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The Guru's Escape Towards Malwa

When the Guru reached Jandsar, a Gujjar of village Kiri recognised him and raised an alarm but to no effect.[1] The Guru moved on and reached the village Behlolpur at a distance of five kilometers to the West. From there he reached the wilds of Machhiwara. For all these days he had eaten nothing but only tender leaves of plants and wild shrubs and had nothing but only a clod of earth to rest upon. The rough and thorny paths had lacerated his limbs. His feet were blistered and cloths torn. But he was still unshaken. Reclining under a tree in a lonely jungle, the Guru sang:

Beloved Friend, beloved God, Thou hear the servant's plight When Thou are not near, the comforts of cloak is ailment.

The home is like living with serpents The flask is like a sharp thorn The goblet, a dagger, like knife of a butcher The tatters of my beloved are more dear Than the comforts with hell-like separation.[2] (Shabad Hazare Patshahi 10)

At Machhiwara, he was joined by Dharam Singh, Man Singh and Daya Singh. But the situation was grave since the enemy was in hot pursuit. Realizing this, one Gulaba, an old Masand of Machhiwara took the Guru and his three Sikhs to his residence. But very soon the heart within him succumbed to greed.

At this juncture, two Pathan brothers, Nabi Khan and Gani Khan, who used to visit Anandpur in connection with their horse-trade and had developed reverence for the Guru waited upon him. The Guru obliged them by agreeing to stay at their residence that lay close by of Gulaba at Machhiwara. Guru halted there for two days.

The Guru's First Letter to Aurangzeb

During this short period, the Guru wrote a letter to Aurangzeb, popularly known as Fatehnama, which, in fact was a letter of admonition of Aurangzeb.

In the first three couplets of Fatehnama the Guru swore in the names of weapons, holy heroes of God and the Giver of kingdom to Aurangzeb, the Granter of the privilege of shielding the faithful and the low.

Then in the next few stanzas, the Guru seemed to be rebuking Aurangzeb who had been resorting to subterfuge and fraud in his dealings even with his father and brothers; how he had built an empire through loot, plunder and hypo­critical acts. In couplet 6, the Guru said, "The rosary, O King in thy hand is but a snare to entrap the people unaware. When thou maketh pretend to pray wistfully, thou watch the prey."

In some other couplets, the Guru reminded the Emperor that retribution was sure to fall on him. His failure in Southern campaigns and in Mewar were to be perceived in that context (Couplet 11). He also made pointed reference to the killing of his two elder sons at Chamkaur. Through the cunning and craft holding in the same breath, he should not think that he had won (couplet 14). His Khalsa remains invincible and is in a position to deliver death blows to all his evil and aggressive designs.

In couplets 9 and 10, the Guru expressed that under his loving care the people had received sacrament of steel now and were determined to rid themselves of oppression, injustice and coercion.

If now Emperor dared cast his covetous glances on Punjab, he would have to face so vehement an opposition that he would not be allowed to have a moment of respite, even a drop of water (Couplet 13).

This time, the Khalsa would not take the Emperor's words for granted. The Guru writes:

No more, in us, thy words inspire The sort of faith thou doth desire We'll hence in arms correspond

The like of thee, to them, respond. (Couplet 17)

From couplet No. 18 through couplet No. 24, the Guru seems to throw a challenge to the Emperor's military might as also to his personal bravery. Regarding his personal bravery, the Guru challenged Aurangzeb that he should come into the field personally instead of depending upon recruits. The Guru very cogently brought a moral question in couplet No. 24.

Armed with sword and the shield,

Thou must personally take the field It is cowardly to fire humanity

For thy evil aims and vanity. (Couplet No. 24)

The letter[3] contained 24 couplets in all. It was in Persian verse and is a unique example of epistolary poetry. The masanvi metre of Firdausi and Nizami had been employed in it and the choice of words was impeccable.

Bhai Daya Singh disguised himself as a Muslim Faquir while his companions, Dharam Singh, Man Singh, Nabi Khan and Gani Khan masqueraded as his attendants. He was then seated in a litter and taken out from Machhiwara. They told all the inquirers that they were escorting Uch-Da-Pir or a high saint which by a pun would also mean the holy saint of Uch (a place near Bahawalpur now in Pakistan). At the village named Lai, a military commander had certain doubts regarding the identity of the person seated in the litter, and he made searching enquiries. Considering the answers illusive and unsatisfactory, he sent for Qazi Pir Mohammad of village Saloh, from whom the Guru had studied Persian, to identify the occupant of the litter. The Qazi certified that he was not Guru Gobind Singh. After that, Daya Singh was allowed to proceed further to his destination fixed by the Guru.

Wrongfully though, it has often been assumed that the Guru and not Bhai Daya Singh, disguised himself as Uch-Da Pir. The avowal is based on the information gleaned from Bhai Sukha Singh's Gurbilas and Suraj Parkash by Bhai Santokh Singh. Regretfully, these celebrated works have not quoted any reliable historical source and have simply recorded the prevalent hearsay while the authors of these should have taken into consideration the backdrop of the event, ideology of the person involved in the event before portraying it. But the authors seem to have made a big lapse. Guru Gobind Singh simply could not take recourse to a guise to escape from danger or conceal his creedal identity. He would not simulate or evade a vowel of his identity, no matter how compelling the claims of expediency, for to do so would tantamount to disregarding his own teachings and assertion, Kahio Prabhu so Bhakh Hun, Kahio Prabhu so Main Karon (I say whatever God orders. I do whatever God wishes).

In this connection, it must be remembered that only a day or so earlier in his predicament at Chamkaur, the Guru had stoutly refused to leave the mud walls of the Garhi without first throwing clear challenge to thousands of his enemies beleaguering him and trumpeting his defiance: "The Guru now comes forth from behind the mud-walls and let him who cares and dares to obstruct his progress advance and try."

It would be a sheer travesty to assume that less than forty- eight hours afterwards, he would behave differently. The Guru was not a cyclothymic personality, given to wavering will and vacillating creed and conviction. The Guru who taught Jujh Maron Tau Sach Patije would never pretend to be a Pir-i-Uch under any circumstances whatsoever.

