SINGH, GOBIND (1666–1708), the last of the ten gurū s ("teachers") of Sikhism. After his death the Sikh gurū was understood to be the Ādi Granth, the sacred book. Until Gobind Singh, the Sikh community, whose religious ideals and practices were a North Indian combination of Vaiṣṇava devotional movements from South India and elements of Islamic Sufism, had been led by a series of gurū s beginning with Nānak (1469–1539) and passing through to Gobind Singh's father, the ninth gurū, Tegh Bahādur.
Gobind Singh (originally Gobind Rāi) is known as the paradigm of the chivalrous, proud, martial, and loyal religious ideal to which members of the Sikh Khālsā, "the community of pure ones," aspire. In fact, it was Gobind Singh who established the Khālsā, and gave all male Sikhs the surname Singh ("lion") and Sikh women the name Kaur ("lioness"). Gobind Singh is further known as the reported author of the Dasam Granth (Tenth Volume), an epic work that stands second only to the Ādi Granth in prestige in the Sikh community. Under Gobind Singh's rule (1675–1708) Sikhism was transformed from a persecuted sect to a powerful religious community that has stood as the political and economic mainstay of the Punjab ever since.
Gobind Singh was born at Patna (in the Indian state of Bihar) on December 26, 1666, the only child of Tegh Bahādur and his wife Gujari. He spent the first few years of his life in Bihar before returning to his ancestral home, Anandpur, in the foothills of the Himalayas. He was nine years old when his father was summoned by the Mughal emperor to answer charges of extortion, and was executed in Delhi on November 11, 1675. Before he died, he proclaimed Gobind as his successor. Fearing further reprisals, the young gurū and his entourage moved farther back into the mountains and set up their camp at Paonta, on the banks of the Yamuna River. Here Gobind was taught Sanskrit and Persian (in addition to the Punjabi and Braj he had learned at Patna) and the arts of war. He spent much time hunting and composing poetry. His favorite themes were based on Hindu mythology, notably the exploits of the goddess Caṇḍī, the destroyer of demons.
In his autobiography, Bicitra nātak (The wonderful drama), Gobind wrote, "I came into the world charged with the duty to uphold the right in every place, to destroy sin and evil … that righteousness may flourish: that the good may live and tyrants be torn out by their roots." As he grew into manhood Gobind decided to organize his followers into a fighting force. Soon he raised a small army that came into conflict with neighboring Rajput chiefs. Gobind defeated their combined forces at Bhangani in 1686 and those of the Mughal governor of Punjab at Nadaun a year later. His increasing strength alarmed the Mughals, and the emperor Aurangzeb sent his eldest son, Prince Moazzam, against him. The prince discreetly decided to leave Gobind alone and directed his generals to reduce the hill chieftains. Gobind utilized these years to fortify Anandpur by building a chain of fortresses. He married three wives, who bore him four sons.
Gobind gave religious sanction to practices introduced by his father, Tegh Bahādur, and his grandfather, the sixth gurū, Hargobind. Early in 1699 Gobind sent out hukumnāmah s (orders) to the Sikhs to present themselves at Anandpur on the Hindu New Year's day with their hair and beards unshorn, as was customary among certain ascetic sects.
On April 13, 1699, after the morning service, Gobind drew his sword and asked for five men to offer their heads for sacrifice. He took them behind a tent and reappeared before the congregation, his sword dripping with blood, but then revealed that instead of the men he had slaughtered five goats. He addressed the volunteers as the "five beloved," panj piyāre, who were destined to become the nucleus of a new community, the Khālsā (from the Persian khāli s, "the pure ones"). He baptized the five men (who came from different Hindu castes) by making them drink, from a single bowl, amrit (nectar) he had churned with a double-edged dagger. He gave them a new family name, Singh ("lion"), and after his own baptism changed his name from Gobind Rāi to Gobind Singh. Five emblems (kakkār or the "five k s") were prescribed for the Khālsā: to wear their hair and beards unshorn (kais ); to carry a comb (kanghā ) in their hair to keep it tidy; to wear the knee-length breeches (kachhā ) then worn by soldiers; to wear a steel bracelet (karā ) on their right wrist as a symbol of poverty and pledge to their gurū s; and always to carry a saber (kirpān ) to defend their faith. In addition to these five emblems, the converts were forbidden to smoke or chew tobacco, to consume alcoholic drinks, to eat the flesh of animals slaughtered by being bled to death (as was customary among Jews and Muslims); they were permitted only jhatkā meat, that of an animal dispatched with one blow. Because their adversaries were largely Muslims, the Khālsā were forbidden to molest their women. The idea, in short, was to raise an army of sant sipāhi s (soldier-saints).
