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Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev

Surjit Singh Gandhi

The emergence of the Sikhs as a community did not disturb Akbar as it could not because of his liberal-mindedness and his appreciation for the teachings of the Guru. Nor could the poisonous propaganda of the enemies of the Guru make him angry with the Guru. Prithi Chand in league with Sulhi Khan, a Mughal official of the Revenue department, lodged a complaint with Akbar to the effect that the Guru had usurped Guru Gaddi which, in point of right, belonged to him and the Guru did not care for Mughal officials in this respect. The Guru explained his position and Akbar dismissed the complaint. At another occasion (1594 C.E.), another complaint was lodged that the Guru had prepared a Granth (a sacred book) which blasphemed both Hindu and Muslim prophets alike. According to Macauliffe1, Akbar ordered the Guru to explain his position. The Guru sent Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Budha along with Adi Granth to the court of Akbar. They recited a few hymns of Adi Granth which had their profound effect on the Emperor who expressed his desire that many more of this kind were needed. Foiled in their designs, Prithi Chand instigated the Brahmins and Qazis to say that the aforesaid Shabads were selected by Bhai Budha specially for the occasion. At that, Akbar opened the Granth himself and asked them to read, but nothing came to his notice which was wrong. On the other hand, the Emperor expressed that this was ‘the first great scripture of synthesis’.

Akbar’s favourable attitude did not merely save Sikhism from the fury of the Muslim orthodoxy, but it provided necessary conditions for its quick further progress. The strong and efficient administration of the Emperor Akbar established peace in the land which enabled the Sikhs to march ahead unhindered by local revolts and foreign invasions.

According to Badaoni2, on another occasion namely the thirteenth of the month of Azur (1595 C.E.) Akbar, with a gorgeous military retinue, crossed the Beas and went to Goindwal to visit Guru Arjan Dev ‘whose teachings and character he appreciated’. The Emperor partook of the food at Guru Ka Langar and in token of his appreciation of the Guru’s work, offered to make a contribution to the Guru's large expenditure which the Guru declined politely. Moreover, the Emperor forsook the revenue of some part of the Punjab for that year in deference to the wishes of Guru. This remission of the revenue considerably increased the fame and influence of the Guru.

All the same, a few Muslim and Hindu officials were unhappy at this and disliked the mounting prestige of the Guru. Among the Hindu officials, the most important were Kalanaurie Khatries including Kahna who had managed the jagirs of Salim since 1593 C.E., while the most important Muslim officials who bore enmity towards the Guru were Sulhi Khan and Sulabi Khan. The conservative section among the Muslims also regarded the Sikh movement with suspicion. This section in the Punjab was led by the Naqshbandi Order headed by Sheikh Ahmed Sarhindi.

Akbar died during the night of October 25, 1605 and was succeeded by his son Jahangir. With his succession, the religious policy underwent a radical change at least for the first two years. There was nothing unnatural about it because the Sunni Musalmans were his chief supporters during his fight against his father, and at the time, when Akbar, in consultation with Aziz Koka and Raja Man Singh, was planning to enthrone Khusro, the charming, liberal and brilliant eldest son of Jahangir. Even at the time of succession, the orthodox detractors of his father’s enlightened liberalism smoothed his way to throne. Thus when he ascended the throne, he not only did not like his father’s opposition to the Muslims orthodoxy but was also in a frame of mind to oblige them, should an opportunity arise. It was this frame of mind and the desire to please Muslim orthodoxy that was responsible for the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev. It is also possible that in view of the Rajput party, propping up the claims of Khushro, he himself developed prejudices against the non- Muslims.

Accordingly, as Vincent Smith would have us believe ‘he began to practise the Islamic rules which had no room in the Mughal administration during Akbar’s time’. Moreover, he started the policy of persecution so far as the non-Muslims were concerned. The actual handling of the administration and state affairs convinced him of the futility of his policy and undoubtedly he abjured it and followed in the footsteps of his father inasmuch as his religious policy was concerned but in the initial few years of his rule, his religious policy was anti-non-Muslims.

Jahangir, in his autobiography gives the account of this affair as under:

“In Goindwal which is on the river Bivah (Beas), there was a Hindu named Arjan, in the garments of saint-hood and sanctity—so much so, that he had captivated many of the simple-hearted of the Hindus and even the ignorant and foolish followers of his ways and manners, and they had loudly sounded the drum of his holiness. They called him Guru and from all sides stupid people crowded to worship and manifest complete faith in him. For three or four generations (of spiritual successors) they had kept this shop warm. Many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.”3

“At last, when Khusro passed along this road, this insignificant fellow (meaning the Guru) proposed to wait upon him. Khusro happened to halt at place where he was and he came out and did homage to him. He behaved to Khusro in certain special ways, and made on his forehead a finger-mark in saffron which the Indians (Hinduwan) call Qashqa and is considered propitious. When this came to my ears and I fully knew his heresies I ordered that he should be brought into my presence and having handed over his houses, dwelling places, and children to Murtaza Khan (Sheikh Farid Bukhari) and having confiscated his property, I ordered that he should be dealt with the penal Laws of Yasa (Formudam Ki Ora Ba-Siyasat, Bayasa Va Rasanand).”4

In his above statement the Emperor has levelled two charges against Guru Arjan:

  1. the popularity of the Guru as a religious and worldly leader amongst the Hindus and the Muslims;
  2. the visit of rebel prince Khusro to Goindwal, whom the Guru is said to have blessed with a saffron mark on his forehead.

The first charge may be accepted as correct. It is an undeniable fact that Guru Arjan Dev carried out the reforms and organisational work to such an extent that the Sikhs became more or less a compact community in command of an efficient and extensive organisation reaching even to the farthest corners of the province and even beyond. The well-knit organisation of the Sangats and the Masands not only kept the Sikhs together and in touch with their leaders, but also provided them with funds necessary for common purposes and familiarised them with a kind of self-government, however, imperfect it might have been. The separation from the Udasis and the barring of the door to asceticism had made Sikhism essentially a religion of householders, a religion which aimed at harmoniously valid worldly pursuits with a true religious life. The spectacle of a religious teacher at the head of such an extensive organisation and with a body of followers who had been taught that to sacrifice their all for the Guru was the highest and the most meritorious act, and whose sense of brotherhood and love for each other transcended all other feelings, could not but disturb the equanimity of the established state. A question may be asked as to why Jahangir put the matter in the language which the staunchest ulemas would have envied. The answer to it lies in the circumstances in which Jahangir was destined to work.

Two Movements

Punjab was witnessing two movements of great importance. One was the Sikh movement which because of its egalitarian character, its accent in favour of the low and the unprivileged, and its anti-ritual tone had a mass appeal of its own. Guru Arjan Dev’s charismatic personality and inspiring leadership made it still more popular. Under him, it not only consolidated itself; but also it began to influence all walks of life—social, religious and literary. The foundation of cities, digging of tanks, spiritualising the secular life, sanctifying the literary activities, compiling and editing Adi Granth and holding of darbars—all these activities created a sort of furore in the Punjab. Many Hindus and Muslims came under the spell of the Guru’s faith and became converts with the result that Islam could now get fewer number of converts, at least in that part of the Punjab in which the Guru’s headquarter existed.

