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Interfaith Dialogue (30 Jan 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Tale of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Aurangzeb Embodies the Simplification of Sikh-Mughal History

By Haroon Khalid

28 January 2017

The emperor Aurangzeb had forbidden anyone from removing the decapitated head and body of the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur. The residents of Delhi, who had just witnessed the guru’s assassination, were struck with fear. Many among them were devotees of Tegh Bahadur, the eighth spiritual descendant of Guru Nanak. The Sikh spiritual movement that had centred around Kartarpur Sahib (now in Pakistan) at the death of Guru Nanak had by then spread to far-flung regions of Punjab and beyond. His followers came from all backgrounds, bringing their material as well as human resources.

Official Mughal records, describing the reasons for the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675, state that he moved around with several thousand followers. With the rise in the political and material influence of the institution of Guruhood, the Sikh gurus were increasingly seen as political rivals by petty kingdoms of the Mughal empire. Their influence and strength was also visible to the Mughal emperor. The days of political obscurity under Guru Nanak were long gone.

There are several accounts explaining the motive behind the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur on Aurangzeb’s orders. Sikh tradition states that the guru stood up for the rights of Kashmiri Pandits who approached him (see image above) to intercede on their behalf with the emperor and ask him to revoke a recently imposed Jizya (tax). Convinced by his son, Gobind Rai, who later became Guru Gobind Singh, to stand up for the protection of the Kashmiri Pandits, Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled to Delhi. Here, at the Mughal court, he was mocked and asked to prove his Guruhood by performing a miracle. He wrote a magic spell on a piece of paper and tied it around his neck with a thread. He told the Mughal authorities that as long as the spell remained tied to him, his head would not be separated from his body even if the blade of the executioner fell on his neck.

But when the blade struck the guru’s neck, it severed his head. Later, when the Mughal authorities opened the magic spell that the guru had written, it read, “He gave his head, not his secret.”

Transformation of Sikhism

Colonial historians, like Joseph Davey Cunningham, however, present a different explanation for the guru’s assassination. In order to understand the political motive behind the event, one needs to first take into account the historical framework under which Tegh Bahadur was appointed a Sikh guru. Earlier bypassed by his father, Guru Hargobind, Tegh Bahadur was appointed head of the Sikh community after the death of seven-year-old Guru Har Krishan. During the short tenure of Har Krishan, his older brother, Ram Rai, who wanted the Guruhood for himself, plotted incessantly against him, lobbying with a few prominent Sikh leaders and trying to convince the Sikh community that he was, in fact, the rightful spiritual descant of Nanak’s Sikhism. On his deathbed, Guru Har Krishan left a rather elusive command that was interpreted as Guru Tegh Bahadur’s appointment as the next guru.

Immediately taking charge of the situation, Guru Tegh Bahadur set out to form new political alliances and to increase his revenue base so that he could compete with the contesting claims to the Guruhood. According to Cunningham, the guru and his disciples “subsisted by plunder between the wastes of Hansi and Sutlej rendering them unpopular with the peasantry”. He also “leagued with a Muslim zealot, Adam Hafiz, and levied contributions upon rich Hindus and Muslims”. The historian further noted that the guru gave asylum to fugitives. Another complaint against him that reached the ear of the emperor was made by Ram Rai. Like Guru Har Krishan before him, Guru Tegh Bahadur was accused of being a “pretender to power”.

Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh guru to be assassinated at the hands of a Mughal emperor. Almost 70 years earlier, in 1606, Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh guru, was killed by the banks of the river Ravi, facing the Lahore fort, on the orders of Jahangir. His assassination was a turning point in the history of the Guruhood, triggering the transformation of the institution from a non-violent spiritual movement to the militarised religious movement of Guru Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan and his spiritual successor. It laid the seeds for the Khalsa that gives the Sikh community its current form, institutionalised by Guru Gobind Singh, the son and successor of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

Simplistic Narratives

Both these unjust assassinations became a symbolic rallying point for their devotees. The perpetual battle that had continued for several generations with the mighty Mughal empire, ruled by bigots bent on destroying the fragile Sikh community, acquired eschatological tones as a final showdown between good and evil. Gradually, as these historical events acquired religious undertones, they were stripped of their political realities. They were reduced to simplistic explanations that did not require a nuanced reading. The complexity of the Mughal-Sikh relationship was lost.

