28 January 2017
The emperor Aurangzeb had forbidden anyone
from removing the decapitated head and body of the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh
Bahadur. The residents of Delhi, who had just witnessed the guru’s
assassination, were struck with fear. Many among them were devotees of Tegh
Bahadur, the eighth spiritual descendant of Guru Nanak. The Sikh spiritual
movement that had centred around Kartarpur Sahib (now in Pakistan) at the death
of Guru Nanak had by then spread to far-flung regions of Punjab and beyond. His
followers came from all backgrounds, bringing their material as well as human
Official Mughal records, describing the
reasons for the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675, state that he moved
around with several thousand followers. With the rise in the political and
material influence of the institution of Guruhood, the Sikh gurus were
increasingly seen as political rivals by petty kingdoms of the Mughal empire.
Their influence and strength was also visible to the Mughal emperor. The days
of political obscurity under Guru Nanak were long gone.
There are several accounts explaining the
motive behind the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur on Aurangzeb’s orders.
Sikh tradition states that the guru stood up for the rights of Kashmiri Pandits
who approached him (see image above) to intercede on their behalf with the
emperor and ask him to revoke a recently imposed Jizya (tax). Convinced by his
son, Gobind Rai, who later became Guru Gobind Singh, to stand up for the
protection of the Kashmiri Pandits, Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled to Delhi. Here,
at the Mughal court, he was mocked and asked to prove his Guruhood by
performing a miracle. He wrote a magic spell on a piece of paper and tied it
around his neck with a thread. He told the Mughal authorities that as long as
the spell remained tied to him, his head would not be separated from his body
even if the blade of the executioner fell on his neck.
But when the blade struck the guru’s neck,
it severed his head. Later, when the Mughal authorities opened the magic spell
that the guru had written, it read, “He gave his head, not his secret.”
Colonial historians, like Joseph Davey
Cunningham, however, present a different explanation for the guru’s
assassination. In order to understand the political motive behind the event,
one needs to first take into account the historical framework under which Tegh
Bahadur was appointed a Sikh guru. Earlier bypassed by his father, Guru
Hargobind, Tegh Bahadur was appointed head of the Sikh community after the
death of seven-year-old Guru Har Krishan. During the short tenure of Har
Krishan, his older brother, Ram Rai, who wanted the Guruhood for himself,
plotted incessantly against him, lobbying with a few prominent Sikh leaders and
trying to convince the Sikh community that he was, in fact, the rightful
spiritual descant of Nanak’s Sikhism. On his deathbed, Guru Har Krishan left a
rather elusive command that was interpreted as Guru Tegh Bahadur’s appointment
as the next guru.
Immediately taking charge of the situation,
Guru Tegh Bahadur set out to form new political alliances and to increase his
revenue base so that he could compete with the contesting claims to the
Guruhood. According to Cunningham, the guru and his disciples “subsisted by
plunder between the wastes of Hansi and Sutlej rendering them unpopular with
the peasantry”. He also “leagued with a Muslim zealot, Adam Hafiz, and levied
contributions upon rich Hindus and Muslims”. The historian further noted that
the guru gave asylum to fugitives. Another complaint against him that reached
the ear of the emperor was made by Ram Rai. Like Guru Har Krishan before him,
Guru Tegh Bahadur was accused of being a “pretender to power”.
Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh guru to be
assassinated at the hands of a Mughal emperor. Almost 70 years earlier, in
1606, Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh guru, was killed by the banks of the river
Ravi, facing the Lahore fort, on the orders of Jahangir. His assassination was
a turning point in the history of the Guruhood, triggering the transformation
of the institution from a non-violent spiritual movement to the militarised
religious movement of Guru Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan and his spiritual successor.
It laid the seeds for the Khalsa that gives the Sikh community its current
form, institutionalised by Guru Gobind Singh, the son and successor of Guru
Both these unjust assassinations became a
symbolic rallying point for their devotees. The perpetual battle that had
continued for several generations with the mighty Mughal empire, ruled by
bigots bent on destroying the fragile Sikh community, acquired eschatological
tones as a final showdown between good and evil. Gradually, as these historical
events acquired religious undertones, they were stripped of their political
realities. They were reduced to simplistic explanations that did not require a
nuanced reading. The complexity of the Mughal-Sikh relationship was lost.
While on the one hand Guru Hargobind was
presented as a valiant hero – which no doubt he was – who militarised the Sikh
community for their protection and was penalised by Jahangir, stories of his
other, more complex, relationship with the Mughal emperor were lost. His ties
with Jahangir eventually warmed up and he, at one point, even helped the
emperor curb a rebellion within his empire, with the help of his forces.
Similarly, Guru Arjan’s assassination is
explained through Jahangir’s bigotry but not through the guru’s cordial
relationship with the emperor’s rebellious son, Prince Khusrau, who waged a
battle against his father and lost. Neatly placed within the same framework is
the image of intolerant Aurangzeb, who summoned Guru Har Krishan and Guru Tegh
Bahadur to Delhi. However, the story of Guru Har Rai, the father of Guru Har
Krishan, promising to help Dara Shikoh against his brother Aurangzeb, doesn’t
suit this simplistic construction of history. Immediately after defeating his
brother, Aurangzeb summoned Guru Har Rai to Delhi to explain his role in the
civil war. The arrival of Guru Har Krishan and even Guru Tegh Bahadur is
connected with the same historical event.
Part of the same narrative is the encounter
of Guru Nanak with Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire. The story acquired a
prophetic significance, giving clues to the relationships between their
respective successors. In the story, Babur, initially unaware of the spiritual
prowess of the guru, had him incarcerated. However, he soon realised the genius
of the saint and let him go, but not before being rebuked by Nanak at his
court. This was the significant moment that was to represent the true nature of
the interaction between Sikh gurus and Mughal emperors. No matter how much
political strength the emperor possessed, the final power resided with the true
king, the guru.
Khalid is the author of three books, most recently, Walking with Nanak.
I never said you that you are hateful. I only said that you
are full of hatred for Muslims and Islam which I do not think that you even
deny. You can only carry on your tirade by distorting even the simplest of my
sentences. It is not that you do not know the difference. This is the depth of
falsehood to which your self-loathing has sunk you. And whoever told you that
the liberal left or the mainstream Muslims support what Carter, Reagan, Clinton
and the two Bushes did?
In the case of Hats Off, I wonder from which dark part of his personal past, this irrational, misdirected rage against the general mass of Muslims comes from!
My refrain is "Muslims will defend
anything if it's Islamic".
Your refrain is "hats off is an Islamophobe/enemy
of Islam/Muslim hater/militant apostate/apostate/".
This is an example of moral bankruptcy
among Muslims. Until they grow up and learn to look at Islam critically, others
will do it for us. This wouldn't matter a whit, but constantly parroting that
"Islam is the best/perfect/final/only religion", they have simply
played into the hands of illiberal leftists that would not think twice about
talibanizing entire generations to keep people rotting in their own refuse.
What else can be expected from people
who migrate without invitation and without self respect and then start whining
if someone starts to push back?
this is EXACTLY the kind of attitude
that the democrats and leftist liberals deliberately inculcated and promoted to
get their dirty work done by the likes of trumps, le Pens, wilders and orbans.
Remember it was the hyper-sexed bill the
Clinton during whose watch the Taliban were gathered, nurtured and let loose on
But stealth-Jihadis and closet-Islamists
never learn. No wonder CAIR and the regressive-left are lip-locked in an
obscene embrace of filthy convenience.