This was an extremely important event in Sikh history that had a profound impact on the future direction of Sikhism, the religion of the Sikhs. Guru Tegh Bahadar, the ninth Sikh Guru undertook the supreme sacrifice for the protection of the most fundamental of human rights – the right of a person to freely practice […]

This was an extremely important event in Sikh history that had a profound impact on the future direction of Sikhism, the religion of the Sikhs.

Guru Tegh Bahadar, the ninth Sikh Guru undertook the supreme sacrifice for the protection of the most fundamental of human rights – the right of a person to freely practice his or her religion without interference or hindrance.

In the modern times we tend to take this freedom for granted – but in 1675, millions of people were denied this basic right. There was forced conversion of religion; many thousands were killed for refusing to change their religion.

Unique sacrifice

To give ones life for a cause is a difficult and highly challenging undertaking. Many in past human history have given their lives for their own personal reason; however, what is astonishing in the case of the ninth Sikh Guru is the fact that the Guru was not protecting the right of his “own people” called the Sikhs to practise their religion but instead the rights of the non-Sikhs, the peace-loving people from Kashmir.

These people from Kashmir were very respected Hindus pundits (scholars) who were being threatened with conversion to Islam, under the threat of death by the “Muslim” Emperor, Aurangzeb. In 1669, the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb departed from the policy of tolerance practised by his predecessors and unleashed instead a policy of religious persecution against non-Muslims. This caused large-scale demoralisation, fear and panic among the people.

The commitment by the Sikh Guru to protect and support the liberty of all the people of a country was unprecedented. This type of supreme sacrifice had never previously been recorded in human history. On May 25, 1675 in answer to an appeal of a large group of revered Kashmiri Pandits, Guru Tegh Bahadur made the momentous decision that has forever changed the level of moral commitment, dedication and sacrifice required by followers of God. The Guru made this critical decision to risk laying down his life if necessary to protect the right of the Hindus to follow their religion freely without interference or duress.


The Guru by this act has set a yardstick by which the Sikh must gauge their devotion to their religion. It is now not acceptable to say that: “I believe in the right of others to practise their faith peacefully” – this does not even get near the level of awareness required for the followers of Sikhism. The Guru has by his example taught the followers to maintain a high level of morality.

It is not even acceptable to say: “I, as a Sikh respect and honour other religions” – even this does not get the Sikh to the required threshold of “wakefulness” (“Surat”). The Sikh mind-set has to get to a position of consciousness where he or she will be able to say: “I as a Sikh am ready to die to protect the right of the people of all faiths”. The ability to advance to these reaches of awareness (Surtee or Surat) is a gift obtainable from the Almighty, and was the lesson taught by Guru Tegh Bahadur to the followers of Sikhism. Not only does the Guru’s words mention this clearly in Gurbani, but the life of the Gurus also actually reinforces these words of Bani.

It should be remembered that the Gurus did not believe in the practises of the Hindu religion and had issued various holy Shabads denouncing various Hindu practises like Sati, Purdah, Idol worship, etc. However, this had no bearing when it came to the decision to protect these Kashmiri Hindus – for the right of a person to freely practise their religion was considered to be predominant over their own personal beliefs and preferences.

Guru Gobind Singh recorded his father’s martyrdom with these words:

Theekar fore dilees sir, Prabh par kiyo payan,
Tegh Bahadur si kriya, Kari na kinhoo aan.
Tegh Bahadur ke chalat, Bhayo jagat main sog.
Hai hai hai sab jag bhayo, Jai jai jai sur log.

He burst the bonds of mortal clay
And went on to the abode of God.
No one ever performed an act as noble
As did Tegh Bahadur.

With the departure of Tegh Bahadur
The world was stricken with sorrow.
A wail of horror rent the earth,
A victor’s welcome by the dwellers of heaven.

