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The Holy City of Bliss

Giani Harbans Singh

Anandpur Sahib
Anandpur Sahib, the holy City of Bliss, is one of Sikhs' five most important sacred places and is closely linked with their religious traditions and history. It lies on the lower spurs of the Himalayas, surrounded by picturesque natural scenery, with the river Satluj forming a shiny, blue border on the south-west, barely four miles away. The famous Nangal Dam is 13 miles to the north. The Bhakra and Nangal projects have opened up the country and made communication easier, brining Anandpur Sahib on the Rupar-Nangal route by road as well as by rail. In historical significance, Anandpur Sahib is second only to Amritsar, the city of Darbar Sahib. Anandpur Sahib was founded in 1664 by the ninth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, near the ruins of an ancient place Makhowal. The site was purchased by him from the ruler of Bilaspur, a small hill chieftainship. The town achieved its greatest glory in the time of Sri Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the last Sikh Guru, who spent nearly 25 years of his life here. In the solitude of the place of Guru undertook his meditations and contemplated plans for the liberation of the country from the tyranny of the Mughal rulers. Its strategic position fell in with his plans and programme of training the Sikhs in the art of war and thus creating an order of warrior saints, pledged to upholding truth and religion and to regaining the freedom of the land.

The founder, Sri Guru Teg Bahadur, stayed in Anandpur only for a short period and left on a long tour of the country which took him as far as Assam in the east. During this period Guru Gobind Singh was born at Patna, in Bihar. He was eight year old when he was brought to Anandpur Sahib. Here he resumed his studies in Sanskrit and Arabic and engaged in the practice of arms. At  Anandpur, Guru Tegh Bahadur gave audience in 1675 at a group of Kashmiri Brahmans, who requested him to save them and their faith from the religious fanaticism of Aurangzeb. Guru Tegh Bahadur knew that his object could not be achieved without revolutionizing the spirit and psychology of the Indian people and declared that as an initial measure one noble person should be willing to immolate himself to the cause of righteousness of "Where is a nobler person than yourself?" Said his young son Guru Gobind Singh, then about 9 year old. Pleased at these brave words, Guru Tegh Bahadur left Anandpur Sahib for Delhi, the Mughal capital, to lay down his life for the sake of his sacred mission.

Aurangzeb offered Guru Tegh Bahadur the usual choice of Islam or the sword. The Guru chose the latter and misequally was beheaded in Delhi on Nov 11, 1675. The revolution conceived in Anandpur had begun. On the site of the Guru's martyrdom now stands Gurdwara Sis Ganj which is one of Sikhs' most sacred shrines in Punjab. In defiance of the Mughal authority, the saved head of the Guru was brought to Anandpur by a brave Sikh, Jaita, named Jiwan Singh after baptism, at a great personal risk and sacrifice. Guru Gobind Singh was deeply touched by this act of unique courage and devotion and blessed Bhai Jaita and all other people of his class as his own sons. On the spot where the cremation took place, the Guru built a Gurdwara known as Sis Ganj. For some years Guru Gobind Singh retired to a place on the banks of river Jamuna where he built a fort called Paunta. This period he spent in meditating and study. The process of organizing Sikhs into an order of warrior-saints devoted to religion as also to the task of defending it against aggression and intolerance. The neighboring hill chiefs, who were Hindus by religion and paid tribute to the Mughal emperor in Delhi, became jealous of the growing power of the Sikhs and the splendor of the Guru's court. They also did not take kindly to the Sikh faith and disapproved, in particular, of the way the four castes mixed in it. The Sikhs Langar or community kitchen, where all ate together irrespective of considerations of caste and position, was challenge to the time-honored social traditions of the Hindus.

