GOBIND SIṄGH, GURŪ (1666-1708), the tenth and the last Gurū or Prophet-teacher of the Sikh faith, was born Gobind Rāi on Poh sudī 7, 1723 Bk/22 December 1666 at Paṭnā, in Bihār. His father, Gurū Tegh Bahādur, the Ninth Gurū, was then travelling across Bengal and Assam. Returning to Paṭnā in 1670, he directed his family to return to the Punjab. On the site of the house at Paṭnā in which Gobind Rāi was born and where he spent his early childhood now stands a sacred shrine, Takht Srī Harimandar Sāhib, one of the five most honoured seats of religious authority (takht, lit. throne) for the Sikhs. Gobind Rāi was escorted to Anandpur (then known as Chakk Nānakī) in the foothills of the Śivāliks where he reached in March 1672 and where his early education included reading and writing of Punjabi, Braj, Sanskrit and Persian. He was barely nine years of age when a sudden turn came in his own life as well as in the life of the community he was destined to lead. Early in 1675, a group of Kashmīrī Brāhmaṇs, driven to desperation by the religious fanaticism of the Mughal satrap, Iftikhār Khān, visited Anandpur to seek Gurū Tegh Bahādur's intercession. As the Gurū sat reflecting what to do, young Gobind Rāi, arriving there in company with his playmates, asked him why he looked so preoccupied. The father, as records Kuir Siṅgh in his Gurbilās Pātshāhī 10, replied, "Grave are the burdens the earth bears. She will be redeemed only if a truly worthy person comes forward to lay down his head. Distress will then be expunged and happiness ushered in." "None could be worthier than yourself to make such a sacrifice," remarked Gobind Rāi in his innocent manner. Gurū Tegh Bahādur soon afterwards proceeded to the imperial capital, Delhi, and courted death on 11 November 1675.

         Gurū Gobind Siṅgh was formally installed Gurū on the Baisākhī day of 1733 Bk/29 March 1676. In the midst of his engagement with the concerns of the community, he gave attention to the mastery of physical skills and literary accomplishment. He had grown into a comely youth -- spare, lithe of limb and energetic. He had a natural genius for poetic composition and his early years were assiduously given to this pursuit. The Vār Srī Bhagautī Jī Kī, popularly called Chaṇḍī dī Vār, written in 1684, was his first composition and his only major work in the Punjabi language. The poem depicted the legendary contest between the gods and the demons as described in the Markāṇḍeya Purāṇa. The choice of a warlike theme for this and a number of his later compositions such as the two Chaṇḍī Charitras, mostly in Braj, was made to infuse martial spirit among his followers to prepare them to stand up against injustice and tyranny.

         Much of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's creative literary work was done at Pāoṇṭā he had founded on the banks of the River Yamunā and to which site he had temporarily shifted in April 1685. Poetry as such was, however, not his aim. For him it was a means of revealing the divine principle and concretizing a personal vision of the Supreme Being that had been vouchsafed to him. His Jāpu and the composition known as Akāl Ustati are in this tenor. Through his poetry he preached love and equality and a strictly ethical and moral code of conduct. He preached the worship of the One Supreme Being, deprecating idolatry and superstitious beliefs and observances. The glorification of the sword itself which he eulogized as bhagautī was to secure fulfilment of God's justice. The sword was never meant as a symbol of aggression, and it was never to be used for self-aggrandizement. It was the emblem of manliness and self-respect and was to be used only in self-defence, as a last resort. For Gurū Gobind Siṅgh said in a Persian couplet in his Zafarnāmah:

        When all other means have failed,

        It is but lawful to take to the sword.


        During his stay at Pāoṇṭā, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh availed himself of his spare time to practise different forms of manly exercises, such as riding, swimming and archery. His increasing influence among the people and the martial exercises of his men excited the jealousy of the neighbouring Rājpūt hill rulers who led by Rājā Fateh Chand of Gaṛhvāl collected a host to attack him. But they were worsted in an action at Bhaṅgāṇī, about 10 km northeast of Pāoṇṭā, on 18 Assū 1745 Bk/18 September 1688. Soon thereafter Gurū Gobind Siṅgh left Pāoṇṭā and returned to Anandpur which he fortified in view of the continuing hostility of the Rājpūt chiefs as well as of the repressive policy of the imperial government at Delhi. The Gurū and his Sikhs were involved in a battle with a Mughal commander, Alif Khān, at Nadauṇ on the left bank of the Beās, about 30 km southeast of Kāṅgṛā, on 22 Chet 1747 Bk/20 March 1691. Describing the battle in stirring verse in Bachitra Nāṭak, he said that Alif Khān fled in utter disarray "without being able to give any attention to his camp." Among several other skirmishes that occurred was the Husainī battle (20 February 1696) fought against Husain Khān, an imperial general, which resulted in a decisive victory for the Sikhs. Following the appointment in 1694 of the liberal Prince Mu'azzam (later Emperor Bahādur Shāh) as viceroy of northwestern region including Punjab, there was however a brief respite from pressure from the ruling authority.