In the Punjab the non-Muslims were either the declared followers of the Sikh faith or were being increasingly attracted towards it through the life and preaching of Guru Arjan Dev is borne out by evidence of Dabistan-i-Mazahib, which says:

“In short, during the time of each Mahal (Guru) the Sikhs increased in number till in the reign of Guru Arjan Mall they became numerous and there were not many cities in the inhabited countries where some Sikhs were not to be found.” In the time of Mahals before the fifth Guru no offerings were collected from the Sikhs. Whatever was presented by the Sikhs themselves was accepted. During this time, Arjan Mall deputed one person to the Sikhs of every city so that he may collect offerings from them (This deputy or agent was called Masand).

“People began to become Sikhs of the Guru through the medium of Masands; the Masand, through whom large numbers became Sikh of the Guru, appointed deputies on their own behalf so that in every place, people having become associates of the Masands through the Masands’ agent, became Sikh of the Guru.”

The second movement was that of the revivalists spearheaded in the Punjab by the Naqshbandis. For some time past, the puritan Muslims had been feeling disturbed and agitated over the religious policies of Emperor Akbar whose toleration and liberal attitude towards non-Sunni Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, and the introduction of Divine Montheism or the Din-i-Ilahi were interpreted as anti-Muslims and derogatory to Islam. This feeling was particularly strong in the Punjab, firstly, because of Sikh movement which was claiming converts from among the people who otherwise might have entered into the fold of Islam, and, secondly, because of the innate desire of the orthodox Muslims to the effect that the Punjab should remain safe for the Islam to take root and flourish. Naqshbandi revivalists who were headed in the Punjab by Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi Mujadd-id-Alf-i-Sani, a disciple of Khwaja Baqi Billa, represented the aforesaid mode of thinking. Sheikh Ahmed considered himself Qayum or the deputy of God, responsible for the rejuvenation of Islam in the second Millennium. According to him the first Millennium (One thousand years since foundation of Islam) belonged to Prophet Muhammad, while the second one belonged to him. The whole universe including Sun, Moon and Earth was under his control. Nobody’s prayer could reach God unless it was first accepted by him. He declared Guru Arjan Dev as Kulah-e-Sharik and Imam-e-Kafir. He made the revival of orthodoxy something of a movement. He made use of royal power to promote his design. It is said that Sheikh Ahmed eradicated the godlessness of Akbar’s reign; forced the court to reform its etiquette.

According to their calculated plans, the revivalists approached the influential souls of the Mughal empire to support the successor of Emperor Akbar on the condition that there would be a complete change in the Imperial policy towards the non- Muslims and that the Islamic laws would be upheld and applied according to Mujadd-id’s interpretation. Sheikh Farid Bukhari was one of the staunchest advocates of the revivalist movement and was a confidant and a supporter of the claims of the heir- apparent, Salim (later Jahangir) to the imperial throne.

Circumstances so conspired that Prince Salim burst into rebellion against his father in 1601 C.E. A reconciliation was however, effected through the paternal magnanimity of the Emperor who publicly recognised Prince Salim as his heir to the throne. Rumours and reports continued to be circulated that, in reality, Akbar approved of the nomination of his grandson Khusro as his heir to the throne and desired to be succeeded by him rather by his rebellious and intemperate son. This set in motion intrigues and counter-intrigues with particular efforts for winning support for the contesting parties—Prince Salim and his son Khusro. The proposal of the Khan-i-Azam Aziz Koka and Raja Man Singh to exclude Prince Salim as unworthy in favour of his son was stoutly opposed by a number of nobles. This afforded a very favourable opportunities to the adherents of the Muslim revivalists to exact from Prince Salim as a price for their support to his claims to the Imperial throne two solemn oaths binding him in the first place to defend the Islamic religion against non-Muslim heathenism, and in the second place to wreak vengeance upon those who had at any time in the past espoused the cause of Khusro. Salim gladly accepted both the conditions and took the required oaths. Sheikh Farid Bukhari had also secured active co-operation of the Sayyads of Burha who were well-known for their religious zeal and martial5 vigour. The combination of Burhas with Sheikh Farid greatly strengthened the side of the Prince Salim who succeeded to the throne without much opposition. In the event of the revolt of Khusro, Sheikh Bukhari’s services were laudable, and, in recognition thereof, Jahangir honoured him with the title of Murtza Khan, and the grant of jagir of Bhairowal. In this way, the orthodox section of the Sunnis particularly the Mujaddid’s followers had risen very high in the estimation of Jahangir, and to please them the Emperor used the language soaked in rabid communalism as he could not ignore their reports. They, on their part, took full advantage of the mood of the Emperor and conveyed to him the report of the meeting of Khusro and the Guru in the manner they liked. Jahangir atonce acted possibly to assuage the feelings of the orthodox section of the Muslims and to look as the defender of their faith in consonance with his promises. According to Dr. Ganda Singh6

“The revivalists pushed their scheme through Sheikh Farid Bukhari. Jahangir did so only as a time-saving expediency because he as history knows him, was not much of a religious man himself. Moreover, when he was fairly established in throne, he ceased to champion the orthodox policy.”

The crisis which was, in fact, the product of the socio- spirito-political nature of the Sikh movement was precipitated by Khusro’s affair. Khusro, the eldest son of Salim possessed amiable personality and qualities of head and heart was much loved by Akbar who, at one time, in view of the refractory behaviour of Jahangir had thought of nominating him as his successor. Akbar, however, gave up the idea of superseding the right of his son—Jahangir, when he tendered apology.

On the 24th/25th October, 1605 Akbar died having put the Royal turban on the head of Jahangir, and hung the sword round Jahangir’s girdle. But enmity between Jahangir and his son Khusro did not end. Khusro, because he was popular among the liberal Mughal nobility and Rajput party and had the solid backing of his father-in-law Aziz Koka, and his maternal uncle, Raja Man Singh, expected a special treatment from his father, while on the other hand, Jahangir was suspicious of his designs and asked him to remain within the four walls of the Agra Fort. Exasperated at not getting his expected due, Khusro after five months of the succession of Jahangir (April 6, 1606), came out of the fort along with 300 soldiers on the pretext that he would like to pay a visit to the mausoleum of his grandfather, Akbar, at Alexandria, five miles distant from Agra. Having come out of the fort, he raised the standard of revolt and moved to Lahore, evidently in the hope of gaining adherents in the north-west. On the way, Hussain Beg Badakhshi joined with his contingent of 300 horse-men. Thither he was closely pursued by Sheikh Farid Bukhari followed at a short distance by the Emperor himself. The Sheikh followed the same route as was followed by Khusro crossing the river Beas at Goindwal, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the rebel prince near Bhairowal.

