Spirit of Guru Gobind Singhji & Triumph of the Khalsa
Dr. Kuldip Singh
To understand the ethos of the Khalsa Panth brought to a grand finale by Guru Gobind Singhji it would help us to recall and analyse the first triumph of the Khalsa in 1704.
At the Vaisakhi of 1699 Guruji had sent message all over for one year that Sikhs should gather in large numbers. He introduced the “Baptismal of the Sword” (Khanda) i.e. Pahul Khandedhar. The Persian historian and scribe, Ghulam Muhiud-Din sent Aurangzeb a copy of the Guru’s sermon : “Let all embrace one creed and obliterate difference of religion. Let the four Hindu castes who have different rules for their guidance abandon them all, and opt the one form of Lord; adoration, and become brothers. Let no one deem himself superior to another . let men of the four castes receive my baptism, eat out of one dish .” He further reported : “When the Guru had addressed the crowd, several Brahmins and Khatris stood up and said that they would never accept any religion which was opposed to the teachings of the Vedas and Shastras and they would not renounce the ancient faith which had descended to them from their ancestors".
The Guru continued to address the assembled rajas : “How has your religious, political, and social status degenerated ! You have abandoned the worship of True God and addressed your devotions to many gods, goddesses, rivers, trees and animals. Through ignorance you know not how to govern your territories; through indolence and vice you disregard the interest of your subjects. You place over them officials who not only hate you, but are your mortal enemies. In your quarrels over caste and lineage you have not adhered to the ancient division of Hinduism into just four sections, but you have made hundreds of subcastes and degraded humanity. You despise and loathe one another through your narrow prejudices, and you act contrary to the wishes of the great Almighty Father. Your morals have become so perverted that, through fear and with a desire to please your rulers, you give them your daughters to gratify their lust. Self-respect finds no place in your thoughts and you have forgotten the history of your sires. I am intensely concerned over your fallen state. Are you not ashamed to call yourself Rajputs when the rulers seize your wives and daughters before your very eyes? Your temples have been demolished and mosques built on their sites; and many of your faith have been forcibly converted to Islam. If you still possess a trace of bravery and the ancient spirit of your race, then listen to my advice, embrace the Khalsa religion, and gird up your loins to elevate the fallen condition of your country". Upon this, the rajas departed without accepting the Guru’s proposal to embrace his Khalsa Panth for the existing religious systems. “Brethren, this Khalsa is a new – fangled institution for which we have no scriptural authority,” Raja Ajmer Chand of Bilaspur replied, “Great King, you must let us worship our idols and shave our head on the occasion of a death in our family.” (M. A. Macauliffe: V 93 – 101; H. R. Gupta: I – 280- 281).
Guru Gobind Singh had to fight twelve battles after the creation of the Khalsa. The first one was in the same year of the Khalsa (1699) when the hill chiefs lodged a complaint against the Guru with the Delhi Darbar that the Guru had created a new sect and was instigating them to revolt. The Mughal government sent a force of 10,000 under its generals to assist the hill rajas. When this army was defeated, the hill chiefs got together again, and their combined forces surrounded Anandpur. (M. A. Macauliffe: V 124-126) They could not dislodge the Guru. After facing one defeat after another, Raja Ajmer Chand was distressed on seeing the increasing power and glory of the Khalsa. He prevailed upon other hill chiefs to join him in meeting the Emperor personally and petition him in sending large, well-equipped army commanded by select generals. This was in 1704. The Guru was informed by a faithful Sikh of the result of Raja Ajmer Chand’s mission to the Emperor. In this exigency the Guru invited help from his Sikhs.