The vast majority of the gurū 's followers underwent baptism and became hirsute Kesādhāri Khālsā, as distinct from the Sahajdhari Sikhs ("those who take time to adopt"). The eruption of this militant force alarmed the neighboring Hindu chieftains as well as the Muslim Mughals. Gobind was compelled to evacuate Anandpur. No sooner had he left than his two youngest sons were captured and executed. The gurū was left with forty men who stockaded themselves at Chamkaur. In the skirmishes that ensued the gurū was able to escape, but his two elder sons fell in battle. Tradition holds that despite these adversities Gobind sent the emperor a defiant poem entitled Zafarnāmā (The Epistle of victory). There he wrote, "What use is it to put out a few sparks when you raise a mighty flame instead?"
Gobind eluded his pursuers and found safe refuge at Muktsar. He spent a year in the region baptizing large segments of the Hindu peasantry, including those of the Phulkian States: Patiala, Nabha, Jind, and Faridkot. With the assistance of a disciple, Manī Singh, he prepared a definitive edition of the Sikh scripture, the Ādi Granth, compiled by the fifth gurū, Arjun, in which he inserted compositions of his father, Tegh Bahādur. He also collected his own writings in the Dasam Granth.
It is not clear whether or not Gobind intended to complain to the emperor against Wazir Khan, governor of the Punjab, about the murder of his infant sons, but he was on his way to the Mughal capital when he received news of the emperor's death and the conflict over succession between his sons. The gurū decided to back Prince Moazzam, and a detachment of Sikh soldiers fought a victorious battle on his side at Jajau on June 8, 1707. Later Gobind visited the new emperor at Agra and stayed on for several months. The emperor did not take any action against his governor of the Punjab, and when he marched to his southern domains against his rebellious brother, Kam Baksh, the gurū followed him as far as Nander (now in Maharashtra). At Nander two young Pathans who were in his entourage entered his tent and stabbed him. It is most likely that the assassins were hirelings of the Punjab governor. Before he succumbed to his wounds on October 7, 1708, Gobind proclaimed an end to the succession of gurū s and exhorted the Sikhs to look upon the Ādi Granth as the symbolic representation of their ten gurū s.
Gobind Singh remains the beau ideal of the Khālsā Sikhs, the paradigm of chivalry combined with valor, poetic sophistication, and generosity. He is referred to as dasam padshāh ("tenth emperor"), nīle ghorey dā asvār ("rider of the roan stallion"), citiān bājān vālā ("lord of white hawks"), and kalgi dhar ("wearer of plumes").
Whereas few English-language sources deal exclusively with Gobind Singh, a number of general works on the Sikh religion contain sections dealing with his life and writings, based on his own work and contemporary records in Persian and Gurmukhi. Gokul Chand Narang's Transformation of Sikhism, 5th ed. (New Delhi, 1960) deals with the gradual rise of Sikh militancy that culminated with Gobind Singh. The volume Poetry of the Dasam Granth (Delhi, 1959), compiled by Dharmapal Asta, is the only attempt to present the gurū 's own compositions and others traditionally ascribed to him. Unfortunately, the translations do not do justice to the original.
Gajrani, Shiv. Guru Gobind Singh: Personality and Vision. Patiala, 2000.