Absolutely unnerved at the defeat, he came to Goindwal and paid his visit to Guru Arjan Dev, whom he held in high esteem, for, he was aware that the Guru admired Akbar’s religious pluralism and was an uncompromising opponent of the Muslim orthodoxy. The Guru welcomed him, as a religious Guru ought to have done and according to Jahangir, “painted saffron colour on the forehead of the Prince.”7 Mohsin Fani says that the Guru offered prayer for Khusro. Shortly after, on April 27, Khusro was captured along with some of his companions while trying to cross the Chenab. Khusro was put in prison and hot iron bars were moved in his eyes to make him permanently illegible for the throne because Islamic customs would not allow a blind man to occupy the throne. Hussain Beg and Abdul Rehman, Khusro’s most trusted lieutenants, were tortured to death ignominiously having been sown in the skin of cows.

The enemies of the Guru, especially the followers of Mujadd-id-Alif-i-Sani, managed to connect the Guru with Khusro.

On or about May 23, a report was poured into the ears of Emperor Jahangir that during the short halt of Khusro at Goindwal, on the right bank of river Beas, the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev had gone to see the prince and had conveyed to him some preconceived things and had also blessed him with saffron mark on the forehead. Hearing this, the Emperor ordered the Guru be brought into his presence, confiscated his property and sentenced him to a tortuous death—yasa-o-siyast.

This was practically a month after the Guru was alleged to have blessed the prince and some twenty-seven days after the Emperor himself had crossed the Beas at that very place. This makes the whole thing a puzzle and throws a very serious doubt on the genuineness and authenticity of the report. ‘The fact that for twenty-seven days from April 26, when the Emperor appears to have crossed the Beas at Goindwal and was encamped at Jhabal on May 23, there is no reference whatsoever in Tuzak (autobiography of Jahangir) in any way involving Guru Arjan in the affairs of Prince Khusro or of any of his accomplices. If the Guru had met and blessed Khusro at Goindwal, it would certainly have been reported to the Emperor on the spot or in its immediate neighbourhood where it could have been easily verified and authenticated by eye-witnesses and the Guru would have been arrested and carried a prisoner with him to Lahore. But, in fact, nothing came to the ears of His Majesty for as long as a month. So far the details of the report as recorded by Jahangir are concerned, the Guru was not a politician to feel interested in the rebellion of prince Khusro against his father Jahangir who had been on that throne hardly for six months; nor had the prince met the Guru after the accession of his father to prompt the Guru to have any preconceived things to be conveyed to him.

As for the Qashka or teeka-mark of saffron by the Guru on the forehead of the prince, it is, on the face of it, a pure and simple concoction of some conspirators’ fertile imagination to exploit the emotions against the Guru. Never in the whole history of the Gurus, there has been any occasion for any Guru to anoint anyone, Sikh or Non-Sikh, with a teeka. According to the Mehma Parkash of Sarup Dass Bhalla, the ‘Guru took pity on the prince in misery and provided him with food, obviously, from the Guru’s Langar (free kitchen) open to all wayfarers.8 He makes no mention of any teeka or financial help.

Thus, the allegation against Guru that he was involved in propping up the cause of Khusro falls flat as historically unsound.

Almost all the Sikh writers until the start of the twentieth century set the matter in somewhat different light. Jahangir does not figure prominently in the works of most of them and in some of the works it does not figure at all. Ratan Singh Bhangu, who wrote Panth Prakash in the 1840s, states that Jahangir came under the influence of Mullahs and Qazis and played false with Guru Arjan Dev. Even so he passes the blame to a Khatri. Kesar Singh Chhibber, writing in 1769, does not mention Jahangir at all. He refers to the Turks in general as the rulers but the initiative against Guru Arjan Dev was taken by the elder brother Prithi Chand who claimed guruship. He conspired with Chandu Shah, a Sahi Khatri and a Diwan who had his own score to settle with Guru Arjan Dev and he was called to Lahore for interrogation. Thus, the primary villains in the whole situation were Khatris. The fault of the Turks was that they did not do justice to Guru Arjan Dev. He was “tortured, bound, and thrown on the sand in the hot month of Jeth. A Mughal threw a brick at him and his forehead began to bleed, he died of this wound. No Hindu came to claim his body and it was thrown into the river. At a later stage, the Emperor handed over the Shah Khatris to Guru Hargobind for retaliatory justice.

Sarup Das Bhalla, the author of Panth Parkash also attributed the martyrdom to the machination of Chandu, although he recognizes the revolt of Khusro as arousing sense of revenge in Jahangir. Similar views with a little variation and emphasis were held by later writers especially those who chronicled events relating to Guru Arjan Dev upto the end of the nineteenth century. Consistently upholding such a view turned it into a belief or a tradition.

Then in the early twentieth century, when entry regarding the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev was discovered in Jahangir’s Tuzak, the view held so far regarding the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev changed and the swing of the pendulum of reason touched the other extreme and it began to be held that it was Jahangir who was solely responsible for the martyrdom of the Guru.

Both the views one holding solely Chandu or Jahangir solely responsible for the Guru’s martyrdom were not hundred per cent valid.

From the accounts available to us, Chandu’s name occurs again and again. He is said to be inimical to the Guru for latter’s refusal to accept his offer to marry her daughter to his son, Hargobind.

Again he is referred as prompting Jahangir to hand over the Guru to him for two lakh rupees. In Jesuit’s account, he is described as inflicting torturous punishment to the Guru. In Sikh tradition, when Jahangir showed softness towards the Sikhs sometime after the death of Guru Arjan Dev, the Sikhs were allowed to shoebeat Chandu to death for conspiring against the Guru. In the time of Guru Hargobind, his son Prithi Chand continued to harbour hatred for the Sikhs. All these facts show, although rudimentally, that Chandu played a significant part. But exactly who he was is not clear. He could not be the Diwan between 1595 to 1606 because no Mughal record mentions his name as Diwan which otherwise should have been there being the holder of a post of high status in the province. He might be a relative of some Hindu Diwan who held his post earlier or being wealthy and influential he might be called as Diwan, a nomenclature used generally by the people in the Mughal and post-Mughal period for wealthy and influential people. But did he have enough influence to impact that policy of the Emperor. It looks improbable. Such an influential person must have found mention of some sort in contemporary or semi-contemporary record including Jahangir Tazak.

Possibly, he was one of the clouts of influential Khatris of Lahore and of other places in the Punjab holding posts of vintage in Mughal administration. These Khatris as a group had been a privileged class among the Hindus and duly recognised by the Hindu Dharamshastras. No wonder, they wanted to protect their social standing which in their reckoning was being eroded by the teachings of Guru Arjan Dev. Earlier too in the time of Guru Amardas and Guru Ram Das they had made unsuccessful attempt to tempt the government to turn against the Sikhs, through different artifices presenting not only smudged picture of Sikhism but also labelling it as both anti-Islam and anti-Hinduism. Many of these Khatris were holding a number of posts of vintage and being fully aware of the thinking of the ruling class, could at least vicariously impact the state policy. In this perspective Chandu probably could play nefarious part. But his part does not seem to be direct and open. Khatries being non-Muslim, their role could only be restricitive. Whatever the nature and form of Chandu’s role, his doings at least seemed to have the tacit approval of his caste people who besides hampering the progress of Sikhism wanted to curry favour with government by displaying their alignment with the officials.

