instrument of torture, having, at the ends of four cords irons like spur-rowels, so that every stroke made four wounds. When they lay for dead, he commanded the standers-by to spurn them with their feet, and the doorkeepers to break their staves upon them. Thus, cruelly mangled and bruised, they were carried away, one of them dying on the spot.’

Jahangir’s son Khusrau rose in rebellion against him, and it is not a matter for surprise that he found many adherents. ‘After Khusrau’s arrest he was brought before his father, with a chain fastened from his left hand to his left foot, according to the laws of Changhez Khan. On the right hand of the Prince stood Hasan Beg, and on his left, Abdulrahim. Khusrau trembled and wept. He was ordered into confinement; but the companions of his rebellion were put to death with cruel torments. Hasan Beg was sewed up in a raw hide of an ox, and Abdulrahim in that of an ass, and both were led about the town on asses, with their faces towards the tail. The ox’s hide became so dry and contracted, that before the evening Hasan Beg was suffocated; but the ass’s hide being continually moistened with water by the friends of Abdulrahim, he survived the punishment. From the garden of Kamran to the city of Lahore two rows of stakes were fixed in the ground, upon which the other rebels were impaled alive; and the unhappy Khusrau, mounted on an elephant, was conducted between the ranks of these miserable sufferers.’

Further on we shall see that Jahangir caused Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru, to be tortured to death, partly on account of his religion and partly because he had extended to Prince Khusrau a friendly reception and hospitality.

Jahangir’s grandson the Emperor Aurangzeb was brought up a very strict Muhammadan. The following, according to the Mirât-i-Alam of the historian Bakhtawar Khan, shows how he treated Hindus and their temples for the honour and glory of God and the success of what he considered

{p. xlvii}

the only true religion: ‘Hindu writers have been entirely excluded from holding public offices; and all the worshipping places of the infidels, and the great temples of these infamous people have been thrown down and destroyed in a manner which excites astonishment at the successful completion of so arduous an undertaking.’

The following is from the Maâsir-i-Alamgiri: ‘It reached the ears of His Majesty, the Protector of the Faith, that in the provinces of Thatha, Multan, and Banaras, but especially in the latter, foolish Brahmans were in the habit of expounding frivolous books in their schools, and that students, learned Mussalmans as well as Hindus, went there even from long distances, led by a desire to become acquainted with the wicked sciences there taught. The Director of the Faith consequently issued orders to all the governors of provinces to destroy with willing hands the temples and schools of the infidels, and to put an entire stop to the teaching and practice of idolatrous forms of worship. It was subsequently reported to his religious Majesty, leader of the Unitarians, that in obedience to his orders, the Government officers had destroyed the temple of Vishwanath at Banaras. In the thirteenth year of Aurangzeb’s reign this justice-loving monarch, the constant enemy of tyrants, commanded the destruction of the Hindu temple of Mathura, and soon that stronghold of falsehood and den of iniquity was levelled with the ground. On its site was laid at great expense the foundation of a vast mosque.’

There arose a sect called Satnamis founded by Jagjivan Das, a native of Awadh (Oude). They appear to have taken many of their doctrines from the Sikhs. Their moral code is thus described: ‘It is something like that of all Hindu quietists, and enjoins indifference to the world, its pleasures or its pains, implicit devotion to the spiritual guide, clemency and gentleness, rigid adherence to truth, the discharge of all ordinary, social, or religious obligations, and the hope of final absorption into the one spirit which pervades all things.'[1]

[1. H. H. Wilson’s Religion of the Hindus.]

{p. xlviii}

The Muhammadan historian thus describes this pious sect and their treatment by the Emperor Aurangzeb: ‘A body of bloody miserable rebels, goldsmiths, carpenters, sweepers, tanners, and other ignoble beings, braggarts and fools of all descriptions became so puffed up with vainglory as to cast themselves headlong into the pit of destruction. Aurangzeb sent an army to exterminate and destroy these unbelievers. The heroes of Islam charged with impetuosity and crimsoned their sabres with the blood of these desperate men. The struggle was terrible. At length the Satnamis broke and fled, but were pursued with great slaughter.

‘General Khan Jahan Bahadur arrived from jodhpur bringing with him several cartloads of idols taken from the Hindu temples which had been razed to the ground. Most of these idols, when not made of gold, silver, brass, or copper, were adorned with precious stones. It was ordered that some of them should be cast away in out-offices and the remainder placed beneath the steps of the grand mosque to be trampled under foot. There they lay a long time until not a vestige of them was left.

‘In 1090 A.H. (A.D. 1680) Prince Muhammad Azam and Khan Jahan Bahadur obtained permission to visit Udaipur. Two other officers at the same time proceeded thither to effect the destruction of the temples of the idolaters, which are described as the wonders of the age, erected by the infidels to the ruin of their souls. Twenty Rajputs had resolved to die for their faith. One of them slew many of his assailants before receiving his death blow. Another followed and another until all had fallen. Many of the faithful also had been dispatched when the last of these fanatics had gone to hell.

‘Soon after Aurangzeb himself visited the Rana’s lake and ordered all its temples to be levelled with the ground. Hasan Ali Khan then made his appearance with twenty camels taken from the Rana, and reported that the temple near the palace and one hundred and twenty-two more in the neighbouring districts had been

{p. xlix}

destroyed. He was rewarded by the emperor with the title of Bahadur.

‘When Aurangzeb went to Chitaur, still one of the most beautiful of all ancient cities, he caused sixty-three temples there to be demolished. The Rana had now been driven forth from his country and his home, the victorious Ghazis had struck many a blow, and the heroes of Islam had trampled under their chargers’ hoofs the land which this reptile of the forest and his predecessors had possessed for a thousand years.’

Aurangzeb’s iconoclastic fury knew no bounds or moderation. ‘Abu Turab, who had been commissioned by him to effect the destruction of the idol temples of Amber, the ancient capital of Jaipur, reported in person that three-score and six of these edifices had been levelled with the ground.'[1]

We shall further on see that it was Aurangzeb who put Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, to death in Dihli. According to the author of the Dabistan the emperor ordered the Guru’s body to be quartered and the parts thereof to be suspended at the four gates of the city.[2] Aurangzeb also persecuted Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs, and forced him to fly from the Panjab; and it was a result of the same monarch’s tyranny that Guru Gobind Singh’s four sons lost their lives and that none of his descendants survived.

Many earnest thinkers and reformers lived under the above and other Muhammadan emperors of India, but they were either executed and none dared record their teachings and their fate, or accounts of them belong to Hindu religious history, and lie beyond the scope of the present work.

[1. On the conduct of the Muhammadan Emperors we have largely availed ourselves of the translations and narratives in Sir Henry Elliot’s History of India. The original Persian histories are many of them difficult of access, and could not be consulted.

2. The Sikh chroniclers, as we shall subsequently see, give a different version of the mode of execution of Guru Teg Bahadur.]

{p. l}


Leave a Comment