Bahadur Shah and The Guru— I : Guru Gobind Singh Ji

When Aurangzeb died in the Deccan in the last week of February,1707, his eldest son, Bahadur Shah was away in Afghanistan. His youngerbrother, Muhammad Azim, who was in the Deccan with his father, usurpedthe throne, took possession of the treasury, and assumed command of theImperial army. Bahadur Shah hastened to fight for his father’s throne. Hisopposing brother was better equipped. So he had to look out for assistancewherever he could expect to get it He had heard of the Guru’s victoriesagainst the Hill Chiefs and the imperial forces. It was true that the Guru’spower had been apparently broken and most of his soldiers dispersed, stillBahadur Shah knew that a word from the Guru could bring into the fieldof hundreds of soldiers who would never desert him or fly from the field.

There was nothing low or unusual in his asking for the Guru’s help. S.M.

Latif gets unnecessarily irritated over the assertion of the Sikh writersthat the Emperor sought and got the Guru’s assistance in his struggleagainst his brother. Any sensible man in the position of Bahadur Shahwould have looked for allies in all directions, and it was but natural forhim to invite the Master of the Khalsa to his aid.

It has been already stated that Bhai Nand Lai, a Secretary ofBahadur Shah, had, for a long time, taken shelter at the Guru’s daibar,and that, on his advice, the Prince had once sought and obtained the Guru’sblessings. When die war of succession began, Bahadur Shah sent Bahi NandLai to the Guru and requested him to help him in obtaining the throne. BhaiNand Lai met the Guru at Bhagaur in Rajputana, explained to him all that hadhappened, and conveyed to him Bahadur Shah’s request for help in the war ofsuccession. To the Guru there appeared to be nothing objectionable or againsthis ideals in helping a lawful claimant to the throne who was also a better manthan his usurping brother. It was as an ally, and not as an employee, that theGuru was to help the Emperor. So, he sent Bhai Dharm Singh along with aband of his chosen Saint warriors. He also sent through them an orderto the Khalsa to render all possible help to Bahadur Shah in the ensuingwar of succession. 1

On June 8, 1707 a battle was fought at Jajau, near Agra, in whichBahadur Shah was victorious. His brother, Azam, wa’s defeated andkilled, and he ascended the throne. He then despatched Bhai DharmSingh to inform the Guru of the victory and thank him on his behalffor his valuable help. He also expressed his strong desire to see theGuru, but pleaded that he himself was too busy to go to Guru, andhence, requested the latter to meet him at Agra.

The Guru accepted the Emperor’s invitation. He retraced his stepsto the north and met Bahadur Shah at Agra on Sawan 23, 1763 Bk/July 24, 1707. He was received with the honour due to an ally andholy man; for it should be remembered that the Guru had many admirersamong the Muslims, and that ‘Hind ka Pir’ was the title by which hewas known to the Muslim in general. Bahadur Shah gave the Guru arobe of honour and a jewelled scarf (dhukhdhukhi) worth 60 thousandrupees. That this was given to an ally and man of religion, and not toan employee or prospective employee, is shown by the fact that theGuru did not put it on there and then, as all honoured servants had todo, but had it carried to his camp by a Sikh. 2 Muslim writers, everanxious to detract from the Guru’s name and fame, take the ‘bestowal’

of this robe of honour as a mark of the Guru’s having entered theservice of the Emperor.

The Guru remained with the Emperor for a pretty long time,i.e.

from July to November, 1707. Bahadur Shah was of a milder dispositionand far more tolerant in religious matters than Aurangzeb. He greatlyenjoyed the Guru’s company and very often had religious discussionswith him. The Guru was hopeful that he might be able to usher in an1. The act shows the wonderful magnanimity of the Guru’s heart. Just think ofwhat he, his ancestors, and his Sikhs had suffered at the hands of the Mughals.