In this perspective Chandu seemed to have hugged lime light which was probably contrived both by the government and the self-seeking Khatris.

In deference to the summons of Jahangir, the Guru, along with his trusted disciples, Bhai Bidhi Chand, Bhai Langah, Bhai Sangat, Bhai Rana, Bhai Jetha proceeded to Lahore. No inquiry was made; no trial was held. In fact Jahangir did not feel the necessity of doing all this. He himself became a prosecution witness as well, saying ‘I fully knew his heresies.’9 He issued the orders of torturous death in accordance with the penal law of Yasa against the Guru. The Emperor took no notice of details and left the whole thing into the hands of Sheikh Farid Bukhari, his favourite general and the chief man, responsible for the suppression of his son’s rebellion.

It was during the captivity of Guru Arjan Dev at Lahore (May 25-30, 1606) that according to Jesuit records “certain gentiles (heathens or Hindus) interceded on behalf of their holy man a hundred thousand Crusados (about two lakhs of rupees) for which a wealthy gentile became his surety.10 The wealthy gentile, referred to above, was presumably Chandu Lai of Sikh tradition. He hoped that he would be able to realise the money from the Guru’s followers or from him but when he failed in his mission, humiliated and tortured him to death. The author of the Dabistan-i-Mazahib also says that Guru Arjan Dev was arrested and fined and since the Guru was unable to pay the fine he was executed.

Both the above authorities make a mention of fine levied on the Guru. “But their information apparently is based on hearsays on what was circulated by the official sources or interested parties to absolve the reigning Emperor of wanton tyranny in the eyes of the public. The Emperor in his sentence makes no mention of the fine whatsoever. And in the face of his clear sentence of a torturous death, it is extremely difficult to give credence to the story of the fine and of its non-payment being the cause of the Guru’s persecution. It is said that even after the judgment, Mian Mir, Sufi Saint of Qadri Order, tried to intercede on behalf of the Guru but the Guru told him to let the Divine Will have its own course. When Mian Mir, out of intense moral rage, desired to invite God’s Wrath as also to foment rebellion against the naked injustice, the Guru whom torture could neither ruffle nor perturb, said, “Storm may kill the flowers but cannot deaden the seeds. My suffering according to the sweet will of God is the symbol of oppressed people who have not yet attained knowledge. This night on which I am on the verge of casting off this vesture is like a revolution that precedes full justice. The axe is laid upto the roots of intolerance and tyranny. Let us leave Jahangir alone in the courtroom of their conscience and before the supreme court of God, whose sun shines upon the innocent and the criminals alike.11

The Guru’s words silenced Mian Mir who then left the Guru resigning himself to the Will of God.

The story that the Guru was subjected to all sorts of inhuman tortures by Chandu Lai to wreak his vengeance upon the Guru for his having refused his daughter’s hand for his (Guru’s) son Hargobind or to coerce him to accept it even at that stage is, without doubt, nothing but a baseless invention of the fanciful mind of some poets fed upon the imaginary stories of ancient Indian literature. Granting (only for argument sake) that there is some truth in the story, it cannot be easily accepted that Emperor Jahangir or Murtaza Khan Sheikh Farid Bukhari, the defenders of the Islamic faith, handed over Guru Arjan a ‘Kafir’—accused for his complicity in the rebellion against the Emperor to a Hindu ‘Kafir’ (who might have set him free), in the face of the Emperor’s clear orders to put him to a torturous death. And this would reduce the historical martyrdom to a personal vendetta which, evidently, it was not, as we know it from the evidence of the Tuzuk. It may also be mentioned here that the name of Chandu Lai is not to be found in the Tuzuk or any other contemporary or semi-contemporary works on the reign of Jahangir. To say therefore that at that time Chandu Lai was the Emperor’s Diwan or Finance Minister is not historically correct.

According to Sikh tradition the scene of the Guru’s torture was a platform outside the fort of Lahore near the River Ravi. He was made to sit on the hot plates beneath the fast-falling burning sand. After this, he was put in a couldron containing boiling water and as a result, his body suffered blisters all over. Then he was threatened to be sewed up alive in the fresh hide of a cow. The Guru asked permission to bathe in the river Ravi. Permission having been granted, he entered into the water of the river and breathed his last. This virtually amounted to a calculated suicide committed to escape the torture of being sewed up in the hide. And the Guru could not do this because firstly suicide was in contravention of the tenets of Sikhism and secondly it was not in keeping with the spirit of Jahangir’s order.

According to Mohsin Fani, “The Guru died of the heat of the sun and of ill-treatment.”12 Kesar Singh, the author of Bansavli-Nama, Rattan Singh Bhangu and Munshi Sohan Lai state that the Guru did not throw himself into the water but was thrown by the Mughal officers in order to add to the agonies of the Guru. That he was thrown into the Ravi was also reported by a newspaper published in Lisbon in 1609 C.E. Further the Guru fully aware of the intentions of the government from the very beginning and of his resolve to vindicate his stand, could have not committed suicide.

The mode of the torture of the Guru was in consonance with the changezian rule of Yasa, according to which a person is put to death without spilling even a single drop of blood. The irrefutable conclusion, thus, is that the Guru after having been seated on the hot plates and in cauldron full of boiling water was thrown into the cold waters of the Ravi to add to his pain. Sikh tradition informs that while the Guru was being tortured, “the buoyancy of his spirits was avidly manifest”. Bhai Gurdas vouchsafes that the Guru at that time was perfectly placid as snow-clad tops of mountains. As a deer even after being caught remains intoxicated by the music of the hunter’s bell, similarly was Guru Arjan who in spite of physical sufferings had nothing else in mind except the Word (Shabad) (Var 24.23).

Was the Guru executed on account of his anti-state activities or was he a political offender? The question has been examined by almost all the noted scholars since it had been first posed and discussed by Sir J. N. Sarkar. Sir Sarkar says that there is nothing abnormal about the execution of Guru Arjan and such punishments were the usual punishments of revenue defaulters because the latter refused to pay the fine imposed by the Emperor. It appears that Sarkar finds ample justification of the part of the Emperor so far as the imposition of the fine was concerned and feels no qualms while justifying the tortures inflicted on the Guru on grounds of current usage. But a careful reading of the statement of Jahangir would prove that the story pertaining to the imposition of the fine is based on hearsay on what was circulated by the official sources or interested parties to absolve the reigning Emperor of his un-remitting tyranny in the eyes of the public. The Emperor in his sentence makes no mention of the fine whatsoever. “And in the face of his clear sentence of a torturous death, it is extremely difficult to give credence to the story of the fine and of its non-payment being the main cause of the Guru’s persecution. Could anyone dare disobey the order of a despot whose word was law. Moreover, Sarkar ignores various other circumstances connected with the execution of the Guru. Guru Arjan Dev was not a revenue defaulter but he was made out to be so by trumping up charges against him and at his bold stand, labelling him as ‘seditious’ or ‘revenue defaulter’. I. B. Bannerjee regards the view of J.N. Sarkar as a perversity of judgment which can hardly be excused in sound historiography.