This statement by the Guru clinches the issue in the matter of this Pir-i-Uch episode showing that although the Sikh chroniclers are correct in giving almost all the material details, they erred in equating the Pir-i-Uch person with the Guru.[4]

Closely connected with all this is a question who was the person seated in the litter if he was not Guru Gobind Singh? According to Sirdar Kapur Singh he was Bhai Daya Singh who assumed the guise of a holy man and who was helped to escape local military vigilance in a manner normal and honourable in such a situation, and that Sayyed Pir Mohammad had rendered true testimony as enjoined by Koran when he solemnly testified that inmate of the litter was not the Guru. Bhai Daya Singh had been entrusted with the task of delivering the letter personally to Aurangzeb and therefore he resorted to the stratagem of disguising himself.

Having been let off by the Mughal military commander, Bhai Daya Singh alongwith Nabi Khan, Gani Khan, Dharam Singh and Man Singh proceeded to Ghulal where the Guru had already reached as per programme carefully planned out by Gani Khan, Nabi Khan and Qazi Pir Muhammad. Here the Guru awarded the Qazi, a Hukamnama acknowledging his services for him. The Qazi then returned to his place.

From Ghulal, the Guru visited Lai. Here an orphan boy named Bhag Mai attended to all his needs. The Guru was so pleased that he blessed him and declared that he would be a person of immense fortune as his name suggested. Next sojourn of the Guru were at Katani Rampur and Kanech. At Kanech, a Masand named Fateh Chand avoided to wel­come him as his spirit had failed out of fear of Wazir Khan. He was so much petrified that he even refused to part with his mare pretending that it had been taken away by his son- in-law.[5]

From Kanech, the Guru reached Sahnewal whose panchayat refused to pay respect to the Guru. When he was about to move in, the people including women of the village came forward to offer apology and to pay their respects. The Guru blessed them and went further to village Mohi near Jodhan, where-from he proceeded to Heira through village Seloani. A devoted disciple of the Guru known as Kirpal Das,[6] a name sake of the Udasi Mahant who had proved his mettle as a warrior in the Battle of Bhangani lived there.[7] He accorded a warm welcome to the Guru and implored him to stay with him. Here he wrote a Hukamnama a letter commanding his followers to always hold Nabi Khan and Gani Khan in high esteem, for, they had rendered unto him, selfless and altruistic service.[8] The Pathan brothers thereafter returned to their homes, gratified and content spiritually.

There is another fact that mitigates against the literal acceptance of the chronicler's story. In the Islamic penal code, for six specific crimes, the punishment is fixed. The punishment of apostasy, which on the basis of Qiyyas includes false oath on the Koran by a Sayyed is death. There is no exercise of discretion in this. Again to abet concealment and engineer escape of a rebel against the Islamic authority of the state is an act of high treason for which the punishment is death without discretion. Sayyed Pir Muhammad by doing what he did according to Sikh chroniclers should have earned death at the hands of the Mughal authorities when it was disclosed that the Guru had escaped the Mughal forces. But providentially, he enjoyed a longer span of life. Similarly, two Pathan brothers did not attract the attention of the state authorities for committing an act of high treason on account of having aided the escape of a dangerous and a powerful enemy of the state. From this, it becomes clear that the Mughal authorities as well as the politically sensitive Muslim populace were well aware that in the Pir-i-Uch episode, Sayyed Pir Muhammad had testified and as such there was no such event as escape of Guru Gobind Singh in a disguise.

Guru Gobind Singh's own testimony on the point is quite conclusive. In Zafarnama his letter to Aurangzeb, the Guru tells the Emperor that during his progress from Chamkaur to Bathinda desert (1705), he met no impediment or harm whatsoever. God led him safely out of the enemy's cordon without a scratch on his person.[9]

From this place, the Guru proceeded to village Lamma where the people, who had already embraced Sikhism received him with utmost reverence and love.

From Lamma, he reached Raikot.[10] The chief of Raikot named Rai Kalha was an ardent follower of the Guru and a close relation of Nihang Khan. He was aware of the imperial orders that the Guru should be apprehended wherever he was, but he took pleasure in defying it as he valued faith in the Guru more than his life. When he came to know the sufferings the Guru had borne, tears rolled down his eyes. According to Bhai Santokh Singh, he waited upon the Guru at Seloani and requested him to visit Kot Kapura. Now when the Guru visited Raikot, Rai Kalha left no stone unturned to provide comfort to him. The Guru granted him an excellent sword in recognition of his selfless service. At the Guru's behest, he sent Nura Mahi to Sirhind to fetch news about what had happened to other members of his family.

Not long after, Mahi delivered the news of what had happened to the Guru's family members after he left Anandpur. He told that in the confusion that prevailed in the wake of Guru's departure from the city, Mata Gujri's wealth and his two sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, aged nine and seven respectively had nowhere to go until their family cook Gangu, a Brahmin by caste, offered to take to his own village Saheri. They accompanied him to his house. Now he turned perfidious and deceitful, obviously to get some reward from the Mughals and also to possess wealth of Mata Gujri. Having stolen the cash, jewellery and other valuable of Mata Gujri, he informed the Mughal officers Jani Khan and Mani Khan of Morinda that the Guru's mother and his two younger sons were staying at his place. The officials at once took them in their custody and carried them to Sirhind to hand them over to Nawab Wazir Khan. Gangu also went to Sirhind where his services were duly appreciated by the Mughal Governor. Mata Gujri and his grandsons were imprisoned in a tower of the fort called Thanda Burj meaning the Cold Tower. It was torturous for an 80 year old lady and her two grandsons to stay in it during the peak winter month. Wazir Khan who was biting his lips with anger for his failure to capture the Guru, now had another opportunity to settle score with him, albeit vicariously and unethically by exercising his authority on the little children.

