Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar

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An important event in Sikh history that had a profound impact on the future direction of Sikhism, the religion of the Sikhs. Guru Tegh Bahadar undertook the sacrifice for the protection to freely practice his or her religion without interference or hindrance.

In 1669, the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb departed from the policy of tolerance practised by his predecessors and unleashed instead a policy of religious persecution against non-Muslims. This caused large-scale demoralisation, fear and panic among the people.

The commitment by the Sikh Guru to protect and support the liberty of all the people of a country is unprecedented. This type of supreme sacrifice has never previously been recorded in human history. On May 25, 1675 upon the appeal by an elite group of Kashmiri Pandits, Guru Tegh Bahadar made the momentous decision that has forever changed the level of moral commitment, dedication and sacrifice required by followers of the path to God. The Guru made this critical decision to lay down his life to protect the right of the Hindu people to follow their religion freely without interference or duress.

The Guru by this act has set a yardstick by which the Sikh must gauge their devotion to their religion. It is now not acceptable to say that: "I believe in the right of others to practise their faith peacefully" - this does not even get near the level of awareness required for the followers of Sikhism. The Guru has by his example taught the followers to maintain a high level of morality.

The Sikh mind-set has to get to a position of consciousness where he or she will be able to say that: "I as a Sikh am ready to die to protect the right of the people of all faiths". The ability to advance to these reaches of awareness (Surtee or Surat) is a gift obtainable from the Almighty, and was the lesson taught by Guru Tegh Bahadar to the followers of Sikhism. Not only does the Guru's word mention this clearly in Gurbani, but the life of the Gurus also practically reinforces these words of Bani.


Emperor Aurangzeb was a ruler of the Mughal Dynasty who came to power in 1658 and ruled for 49 years until his death in 1707. When he came to power in 1658, he fought with his three brothers and imprisoned his father for his extravagance expenditure of wealth that belonged to public, and converted 100,000 of Hindus to Islam. He is commonly considered the last of the grand Mughal emperors. After his death the Mughal Empire lost its strong-hold on the sub-continent.

The Kashmiri Pandits were Hindus renowned for their high intellect and education. They had a good relationship with the Sikhs and their Gurus. Guru Nanak Dev met Pandit Brahm Das who was an ancestor of Pandit Kripa Ram in Mattan. Kripa Ram had known the Ninth Guru and also taught Sanskrit classics to the young Gobind Rai. During the reign of Jehangir, Guru Hargobind came to Srinagar and met Kashmiri saintess Mata Bagh Bari, who lived at Rainawari. It is interesting to note that Mata Bagya Bari's spiritual interaction with the sixth Sikh Guru is incredibly well-preserved in the Sikh religious tradition. In Pandit tradition Mata Bagya Bari is a person renowned for her high spiritual merits.

File:Harimandir sahib panel1.jpg
A panel from the Harimandir Sahib, depicting Guru Tegh Bahadur counselling a group of Pandits led by Kirpa Ram

In early 1675, the Kashmiri Pandits approached Guru Tegh Bahadar to seek his assistance in their acute hour of need. These Hindus from Kashmir had been given a deadline by Emperor Aurangzeb to convert to Islam or be killed. Pandit Kripa Ram with his large delegation met Guru Tegh Bahadar at Chak Nanki, Kahlur (now known as Anandpur Sahib). He explained their dilemma to the Guru in the open Sangat at the place where today stands Gurdwara Manji Sahib, in Anandpur Sahib.

The Pandits were delighted that a solution was found and duly informed Emperor Aurangzeb of the decision. Aurangzeb was delighted that by converting one person, he would without any further delay have the conversion of many 1000's to Islam. Accordingly he summoned his officers to arrest Guru Tegh Bahadar.

In the summer of 1675, the Guru, along with some of his companions were finally brought to Delhi and asked to convert to Islam or else face the penalty of death. Guru Tegh Bahadur Singh Ji averred that he would rather sacrifice his life than give up his faith and his freedom or belief. Thus, under Aurangzeb's orders, Guru ji and his companions were tortured. The Guru was chained and imprisoned in a cage and was tortured in the cruellest and the most inhuman ways for five long days. In order to terrorise him further into submission, one of his distinguished devotees (Bhai Mati Das) was sawn alive, another (Bhai Dyal Das) was boiled in the cauldron and the third (Bhai Sati Das) was roasted alive before the Guru.

Finally, the Guru himself was beheaded, under imperial warrant, in broad daylight, in the middle of a public square, the most prominent public place in India, called Chandni Chowk, of Delhi, on the charge that he was a stumbling block preventing the spread of Islam in the Indian subcontinent. The exact location of the beheading is marked by Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Delhi. His martyrdom was yet another challenge to the Sikh conscience. It was then realized that there could be no understanding between an insensate power imbrued with blood and a proud people wedded to a life of peace with honour. The sacrifice roused the Hindus from their passive silence and gave them the fortitude to understand the power that comes from self-respect and sacrifice. Guru Tegh Bahadur thus earned the affectionate title of "Hind-di-Chadar" or the Shield of India.

Gobind Rai became the tenth and final Guru in human form. Guru Gobind Singh writes in the Dasam Granth:

The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar from Persian sources[edit]

Risala Dar Ahwal-i-Nanak Shah Darvesh[edit]

Anxious to witness a miracle, the Emperor called Guru Tegh Bahadur to the Deccan; the Guru insisted that he was a mere devotee of God; he also explained that neither his name Tegh Bahadur nor the epithat sachcha padshah used for him implied temporal aspiration on his part; inferring that the Guru could not work a miracle, the Emperor ordered his execution.


