The political atmosphere when Guru Gobind Singh the tenth Guru took up Guruship was very tense. Aurangzeb had tortured and executed his father Guru Tegh Bahadur, the earlier Guru. The Sikhs were stunned and grief stricken at this inhuman and dastardly act. The new Guru had to lift the Sikh spirits and infuse in them a new sense of confidence which had been trampled upon. He firstly inspired his followers to believe that that they were under God’s protection and hence there was no need to fear anyone or anything. He emphasised that the Khalsa embodied high ideals and was the army of God. Since the Khalsa was supported by God they were always to be optimistic and never become disheartened. He encouraged spiritual feeling along with physical strength as ways of facing the enemy. Also for the first time Aurangzeb faced resistance from everyone including the common man. His oppression and tyrannical attitude against the Sikhs had vitiated the entire political environment.
Childhood and family life
Guru Gobind Singh was born in Patna Bihar as Gobind Rai on December 22nd 1666. His father was Guru Tegh Bahadur and Mata Gujri. He was only nine years old when he succeeded his father who was cruelly confined, tortured and executed by Aurangzeb. He was born when his father was spreading God’s word and touring in Assam. He was taught Punjabi, Braj, Persian and Sanskrit and was trained in martial arts including riding, swordsmanship and other means of warfare. He was an energetic youth who had a natural genius for composing poetry. His early games were generally those of mock battles with his friends. It is said that one day his father was debating on to how to help the Kashmiri Pandits against forced conversion into Islam by Aurangzeb and felt that the solution was the sacrifice of a great man. Overhearing this, the young Gobind Rai stated innocently that as his father was the greatest only he could do the task. This led to The Guru anointing him as successor and leaving to Delhi to present himself before the Emperor. Later Gobind Rai married Jito and Sundri and had four sons.
Guru Gobind Singh, on receiving complaints about the corrupt activities of the Masands(The heads of the Sikh centres or Sangats) issued directions to the Sikh Sangats not to acknowledge them and that they should come directly to Anandpur Sahib to bring their offerings. He thus established direct contact with the Sikhs. This led to the formation of the Khalsa.
Formation of the Khalsa
The Guru decided to take a firm stance against Aurangzeb’s intolerant policies. He opened the ranks of his army to all newcomers irrespective of caste, creed and class. He sent letters of authority or hukumnamas to all his followers requesting them to congregate at Anandpur. Then reminding them of his relationship with them he asked for a volunteer who was willing to sacrifice his head for the sake of the Guru. There was no reply to his first two calls but on his third call Daya Ram a faithful follower came forward and the Guru took him inside a small tent set up for this purpose. He then returned to the crowd, his sword dripping with blood. He then demanded another head. Another volunteer came up. This was repeated five times in all. Finally all five of them came out of the tent unharmed. Then pouring clear water and sweetner in a bowl he mixed it with his sword accompanied with recitations from the Adi Granth and calling this mixture Amrit or nectar he administered it to the five men. The five men who willingly went forward to sacrifice themselves for the Guru were given the title of ‘Panj Pyare’ or five beloved ones by their Guru.
The Guru said that he was creating an army of saint soldiers called the Khalsa who would spread the message of Guru Nanak’s teachings of peace and brotherhood through the Khalsa and evil doers would be destroyed and it would herald the Age of Peace. He declared the five to be the foundation of the Khalsa. Henceforth all baptised Sikhs would be called Lions or Singhs. He then recited ‘Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh’ meaning Khalsa belongs to God and victory belongs to God and made it the rallying cry of the Khalsa. He then astounded the five by kneeling and asked them to initiate him as a member in the Khalsa on an equal footing with them thus becoming the sixth member of the new order. Women were also initiated into the Khalsa and were called ‘Kaur’ or Princess. Then the Guru addressed them all and informed them that from that moment onwards they were casteless, would not believe in superstition but only in one God. There would be no pilgrimages and rituals, they would have to lead a pure householder’s life, there would be no Purdah or veil or Sati system for the women and they would be equal to men.
The five ‘K’s that had to be followed by all those baptised into the Khalsa were-Kesh(uncut hair), Kangha( wooden comb), Kara(steel bangle), Kirpan(sword) and Kaccha(pair of shorts). They were to always help the poor and protect the weak. They were never to run away from their enemy in battle and to always practice use of arms. They should regard all human beings as equal and never practice caste system. They must not smoke, use drugs or eat meat prepared by ritual slaughter. The Guru’s name was formally changed to Gobind Singh along with the other 5 Sikhs who were also baptised with new names. Thousands came forward and with Amrit they were baptised into the order of the Khalsa.
