He kept alive the torch of liberty and equality
Dr. Madan Jit Kaur
GURU Gobind Singh is an unparalleled hero in the history of the world. Guru Gobind Singh filled the 42- year short span of his life with tremendous activities and achievements of far-reaching consequences. The Guru was a creative genius and a divine soul. He presents a unique combination of higher spiritual attainment and excellence in secular endeavours.
Guru Gobind Singh’s contributions had left imprints of deep impact on the canvas of Indian history and world civilisation. The Guru met the challenges of his time with undaunted courage and unflinching faith. In the life and death struggle for the fulfilment of his mission, Guru Gobind Singh not only preserved the glorious secular heritage of India but also kept alight the torch of equality, liberty and freedom at the cost of supreme sacrifices made by his family.
Guru Gobind Singh not only preached ideals of humanitarian commitments but also raised a new breed of men in India to protect the honour and independence of the country and its people at the cost of their lives. What were the ideals and teachings of the Great Guru? What were the innovations implemented by him which transformed the ordinary man into a warrior? What are the traditions founded by him which brought transformation and positive social change in the fixity of the caste-based hierarchical structure of the Indian society? All these issues demand greater attention of the historians, anthropologists, sociologists and scholars of comparative religion to concentrate seriously on the contributions of Guru Gobind Singh on the occasion of tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa.
Gobind Rai (Guru Gobind Singh after the initiation of Amrit, ceremony of Sikh baptism) was a child when his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was martyred for the cause of protection of freedom of worship by the Mughal state in 1675. The execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur was very staggering for the young Gobind. He realised that the adversary meant to destroy the very essence of the secular humanitarian and universal doctrines of the Sikh faith and it was his duty to resist the enemy with all the means at his disposal, for it was the battle of survival not only of the life but of idealism. His mission of life became clear to him. Guru Gobind Singh began to prepare himself for the future responsibility of the Sikh Panth and to take up the cause of the oppressed against the tyranny of the autocratic state which was imposing forced conversion and all sorts of atrocities on the people. In his autobiography (Apni Katha) which forms a part of the Bachittra Natak,incorporated in Dasam Granth, the idea of Dharam Yudh (the battle for the sake of righteousness) is clearly evident in his compositions. Guru Gobind Singh announced:
“I came into the world charged with the duty
to uphold the right in every place,
to destroy sin and evil.
O ye holymen, know it well in your hearts that the only reason,
I took birth was to see that righteousness may flourish,
that the good may live and tyrants to be torn out by their very roots.”
Guru Gobind Singh started defensive preparations for his mission. As soon as the Guru started reorganising his army trouble aroused from the quarters of the local Hindu Rajput chiefs, Raja Bhim Chand of Bilaspur (in whose territory Anandpur Sahib was located) turned hostile and made coalition with the neighbouring hill chiefs to expel the Guru from their territory. The real cause of their anxiety to remove Guru Gobind Singh from their area was that they got apprehensive of the growing popularity of the Guru and influx of the local people, specially of the lower classes, to the casteless fraternity of the Sikhs for leadership as a danger to their sovereignty. They bought over Guru Gobind’s Pathan mercenaries and attacked him. The battle was fought at Bhangani, six miles out of Paonta in 1688. The Guru defeated the hill chiefs. Without following up his victory with any political advantage, Guru Gobind Singh returned to Anandpur Sahib.
The first thing the Guru did was to fortify his headquarters. He brought the neighbouring land and built a chain of fortresses — Anandgarh, Kesgarh, Lohgarh and Fatehgarh to keep the hill states in check. Gradually, the Guru became more powerful than the hill chiefs.
The Guru got respite of more than a decade. Secured in his territory the Guru started the task of consolidation of Sikh organisation with greater vigour and care. This period was also full of intellectual pursuit and literary activity.
