The Guru did not want war, It was peace that he needed most for thespread of his mission. But that very mission rankled in the Godlessand uncharitable hearts of his neighbours. War was forced on him ata time when his need for the peaceful organization of his newbornKhalsa, universal Brotherhood of Saint-soldiers, was the keenest. Although war suited neither his programme nor his convenience, yet itwas not for him to shun it at all costs. He would not budge an inchfrom the position which he had taken up. He could not let evil havea further sway till his neighbours were advanced enough to appreciatethe justness of his damands on their social and religious conscience. Itwas not mere patriotism that guided his actions. It was rather a deepand selfless love for his fallen and trodden countrymen, and for hismisled fellow-creatures that urged him on. God and humanity pointedout to him the same uneven and risky path of uncompromising warwith evil. He knew what odds he had to face. But what of that ? Hehad to do his God-ordained part. All that lay with him was to do sowith a becoming grace, ungrudging heart, unwavering courage, andsteady resolve. He could not pause to calculate the probable of possibleconsequences of his action. He was God’s soldier on earth or, as hehimself says, ‘a servant of the Eternal Lord, come to witness the dramaof this world’. Such niggardliness would not suit him, he knew thatTruth could not be crushed for long. Trusting in the ultimate triumphof Truth over falsehood and of good over evil, Guru Gobind Singhdecided to sacrifice his all in the service of the sacred cause entrustedto him by the Master.
As we have seen already, the Guru always kept ready for war;for he knew that his enemies were ever on the look-out for an opportunityto surprise him. He knew that what to him were inhuman, irreligious,and unbearable evils in Hinduism of the time, were to his Hinducontemporaries most sacred and essential part of their ancient religion.
He also knew that the high-caste people round about him, especiallythe Hill-Chiefs, were all’ fretting at the liberating, equalizing, andanti-untouchability movement which he had so vigorously set on foot.
Their ‘religion was in danger’ This danger, they thought, was worseand more subtle than that of forcible conversion to Islam. They couldnot let the apostle of such revolutionary ideals remain in peace forlong.
As usual, peace was broken by the Hill-Chiefs. Open hostilitiesbegan in Samvat 1757 (1700 A.D) and, with but slight pauses, continuedto the end of the Guru’s earthly life. The Hill-Chiefs, and later, theinperial armies , made repeated attacks on Anandpur, got repulsed andcame back in larger numbers. Only a brief account of what the Guruand his Sikhs did, bore, resisted, and suffered, will be given in thenarrative that follows.
One day, as the Guru was out on a hunting excursion with onlya small detachment by his side, he was suddenly attacked by twoHill-Chiefs. They had been lying in ambush for him. They had countedon an easy victory on this occasion. How long, thought they, could ahandful of low-caste, untrained people stand against their large andwell-equipped army of Kashatriya soldiers ? They felt certain.that theywould either kill or capture the Guru. But they had miscalculated. TheSikhs had something which was totally lacking in their opponents; afirm faith in the Omnipotent God whose soldiers they thought themselvesto be, and unshakable resolve to win or die but never to fly. At theirhead was one who was a host in himself.
Neither the suddenness of the attack, nor the over-whelmingnumber of the enemies, perturbed the Sikhs. Everyone of them foughtlike a contingent. The Guru’s gold-tipped arrows never missed theirmark and pierced through many a breast at a time. One of the chiefswas killed. The right arm of the other was chopped off. He fled forhis life. The ‘Kashatriya’ soldiers also stood to their heels, leaving the’low-caste rabble’ masters of the field. After the battle the Guru resumedhis usual course of peaceful life, not having occupied even an inch ofthe defeated enemy’s territory.
This signal defeat aroused the fears of the Hill-Chiefs. Theyassembled in one place to make plans for concerted action. Theirthoughts were turned all in one direction. They regarded the Guru, hisSikhs, and his teachings, as an ever-growing menace to their powerand religion. They had convinced themselves that until the Guru waseither expelled from their neighbourhood, or made to submit as ahumble subject, they could have neither peace nor security. His powerwas daily increasing. The audacity of his Sikhs was becoming unbearable. In a few years more he would grow too strong for them.
But what was to be done ‘? His soldiers were, no doubt, fewer innumber and far less trained and equipped than theirs, but still they hadvanquished their armies in all occasions It was clear to them that eventhe combined armies of over a score of the Hill-Chiefs could notwithstand the Guru. So they decided to call in the aid of the imperialarmy through the Governor of Sarhind.
Accordingly, a messenger was despatched to Sarhind with a petitionin which the Guru was represented as the common enemy of the Hindusand the Muhammadans, with ambitions to found a large kingdom forhimself,’ ‘He has vowed’, wrote they ,’to avenge the death of his father.
He wants, us to join him in his seditious projects. On our refusal toprove false to our most merciful and just Emperor, he has sworn eternalenmity with us and our people. He has founded a new sect which hecalls Khalsa or the pure, but which, in reality, is a polluted medley ofsundry low-castes in the world.To these low-born people he holds outhopes of power and sway in this world and of salvation in the next.