While on the one hand Guru Hargobind was presented as a valiant hero – which no doubt he was – who militarised the Sikh community for their protection and was penalised by Jahangir, stories of his other, more complex, relationship with the Mughal emperor were lost. His ties with Jahangir eventually warmed up and he, at one point, even helped the emperor curb a rebellion within his empire, with the help of his forces.

Similarly, Guru Arjan’s assassination is explained through Jahangir’s bigotry but not through the guru’s cordial relationship with the emperor’s rebellious son, Prince Khusrau, who waged a battle against his father and lost. Neatly placed within the same framework is the image of intolerant Aurangzeb, who summoned Guru Har Krishan and Guru Tegh Bahadur to Delhi. However, the story of Guru Har Rai, the father of Guru Har Krishan, promising to help Dara Shikoh against his brother Aurangzeb, doesn’t suit this simplistic construction of history. Immediately after defeating his brother, Aurangzeb summoned Guru Har Rai to Delhi to explain his role in the civil war. The arrival of Guru Har Krishan and even Guru Tegh Bahadur is connected with the same historical event.

Part of the same narrative is the encounter of Guru Nanak with Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire. The story acquired a prophetic significance, giving clues to the relationships between their respective successors. In the story, Babur, initially unaware of the spiritual prowess of the guru, had him incarcerated. However, he soon realised the genius of the saint and let him go, but not before being rebuked by Nanak at his court. This was the significant moment that was to represent the true nature of the interaction between Sikh gurus and Mughal emperors. No matter how much political strength the emperor possessed, the final power resided with the true king, the guru.


Haroon Khalid is the author of three books, most recently, Walking with Nanak.

Source: scroll.in/article/827788/the-tale-of-guru-tegh-bahadur-and-aurangzeb-embodies-the-simplification-of-sikh-mughal-history

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/interfaith-dialogue/haroon-khalid/the-tale-of-guru-tegh-bahadur-and-aurangzeb-embodies-the-simplification-of-sikh-mughal-history/d/109886


  • I never said you that you are hateful. I only said that you are full of hatred for Muslims and Islam which I do not think that you even deny. You can only carry on your tirade by distorting even the simplest of my sentences. It is not that you do not know the difference. This is the depth of falsehood to which your self-loathing has sunk you. And whoever told you that the liberal left or the mainstream Muslims support what Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bushes did?

    By Naseer Ahmed - 2/2/2017 4:32:17 AM

  • "When informed that neither group would have been unhappy with the Islamic countries leaning to the left or even turning communist if the US had not intervened, he has nothing to say"

    informed by you? who informs you? the regressive left? progressive muslims? or some brand of pseudo science? did they tell you they were unhappy? when did they tell you?

    or do you think you are standing on a mount and sermonizing and everyone is just waiting for your next word?

    and you who defended jizya and sex slavery of war captives have the gall to tell me i am hateful!

    good luck!

    By hats off! - 2/2/2017 3:18:38 AM

  • Hate drips from every word of his. Hats Off has such hatred and also self-loathing, that he cares very little for the truth. He will heap falsehood on you, on Muslims in general and on the religion of Islam to justify his hatred. Is there any doubt that people with such hatred are mentally sick?

    He painted a picture of the "regressive left" and the "progressive Muslims" which he could deride. When informed that neither group would have been unhappy with the Islamic countries leaning to the left or even turning communist if the US had not intervened, he has nothing to say. The mainstream Muslims do not support the acts of the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which fanned the flames of extremism and brought the extremists to center stage. They would have been quite happy with secular governments leaning to the left as much as they wished.

    Now will Hats Off take his hatred where he can find those who mirror his sick mind?