Jahangir had, out of religious bigotry, ordered the torture and execution of GuruArjan Dev, and had put Guru Har Gobind in prison in the fort of Gawalior. ShahJahan had four times sent the Imperial armies against Guru Har Gobind. Guru HariRai and Guru Hari Krishan had been molested under the orders of Aurangzeb. Thislast had also ordered the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur at Delhi. Guru GobindSingh’s four sons and his aged mother had also been taken away from him as aresult of Aurangzeb’s hostility. His Sikhs had fallen in thousands. His wife and themother of the Khalsa had been separated from him. He himself had been pursuedand hunted. Think of all his sufferings. Yet when a son of that Aurangzeb anddescendant of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, sought his help to enforce his right to thethrone, the Guru readily agreed to help him.

2. Cur Sobha, xvi.35; Bahadur-Shah-Nama, entry dated 4th Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 1 1 19A.H. (July 23, 1707); Guru Gobind Singh’s letter to the Sangat of Dhaul dated 1stKatik, 1764/ October 2, 1707.

era of peace and better understanding between the Muslims and thenon Muslims through persuasion and by using his influence with theEmperor. 1 He constantly impressed upon the Emperor’s mind the uttersenselessness of the bigotry, animosity, and narrow-mindedness, withwhich the two great sections of the people regarded each other. He- described to him the cruel and irreligious acts which this spirit hadurged the Muhammdan rulers to perpetrate. The chief sinner in thisrespect, as the reader knows, was Wazir Khan, Nawab of Sarhind. Hisdeeds had perturbed even the pious though hard-hearted Aurangzeb.

Bahadur Shah was greatly moved and he promised that, after he gotfirmly established on the throne, he would punish the murderer of theinnocent children. In the meantime, he offered the Guru a big Jagirand large estate 2 . The Guru, however, declined the offer. Its acceptancewould have meant an abandonment of his cherished ideal of bringingabout an era of liberty and equality, a spirit of all brotherliness in theland. Form a creator and liberator of a nation he would have beenreduced to the position of a mere chieftain. The establishment oftemporal power for himself had never been his ambition. It was to fightout tyranny from the land that he had taken up the sword. If he hadaccepted the Emperor offer, all his exertion in the past for the upliftof a vanquished race would have begun to savour of personal ambitionwhich his detractors have even now not hesitated to ascribe to him.

So, he contended himself with urging the Emperor to restrain hislieutenants and Qazis from irreligious persecution of Hindus and Sikhsand to punish the guilty ones.

Friendly discussions and negotiations were yet going on when, inNovember, 1707 Bahadur Shah had to march into Rajputana against theKachhvahas and, there from, to the Deccan to suppress the insurrectionof his brother Kam Bakhsh. He invited the Guru to accompany him,if he was so pleased. The Guru had never advocated bloodshed andwelfare for their own sake or in aggression. The accession of BahadurShah had, at least, suspended the unjust persecution against which theGuru had vowed to fight. It seemed possible now to accomplish bypersuasion and discussion what in the past had to be attempted withthe sword and the spear. So the Master promised to join him on themarch and soon did so. They travelled together through Rajputana.

1 . That the Guru was hopeful of ending the age-old differences with the Mughalsis borne out by his letter dated October 2, 1707, addressed to the Sangat of Dhaul.

In that letter he refers to ‘other things which were progressing satisfactorily’. Theseother things were surely his negotiations for peace and goodwill.

2. Daulat Rai’c Life of Guru Gobind Singh (Urdu); Twarikh Guru Khalsa, GianSingh.

Several Rajput Rajas came to pay homage to the Guru. Passing throughsuch cities as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Chittaur, Poona, etc. they reached in theneighbourhood of Nander on the margin of the Godavari, in the presentstate of Hyderabad.

The Emperor had his own motives in securing the Guru’s company.

