ZAFARNĀMAH, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's letter in Persian verse addressed to Emperor Auraṅgzīb included in the Dasam Granth. The word zafarnāmah is a compound of Arabic zafar, meaning victory, and Persian nāmah, meaning letter. Zafarnāmah thus means a letter or epistle of victory. Pressed by a prolonged siege, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had to evacuate Anandpur, in the Śivāliks, in December 1705. He passed through a very strenuous period and travelling across the sandy plains of the Punjab reached Dīnā, a small village in Farīdkoṭ area with only three companions or followers. From here he wrote in 1706 his famous letter which he styled Zafarnāmah, and sent it to Auraṅgzīb in Ahmadnagar, in the South, through Bhāī Dayā Siṅgh and Bhāī Dharam Singh.

        The text indicates that the epistle was written by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh after he had heard the news of the execution of his two younger sons at Sirhind. The two elder sons he had seen lay down their lives in the battle of Chamkaur. He says in the Zafarnāmah, "It matters little, if my four children have been killed, for the coiling cobra (i.e. the Khālsā) still holds its head high" (verse 78). As is evident from the title itself, the letter, more appropriately a fair-sized poem in 111 stanzas, was written in an exalted mood of righteous fervour. The central theme of the composition is the presentation of the ethical principle as the supreme law in matters of public policy as well as in private behaviour. It condemns what is unjust and cruel and extols what is true and morally correct. Victory and defeat are to be judged by the ultimate standards of morality, and not by temporary material advantage. The epistle was a severe indictment of Auraṅgzīb who was repeatedly chided for breach of faith in the attack made by the Mughal troops on the Sikhs after they had vacated Anandpur on solemn assurances given them by him and his officers (verses 13, 14). For the candid and unambiguous terms in which the Emperor and his policies are castigated in it, the Zafarnāmah should easily be the most forthright essay in diplomacy known in history. It emphatically reiterates the sovereignty of morality in the affairs of state as much as in the conduct of individual human beings and regards the means as important as the end. Absolute truthfulness is as much the duty of a sovereign as of any one of the ordinary citizens.

        The letter begins with an invocation to God who is remembered by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh as Eternal, Beneficent, Bestower of Grace, Remitter of sins, King of kings, the Support of the unhappy, Protector of the faith, Fountain of eloquence, and Author of revelation (verses 1-12). Addressing the Emperor, he says, "I have no faith in thine oath to which thou tookest the One God as witness. He who putteth faith in thine oath is a ruined man" (verse 15). "Thou knowest not God and believest not in Muhammad. He who hath regard for his faith never swerveth from his promise" (verses 46, 47).

        How alien the Emperor was to the spirit of faith is emphasized, not without a touch of sarcasm, in a compliment the Gurū pays him. He says, "Fortunate art thou Auraṅgzīb, king of kings, expert swordman and rider. Handsome is thy person, and intelligent art thou. Emperor and ruler of the country, thou art clever in administering thy kingdom, and skilled in wielding the sword. Thou art generous to thy co-religionists, and prompt in crushing thine enemies. Thou art the great dispenser of kingdoms and wealth. Thy generosity is profuse, and in battle thou art firm as a mountain. Unexcelled is thy position; thy loftiness is as that of the Pleiades. Thou art the king of kings, and an ornament of the thrones of the world. Thou art monarch of the world, but far distant thou remainest from thy plighted word" (verses 89-94).

        The Gurū intended to say that all the qualities enumerated were of no value if one were not humane and truthful in one's dealings with others. An oft-quoted verse from the Zafarnāmah is : "When all other means fail, it is but lawful to take to the sword" (verse 22).


  1. Zafarnamah. Patiala, 1973
  2. Randhīr Siṅgh, Bhāī, Śabadārth Dasam Granth Sāhib. Delhi, 1959
  3. Saināpati, Srī Gur Sobhā. Amritsar, 1914
  4. Harbans Singh, Guru Gobind Singh. Chandigarh, 1966
  5. Ganda Singh, Guru Gobind Singh : The Last Phase. Chandigarh, 1967
  6. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
  7. Ashta, Dharam Pal, The Poetry of the Dasam Granth. Delhi, 1959

Jīt Siṅgh Sītal