Kapoor, Sukhbir Singh. The Ideal Man: The Concept of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Prophet of the Sikhs. London, 1988.
Singh, Balbir. Message of Guru Gobind Singh and Other Essays. Patiala, 1997.
Singh, Dalib. Guru Gobind Singh and Khalsa Discipline. Amritsar, 1992.
Singh, Dharam. Dynamics of the Social Thought of Guru Gobind Singh. Patiala, 1998.
Khushwant Singh (1987)
BORN: December 22, 1666 • Patna, Bihar, India
DIED: October 7, 1708 • Nanded, Maharashtra, India
Indian religious leader
Gobind Singh was the tenth and last living guru, or teacher and leader, of Sikhism. Sikhism is practiced by some twenty-three million people worldwide, with most living in the state of Punjab in India. Sikhism aims to create a close, loving relationship with God, particularly through prayer and meditation, or quiet reflection or thought on a single point. Gobind Singh was born Gobind Rai Sodhi on December 22, 1666, in the Indian city of Patna, and served as guru from 1676 until his death in 1708. His father was Sikhism's ninth guru, Teg Bahadur (1621–1675).
Gobind Singh is best remembered for two major accomplishments. The first was the establishment of the Khalsa, a militant brotherhood that helped define Sikhism and empowered Sikhs to resist persecution. (Persecution is when a person or group is mistreated because of their beliefs or other characteristics.) The other was proclaiming himself the last of the living gurus of Sikhism. He declared that after his death, the sacred Sikh scripture, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, would represent the leader and final guru of the Sikh faith.
"The Divine Guru hath sent me for religion's sake / On this account, I have come into the world; / Extend the faith everywhere/Seize and destroy the evil and sinful."
Political climate of the seventeenth century
Sikhism was founded 1499, after the faith's first guru, Nanak Dev (1469–1539), had a revelation, or vision of divine truth. He set off on a pilgrimage to seek enlightenment, eventually returning to northern India in 1520. Enlightenment is a state of awareness in and understanding of spiritual matters than bring one closer to God. He began to share his teachings with followers he referred to as Sikhs. Following Nanek's death, leadership of the Sikh faith passed to a succession of gurus through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Prior to the creation of the Sikh religion, the Punjab region in India was dominated by Muslims, followers of the Islamic religion, who had drifted eastward from Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the time of Sikhism's first four gurus, Muslim emperors remained tolerant of Sikhism and other religious beliefs practiced in India. That changed, however, in the early seventeenth century, under emperor Jahangir (1569–1627). Jahangir was a fierce opponent of Sikhism and was determined to convert its followers to Islam. One of these followers was the fifth guru, Arjan Dev (1563–1606), who refused to convert and was put to death by the emperor. His successor, Guru Har Gobind (1595–1644), took steps to increase the military readiness of the Sikhs, who armed themselves and trained in various methods to defend their faith. Violent battles between Sikh and Muslim armies then frequently erupted. In the city of Kashmir at least half of the population, including both Sikhs and Hindus, were forced to convert to Islam.
In this climate of ongoing conflict, a delegation of Kashmiris (those from the Kashmir region in India) approached Gobind Rai's father, Guru Teg Bahadur, and asked for protection. In response, the guru traveled to Delhi, India, to meet with the Muslim emperor, Aurangzeb (1618–1707), in hopes of persuading him to abandon his persecution of Sikhs and Hindus. His effort, however, met with no success. The emperor offered the guru the same choice that he had offered the people of Kashmir and other cities: He could either convert to Islam or die. Even after being forced to witness the brutal execution of three of his close supporters, Guru Teg Bahadur chose to die rather than renounce his religion. His body was left exposed in the public square as a warning to others. This caused many Sikhs to become frightened and deny their faith. The religion began to lose its sense of identity and purpose.