In the first place he feared that, taking advantage of his absence fromthe capital, the Guru might gather his forces and start a war in orderto avenge his great wrongs. In the second place, he knew the Guru’sability as a General and leader. He had designs to use him in curbingthe Marathas. But when he requested the Guru to lead the. army ofattack, the latter refused point blank. 1 He had helped the Emperoragainst his usurping brother in the capacity of an ally. There was nothingwrong or unpatriotic in that act. But to help him in subjugating a raceof sturdy Hindu warriors would have been not only an act of treacheryagainst his people and country, but also an indefensible abnegation ofall his lofty ideals. So, he did what he could never have done if hehad been a servant of the Emperor. He refused to comply with hiswishes, separated from him, and settled at the place which he calledAbchalnagar variously stated by different writers. Some, like Bute Shahand Malcolm, say that he went to the Deccan because, after the terriblereverses and bereavements which had been his lot, the Guru felt dejectedand wanted a change. Others declare that he went thither as a servantof Bahadur Shah. Still others believe that the Guru felt that, thoughthe seed of opposition to tyranny had been well sown in the Punjab,yet the Mughal rule was so firmly established there that, for some timeto come, it would be difficult to gather afresh an army strong enoughto challenge and rout the imperial forces. To sit idle and do nothingtowards the furtherance of his ideals was distasteful to him. So hedecided to try what could be done in the southern parts of India towardsthe fulfilment of his mission. He felt that what he had accomplishedin the Punjab, eminently yet to a limited extent, could be achieved withgreater ease and to a greater extent in the south, because the peoplethere were more accumstomed to the use of arms, and the Mughal rulewas not so firmly established there. He had hopes of arousing in theRajputs and Maharattas the will to do and dare for the holy task ofliberating their country and uprooting the foreign tyrants rule. It is alsosaid that the successors of Shivaji had made requests to the Guru forhelp. 2 It was with some such purpose that the Guru went southwards.

The Rajputs welcomed him, listened to him, but felt themselves too1. Lala Daulat Rai’, Life of Guru Gobind Singh, (Urdu).

2. Tawarikh Guru Khaisa’

weak to actively join a movement which was akin to rebellion againstthe Lord of Delhi. The Guru went still further. All along, he went ondelivering his life-giving message to the people 1 . When Bahadur Shahsought to use him as his tool against the Marathas, he refused to obligehim and parted company. Still others, who implicity believe in theGuru’s spiritual powers, maintain that he went to the Deccan to delieverBanda from snares of occultism and austerities, and depute him to thePunjab as the general and temporal leader of the Khalsa. Still othersare of the view that the Guru’s object in accompanying the Emperorwas to bring to a satisfactory conclusion the negotiations begun at Agra,and that, when he found that there was no hope of success in them,he separated from him.

Leaving the ‘dejection theory’ and the ‘service theory’ for a laterconsideration, we may say that it seem most likely that the three lastmentioned motives exercised a combined effect in inducing the Guruto proceed to the Deccan. If the preaching of his message to the peoplehad been his only object, it could have been accomplished much betterby keeping away from the Emperor and his army. If it had been merelyto win over and convert Banda, he would have gone” straight to him.

If it had been merely to conclude the negotiations begun at Agra.somuch time and travelling were not necessary. The Guru stayed withthe Emperor at Agra from July to November, 1707. Surely, that timewould have been sufficient for that purpose, if the Emperor had beenreally serious and sincere. There were no complicated questions needinglong and detailed examination, study, and thrashing out. If some pointswere really yet undetermined when the Emperor had to proceed to theDeccan, surely they could not have baffled the two, if the Emperorhad meant real business. If he simply wanted to keep the matter hangingfire indefinitely, surely the Guru could have looked through his gamemuch earlier. Altogether, the Guru was with the Emperor for overthirteen months. Should we believe that Bahadur Shah was able todupe the Guru for so long with vague words and false hopes ? That1. Contemporary evidence exists to show that the Guru, while travelling withBahadur Shah, used to deliver to the people of the south his great message, andthereby arouse in them a sense of their duty towards their community and country.