Jahangir levelled the charge of treason against the Guru for his ‘so-called’ complicity with the rebellious Prince Khusro which he vindicated by affixing saffron mark on the Prince’s forehead. A moment’s examination will reveal that this charge of Jahangir was altogether untenable. In the first place, we should bear in mind the words of the Emperor given earlier in this chapter, which show that the Emperor’s wrath had been excited against the Guru on religious grounds. In the face of Emperor’s words, connecting the Guru with rebellious prince must be taken with a grain of salt; for the grounds for the presumption are strong indeed that the story of the Guru’s treason was either concocted with the knowledge, perhaps, the connivance of the Emperor or was grabbed at by him as affording a suitable opportunity to demonstrate his zeal for the cause of the Sunni Musalmans with whose help he was able to succeed to the throne and to thwart the designs of Khusro and his party.

Apart from this, there are other considerations in favour of the presumption. If we read the Emperor’s Memoirs, we find that he had pretty sure means and agencies for getting information about the people who helped him in his rebellion. At Karnal, Sheikh Nizam Thaneswari came to wait on him; but since he had heard that Sheikh had waited on Khusro and having gratified him with pleasant news again led him out of the path, Jahangir refused to be flattered. Sheikh was asked to ‘depart for the auspicious place of pilgrimage (Mecca)’. That is, he banished from the country this Sheikh who had shown sympathy with Khusro. Similarly, the partisans of Khusro were punished on the spot and those who remained loyal to the Emperor were rewarded.

On the 16th of Zi-ul-Haji, the Emperor halted at Sarai Pazi Ali; on the 17 he halted for the noon at Sultanpur and in the afternoon reached Goindwal. Thence, marching along the road that passes by Tarn Taran to Lahore, he proceeded on his journey receiving regular reports about the behaviour of the people of each locality towards the rebellious prince. On 26th he encamped at village ‘Jaspal’, seven Kos from Lahore and entered the fort of Lahore on the 8th of Moharram. All this time while travelling through the country where the Guru’s influence was the greatest, even halting at the place where the Guru was later reported to be living, passing through Tarn Taran so near Amritsar, the Emperor did not hear a syllable about any connection of the Guru with Khusro, though reports were regularly being received on such matters. Surely, if what was later alleged had been true and the Guru had really helped the Prince in the alleged manner, the spies and the informers of the Emperor would certainly have told him of all this long before he reached Goindwal. They had done this in all other cases. How could have they failed in this. Obviously, the Emperor’s order to execute the Guru was a after-thought and no such charge was levelled against the Guru till long after the rebellion had been quelled and the Prince had been arrested and punished. Is it not significant that the charge against the Guru was proffered against him over twenty days after the Prince had been punished and over one month and five days after his having halted at the place where the Guru was reported to be living? How could the Emperor’s vigilant informers have failed so long to discover the fact, if fact had been of a person of Guru Arjan’s position and fame having helped the Prince?

There is yet a further consideration. Sheikh Nizam Thaneswari stood guilty of the offence as was alleged against the Guru but his punishment was very mild. On the other hand, the Guru was given the severest punishment. This very clearly highlights the fact that considerations other than treason weighed upon Emperor’s mind.

Again, on the way to Lahore five attendants of Khusro were captured. Two of them who confessed having served Khusro were executed and the other three who denied the charge were placed under custody with a view to conducting inquiry into their case. But in the case of the Guru, no inquiry was deemed necessary. The capital punishment was passed at once. The haste shown by the Emperor in pronouncing judgment was certainly unbecoming and shows that the real cause of the Guru’s execution was not Guru’s political activities but something else.

In the account detailed above, Jahangir says that the Guru ‘behaved Khusro in certain special ways and made a saffron mark on the forehead of the Prince as a gesture of blessing in favour of the rebel’. But Jahangir nowhere mentions the exact impact of putting the saffron mark on the forehead. Was it meant to assist Khusro in his contest against Jahangir? Certainly not, because it is a matter of common-sense that the Guru could not but ill-afford to do so, because, firstly Khusro having suffered defeats was no more than a broken reed, and, secondly, the Guru had no resources to help the Prince. The real fact is that the Guru was not interested in any claimant to the throne. Had the Guru meant to assist the Prince, the Emperor must have given some of the details in Tuzk-i-Jahangiri. Since Jahangir in his diary is silent on this point, this proves that the Guru had not participated in Khusro’s revolt in any way. Even the affixing of Teeka or Qashka on the forehead of Khusro is a creation of the fancy of some cunning conspirator because, as it has been said earlier, it was never the custom of the Gurus to anoint anyone, Sikh or non-Sikh.

Some scholars have concluded on the basis of Mohsin Fani’s statement that the Guru was a political offender, his greatest offence being in complicity with Khusro in his revolt against his father. But a careful perusal of the statement of Mohsin Fani would clear the matter.

Mohsin Fani says that ‘the Guru merely offered prayers for Khusro’. Prayers for what? Certainly not for his sovereignty. He might have offered prayers for his safety, as the Prince was being hotly pursued by the imperialists or it might have been for the spiritual elevation of the prince. Had the Guru meant to help the Prince, he could have adopted some other means including an appeal to his followers of Majha region of the Punjab to obstruct the march of the imperial forces. In fact it was a casual meeting between the Guru and the Prince and the offering of prayer had no political motive implicit in itself.

Macauliffe writes that moved by the compassion, his friendly feelings towards Khusro who had visited him along Akbar a few times previously, and in token of his respect towards the late monarch whose grandson Khusro was, the Guru gave him five thousand rupees to defray his expenses to Kabul. The Guru’s furnishing of help is understandable in view of his good relations with Akbar, but what were the motives of the Guru in helping the Prince has not been made clear by Macauliffe. We understand that the monetary help to the needy Prince did not smack of some conspiracy, rather symbolised the high values for which the Guru was striving to take roots. Mehma Parkash’s evidence is pertinent in this context. According to this source, ‘the Guru took pity upon the Prince in misery and provided him with food, obviously from the Guru’s Langar, or free kitchen open to all way-farers’.