Their heads are turned. They allow us no rest. We, Your Majesty’s mosthumble slaves, have tried our combined strength against them, but havenot been very successful. We are in a sore plight. To whom should weturn for help but to our benign Emperor ? Kindly recommend our caseto him and persuade him to send a large army. We shall pay all itsexpenses.’
The degradation and lack of vision exhibited in this petition bythe Hill-Chiefs need not be dwelt upon here. The reader knows whatjustice and mercy the non-Muhammadan subjects received from therulers. He has also seen that the Guru had enmity not with Hindus orMuhammadans as such, but with such of them as tyrannized over theweak and the poor.
The Governor of Sarhind lost no time in getting the Emperor’ssanction. An army of ten thousand was despatched under Din Beg andPainda Khan. The Hill-Chiefs joined them with their own armies whichnumbered above twenty thousand. The Guru had only seven thousandmen; but they were men of an altogether different type.
As the combined armies approached Anandpur, the Guru offeredprayers to the Lord of the Hosts and led his men to meet the advancingfoe. A bloody battle began. Prince Ajit Singh fought with wonderfulskill and courage. The Guru discharged his arrows with fatal effect.
The Sikhs fell on their foes like tigers on a herd of cattle. The invaderswere falling fast before the onslaught of the Sikhs. Painda Khan advancedand challenged the Guru to a single combat which should decide theissue of the day’s action. He asked the Guru to strike the first blow,but the Guru declined to be the aggressor even in such an encounter.
Painda Khan shot two arrows in succession, but failed to hit or hurtthe Guru. He was about to retreat when the Guru challenged him tostop. The whole of his body except the ears’was covered with steel.
The Guru shot his gold-tipped arrow through Painda Khan’s ear andbrought him dead to the ground.
This encouraged the Sikhs still more. Soon the Hill-Chiefs fledfrom the field. Din Beg got several wounds. Finding himself desertedby the people to whose help he had come, he, too, beat a retreat andwas pursued by the Sikhs as far as Ropar.
The Guru continued to increase his army and to collect weaponsand ammunition. He kept himself in readiness for war; for he knewthat the Hill-Chiefs would allow him no respite. The Rajas gatheredagain in a place to devise plans for the annihilation of the Guru andhis Sikhs. Another representation to the Emperor was considered unavailing. At last they decided to attack the Guru with their combinedforces, and to invite to their assistance the Ranghars and Gujjars, whowere their subjects and has long-standing enmity with the Guru.
In Maghar, 1757 Bk/ November 1700, a letter was sent to theGuru, giving him the option to either pay rent for the land he occupiedor vacate it. If he agreed to do neither, he should get ready for war.
The Guru replied that the land had been bought by his father and sono rent was due. If they wanted real peace, the best thing for them todo was to embrace Sikhism and acquire a leading position among theKhalsa and the fight for the country’s liberation. They could then rulein peace, security, and independence. But if the Rajas were bent uponwar, well, he was ready to give them a taste of his steel once more.
On hearing the news of the Guru’s victories and of the approachingwar.Sikhs from Majha and Malwa flocked to Anandpur with arms andhorses. Both sides were reinforced by a very large number of Rangharsand Gujjars.
As the invaders approached the city, Prince Ajit Singh with fourthousand Sikh fell on the Gujjars and Ranghars, who were advancingin great force. Their ranks were soon broken. They could stand theirground no longer and had to fly for their lives. The Majha Sikhs, underDaya Singh, Alim Singh, and Udhe Singh, directed their attacks againstthe hill armies. Such was the dash and vigour displayed by them thatthe hill armies, though far superior in number and equipment, werereduced to a sore plight and, towards the close of the day, were forcedto retreat. Thus in the first day’s engagement the Guru had the upperhand. The next day’s fighting yielded the same result.
The Hill-Chiefs were now convinced that they could not defeatthe Khalsa in the field; so they decided upon a blockade. For over twomonths they invested the city, but with no great success. At last, anintoxicated elephant, with his body covered with steel and with a spearprojecting from his forehead was directed against the gate of the fort.
He was followed by the Hill-Chiefs and their armies, all confident thatbefore night-fall they would occupy the Guru’s fort.
The elephant was severely wounded by Bachitter Siligh; in spiteof the steel armour. The furious animal turned round, and ran about,killing, wounding, and treading under foot the soldiers who hadrelied on him. They were thus hoisted With their own petard.
The Sikhs then fell on the hill armies. Severe and prolongedwas the fight. Several noted Chiefs lay dead on the field. But atlast, finding themselves greatly out-numbered, the Sikhs thought itbest to retire to the fort. At night, the Hill-Chiefs again held a councilof war. Severe and prolonged fighting had tired them and shatteredall their hopes of victory. Their army was diminishing rapidly. Whatshould they do to escape the chagrin of another defeat? One of themsaid,’We are, after all, fighting not solely for our own sake. TheEmperor is to gain as much as, if not more than we, from our victory,why not call in the imperial army, invest Anandpur, and compel theGuru to surrender or die of starvation?’ Another urged them to giveup fighting against the Guru and sue for peace. But such a step wasconsidered too derogatory.