On December 9, 1705 Baba Zorawar Singh[11] and Fateh Singh were produced before Wazir Khan, who had just returned from the Battle of Chamkaur. Wazir Khan tried to lure them to embrace Islam with promises of riches and honours but they spurned the offer. He threatened them with death as an alternative at the non-acceptance of Islam, but they remained determined. A death sentence was eventually awarded to them. Nawab Sher Muhammad of Malerkotla protested on the ground that Islam does not permit such harsh punishment to children who were unable to discriminate what is right or wrong for them that it would be ethically and religiously improper to harm innocent children. Wazir Khan spurned his protest and ordered that the children be bricked alive in a wall if they still refused conversion. They were kept in Thanda Burj in that severe winter for another two days. On 11th December, under the orders of Wazir Khan, their punishment of brick walling them alive while standing commenced. As the masonry reached above chest height, it crumbled. On December 12, 1705, the very next day, the Sahibzadas were once again offered the choice of conversion or death. They chose the latter and fearlessly faced the executioner's sword. The aged Mata Gujri who had all along been confined in the Thanda Burj a little distance away breathed her last as the news of her grandsons, execution reached her. The dead bodies were kept for the night at a spot now called Bimangarh, just outside the fort wall.[12]

Mahi also narrated how revered Mata Sundri ji and Sahib Kaur ji (the Guru's wives) were escorted to Delhi by Bhai Mani Singh and lived secretly at a place where now is situated Mata Sundri College.

As the news of the ghastly events reached Todar Mai, who was a wealthy Sikh of the Guru, and was a resident of Sirhind, he hastened to the court of Wazir Khan. He had the intention of paying ransom for the children and their grandmother. But he was disappointed to find that the worst had already happened. He then approached Wazir Khan for permission to cremate them befittingly. The permission was reluctantly granted but on the condition that he would have to purchase the piece of land by paying as many gold Mohars as, placed closely together, would completely cover it up. Todar Mai complied with the condition and cremated the three dead bodies.[13] The Sikhs have raised a beautiful hall in the campus of Sri Kesgarh, Anandpur, in gratitude to Todar Mai's noble deed. A young and pretty girl Anup Kaur closely related to revered Mata Jito ji was captured by Sher Muhammad of Malerkotla who desired to admit her to his harem. She was taken to Malerkotla where she committed suicide instead of submitting to the carnal advances of the Nawab.

The Guru received the tragic news with amazing courage and equanimity. Mahi also hinted that there was a rumour floating in the town of Sirhind that Wazir Khan would soon lead a force in search of the Guru.

Realising that the surroundings of Raikot were not a strategically suitable place to put up a fight with the enemy, he decided to move to Lakhi Jungle. The Guru is believed to have stayed with Rai Kalha for sixteen days.[14] According to Ishar Singh Nara, his next sojourn was Lopo Gran after which he stayed at a place which is now called Alamgir. Nagahiya Singh the brother of Bhai Mani Singh presented him a beautiful horse. From this place he proceeded towards Lakhi jungle. On the way he passed through villages of Manuke, Mehdeana, Chakkar, Takhtupura and Madhen and reached Dina.

The Guru at Dina

At Dina about 13 kilometers South-West of Takhtupura, a devoted Sikh Rama presented the Guru with a steed of a very high quality. He accepted it and blessed Bhai Rama. The news of his arrival at this place spread soon and the Zamindars/peasants of the area started flocking to him, some to assure him of their faith and the others just to know him and his mission. Some of the influential people who made their obeisance here were Lakhmir, Shamir and Takht Mai all the three grandsons of Jodha Rai[15] who embraced Sikhism under the impact of the charismatic personality of Guru Hargobind. Param Singh and Dharam Singh the grandsons of Bhai Rup Chand also came for audience with the Guru. Mahant Dayal Puri came all the way from Sirhind. The Guru asked the Mahant to carry out the task of spreading his message in the area around Sirhind, and in doing so, he should fear none. The Guru stayed there for quite some time.

Around this time he received a message from Aurangzeb, most probably a reply to his letter (Fatehnama). The original letter of invitation is not available in any of the collections of his Rukat, Ahkam or Arqan nor do we have any details of its contents. The twenty-eighth Sakhi of the Sakhi Pothi (book) (Sau Sakhi MS 79) contains a brief summary of it. According to it, Parwanas were issued to the Guru saying, "There is only one kingdom. Seeing the Parwana you better come here immediately. Our religious sentiments are the same. If not, I will come myself. The awe and superiority of saintliness will then have gone. You may live in kingdom as other saints and devotees live." To this, continues the Sakhi, were added some words of arrogance not unusual with the style of the Royal Parwanas (letters) that the kingdom had been bestowed upon him by God.[16]

The Guru in response to the message wrote a letter bearing the title Zafarnama in which he underlined the perjury of the Mughal officials and the urgency of his paying personal attention to his affairs.[17] The letter was taken to the Emperor by Bhai Daya Singh and Dharam Singh in the guise of Muslim Darveshes.[18] They came to Agra and from there proceeded to the South through Gwalior, Ujjain and the Malwa country till at last they reached Burhanpur. From there, they finally reached Ahmednagar via Aurangabad. Daya Singh went to the Sangat at Ahmednagar and explained to the local Sikhs the object of his mission. He does not seem to have received any sincere assistance from the local Sikhs, some of whom were openly critical of the Guru's policy and action. Then Daya Singh made an acquaintance with a Sikh who apparently had some influence in high quarters and arranged the delivery of the letter to Aurangzeb.

Zafarnama (Epistle of Victory)[19]

Zafarnama is a letter written by Guru Gobind Singh in reply to the oral and written communication of Aurangzeb, which the Guru had received at village Dina through a Qazi sent by the Emperor in response to his earlier letter Fatehnama. This was composed in chaste Persian language at Dina itself. The letter is an excellent literary piece replete with similes and metaphors superbly used to telling effect. According to D.S. Duggal, "occupies a place of eminence in epistolary poetry of Persian." The following lines amply bear out this statement:

With limbs and skulls of warriors killed The field was eminently filled Like so many bats and balls to play In the field, in heap, they lay.38.[20] (Zafarnama)

Besides being a tribute to the literary excellence, this letter is of great importance since it throws a flood of light on the Guru's approach on unethical issues, his concept of God and justice, his views regarding the duties and functions of a sovereign vis-a-vis his subjects, his outlook regarding the use of force and different historical events intimately connected with Guru's life.

In stanza No. 1 to stanza No. 12, the Guru’s unshakable faith in God is amply manifest. He extols Him as Eternal, Merciful, Bounteous being, Dispenser of justice, Holy refuge, Guide, True king, Radiant, Sublime, Provider of livelihood, Wise, Care-taker of the humble, the low and the lost, Vanquisher of foes, Solution of all woes and troubles, Designer of supreme laws of nature and of the Earth, Chastiser of foes[21], Fearless, True emperor, Formless, Non-existent, Incomparable, Mightiest of all[22] (stanza 72), Carefree[23] (stanza 71), Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.

