TEGH BAHĀDUR, GURŪ (1621-1675), prophet and martyr, revered as the Ninth Gurū or Revealer of the Sikh faith, was the youngest of the five sons of the Sixth Gurū, Gurū Hargobind, and his wife, Nānakī. He was born at Amritsar on Baisākh vadī 5,1678 Bk/1 April 1621. The early years of his life were spent in Amritsar where he was placed under the training of Bhāī Buḍḍhā and Bhāī Gurdās, two of the most revered Sikhs of the time. The former taught him the manly arts of archery and horsemanship and the latter the religious texts. Another of the interests he cultivated was music. He was by nature of a contemplative and mystical temperament ---a strain which found expression in later years in poetry of deep spiritual insight and wisdom. At the age of 12, on 4 February 1633, he was married to Gujarī, daughter of Lāl Chand and Bishan Kaur, Subhikkhī Khatrīs, of Lakhnaur, near Ambālā, who had migrated and settled at Kartārpur.

        After the accession in 1628 of Emperor Shāh Jahān to the throne of Delhi, conflict broke out with the Mughal authority. Amritsar itself became the centre of a skirmish. As Gurū Hargobind left the city in 1634 to sojourn in southeastern Punjab, further clashes occurred at Mehrāj (16 December 1634) and at Kartārpur (26 April 1635). Sikh texts record that Tegh Bahādur took part in the battle of Kartārpur and Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth especially pays homage to his skill and valour. After this battle, Gurū Hargobind retired to Kīratpur, at the foot of śivalik hills. For Tegh Bahādur this meant nine years of uninterrupted bliss in the company of his father. After Gurū Hargobind's death in 1644, he left Kīratpur with his mother, Mātā Nānakī and wife, Gujarī, for Bakālā, a village in Amritsar district, where Mātā Nānakī's father had his ancestral home. Tegh Bahādur was now remote from the main seat of Sikhism. He lived a strict and holy life and spent most of his time in meditation. Yet he was no recluse. He went out riding and followed the chase.

        From Bakālā, Tegh Bahādur made a visit to Kīratpur and thence set out, on 13 June 1656, on a prolonged tour towards the east. During his absence Gurū Har Rāi, Gurū Hargobind's spiritual successor, passed away at Kīratpur transferring his mantle to his young son, Har Krishan. Tegh Bahādur, who returned to Delhi on 21 March 1664, called on Gurū Har Krishan, then in the city summoned by Emperor Auraṅgzīb, to condole with him upon his father's death. Thereafter, he travelled on to Bakālā. Soon after Tegh Bahādur had left Delhi, Gurū Har Krishan died alluding to him as his successor. However, the ambiguity of his words uttered from his sickbed led to several claimants setting themselves up as Gurūs at Bakālā. Tegh Bahādur sat in the seclusion of his home, but was discovered by Makkhaṇ Shāh Lubāṇā, a wealthy trader, who arrived at Bakālā in search of the Gurū. He walked from one street to another, paying obeisance and offering two gold mohars to each of the 'Gurūs' he met, but obtained satisfaction from nowhere.

        Finally, he repaired to the house where, he was told, lived a saintly being who made no claims for himself. This was Tegh Bahādur and, as Makkhaṇ Shāh bowed and placed in front of him the customary two gold mohars, he gave him his blessing, but said that his offering was considerably short of the five hundred gold coins he had promised when his cargo boat had been caught in a storm. Hearing these words, Makkhaṇ Shāh ran upstairs and began shouting from the housetop : "Gurū lādho re, Gurū lādho re (I have found the Gurū, I have found the Gurū)."

        Makkhaṇ Shāh's announcement dispirited the impostors. Yet nothing could assuage the envy of Dhīr Mall, Gurū Tegh Bahādur's own nephew. His masand, Shīhāṅ, fanned his jealousy. Dhīr Mall's men attacked Gurū Tegh Bahādur's house and ransacked it as they willed. But the Gurū remained calm. When Makkhaṇ Shāh retaliated and pillaged Dhīr Mall's house, he had everything retuned to him. He restored to Dhīr Mall goods plundered from his own house, including his copy of the holy volume, Granth Sāhib, and to quote Santokh Siṅgh Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth, counselled his Sikhs : "Forgiveness is the austerity most meritorious ; forgiveness is the best of charities. Forgiveness is equivalent to all the pilgrimages and ablutions. In forgiveness lies liberation. No other virtue parallels forgiveness. Forgiveness you must learn."