From the above discussion, one thing emerges that the Guru’s so-called participation in the rebellion was merely an ostensible pretext for his execution. The real cause lay in Jahangir’s understanding Sikh religion which according to him was anti-thetical to his religious beliefs, large-scale conversion of the Muslims to Sikh faith which if left unchecked was likely to alter the demographic structure of Mughal state, the reaction of Muslim orthodox people to the Sikh faith, Sikh organisation and religious pluralism of Akbar. The religious reaction was represented by the revivalists headed by Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi who through his devoted disciple Murtza Khan and chief advisor of Jahangir in winning over the leading Muslim nobles to take his side in the contest for the throne worked upon the mind of Emperor Jahangir to follow the policy of religious intolerance towards the non-Muslims, particularly Guru Arjan Dev. The actual words of Sheikh Ahmed written with reference to Guru Arjan Dev in the course of his letter No. 193 in Part III of Vol. I of Muktubat-i-Imam Rubbani Hazrat Mujaddid-i-Alf- i-Sani are as under:13

“The execution of the accused Kafir of Goindwal at this time is a very good achievement indeed and has become the cause of a great defeat of hateful Hindus. With whatever intention they are killed and with whatever objective they are destroyed it is a meritorious act for the Muslims. Before this Kafir was killed, I have seen a dream that Emperor of the day had destroyed the crown of the head of Shirk or infidelity. It is true that this infidel was the chief of the infidels and a leader of the Kafirs. The object of levying Jazia on them is to humiliate and insult the Kafirs and Jehad against them and hostility towards them are the necessities of the Muhammedan faith.”

It proves beyond doubt that the Mujaddid looked upon Guru Arjan Dev as the chief of infidels and desired to put a stop to the teachings of the Sikh faith. The Mujaddid uses still stronger language against the non-Muslims in another letter wherein he urges upon Sheikh Farid Murtza Khan to humiliate and insult the Kafirs in every possible way, to keep them at a distance like dogs, and to destroy them wholesale, if possible.

This being the attitude of the revivalists, it is probably that, disappointed at the delay on the part of the Emperor to take any action of his own accord against Guru Arjan, the complaint against the Guru might as well have been made, directly or indirectly, by some agents of the Mujaddid or by Sheikh Farid Bukhari to implicate the Guru in the rebellion of Khusro to secure orders from the Emperor for his arrest and execution soon after the execution of Flussain Beg Badakhsi, Abdul Rahim and the other accomplices of Prince Khusro.

The reason of Mujaddid being particularly inimical towards Guru Arjan Dev are not far to seek. In the first instance, the Mujaddid regarded the popularity of Sikh faith and Guru Arjan Dev a great danger to his own plans to Islamise the whole of India, because the ever-increasing followers of the Sikh faith from among the Hindus and Muslims were evidently narrowing the field, at least in the north-west from where the Mujaddid himself had to raise his crop of converts. Secondly, the invitation extended by Guru Arjan Dev to the Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir to lay the foundation-stone of the holy temple of the Sikhs whom he looked upon Kafirs must have come as a great shock and added to his irritation against the Guru as well as the venerable saint of Lahore. No wonder, when the Guru was executed, he gloated over it as Bisiar Kbub Waqia “an excellent event, a great achievement”.

Another factor which prepared Jahangir’s mind for the execution of the Guru seemed to be the simmering discontent among the peasants of the Punjab. The condition of the peasants generally approximated the lowest possible level of subsistence (Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India, p. 230). According to George Dalton ‘the peasants of all times and places are structured inferiors, both culturally and socially’. Even peasants who were not merely farmers with direct obligation to landowning classes and were independent producers were unhappy because their cause of independence was strictly impugned by intervening authorities. In short peasants in Mughal period were an oppressed lot. They had no hope in improving their conditions in Hindu tradition as it had assigned them low status in social scale. Since Sikh religion sanctified dignity of labour and freedom of conscience and preached egalitarianism, the peasants joined the Sikh movement in hordes and became zealous devotees of the Guru who took special care of them. According to Dr. Peshaura Singh, the projects such as excavation of large pools and a well with six Persian wheels (Chhehauta) in the Majha region were basically intended for the welfare of the peasants in particular. Jahangir’s angst enhanced at this development, for, discontented peasantry under the impact of egalitarianism of Sikh faith coupled with its emphasis on free human spirit could turn into the lot capable of challenging or subverting the oppressive political order. Against this background the execution of the Guru was reckoned by Jahangir as a case of utmost urgency, at least to slow down the process of radicalisation of the peasantry under Sikh impact.

Significance of Guru Arjan Dev's Martyrdom

The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev was an event of tremendous importance as it impacted considerably Sikh religion, Sikh society, the contemporary government. The Guru’s courting of death transcended his immediate interests in his personal fate rather it was done with a view to upholding the truth of his faith and social and political value pattern on which a new Order he aspired to rebuild. Therefore, his dying provided a meaning. This, in the eyes of his disciples in particular, constituted a moral imperative that meaningful dying was a means/instrument to indicate the true meaning of life. It was in this context that as Guru Granth says, “Heroic is he, who dies for the sake of his faith.” From such heroic deaths in Sikh society which were invariably accompanied by sanctity, status and charisma, emerged the tradition of martyrdom which later on was further strengthened by the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, his son and his grandsons, so much so that it became an integral part of Sikh consciousness as well as of the Sikh-value-system and Sikh identity. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan thus engendered the spirit to die for indicating, upholding and sponsoring the truth of a noble cause rooted necessarily in the service of the mankind as a whole.

To express in terms of sociology, martyrdom in the Sikh society which in the times of the Guru could be defined as crescive society unified the Sikhs and legitimised the emergence of new culture which Sikh religion caused to prevail. This fact in itself is highly potential in as much as it stimulated the Sikhs to aspire for self-determination towards social and cultural freedom. In the process, their socio-political awareness sharpened with the result that they became critical of the state whose governance Jahangir and his associates based on Islamic Shariat and which was averse to the new Order which the Sikh Guru recommended and upheld. The facticity of the fact is this that the grievous injustice of the execution of the defenseless Guru and gruesome inhuman circumstances in which the execution was effected left few individuals among the Sikhs on the side lines. With the martyrdom of the Guru the culture of the Sikhs, their religious ideology got sanctified and a covenant established and stamped with blood between the Guru and his disciples. Such covenant was sure to endure like those commandments of the Jews for which they had suffered martyrdom. Against this background, a struggle between the state and the Sikhs became more or less inevitable which openly broke out under Guru Arjan’s own son and successor Guru Hargobind, in which the Sikhs along with their Guru Hargobind resorted to force whose use in the defense of the righteous cause was considered by them not outside the ambit of the religion of Guru Nanak, its ideology and its projected and validated social and spiritual forms in the world of time and space. Retrospectively speaking, Guru Arjan Dev himself had foretold the very course which he wanted his successors to follow and adhere to. He in his ‘parting message’ which he sent to his son, had said, “Bid him (Guru Hargobind) not to mourn or indulge in unmanly lamentations but sing God’s praises. Let him sit fully armed on his throne and maintain any army to the best of his ability. Let him hold Bhai Budha in honour and in all respects.” By saying so, the Guru was not deviating from the path shown by Guru Nanak and his other predecessors, rather he was laying added emphasis on what had been passed on to him by them. Shakti (force) rooted in Bhakti, becomes Bhakti-Shakti—the Shakti soaked in abject devotions to God—the Father of whole mankind, and thus this Shakti removes hurdles on the path to Bliss or stage of perfect equipoise in this world and also in spiritual domain. This was exactly what was vouchsafed by earlier Gurus.