The hill chiefs' hostility towards the Sikhs became so great that they attacked them with the combined forces under the command of Raja Bhim Chand of Kahlur. A pitched battle took place at Bhangani, six miles from Paunta, in which the armies of the chiefs were defeated. This was in beginning of 1686. Guru Gobind Singh was pleased at this valorous feat of the Sikhs and on his return to Anandpur founded a fort to commemorate the victory. The fort was named Anandgarh. To further fortify Anandpur, the Guru built three more forts - Lohgarh, Koshgarh and Fatehgarh. At Anandpur, Guru Gobind Singh also instituted a drum known as Ranjit Nagaara. This was beaten morning and evening at the time of the Sikhs prayer in contravention of emperor Aurangzeb's orders forbidding any such announcements in non-Muslims place of worship.

On March 30, 1699, Anandpur Sahib witnessed a scene full of deep symbolic and mystical significance. This was the day of Vaisakhi and the Guru had invited Sikhs from all parts of the country. After his morning ablutions and prayers, he appeared before the congregation, a naked sword in his hand. Addressing himself to the assembly, he said, "I want today a head. Let anyone of my true Sikhs come forward. My sword wants a head." A benumbing silence fell upon the audience. They gazed in awed wonder until the Guru spoke again. Now confusion turned to fear. For the third time the Guru reiterated his demand, Bhai Daya Ram got up and offered his head. The Guru pulled him into a tent nearby. The sound of a blow, as of a sword cutting of man's head, was heard from inside the tent. A stream blood flowed out of the tent. The Guru came out. He waved his sword dripping with blood. He called for another Sikh's head. At this Bhai Dharam Das stood up and offered his head to the Guru. He was taken into the tent. Again the sounds of a sword-blow and body falling to the ground were heard from inside the tent. A fresh stream blood was seen to come out. In the same way, three other Sikhs stood up, one after another, and offered their heads to the Guru. They were Bhai Himmat Rai, Bhai Mohkam Chand, and Bhai Sahib Chand.

These Five Beloved Ones, as they were known and blessed by the Guru, were dressed in handsome clothes and escorted back to the meeting. The four so called Shudras and a Khatri formed a nucleus of the new self-abnegating, material and casteless fellowship of the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh then held a ceremony of baptism. Filling an iron vessel with pure water, he stirred it with a two-edged sword, and recited over it the sacred verses. The Guru's wife, Mata Jito Ji, put in some sweets. Amrit or the nectar of immortality, was now ready and each of the five Sikhs took five palmfuls of it. They were given the appellation of Singh (Lion). They were to wear Keshas (Long Hair), Kangha (A wood Comb), Kara (an Iron Bracelet), Kachhera (a Short drawer), Kirpan ( a Sword). They were enjoined to help the poor and fight the oppressor, to have faith in one God and to abandon superstition. They were to be the saint-soldiers, worshipping God.

The Guru then himself took baptism from the five Sikhs and thus established the principle of perfect equality among the Khalsa. About 80,000 to 120,000 people were baptized that day. The Sikhs returned to their homes kindled with the new spirit and enthusiasm. The inspiration which had guided the Sikhs for several generations thus took a concrete shape at Anandpur. The festival of Holla-Mohalla acquired a new significance in Anandpur and it came to be celebrated in a novel manner. Instead of an occasion for color-splashing, it became a day of manly exercises, tournaments, military parades and mimic battles. Guru gave it the name of Holla-Mohalla and it was held a day after the Hindu festival of Holi. From 1701-1704, Anandpur was in a state of constant siege. The armies of the Mughal Viceroys of Sarhind and Lahore and of the Hindu hill chieftains combined to attack the town which was cut off from all communication with the outside world. The Sikhs faced a most unequal contest in which they were vastly outnumbered. Yet they fought with unflinching tenacity and heroism and showed an infinite capacity for suffering physical hardships. At last upon the besiegers' solemn word that they would not molest the Sikhs if they evacuated the town, Guru Gobind Singh was persuaded to leave. But the enemy broke their promise and Anandpur was sacked and the country around laid waste.