        According to Bhaṭṭ Vahī Talaudā Parganā Jīnd, Gurū Tegh Bahādur was formally annointed Gurū on Bhādoṅ Amāvas 1721 Bk/ 11 August 1664. The responsibility of instructing the growing Sikh community and guiding its affairs was now his. He was the focal point of veneration for the Sikhs. They came singly and in batches to seek spiritual solace and instruction. By his teaching and practice, he moulded their religious and social conscience. Connection was established with far-flung saṅgats through masands and the Gurū's edicts or commandments, called hukamnāmās issued from time to time.

        Three successive visits were made to Kīratpur. On 21 August 1664, Gurū Tegh Bahādur went there to condole with Bībī Rūp Kaur upon the passing away of her father, Gurū Har Rāī and of her brother, Gurū Har Krishan. The second visit was on 15 October 1664 at the death, on 29 September 1664, of Mātā Bassī, mother of Gurū Har Rāi. A third visit concluded a fairly extensive journey through Mājhā, Mālvā and Bāṅgar districts of the Punjab. The first halt during this journey was at Amritsar, followed by those at Tarn Tāran, Khaḍūr Sāhib and Goindvāl, all of longstanding sanctity in Sikh tradition.

         Crossing the Beās and Sutlej rivers, Gurū Tegh Bahādur arrived in the Mālva. He visited Zirā, Mogā and Ḍaraulī and then sojourned in the Lakkhī Jungle, a desolate tract comprising mainly present-day districts of Baṭhiṇḍā and Farīdkoṭ. This journey took Gurū Tegh Bahādur up to Dhamdhan, near Jīnd, from where he returned to Kīratpur. On 13 May 1665, he went to Bilāspur, farther, up in the hills to mourn for Rājā Dīp Chand, the ruler of the state. The Dowager Rāṇī Champā of Bilāspur offered to give the Gurū a piece of land in her state which the Gurū bought on payment of. 500 rupees. Here on the mound of Mākhovāl, he raised a new habitation naming it Chakk Nānakī after his mother, Mātā Nānakī, which later became famous as Anandpur.

        Like his predecessors since the days of Gurū Hargobind, Gurū Tegh Bahādur maintained the marks of worldly dignity, himself living austerely. He went on long journeys to instruct the saṅgats in different parts of the country and proclaim far and wide the message of Gurū Nānak. One such journey took him through towns such as Ropaṛ, Banūṛ and Rājpurā to what is now Bahādurgaṛh, near Paṭiālā, where the Muslim Nawāb, Saif ud-Dīn Mahmūd, also known as Saif Khān, who had held office of governor of Āgrā under Emperor Auraṅgzīb, served him with devotion. Visiting on the way Dhamtān, the seat of an old saṅgat, now under Bhāī Daggo, Gurū Tegh Bahādur reached Delhi on 8 November 1665 where Rāṇī Pushpa Devī of Āmber was his host. Further journey lay through Mathurā, Āgrā, Eṭāwāh, Kānpur, Fatehpur, Allāhābād, Mirzāpur and Banāras. From Banāras he proceeded through Sāsārām and Bodh Gayā to Paṭnā where he left his family to go further east to meet saṅgats in the remoter districts. Here at Paṭnā was born on 22 December 1666 his only son, Gobind Dās (later Gobind Siṅgh). Gurū Tegh Bahādur was at Monghyr when the news reached him. He continued his journey to Ḍhākā, visiting on the way Bhāgalpur, Sāhibgañj, Rāj Mahal, Māldā and Pabnā. With Ḍhākā as the centre, the Gurū made trips to places such as Chiṭṭāgong, Comīllā, Sondīp Island and Sylhet.

        At Ḍhākā, Rājā Rām Siṅgh of Āmber, an old disciple, who had been deputed on 6 January 1668 by Auraṅgzīb to lead an expedition against the Ahoms of Assam, waited on Gurū Tegh Bahādur and sought his blessing. Towards the close of 1668, they together set out for Assam, crossed the Brahmputra and reached Dhūbṛī, which had also been visited by Gurū Nānak during his travels in eastern India. Rājā Rām Siṅgh who was encamped at some distance from Gurū Tegh Bahādur clashed with the Ahom ruler, Chakradhvaj Siṅgh. The issue remained undecided and, according to the Sikh chronicles, the Gurū brought about peace between the warring forces. The homeward journey began late in 1669, the longest halt being at Paṭnā where Gurū Tegh Bahādur rejoined his family and saw for the first time his son, Gobind Dās. He reached Delhi on 20 June 1670, and put up in the dharamsālā of Bhāī Kalyāṇā where disciples congregated in large numbers. Meanwhile Gurū Tegh Bahādur's son, Gobind Dās, had reached Lakhnaur, his mother's ancestoral home near Ambālā. Gurū Tegh Bahādur travelled from Delhi to join the family. The family moved on to Chakk Nānakī, whereas Gurū Tegh Bahādur journeyed extensively across the Mālvā country before reaching there for the Baisākhī festival of 1672.

