Monday, November 23, 2009

The Shield of India

If there is another man on par in excellence with Mahatma Gandhi, or even above him I may dare say, it is Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Guru of Sikhism. He is the unsung hero of the 17th century India, without whose selfless servitude for his own nation, India (as we know it) would never have existed. When I studied about Aurangzeb in my primary and secondary school history lessons, there was no mention about Guru Tegh Bahadur or the sacrifice he made for India. Shame on you biased and 'politically correct' history textbook makers!

Reading the story (the more detailed account, not the watered-down Wikipedia version) brought tears into my eyes. I normally do not say I'm proud to be an Indian, but after reading this story of great heroism and sacrifice of Guruji to save the true heritage of India, the country of my birth, I gladly declare that I am indeed proud to be an Indian.

The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur - A Brief Account
[Retrieved from Wikipedia (Version date and time: 21 November 2009 at 01:52)]

The Delhi Emperor, Aurangzeb cherished the ambition of converting India into a land of Islam. This philosophy was also pleaded by Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1569–1624), leader of the Naqashbandi School, to counter the liberal policies of Akbar's reign.

The Emperor's experiment was first carried out in Kashmir. The viceroy of Kashmir, Iftikar Khan (1671–1675) carried out the policy vigorously and set about converting non-Muslims by force.

A group of Kashmiri Pandits (Kashmiri Hindu Brahmins) approached Guru Tegh Bahadur and asked for help. They, on the advice of the Guru, told the Mughal authorities that they would willingly embrace Islam if Guru Tegh Bahadur, did the same.

Orders of the arrest of the Guru were issued by Aurangzeb, who was in present day North West Frontier Province of Pakistan subduing Pushtun rebellion. The Guru was arrested at a place called Malikhpur near Anandpur after he had departed from Anandpur for Delhi. Before departing he nominated his son, Gobind Rai (Guru Gobind Singh) as the next Sikh Guru.

He was arrested, along with some of his followers, Bhai Dayala, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das by Nur Muhammad Khan of the Rupnagar police post at the village Malikhpur Rangharan, in Ghanaula Parganah, and sent to Sirhind the following day. The Faujdar (Governor) of Sirhind, Dilawar Khan, ordered him to be detained in Bassi Pathana and reported the news to Delhi. His arrest was made in July 1675 and he was kept in custody for over three months. He was then cast in an iron cage and taken to Delhi in November 1675.

The Guru was put in chains and ordered to be tortured until he would accept Islam. When he could not be persuaded to abandon his faith to save himself from persecution, he was asked to perform some miracles to prove his divinity. On his refusal, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded in public at Chandni Chowk on 11 November 1675. Guru Ji is also known as "Hind Di Chadar" [Hindi, translates as Shield of India] ie to save Hinduism, Guru Ji gave his life.

The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur - A Detailed Account
[Retrieved from The Sikhism Home Page: Guru Tegh Bahadur]

While the Guru [Tegh Bahadur] attended to his devotees at Anandpur, things in the country were rapidly deteriorating under the tyrannous rule of emperor Aurengzeb. Since coming to power by imprisoning his father and killing his two brothers, Aurengzeb had been consolidating his power base. After ten years he now began to apply his power throughout the country. Aurengzeb was an orthodox Muslim who dreamed of purging India of all ‘infidels’ and converting it into a land of Islam. Aurengzeb had no tolerance for other religions and proceeded on a brutal campaign of repression. Famous Hindu temples throughout the country were demolished and mosques built in their place. Hindu idols were placed in the steps of mosques to be trodden on by the feet of Muslim pilgrims. Aurangzeb issued a number of harsh decrees. In 1665 he forbade Hindus to display illuminations at Diwali festivals. In 1668 he forbade Hindu Jatras, in 1671 he issued an order that only Muslims could be landlords of crown lands, and called upon provincial Viceroys to dismiss all Hindu clerks. In 1669 he issued a general order calling upon all governors of all provinces to destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels; and they were told to put a stop to the teachings and practicing of idolatrous forms of worship. In 1674 lands held by Hindus in Gujarat, in religious grants were all confiscated.