Hari Ram Gupta (Vol I Page 288) quotes one such letter: “Sri Guruji addresses the letter to Bhai Sukhya, Bhai Mukha, Bhai Parsa. The Guru would take care of all his disciples. Repeat Guru, Guru. You will have the best in life. The entire community is my Khalsa. Come with cavaliers, footmen, gunners and daring youth. Every Sikh young man coming to pay respects would be blessed . “
Thousands of armed Sikhs came. The combined Mughal and Hill Rajas’ army surrounded Anandpur, and all means of ingress and egress were completely cut off. After suffering heavy losses, when food and water scarcity increased, the Guru was prevailed upon by Sikhs and his family to accept the offer of the Emperor, sworn on the Quran, that the Guru would not be harmed if he evacuated Anandpur. Guru Sahib agreed reluctantly. In the midst of rain, cold and darkness, Guru left in two parties, but was attacked on the banks of Sirsa. Guruji managed to cross over with two of his sons and 40 other Sikhs including the five "Piaras". In the subsequent battle of Chamkaur Sahib, he lost his two elder sons and three "Piaras", and had to bow to the wishes of the Guru – Khalsa and leave Chamkaur Sahib at night alongwith the remaining two piaras. While staying at Hehar Village with Rae Kalha, a Muslim Zamindar, Guruji sent a messenger to Sarhind to bring news about the rest of the family. Here he also wrote and despatched his first letter of victory called Fatehnama to Aurangzeb. In this letter Guruji stated that “When an affair passes beyond all remedy, it is lawful to resort to the sword what does it matter if a jackal through deceit and deception killed two cubs of a lion". (Kalgidhar Chamatkar, 671, H. R. Gupta: I, 294 – 297) and (M.A. Macauliffe: V 193). He learnt about the Martyrdoms of his two younger sons, and proceeded to Dina. Here, he wrote a long letter, in chaste Persian, entitled "Zafar-Namah", the Account of Victory, and sent it to Aurangzeb through Bhai Daya Singh and Dharam Singh. Earlier, Aurangzeb had invited the Guru to his court by swearing on the Quran that no harm would he done to him. The Guru declared him a liar and treacherous: “Were you to take a hundred oaths on the Quran, I would not trust you in the least", “Come to the village Kangar, and after that we will meet", “Come so that we may talk to each other, and I will treat you well” (verse 60).
“What does it matter that my four children are killed, as the “coiled Cobra" is still alive (verse 78); “The idol worshipping hill men want to kill me, because they are idol – worshippers and I am an idol breaker” (verse 95); The Zafar Nama tells us, in unmistakable terms, that one should not lose courage even when faced with heavy odds, that peace is desirable but not without honour, that in negotiations compromise is essential but not on the terms of the tyrant. Several important conclusions can be drawn from this last battle of Guru Gobind Singh which are beacons for the Khalsa :
(a) This battle, as also all the previous battles fought by Guru Gobind Singhji and also the subsequent battle of Mukatsar, were defensive battles and Guruji never allowed the Sikhs to chase the fleeing attackers, or gain territory.
(b) In all battles Guruji and his Khalsa were heavily outnumbered but never lost their courage, and did not retreat.
(c) Guru Sahib was well aware of the last onslaught and the big well-equipped Mughal army coming to dislodge him. Indeed, the last battle of Anandpur was the final test for the Khalsa, and hence Guruji had sent a call to the young Sikhs to come over with all their weapons. He wanted to test them whether they had learnt the central idea of the complete Sant-Sipahi as enunciated by Guru Nanak :" If you want to play the game of love, then come with your head on your palm. Walk this way and give your head without hesitation."
(d) Guruji could have evacuated Anandpur to avoid conflict and saved his family and the Sikhs, but every action of the Guru was going to be interpreted by the Khalsa as their future course of action in similar situations. It is the hallmark of Khalsa soldiers that they do not run away from the battle-field when facing heavy odds. They prefer to lay down their lives.
(e) The Gur’su writing two letters of victory after suffering such heavy losses,- thousand of Khalsa and all his four sons, showed that the result of a battle depended upon the preservation of spirit of defiance. In the mood of ecstasy in which he wrote these letters showed that he indeed had triumphed and the Khalsa had not been cowed down.
The Second Triumph of The Khalsa : This is signified in the heroic way in which Banda Bahadur and his 740 followers met their end after capture in 1716. H. R. Gupta (II page 29) quotes several sources that when Banda was captured alongwith 740 followers, “The following articles were recovered : (whether he indeed surrendered, or submitted to a ploy, is not under discussion) : Swords 1000, Shields 278, Small Kirpans 217, Matchlocks 180, Bows and arrow cases 173, Daggers 114, Rupees 600, Gold Mohars 23 and a few gold ornaments", “With this beggarly equipment in men, money and materials and living in a small house with an open compound, he had defied the mighty Mughal Empire for over eight months! No better record than this challenge can be traced anywhere else in world history". The countenance of these brave Sikhs is described by an eye – witness in the following words, as quoted by Khushwant Singh (Volume I, page 115 – 116) from “Ibrat Nama” by Mirza Mohammod Harisi; “Those unfortunate Sikhs, who had been reduced to their last extremity, were quite happy and contented with their fate; not the slightest sign of dejection or humility was to be seen on their faces. In fact most of them, as they passed along on their camels seemed happy and cheerful, joyfully singing the sacred hymns of their Scripture. And, if any one from among those in the lanes and bazaars called out to them that their own excesses had reduced them to that condition, they quickly retorted saying that it had been so willed by the Almighty and that their capture and misfortune was in accordance with His Will And, if any one said : ‘Now you will be killed’, they shouted : ‘Kill us’, when were we afraid of death."? The executions began on March 5, 1716 and continued for a week. Besides thousands of people, two Englishmen, John Surman and Edward Stephenson, who were then in attendance at the Mughal court, sent the following despatch to the East India Company.