The Emperor demanded a miracle; not to betray God's secret, Guru Tegh Bahadur refused to work a miracle; but he climed that no sword could kill him; Aurangzeb ordered his execution; thus died Guru Tegh Bahadur on Maghar Sudi 5, Sammat 1732, having remained on the gaddi for 10 years, 7 months, and 21 days.

His account of the Sikhs is based on the testimony of trustworth Sikhs. Thus, what we may expect to find in the Khalsanama on Guru Tegh Bahadur is what Bakht Mal heard from his contemporary Sikhs. What the Khalsanama says about the Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur is the following:

"When Tegh Bahadur became the Guru, the number of his disciples increased very much and his affairs prospered. He used to live in majestic grandeur. He was a person of liberal attitudes. Whatever came by way of offering from his followers was spent and nothing was stored. The name of his wife was Gujari and his son's name was Gobind Singh who, by the time was 15 years old, had mastered all the branches of knowledge.

When Aurangzeb heard of the reputation of Guru Tegh Bahadur he called him to Delhi. Officials of the government encaged him. The Guru knew of their evil intention but did not pay any heed to them. Unruffled he marched towards Delhi. When he reached Delhi, his disciples welcomed him and offered him large sums of money. The Guru did not care for the riches. When the Emperor heard of the Guru's generosity and his indifference to wealth, he felt perturbed. He asked the Guru to work a miracle. The Guru replied that karamat was a secret between the gnostic and his God. The Guru then added that no sword would be effective against his body. The Emperor was very angry over this and ordered that the Guru should be put to death near the kotwali.

The Sikhs maintain that the executioner did not get the chance to strike the Guru. On Guru Tegh Bahadur's own suggestion, a Sikh who was present there separated the Guru's head from his body. A faqir passed by the body of the Guru and remarked that the Emperor had not done well; a curse would fall and the city of Delhi would be desolate. The Sikhs took the head of Guru Tegh Bahadur to Anandpur. His body was created in Rakabganj."

Tawarikh-i-Sikhan-i-Mulk-i-Punjab wa Malwa[edit]

The Emperor demanded a miracle; the Guru realised the necessity of sacrificing his life; with a piece of paper tied on his neck, when the sword struck his head was severed from the body; thus died Guru Tegh Bahadur on Maghar Sudi 5, Sammat 1732, having remained on the gaddi for 10 years, 2 months and 21 days.

The Tawarikh-i-Sikhan was written by Khushwaqt Rai who was employed as an intelligencer in the Punjab and asked by Colonel Ochterlony to collect information on the history of the Sikhs. His account was completed in A.D. 1811-12 at Batala in the upper Bari Doab.

Umdat Ut-Tawarikh[edit]

Questioned about his name the Guru replied that his correct name was not Tegh but Degh Bahadur; the Emperor then demanded a miracle; the Guru refused to work a miracle, the wrath of God; he was imprisoned; feeling reassured that his son would prove to be a worthy successor, Guru Tegh Bahadur decided to sacrifice his life; with a piece of paper tied on his neck when the sword struck his head was severed from the body; thus died Guru Tegh Bahadur on Maghar Sudi 5, Sammat 1732, having remained on the gaddi for 10 years, 7 months and 21 days.


13. Latif, Sayad Muhammad, History of the Panjab, Jhang-1889, p.259.

14. Guru Granth Sahib, op. Cit., Slok, M. 9, ho : 16, p.1427.

15. Trilochan Singh, Dr., Guru Tegh Bahadur: Prophet & Martyr, Delhi-1967, pp.311-24; Dr. Harnam Singh Shan’s paper in Guru Tegh Bahadur Commemorative Volume, Amritsar-1975, pp.89-106.

16. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, op. Cit., Vol. VIII, pp. 55, 60.

17. A dictionary of Islam, op. Cit., pp.327.

18. Gobind Singh, Guru, Dasam Granth Sahib, ‘Bachittar Natak’; Anandpur Sahib-1696, ch.5, st.13-14.

19. Gupta, Dr. Hari Ram, History of the Sikhs, Delhi-1973, p. 144.

20. Dasam Granth Sahib op. Cit., ‘Zafarnamah’, V.22.

21. Rhys Davids, T.W., Persecution of the Buddhists in India in the J.P.T.S., 1896, p.87.

22. Geden, Dr. A. S., in Vol. IX of the Encyclopaedia of Religion, op. Cit. P.764.

23. He took to arms, openly defying the Mughal Government and enjoining active and armed resistance to the violence let loose by the rulers of the day during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1658).

24. Cunnigham, Capt. J.D. A History of the Sikhs, from the Origin of the National to Battles of the Sutlej, London-1849, p.84; Macauliffc, Mr. M.A., The Sikh Religion, Vol.VI, London-1909; Rahdakrishnan, Dr. Sir S., in his Introduction to Selections From The Sacred Writings of the Sikhs, London-1960, p.23.

25. Guru Granth Sahib, op. Cit., Slok M.9, no.56, p.1429.

26. Chatterji, Dr. Suniti Kumar in his article published in The Sikh Review, Calcutta – December, 1975, pp. 108-109.