Early life of Gobind Rai
As a child Gobind Rai showed an early interest in military activity, organizing mock battles with his friends. In 1672 Gobind Rai was taken to the town of Anandpur to begin his education. In school he learned not only the Punjabi language but also Hindi, Sanskrit, and Persian. After his father died on November 11, 1675, he was formally installed as guru on March 29, 1676. At just nine years of age, Gobind was already resolved to fight the persecution of the Sikhs. He maintained this resolve throughout his life, later saying famously that he would "train the sparrow to fight the hawk" and "teach one man to fight a legion."
Some Sikh leaders wanted to avenge the death of Guru Teg Bahadur, but Gobind seemed content to wait until the religion could attract more followers and be prepared to defend itself. Meanwhile, he continued his education. At age sixteen, he left Anandpur and founded the city of Paonta on the banks of the Yamuna River, where he remained for four years. During these years he devoted much of his time to physical pursuits such as swimming, archery, wrestling, horseback riding, and martial arts. He also wrote and translated a considerable amount of poetry that centered on religious issues, social justice, the equality of people, and the need to lead an ethical and moral life, or a life lived according to standards of proper and good behavior. Much of his poetry also dealt with military and warlike themes. Although some of his work seems to glorify warfare, the guru saw fighting as a way to achieve both self-respect and divine justice, not simply as a form of aggression.
Sikhism unsheathes the sword
As Gobind became more popular, he began to alarm the rajas, or local chiefs, in the surrounding areas. These rajas tended to support the emperor and used their own power to demand tributes, in the form of money, from surrounding communities. Furthermore, they objected to the teachings of Sikhism, especially the Sikhs' opposition to idol worship (the worship of a physical object as a god); their insistence on the equality of all people; and their rejection of the Indian caste system, which divides people into hereditary social classes. These beliefs were seen as threats to previously established traditions.
One of the chiefs who was angered by Gobind was Bhim Chand, the raja of the region surrounding Anandpur. Bhim Chand made repeated attempts to force Gobind out of power, in part by demanding that the Sikh community pay "rent" for the land they occupied. In response the guru hastened the buildup of his military force while keeping a close eye on Bhim Chand and his followers. Tensions between the two groups finally erupted into armed conflict when Bhim Chand's son was about to be married and the raja learned that Gobind was a close friend of the bride's father, Fateh Shah. Bhim Chand threatened to break off the wedding unless Fateh Shah joined him in battle in order to eliminate the Sikh threat. The two men then gathered an army of thirty thousand men and confronted the Sikhs, who numbered just four thousand men, in the October 1686 Battle of Bhangani. Despite having significantly fewer warriors, the Sikh forces emerged victorious.
Formation of the Khalsa
Gobind continued to earn the confidence of the people with his strength and leadership. Parties of Sikh pilgrims arrived in Anandpur almost daily to seek his advice and assistance. The leader of one such party reported being stopped on their way by a band of the emperor's soldiers, who robbed them. The soldiers even cut off the hair of some members of the party. When they resisted, others were killed. In response Gobind instructed Sikhs to assemble in Anandpur. The atmosphere at the gathering was almost festive, with singing and music. Then the guru appeared before his people bearing a sword, and to their astonishment he asked for a volunteer willing to give up his head for the faith. A man named Daya Ram came forward. The guru led Daya Ram into a tent, and when the guru reemerged alone, his sword was covered in blood. When he asked for a second volunteer, a peasant named Dharam Das came forward and followed the guru into the tent. Again, the guru emerged with a bloody sword. The people were beginning to think that he had gone mad. He asked for a third volunteer, and Mohkam Chand came forward. Two more volunteers, Sahib Chand and Himmat Rai, then agreed to die for their faith and followed Gobind into the tent.
The volunteers, however, were not being killed; the blood on the guru's sword was that of a goat. The volunteers emerged from the tent wearing orange robes, and Gobind turned to the five and said to them that there was no difference among them. He called them his "five beloved ones" and went on to say to the assembled Sikhs that through his actions, he was creating an army called the Khalsa, which would travel about and spread Nanak's message of peace. He said that the Khalsa would bring about an age of peace, raising up the virtuous and destroying those who did evil.
