It is now time to consider the extent to which the Master succeeded in bringing about, in his country, a change for the better. In the first two chapters an attempt has been made to describe the condition of the country at the time when, at the tender age of nine he had to take upon himself the duty of leading the Sikh nation. Centuries of oppression had so degraded and demoralized the Hindus, and made them so different from their glorious ancestors, that they had come to consider the Lord of Delhi to be as a great as God himself. ‘There could be as little thought of opposing the decrees of the former as those of the latter.
Having bid good bye to the glories of their ancient religion, the Hindus had become divided among themselves on grounds of superstitious fromalities and artificial limitations. The caste system had lost all its original elasticity and usefulness, and had come to be one of the most inhuman of human institutions. The ruling classes, on the other hand, were brutally arrogant and were ferociously tearing and devouring the poor lambs whose guardians they had consumed themselves. They had come to believe themselves to be as powerful and defiance proof as their God. Religion was leading them to unspeakable tyrannies and inhuman atrocities. It appeared that this state of affairs was past all remedy. The darkness of despair was deepest in the Punjab.
What He Left
But in the Punjab itself rose a hero who broke the spell of the Mughal Empire. He inspired in the people a faith in themselves and showed them that the Mughal armies were not invintole. He broke the chains that bound them in matters of social and religious rituals, and taught them how the political bondage was to be ended. He took the dregs of society and made Rajas and Nawabs quail before them. He aroused in the people sentiments of nationality and patriotism, and taught them how to make sacrifices for the nation’s cause, how to put in concerted efforts for the common good. He perfected the organization, started by Guru Nanak, in which each was to be for all and all were to be for each. He created a new type of soldiers, Saint-Soldiers, who would care not for life and its attractions when called upon to face a national emergency and to save the nation’s honour ; who would die fighting a tyrant or their country’s foe rather than being indifferent spectators of his highhandedness and aggressive excesses; whose motto would be to ‘trust in God and do the right; to strike fear in none and to be afraid of none.’ In the words of an English writer, ‘He engrafted the courage of a soldier upon the enthusiasm of the devotee.’ The spirit of devotion was not pushed to the wall in the height of passion for war. The Saint-soldiers maintained, on the field of battle, the same communion with the Lord of the Hosts as they did in the temple, behind the counter, or at the plough. Above all, a spirit was infused in them which would never let them bow before even the most inhuman and persistent oppression and true the most devilish persecution. ‘Let go my head, but live for my faith and discipleship’ was the motto that he succeeded in engraving indelibly on the hearts of his Khalsa. It was this spirit which enabled them to survive the campaigns of extermination started against them by Furukhsiyar and Mir Manu. It was this spirit, again, which, in our own times, urged the Khalsa on and on, erect and undaunted, under the most brutal and indiscriminate lathi charges, and in the face of terrible showers of grape-shot. Their deeds at places like Guru ha Bagh, Jaito, Nankana Sahib, on one side, and Saragarhi, Ypres, Gallipoli, on the other, will stand as lasting monuments in commemoration of the marvellous change that the Guru had brought about in his followers.
Above is given a view of the Master’s achievements as they
appear to an admiring follower of his ; below are given the opinions of noted writers, Hindus, Muslims, and Englishmen, some of whom are in no way very great admires of the Guru.
The tributes that his hostile or skeptical critics pay him are evidently all the more valuable because they amply confirm the views of his admirers.
Sir John Malcolm
‘In the character of this reformer of the Sikhs, it is impossible not to recognize many of those features which have distinguished the most celebrated founders of political communities. The object he attempted was great and laudable. It was the emancipation of his tribe from oppression ; and the means which he adopted were such as a comprehensive mind could alone have suggested. The Muhammdan conquerors of India, as they added to their strength, by making proselytes through the double means of persuasion and force ; and these, the moment they had adopted their faith, became the supporters of their power against the efforts of the Hindus ; who, bound in the chains of their civil and religious institution, could neither add to their number by admitting converts, nor allow more than a small proportion of the population of the country to arm against the enemy. (Guru) Gobind (Singh) saw that he could only hope for success by a bold departure from usages which were calculated to keep those, by whom they were observed, in a degraded subjection to an insulting and intolerant race.’