         In 1698, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh issued directions to Sikh saṅgats or communities in different parts not to acknowledge masands, the local ministers, against whom he had heard complaints. Sikhs, he instructed, should come to Anandpur straight without any intermediaries and bring their offerings personally. The Gurū thus established direct relationship with his Sikhs and addressed them as his Khālsā, Persian term used for crown-lands as distinguished from feudal fiefs. The institution of the Khālsā was given concrete form on 30 March 1699 when Sikhs had gathered at Anandpur in large numbers for the annual festival of Baisākhī. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh appeared before the assembly dramatically on that day with a naked sword in hand and, to quote Kuir Siṅgh, Gurbilās Pātshāhī 10, spoke: "Is there present a true Sikh who would offer his head to the Gurū as a sacrifice?" The words numbed the audience who looked on in awed silence. The Gurū repeated the call. At the third call Dayā Rām, a Sobtī Khatrī of Lahore, arose and humbly walked behind the Gurū to a tent near by. The Gurū returned with his sword dripping blood, and asked for another head. At this Dharam Dās, a Jaṭṭ from Hastināpur, came forward and was taken inside the enclosure. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh made three more calls. Muhkam Chand, a washerman from Dvārkā, Himmat, a water-carrier from Jagannāthpurī, and Sāhib Chand, a barber from Bidar (Karnāṭaka) responded one after another and advanced to offer their heads. All the five were led back from the tent dressed alike in saffron-coloured raiment topped over with neatly tied turbans similarly dyed, with swords dangling by their sides. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh then introduced khaṇḍe dī pāhul, i.e. initiation by sweetened water churned with a double-edged broadsword (khaṇḍā). Those five Sikhs were the first to be initiated. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh called them Pañj Piāre, the five devoted spirits beloved of the Gurū. These five, three of them from the so-called low-castes, a Kṣatriya and a Jaṭṭ, formed the nucleus of the self-abnegating, martial and tasteless fellowship of the Khālsā. All of them surnamed Siṅgh, meaning lion, were required to wear in future the five symbols of the Khālsā, all beginning with the letter K -- the keṣ or long hair and beard, kaṅghā, a comb in the keṣ to keep it tidy as against the recluses who kept it matted in token of their having renounced the world, kaṛā, a steel bracelet, kachch, short breeches, and kirpān, a sword. They were enjoined to succour the helpless and fight the oppressor, to have faith in one God and to consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and creed. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh then himself received initiatory rites at the hands of his five disciples, now invested with authority as Khālsā, and had his name changed from Gobind Rāi to Gobind Siṅgh. "Hail, " as the poet subsequently sang, "Gobind Siṅgh who is himself Master as well as disciple." Further injunctions were laid down for the Sikhs. They must never cut or trim their hair and beards, nor smoke tobacco. A Sikh must not have sexual relationship outside the marital bond, nor eat the flesh of an animal killed slowly in the Muslim way.

         These developments alarmed the caste-ridden Rājpūt chiefs of the śivālik hills. They rallied under the leadership of the Rājā of Bilāspur, in whose territory lay Anandpur, to forcibly evict Gurū Gobind Siṅgh from his hilly citadel. Their repeated expeditions during 1700-04 however proved abortive. They at last petitioned Emperor Auraṅgzīb for help. In concert with contingents sent under imperial orders by the governor of Lahore and those of the faujdār of Sirhind, they marched upon Anandpur and laid a siege to the fort in Jeṭh 1762 Bk/May 1705. Over the months, the Gurū and his Sikhs firmly withstood their successive assaults despite dire scarcity of food resulting from the prolonged blockade. While the besieged were reduced to desperate straits, the besiegers too were chagrined at the tenacity with which the Sikhs held out. At this stage, the besiegers offered, on solemn oaths, safe exit to the Sikhs if they quit Anandpur. At last, the town was evacuated during the night of Poh sudī 1, 1762 Bk/5-6 December 1705. But soon, as the Gurū and his Sikhs came out, the hill monarchs and their Mughal allies set upon them in full fury. In the ensuing confusion many Sikhs were killed and all of the Gurū's baggage, including most of the precious manuscripts, was lost. The Gurū himself was able to make his way to Chamkaur, 40 km southwest of Anandpur, with barely 40 Sikhs and his two elder sons. There the imperial army, following closely on his heels, caught up with him. His two sons, Ajīt Siṅgh (b. 1687) and Jujhār Siṅgh (b. 1691) and all but five of the Sikhs fell in the action that took place on 7 December 1705. The five surviving Sikhs bade the Gurū to save himself in order to reconsolidate the Khālsā. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh with three of his Sikhs escaped into the wilderness of the Mālvā, two of his Muslim devotees, Ghanī Khān and Nabī Khān, helping him at great personal risk.

         Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's two younger sons, Zorāwar Siṅgh (b. 1696) and Fateh Siṅgh (b. 1699), and his mother, Mātā Gujarī, were after the evacuation of Anandpur betrayed by their old servant and escort, Gaṅgū, to the faujdār of Sirhind, who had the young children executed on 13 December 1705. Their grandmother died the same day. Befriended by another Muslim admirer, Rāi Kalhā of Rāikoṭ, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh reached Dīnā in the heart of the Mālvā. There he enlisted a few hundred warriors of the Brāṛ clan, and also composed his famous letter, Zafarnāmah or the Epistle of Victory, in Persian verse, addressed to Emperor Auraṅgzīb. The letter was a severe indictment of the Emperor and his commanders who had perjured their oath and treacherously attacked him once he was outside the safety of his fortification at Anandpur. It emphatically reiterated the sovereignty of morality in the affairs of State as much as in the conduct of human beings and held the means as important as the end. Two of the Sikhs, Dayā Siṅgh and Dharam Siṅgh, were despatched with the Zafarnāmah to Ahmadnagar in the South to deliver it to Auraṅgzīb, then in camp in that town.

         From Dīnā, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh continued his westward march until, finding the host close upon his heels, he took position astride the water pool of Khidrāṇā to make a last-ditch stand. The fighting on 29 December 1705 was hard and desperate. In spite of their overwhelming numbers, the Mughal troops failed to capture the Gurū and had to retire in defeat. The most valorous part in this battle was played by a group of 40 Sikhs who had deserted the Gurū at Anandpur during the long siege, but who, chided by their womenfolk at home, had come back under the leadership of a brave and devoted woman, Māī Bhāgo, to redeem themselves. They had fallen fighting desperately to check the enemy's advance towards the Gurū's position. The Gurū blessed the 40 dead as 40 mukte, i.e. the 40 Saved Ones. The site is now marked by a sacred shrine and tank and the town which has grown around them is called Muktsar, the Pool of Liberation.

         After spending some time in the Lakkhī Jungle country, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh arrived at Talvaṇḍī Sābo, now called Damdamā Sāhib, on 20 January 1706. During his stay there of over nine months, a number of Sikhs rejoined him. He prepared a fresh recension of Sikh Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, with the celebrated scholar, Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, as his amanuensis. From the number of scholars who had rallied round Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and from the literary activity initiated, the place came to be known as the Gurū's Kāshī or seat of learning like Vārāṇasī.

         The epistle Zafarnāmah sent by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh from Dīnā seems to have touched the heart of Emperor Auraṅgzīb. He forthwith invited him for a meeting. According to Ahkām-i -'Ālamgīrī, the Emperor had a letter written to the deputy governor of Lahore, Mun'im Khān, to conciliate the Gurū and make the required arrangements for his journey to the Deccan. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had, however, already left for the South on 30 October 1706. He was in the neighbourhood of Baghor, in Rājasthān, when the news arrived of the death of the Emperor at Ahmadnagar on 20 February 1707. The Gurū thereupon decided to return to the Punjab, via Shāhjahānābād (Delhi). That was the time when the sons of the deceased Emperor were preparing to contest succession. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh despatched for the help of the eldest claimant, the liberal Prince Mu'azzam, a token contingent of Sikhs which took part in the battle of Jājaū (8 June 1707), decisively won by the Prince who ascended the throne with the title of Bahādur Shāh. The new Emperor invited Gurū Gobind Siṅgh for a meeting which took place at Āgrā on 23 July 1707.

         Emperor Bahādur Shāh had at this time to move against the Kachhvāhā Rājpūts of Āmber (Jaipur) and then to the Deccan where his youngest brother, Kām Bakhsh, had raised the standard of revolt. The Gurū accompanied him and, as says Tarīkh-i-Bahādur-Shāhī, he addressed assemblies of people on the way preaching the word of Gurū Nānak. The two camps crossed the River Tāptī between 11 and 14 June 1708 and the Bāṇ-Gaṅgā on 14 August, arriving at Nāndeḍ, on the Godāvarī, towards the end of August. While Bahādur Shāh proceeded further South, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh decided to stay awhile at Nāndeḍ. Here he met a Bairāgī recluse, Mādho Dās, whom he converted a Sikh administering to him the vows of the Khālsā, renaming him Gurbakhsh Siṅgh (popular name Bandā Siṅgh). Gurū Gobind Siṅgh gave Bandā Siṅgh five arrows from his own quiver and an escort, including five of his chosen Sikhs, and directed him to go to the Punjab and carry on the campaign against the tyranny of the provincial overlords.