A ritual was then held to initiate the five "beloved ones." The five, who were members of different castes, and the guru all drank from the same bowl during the ceremony, signifying the unity of all Sikhs regardless of their social status and background. The ceremony later became known as the amrit ceremony, after the drink the five members shared. Gobind announced that from then on, male Sikhs would take the name Singh, meaning "lion," and women would take the name Kaur, meaning "princess." Sikhs continue to practice this tradition in the twenty-first century.
The five Ks
On that day, as many as fifty thousand Sikhs joined the Khalsa. As a way to further inspire Sikhs and strengthen their identity with the faith, Gobind instructed his people to follow a number of principles. They were to practice their military skills and never retreat from an enemy; protect the weak and the poor; look on all people as equals and reject caste; believe in one supreme God; refrain from using drugs or tobacco and from consuming meat that is slaughtered according to the Islamic ritual (where the animal is bled to death instead of being killed by one quick stroke).
Most importantly Sikhs were to carry the "five Ks," so called because each item begins with the letter K. The five Ks have remained emblems, or symbols, of the faith, allowing Sikhs to identify themselves as Sikhs to the world at large. The five Ks include the following:
- Kesh, uncut hair, which is seen as a gift from God and a sign of God's will. A male Sikh can often be recognized by the turban that is wound tightly around the head to contain his hair.
- Kanga, a wooden comb, which keeps the hair neat and generally symbolizes cleanliness.
- Kaccha, an undergarment similar to shorts, which is worn to suggest chastity and cleanliness and serves as a reminder of the need to overcome earthly passions.
- Kara, a steel bracelet worn on the right wrist, which, being a perfect circle, with no beginning or end, symbolizes a connection with God.
- Kirpan, a saber, which is carried in readiness to defend the weak or uphold the right. The word literally means "mercy" or "grace." In modern times the kirpan is not an actual weapon but a small symbolic reminder.
The years following the formation of the Khalsa were ones of continuing struggle for Gobind and his followers. From 1703 through 1705 a series of battles took place, collectively referred to as the Battle of Anandpur. A local raja, Ajmer Chand, conspired with other chiefs to kill the guru, but the hired assassins were themselves killed before they could carry out their mission. The emperor Aurangzeb agreed to march against the Sikhs if the local rajas agreed to join him, which they did. The Sikhs, however, drove off the emperor's army, which numbered ten thousand men, and killed his commander.
The Shri Dasam Granth Sahib
Gobind Singh was the author of an important Sikh text, the Shri Dasam Granth Sahib, a 1,400-page compilation of prayers, mythical narratives, devotional works, and autobiographical details. Portions of the Shri Dasam Granth Sahib remain part of the daily devotions of Sikhs in the twenty-first century. One passage, the Jaap Sahib, is a prayer in praise of God:
Thou has no form or feature,
No caste no lineage;
None can describe Thy appearance,
Colour, mark or Garb.
Thou art the source of all light,
And the object of all praise;
Thou art the supreme Lord of all,
And the moon of the universe.
Perfect is Thy discernment.
All turn to Thee for refuge.
Thou art the Great Companion;
Thou art the sure Providence.
"Glimpses of Guru Gobind Singh Ji: The Dasam Granth Sahib." Info-Sikh.com. http://www.info-sikh.com/PageG91.html (accessed June 1, 2006).
Numerous chiefs then met and agreed to lay siege to Anandpur. The siege lasted for months, the city was starving, and a number of Sikhs left the city, believing that the Sikh cause was hopeless. Gobind urged his remaining followers to fight on, and in time the Muslim commander grew equally weary of the fight and offered peace terms. Urged to do so by his followers, Gobind agreed to meet the commander, but the Muslim commander did not keep his word and attempted to capture the guru. Gobind and around forty of his followers were forced to take flight, finding refuge in the small village of Chamkaur in early December 1705. In the battle that followed, the Battle of Chamkaur, Gobind's two teenage sons volunteered to fight and were killed.
