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.’

421.The Man in Blue – Shah Jahan & Aurangzeb

What changed in the Mughal empire after the death of Jahangir ? Was Jahangir like the intolerant Aurangzeb, or was there an important difference between the two ?

John F Richards in his book ‘The Mughal Empire’ writes that Guru Arjan was not made a martyr because he was not a Muslim. He was killed because he had a popular following and was seen as a potential alternative centre of power in the Panjab.

Jahangir was a follower of a quietist Vaishnava ascetic, whose teachings were further removed from mainstream Islam than the teachings of Guru.

Shah Jahan and even more Aurangzeb were not interested in learning from, or recognising the value of the Dharmic traditions of the sub-continent. How religious they really were is difficult to tell, but they clearly were ‘politically’ more Islamic than Akbar and Jahangir.

Akbar promoted intermarriage with the Rajputs and other Indian elites. Whatever his other motives were, he realised that he could not even count on the support of all ‘Indian’ Muslims, and that he needed support from the Hindu ‘upper classes’ in order to survive. Jahangir continued this policy.

When under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb this policy changed, it took away their most powerful tool to integrate new militant groups that confronted them. What you see under Aurangzeb is that members of the ruling Maratha Bhonsla family who joined the Mughals, almost always went back to their old allegiance, as they had no chance to become part of the Mughal ruling elites as the Rajputs became under Akbar.

The result was that every time the Mughals thought that they had the situation in the ‘Deccan’ under control and went back north, the insurrection in the south would flare up again. Unrest in the south created the opportunity to successfully rebel to Sikhs in the North West, Jats in what is now UP, various Nizams and Nawabs ruling as governors on behalf of the Mughal Patishah and formerly loyal Rajputs.

No government can rule if they do not have the respect of a substantial part of the population. Respect might be based on fear or on the expectation of rewards, under Aurangzeb non-Muslims lost their fear and got no rewards.

Under Aurangzeb the Mughal empire reached its greatest expansion, but he was the last of the great Mughals. After his death his successors, weakened by the constant wars, rapidly lost control over many of their territories.  Aurangzeb died in 1807 and the Mughals carried on till 1857, but their Empire was gradually taken over by the East India Company.

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.

419.The Man in Blue – Guru Arjan

While the debate on Khalsa, Khalas, Khalis and Khalisa is hotting up on the Sikh News Discussion and Man in Blue group, I am writing the second of the articles based on my reading of ‘The Mughal Empire’ by John F Richards.

On page 96 Richards writes ‘During Khusrau’s [Jahangir’s Son] ill fated coup in 1605, the rebel prince had a brief encounter with Arjun, the fifth Sikh Guru. At Goindwal … Arjun made the mistake of offering his blessing to Khusrau. Jahangir seems to have been consistently hostile to popularly venerated religious figures. In the emperor’s memoir he comments :

In Goindwal, which is on the river Biyah (Beas), there was a Hindu named Arjun, in the garments of sainthood and sanctity, so much so that he had captivated many of the simple-hearted Hindus, and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners, and they had loudly sounded the drum of his holiness. They called him Guru and from all sides stupid people crowded to worship and manifest complete faith in him. For three or four generations they had kept this shop warm. Many times it had occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.
Jahangir, Tuzuk, 1, 72     

The writer then refers to the saffron mark made on Khusrau’s forehead by Guru Arjan. From previous pages in which Khusrau’s revolt is described it is clear that Jahangir treated very severely with anybody who had in any way supported Khusrau, and on page 97 Richards writes ‘Simply by making a finger-mark of saffron on Khusrau’s brow as an auspicious sign, Arjan suffered a fate similar to most of Khusrau’s followers’.

The quote from Jahangir’s diary is very interesting. I do not know if the diary also refers to Khusrau’s ‘tilak’. Mostly the tilak story and Hindu in Goindwal story are presented as two different or rival explanations of Guru Arjan’s martyrdom, but according to one website both stories are part of Jahangir’s ‘Tuzuk’.

Richards throws new light on this part of our history where he points to Jahangir’s hostility to popularly venerated religious figures, and the fact that even minor supporters of Khusrau were treated very severely.

On page 98 Richards tells us of Jahangir’s relationship with the widely venerated Vaishnava ascetic Gosain Jadrup. It proves the point that the Emperor was not against ‘Hindus’ as such, but was very weary of people like Guru Arjan, who did not live in a hut or a grotto somewhere far away, but  lived a full life in society.

From our point of view Jahangir would have done much better to follow Guru Arjan instead of the ascetic Gosain Jadrup !

Stop use of violence !

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.