The Guru's invocation to such a God of myriad attributes and functions instill in him a moral spirit unswerving, always inspiring him to function in the world without any fear, as also to advise and warn the people including even the Emperors to tread the righteous path.

He, therefore, boldly criticises Aurangzeb for his unethical conduct. He tells him frankly and fearlessly that he, his Deivans and Bakhshis (officials of the highest rung in Mughal bureaucracy) were liars, have no qualms and care a fig even for oaths rendered on Holy Koran. He himself is a defier of his religion, worshipper of mammon and a veritable pledge breaker. He also pointed out that his pledged words rendered on holy Koran, in fact, were snares to entrap the people. One such snare being his word that the Guru would not be harmed if he vacated Anandpur.

From stanza 19 to stanza 44, the Guru gave the account of the Battle of Chamkaur, stating how he had to face a disproportionately large number of the Mughal troops and how he lost thirty-seven of his followers including his two elder sons Ajit Singh (17) and Jujhar Singh (14). In these stanzas it was also mentioned that the Guru killed Nahar Khan, a Mughal General and he and his Sikhs kept at bay the enemy for almost the whole day. Though the Mughal soldiers attired in black made furious charges, shouting and shrieking like a swarm of flies, yet the Khalsa held them in check. The moment anyone left the safety of his defence in an attempt to commit offence, he was laid in a pool of blood by an arrow. But how Khalsa only forty-three strong, tired and hungry, could hold against the countless number of the enemy. Except four, all fell fighting. In the critical hours, God led the Guru out of the fort to a place of safety. The Guru did not suffer even a scratch on his person in the process.

The Guru reminded in stanza 75 that no doubt Aurangzeb had claimed four tender lives (four children of the Guru) yet the spirit of the Guru was as high as ever and the coiled cobra of deadly venom is very much alive in the form of Singhs. The Guru also warned him that, "he should be prepared for retributive justice on the Day of Judgment for all the atrocious acts committed by him. His professions of adherence to the tenets of his faith was a mere fraud, because without the least qualms, he had broken the most solemn words pledged by him on Koran."

To arouse his moral conscience still more, the Guru brought forth another fact. He accused him of siding with the crafty hill chieftains who were idolaters and fought against him who was an iconoclast (metaphorically speaking) like him. The Guru in his sweep clearly hinted at the real causes that caused confrontation between the Hill Rajas and him. He also tried to hammer into the mind of Aurangzeb his unethical unrighteous and immoral conduct, simply to put him to shame, morally speaking. The Guru, while denouncing the immoral conduct of the king and his men for wanton repudiation of their own solemn words pledged by them voluntarily on their holy texts, said that if he had ever held out such solemn promises, he would have upheld their sanctity even at the cost of his life.

"Nothing could have led us astray from our self-chosen path had we sworn by the words we believe. Falter? Never, our life be relieved."

Particular emphasis is, therefore laid on the need for an upright and ethical conduct on the part of an individual embracing the entire gamut of his life. Aurangzeb was strongly condemned not only for his dastardly designs but also for the dishonest, unethical and immoral means that he invariably employed to wrest advantages over his adversaries. In this context the Guru spoke the following words:

You (Aurangzeb) are not sincere in your affirmations to the tenets of your faith.

A Man who is not true to his words stands condemned and is rejected as a counterfeit coin by man and God both.

Guru Gobind Singh, therefore, raised ethical conduct to a sovereign status and made it as the true expression of the harmony of human personality with the Will of God.

Living life ethically was the keynote of the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh and was a faith with him. Therefore, fully aware about the immoral acts of Aurangzeb he wished that Aurangzeb should remould his life on ethical values. He advised him to mend himself. In case he was willing to stand by his solemn promises and statements made orally by and through written note, and his thoughts and actions were in harmony with each other, he was ready to negotiate with him. The Guru invited the Emperor to Kangar (then outskirts of Dina) where all the contentious issues would be discussed and resolved[24] (stanza 58). The Guru also hinted that he would be welcomed appropriately and presented with a valuable steed. Alternatively, the Guru left to him to find for himself the real cause of the fight.[25]

All through the letter, not a trace of hatred could be felt or found. It only depicted moral rage along with a very strong urge to reform Aurangzeb and to make him realise that whatever he had done towards him and his Khalsa was not inconsonance with the Will of God. The Guru took his stand essentially on moral grounds and that is what formed the scarlet thread passing through the whole range of verses to impart coherence to them. The officials of Aurangzeb had forced an unjust war on Guru Gobind Singh and had broken their solemn vows and the honourable conduct expected of a King of Aurangzeb stature. If all this was done with the Emperor's approval, then the Emperor could not boast of being a believer in God. He should have really remembered the True Lord if in the life hereafter, he wished Him to remember the Emperor. By ignoring the dictates of justice, Aurangzeb had shown himself to be a stranger to real statesmanship as well as to the fundamental teachings of God as propagated in Islam. In possession of immense power, he should not have forgotten that power was entrusted to the ruler for protecting the innocent people and not for spilling their blood.

A very important undercurrent of Zafarnama was that the righteous cause must be upheld and forces championing the unrighteousness must be resisted, even with the use of arms if need arises. The sanction for the use of arms in the oft-quoted stanza of Zafarnama, namely:

When the affairs are past redemption,

By all other means of peaceful intention,

It is just to assert the right

Through thy sword and a righteous fight.22.[26]

Unfortunately it is not invariably understood in proper perspective. The message of the stanza is two-pronged; bloodshed should be avoided as far as possible, but at the same time, the cause should not be abandoned merely because, as a last resort, it warrants the use of force. The use of arms is allowed for a noble cause of universal validity, once all other peaceful means for resolving the crisis have been completely exhausted. A very clear implication is that, in such circum­stances, the use of force, as an unavoidable ultimate necessity, must be limited to the bare minimum prominently pops out of these popular lines for all sensitive minds to take note of.