S. M. Latif
‘Historians agree in eulogizing the great merits of Guru Gobind (Singh).
In him were united the qualities of a religious leader and a warrior.
He was a law-giver in the pulpit, a champion in the field, a king on the Masnad, and a faqir in the society of the Khalsa. He was the right man for the needs of the time. Sikhism in the beginning, namely in (Guru) Nanak’s time, would soon have been extinguished, had its founder adopted the same plan as that recommended by (Guru) Govind (Singh), viz the free exercise of the sword in defence of relgion …
Credit is due to him for having founded a political community of no mean order, for he taught a vanquished people how to obtain political ascendancy and national freedom. His perservering endurance in the midst of calamities and disasters was equal to his bravery and valour in the field, and, although he did not live to see his great ends accomplished, yet it is acknowledged on all hands that the conversion of a band of undisciplined Jats(gven to rapine and plunder or to agricultural pursuits) into a body of conquerors and a political corporation, was due entirely to the genious of (Guru) Govind (Singh), whose history is closely interwoven with that of the Sikhs as a nation.
‘Success is thus not always the measure of greatness. The last apostle of the Sikhs did not live to see his own ends accomplished, but he effectually roused the dormant energies of a vanquished people, and filled them with a lofty, although fitful, longing for social freedom and national ascendancy, the proper adjuncts of that purity of worship which had been preached by (Guru) Nanak. (Guru) Gobind (Singh) saw what was yet vital and he relumed it with Promethean fire. A living spirit possesses the whole Sikh people, and the impress of (Guru) Gobind (Singh)has not only elevated and altered the constitution of their minds, but has operated materially and given amplitude to their physical frames.
The features and external form of a whole people have been modified, and a Sikh chief is not more distinguishable by his stately person and free and manly bearing, than a minister of his faith is by a lofty thoughtfulness of look, which marks the fervour of his soul and his persuasion of the near presence of the Divinity.’
Though he did not live to see his high aims accomplished, Guru Gobind Singh’s labours were not lost. Though he did not actually break the shackles that bound his nation, he had set their souls free, and filled their hearts with a lofty longing for freedom and national ascendancy.
He had broken the charm of sanctity attached to the Lord of Delhi, and destroyed the awe and terror inspired by the Moslem tyranny.
(Guru) Gobind (Singh) had seen what was yet vital in the Hindu race “and he relumed it with Promethean fire.” He had taken up sparrows and had taught them to hunt down imperial falcons. He was the first Indian leader who taught democratical principle and made his followers regard each other as Bhai or brother, and act by Gurumala or general counsels. He taught them to regard themselves as the chosen of the Lord, destined to crush tyranny and oppression and look upon themselves as the future rulers of their land.’
“Thus ended, alas, the life of the truest friend of the Hindu community, the brave and compassionate patriot, the best and the most genuine helper and guide of the people. But, using his blood and bones as manure, he had planted the tree of Indian nationalism which fructified in due course. Though his ideal was not accomplished in his life time, yet his labours were not wasted. The work which he began in deep love, with a true heart, and a burning passion, and which he completed by sacrificing his whole family, was not thrown away, though he did not live to see the result of his achievements. Failure had nothing to do with him ; he achieved what had conceived. And before his death, Guru Gobind Singh was fully satisfied that he had done his work well, and had fully carried out the mission with which he had been entrusted by the Eternal Lord. So, at the time of death he was happy. He felt no grief or dejection.
‘Shivaji was a contemporary of the Guru. The success of Shivaji is often compared with Guru’s achievement and the conclusion is drawn that Guru Gobind Singh was failure. But this is incorrect. In arriving at such conclusions, all facts should be borne in mind.