The Guru was pursued and, in the actions that took place, two of his sons and many other Sikhs lost their lives. In this period of stress, Guru Gobind Singh did not forget Anandpur and sent there an Udasi saint, Baba Gurbakhsh Singh, to look after Guru Tegh Bahadur's shrine, Gurdwara Sis Ganj. After the Guru Gobind Singh's passing on in 1708, Sikhs' struggle became extremely difficult and bitter. They were out-lawed and persecuted. No civic life was possible for them and their Gurdwaras and shrines fell into neglect. For a while, when Sikhs under Banda Singh Bahadur(1670-1716), who had received his baptism at the hand of Guru Gobind Singh, overran parts of Punjab, they had an opportunity of re-establishing some of their holy places, but this period of dominance was short-lived and was followed by one of continued suffering and persecution.

At the time of one of Abdali's campaigns extermination against them, 20,000 Sikhs were killed in a single day's battle, and for the moment, he thought that he had finished up the whole race. He blew up the building of Darbar Sahib at Amritsar and filled up the holy tank. As the building was being blown up, a flying stone hit Abdali on the nose, causing a wound which ultimately killed him. But Sikhs' spirit remained unvanquished and they continued the fight. Their one aim was to be able to rebuild their demolished Gurdwaras and restore their sanctity and to this task they addressed themselves at great peril at the most critical moments of their struggle. In 1753. they gathered in large numbers at Anandpur for the spring festival of Holla-Mohalla, when they were attacked by the governor of Jalandhar, Adeena Begh, and dispersed with a very heavy loss of life. Within six months of Abdali's desecration of Amritsar, Sikhs returned to celebrate the Diwali, while the Abdali was still in Lahore. The latter was defeated in an action on the eve the festival. After celebrating the day, the Sikhs retired to their jungle haunts in the Malwa.

As soon as the Sikhs were more firmly established as a political power in the Panjab, they set about repairing and rebuilding their holy places which had been desecrated or destroyed. Langars were restarted and the Sikh chiefs and rulers donated lands to various Gurdwaras for their maintenance. Anandpur regained its position of pre-eminence as the birth-place of the Khalsa. In the twenties the shrines passed into the management of SGPC, a representative organization of the Panth, which was brought into being by the Government as a result of a prolonged struggle on the part of the Sikhs to secure control of their holy places from the priests, who, in most cases, had usurped Gurdwara properties and fallen from the path of religious duty. Anandpur, today, is a small town; but once in a year it booms into hectic activities and it recaptures its old glory and splendor. The occasion is Holla-Mohalla in the month of March. Thousands of Sikhs forgather from long distances to take part in the celebrations Ceremonies of baptism, as enjoined by Guru Gobind Singh, are held, religious discourses given and community affairs discussed by the leaders. The place assumes for the time being its old role as the centre of Panthic activity. The climax comes on the last day when a huge procession, called Holla-Mohalla is taken out. Great is the ardor and enthusiasm of the participants who chant the sacred hymns and display feats of soldiering and horseman-ship as they march along. Scenes of the days of the Lord of Anandpur are recalled.

In Gurdwara Kesgarh at Anandpur are preserved six arms connected with important events in Sikh history or the life of Guru Gobind Singh. The most important of these is the Khanda - a double edged broad sword - which was used by Guru Gobind Singh, when he prepared Amrit, or the baptismal water, at the time of the inauguration of the Khalsa in 1699. The fresh waters of the Satluj mixed with sugar crystals in an iron vessel, were stirred with this Khanda to prepare Amrit which gave new life and spirit to the nation. The second one is Katar, or a short sword. Guru Gobind Singh wore this weapon on his person and used it on many occasions for fighting hand to hand in battle or in sport to kill tigers and leopards. Karpa Barchha is a broad spear with a blade fashioned in the style of the palm of the human hand. History records two occasions when it was used. First it was used by the youthful Guru Gobind Singh on the occasion of his wedding at a place, about six miles to the north of Anandpur Sahib, known as "Guru Ka Lahore". The Guru chose this beautiful spot, rich in natural hill scenery, for the celebrations, since he did not like it to travel all the way to Lahore, the provincial capital of the Mughals. It was reported to him that there was scarcity of fresh drinking water for the people who had assembled to attend the Guru's wedding. The Guru, who was in the prime of his youth, came riding and pierced a rock three times with his spear. Three streams of water gushed forth. They have been flowing ever since with their sweet and sparkling waters, adding to the picturesque charm of the surroundings.

