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Khalsa Panth

It has been mentioned in the previous part of this essay that on the Indian New Year day in 1699 (30 March), Guru Gobind founded the Khalsa Panth in Anandpur Sahib as military movement against the Mughal oppression. Later on, a Sikh temple named Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib was erected at the birthplace of Khalsa (Pure). Guru Gobind Singh then recited a verse -- 'Wahe guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe guru ji Ki Fateh' (Khalsa belongs to Guru; victory belongs to Guru) -- which has been the rallying-cry of the KeshgarhSahib Gurudwara at Anandpur, the birthplace of the Khalsa. The word Khalsa translates into ‘Sovereign’ or ‘Free’. Another interpretation of it is ‘Pure’ or ‘Genuine’. Then on, the temporal leadership of the Sikhs was passed on to the Khalsa with the bestowed title of "Guru Panth" and spiritual leadership was passed on to the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred Sikh Scripture. Khalsa was responsible for all the executive, military and civil authority in the Sikh society.

keshgarh-Sahib-Gurudwara-at-Anandpur-the-birthplace-of-Khalsa
Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib
nscription-naming-the-five-members-of-the-Khalsa-Panth-at-Takht-Keshgarh-Sahib-the-birthplace-of-Khalsa2

Inscription with names of the five members
of the Khalsa Panth at Takht Keshgarh Sahib

An inscription naming the five members of the Khalsa Panth, at Takht Keshgarh Sahib, the birthplace of Khalsa Guru Gobind gave his followers the surname of ‘Singh’ (lion), believing that it may inspire them to conduct themselves valiantly in day-to-day life and in the battle field. He also renamed himself as Gobind Singh from Gobind Rai. The new surname, by obliterating his followers Hindu-caste-based surnames, effectively abolished the caste differences among the Sikhs. The five Sikhs, who had offered to sacrifice themselves for the Guru, became known as the Panj Piyare (the ‘Beloved Five’), the first five members of the Khalsa brotherhood. Women, initiated into the Khalsa, were given the title of Kaur ("princess").

On the occasion of the initiation of the Khalsa (30 March 1699), Guru Gobind Singh addressed the audience as thus:

“From now on, you have become casteless. No ritual, either Hindu or Muslim, will you perform nor will you believe in superstition of any kind, but only in one God who is the master and protector of all, the only creator and destroyer. In your new order, the lowest will rank with the highest and each will be to the other a bhai (brother). No pilgrimages for you any more, nor austerities but the pure life of the household, which you should be ready to sacrifice at the call of Dharma. Women shall be equal of men in every way. There are no purdah (veil) for them anymore, nor the burning alive of a widow on the pyre of her spouse (sati). He who kills his daughter, the Khalsa shall not deal with him.”

The Guru also made five K’s compulsory for every Khala. These are:

  1. Kesh: uncut hair is a symbol of acceptance of your form as God intended it to be.
  2. Kangha: a wooden comb, a symbol of cleanliness to keep one's body and soul clean.
  3. Kara: an iron or steel bracelet worn on the forearm, to inspire one to do good things and
  4. Kirpan: a sword to defend oneself and protect other people regardless of religion, race or creed.
  5. Kacchera: undergarment reminding one to live a virtuous life and desist from rape or other sexual exploitation.

Guru Gobind Singh banned smoking for the Khalsa. He also said:

“You should love the weapons of war, be excellent horsemen, marksmen and wielders of the sword, the discus and the spear. Physical prowess will be as sacred to you as spiritual sensitivity. And, between the Hindus and Muslims, you will act as a bridge, and serve the poor without distinction of caste, colour, country or creed. My Khalsa shall always defend the poor, and 'Deg' - or community kitchen - will be as much an essential part of your order as Teg -the sword. And, from now onwards Sikh males will call themselves 'Singh' and women 'Kaur' and greet each other with 'Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki fateh (The Khalsa belongs to the Guru; victory belongs to Guru).

The Guru also banned consumption of Kuttha (Halal or Kosher) meat and adultery.

Among other major proclamations, Guru Gobind Singh prohibited the worship of idols and emphasized on belief in One Immortal God only. He further emphasized on the practice of arms, and never to show their backs to the foe in battle-fields, and that they should always be ready to help the poor and protect those who sought their protection. They were to consider their previous castes erased, and deem themselves all brothers of one family. They were to stand up against tyranny or rulers, not against any religion.

Gurudwara Sri Harmandir Sahib, Patna, where Guru Gobind Singh was born

The Guru carried out other reforms, for example abolition of the Masand-system (chain of priests), to eradicate the corruption and greed that was taking root among the clergy. Sikh devotees, here on, were to bring their offerings directly to the Guru at the annual New Year Day fair at Anandpur Sahib, which also established a close personal contact between the Guru and his disciples.

As has been mentioned earlier, to oppose the extremely cruel and oppressive Muslim rulers, Guru Gobind wanted to create a strong self-respecting and self-ruling Sikh community. He inspired the Sikhs with courage and heroism, and a life of simplicity and hard work. He founded an arms factory at Anandpur for manufacture swords and lances needed for his soldiers. Once the Brahmins insisted that he should offer worship to Hindu goddess Durga in order to seal victory. He agreed and while he was in the process of offering worship to Durga, he unsheathed his sword exclaiming, “The sword is the Durga which will give us victory over our enemies.”