Bichitra Natak

To bring to the attention of all human beings in greater India and to record in world history the barbaric ways of the Mughal Empire, Guru Tegh Bahadar escalated the consciousness of the Sikh psyche to a newer level. It was now not acceptable for a God loving people to protect just their own kind, but it was the duty of all God loving people to protect the rights of all the people of God, no matter what their chosen religion may be. Guru Tegh Bahadar put into practise the profound message of Gurbani that had been existant since Guru Nanak Dev’s time:

Emperor Aurangzeb was a barbaric ruler of the Mughal Dynasty who came to power in 1658 and ruled for 49 years until his death in 1707. When he came to power in 1658, he killed or had killed his three brothers and imprisoned his father and forcibly converted Lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of Hindus to Islam. He is commonly considered the last of the “grand” Mughal emperors. His last 25 years were spent in the Deccan fighting a war of attrition against the Marathas which practically bankrupted the Mughal Empire, which never rose again to its onetime splendour. Thought the succeeding Mughal Emperors were even more blood thirsty in their attempts to wipe out the Hindu and Sikh religions, they would soon fall to the perhaps, greater atrocities of the Persians, Afgaanis and the mixed blessings of the British conquerors that completed their demise.

The Kashmiri Pandits were Hindus renowned for their high intellect and education. They had a good relationship with the Sikhs and their Gurus. Guru Nanak Dev met Pandit Brahm Das who was an ancestor of Pandit Kripa Ram in Mattan. Kripa Ram had known the Ninth Guru and also taught Sanskrit classics to the young Gobind Rai. During the reign of Jehangir, Guru Hargobind came to Srinagar and met Kashmiri saintess Mata Bagh Bari, who lived at Rainawari. It is interesting to note that Mata Bagya Bari’s spiritual interaction with the sixth Sikh Guru is incredibly well-preserved in the Sikh religious tradition. In Pandit tradition Mata Bagya Bari is a person renowned for her high spiritual merits.

The Turning Point

In early 1675, the Kashmiri Pandits approached Guru Tegh Bahadar to seek his assistance in their acute hour of need. These Hindus from Kashmir had been given a deadline by Emperor Aurangzeb to convert to Islam or be killed. Pandit Kripa Ram with his large delegation met Guru Tegh Bahadar at Chak Nanki, Kahlur (now known as Anandpur Sahib). He explained their dilemma to the Guru in the open Sangat at the place where today stands Gurdwara Manji Sahib, in Anandpur Sahib.

“The Emperor had given us some time to decide to convert to Islam or to be executed. The time for deciding has expired. Now, we have to convert to Islam or die. What shall we do? Guru ji, we have no one else to turn to. We don’t have an army to protect us – We need your help. Please assist us”, said Kripa Ram.

Guru ji is said to have gone into deep thought after Pandit Kripa Ram’s request. At this point, it is said that Guru ji son, Gobind Rai walks into the Sangat to see Guru ji deep in thought.

“Guru ji, I see the acutely sad faces of the Sangat and you are silent and in deep thought. What is the problem?” asked Gobind Rai to his father. Gobind is about 9 years old at this stage.

Guru ji slowly turn to his son and explain the situation as concisely as possible.

Baata (Son), this is sangat from Kashmir. They are Hindus who have been friends of Sikhs since the time of Guru Nanak. They have a very serious problem on their hands” said Guru ji.

Gobind Rai replied, “Pita ji, you are the Guru of the entire world (“Jagat Guru”). You will know of a solution to all problems

Baata, Emperor Aurangzeb has given them an ultimatum – If they do not become Muslims, he will kill them all”, explained Guru ji.

Guru ji continued, “Some well-known Religion person (“Mahapurakh”) will have to make a sacrifice to stop this butchery. We have to find a supreme soul who will die so as to awaken the sleeping consciousness of the people of Hind”.

“Pita ji, there is an easy answer to this problem. You are the most spiritually aware person in whole of Hind. You can make that sacrifice”, answered Gobind Rai.

Guru ji was pleased to hear these words as it confirmed that his son had reached a suitable age to become the next Guru, and that Guru ji’s work on Earth had been completed.

Guru ji addressed the Pandits, “Go and tell Aurangzeb that if he can convert Guru Tegh Bahadar to Islam, they will all convert. Otherwise he should leave them alone

The Pandits were delighted that a solution was found and duly informed Emperor Aurangzeb of the decision.

Aurangzeb was delighted that by converting one person, he would without any further delay have the conversion of many 1000’s to Islam. Accordingly he summoned his officers to arrest Guru Tegh Bahadar.

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