“The great Rebel Gooroo who has been for those twenty years so troublesome in the subaship of Lahore is at length taken with all his family and attendants by Abdus Samad Cawn, the suba of that province. Some days ago they entered the city laden with fetters, his whole attendants which were left alive being about seven hundred and eighty, all severally mounted on camels which were sent out of the city for the purpose, besides about two thousand heads stuck upon poles, being those who died by the sword in the battle. He was carried into the presence of the king, and from thence to a close prison. He at present has his life prolonged with most of his mustadis in hope to get an account of his treasure in the several parts of his kingdom and of those that assisted him, when afterwards he will be executed, for the rest, there are a hundred each day beheaded. It is not a little remarkable with what patience they undergo their fate and to the last it has not found that one apostatised from this new found religion” (J.T. Wheeler), Early Records of British India, P 180, Khushwant Singh Vol. I. Page 116) On being asked about his conduct Banda replied. “I will tell you, whenever men become so corrupt and wicked as to relinquish the path of equity and abandon themselves to all kinds of excesses, then Providence never fails to raise up a scourge like me to chastise a race so depraved; but when the measure of punishment is full then he raises up men like you to bring him to punishment".
Describing the execution of Sikhs, an offer was made to spare their lives if they would become Musulman. None agreed. They uttered Wah-Guru, Wah-Guru, and tried to outbid one another in offering themselves for sacrifice saying “me, mukta (deliverer) kill me first. They had no fear of death and they called the executioner, Mukta, or the Deliverer.
A notable event is recorded by several historians that there was a young newly-married lad among Banda’s followers. His wife and mother reached Delhi and succeeded in submitting to Prime Minister, Sayyid Abdullah that the boy was not a Sikh, nor the follower of the Guru and that his life should be spared. The further scene was witnessed by Khafi Khan and Khushal Chand. Khafi Khan says that when a police official was setting him free the boy declined to go, saying: “My mother is a liar. I am in heart and soul a devoted disciple of my leader, finish me quickly with my companions". Khushal Chand writes that the lad declined to recognise his mother and wife. “ I do not know whose mother she is, and from where she has brought this girl. My companions have gone, I have no time to lose. The delay is painful to me". Saying this, he put his head before the executioner (H.R. Gupta Vol II Page 32-33 quoting Tarikh-e-Muhammad Shahi, 2476; Ganda Singh 229, f.n.).
The way these 740 or 780 Khalsa jawans met their end so heroically, remaining in ecstatic Charhdi Kala, was indeed a great Triumph of the Panth in 1716. If even one of them had flinched and left the Khalsa fold, it would have set a bad example and shaken the strong edifice of our creed. This notable event needs to be commemorated and celebrated befittingly every year by our Raagis, poets, Dhadis and painters to being into limelight the line in our daily Ardas(Prayer) “Sikhi Kesaan Swasaan Naal Nibhai – Bolo ji Waheguru.”
The Third Triumph of The Khalsa in 1984 : Our history is replete with scores of instances where Sikhs singly, or in groups, sacrificed themselves displaying lofty spirit of the Khalsa. Many such heroic deeds find mention in our daily Ardas (Prayer). Due to our negligence, our non Sikh brethren, in India and outside, have remained in the dark about the Khalsa heritage of Shahidi or Martyrdom. Even own children regard this litany in our Ardas as a part of the Sikh folklore. It is in this context that I regard the events of 1984 as the Third Great triumph of the Khalsa.
Inspite of the media giving perverted and distorted coverage, as time passes the bare facts would stand out and cannot be hesmirched. It is strange that many of our own people have not understood the essence of our great victory in its true light.