The writer of Tarikh-i-Bahadur Shahi was at Delhi at the time of Aurangzeb’s death.

He writes, “At the time the army (of Bahadur Shah) was marching southwardstowards Burhanpur, Guru Gobind Singh one of the descendants of (Guru) Nanak,had come into these districts to travel, and accompanied the royal camp. He wasin the habit of constantly addressing assemblies of worldly persons, religious fanatics,and all sorts of people.” — Vide History of India by its Own Historians, Vol.7, page566.

would be an insult to the Guru’s keen intelligence. On the other hand,if he had to waste so much time in getting a ‘no’ from the Emperor,he would have reacted far differently after the final disillusionment andthe final breach. He would have himself come back to the Punjab andre-started his campaign against the tyrannical foreign rulers.

The dejection theory does not fit in with Guru’s behaviour in theface of his severest losses, trials, and sufferings. Indeed, his whole lifeis itself a strong, irrefutable contradiction of the assertions of theseprejudiced or misinformed critics. Did reverses and bereavements plungehim in gloom and dejection ? As a child of less than ten he pointedout to his father the way to martyrdom for the sake of the wretchedpeople. He lost his father and stood face to face with the formidableMughal Empire at its zenith. Did that break his tender yet might heart?

He saw his dearest Sikhs killed before his eyes. He sent his two eldestsons unto certain death at Chamkaur. He had, by then, to all intentsand purposes, lost the whole of his family-mother, sons, and wife. Didthat plunge him in sorrow or dejection ? If he had so deep an affectionfor them as could make him take their loss so much to heart, he couldsurely have saved them all, by a timely fight from Anandpur. ‘As forme.’ he had declared, ‘my body, my soul, my head, my wealth, yesmy all, is dedicated to their (his Sikh’s) service.’ When his wife askedhim where her four sons had gone, his reply was characteristic of hisattitude towards the attachments of the world. He was bold and cheerfulas ever. He had, said he, sacrificed her four sons for the sake of thesons sitting before them. ‘What then if thy four are gone? There yetlive, and shall ever live, millions of our dear brave sons’. Is there atrace of grief or down heartedness in all this ?

The whole tone and trend of his Zafarnama or Epistle of Victoryaddressed to Aurangzeb also show that the Guru was not, at all, plungedin despair. In fact, he distinctly threatend the Emperor in the words, ‘Whatthough my four sons have been killed; my young son, the Khalsaremains behind like a coiled snake. What bravery is it to quench a fewsparks of life ? Thou art merely exciting a raging fire the more.’ Whereverthe Guru went in his travels, he exerted himself in the propagation of hisideals and in brodcasting his message of liberation. Guru Nanak hadpreached the Sikh religion as far east as Assam and Bengal, as far westas Arabia and Turkey, and as far south as Ceylone ; Guru Hargobind hadmade a tour of northern India ; Guru Teg Bahadur had gone on a preachingtour to the east. A similar impulse urged Guru Gobind Sing to carry hismessage to the warlike Maharattas and Rajputs and other people of thesouth. In this undertaking there was nothing inconsistent with his doctrinesor irreconcilable with the avowed object of his life — the propagatien ofrighteousness and the restraining of people from senseless acts . Hewent about baptizing people and adding to the number of his Khalsa 2 . Nowhere did he act or behave in manner incompatible with his faith, teachings,or his own past. How then can it be maintained, as is done by Malcolm,that ‘most accounts agree that Guru Govind, after his flight, was, from asense of his misfortunes, and the loss of his children, bereft of his reason,and wandered about for a considerable time in the most deplorablecondition? It was during these ‘wandering’ that the whole of the Adi GuruGranth Sahib was dictated and other works were composed by the Guruat Damdama Sahib, which ‘became the Benares of the Sikhs, 3 that theEpistle of Victory was written for the benefit of Aurangzeb, that Anandpurwas reproduced in the Lakhi Jungle, at Damdama Sahib, and atAbchalnagar, that millions were baptized, that Banda was selected anddeputed to the Punjab, and that the glorious words of consolation andcourage were addressed by him to his wife regarding the death of hissons. All this could not be the doings of a man who, ‘bereft of hisreason,’ went wandering about ‘in the most deplorable condition.’ Itshould also be remembered that these ‘wanderings’ extended over onlytwo years and seven or eight months. This does not seem to be thesense of Malcolm’s considerable time.’

