A New Turning Point and the Great Test
Guru Gobind Rai, seeing the gravity of the situation, resolved to awaken his followers to a new life and to teach them how to wield the sword to defend themselves, their religion, their culture and their country. Thus the Guru decided to fight against the two kinds of tyranny to which the common people of India always fell victims- – firstly against the political tyranny of alien rulers who deprived the common masses of their elementary rights of citizenship such as freedom of religion, security of life, honour and of property. Secondly against the social and religious tyranny of the priestly class. The political tyranny was discriminate and occasional but the religious tyranny was indiscriminate and continual, being practised everyday in kitchens, at the village wells, in temples and hundreds of other places of mutual resort.* The Guru wanted to harden the hearts of people against injustice and tyranny. He, therefore, devised a novel way of making the Sikhs distinct so that they could be easily recognised even among thousands and they would thereby be obliged to declare their faith openly.
>* A short history of the Sikhs by Teja Singh and Ganda Singh
On April 13, 1699 at Anand Pur (Punjab), Guru Gobind Rai took a momentous decision. He called together his Sikhs from allover India to join in the celebrations of the Baisakhi fair(Baisakhi is a harvest festival in India. It falls on 13th April every year). The historians tell us that as many as 80,000 Sikhs responded to the Guru’s call. A tent was pitched near the assembled court. Various choirs sang hymns in praise of God. When all were seated there, Guru Gobind Rai came out from his tent and stood on the dais with a drawn sword. My faithful Sikhs, said the Guru, Is there anyone here who would lay down his life for our religion? I want the head of a Sikh. I want this as a sacrifice to ensure freedom of worship and religion for all. There was no immediate response. The whole gathering was taken aback. The Guru repeated his demand but nobody moved. At the third call, Daya Ram of Lahore came forward and bowed. My Lord, he said, My head is at your disposal. At this the Guru took him into the tent and everybody heard a thud and saw a stream of blood coming from under the tent. The Guru came back with his sword dripping fresh blood and said, I want another head. My beautiful sword wants to taste the blood of another beloved Sikh of mine. This was too much. People started to slink away. But lo! there stood up Dharam Das of Delhi and offered his head. The same thud was heard and more blood flowed. The Guru came back again with the same demand once again, then came forward Mohkam Chand, Sahib Chand and Himmat Rai one after the other. The five brave Sikhs passed the great Guru’s supreme test. Soon after this, the Guru and those five Sikhs came to the dais with a new glow of life in them. They were in new uniforms. In the presence of that huge gathering the Guru, in collaboration with the five ‘beloved ones’ prepared the Amrit (Nectar). He filled the iron vessel with water, added some sugar cakes to it and stirred it with a double edged sword (Khanda) while reciting hymns over it. This Amrit (baptismal water) was administered to all five from the same vessel. The Guru thus abolished the notorious caste system and declared them equal. In Sikh history these five are known as PANJ PYARE (the five beloved ones). They received the new surname of ‘Singh’ added to their names. The Guru then himself took the Amrit from those five and thus from Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. Later, Sikh women on taking Amrit were given the surname of ‘Kaur’ added to their names. ‘Singh’ means brave as a lion and ‘Kaur’ means a princess or the second son of a king. Within a short time as many as 80,000 Sikhs were baptised and thus admitted into the order of the Khalsa — the army of saint soldiers.