Guru Gobind Singh was himself well versed in Indian classical languages, Puranic literature, Hindi poetics, Persian, Arabic, Punjabi and various arts of indigenous education. Besides, he had attained excellence in martial arts, hunting and horse- riding. As a child he had enjoyed the privilege of good schooling and tutoring at Patna. The Guru himself informs in his autobiography (Apni Katha)that his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur had given him instructions of various kinds. Besides schooling and hunting, the writing of verse was also the passion of young Guru Gobind Singh. During his stay at Paonta (in Nahan State), where he reclined for a few years after the martyrdom of his father, Guru Gobind Singh pondered over the destiny of his nation groaning under the atrocities of oppressive and unjust rule. There sitting on the bank of the river Jamuna, he thought of the way to free his country from the agony and bonds of sin and suffering. He applied himself to self-education. He went through the whole range of the Puranic epic literature in Sanskrit and composed rich variety of poetry in Hindi (Braj)and Punjabi.
Most of the bani (devotional poetry) of Guru Gobind Singh is in Braj, the common vernacular of the country. This helped to disseminate his message far and wide and inspired his followers to be dedicated to the service of the country. Through his writings the Guru impressed upon the essential unity underlying the obvious diversity of our culture. This is how Guru Gobind Singh transcended barriers of time and space and presented the image of a cosmic man.
His ode in blank verse in Punjabi, Chandi Di Var is a unique example of personification of a myth into deity of power, symbolic of the victory of virtue over vices and glory of righteousness in this mundane world. In Hindi(Braj)he developed a style and form, which for its martial format, richness of imagnination and variety of similies and metaphors from old Puranic literary traditions has remained unsurpassed since his times.
Guru Gobind Singh has greatly enriched the literary heritage of India. His poetic vision depicts the glorious epitome of medieval Indian literary traditions. His creative genius formulated in emotions motivates for higher action and breaks out against superstition and hypocrisy into humour and irony as we find in his Chaubis Avtars. His emotions, often projected with intellectual exercise by the lessons of wrongs done by the past, is raised to the highest pitch of ecstasy when he communes with God in Akal Ustat and points to the eternal unity of human existence with the Cosmos.
The idea of divine intervention in human history, is deeply rooted in his writings. In is Bachitra Natak he declared that God has commissioned him ‘to uphold righteousness and to destroy all evil-doers root and branch’. While believing in his heaven-ordained mission, he took care to see that his followers did not fall into the web of the Hindu doctrine of Avtarvad (theory of re-incarnation). He emphatically asserted that he was human, and that to pay divine honours to him would be blasphemous. The Guru announced in his Apni Kathain Bachittar Natak.
“Whoever says I am the God, shall fall into the pit of hell.
Recognise me as God’s servant only.
Have no doubt whatever about this.
I am a servant of the Supreme Lord, a beholder of the Wonder of his Creation.”
Guru Gobind Singh fully enhanced the importance of patriotic genre as motivating force. He placed literary activity in the forefront of his programme of national reconstruction. He translated classical and ancient stories of Indian heroes as found in the Puranas, the Ramayan and the Mahabharta and engaged 52 poets to help him in this heavy task. The Guru extended generous patronage to scholars and men of letters.
Under his patronage considerable literature was composed at his court. The Guru also selected five of the most scholarly of his disciples and sent them to Banaras (Kanshi) to learn Sanskrit and Hindi religious text and Vedantic philosophy in order to be better equipped to interpret the Puranic epics as well as the writings of the Guru which were full of allusion in Hindu mythology. The keynote of this vast literature, some of which is preserved in the Dasam Granth is optimism, freedom from superstitions, rituals, polytheism and strong faith in the unity of God and unity of mankind. The Guru recognised oneness of all humanity irrespective of racial, genetic, linguistic, geographical and cultural plurality. For his attitude of universal humanism the Guru commands in Akal Ustat as:
“Let all human beings understand,
that they belong to the One and the same caste.
I recognise none but the One God,
There is no duality.
Except in the protection of the One sole God,
nowhere is salvation.
the temple and the mosque are the same;
the Hindu and the Muslim forms of worship are the same.
all men are the same, although they appear
different under different local influences.
The bright and the dark, the ugly and the beautiful.
The Hindus and the Muslims have developed themselves;
according to the conditions of different countries.
All have the same eyes, the same ears, the same body and
the same build-compound of the same five elements.