In this climate of intolerance the viceroy of Kashmir Iftikhar Khan took to the task of forcibly converting the Hindu population to Islam by the sword. 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. He did not want to see the talik (holy mark on the forehead) or janaeu (sacred thread) on any of his subjects. Given this ultimatum, a large delegation of 500 Kashmiri Pandits decided to journey to Anandpur Sahib to seek the help of Guru Tegh Bahadur. This delegation was led by Pandit Kirpa Ram Datt (who would later on become the Sanskrit teacher of Guru Gobind Singh and eventually become a Khalsa and died fighting in the battle of Chamkaur). The Pandits met the Guru and explained their dire predicament to the Guru and requested the Guru to intercede on their behalf. As the Guru was pondering over the issue his nine year old son Gobind Rai walked into the room, noticing the serious and gloomy mood in the room the young Gobind asked his father what was happening. Guru Tegh Bahadur replied, “Unless a holy man lays down his head for the sake of the poor Brahmins, there is no hope for their escape from imperial tyranny.” Young Gobind replied, “Revered father, who would be better equipped for this than yourself?” Guru Tegh Bahadur hugged his son and wept for joy. “I was only worried about the future, for you are far too young”. “Leave me to God”, Gobind replied, “and accept the challenge of the Mughals.”

Even though Guru Nanak [founder of Sikhism] had refused to wear the sacred thread when he was young, the Gurus still believed in the freedom of religion and the right of the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to live in peace and practice their own religions. With this Guru Tegh Bahadur laid down the gauntlet in the fight for freedom of religion and 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. Guru Tegh Bahadur made preparations to leave for Delhi. He bid farewell to his family and followers and dictated that his son Gobind Rai should be installed as the next Guru. Accompanying the Guru on his journey and also prepared to accept the consequences of whatever happened were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Dyala and Bhai Sati Das. As soon as Aurangzeb heard the news he ordered the immediate arrest of the Guru. Guru Tegh Bahadur and his party were arrested soon after they left Anandpur Sahib and taken in chains to Delhi.

When brought before Aurangzeb, he was asked why he was hailed as the Guru or prophet and called ‘Sacha Padsah’ (the True King) and if he really believed in his being one he should perform a miracle to justify his claim. Guru Tegh Bahadur reprimanded the emperor for his blind orthodoxy and his persecution of other faiths, “Hinduism may not be my faith, and I may believe not in the supremacy of Veda or the Brahmins, nor in idol worship or caste or pilgrimages and other rituals, but I would fight for the right of all Hindus to live with honour and practice their faith according to their own rites. The Guru answered further, “Every ruler of the world must pass away, but not the Word of God or His Saint. This is how people not only call me a True King but have done so through the two centuries before me in respect of my House and also in respect of others who preceded them and identified themselves not with the temporal and the contingent, but with the eternal and the ever dying.” The Guru refused to perform any miracles saying, “this is the work of charlatans and mountebanks to hoodwink the people. Men of God submit ever to the Will of God.” 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. Aurangzeb was enraged and ordered Guru Tegh Bahadur to be forced to convert to Islam through torture or be killed.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was subjected to many cruelties, he was kept in an iron cage and starved for many days. [In order to terrorize him further into submission, his companions were tortured to death. The Qazi (Muslim priest) told Bhai Mati Das to embrace Islam: “Brother, embrace Islam and enjoy the pleasures provided by the government. Moreover when you die as a Muslim, you will go to heaven where there will be streams of milk, many kinds of wine to drink and beautiful women to enjoy. If you do not embrace Islam, your body will be sewn into two.” Bhai Mati Dass replied, “I can sacrifice hundreds of such heavens for my faith. I don’t need women or wine. I see all the happiness in the path of my faith.” (Source)] The Guru was made to watch as Bhai Mati Das the devoted Sikh was tied between two pillars and his body split in two by being sawn alive. Bhai Dyala was boiled alive in a cauldron of boiling water and Bhat Sati Das was wrapped in cotton wool and set on fire. The Guru bore these cruelties without flinching or showing any anger or distress. Finally on November 11, 1675 Guru Tegh Bahadur was publicly beheaded with the sword of the executioner as he prayed. The Gurus body was left in the dust as no one dared to pick up the body for fear of the emperors reprisal. A severe storm swept through the city and under the cover of darkness a Sikh named Bhai Jaita managed to collect the Guru’s sacred head and carried it off to Anandpur Sahib to the Guru’s son. Another Sikh Bhai Lakhi Shah who had a cart, was able to smuggle the Gurus headless body to his house. Since a public funeral would be too dangerous, Bhai Lakhi Shah cremated the body by setting his house on fire. Meanwhile the head was taken to the grief stricken young Guru Gobind Singh and the widow Mata Gujari. On November 16, 1675 at Anandpur Sahib, a pyre of sandalwood was constructed, sprinkled with roses and the head of Guru Tegh Bahadur was cremated by young Guru Gobind Singh.

Thus ended the earthly reign of the ninth Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Never in the annals of history has the religious leader of one religion sacrificed his life to save the freedom of another religion.
“He who trusts in God and makes an honest living to share with others and injures no one, nor harbors ill-will against another need perform no other rituals. His soul ever stays in health.” - Guru Tegh Bahadur

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