The Guru’s martyrdom’s effect on the Sikh organisation was also immensely deep. The Sikhs in general identified their ideology of martyrdom as an independent cultural reality— capable of responding positively and progressively to different challenges. Further, Guru Arjan Dev, as a martyr, became a sacred symbol of an authority, deriving its authoritativeness from sacrifice and the Sikhs regarded it as a privilege to rally round him, his words, his actions and his institutions. This in itself was sufficient enough to reinforce and reinvigorate their organisational set-up as well as their faith-structure.

The Guru never meant any ill-will to anyone. Even in the course of execution, he remained phlegmatically calm and rancourless, which fact is amply testified by Bhai Gurdas in his Var. The Guru’s only aspiration was to invoke higher forces to bring about a change in the hearts of his oppressors. But notwithstanding all this, his followers started looking askance upon at least the orthodox section among the Muslims who lent support to the bigotry of the government. This attitude sowed seeds of hatred for such people, although neither the Guru nor his Word (Shabad) recommended it. Subsequent events that took place either at the behest of the government or of some orthodox and misguided elements of the society also nurtured this trend with the result the Sikh dispensation which promised hope to all irrespective of caste, creed, birth, wealth and profession et al. could not be taken advantage of by all the people—much less the Muslims possessed of orthodox propensities. The upshot was that after 1606 Muslims came into the embrace of Sikhism only in an insignificant number.

The seriousness of the event of martyrdom had been taken notice of by almost all scholars.

Trumpp says,

“Guru Arjan’s death is the greatest turning point in the development of Sikh community as from that time the struggle commenced and changed the entire character of the reformatory religious movement.”

Khazan Singh records,

“Guru Arjan’s martyrdom inflamed the peaceful Sikh hearts. It set the ball rolling and started the spirit which later converted the ordinary hair cutters and water drawers into the greatest soldiers and generals of the time.”

“These last words of Arjan,” says Archer, “began to pass through Indian bazaars and along the pilgrim routes and a change of mood prevailed among the Sikhs. In the greatest garden shears were being beaten into swords and there were pruning hooks becoming spears.” “A fellowship of reconciliation, says the same author, “thus assumed the martial form”.

All these scholars are correct in as much as they convey the seriousness of the event, and emergence of assertiveness—even anger among the followers of the Guru, but deep down the apparent surface, they have not delved. For instance Trumpp’s assertion that the entire character of the movement was changed is far from the truth; rather Sikh religion manifested itself in fullness. Similarly, Khazan Singh’s understanding of the event seems to be partial. The event did inflame the Sikhs but how the anger of the Sikhs was solely responsible for turning the ordinary Sikhs to be great generals or ‘soldiers’, he does not explain. It appears that he too made a superficial assessment. The Sikhs in fact felt moral rage and many of them did admirable deeds. Archer also misconceived and gives a blurred picture. The fellowship of the Sikhs did not assume ‘martial form’ as the learned scholar would have us believe; it only reacted to the changed state policy and orthodox religious opinion with assertion, firmness and fortitude, considering even the use of force as a righteous activity if conducted and wielded for upholding and bolstering up the righteous causes, as a last resort.

Uniqueness of the Guru's Martyrdom

For Jahangir and his associates including certain social and religious Orders, the Guru’s death was a case of one who indulged in act of treason or blasphemy, but for the Sikhs the Guru’s death was a case of martyrdom and hence of a great theological significance. The Guru was preaching the Gospel as revealed to Guru Nanak and his predecessors. Everything that was in keeping with that Gospel was Truth and all else was false, something to be avoided, if not reprobated. The morality, polity, sociology and their respective structures were valid and legitimate only if these embodied and reflected the Sikh ethos which could not be anything but universalistic—certainly not particularistic being experience born out of Guru Nanak’s direct encounter with God.

This has been held to be true by all the Gurus preceding him. He also stuck to this position. It was in this context that all the Gurus had made it clear in their sacred, utterances (word) that heroic battle is that which was waged against untruth and the forces championing and sustaining it. And in that battle if one goes down to meet death, that death is noble and an honourable act of creation. In this connection there are quite a large number of verses in Guru Granth Sahib clarifying elucidating and illustrating this position. For instance, Guru Nanak says “Truly brave is he who fights for righteousness.”

‘Sura So Pehchaniye Jo Lare Din Ke Het’

Guru Arjan, in Wadhans Rag himself says:

“Dying is the privilege of those brave men who die on becoming acceptable.”

Guru Arjan was all respect for those people who die but only after being acceptable.

True dying has always its roots in true living. But many people in history have courted death rashly and thoughtlessly in anger and excitement, born out of urge for revenge for some long nourished grievances or under some momentary impulse. Warriors have often died heroically in the battlefield to prove that they were fearless. Religious enthusiasts have braved death under false colours and misconceived notions.

But according to Sikh religion such dying is not the one of high order. The Guru believed in first living truly i.e. a life of nobility, service and righteousness and then to die for great cause i.e. to save dharma.

The Guru’s whole life was a saga of virtuous acts, both at micro and macro levels. The social structures which he raised, the knowledge which he collected and sanctified, the integrated approach to social life which he championed—all intended for regeneration of man and to orient him in such a way that a society is evolved which is bound by faith in the oneness of God, brotherhood of humankind, non-discriminative, non- exploitative, highly humanistic, enjoying liberty of soul to blossom and to endeavour to realise itself in relation to Real- self, to enjoy aesthetic union with Him. Since the vision of the Gurus regarding man and society held high hopes to the people, whichever religious group or sub-group they belonged, they were attracted in large numbers towards the Guru and his teachings. Polemically, these teachings were not liked by not only two major religious groups, the Hindus and the Muslims, but also by all those minor sects and cults whose vision about Reality and Society was myopic and circumscribed. The state which had opted for Sunni Muslims’ ideology also did not like the emerging Sikh ideology as it had the potential to offer alternative to the existing political apparatus as also the spiritual and social structure which supported it and also got support from it. As it has been made clear in the foregoing pages, Guru Arjan Dev did not extend support to Prince Khusro, nor did he do anything blasphemous or did anything which might be termed political controversy. Whatever he did or preached was all in the service of the people to illumine their consciousness and to enable them to feel free from man-made social barriers in order to trudge on the road to realise and experience godliness and to renovate and restructure society on the principles of righteousness in the true sense of the term.