Shivaji’s work was no doubt conductive to the community’s welfare, but the mainspring of his activities was his ambition for political power. Guru Gobind Singh’s ideal was free from any traces of selfish ambition. It is one thing to work for personal power, and quite another to attempt the extermination of the country’s foes. While Shivaji toiled for himself, the Guru laboured for the others. Shivaji wrought for political ascendancy, the Guru for social, religious, and political emancipation. For the accomplishment of his design, Shivaji made no scruples to employ lies and deceit ; but Guru Gobind Singh, who was also a religious leader, wanted to conquer, like the true Kashatriyas of old, by the dint of his arms and in the open field of battle. Shivaji’s victories attracted soldiers around him ; the Guru had to create men for his victories. Shivaji did not have to face as much opposition from the Hindus as the Guru. Therefore, though the Guru Gobind Singh could not achieve as much apparent success in his life time as Shivaji, yet his work was of a far more permanent nature. The Maharattas lost all when they lost their political power.
But Guru Govind Singh’s work had a lasting effect, and the fruit of his exertions will be felt till eternity.
‘If we consider the work which (Guru) Gobind (Singh) accomplished, both in reforming his religion and instituting a new code of laws for his followers ; his personal bravery under all circumstances; his persevering endurance amidst difficulties, which would have dishearted others, and overwhelmed them in inextricable distress, and, lastly, his final victory over his powerful enemies by the very men who had previously forsaken him, we need not be surprised that the Sikhs venerate his memory. He was, undoubtedly, a great man.’
R.M. Nair, Editor, The Tribune
‘Of Guru Gobind Singh it has rightly been said that he combined the irrepressible patriotism of Mazzini with the organizing capacity of Garibaldi, the revolutionary idealism of Rousseau with the dauntless intrepidity of Voltaire, besides the noblest qualities of a saint and soldier.
A chronicler holds that the Guru belonged to the galaxy of great men like the Buddha, Mahavira, Christ and Prophet Mohammad, who were ushered into the world at times of great peril and who are universally regarded as saviours of humanity. Unlike most other religious leaders, Guru Gobind Singh was also a great poets, a man of letters, and a fearless warrior. He was austerely simple, truthful, courageous, and of unimpeachable integrity. Far from being a devotee of the mere obstract, he distinguished himself as a man of action, a hero of many battles and a lasting source of inspiration to his followers scattered over a wide area. But to describe him as a Guru of a single community would be to ingnore his many sided personality and his splendid all round achievements, for he was truly a practical democrat, a benefactor of the entire nation. He derived his immense power from the masses, in whom he had great faith, and initiated the conception of a consensus (Sangat) as against the arbitrary decisions of an individual, however high and mighty. Indeed, he infused a new spirit among the common people and brought about an unbelievable transformation at a crucial time.
“These traits of his exemplary character and his remarkable accomplishments during a relatively short span of life (42 years) impart valuable lessons which if faithfully followed, would bring about a resurrection and lift the country out of the confusion now engulfing it.
The first lesson, particularly relevant at the present moment, is that of secularism. It was Guru Gobind Singh who, brushing aside all petty considerations of casts and creed, chose humble and lowly persons as the Five Beloved (Panj Pyaras ). He got himself baptised at ‘beir hands, thus signalling the end of social and master disciple distinctions. The example of equality and fraternity he thus set in the 17th century should help end the many social and communal cobwebs which hamper our progress even in the 20th century. Another lesson which he taught by effective example was of undaunted courage even in the face of personal tragedies and severe repression (by the then Moghul ruler) and of determination to fight to the end against the heaviest odds. The third valuable lesson we can learn from his life is of sacrifice and selfless service to the people. The Guru struggled valiantly to establish justice and equality, almost a Heaven on earth, but not to wreak vengeance, or build an empire for himself. On the top of it all, he proved by his life of immense constructive activity that, given the will, it is possible to weld weak, frustrated people into a strong, united nation, willing to sacrifice their all for the common goods.’