         Nawāb Wazīr Khān of Sirhind had felt concerned at the Emperor's conciliatory treatment of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. Their marching together to the South made him jealous, and he charged two of his trusted men with murdering the Gurū before his increasing friendship with the Emperor resulted in any harm to him. These two Paṭhāns -- Jamshed Khān and Wāsil Beg are the names given in the Gurū kīāṅ Sākhīāṅ pursued the Gurū secretly and overtook him at Nāndeḍ, where, according to Srī Gur Sobhā by Senāpati, a contemporary writer, one of them stabbed the Gurū in the left side below the heart as he lay one evening in his chamber resting after the Rahrāsi prayer. Before he could deal another blow, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh struck him down with his sabre, while his fleeing companion fell under the swords of Sikhs who had rushed in on hearing the noise. As the news reached Bahādur Shāh's camp, he sent expert surgeons, including an Englishman, Cole by name, to attend on the Gurū. The wound was stitched and appeared to have healed quickly but, as the Gurū one day applied strength to pull a stiff bow, it broke out again and bled profusely. This weakened the Gurū beyond cure and he passed away on Kattak sudī 5, 1765 Bk/7 October 1708. Before the end came, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had asked for the Sacred Volume to be brought forth. To quote Bhaṭṭ Vahī Talauḍā Parganah jīnd:

        Gurū Gobind Siṅghjī, mahilā dasmāṅ, beṭā Gurū Tegh Bahādur jī kā, pota Gurū Hargobindjī kā, paṛpotā Gurū Arjunjī kā, baṅs Gurū Rām Dāsjī kā, Sūrajbaṅsī Gosal gotra, Soḍhī Khatrī, bāsī Anandpur parganah Kahlūr, muqām Nāndeṛ taṭ Godāvarī, des dakkhaṇ, sammat satrāṅ sai painsaṭh Kārtik mās kī chauth, śukla pakkhe budhvār ke dihuṅ, Bhāī Dayā Siṅgh se bachan hoyā, Srī Granth Sāhib lai āo, bachan pāi Dayā Siṅgh Srī Granth Sāhib lai āye, Gurūjī ne pāñch paise nārial āge bheṭā rākhā, māthā ṭekā, sarbatt saṅgat se kahā merā hukam hai merī jāgāh Srī Grānthjī ko jāṇanā, jo Sikh jāṇegā tis kī ghāl thāeṅ paegī Gurū tis kī bahuṛī kaṛegā, satt kar mānanā

        Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, the Tenth Master, son of Gurū Tegh Bahādur, grandson of Gurū Hargobind, great-grandson of Gurū Arjan, of the family of Gurū Rām Dās, . Surajbaṅsī, Gosal clan, Sodhī Khatrī, resident of Anandpur, parganah Kahlūr, now at Nāndeḍ, in the Godāvarī country in the Deccan, asked Bhāī Dayā Siṅgh, on Wednesday, 6 October 1708, to fetch Srī Granth Sāhib. In obedience to his orders, Dayā Siṅgh brought Srī Granth Sāhib. The Gurū placed before it five pice and a coconut and bowed his head before it. He said to the saṅgat, "It is my commandment: Own Srī Granthjī in my place. He who so acknowledges it will obtain his reward. The Gurū will rescue him. Know this as the truth".


        Gurū Gobind Siṅgh thus passed on the succession with due ceremony to the Holy Book, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, ending the line of personal Gurūs. "The Gurū's spirit, " he said, "will henceforth be in the Granth and the Khālsā. Where the Granth is with any five Sikhs representing the Khālsā, there will the Gurū be."

         The Word enshrined in the Holy Book was always revered by the Gurūs as well as by their disciples as of Divine origin. The Gurū was the revealer of the Word. One day the Word was to take the place of the Gurū. The inevitable came to pass when Gurū Gobind Siṅgh declared the Gurū Granth Sāhib as his successor. It was only through the Word that the Gurūship could be made everlasting. The Word as contained in the Gurū Granth Sāhib was henceforth, and for all time to come, to be the Gurū for the Sikhs.


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  2. Sukhā Siṅgh, Bhāī, Gurbilās Dasvīṅ Pātshāhī. Lahore, 1912
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  8. Talib, Gurbachan Siṅgh, The Impact of Guru Gobind Siṅgh on Indian Society. Chandigarh, 1966
  9. Sher Siṅgh, Social and Political Philosophy of Guru Gobind Siṅgh. Delhi, n.d.
  10. Lakshman Singh, Bhagat, A Short Sketch of the Life and Work of Guru Gobind Siṅgh. Lahore, 1909.

Gaṇḍā Siṅgh