The Zafarnama contains 111 stanzas and is written in chaste Persian language. Bhai Daya Singh and Dharam Singh (according to Gursobha by Sainapat, Daya Singh and his five companions) were deputed to deliver the letter personally to Aurangzeb at Ahmednagar. They reached Ahmednagar after considerable difficulty and succeeded in handing over the letter to the Emperor who seemed to have been much impressed by the contents of the letter. The fact is vouchsafed by a statement of Sainapat in his treatise Gursobha. Mirza Inayat Ullah Khan in his compilation Ahkam-i-Alamgiri refers to a letter received from Guru Gobind Singh in which he had expressed his wish to meet the Emperor. Accordingly, Aurangzeb deputed a Gurzbardar and a Mansabdar Muhammad Beg and Sheikh Yar Mohammad respectively to approach Guru Gobind Singh through Munim Khan and use all diplomatic skill in persuading him to go to Emperor. If Guru Gobind Singh was to march through the territory of Sirhind, his safety was to be guaranteed, and if he needed any money for his travel that was to be supplied from the properties seized from the Guru himself. Dr. Anil Chander Banerjee, a renowned scholar of Sikhism, says, "There are reasons to think that the original text of the letter is no longer available." He bases his conclusion on two grounds; firstly, it is usual to compose diplomatic communication in the style and form of Zafarnama. Zafarnama is written in a 'dramatic form’ in verse in the metre in which the Persian Masnavis, as also the Shahnama, are composed. Diplomatic letters are not composed as such. Secondly, there are statements which can hardly be attributed to the Guru, as for example the epithet "Sarwar-i-ka-i-nat" applicable to God only, has been used with reference to Aurangzeb.

Both the grounds are flimsy, untenable and tenuous. Zafarnama was not a diplomatic letter in the sense the diplomacy is often understood. Had it been so, the Guru would not have called a spade and peeled skin after skin of pretensions, fraud and hypocrisy of the Emperor, nor would he have asked him to look inwards to his own moral conscience and ponder upon the inexorable laws of God, which always go against those who are unethical in the performance of their duties. Further, it is not sound to base conclusion on a single expression. The referred expression seemed to have been a distortion effected by a copyist or by some vested interests or a substitution for some other word. Anyway anyone stray expression cannot determine the tenor of any document.

In sum Zafarnama was a scathing exposure of the perfidy of the Emperor Aurangzeb, his unprincipled support to the Hill Rajas, his wrong notion about sovereignty as well as about the conduct of public affairs, his distorted and smudged thinking about religion and his sadistic pleasure at the innocent killings, his hypocritical approach to God and his creation. At the same time, it was a testament of the assertion of the Guru that ethical principles were supreme in matters of public policy as well as of private behaviour, that a sovereign must protect and promote righteousness instead of terrorising the people with force, that sovereignty of morality both in the affairs of state as well as in the conduct of individual human beings should be upheld at all costs; that absolute truthfulness should be addressed to, equally by a sovereign and an ordinary citizen, that people had inherent right to resort to force as a last resort against the forces of injustice and corruptions.

From Dina, the Guru occasionally went out and visited a few places in the neighbourhood. Two such places were Manan and Bhadaur.

The Guru in Lakhi Jungle

While still at Dina, the Guru came to know that his whereabouts had become known to the Mughal government of Sirhind. From then on he started looking for some suitable place where he could best meet the challenge of the enemy. No less was his keenness to inculcate in the minds of the people the spirit of Dharam Yudh (war of righteousness). Against this backdrop, he decided to enter Lakhi Jungle.[27]

He left Dina and travelled from one village to another. He visited Bander, Bargarh, Saravan. At Saravan he gave people a little practice in archery. Next, he proceeded to Jaito. Therefrom the Guru went to Kotla Maluk Das and Lambhawal wherefrom he made a dash to Kot Kapura situated 13 kms in the North. It was situated on a promontory in a big pond and was admirably suited to stand a siege or an attack. Probably, the pursuing enemy forces had come too nearby now. Chaudhari Kapura, a Brar Jat and master of the fort welcomed the Guru who asked him to lend his fort for a few days. Fearing the wrath of the Mughals, he politely refused to oblige him.[28] From here he proceeded to Dhilwan Sodhian, 3 Kms from Kot Kapura where Sodhi Kaul, a descendant of Prithi Chand, the elder brother of Guru Arjan Dev, received the Guru with great warmth and cordiality. As the tradition goes, it was here that the Guru took off his blue robes which he had been wearing ever since he left Machhiwara and tearing them off into small pieces consigned them, one by one, to fire. The historic words that he is said to have uttered on this occasion are memorable:

The blue robes have been torn off,

And with that ends the rule of Turko-Pathans.[29]

Chaudhari Kapura, now repentant of his earlier disgraceful act, came to see the Guru and asked for his forgiveness. The Guru pardoned him and asked him to give him a good guide. He provided one Chaudhari Khan, under whose guidance the Guru marched westward in the direction of Dhab Khidrana. On the way, he passed through Ramiana, Malian, Gauri, Sanghar and Kaoni.

Meanwhile hundreds of his followers had collected around the Guru. Among them were a large number of Majhails (people of the Majha region) of the Punjab who came to the Guru to pay their respects and also to offer their condolences on the death of his sons and his mother. The Guru received them warmly and counselled them to keep cool. Instead of being sad and anguished, they should learn to live in the Will of God. Many poets and bards who had left Anandpur when it was besieged also came to the Guru in Lakhi Jungle. Poets sang inspiring songs, full of love from their aching hearts. It was a great reunion. The poems full of pathetic themes, went deep into the peoples' hearts.

The swarming of hundreds and thousands of the Sikhs to the Guru to reaffirm their faith in him deeply touched the sensitive mind of a folk-poet who spontaneously poured forth:

To Lakhi Jungle repaired the Khalsa Resistless was the friend's call.

They paused not for food or drink and rushed to the Guru

like the buffaloes running to their master at his nod

One waited not for another

Such eagerness swayed their hearts

Gone was the pangs of separation

Perfect union prevailed

Overwhelming was their gratefulness.[30]

It was here that one Sayyad Ibrahim much impressed by the Guru's teachings appeared in his Darbar. He besought the Guru for enlightenment. For years together, he had meditated but had not been able to achieve his goal. But now as he listened to his gospel, he was metamorphosed and entered the Khalsa fraternity by receiving Khande-ki-Pahul and committing himself totally to the ideals of the Khalsa.

