422.The Man in Blue – Guru Har Rai, Har Krishan, Teg Bahadur

Guru Hargobind was succeeded by his grandson Har Rai, who according to John F Richard in ‘The Mughal Empire’ page 177/178, supported Dara Shiko during the war of succession after the death of Shah Shahan. Dara Shiko was seen as somebody who would be more inclusive to people of other religions.

Aurangzeb won the war of succession and was not pleased with Guru Sahib. Therefore he demanded that Guru should send his eldest son Ram Rai to the Mughal court as a hostage and to be brought up as a supporter of the Mughal Empire. A faction of the Sikh community supported Ram Rai, but Har Rai nominated his youngest son Har Krishan as his successor.

Har Rai and Har Krishan were summoned to Delhi, where Har Rai died of natural causes. Before Aurangzeb could decide the succession, a faction of the Sikhs elected Teg Bahadur as the new Guru. There is no mention of Har Krishan as Guru in this section.

This is the first instance where the version of Sikh history as told by John Richards differs greatly from that generally accepted by Sikhs. The sources mentioned in the bibliography are three books by J S Grewal and one by W H McLeod. About nine years ago I read J S Grewal’s contribution on Sikh history to the New Cambridge History of India. I do not remember reading anything like this in that book. Does this story come from Hugh McLeod, and if so what was his source ?

This section, called ‘Sikh Martyrdom’, continues with how Guru Teg Bahadur organised the Sikhs and proselytised in Panjab and in Bengal and Assam. According to Richards many Jats converted to Sikhí. Wherever Guru went he was greeted by large enthusiastic crowds who welcomed his teachings.

Richards writes that under previous Emperors non-Muslims were allowed to build new places of worship. Aurangzeb did not allow this and even destroyed some Mandirs that were built in the time of Akbar and Jahangir. This was now also applied to Gurdwaré.

After several conversions of Muslims to Sikhí were reported to Aurangzeb he ordered the arrest of Guru Sahib. Guru and his five companions were arrested in Agra and taken to Delhi. He was tried and found guilty of blasphemy and was sentenced to death. There is no mention in the book of the Kashmeri pandits, or of the torture to death of Guru’s companions.

Richard’s finishes this section with : ‘After this second martyrdom the annual spring Baisakhi congregation of Sikhs in the hills acclaimed Gobind Singh [should be Gobind Rai], the young son of the slain leader, as the new Guru. At one stroke Aurangzeb earned the bitter hatred of thousands of Jat and Khatri Sikhs living in the North Indian plain.’

420.The Man in Blue – Guru Hargobind

Guru Hargobind was born in Guru Ki Wadali near Chheharta Sahib, to the west of Amritsar. He became the successor to Guru Arjan in 1606. In reaction to Guru Arjan’s martyrdom he started wearing two swords, and he erected a mount opposite Harmandr Sahib which he called the Akál Takhat, the throne of the Timeless One. He also used two Nishan Sahib’s.

All this was to symbolise that there was no separation between the worldly and the spiritual realm. In the eyes of the Mughal authorities he was challenging them and was behaving as if he was an independent nobleman.

Of course all Gurus, from Guru Nanak onwards, lived their life under one authority only, the authority of God.

According to the book ‘The Mughal Empire’ by John F Richards ‘[Guru] Hargobind adopted a new quasi-regal style. He wore two swords, held court, hunted with his retainers and built a fort at Amritsar as if he was a raja or a prince. Jahangir, apprised of this, moved to squash the young Sikh leader’s pretensions by arresting and imprisoning him in the state prison at Gwalior fort for two years (1609-1611)’.

It is a pity that the writer does not provide any reference to his source. Is the imprisonment of Guru Hargobind and his release, together with other political prisoners, mentioned in any Mughal source, or in any other document outside our own tradition ?

The SGPC website says : ‘There are divergent views regarding the detention period of Guru Sahib in the Gwalior Fort prison, but the most acceptable one seems to be three years from 1609 to 1612’.

We also have the puzzle about the connection between Guru’s release and Divali. Those desperate for an excuse to attach a Sikh meaning to Divali, claim that either Guru was set free on Divali or arrived back in Amritsar on Divali. As we do not even know the years of Guru’s imprisonment I do not think that claims about either date are very believable.

The battles of Guru with the Mughals are not mentioned in the book either, but I think I read in J D Cunningham’s ‘A History of the Sikhs’ that Teg Bahadur as a young man was described by Mughal sources as a dacoit, which points to his involvement in armed struggles with the Mughals.

Richards finishes his two paragraphs on Guru Hargobind with a mention of Guru’s move to the Himalayan foothills, where he lived like the ‘hilly rajas’ sheltered from too much interference by the Mughals. There was no further persecution of the Guru during Jahangir’s reign. There is no mention of the time Guru spent in the Kartarpur which is just west of Jalandhar.