The Great Resolve-II : Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Thus, if the tenth Guru, after anxious thought and close observation, decided upon the only effective course left to him, namely, active and armed resistance, it was not because he was, as Mahatma Gandhi was reported to have said, a ‘misguided patriot’, but because he was an inspired patriot and true lover of humanity. One cannot help wondering what epithet the Mahatma would have applied to Sri Ram Chandra, who, in order to rescue Sita, waged a terrible war on Ravan, or to Lord Krishna who took a bitter revenge on his maternal uncle, and urged the unwilling Arjun to slay his own kith and kin in the great battle of Mahabharta.
Nor can the profound and exclusive faith of the Mahatma in the Gita be reconciled with his fad of a doctrine that, whatever the conditions or circumstances at any time, armed resistance could or can be offered only by misguided people. He proclaimed his reverence for the Gita occassionally. On the November 4, 1932, he wrote as follows : “It (the Gita) is the one open book to every Hindu who will care to study it, and if all the other scriptures were reduced to ashes, the seven hundred verses of this imperishable booklet are quite enough to tell one what Hinduism is and how one can live up to it. And I claim to be a Sanatanist because for forty years I have been seeking literally to live up to the teachings of that book.”‘
Now, everbody knows that the Gita embodies the dialogue which took place between Arjun and Lord Krishna on the great field of battle.
It depicts the transformation and disillusionment of the former, who, on seeing the mighty hosts ‘longing for battle’ and ready to kill and get killed, suddenly developed a strong aversion to war and a leaning towards ahimsa. Stationed in his war-chariot, ‘in the midst, between the two armies’, the great archer deeply moved to pity, thus uttered in sadness :
‘Seeing these my kinsmen, O Krishna, arrayed eager to fight, my limbs fail and my mouth is parched, my body quivers and my hair stands on end, the 1. Vide, ‘The Harijan,’ Vol. I. No.3, dated 25th February, 1933.
Gandiva slips from my hand, and my skin burns all over; I am not able to stand, and my mind is whirling… Nor do I foresee any advantage from slaying my kinsmen in battle….
‘If the sons of Dhritarashtra, weapon-in-hand, should slay me, unresisting unarmed, in the battle, that would for me be the better’. (1: 28 to 31, and 46).
Lord Krishna then exhorted Arjun to shake off ‘the perilous, ignoble, and infamous dejection, this paltry faint-heartedness’, and urged him not to ‘yield to impotence’. (II. 2. 3)
Below are given a few of the exhortations bearing on our immediate subject :
‘Further looking to thine own duty, thou shouldst no ttremble; for there is nothing more welcome to a Kshattriya than righteous war. (II: 31) ‘But if thou wilt not carry on this righteous warfare, then, casting away thine own duty and thine honour, thou wilt incur sin. (II: 31)
‘Happy the Kshattriya, O Partha, who obtains such a fight, offered unsought as an open door to Heaven’. (II: 32)
‘Slain, thou wilt obtain heaven; victorious, thou wilt enjoy the earth; therefore stand up, O son of Kunti, resolute of fight’. (II: 37)
‘Taking as equal pleasure and plain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, gird thee for the battle; thus thou shalt not incur sin.’ (II: 38) ‘Surrendring all actions to Me, with thy thoughts resting on the supreme Self, from hope and egoism freed, and of mental fever cured, engage in battle.’ (HI: 30) ‘Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata, and there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth.’ ( IV: 7)
‘For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age.'(IV: 8) ‘Therefore stand up ! win for thyself renown.
Conquer thy foes, enjoy the spacious realm.
By Me they are already overcome,
Be thou the outward cause, left-handed one.'(XI: 33)
The effect of the discourse was that Arjun nerved up courage and said, ‘Destroyed is my delusion. I have gained knowledge through Thy grace, O Immutable One. I am firm, my doubts have fled away. I will do according to Thy word.’ (XVIII: 73)
The conditions prevailing in India at the time of Guru Gobind Singh were admittedly far more hideous and disheartening than those which existed at the time when the Immortal Gita was proclaimed from the great field of battle. If the ‘Blessed Lord’ could find in those earlier and less ugly times a necessity for his ‘divine birth and action,’ then surely the times which we are writing of here were far more suited to the fulfilment, of the hope and promise held out in the verses quoted above (IV: 7, 8). There was then an unmistakable ‘decay of righteousness and exaltation of unrighteousness’. The Master who came forth then ‘for the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness’ in the dark age, might, in the light of Gita, be considered the Lord Himself in human form.
This time, however, he had chosen not to act only as a charioteer and guide to a great archer, engaged in a civil war against his own kith and kin, but to play the role of a divine leader, able general, wonderful archer, and heroic warrior, in a fight for the liberation of a people from the tyranny of savage oppressors. How could a person declare that in offering armed resistance to the forces of evil arrayed against him, devastating the land and devouring the people, the tenth Master acted as a misguided patriot, and, at the same time, maintain that he had ever been ‘seeking literally to live up to the teachings of the Gita, and had been always a genuine devotee of Lord Krishna’? In fact, such profound faith in that ‘Blessed’ Lord’ and his divine utterances, as the Mahatma professed to cherish, fitted ill with his views about the Master, his mission, and his methods.