But the fact is that writers like Malcolm are troubled by thethought that, ‘after his flight from Chamkaur.’ the Guru ‘performed no1 . Bachittar Natak.

2. According to Trumpp, at Damdama alone the Guru gained 1,20,000 disciples,(xcii)

3. All are agreed that the Guru’s life at Damdama Sahib was full of activity andachievement. Reproduced below are excerpts from books of three writers to showwhat he achieved there :

(a) ‘He settled in a village of Malwa and remained peaceful, only bent on makingdisciples in which he is said to have been very successful. He built there a largeresidence for himself, and called it Damdama. This place became the Benares ofSikhs’. (Trumpp, xcii)

(b) ‘The Guru went to Malwa and lived there in peace fore some time, occupyinghimself in making proselytes to his religion, not a difficult task, considering thatthe people about that part of the country were in a state of lamentable ignorance.

He built here a spacious house for his residence, which he called the Damdama.’

(Latif, page 266)

[So, even this bigoted writer admits that the Guru achieved remarkable successin spreading his Faith while at Damdama. His remark about the ignorance of thepeople is simply and indication of the brain fever which came on him when he wasconfronted with Guru’s splendour and success.]

(c) ‘Secure in his new retreat (at Damdama) [Guru] Govind (Singh) re-establishedhis court, and surrounded himself with all the pomp and circumstance of royalty,Damdama became the centre of Sikhism, ‘and a place of resort for learned men fromall parts of the country. Numberless new recruits joined the ranks of the Khalsaand the position of (Guru) Govind Singh became stronger than everbefore.

action worthy of record.’ As they are unable to believe that a man ofhis ‘enthusiastic ardour of mind, active habits, and valour,’ could haveremained ‘inactive’ or could have sunk into a servant of the Emperor.’

So they have concluded that ‘mental distraction, in consequence ofdeep distress and disappointment,’ was the cause of ‘the inactivity ofGuru Govind’s declining years. In this connetion it has to be noticedthat these writers have failed to grasp the sublimity of the Guru’sideal.They describe him as fired with an ‘insatiable thirst of revenge,which he had cherished through life, agains tthe murderers of his father.’

But it was not to take revenge or wreak vengeance that the Guru hadtaken up the sword. If revenge had been the master passion of his life,he would have treated his enemies and their women and children inthe same way as Mir Mannu and Furrukh Siyar treated the Sikhs lateron, or as the Pakistanis treated them in 1947 A.D. Ail his wars hadbeen forced on him. He had never sought them. So, if he had nooccasion to engage in battle in the last years of his life, and, consequendy,devoted himself to peaceful organization, how can that be taken toprove that the Guru was either ‘inactive or bereft of his reason ?’ Bythe way, Malcolm forgets that the battle of Muktsar, which is certainlyworthy of record, took place after the Guru’s flight from Chamkaur.’

If the imperial armies had again fallen upon him, he would surely havedefended himself with his wonted valour and ability. As he was notattacked, and as he would not fight but in self-defence, the Guru hadno occasion to engage in military action during the last few years ofhis earthly life; but, otherwise, he was the same as ever.

Apart from the Guru’s own words, teaching, activities and behaviour, there is grudging, and, on that account, all the more valuable,testimony of writers like S.M. Latif to the effect that the Guru ‘Confronted his adversity with firmness,’ and that his perservering endurancein the midst of calamities and disasters was equal to his bravery andvalour in the field.’ Could such a person be plunged in sorrow ordespair or sit inactive because of his adversity?