According to Muhammad Latif, the number rallied around the Guru swelled to twelve thousand.[31]

In the meanwhile, when the forty Sikhs who had given up their discipleship of the Guru out of fear of death during the siege of Anandpur and in token thereof had handed over a signed disclaimer to the Guru, reached back their homes, they were chided and taunted even by their own women for deserting the Guru in his hour of difficulty. The Sikhs in general and especially those who lived in Majha region met in a convention at Patti[32] and expressed their deep concern at the plight of the Guru as also at the perfidy of the Sikhs who signed Bedawa (a disclaimer). They decided to send their representatives to the Guru to offer their condolences at the sad demise of his four sons and to suggest that they could negotiate on his behalf to bring about reconciliation between the Guru and the Mughal Government.

The Forty Deserters[33]

The public hatred coupled with their own sense of remorse at their treacherous deeds impelled them to do something to recompense for their infidelity and perjury. They, therefore, decided to meet the Guru to offer their apology who at that time was in the jungle area of the Malwa. They and the Sikh representatives accordingly started their march towards the Guru. The forty included Bhag Singh, Bhag Kaur's[34] brother and her husband Nidhan Singh[35] son of late Choudhari Des Raj[36] of Patti. They met the Guru between Ramiana and Khidrana. After condoling the sad and untimely death of his sons, they offered to negotiate with the Mughal Government to effect compromise between the Guru and the Mughal Government.

The Guru replied, "Friends, you have come to advise me, thinking yourselves to be wiser than I. But I am not inclined to accept your advice. You have not rightly comprehended the real spirit of Sikhism. If you had, you would not be advising me, but seeking my advice and carrying out my orders. If you had understood my ideals of life, you would have never thought of making peace between me and the tyrants. Rather, you would have joined my army and fought against them. You advise me to give up fighting and seek peace with the cruel bigoted tyrants. I cannot do that. Know ye not that I have no quarrel with, or personal grudge against any man? People are groaning under tyranny and oppression. It is to rescue them that I have taken up arms. My sword strikes at tyrants, not at meeks. It defends the weak against the strong. Come and join me in this holy task of liberating people. Your policy of co­operation and meek submission has only tightened the chains. What could you, or people like you do when Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur were put to inhuman tortures and death respectively? The only sorrow that I feel springs from beholding my countrymen disunited and in chains. The only desire that sits ever alert in my heart is for the unification and liberation of the down-trodden people. If you are my Sikhs follow my advice. I am sorry I cannot concur with you or accept you as my instructors in this matter."[37]

This statement of the Guru simply benumbed them. Preferring their safety to the Guru’s cause they retraced their steps to their homes. The forty Sikhs who earlier had deserted the Guru at Anandpur refused to follow them. Now they were changed persons, burning with the desire to regain discipleship of the Guru by displaying hundred percent fidelity to the noble cause of the Guru. Even Bhag Singh, one of the forty, who faltered in the initial stages of conversation with the Guru displayed his resolve to serve the cause of his master at all cost. Mai Bhag Kaur[38] seemed to have played a great role in keeping him on the right track. All the forty Sikhs accompanied by Bhag Kaur decided to swim or sink for the cause of the Guru. They moved on towards the Guru who by then had proceeded further alongwith representatives of Majha region to select a strategically suitable place to give a fight to the advancing Mughal forces who were in hot pursuit of the Guru. These forty were led by Mahan Singh of the village Sursinghwala in the district of Amritsar and included Nidhan Singh[39], husband of Mai Bhag Kaur. She herself was the forty-first Sikh skilled in handling weapons and possessed determination of steel.

Battle of Muktsar—December 29, 1705

Apprehending the advance of Mughal forces, Guru ji crossed the Lakhi Jungle to reach a place known as Khidrana[40] which was famous for its Dhab a sort of water pond, a natural depression in the ground which was fed by rain water. The Guru planned the defence in such a way that it should not be easy for the enemy to capture the Dhab which was the only reservoir for supply of water in that part of the country. He himself took up his position on an elevated maund and his Sikhs in bushes which lay around the maund and the adjoining pool of water.

The troops of Wazir Khan marched towards Khidrana spreading terror on the way.

As the forty Sikhs from Majha region reached in the neighbourhood of Khidrana, they came to know that the Mughal forces under the command of Wazir Khan were advancing to attack the Guru who had just encamped around Khidrana-di-Dhab. They deemed it appropriate to block them on the eastern side just outside Khidrana. This happened on 29th December, 1705 (Magh Vadi 10, 1762 BK).[41] In the battle that ensued these forty led by Mahan Singh and inspired by dauntless Mai Bhag Kaur fought heroically. In order that the enemy might not reach Khidrana, they resorted to subtle tactics. They spread loose cloth sheets on bushes to give impression to the enemy that a large force under the Guru lay encamped there.[42] They took positions in the thickets of Van trees (Quercus Incania) and Karir bushes (Capparis Incania) and readied themselves to accord hot welcome to the enemy. When the enemy's troops came near, they launched so vigorous an assault that the enemy was simply amazed.

The clatter of arms and din and dust of the battle-field alerted the Guru who showered arrows from his position. When the enemy distanced itself from the farthest extent of the range of his arrow, he mounted the steed and made dexterous movements to aim his arrows successfully.

The Mughal soldiers were confused and bewildered. The forty fought with rare valour and determination. They having exhausted their ammunition and quivers becoming empty of arrows were obliged to have recourse to their spears and swords. Small bands advanced, engaged the enemy in hand- to-hand fight, killed several time more than their own number, until they were completely overpowered, and killed or mortally wounded.[43] (Only Bhag Kaur was seriously injured who recovered later on) but not long before they had shown the fire of their faith and their mettle as the toughest fighters whom the experienced Wazir Khan had ever known in his life. The Mughal forces were soon in dire straits. They had already been fatigued by their long march and also by the scarcity of provisions including water. But now when they found themselves face to face with determined Khalsa engaged in pitched battle, they were further exhausted and exasperated. Another factor also fatigued their verve. The main body of the Khalsa under the command of the Guru was fresh with sufficient war materials and in control of the only source of water in the area. Better provisioned and better stationed, Khalsa force constituted a psychological advantage on Mughal soldiers. The net result of all this was that Wazir Khan decided not to pursue the Guru further. He thought it sagacious to feel satisfied that at least he had been successful in marginalising him.