    By Naseer Ahmed - 2/2/2017 2:17:08 AM

  • Hats Off,
    I too wonder what deep repressed subconscious impulses make you hate  Muslims and Islam to the degree that you do.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/2/2017 12:33:15 AM

  • so you have also caught the psychiatry bug! and trained by the shariah supporting khaled abou el fadl!

    i wonder from what dark part of your past experiences you irrationally justify the taking of sex slaves and rape of "right hand possession". i wonder what part of your moral sub-structure has given way for you to blindly justify the most inhuman acts if only they are alleged to have been sanctioned by some god.

    and i wonder from what uncontrollable destrudo you justify the hateful "jizya" as an ennobling extortion!

    and i wonder what deep repressed subconscious fetishism makes you hate polytheism and idol worshipers.

    amateur psychiatry (like pseudo science) is a stupid game which two can play.

    By hats off! - 2/1/2017 5:44:17 PM

  • Contrary to what Hats Off says, the Muslims and the "regressive left" would have preferred a world without US interventions in Afghanistan and the ME. Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt would then have leaned towards the left - a far cry from what these countries are today. There is no way that the liberal left is pleased with the developments. If the leftists could have their way, Islamic extremism would not have come to center stage nor spread by fanning the flames. Neither the Muslims nor the left are morally bankrupt. It is those who exploited Islamic extremism for political gains and the Islamophobes who are happy with the extremist version of Islam coming to center stage who are morally bankrupt. 

    The main-stream pacifist Muslims and the left have never supported the use of extremists or the interventions of the US (albeit with the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) into the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Indonesia, Iran etc.

    It is a figment of the imagination of the Islamophobes that they see Muslims as either jihadists or stealth jihadists, Islamists or closet Islamists. "The truth is there are no haunted worlds but only haunted minds. And the greater the trepidation of the soul, the bigger and scarier its demons. The more ugliness festers within, the greater the ugliness projected upon the world without"- Khaled Abou El Fadl

    In the case of Hats Off, I wonder from which dark part of his personal past, this irrational, misdirected rage against the general mass of Muslims comes from!  

    By Naseer Ahmed - 2/1/2017 4:46:38 AM

  • Hats Off, " constantly parroting that "Islam is the best/perfect/final/only religion". . . "

    I have never said that nor do I believe that. My repeated refrain has been, "every religion should strive to be the best that it can be," but you will never see that because it does not suit your malicious hate war against progressive Muslims.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 1/31/2017 1:14:37 PM

  • My refrain is "Muslims will defend anything if it's Islamic".

    Your refrain is "hats off is an Islamophobe/enemy of Islam/Muslim hater/militant apostate/apostate/".

    This is an example of moral bankruptcy among Muslims. Until they grow up and learn to look at Islam critically, others will do it for us. This wouldn't matter a whit, but constantly parroting that "Islam is the best/perfect/final/only religion", they have simply played into the hands of illiberal leftists that would not think twice about talibanizing entire generations to keep people rotting in their own refuse.

    What else can be expected from people who migrate without invitation and without self respect and then start whining if someone starts to push back?

    this is EXACTLY the kind of attitude that the democrats and leftist liberals deliberately inculcated and promoted to get their dirty work done by the likes of trumps, le Pens, wilders and orbans.

    Remember it was the hyper-sexed bill the Clinton during whose watch the Taliban were gathered, nurtured and let loose on the world?

    But stealth-Jihadis and closet-Islamists never learn. No wonder CAIR and the regressive-left are lip-locked in an obscene embrace of filthy convenience.

    By hats off! - 1/31/2017 3:49:05 AM

  • Hats Off's one constant refrain is: "If it is Islamic it must be bad"!

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 1/31/2017 1:19:18 AM

  • islamic history cannot be served unless garnished with apologetics and sprinkled with some theory of inevitability and served with warnings against islamophobia.

    then it becomes really delicious. not otherwise.

    By hats off! - 1/30/2017 8:42:25 PM

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