Rise of the Khalsa

On the New Year Day in 1699, the Guru, assuming the name Gobind Singh, initiated the Khalsa movement with himself being the first Khalsa, followed by the ‘beloved five’ who had offered their life to the Guru. Thereafter mass baptism was initiated and about 80,000 men and women were baptized to the Khalsa within a few days at Anandpur. "The creation of the Khalsa was the greatest work of the Guru. He created a type of superman, a universal man of God, casteless and country less. The Guru regarded himself as the servant of the Khalsa. He said, "To serve them pleases me the most; no other service is so dear to my soul. … The Khalsa was the spearhead of resistance against tyranny", said Nobel Laureate author Miss Pearl S. Buck. The foundation of the Khalsa created a sense of unity among the Sikhs and their supporters.

This unity and the resulting strength in the Sikh community did not go well with the local rulers. The rise of the Khalsa as a mighty military regiment, their ever-swelling gatherings at Anandpur sahib and the presence of many thousands of the often-armed congregation, and the immense popularity of the Guru alarmed the surrounding hill Rajas. These developments alarmed the caste-ridden Rajput chiefs of the Sivalik hills most. Until then, they perceived the Sikhs as lower caste people on account of their leaving the Hindu religion but never as danger to their authority. However, the creation of the Khalsa changed that perception as the Guru with his increasing armed power was turning into a possible military threat. The local Hindu kings, to secure their limited interest under the Muslim suzerainty, got involved in a series battles with the Guru instead of supporting him and his Khalsa to wage a collectively battle against the oppressive Mughal government to eradicate their slavery to Islamic rule and oppression. Instead, they sought intervention of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb to crush the Guru and his Sikh army. Anandpur was seized five times by the united Mughal army and the army of the Hindu Rajas.

Siege of Anandpur Sahib

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Zorawar & Fateh Singh being buried alive by raising brick-wall
Muktasar-Sahib-Gurudwara-and-the-reservoir
Muktasar Sahib Gurudwara and the reservoir

The most serious siege of Anandpur took place in the autumn of 1704. Vazir Khan, the governor of Sirhind, under the order of Aurangzeb, made huge preparations to attack Anandpur and wipe out the Khalsas. The governor of Lahore, several rajas of the Kangra hills, and many nawabs and jagirdars of the neighbouring areas also joined the expedition. Anandpur was besieged for extended period and provisions started running short. The Guru eventually agreed to evacuate the Lohgarh Fort and a treaty was signed to that effect with the Mughal commander Vazir Khan in mid-December, 1704. The Guru first sent out the ladies and his two younger sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, out of the fort. Next, the Guru along with his two elder sons, Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh, and his other disciples came out of the fort. But the governor of Sirhind launched a treacherous attack on the Guru and his followers. As the Guru and his followers were fleeing the pursuing Mughal, torrential rain began, flooding the river Sarsa, thus holding up the Guru on the bank of the river amidst bitter cold rain and wind. Mughal army unleashed a vehement attack in the darkness of night. The two younger sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, fell into the hands of the governor of Sirhind. They were asked to embrace Islam, which they spurned. Thereupon they were buried alive by raising brick walls in the fort and eventually decapitated on December 27, 1704.

However, the Guru and his elder sons Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh succeeded in crossing the river Sarsa with merely forty followers. Strong current in the river swept away many of his followers along with large number of the Guru’s manuscripts and other valuables. After crossing the river, they took shelter in a mud house at Chamkaur. Immediately the house was besieged by the Mughal enemy. A battle took place on December 22, 1704, in which both Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh died. Three of the first five Khalsas (Panj Piyare) and thirty-two other Khalsas also sacrificed their lives, and the Guru was left with only five disciples. For the greater interest of the Sikh community, those five disciples advised him to escape and the Guru did so in the disguise of a Muslim saint.

Guru Gobind Singh then left Chamkaur and proceeded towards Nander, nearly 1500 miles away. The journey of the Guru from Chamkaur to Nander was a story of many hair-raising escapes and extreme courage. Two Muslim followers of the Guru, Nabi Khan and Ghani Khan, found him near Machiwara while the Guru was lying hidden in bushes, exhausted with hunger and tiredness. They escorted the Guru safely to a distance of nearly 40 miles. He spent some days as a guest of Rai Kalha, the ruler of Jagraon. He then helped the Guru passing through his territory safely. Destitute Sikhs started joining him at Jagraon. A short engagement was then fought in Firozpur. Nearly forty Sikhs, deserters from Anandpur, fought desperately, but perished. Later on, a gurudwara was erected and a tank was dug, called Muktasar (reservoir of salvation), at the place in Muktsar Sahib district in Eastern Punjab in memory of those forty Sikhs. Recently, due to its historical and religious importance, it was renamed as Sri Muktsar Sahib.

Sri Muktsar Sahib, thus, was the last battlefield of Guru Gobind Singh in 1705 AD, a most decisive conflict in the military history of the Sikhs. The name of this city literally means "the pool of liberation". The forty Sikh warriors who perished valiantly fighting the Mughal Empire more than three centuries ago are remembered by a grand festival held here every January, which attracts devotees from all over the world.

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(To be continued)