        At Chakk Nānakī (Anandpur), a group of Kashmīri pandits, driven to desperation by the bigoted policies of the Mughal governor Iftikhar Khān (1671-75) called on Gurū Tegh Bahādur on 25 May 1675 to narrate their tale of woe. As Gurū Tegh Bahādur sat, rapt in thought, young Gobind Dās, then barely nine, asked why he looked so deeply preoccupied. To quote Kuir Siṅgh, Gurbilās Pātshāhī 10, "The Gurū answered : Grave are the burdens the earth carries. She will be redeemed only if a truly worthy person comes forward to sacrifice his head."

        "None could be worthier than yourself for such a noble act," remarked Gobind Dās.

        Gurū Tegh Bahādur was pleased to hear from his young son this brave answer and receive such spontaneous confirmation of his resolution to lay down his life to uphold the people's right to practise the religious creed they professed.

        Resolved to court execution and ransom justice, Gurū Tegh Bahādur set out from Anandpur. Orders for his arrest were issued by Auraṅgzīb as soon as he received reports of his declared intention. The common belief so far has been that the arrest was made at Āgrā from where the Gurū was taken to Delhi under heavy escort. But recent researches based on the Bhaṭṭ Vahīs maintain that the arrest took place at Malikpur Raṅghṛāṅ immediately after Gurū Tegh Bahādur had left Anandpur. The Malikpur arrest is corroborated by Muhammad Ehsān Ijād, a source quoted by William Irvine in his book Later Mughals and by a Sikh chronicler, Kesar Siṅgh Chhibbar, in his Baṅsāvalīnāmā Dasāṅ Pātshāhīāṅ Kā. On the authority of Bhaṭṭ Vahī Multānī Sindhī, Gurū Tegh Bahādur departed from Chakk Nānakī (Anandpur) on 11 July 1675. He had on 8 July 1675 nominated his son Gobind Dās as his spiritual successor and conferred on him the marks of Gurūship. On 12 July he along with his Sikhs was taken into custody by Nūr Muhammad Khān of the Ropaṛ police post at the village of Malikpur Raṅghṛāṅ, in Ghanaulā parganah and sent to Sirhind the following day. The faujdār of Sirhind, Dilāwar Khān, ordered him to be detained at Bassī Paṭhānāṅ and reported the news to the Emperor. For over three months he was kept in jail and given the harshest treatment. He was then cast in an iron cage and taken to Delhi, where he arrived on 4 November 1675. He was put in chains and ordered to be tortured until he would accept Islam. But neither physical chastisement nor any worldly allurement could have any effect on him. When he could not be persuaded to abandon his religious faith, he was asked to perform some miracle to prove the divinity of his mission. This also he declined, saying that it was never right for any one to try to intervene in the Will of God. Gurū Tegh Bahādur was beheaded in public in Chāndnī Chowk, in Delhi, on 11 November 1675. The mutilated body was left in Chāndnī Chowk unattended, and none dared claim it for fear of Mughal reprisal. At Nightfall, Lakkhī Shāh Lubāṇā, helped by his son Nagāhīā and others, placed the headless trunk in a cart and carried it off to his home. Since open cremation would not have been possible, the Lubāṇā Sikh set fire to his house, burning with it the body of the martyred Gurū. The spot is now the site of Gurdwārā Rikābgañj.

        The severed head was lifted by Bhāī Jaitā who secretly carried it to Anandpur where Gurū Gobind Siṅgh performed the obsequies with dignity and reverence on 16 November 1675. Lakkhī Shāh and other Sikhs arrived from Delhi with the sacred remains. "Hail ! Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Dharam dī Chādar (i.e. the protector of dharma), "proclaimed the saṅgat, as the full sequence of the events in Delhi unfolded itself.

         Gurū Gobind Siṅgh has left a written testimony of the martyrdom of his father in his Bachitra Nāṭak.

        He protected their tilak and janeu;

        In this age of darkness, he performed a grand deed;

        He made the supreme sacrifice for the sake of faith.

        He gave his head, but uttered not a groan.

        This martyrdom he endured to uphold righteousness

        He gave his head, but displayed not his charism...


