Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Sikh Guru, had a unique personality which reflected a rare blending of the saint-soldier, versatile scholar, prodigious statesmen, patron of art and literature and a staunch defender of human freedom. He personified the manifestation of human aspirations. During his brief span of life (1666-1708 A.D.), he greatly enriched the cultural, spiritual, moral and intellectual life of mankind. He was only nine years old when his worthy father (Guru Tegh Bahadurji, the Nineth Sikh Guru) was called to the Court of Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb at Delhi and was beheaded in Chandni Chock (presently Gurdwara Sis Ganj) in November 1675.
Some historians like Cunningham and Sarkar, interpreted Guru Gobind Singhji’s act of ordaining the Order of the Khalsa on the Baisakhi of 1699 (at the Keshgarh Assembly), in terms of a son’s natural instinct to avenge the death of his father. Others, like A. C. Banerjee and Khushwant Singh, reject this view and cite much deeper philosophical, cultural and spiritual reasons for the creation of the Khalsa. 1 The latter view fits better in the overall philosophical framework of Guru Nanak’s mission as articulated by Guru Gobind Singh. The ‘“revenge’’ theory is obviously based on circumstantial evidence and subjective rationalization. In fact, martyrdom and revenge do not belong together. Martyrdom is selfless sacrifice for a noble human cause, while revenge pertains to the baser human instinct. The feed-back of martyrdom is invariably in the form of achieving a higher human goal and/or defending fundamental human values and beliefs. Guru Tegh Bahadurji had voluntarily offered his life, with dignity and grace, in defense of human freedom and moral aspirations of mankind. Guru Gobind Singh had anticipated and supported this holy mission of his father. As the moment of martyrdom drew nearer, Guru Gobind Singh positively responded through a special message to his father: “bal hoaa bandhan chhutey sabh kichh hot update Nanak sabh kichh tumre hath maen tum hi hot sahai.’”’ (The fetters of bondage are broken, for liberty and truth everything is possible. Lord, everything is in Thy Hands. Nanak craveth for Thy protection). 2
The Khalsa was created to buttress the same cause for which Guru Tegh Bahadur had given his life peace, love, justice, truth and freedom of faith, worship, thought and expression. The Khalsa was the manifestation of the same spirit which is embodied in Guru Nanak’s teachings and those of his successors. As observed by an eminent historian, ‘“‘the harvest which ripened in the time of Guru Gobind Singh was sown by Guru Nanak and watered by his successors. The sword which carved the Khalsa’s way to glory was, undoubtedly forged by Gobind, but the steel had been provided by Nanak.” 3 In complete contrast with the ‘“revenge”’ theory, an eminent scholar pointed out that “The Khalsa wields the sword as a shield to defend and protect the weak and the oppressed, to uphold truth and righteousness. Sword in Sikhism has never been used for gratification of “‘self’”’ … It has always been used for freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and for protection of Dharma.” 4 The fundamental guiding principle lay down by the Guru for the Khalsa has always been ‘‘Sant Ubharan, dusht Singharan (saving the saints & extirpating the wicked). Therefore, personal revenge does not fit into this framework. Guru Gobind Singh emphasized an absolute connection between means and ends. He did not make any exception whereby unfair means could be used for noble ends. He strongly “‘forbade his soldiers from looting. He made them take solemn vows that they would never molest women …’ 5 He emphasized the same theme in his letter of victory (Zafarnama) to Emperor Aurangzeb castingating him for deception and deceit in the name of religion. Professor Abdul Majid Khan observed that “Guru Gobind Singh was not at all inimical towards Islam or the Muslims Guru Gobind Singh had many Muslim devotees who held him in very high esteem,’’ 6 and supported his struggle against tyranny.
Guru Gobind Singh, after baptizing the Five Loved Ones (Panj Peare with Khande-da-Amrit), himself bowed before them and asked them to accept him in the fold of the Khalsa. This ‘“‘initiation of Guru by his disciples was a thing unknown in the history of religions.’”” A contemporary poet Bhai Gurdas II, hailed this in the following words: “Waih pargateo mard agammra waryam ikela Wah, Wah Gobind Singh ape Gur Chela.”” (And lo! there appeared an unsurpassable man, a unique hero — Wonderful, wonderful is Guru Gobind Singh, a venerable preceptor as well as a humble disciple). 7
Guru Gobind Singh himself mentioned his mission in the following words: ‘I came into the world charged with the duty to uphold the right in every place, to destroy sin and evil the only reason I took birth was to see that righteousness may flourish, that good may live and tyrants be torn out by the roots.” 8 As the spiritual and temporal king of the Sikhs (miri-te-piri de malak), he delegated the authority to the council of five (panj peare) whose command was to be accepted by the Khalsa including the Guru himself. Having accomplished this historic task of infusing and inspiring a new sense of belonging, setting in motion a new sense of direction blending the teachings of his nine predecessors and establishing staunch sentinels for upholding righteousness, he enshrined the future Guruship in the Eleventh and Perpetual Living Spirit of Guru Granth Sahib. In the opinion of Professor A. C. Banerjee, the abolition of personal Guruship “might appear to be an unforeseen development, but it was in logical conformity with the evolution of Sikhism. The personality of the Guru has always been kept separate from its spirit. What Guru Gobind Singh did was to vest the personality in the Khalsa and the spirit in Guru Granth Sahib.” 9
The historical evidence cited above does not support the view that Guru Gobind Singhji did anything solely to avenge the death of his father. Yet, such interpretations still hold currency and are often recited in the Sikh congregations. This is reminiscent of similar erroneous explanations given in reference to Guru Arjan Devji’s martyrdom, as if it resulted from a personal conflict with Diwan Chandu Lal. That is not all, despite Guru Gobind Singhji’s clear command (agya bhai akal ki tabi chalaeo panth sabh sikhan ko hukam hai guru maneo granth), to follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, in letter and spirit (shabad-surat), many of our people still give credence, often defend and support, deceptive claims of the pretenders who project themselves as reincarnation of Guru Gobind Singh, and preach their personality cult in self-gratification and in complete contradiction with Sikhism.
Dr. Gurcharan Singh is
The Director of the International
Marymount Manhattan College,
New York and a founding fellow
Of the Sikh Heritage Institute, Inc.
1 A. C. Banerjee, ‘‘Creation of the Khalsa,’ Journal of Sikh Studie
(February 1974), p. 29 Also sees Khushwan Singh,
“The Concept of Five,’’ The Sikh Review (April 1972), p. 14.
2 Translations by Dr Tarlochan Singh, Journa of Sikh Studies, op. cit., p 31
3 Sir Gokal Chand Narang, Transformation of Sikhism, p. 70
4 Ranbir Singh, the Sikh Way of Life, p. 131
5 Khushwant Singh, op. cit., p.15
6 Abdul Majid Khan, the Sikh Review (January 1967), p. 35
7 Ganda Singh, the Sikhs and their Religion, p.14
8 As cited by Khushwant Singh, op. cit., p. 14
9 A. C. Banerjee, op. Cit., p. 42