This spear was used again during the famous siege of Anandpur Sahib. The siege had lasted for long time and there were no sign of Sikhs surrendering. Kesri Chand, one of the besieging chiefs proudly said that he would bring Guru Gobind Singh dead or alive, by the next sunset, or not to show his face to his comrades again. This was communicated to the Guru, who named his chief of the army, Bhai Ude Singh, to try his strength with the Mughal general. Bhai Ude Singh armed with weapons of offence and defense, including this spear, went out of the fort and challenged Raja Kesri Chand to fight a duet with him. The challenge was accepted and, in the fight that followed, Kesri Chand was vanquished and killed and his severed head, pierced with this spear, was brought to the Guru's camp where it was laid to rest with becoming honors. Nagni Barchhi is another spear. Its blade is cast in the form of snake. In the battle of Anandpur it was used by Bachittar Singh, a reputed Sikh warrior and a younger brother Bhai Ude Singh.

To break open the gates of the Guru's fort, the enemy brought a mighty, drunken elephant. Seven plates of steel, one upon the other, covered the forehead of the animal, which was followed by a large number of soldiers. Bhai Bachittar Singh was commissioned by the Guru to fight the elephant. The great warrior went forth armed with Nagni Barchhi and a sharp steel sword. Riding his horse and standing in the stirrups, he pierced with the spear the seven steel plates and wounded the elephant in forehead. With lighting alacrity, he attacked again and cut the elephant's trunk with a blow of his sword. The wounded beast ran back in fury trampling under foot those who were following him. The Nagni Barchhi keeps fresh the memory of his brave deed of Bhai Bachittar Singh.

Guru Gobind Singh's musket is another precious relic preserved at Anandpur Sahib. After the battle of Mukatsar, the Guru reached Sabo-Ki-Talwandi, now Damdama Sahib, where Chaudry Dalla, a local chief who professed the Sikh faith met him. The Chaudri told the Guru that he had sent him words, his (Chaudry's) brave followers would have fought on his side and changed the course of events. One day a Sikh craftsman from Lahore brought as an offering a musket he had made. The Guru who always prized the gift of a weapon asked Dalla to bring a couple of his followers to become targets for him to judge the range of his new musket. The Chaudri went to his camp, but failed to persuade anyone of his followers to come forward to comply with the Guru's wish. At last Dalla reported to the Guru that his men were willing to die for him in battle, but not as targets in front of his musket. The Guru then sent word to his own camp. Two Sikhs, Bir Singh and Randhir Singh, father and son, came running, to offer themselves as targets for the Guru's musket. The Guru asked them to stand one behind the other and aimed the musket at them. Each of them stood on his toes to be higher than the other to be the first one to receive the bullet. The Guru fired above their heads and afterwards embraced and blessed his devoted Sikhs. The idea was to prove to Dalla, who had talked proudly of his soldiers, that the Guru's Sikhs were not inferior to anyone in courage.

The Saif is double edged broad sword of the Arab origin. It is nearly 1000 years old and was used by the Caliphs of Islam in, at least, five battles. It bears Arabic inscriptions and Aurangzeb's property once upon a time. The sword was presented to Guru Gobind Singh by emperor Bahadur Shah, the eldest son and successor of Aurangzeb.

Source - The Holy City of Bliss by Giani Harbans Singh