In August, 1982 All Akali leaders started their peaceful Dharam Yudh Morcha under command of Sant Longowal after praying and vowing at Akal Takht that they would not give up their struggle unless and until their main demands of acceptance of Anandpur Sahib Resolution (which was for greater autonomy to Punjab as well as other states and stoppage of Digging of Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal because Punjab had no surplus water) were conceded. Damdami Taksal, Babbar Khalsa, Dal Khalsa, Akhand Kirtani Jatha and all Akali groups had joined hands. The Government, however, refused to accede to the demands of the community. An all-round media campaign was launched to malign the Sikhs and project the Morcha as being against the Hindus of Punjab, indeed, as a movement for secession. To start with, hunks of beef were thrown in temples, and cigarettes and biris were thrown in Darbar Sahib. An impression was created that hundreds and thousands of Hindus were being killed in Punjab and preparations were afoot to launch an armed movement to turn out the Hindus from Punjab. During the Asiad, 1982 all Sikhs travelling to Delhi through Haryana were humiliated. Well-known Sikhs, even those belonging to the Congress, and serving or retired army generals, were not spared. In response to the call for a peaceful ‘Rasta Roko’ on 4.4.1983, the peaceful agitators were met with by unprovoked and indiscriminate firing by the police. A fact-finding team of opposition leaders, including A.B. Vajpayee and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, was “shocked by the devastation at Malerkotla and Kup Kalan", and came to the conclusion that the ‘excesses committed by the police were heart-rending’. In the same vein, after a peaceful Punjab Bandh, in response to the call of Sant Longowal on 8.2.1984, a counter bandh called by Hindu Suraksha Samiti on 14.2.1984, which resulted in large-scale and widespread violence against Sikhs, desecration of Gurdwaras all over Himachal, Haryana and Punjab. Hindu mobs attacked the Sikhs at 56 places in Amritar. A mob led by an ex-BJP MLA smashed a model of Darbar Sahib kept at Amritsar Railway Station and stuck a burning cigarette in the ‘mouth’ of Guru Ram Dasji’s picture kept at the same place. This is just one example or the reaction as a result of the concerted campaign of disinformation against the Sikhs.
Many sham negotiations were held between Akali leaders and the representatives of the Government. In these the opposition parties were also involved. Every time the Akali leaders would agree to compromise their demands, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would back out, agreeing only to relaying Kirtan from Darbar Sahib – as a sop.
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had actually commenced this Morcha initially, as a man endowed with great intellect, understood the game Indira Gandhi was playing: She had succeeded in maligning the Sikhs and creating a fear psychosis; she would attack Darbar Sahib with full force to kill as many Sikhs as possible, arrest the remaining leaders to finish the Morcha. He foresaw only two alternatives before him. First, that he and his men should abandon the Morcha and come out of the Darbar Sahib. In this, not only he would have lost face, but his liquidation was certain, as several attempts had been made earlier to make him stop the popular Amrit prachar being carried out by Damdami Taksal under his leadership. He also felt that by running away from the Ardas offered at Akal Takht (that they would lay down their lives rather than give up the Morcha, without achieving their objectives), would also finish him as a religious leader. His second option was to resist the onslaught of the security forces and die a heroic death.
For this, he started planning earnestly in the beginning of 1983. One by one, he prepared a number of ex-serviceman to fight and lay down their lives defending the sanctity of Darbar Sahib in the best traditions of the Khalsa. In 1757, only five Sikhs guarding Harimandir had fought with a large army of Afghans and died fighting but had not run away (Miskin – Tazakira: 165 quoted by Khushwant Singh Vol. page 146 and H. R. Gupta: Vol. II, 136). When he had collected a band of reliable head-givers, he put them in separate rooms to recite Mul Mutra and Gurbani for 15-16 hours a day, away from the gaze of outside world. Bhindranwale felt emboldened, and during his address to the annual conference of Sikh Students Federation held at Manji Sahib in Sept. 1983, he made the following declarations :
(1) That he had taken part in the Ardas at Akal Takht in Aug. 1982 wherein he, along with other leaders, had taken a vow that they would continue their peaceful Morcha till their demands, specially those contained in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, were met. He would not compromise and would rather lay down his life.
(2) He was convinced that Indira Gandhi would never accede to their demands and that she would set up many more phoney negotiations and then send the army to Darbar Sahib with the hope that the Sikhs would not only surrender physically but would give up their demands.
(3) He repeated his resolve that he would resist the entry of the army into Darbar Sahib with all his might and that he was fully prepared to meet any eventuality according to the long established Sikh Traditions. He and his men would give a good account of themselves by killing large number of army personnel before laying down their lives. They would never surrender.