Gobind's generals, fearing for the guru's life, banded together and insisted that he and his family flee the village. Reluctantly, he agreed and departed, traveling across country sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback, and sometimes disguised as a local saint and carried in a litter, or enclosed couch. At one point during the journey members of the guru's party became separated, and in the resulting confusion his two remaining sons were identified, captured, and imprisoned in a town called Sirhind. When they refused to convert to Islam, they were executed in December 1705 by the local ruler, Wazir Khan.
Gobind continued his flight. At one point he learned that the authorities knew his whereabouts, so he searched for a site where he could mount a defense. His small group was reinforced when the Sikhs who had abandoned him at Chamkaur rejoined his followers and expressed their willingness to fight. When the Muslim army approached the Sikh camp, they were driven off, and Gobind again resumed his journey. Eventually he arrived at the town of Talwandi Sabor. Then, finally, the guru was allowed to enjoy some peace, as the Islamic authorities issued orders commanding their followers to leave Gobind alone.
Wazir Khan, however, was alarmed by the peace that appeared to have been established between the guru and the Muslim emperor. He was afraid that if the two became allies, he would lose power and influence. He sent assassins to kill Gobind. One of the assassins pretended to be a Sikh worshipper and managed to enter Gobind's private apartment in the town of Nader and stabbed him. The guru lingered for a while but eventually died on October 7, 1708.
The Shri Guru Granth Sahib
In one of his last acts as guru, Gobind Singh made an unusual announcement. As he neared death, he declared that his successor would not be a living person. Rather, the final guru of Sikhism would be the sacred Sikh scripture, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib. The fifth guru, Arjan Dev, had compiled the Granth Sahib, sometimes called the Adi Granth, in 1603. It brought together the hymns and writings of Sikhism's first five gurus, particularly those of Nanak, as well as the writings of various Hindu and Muslim saints. In the years that followed, the Granth Sahib was updated to include the writings of later gurus, and Gobind Singh had compiled all of these works into a final, complete version of the text. The Shri Guru Granth Sahib remains as the material representation of the final guru and all previous gurus, and as such is both the sacred scripture and spiritual guide of Sikhism. While the text is not regarded as the direct word of God, it is considered to be divinely inspired and is the focus of worship in Sikh temples, called gurdwaras.
For More Information
Grewal, J. S. The Sikhs of the Punjab. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Hoffman, Nancy. Sikhism. Detroit, MI: Lucent Books, 2005.
Kalsi, Sewa Singh. Simple Guide to Sikhism. Folkestone, UK: Global Press, 1999.
Mann, Gurinder Singh. Sikhism. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Singh, Patwant. The Sikhs. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2001.
"Glimpses of Guru Gobind Singh Ji: The Dasam Granth Sahib." Info-Sikh.com. http://www.info-sikh.com/PageG91.html (accessed June 1, 2006).
"Guru Gobind Singh." Singh Sabha. http://www.singhsabha.com/guru_gobind_singh.htm (accessed on May 26, 2006).
Sidhu, G. S., G. S. Sivia, and Kirpal Singh. "The Saint-Soldier (Guru Gobind Singh)." Sikh Missionary Society U.K. http://www.gurmat.info/sms/smspublications/thesaintsoldier (accessed on May 26, 2006).
"Sri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib Ji." Gateway to Sikhism. http://allaboutsikhs.com/gurus/gurugobind.htm (accessed on May 26, 2006).
The Indian religious leader Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) was one of the most important shapers of the Sikh religion.
Gobind was not the founder of Sikhism, a monotheistic faith that arose in India in the fifteenth century. But he is responsible for several of the religion's most visible features and ideals. These include the military ethos of Sikhism, which has included the requirement that some male Sikhs carry a sword at all times. Sikhs view Gobind as the tenth and last human guru of the Sikh faith; he designated a text, the Guru Granth Sahib, as the ultimate guru, or teacher, for Sikhs. Gobind's life story played out against a background of military conflict in India, and his ideas transformed Sikhism from the status of a small regional sect to a major world religion that has held significant political power.