But he was arrested and put to death. At the time of his arrest he knew what was going to happen to him. Had he desired, he could have saved himself by simply stopping the work, he had started and accepting the wrong verdict of the state, then headed by Nuruddin Jahangir. He voluntarily chose to embrace death. He did not entertain any motive—spiritual social or mundane; his was purely an altruistic act. He did not seek any spiritual reward even—namely pledge of eternal life, forgiveness of sins, exemption from the last judgment as most of the martyrs before him especially among Christians and Judaism had done. His decision was not at all motivated by any anger/desperation/resentment against the dominant adversary, because even during the tortures, he did not utter even a single syllable reflecting his inner perturbance caused by anger—rather his was an example of perfect equipoise and calmness. The Guru also did not seek to attenuate the pain of martyrdom through a fantasy of a future life—rather he provided a meaning for dying which in Guru’s case was a deliberate endeavour to explain to the world regarding the mission he or Sikhism stood for.

In Sikhism, asceticism and self-affliction have no place because these are negatives of the principle of living life in wholesome fullness. The Guru’s compositions are replete with remarks against Yogies, ascetics and mortificationists such as Jainis, and this being so it is a blunder to regard Guru’s death as mortification in the form of a suicide, as some scholars, obviously depending upon deliberately fabricated fiction would have us believe. The Guru also was not killed in some holocaust, like Jensung Germany in the second Great World War. Such acts according to Breslauer “were on the whole not sacred witness but passive victims, not proud martyrs for a cause but only political pawns.”

The Guru while accepting torturous death was in no doubt regarding what he was to do. No mundane motive nor even spiritual profit entered into his calculation. He regarded body as the abode of the Almighty and courting death in the service and cause of the Almighty was according to his reckoning, an act sacred and in keeping with His Will/Hukam, which had always aimed at facilitating the growth of mankind to realise God both in his transcendent and immanent forms. The latter type of realisation implied ennobling and bettering the world and other creations of God.

Certainly, the Guru embraced death patiently sans any rancour and hatred against any one; for the cause he held was dearer than his life and which ensured the upward march of humanity. His martyrdom was a positive affirmation of the truth of the ideology of Guru Nanak, which he placed ahead of his physical survival and biological self-interest. In a way his embracing of death was an open announcement that Sikh ideology was the righteous one around which if the people rallied, they would be liberated and made vibrantly pious and heralder of onward progress. This belief of the Guru became palpably visible when the Guru, while seated on the hot plate sent a message to his faithfuls and his son that thenceforward they should wage an incessant struggle to crush evil forces even with the help of force and to establish ‘Halimi Raj’—an ideal society and state.

Hence the Guru was a martyr par excellence and a noble example in the history of martyrdom.

Bhai Gurdas's Understanding of the Guru's Martyrdom

Bhai Gurudas’s quietude as regards the causes that led to the martyrdom seems baffling to the historians who are amazed not to find even an allusion to it in his works ‘Vars’ and Kabits. But the fact should not be mistaken as stillness of mind caused by a shock or a case of dementia. It was in fact the subtle state of contemplation which is often a prelude to a creation. Bhai Gurdas who was the only person to see the gruesome execution of his Guru was transported to that level of consciousness where one feels free from the shackles of time. In that state, martyrdom as looked upon it by Bhai Gurdas was neither a simple historical event nor a socio-religious phenomenon.

In full knowledge of the ideological beliefs of his Guru, he recorded the whole event of martyrdom as the Divine will and the Guru’s embracing death joyously without any rancor and hatred for anybody a case of merging oneself with God—the ultimate destiny which a true seeker of God has always aspired for.

Hence martyrdom according to Bhai Gurdas was a ‘Grand performance’ fit to be celebrated and Guru Arjan Dev was a true ‘Hero’ always ready to stake even his life for the sake of suffering humanity.

In his 24th Var, Gurdas has selected similes and metaphors which highlight a peculiar mood of the Guru.

Bhai Gurdas in this context says:

Profound indeed was Guru Arjan Dev’s Martyrdom. As a fish swims at the depth of flowing water, so Guru Arjan lived deep into the eternal stream of Lord’s Presence. As the moth flings its body into the flame sacrificing itself on it, so Guru Arjan submitted his body to the torture of fire and heat and blended his soul in the undying flame of God.

As a deer cares not for the deadly arrows of the hunter but flees towards the call of the drum, Guru Arjan cared not for the cruel hands of the murderer but marched on fearlessly to face a martyr’s death keeping all the time his mind absorbed in the celestial music within his soul. Even at the severest torture and at the most tragic moment of his end, he thought not of anything else but the enchanting of heavenly symphony within his mind. As a butterfly when tapped in the petals of lotus flower dies in the joy of fragrance and honey, so Guru Arjan Dev cared not for any physical torture but kept his mind unsullied in the fragrance of the Lord’s love.

Like a rainbird (Chatrik) thirsting only for a drop of rain and no other water, Guru Arjan abandoned all worldly opportunities offered to him and desired an abiding repose in the love and will of God. So deeply was he absorbed in the Lord that his spirit conquered all sorrow and pain and his soul rested peacefully in the celestial embrace of God’s love. I am a sacrificed unto Guru Arjan, the perfect one” (Var 24th, The Spokesman Weekly, August 1981, p. 103).

By depicting Guru’s death in terms of yearnings in to seek union in God-Spirit and via this to redeem humankind from sufferings, Bhai Gurdas filled the Sikhs with pride and confidence and no wonder the Guru’s martyrdom still more boosted their spirit to do more and more in the service of the mission of Guru Nanak. In the face of the mounting anger of the Sikhs and the possibility of public backlash because of the Guru’s high spiritual reputation the Mughal government had to take precautions so that the execution of Guru did not become a public spectacle.

Notes and References

  1. Macauliffe: The Sikh Religion, Vol. III, IV, pp. 82-83.
  2. Ibid. p. 84.
  3. Rogers, Alexander: Trs. The Tuzak-e-]ahangiri. Ed. by Henry Beveridge pp. 62-63. Oriental Publishers, Delhi, 1968.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Beni Prasad: History of Jahangir, p. 62.
  6. Ganda Singh: “The Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev” in Sikh Review June, 1981.
  7. Tuzak-e-Jahangiri: p. 25; Sayed Ahmad Tuzak-i-Jahangiri, p. 34.
  8. Bhalla Sarup Das: Mehma Parkash, Sakhi Nos. 143, 147.
  9. Bultan-i-Orba-Wajah-i-Akmal Midnistani.
  10. Payne, C.H.: Tr. Jahangir and the Jesuits, p. 12. Broadway Travelers Series, George Routledge Sons, London, 1930.
  11. Trilochan Singh: Guru Tegh Bahadur, Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.
  12. Mohsin Fani: Dabistan-i-Mazahib, p. 234; Letter No. 163, Mukhtabat- i-Imam.
  13. Letter No. 163, Mukhtabat-i-Rabbani, Vol. II, pp. 95-96.

Source – History of Sikh Gurus Retold Vol 1, pp. 412-41