Ultimately, it was decided to employ a little craft. A letter tothe following purport was written.’O defender of the weak, trueKashatriya, we have sinned greatly in having picked a quarrel withyou. We are now convinced that you are unconquerable. But wehave not the courage to admit open defeat once more. So, in thename of the sacred cow, the ancient dharma, and the true Kashtriyaspirit, we beseech you to save us from the shame and humiliationinvolved in retreat. Quit Anandpur for a day; we shall then go homewith apparent satisfaction that we have effected what we intended.
We swear by the cow that we shall not harm you. If you thus saveour honour this time, we shall be your slaves for ever’.
This letter was placed near the gate of the Guru’s fort on a spotplastered with cowdung. On the paper was placed an image of the cow.
In the morning, some Sikhs noticed the letter and took it to the Guru.
He said that no reliance could be placed on the hillmen’s words. But,as some were not convinced and were anxious to end the fighting, theGuru agreed to comply with their wishes, and thereby expose thehypocrisy of the Hill-Chiefs.
Leaving a body of brave soldiers to defend the fort, and taking asmall band of selected warriors with him, the Guru went to a placecalled Nirmoh, about two miles from Anandpur, and stationed himselfon an eminence. The Hill-Chiefs threw all their vows to the winds andfell upon him. But the Sikhs resisted the attack with such dash andvigour that the Rajas had to retreat again ignominiously.
Then they hired a Muslim gunman who, for a large sum of
money, undertook to kill the Guru with his heavy gun. He loadedhis gun and fired. The Sikh who was waving a fan over the Guruwas killed. The Guru took his bow and arrow and, before the gunmancould reload, pierced him through the heart. The gunman’s brotherthen came forward and began loading the gun. Another arrow fromthe Guru laid him dead by the side of his dead brother.
The Hill-Chiefs had broken their vows and had had another repulsein the fight. They had no alternative but to return to their homes withhearts full of shame and sorrow. 1
But they could have no rest until the Guru was defeated. Theynow applied again to the Governor of Sarhind for assistance againstthe Guru. The Governor had also received orders from the Emperor toproceed against the Guru in conjunction with the Hill-Chiefs. Consequently, in Assu 1758 (September-October 1701), he mobilized histroops and marched on Anandpur. The Hill-Chiefs were now tooimpatient to wait for him. They attacked the Guru, who had stationedhis troops on an eminence a few miles from the city. On the arrival ofthe imperial army, the Guru found himself almost surrounded by theenemies. His Sikhs, however, fought with their usual dash and vigour.
1. It was a usual practice with the hillmen that when they found that fighting inthe open field was not yielding the desired result, or when they found that theywere suffering too great losses, they tried to play this sort of trick on the opposingforces. An example of such a treacherous trick being employed by them against theSikhs is given by Hutchinson and Vogel in their History of the Panjab States. It isas follows :-
“In 1839 Kulu was invaded by the Sikhs under General Ventura. The Rajasubmitted…. and was made a prisoner…. The people of Kulu determined on attemptinga rescue, and force was soon got together which ambushed the Sikhs and releasedthe Raja. Escape being impossible, the Sikhs were in great straits, and the hillmenresorted to treachery to effect a surrender. Four or five low-caste men, dressed asBrahmins, were sent into the Siksh camp, who, with their hands on a cow’s tail,gave assurances of safety. Such a promise was not regarded as blinding, and, ontheir surrender, the Sikhs were massacred to a man.” (Vol.1, pp. 85-86).
Wazir Khan, the Governor of Sarhind, was dumb with amazement atthe heroic resistance offered by the Sikhs to the far more numerousand better-equipped allied army. His enthusiasm was damped. His armywas rapidly falling. He lost all hopes of victory. The Raja of Basolioffered to take the Guru to his own (raja’s) capital, if Wazir Khanundertook not to attack him from behind. This was agreed to as aconvenient manner of escape from the embarrassing position.
On receipt of invitation from the Raja of Basoli, the Guru orderedhis troops to march towards Basoli. He placed himself with the pickof the army at the rear of the column. As the Guru had expected, theallied armies were soon on him. But they could not do much harm.
The Khalsa army was successful in crossing the Sutlej with theirbaggage. The Hill-Chiefs were overjoyed at having, as they thought,got rid of the Guru. They made suitable presents to Wazir Khan andwent rejoicing to their homes.
After a short stay at Basoli and then at Bhabaur, the Guru returnedto Anandpur. None offered any resistance to his return. Sikhs in largenumbers began pouring in from all sides. Raja Ajmer Chand and otherHill-Chiefs thought it expedient to be at peace with the Guru. So theysued for peace and forgiveness. The Guru, who desired nothingfbetterthan peace, and who was ever ready to forgive, accepted their prayers.
The Guru knew that the Hill-Chiefs were only biding their timeand that all their repentance was only skin deep. So he kept increasinghis army and equipment and strengthening his position.