Father Executed by Emperor
Gobind Singh was born Gobind Rai Sodhi on December 22, 1666, in Patna in the present-day Indian state of Bihar. His parents were Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh guru, and his wife, Gujari. When he was young the family moved to Anandpur (now Anandpur Sahib, in Punjab state), on the edge of the Himalaya mountains, a city his father had founded. As with many religious leaders, various remarkable stories have been attached to Gobind's childhood. One chronicle, as quoted on the Sikh History Web site, held that Bahadur, dismayed over conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in northern India, said to his son, “Grave are the burdens the earth bears. She will be redeemed only if a truly worthy person comes forward to lay down his head. Distress will then be expunged and happiness ushered in.” The child Gobind's reply was that “None could be worthier than yourself to make such a sacrifice.” Bahadur turned himself in to the Islamic Mughal emperor, and was executed in 1675 after refusing to renounce his resistance to the empire and convert to Islam.
Before his death, Bahadur named Gobind as his successor, and he was formally proclaimed the Sikh guru on March 29, 1676. At a camp on the shores of the Yamuna River, Gobind was educated in martial arts, hunting, literature, and languages. He learned to write the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit and the Persian of the Mughal court, as well as the Punjabi and the Braj Bhasha variant of Hindi spoken indigenously in northern India. He had a gift for poetry, and in 1684 he composed the epic poem Var Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki in the Punjabi language, a tale of a massive conflict between gods and demons rooted in India's ancient literature.
“Poetry as such was, however, not his aim,” noted the Sikh History site. “For him it was a means of revealing the divine principle and concretizing a personal vision of the Supreme Being that had been vouchsafed to him.” This intense focus on the divine principle was a fundamental tenet of Sikhism, which does not conceptualize the divine in human terms. To this basic orientation, however, Gobind added something new. An expert rider, swimmer, and archer, he grew up in a world of warring states whose conflicts were intensified by religious differences: the Muslim Mughal empire vied for influence in India with local and mostly Hindu leaders of the Rajput order, and adherents of other groups, such as Pathans (today's Pashtuns) of the northwestern subcontinent complicated the situation still more. Singh concluded that it was necessary for the Sikhs to arm themselves and to mold themselves into a fighting force. He ordered that ancient Sanskrit war epics be translated into languages young Sikh men would speak and understand.
Defeated Rajput, Mughal Forces
Gobind benefited from the fact that Rajput clan leaders had their own set of conflicts with the Mughals, some of them centering on taxes and appropriation of resources. Rajput groups in northern India grew worried about Gobind's growing power and raised a unified force to confront him, but his Sikh warriors prevailed in the Battle of Bhangani around 1686. (Dates of many of the major events in Gobind's life are uncertain, and much of what is known about him comes from an autobiographical document called the Bicitra Natak.) About a year after that battle, Gobind's army defeated the forces of Alif Kahn, the Mughal governor of the Punjab at Nadaun.
Establishing his compound at Anandpur, Gobind constructed a set of fortresses. He unified the Sikhs under his rule, ordering them to follow his leadership rather than that of local potentates. Married three times, he had four sons, and he consolidated the religious principles that his father and grandfather (who was the sixth Sikh guru) had laid down. As conflict flared in the 1690s between the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and the Rajput clans, Gobind's power grew. Aurangzeb sent his son, Moazzam, to eliminate the Sikh force, but Moazzam, who promoted a policy of religious tolerance, chose to ignore Gobind and focus his efforts instead on the hill kingdoms.
In 1699 Gobind decided on a dramatic stroke that would permanently sear Sikh values into the minds of his followers. He summoned Sikh males to his headquarters on the Baisahki harvest festival, which marked the new year for both Hindus and Sikhs. They were instructed not to consult with local religious leaders, and Gobind said that they should arrive with long hair and beards, a practice confined at the time to a few ascetic sects. By the end of March, a large crowd of Sikhs had gathered at Anandpur. Probably on April 13 or 14, 1699 (sources suggest various dates), Gobind engineered, at a single stroke, a new face of Sikhism.