After the formation of the Khalsa, the Hindu hill chiefs began to be worried as they felt their positions were threatened and they went against the Guru and stepped up their campaign against him. Seeking imperial aide from the Mughals, they fought many battles against the Sikhs. Three major battles took place in Anandapur but the Sikhs could not be defeated. Finally the Muslims then negotiated a peace settlement with the Guru asking him to leave Anandpur. But the Guru knew that the Muslims could not be trusted. So Aurangzeb sent an emissary with a letter that he swore on the holy Quran that he would not harm them and they could leave Anandpur peacefully. Hard pressed, the Guru had no choice but to leave but the Muslims betrayed them and attacked and the deadly battle of Chamkaur was fought. All the Sikhs including his two elder sons were killed. The five surviving Sikhs begged the Guru to save himself to reconsolidate the Khalsa. Along with his two elder sons and his mother he left with their trusted servant and escort who betrayed the Guru and got his mother and sons killed. The Guru continued on his march until he took position once again to fight. A group of 40 Sikhs who had earlier deserted him returned to help him and the Mughals could not win the battle inspite of their large army. Finally they died sacrificing themselves and the Guru blessed the 40 dead as 40 ‘Muktas’ or Saved Ones. The site now is marked by a sacred shrine and tank and the town is called Muktsar or Pool of Liberation.
Literary and Social Works
Guru Gobind Singh’s first composition was Var Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki popularly known as Chandi Di Var written in 1684. It depicted the battle between the Gods and the demons as described in the Markandeya Puran. His later two compositions such as the two Chandi Charitras mostly in Braj with its warlike themes were made to infuse the martial spirit in his followers so that they would be prepared to stand up against tyranny and injustice. Poetry was a means for him to reveal the divine principle and help in personal communion with the Supreme Being. His Jap and the Akal Ustati composition reflect this spirit. Through his poetry he preached love and equality and the practice of a strict moral and ethical code of conduct. He discouraged idolatory, superstitious practices and beliefs and preached the worship of the Formless, Timeless Supreme Lord.
He composed the Zafarnama or Letter of Victory in Persian to King Aurangzeb at one of his darkest times when he lost all four of his sons and most of his followers had been either scattered or killed in battle. It praises God and then outlines the treachery of Aurangzeb and the Muslims and the bloody battle of Chamkaur where they broke their oath not to attack the Sikhs. He justifies in his letter that when all other means have failed, it is lawful to take up the sword.
The Guru spent many years in his writings to prepare the Sikhs for the turmoils and battles that lay ahead. A collection of these writings contain important knowledge on religious, military, personal and spiritual affairs known as Dasam Sri Guru Granth Sahib. They seek to provide adequate knowledge to the readers to always tread the path of righteousness and to devote their life to attaining oneness with the Akaal or the Timeless Supreme Being. It is not only filled with religious subjects but also contains accounts of the various battles he fought which were written to stir a spirit of valour and determination in his followers.
The Guru wrote his autobiography named Bachitra Natak in which he praised the warriors on both sides and wrote how his victory was won only with the Grace of the Lord.
He was the author of several important Banis like Jaap Sahib, Chaupai etc which are recited by the Sikhs daily.
He developed Anandpur as the Sikh centre of excellence and built a number of Gurudwaras there to commemorate various hallmark events in Sikh history that occurred there. He built five forts or Qilas on the border of the city to protect it from invasions.
The Guru had sent the ‘Zafaranama’ letter to Aurangzeb and he invited the Guru for a meeting but the Guru had already travelled further by then. Meanwhile Aurangzeb passed away and his son Bahadur Shah was crowned King. He was sympathetic to the cause of the Sikhs and so fearing reconciliatory measures between the Muslims and Sikhs, Nawab Wazir Khan of Sirhind made plans to secretly execute the Guru. He sent two Pathans to stab the Guru when he was resting after prayers. The Guru struck one of them with his sword and the other was killed by the Sikh followers but the Guru was weakened by the blow and blood loss and realised that his end was near.
On his death bed the Guru then placed before the Sacred Text Guru Granth Sahib, five coins and a coconut and bowed his head before it stating that it would be the Guru henceforth and all those who bow before it and follow its teachings sincerely will be rescued by the Guru. He then passed away on 7th October 1708 at Nanded. Thus ended the line of personal Gurus. The Guru said that the spirit of all the Gurus would be enshrined in it and thus Guruship would be everlasting
Throughout the annals of history it is said that there was no personality more inspiring than Guru Gobind Singh. He infused the spirit of bravery and saintliness in the minds and hearts of his followers and exhorted them to fight against oppression and strive for upliftment. To combat evil and uphold righteousness became his mission in life. It is said that inspired by him all sections of society, people who had never shouldered a gun or touched a sword like washermen and confectioners became leaders of armies and heroes before whom the Mughal army quailed. He was a great statesman and his principles were truth and morality. He was a great patriot and liberator. Inspite of his fearless personality and indomitable spirit, he was humble and warm hearted, a householder, reformer, scholar, poet, nation builder and a universal man of God born solely for the purpose of redeeming mankind and leading them to victory against despotism and tyranny.