The Bubble of Durga Worship : Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Since time immemorial, India had been the home of idolatry. Countlessgods and goddesses had been set up as objects of worship. Their numberwas as large as that of their votaries. The faith and thoughts of mostpeople were confined to these inferior deities and did not go beyondthem to the Lord of them all. Believers in gods and goddesses ascribedall their ills and woes to the wrath of their deities, and the only remedywhich they could think of to ameliorate their hapless condition was toappease their gods by offering worship and suitable offerings. In thisway their belief in gods, pre-destination,and fatality, had destroyed theirself-confidence. They had, therefore, been easily enslaved by those whobelieved in the might of their own arms. Could there be a sorry spectaclein history than that of countless worshippers of Somnath crying andbewailing before their idols, while the soldiers of Mahamud, far lessin number, were not only ruthlessly murdering the people, plunderingtheir homes, outraging their wives and daughters, and enslaving theirwomen and childern, but were also desecrating and breaking the veryidols at whose feet they sought help and protection ? They had forgottenthe simple yet enternal truth that God helps those who help themselves.

Guru Nanak had taught the futility and senselessness of prayingand paying homage to the servants when the Master Himself was everaccessible. The later Gurus had done all they could to drive home thesame lesson. But the public mind is essentially conservative in suchmatters and hugs the very chains that bind it. It was not easy to weanthe people from their ages long superstitions. This belief was still strongin the time of Guru Gobind Singh.- The Sikhs had shaken it off, buttheir Hindu neighbours were still sunk in the mire. After the Guru hadembodied himself in the Word and ceased to be visible in the humanform, the Sikhs caught again the contagion of polytheism and idolatryfrom which the Gurus had rescued them. The result has been that, witha view to justifying their own degradation in religious belief, and inorder to please their numerous and powerful neighbours, later Sikhshave ascribed similar beliefs and practices to the Gurus. They havedone so even at the risk of grave inconsistency and self-contradictionWhile in one place they represent the Gurus as inveterate and irreconcilable opponents of any belief in god and goddesses, in another theyrepresent them as paying homage to the same deities.

Nearly all the Gurus have had their names associated with oneor other pratice or belief disowned and denounced by them; but GuruGobind Singh has suffered the most from such short-sighted misrepresentation. Among other things, he is represented as a great devotee andadorer of goddess Durga. He is said to have performed a horn or havan,or made burnt offerings to her, in order to please her and make herappear to him in person.

However, although all these writers agree that the havan wascompleted towards the end of March 1699, yet they differ widely asregards all essential particulars about the ceremony, e.g., the date ofits beginning, duration, site, object, result, etc.The duration of the havan,according to some, was ten months; according to others it was elevenmonths; still other aver that it went on for three years; and some maintainthat it lasted four years. As regards its site, some say that it was performedon the top of the Naina Devi hill; while others maintain that it was startedat the foot of the hill, but after two years, its site was shifted to the topof the hill.

As regards the Guru’s object in undertaking all the expense,botheration, and ordeal involved in the havan, there is no unanimityor near unanimity among the writers. Some say that the Muslims usedto waylay and rob the Sikhs. Therefore, the Guru decided to instil thewarriors’ or martial spirit in his followers, so that they should be ableto fight the aggressors in self-defence. To achieve that object, he decidedto win the blessings of goddess Durga by performing a havan. Otherssay that some Brahmins represented to the Guru that the prowess andvalour exhibited by Bhim Sain and other heroes of the Mahabharta,were due to their having obtained the blessings of Durga Bhawani. TheGuru is said to have readily believed all this, and to have decided ‘tosecure for himself the aid of the goddess 1 by performing the requisitehavan, so that he might be successful in founding a nation of Saintsoldiers, and in winning battles with their help. Another set of writers,like Giani Gian Singh and Macauliffe, say that the Guru did not believethe Brahmins’ assertion about the goddess and the heroes of theMahabharta; he refused to believe that any god or goddess could bestow1. S.M. Latif, op. hit, p. 261.

any such gifts. But, as the Brahmins had been able to win over someSikhs to their view, the Guru decided to expose the hollowness of theirbelief, and, thereby, to inculcate a spirit of self-reliance in the peoplein general, and in his Sikhs in particular. Still others say that theBrahmins declared that the goddess could not be made manifest in theKalyuga. In order to show that they were wrong, and in order todemonstrate his own powers, the Guru ordered that a havan be performedwith all the requisite formalities.

Again, some writers do not give the names of the Pandits whoactually performed the havan. Those who give such names are far fromunanimous. Some who give such names maintain that Pandit Keshoof Benaras was their leader. Others say nothing about that. There isalso a complete lack of unanimity about the mantras which were readduring the performance of the havan.