Moreover, the Guru’s was a far loftier cause. The liberation of a people being trodden and crushed under foot was his ideal. To rescue not one closely related lady, but to save the honour of crores of non-Muslim women of India form the ravages of brute tyrants was the Guru’s mission. He took up the sword not to take revenge for any personal wrongs or injury. He had willingly sacrificed his father in the cause of preserving righteousness, and was preparing to sacrifice his all for his lofty ideal. He did not advocate spilling of blood for obtaining heaven or a spacious realm. If he wanted to drive out the tyrants, it was out of his unbounded love for the down-trodden humanity and not for the sake of ‘enjoying the earth’. He was intent upon extracting the vipers’ fangs and breaking the ferocious tigers’ teeth.
On seeing the indiscriminate, slaughter of weak and unarmed people by Babar’s soldiers, Guru Nanak, who had no army at his back to oppose the cruel invaders, had poured out the agony of his bleeding heart in an invocation to the Creator of both the slayers and the slain.
In this he had said :
‘O Creator, Thou belongcst equally to all.
‘If a strong man were to attack and fight another who is his equal in force and might, there need no sorrow or anguish be;
‘But when a fierce tiger falls on and destroys a herd of cattle, then the master of the herd should show his manliness.’
The sight before Guru Gobind Singh’s eyes was as ghastly as that before Guru Nanak’s. The same emotions surged in his breast But he had the benefit of the work and achievements of his nine predecessors.
Though he did not have, yet he could get ready, an army, because a desire for liberation had been produced in the hearts of the sufferers, and because his grandfather Guru Hargobind had infused the martial spirit in the Sikhs and had led them to victory against the imperial armies. He saw that in the circumstances narrated by Guru Nanak — a tiger doing havoc among herd of cattle — , fear of God and love and compassion for His creatures urged a man of religion to rush to the rescue of the weak from the clutches of the strong. The act was as merciful and necessary as the amputation of a poisoned limb to save the whole body. The surgeon is not unkind or cruel when he uses his knife to shed the blood that is causing, harm. Will you condemn him as cruel and heartless who shoots a mad dog lest it should bite and harm others ? Verily, there are circumstances when to take life means of protect and preserve life; and when the sword acts the shield.’
Guru Gobind Singh had to choose between falling a victim to the ‘tiger’ quietly, watching him doing havoc among the helpless and innocent people, and raising his arm in self-defence and in the defence of his fellow-creatures. He chose to be the redeemer and martyr, rather than to be the silent sufferer or unmoved spectator. Was this misguided patriotism ?
No. He had felt the pulse, diagnosed the malady, and selected the only effective remedy. People sitting at such a long distance of time and spirit, as his present critics are, should be a bit more cautious in passing sentence on a person whom even his enemies at the time regarded to be endowed with special spiritual powers. History justified his choice. Politically he did in the North what Shivaji was doing in the South. The spell of the Mughal power was broken. The Muslims could then lay aside the arrogance which their rule had engendered in them, and the non-Muslims could shake off the slavish mentality which centuries of subjection had developed in them. They acquired confidence in themselves and in their capacity to oppose and defeat the dreaded Pathans and Mughals. The two communities could then all live side by side as neighbours and think of political unity.
Thus, though even at that tender age the Guru had, after a thorough analysis of the situation, decided upon armed resistance as the only effective means of achieving his ideals, yet he had mostly to create his soldiers. The martial spirit infused into the hearts of the Sikhs by his grandfather, Guru Hargobind, had, though the essentially pacific policy 1 . Even Mahatma Gandhi expressed himself in favour of killing mad dogs. Nay, he went further. In the ‘Young India’ of October 21, 1926, he wrote, ‘At times, we may be faced with the unavoidable duty of killing a man who is found in the act of killing people To believe that mere killing is ‘Hinsa’ is ignorance.
of the later Gurus, gone to slumber. The iron hand of Aurangzeb had smitten the general people with terror. If the Guru had, at the time, directly called upon them to take up arms and follow him into the fields of battle, they would have shuddered and kept quiet. So the Guru realized that he had to infuse a new life into the dead bones of the people, and to produce in them ‘a will to do and soul to dare’. Until the minds of the people were filled with a passionate longing to hardships and perils, and to return blow for blow in face-to-face encounters; until the mutually hostile groups into which the people had been split up were welded into one composite brotherhood, able and determined to face all foes and dangers together; until all this and much more was done, it was impossible to win freedom or achieve liberation. Until then, all efforts in that direction would be premature and foredoomed to failure. He himself was yet a child. He had yet to grow in body and mind in order to execute his plans with the thoroughness that was needed. He himself needed training and pratice. So he quietly set about preparing himself and his people for his great mission.