Wazir Khan’s return to Sirhind without striking the main body of the Khalsa force was considered a great victory among the Khalsa. The Guru's prestige and popularity increased manifold. His mission also received impetus. According to Colonel Ravi Batra, the Mughal force numbered twenty thousand, while[44] the Khalsa forces numbered only two thousand including cavalry and irregulars.[45]

After the Mughal forces had left the field, the Guru visited the scene of actual battle and with a fatherly affection went about lifting the heads of the martyrs in his lap, wiping their faces and blessing them one by one. When it was the turn of Bhai Mahan Singh to be thus caressed and blessed, the Master found that some life was still left in him. After a while, Bhai Mahan Singh opened his eyes and found himself in the lap of the Guru. He was filled with supreme joy. The Guru asked him if he had any desire to be fulfilled. Bhai Mahan Singh said, "No, Master, I have seen thee. What else or more could I desire? But if thou has taken compassion on us here, then tear off our disclaimer." The Guru at once met his demand and uttered, "You have saved the root of Sikhism in Majha. You and your companions, all forty of you are Muktas or the persons who have the fullest and truest realisation of the self. Mahan Singh thereafter closed his eyes for eternal sleep. Then the Guru went to the place where Bhag Kaur was lying unconscious on account of her wounds.

A little medical aid revived her. She told the Master the whole story of the repentant forty. The Guru told her about the last deed of Mahan Singh how he made a request to tear off the paper bearing disclaimer.

The Guru was greatly pleased with Bhag Kaur for what she had done. She was evacuated from the battle-field and her wounds were tended to. After her recovery, Bhag Kaur chose to stay with the Guru and served as his bodyguard. She followed the Guru to Bathinda, Rajputana, Delhi, Agra and Nanded. She led the Sikh way of life in totality. After the Guru's death at Nanded, She left for Bidar where she preached her Guru's teachings. Shortly afterward she breathed her last at Jawara 10 Kilometers from Gurdwara Nanak Jhira.[46]

The Guru's Khalsa gathered firewood from the forests all around and prepared a pyre whereon the dead bodies of Mahan Singh and other martyrs were cremated.

Khidrana-di-Dhab—Pool at Khidrana, also known as Ishar Sar, was at that time renamed as Muktsar-Pool of Salvation. The event held out a great lesson and a sublime moral. Turning back on the Guru was a blasphemy, while turning towards the Guru was a pious and meritorious act. The event also held out hope to all those who would wish to reunite themselves to the Guru as he was an Eternal Forgiver.

The Guru renovated and enlarged the tank near the field of the battle. Later on, a gurdwara was built at the cremation site of 40 Muktas[47], along with some other shrines raised in memory of different events connected with the battle. The area occupied by these shrines is called Tutti Ganddhi Complex symbolising that the breach in relationship between the Guru and his Sikhs was plugged and all lost was retrieved. The people in thousands gather together at the premises on the 1st of Magh every year for ablution in the sacred pond and to attend religious dewans (Meetings). On this day people recall the supreme sacrifice of the Khalsa and also the blessings of the Guru on the martyrs. They feel overwhelmed and cannot help contemplating on the sacred impulse that enabled the forty Muktas to achieve the high status. This way their visit to the place and dip in the tank is symbolic of getting purgated and re-linked with their Guru. In general parlance it began to be believed that a mere dip in the tank would ensure a Self- Realisation which is a false notion and contrary to Sikhism. Dip of the mind in Gurus ideology and total commitment to it even at the cost of one’s life is a sure way to salvation or Self- Realisation instead of a dip of the physical being in the water.

Notes and References

[1] Fauja Singh (ed.), Guru Gobind Singh Marg, p. 44. According to Dr. Hari Ram Gupta, there were two Gujjars, Ramzu and Kala, who recognized the Guru.

[2] Mittar Piare Nu Hal Muridah Da Kehna.

Tudh Bin Rog Rajaian Da Odhan Nag Nivasah De Rahna.

Sul Surahi Khanjar Piala Bing kasaiah Da Sahna.

Yarde Da Sanu Sathar Chahga Bhath Kheriah De Rahna.

[3] D.S. Duggal, Fatehnama and Zafarnama.

[4]   That the Guru left Machhiwara in the guise of Uch-Da-Pir was not mentioned by Sri Gursobha, Mahima Parkash by Kirpal Singh (1798 B.K.-1731 A.D.); Bansavalinama by Kesar Singh Chhibber (1836 B.K.-1779 A.D.); Gurbilas by Koer Singh (1751 A.D.). The Uch-Da-Pir was first mentioned in Gurbilas by Sukha Singh.

[5] Ishar Singh Nara, Safarnama te Zafarnama, pp. 227-228; Guru Gobind Singh Marg, p. 40, M.A. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. V, p. 193.

[6] Ibid., p. 229. Gurdham Sangreh, p. 137 by Giani Gian Singh.

[7] Santokh Singh, Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, Rut 6, Ansu 48.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Na pechida mue na ranjidah tan.

Ke berun khudavurd dushman shikan. (Zafarnama, 44th Stanza)

[10] A Rajput named Tulsi Ram had been converted to Islam. A descendant of Tulsi Ram, named Rai Ahmed, founded the town of Raikot in 1648. Rai Kalha was the son of Rai Kamal Din, a brother of Rai Ahmed.

[11] M.A. Macauliffe writes: "It is a general belief among the Sikhs that the children were bricked into a wall and suffered to die in that position but the authors of Suraj Prakash and the Gurbilas both state that the children were put to death by the sword of a Ghalzai executioner in the order of their ages." (The Sikh Religion, Vol. V, p. 189). Sainapat merely states that Jujhar Singh gave a fitting reply which put the Nawab and his courtiers into extreme uneasiness and that the two boys chose the path of martyrdom for the sake of righteousness as their grandfather had done (Sri Gursobha XI), see also William Irvine, Later Mughals, Vol. I, p. 88.

[12] Hakim Ram Kishan, Janam Sakhi Guru Gobind Singh, p. 145.