It is said that rupees two lakhs and a half had to be spent on thehavan material, while an equal sum had to be paid to the Pandits astheir fee. The feeding expenses of the Pandits and their assistants aresaid to have aggregated to a like amount. The Guru, it is said, wasrequired to undergo several severe austerities during the performanceof the havan. Consequently, it is said, he became extremely weak andlean.

Now, what, according to these writers, was the result of all thisexpense, ordeal, and expenditure of time ? Some say that all was ahuge waste and utter failure; for the goddess did not appear. Otherssay that she did appear, but they differ widely as regards her form orappearance. Some say that she had eight arms and held a differentweapon in each of her eight hands. She, they say, was dazzlingly brightlike the mid-day sun. Others are altogether silent about her form orappearance. They say that she shone like the sun.

How did the Guru behave on seeing the goddess ? There are

widely different statements about that, too. Some say that he was sodazzled and overcome that he shut his eyes and stood pale and motionlessout of benumbing fear. Others declare that, while all the priests faintedat the sight of the goddess, the Guru stood unaffected and undaunted;nay, he was delighted to behold her.

The various writers also differ as regards the offering which wasdemanded by and given to the goddess on her appearance. Some saythat she asked for none, and the Guru did not offer any. Some say thatshe demanded the head of his eldest son; but the Guru begged andimplored her to spare his son, and in instead, to accept another person’shead. She is said to have acceptdd the head of Bhai Sangtia Singh aswell as some he-buffaloes. Some say that she demanded blood, andthe Guru gave her a few drops by making an incision on his littlefinger. Still others say that others say that Bhai Sangtia Singh’s handswere cut off and offered to her 1 . Yet others aver that when the Gururefused her demand for his eldest son’s head, she was displeased andgrew angry. She cursed him in consequence.

Again, the writers differ widely as regards the gift which thegoddess gave to the Guru on becoming manifest. Some say that it wasa table-knife, some maintain that it was a short dagger, and othersdeclare that it was a sword. Some say that before disappearing, shehad placed a khanda (two-edged sword) in the firepit, and it was takenout when the fire had cooled. Others say that she disappeared aftergranting him blessing and a boon, and giving him a sword at his specialrequest.

As said already, a set of writers declare that the Guru undertookto perform a havan in order to expose the hollowness of the claimsmade by the Brahmins regarding the goddess, and to wean away hisfollowers from believing in, and paying homage to, gods and goddesses.

They say that when, even after every detail of the caremony had beer,completely performed in accordance with the wishes of the Pandits,the goddess still delayed her appearance and the Brahmins could notcarry on the imposture and longer, they told the Guru that a holyperson’s head must be offered to the goddess before she could be madeto show herself. They had one of the Guru’s sons in view. They feltsure that the Guru would not agree to sacrifce his son, and they would,then, haven excuse for the non-appearance of goddess.

The Guru, however, turned the tables on the Brahmins by saying,’Who can be holier than the presiding Pandit here ? Let us sacrificehim so that I may get invincible powers using which I may liberatemy country and crown my people.’ Saying this, he is said to haveplaced his hand on the hilt of his sword. Pandit Kesho is representedto have been drenched with perspiration at the thought of his impendingfate. He begged permission to answer the call of nature. He went andnever returned. The other Brahmins followed suit, one by one.

When all had gone, the Guru is said to have ordered that the restof the horn material be thrown into the horn pit, all at once. A greatflame shot towards the sky, and was seen by the people far and near.

1 . In this connection it should be remembered that, according to the Guru’s statementgiven in the Bachittar Natak, Bhai Sangtia Singh had been killed in the battle ofBhangani about ten years before, i.e. in April 1689. How could his head or handsbe offered to the goddess in March 1699 ?

They thought that in that flash the goddess had appeared. The Gurubrandished his naked sword aloft and cried aloud, ‘O ye misguidedpeople, the true goddess is this. This can work miracles. This will endyour miseries. This will give you power and liberty in your land andpeace in your homes. Come, therefore, and be its devotees.’

After this ceremony the Guru is said by the first set of thesewriters to have founded the Khalsa in obedience to, and in accordancewith, the orders received from the goddess. In one place it is written,’The Guru venerated Durga Bhavani, the goddess of courage, by whomhe was directed to unloose his hair and draw his sword. The Guru, inconsequence, vowed he would preserve his hair, as consecratred to thatdivinity, and directed his followers to do the same. 1 The writer mentionsand then forgets that the Guru had let his hair grow before the goddess’directed him to unloose’ it. What was the meaning of his vow topreserve what he had already preserved for the past thirty and oddyears of his life, and what had been held sacred by all his predecessors?