The Puran and Quran are the same,
and they proclaim in essence the same message.”
At the time the country was passing through crisis of political and religious disintegration. The writings of Guru Gobind Singh specifically stress the need to revive the inherent pluralistic society of our cultural heritage. Guru Gobind Singh was fully aware about the crucial issue of integration and harmony in our pluralistic society. For the purpose of national unity he repeatedly stressed on the need to strengthen the spirit of religious toleration, secular attitude and national integration. Besides, his purpose in producing patriotic literature was to infuse feeling of confidence among his countrymen to come out of despair and like man of action steel their hearts against oppression and fight for righteousness against injustice and tyranny.
In his poetry, Guru Gobind Singh created a new metaphor of the sword. The sword was the symbol of Shakti,Kalika or Durga and of Akal Himself. God has been described as Sarbloh (All-steel). In fact, the selection of this symbol was intended to give a new orientation to the psyche of the people, demoralised by subjugation to foreign rule and the streak of passivity in their very nature. The people yoked under slavery of the alien rule needed a new forceful vocabulary and a new principle of faith. This incentive was provided by Guru Gobind Singh by introducing new signs and symbols as medium of communication for spiritual inspiration. In the opening part of the Bachittar Natak sword has been divinised as God. The Guru invokes the Almighty as:
“I bow with love and devotion to the holy Sword.
Assist me that I may complete my task.”
God and sword are mentioned here synonymously. Then follows a ringing and soulfully rendered invocation, to the sword. The diction, a form of Prakrit, is so powerful that it reproduces the clangorous rhythm of clashing swords with such a verve that the mere concentration of the recitation of verses inspire for heroic endeavour and chivalrous action. For example in Bachittar Natak the Guru acclaims:
“Thou art the Subduer of kingdoms,
the destroyer of the armies of the wicked
In the battlefield thou adorenest the brave.
The arm is infragile, Thy brightness refulgent
Thy radiance and splendour dazzle like the sun.
Thou bestowest happiness on the good and virtous,
Thou terrifiest the evil. Thou scatterest sinners.
I seek thy protection.
Hail!Hail to the Creator of the World
The saviour of creation, my Cherisher.
Hail to Thee, O Sword.”
In Guru Gobind Singh’s anthology of the Supreme Reality, God and sword become interchangeable terms. The preamble to the Sikh daily Ardas, or supplication, which begins with the words Pritham Bhaguati Simer Ke Guru Nanak lai Dayai, meaning thereby “Having first remembered the Bhagauti meditate on Guru Nanak…’ The indication is attributed as a composition of Guru Gobind Singh. The Sikh Ardas is addressed to Almighty God. Literally Bhagauti is sword, what it meant in the religious parlance of the Sikhs is ‘Almighty God’. We have to remember that describing such features of the Almighty, Guru Gobind Singh was not trying to alienate other attributes of God as preached by Guru Nanak. When Guru Gobind referred to God as Sarbloh, the Guru was not obvious of the attributes of love, compassion and mercy of the God. In his Jap Sahib, these divine attributes have been specifically highlighted by Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru says:
I bow to Thee, Lord, who art the wielder of the sword,
I bow to Thee, Lord, who art the possessor of arms.
I bow to Thee, Lord, who knowest the ultimate secret,
I bow to Thee, Lord, who lovest the world like a mother.”
In the poetry of Guru Gobind Singh, God is predominantly described as symbolised in the weapons of war. He is depicted as the punisher of the evil and the destroyer of tyrants. But the benevolent aspect is also simultaneously and equally forcefully emphasised. God is invoked as the Fountain-head of mercy, the kingman of the poor, and the bestower of Felicity. Thus fusion of the devotional and martial, of the spiritual and the heroic ethos was the most important feature of the literary works of Guru Gobind Singh as well as that of his charismatic leadership. The Guru made all sorts of arrangements to generate this spirit among his followers. At his Darbar (court), every evening, the Sikhs heard ballads extoling the deeds of warriors who had defied tyranny by the power of arms. A martial atmosphere blended with the spiritual fervour came to pervade the Guru’s Darbar at Anandpur Sahib.