Guru Tegh Bahadur ji’s Sacrifice
“Do not frighten anyone nor be afraid of anybody”
This event happened long before the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) guaranteed every one right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It was also much before the establishment of Western democracies. The Guru carried the conviction more than three hundred years ago, when religious intolerance and persecution were common all over the world that every individual must have the freedom to worship the faith of his or her choice.
Guru Tegh Bahadur lived at a time when even personal laws were oppressive and the right to worship as per one’s choice was denied, culminating in an atmosphere of fear and severe backlash. Guru Tegh Bahadur became the spiritual head of the Sikhs just at the time when the Mughal Emperor of India , Aurangzeb, was imposing Islam on the people.
He had no tolerance for other religions and proceeded on a brutal campaign of repression. Aurangzeb closed down Hindu schools, demolished temples or turned them into mosques, charged non-Muslims heavy taxes and Emperor persecuted those who would not conform to Islamic law. He forbade Hindus from celebrating their festivals, ordered that only Muslims could be landlords of crown lands, dismissed all Hindu clerks and ordered governors to put a stop to the teachings and practicing of idolatrous forms of worship.
Denied the freedom to follow their faith, the Hindus of Kashmir approached Guru Tegh Bahadur for help and guidance. The Hindu Brahmin Pandits of Kashmir were among the most highly learned and orthodox of the Hindu leadership. Aurangzeb felt if they could be converted, the rest of the country would easily follow. Given this ultimatum, a large delegation of 500 Kashmiri Pandits met the Guru and explained their dire predicament and requested him to intercede on their behalf.
When an anguished Guru Tegh Bahadur sought a way to help the suffering multitude, his son Guru Gobind Singh, as a nine-year-old, spoke words of encouragement, which energized him to pursue the path of wisdom. He told the Pandits to inform Aurangzeb that the Brahmins would gladly accept and embrace Islam if Guru Tegh Bahadur can be convinced to do so and made preparations to go to Delhi and sacrifice his life.
As soon as Aurangzeb heard the news he ordered the immediate arrest of the Guru. He ordered Guru Tegh Bahadur to be forced to convert to Islam through torture or be killed. Guru Tegh Bahadur refused to embrace Islam, saying
“For me, there is only one religion – of God – and whosoever belongs to it, be he a Hindu or a Muslim, him I own and he owns me. I neither convert others by force, nor submit to force, to change my faith.”
Guru Tegh Bahadur was subjected to many cruelties; he was kept in an iron cage and starved for many days. The Guru faced a further test to his righteousness when three of his followers were tortured in his presence. Yet he remained steadfast and bore these cruelties without flinching or showing any anger or distress. He preferred the torture of the flesh to sacrificing the ideals of virtue. Finally on November 11, 1675 Guru Tegh Bahadur was publicly beheaded as he prayed. The bodies of those so executed were usually quartered and exposed to public view, but Tegh Bahadur’s followers managed to steal the body under cover of darkness, cremate it in Delhi , and bring the severed head to Tegh Bahadur’s son Gobind Rai, 250 miles away in Anandpur. The last rites were performed in Anandpur Sahib by Guru Gobind Singh ji.
The site of Guru Tegh Bahadur jis execution was later turned into an important Gurudwara (Sikh House of Worship) Sisganj in Delhi, India . Millions of people of all social and religious backgrounds pay homage to the Guru at this shrine. He is honoured as a man who gave his life for religious freedom for all peoples, not just Sikhs. The shrine holds the symbolism of war against injustice, a determination to stand up to atrocity, though it may mean sacrifice of the self.
He taught the ethos of self-sacrifice for the common good of mankind and this is enshrined in his spiritual legacy. Never in history has the religious leader of one religion sacrificed his life to save the freedom of another religion .
“One untouched by avarice, attachment, egotism and pursuit of evil passions,
And one risen above joy and sorrow â€” know such a one to be God’s own image.”
Thus sang Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru sacrificed his life for upholding the principle of freedom of conscience.
In today world, scarred by religious fanaticism and intolerance Guru Tegh Bahadur is truly a hero to be revered and emulated.
Mystic Saint Kabir in one of his verses says, “The true hero is one who in defence of the helpless may be hacked limb to limb, but flees not the field,” and there can be no greater testimonial to the Guru’s unflinching courage which earned him the praise as “one who covered dharma (religion) and protected it.”