General Shahbeg Singh, of Mukti Bahini fame, had joined him and offered him not only his head, but also expertise, in putting up formidable resistance. The whole Darbar Sahib Complex had been open for everybody and no part had been barricaded. Plain-clothes intelligence men were everywhere. Government agents had gained the confidence of all important Akali leaders, and one of them was a close aid of Bhindranwale as well. Nobody could enter the Darbar Sahib Complex without being searched by police and para – military Forces. The government must have known that Bhindranwale had only 303 rifles and their ammunition. Many are of the view that these were sent by the Government in the Langar Kar-Sewa trucks to instigate and embolden the Sant. CRPF fired on the Darbar Sahib Complex, all day on June 1, 1984 killing 8 persons in the parikarma; the bullets had left 36 marks on the Golden Temple, which were duly reported. There was no firing from inside. Bhindranwale’s men were to fight only a defensive battle and were to take on the army only when they attempt to enter the complex. When the army invasion commenced on June 3, 1984 – the Shahidi Gurpurab of Sri Guru Arjun Dev Ji – then the army had got ready a team of workers who were to quickly repair any damage and cover it up. They were fully confident that the whole affair would be over in minutes and they would kill and capture the remaining leaders in no time. The army had not given any ultimatum for people inside to come out with raised hands and surrender or face the army attack. The army attacked 40 other historic holy Gurdwaras simultaneously, which exposes their objective. Bhindranwale’s 40-50 men put up dogged resistance and the army suffered tremendous losses. For two days, Indian infantry resorted to deadly firing with machine guns, rockets and mortars, hoping that Sant Bhindranwale and his man would be frightened into submission. On June 6, thirteen battle tanks trundled into the Complex, seven of them trampling the Parikarma. On June 7, in the evening Doordarshan news bulletin an army officer remarked that “they all (Sikhs) died fighting and none of them surrendered with arms".
Bhindranwale had indeed triumphed in Sikhism’s best tradition as he and his associates died fighting. It is strange that many simplistic Sikhs still hold that Bhindranwale is responsible for desecration of Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht, and that he should have come out earlier and fought from outside. They scarcely realise that Bhindranwale had no intention of fighting the Indian army or the police or paramilitary forces. He was engaged in Amrit prachar and was propagating against the use of Alcohol and drugs. Circumstances took him inside the Complex and he could not come out honourably except by laying down his life for the dharma.
The essence of this third triumph of the spirit of Khalsa is something quite different, which very few Sikh intellectuals have realised. The events preceding Operation Bluestar were planned to create a rift between Hindus and Sikh not only of Punjab, but all over. The minds of the Hindus has been poisoned and they hailed this event with one voice. A.B. Vajpayee remarked that this should have taken place six months earlier. Others considered this as the correct action at the correct time. Inspite of all the propaganda, and grave provocation of attacks on their holy Gurdwaras, and repeated belligerence of Hindu mobs all over Northern India, the Sikhs never retaliated and no Sikh mobs attacked Hindus, their temples or their property anywhere. As soon as the news about the army attack on the Darbar Sahib trickled, Sikhs started marching towards Darbar Sahib in their thousands. Not only that, about 6,000 Sikh army jawans left their barracks and started marching towards Amritsar. Nowhere did those Sikhs attack any Hindu on the way. Indira Gandhi’s calculations had misfired. Operation Bluestar was followed by ‘Operation Woodrose’ where army entered all Punjab villages hunting for Amritdhari (Baptized) Sikhs. In spite of large scale torturing and killing of Sikhs, Sikhs did not retaliate by killing Hindus even then. Indira Gandhi and her advisors had expected that Sikhs would attack Hindus and this would give the government an obvious and justifiable reason to eliminate them by large-scale army and air force action. Her agents were ready all over India so that, in that eventuality, they would attack all Sikhs outside Punjab, killing them, looting and grabbing their property. In spite of the gravest provocations, Sikhs did not rise in anger. The way the Sikhs were attacked in trains, buses, on the roads and killed in thousands all over India in an organised pattern for three days in Nov 84 following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, is a clear pointer that these mob attacks had been planned in the wake of Operation BlueStar. Even following such large scale murderous attacks, the Sikhs never thought of attacking innocent Hindus. Only at few places they offered taken resistance to the attacking mobs.
In spite of facing heavy odds for over a decade and a half, and suffering tremendous loss of life, property and prestige, the Sikhs spirit has triumphed in the end. They have managed to survive when they were in great danger of being wiped out. Indira Gandhi’s nefarious plans lie in tatters, so does her party and government. Let us join in thanksgiving to celebrate the advent of Guru Gobind Singh triumph of Spirit of the Khalsa that shall never die , for it has been nurtured by the blood of our Gurus, Sahibzadas and countless martyrs following in their footsteps.