Appeared Before Crowd with Blood-Drenched Sword
Appearing before a large assembly that had just celebrated morning religious services, Gobind brandished his sword and asked (according to the Sikh History site), “Is there present a true Sikh who would offer his head to the Guru as a sacrifice?” The shocked crowd was silent, but finally a man named Daya Ram stepped forward. Gobind led him into a tent and then emerged, alone, with blood dripping from his sword. He repeated his request, and Dharam Das came forward. Again Gobind reappeared with a blood-drenched sword, and he repeated the process three more times. At this point, he revealed to the crowd that he had actually slaughtered five goats. He presented the volunteers, each wearing a turban and carrying a sword, to the crowd and dubbed them panj piyare, or the Five Beloved.
Gobind baptized the five men by having them drink a special nectar called amrit from a bowl he had sanctified with a double-edged dagger. The men were to be known as khalsa, or the pure ones—but other Sikh men could attain the same status by adopting five emblems, each of which began in the Punjabi language with the “k” sound: they should leave their hair and beards uncut (kais), carry a comb (kangha) in their long hair, wear military knee-length pants (kachha), wear a steel bracelet (kara) on their right wrists, signifying poverty, and finally, always carry a sword (kirpan) to defend the Sikh faith. These emblems collectively were known as kakkar. In addition, the members of the khalsa community had to take the surname Singh, meaning “lion” (women became Kaur, or princess), to renounce tobacco and alcohol, to agree to eat meat only from an animal killed with a single blow (a sharp contrast to Muslim dietary laws), and to treat women with respect.
It was not required for Sikhs to become khalsa; there remained a separate category of Sadjahari Sikhs, or those who needed time to accept the system of conduct. But many did, and they came from the provinces all around Anandpur. Mughal administrators and the Rajput chiefs were alarmed by the emergence of this force of highly motivated warriors, and they resolved that Gobind had to be stopped at all costs. Gobind's hilltop compound at Anandpur resisted a series of attacks between 1700 and 1704, but then came under a deadly blockade by Mughal forces. With his forces decimated in a battle in early December of 1705, Gobind was forced to evacuate Anandpur. His two young sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, were captured and executed.
Rather than capitulate, Gobind issued to Aurangzeb a defiant Zafarnamah or Epistle of Victory. Reestablishing himself in the Punjabi city of Muktsar, Gobind devoted himself to the preparation of a new version of the Adi Granth Sikh scripture that had been compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Arjun. This became the Guru Granth Sahib, which Gobind before his death designated the new guru and final spiritual authority for Sikhs. He also compiled his own writings into a collection called the Dasam Granth and wrote his autobiographical Bicitra Natak.
Reassembling his forces, Gobind headed for the imperial capital of Delhi, perhaps to protest the killing of his sons. En route he received word that Aurangzeb had died, and that a succession struggle had broken out. Gobind backed the tolerant Moazzam, and Sikh forces backed Moazzam in the decisive battle at Jajau that put him on the Mughal throne. Gobind joined the new emperor on several other military campaigns as he consolidated his rule, following him to the city of Nander in south central India. There, two young Pathan men sent by unknown parties sneaked into Gobind's tent and stabbed him. A British doctor named Cole was brought to try to save his life, but as Gobind tried to swing his sword, his wounds opened anew. He died on October 7, 1708.
Bhattacharya, Sachchidananda, A Dictionary of Indian History, George Braziller, 1967.
Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed., edited by Lindsay Jones, Macmillan, 2005.
Kapoor, Sukhbir Singh, The Ideal Man: The Concept of Guru Gobind Singh, Khalsa College London Press, 2000.
Coventry Evening Telegraph (Coventry, England), January 6, 2007.
Houston Chronicle, April 17, 1999.
“Nanak X. Guru Gobind Singh ji (1675-1708),” Sikh History, http://www.sikh-history.com/sikhhist/gurus/nanak10.html (February 13, 2008).