The Hair and the Sikh Sacrifices
To keep the hair intact is an indispensable element of the Sikh faith and the Sikh history is full of sacrifices which the Sikhs made for the protection and maintenance of uncut hair. For a Sikh, the Kesh is not only the symbol but the seal of his Gurus. The Sikhs acquire their faith through the offer of their heads. The five proven ones were accepted and exalted to the status of the Guru by the Guru himself. Thus the head of a Sikh is a preordained offering to the Guru and in fact, it belong to the Guru. This is why the Sikhs always pray that their faith should sustain their life breath and keep their hair intact. It was for the protection of the faith and its symbols that in December 1704, Sahibzada Fateh Singh and Sahibzada Zorawar Singh, the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh, aged nine and seven respectively refused to be converted to Islam and accepted instead, the penalty of being bricked up alive in a wall at Sirhind at the hands of the Muslim Governor, Wajid Khan. Again in March 1716, 780 Sikhs along with Baba Banda Singh Bahadurwere executed in Delhi on the orders of the emperor, Farrukh Siyar. The execution lasted one week and on the average 100 Sikhs were executed every day. Before a Sikh was brought to the platform for execution, he was offered his freedom if he cut his hair and abjured his faith. But none of them, not a single one, out of 780 wavered. Rather they vied with one another for precedence in death. At last on June 19, 1716 the executioners tore the flesh of Banda Singh Bahadur with red hot pincers. He, however, remained calm up to the last moment and died the death of a martyr.
From 1720 to 1762 alone, nearly 30,000 Sikhs, including women and children, were put to death by the tyrants.
The brave Sikhs sang the following couplet which has since become a popular Punjabi saying –
Mannun* is our sickle and we are a crop for him to mow, The more he cuts us, the more we grow’.
* Mir Mannun was a Moghul Governor of Lahore from March 1748 to Nov. 1753, and a sworn enemy of Sikhs.
Many others were brought to Lahore and tortured and beheaded in the market place. This place is in Landa Bazar Lahore and is now known as Shahid Ganj (the place of the martyrs). It was once more in 1734 that Bhai Mani Singh, on his refusal to embrace Islam,was cut to pieces limb by limb. Then during the rule of Zakriya Khan in the Punjab, a price was put on the heads of the Sikhs. He who sheared off the hair of a Sikh, received blankets and bedding, he who supplied information about a Sikh was given ten rupees and he who caught or killed a Sikh was rewarded with fifty rupees from the coffers of the state. But none of this dampened the spirits of the Sikhs and they resolutely stuck to their faith and form. In 1742, Bhai Taru Singh was offered the usual choice of Islam or death. His only crime was that he was a Sikh. He bravely chose death. His executioners wanted his hair to be cut off first. Bhai Taru Singh strongly protested and gladly agreed to let his scalp be scrapped off with his hair intact on it. He bore this brutal punishment bravely, continuing to recite the Japji (The Sikh morning Prayer), and thus gave away his scalp for the protection of his uncut hair. In February 1762, after the second great holocaust in Sikh history, Baba Alia Singh, the saintly figure and the ancestor of the rulers of Patiala state (Punjab), was arrested by Ahmed Shah Abdali. He was given the choice of accepting Islam and having his hair cut off or of paying 125,000 rupees. Baba naturally elected to pay the fine. These and other great sacrifices made by the rank and file of the Sikhs have never been in vain. Their example and the slogans, SIR JAYE TAN JAYE, MERA SIKHI SIDQ NA JA YE (I would sooner accept death than renounce my faith), is a source of great inspiration for all time to come.