[13] On the spot where the bodies were cremated, a gurdwara (Shrine) called Jyoti Sarup was later erected. At the place where the two Sahibzadas were bricked and beheaded stands the shrine called Fatehgarh Sahib. Near the site of the Tower in which the three were imprisoned and where Mata Gujri breathed her last stands a shrine called Mata Gujri’s Burj (Tower).

[14] Santokh Singh, Suraj Parkash, Rut 6, Ansu 53.

[15] Bhai Jodha was a staunch devotee of Guru Hargobind. He fought on the side of the Guru when the latter came to this part of the country to raise an effective defence against the invaders. He was the Chief of Kangar, a place nearly 5 kilometers from Dina.

[16] Avtar Singh, Sakhi Pothi, translated, printed and edited, pp. 60-61, 62-63, 112-113.

[17] Shuma ra chu farz ast kare kuni(n).

Bamujab navishtah shumare kuni(n).53

Navishtah rasido ba guftah zubah.

Babayad ki kar inh bardhat rasan.54.

Ke kazi mara guftah beron niyam.

Agar rasti khud biyari kadam.56. (Zafarnama, Stanzas 53, 54, 56)

[18] Sainapat, Sri Gursobha, stanzas 564 to 569, Chapter XII.

[19] Translation by M.A. Macauliffe.

[20] Saro pae amboh chanda shudah

Ke maiddh puraz goe chaughdh shudah. (Zafarnama, Stanza 38)

[21] Zafarnama, Stanza 44.

[22] Khudavand ezad zammo(h) zama(n)

Kunindeh ast her kas makino(n) makan. (Zafarnama, Stanza 72)

[23] Ke u be muhab ast shahenshah.

Zamino(n) zamah sachae patshah. (Zafarnama, Stanza 71)

[24] Chi tashrif dar kasbah kahgar kunad.

Vazah pas mulakat baham shavad.58. (Zafarnama, Stanza 58)

[25] Agar hazrate khud sitadah shavad.

Bajan o dile kar vazah shavad.52. (Zafarnama, Stanza 52)

[26] Chun kar az hama hilte dar guzasht. Halal ast burdan ba shamshir dast.22

[27] In Guru Gobind Singh's time and even much later, there was a dense forest in Ferozpur Area. It extended from the bank of River Sutlej near Ferozpur to the wastes of Bathinda stretching over an area of about 80 kms. This was supposed to contain one lac trees and thus was called Lakhi Jungle. Forster says the Lakhi Jungle was secure retreat owing to scarcity of water, the valour of its people and for a breed of excellent horses called the Jungle-Tazees.

[28] Giani Gian Singh, Sri Guru Panth Parkash, pp. 291-92.

[29] Some scholars have doubted the veracity of the tradition on the ground that Guru could not have uttered such words because he bore no enmity against the Muslims. Certainly, the Guru did not bear enmity against Muslims or Islam, but it is also not improbable that he would not have wished the end of Turko-Pathan rule which was tyrannous.

[30] Lakhi Jungle Khalsa, Didar Aye laga.

Sun Ke Sad Mahi Da, Mehi Pani Ghah Muto Ne

Kise Nal Na Ralia Kai, Koi Shauk Paiyo Ne

Gia Firak Milia Mit Mahil, Tart Hi Shukar Kito Ne.

(Koer Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, p. 211)

[31] Muhammad Latif, History of the Punjab.

[32] Suraj Prakash; Swarup Singh Kaushish, Guru Kian Sakhian, Sakhi No. 90.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Swarup Singh Kaushish, op. cit.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Kartar Singh, Life of Guru Gobind Singh, p. 220.

[38] Bhag Kaur was the daughter of Paloo Shah and was married to Nidhan Singh, son of Des Raj of Patti.

[39] Swarup Singh Kaushish, Guru Kian Sakhian, p. 160—Bhai Santokh Singh also vouchsafes "Sun Mai Bhago Sachiari. Kul Naihar Susrahei Ubari."

[40] Sri Gursobha, (ed.) by Shamsher Singh Ashok, p. 96; Sukhdial Singh, Guru Gobind Singh Ik Sarvekhan, p. 92. According to a tradition, the owner of this place was Khidrana.

[41]  According to Bhat Vahi, the battle was fought on Magh vadi 10, 1762 BK, but according to the local tradition the date was Baisakh 1762 BK/18 April, 1705.

[42] Malwa Desh Ratan di Sakhi Pothi, p. 54. Also refer to Shri Guru Tirath Sangreh, pp. 147-48, by Tara Singh Nirotam.

[43] (1) Bhag Singh Jhabalia, (2) Dilbagh Singh, (3) Gharbara Singh (Kandhara Singh), (4) Darbara Singh, (5) Ganda Singh (Ganga Singh), (6) Raj Singh Khairpuria, (7) Mahan Singh Khairpuria, (8) Sital Singh, (9) Sunder Singh Jhallian, (10) Kirpal Singh, (11) Dayal Singh, (12) Nihal Singh, (13) Suhel Singh, (14) Kushal Singh, (15) Chanda Singh, (16) Sumir Singh, (17) Sarja Singh, (18) Garja Singh, (19) Boora Singh, (20) Sultan Singh (Patti), (21) Nidhan Singh, (22) Sobha Singh, (23) Joga Singh, (24) Hari Singh, (25) Karam Singh, (26) Dharam Singh, (27) Kala Singh (Kalla Singh), (28) Sant Singh, (29) Kirat Singh (Kehar Singh), (30) Gulab Singh, (31) Jadho Singh, (32) Jango Singh, (33) Bhanga Singh, (34) Dhana Singh, (35) Bhola Singh, (36) Malla Singh, (37) Mann Singh, (38) Lachhman Singh, (39) Sadhu Singh, (40) Maiya Singh (Majja Singh).

[44] Colonel Ravi Batra, Leadership in its Finest Mould: Guru Gobind Singh, p. 58.

[45] Most of the troops at Khidrana were peasants and artisans. According to Muhammad Latif, the number of Mughal forces was seven thousand only.

[46] L.S. Tandon, The Sikh Review, October 1971, pp. 26-27.

[47] The sites were marked out by an 18th century Nirmala saint Bhai Langar Singh resident of Harike Kalan 18 kms East of Muktsar.