        Gurū Tegh Bahādur's martyrdom was a superb act of self-giving. Implicit in it were his boundless sympathy for the oppressed and his concern to secure the people the freedom of belief. The protection of tilak and janeu of the Hindus meant the protection of the right of everyone to practise his religion unhindered. It involved the larger issues of human rights and freedom of conscience.

        Gurū Tegh Bahādur's protest was against the State's interference with the individual's duty towards his faith. It meant declaring that the State had no authority over the individual's conscience and that any attempt to create a unitary, monolithic society must be resisted. It was a reiteration of the Sikh belief in a liberal and ethical order and of the Sikh principles of tolerance and acceptance of diversity of belief and practice.

        Gurdwārās and places sacred to Gurū Tegh Bahādur are scattered over the whole of north India from Punjab to Assam. At Amritsar there are the house (Gurū ke Mahal) in which he was born and Thaṛā Sāhib opposite the Golden Temple marking the site where he stopped for a few hours at the time of his visit to the holy city after being refused entry into the temple by the priests. At Kartārpur there stands the house where he was married. At Bakālā there are two shrines : one known as Bhorā Sāhib (with his meditation cell inside) and the Mañjī Sāhib where the articles of spiritual regalia were kept for his investiture as successor to Gurū Har Krishan. At Anandpur are preserved his residence (Gurū ke Mahal) and Sīs Gañj, the spot where his severed head was cremated. There are numerous shrines associated with the Gurū's long travels outside the Punjab : the Gurū's shrine at Mathurā ; Gurdwārā Māī Thān at Āgrā Gurdwārā Pakkī Saṅgat at Allāhābād; a Gurdwārā at Banāras; Takht Harimandar ( birthplace of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh) and Gurū kā Bāgh at Paṭnā Saṅgat Ṭolā Gurdwārā at Ḍhākā and Damdamā Sāhib at Dhūbṛī (Assam). In Delhi there are two shrines associated with his martyrdom : one in Chāndnī Chowk (Sis Gañj), where he was beheaded and the other known as Rikābgañj, where his headless body was cremated. The Mālvā region of the Punjab is dotted all over with shrines in his memory.

        Gurū Tegh Bahādur's bāṇī is small in bulk-59 śabdas and 57 ślokas in all. The śabdas are distributed in 15 rāgas or musical measures. The ślokas or couplets form the concluding portion of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Totally, these śabdas and ślokas essentialize the same spiritual experience and insights as does the bāṇī of the preceding Gurūs. The central theme is the affirmation of Reality, the ultimate ground of all that exists. The main quest is for muktī or release. Long devotion is set forth as the truest virtue ---the fundamental disposition for one seeking liberation. By immersing oneself in nām, i.e. by constant remembrance of the Divine Name, one attains mokṣā or muktī. This is freedom from selfbondage, from the circuit of birth and death. It is this stage of spiritual perfection which is the end of all religious striving. Life in the world is conditioned. Temporality is an essential trait of human existence. One can go beyond this contingent state, can transcend saṅsārā--- the sphere of temporality, the finite world of becoming-- by concentrating on God's Name. Gurū Tegh Bahādur bears witness in his bāṇī to these truths revealed by Gurū Nānak and preached by his successors. Yet his expression has its individual qualities. The most striking one is the unity of mood, the singleness of motif which pervades his compositions. They have the same tone of voice and, despite variation of prosodic measures, they have the same harmony and the same rhythm of thought. Gurū Tegh Bahādur's entire bāṇī is one sustained meditation on the human state. In image after image, it illustrates its imperfections and limitations. Stanza after stanza summons man to discerning reality from illusion, to overcoming his disabilities and realizing his higher potential. This poetry is not didactic or moralistic, nor of effervescent temper. It is born of the very experience of Reality, of spiritual discipline of the highest order, of philosophic wisdom and enlightenment. The language, unlike the rest of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, which is generally in Punjabi, is Braj-unembellished, easy and smooth. The diction has classical restraint and economy. In austere decor, but in sharp thrusts, Gurū Tegh Bahādur's bāṇī brings home to man truths he must acknowledge unless he has completely lost his spiritual sensitivity. Nowhere does Gurū Tegh Bahādur applaud the hermitic state. Nor does he belittle human life. On the contrary he calls it a priceless gift. It confers on man the chance to discover his real essence and achieve union with the Creator. In spite of its emphasis on the short-livedness of life, Gurū Tegh Bahādur's bāṇī is not pessimistic or gloomy. It is not a lamentation, but a call to man to transcend his given state and attain to higher levels of consciousness and insight.


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  12. Macauliffe, M.A., The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
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A. C. Banerjee