Who was Guru Tegh Bahadur?
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth of the ten Gurus of the religion of Sikhism. The youngest of the five sons of the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind, he was trained in the martial arts of swordsmanship and horse riding from a young age. He also received religious training from Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas. He grew up to be a brave young man and accompanied his father and other Sikhs in their battles and displayed bravery in the wars against the Mughal forces. However, after one particularly bloody battle in 1634 at Kartarpur, he turned to the path of renunciation and meditation. Meanwhile his father selected Har Rai, his grandson as his natural successor, who became the seventh guru of the Sikhs. Har Rai himself was succeeded by his son Har Krishan. In March 1664 Guru Har Krishan contracted smallpox and just before his death he informed the followers that his successor would be found in Bakala. Following some mystical events Tegh Bahadur was recognized as the successor and appointed the Sikh guru. As the guru he toured various parts of India and composed several hymns. He believed in religious freedom for all, and this brought him in conflict with Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who ordered that the guru be brutally executed.
Childhood & Early Life
Guru Tegh Bahadur was born as Tyag Mal on 1 April 1621 in Amritsar, India, to the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind and Mata Nanaki. He had one elder sister and four brothers.
From a young age he was trained in the martial-arts of archery and horsemanship. He also received religious training from Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas. He grew up to be a brave young man and displayed considerable courage in the battles against the Mughals in which the Sikhs were often engaged in. His father gave him the title of “Tegh Bahadur”, meaning “Mighty of Sword”, in recognition of his bravery.
In 1634, the Sikhs fought a particularly brutal and bloody battle at Kartarpur. Following this battle, a major change came over the young man Tegh Bahadur and he turned to the path of renunciation and meditation. He eventually moved to the isolated village of Bakala and spent several years in contemplation and prayer.
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Meanwhile Guru Hargobind was looking for a successor. He wanted to select a courageous man with qualities of leadership to lead the Sikhs after him. Since Tegh Bahadur had now chosen a path of renunciation, he was not considered as a suitable successor. So Guru Hargobind chose Guru Har Rai, his grandson as his natural successor.
Guru Har Rai, however, lived a very short life and died at the age of 31. Just before his death, he passed the Guru Gaddi to his younger son, the five year old Guru Har Krishan. The young child Har Krishan became the guru in 1661. He too did not live long. He became ill with smallpox during an epidemic and died at the age of eight in 1664.
When it became apparent that Guru Har Krishan would not survive his illness, the followers asked him to name his successor. Too ill to speak properly, the child-guru could only say “Baba Bakala” before dying. The followers took this to mean that the next guru would be found in Bakala.
Since the last words of Guru Har Krishan were ambiguous, several people emerged to claim the Guru Gaddi, leaving the Sikhs puzzled and confused. A legend in the Sikh tradition explains how Guru Tegh Bahadur was found and chosen as the ninth guru.
A wealthy trader Baba Makhan Shah Labana had once promised to himself in the face of danger that he would gift 500 gold coins to the Sikh guru if he survived. He travelled to Bakala in search of the guru and offered two gold coins to each claimant. All the claimants accepted his offering and bid him farewell.
Then he encountered Tegh Bahadur and gave him the offering of two gold coins. Tegh Bahadur blessed him, smiled and said "I thought that you had pledged five hundred coins". The trader was overjoyed that he had discovered the true guru and quickly informed everyone of the discovery.
After being formally seated on the Guru Gaddi, Guru Tegh Bahadur continued living an austere life. He embarked on several journeys, spreading the teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru. He travelled to many places including Kurukshetra, Agra, Ittawa, Patna, Dhaka and Assam. Along with preaching the ideals of Sikhism, he also started community water wells and langars (community kitchen charity for the poor). He wrote extensively and his spiritual works include 116 shabads and 15 ragas.
During this time Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a fanatical Muslim, was persecuting non-Muslims and forcing them to convert to Islam. The citizens of the country were reeling under the atrocities committed by the tyrannical ruler. At that time, the Hindu Brahmin Pandits of Kashmir were among the most highly learned and orthodox of the Hindu leadership and Aurangzeb believed that if he forced them to convert, the rest of the country would easily follow.
The viceroy of Kashmir Iftikhar Khan began inflicting unspeakable violence on the pandits in order to force them to convert. Unable to bear the torture at the hands of Mughals, a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits sought help from Guru Tegh Bahadur.
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When the pandits explained their situation to the guru, he grew thoughtful as to what course of action to follow. His nine year old son Gobind Rai asked his father the matter. The guru explained that the atrocities of the Mughals could be stopped only by the sacrifice of a holy person.
On hearing the reply of his father, the young Gobind suggested that Guru Tegh Bahadur offer himself for this supreme sacrifice. The guru then declared Gobind Rai as his successor and accompanied the pandits on their journey to meet the Mughal emperor. His three devoted disciples, Dyal Dass, Sati Dass and Mati dass insisted on going along with him.
Torture & Martyrdom
When Aurangzeb came to hear of the news, he ordered the immediate arrest of the guru and his followers who were then brought to Delhi. The Mughal emperor ordered Guru Tegh Bahadur to convert to Islam or face torture. The guru calmly refused to convert.
Enraged, Aurangzeb ordered that the guru and his followers be subjected to vicious brutality. He believed that the men would not be able to bear the torture and would convert. However, the Sikhs bravely faced all the brutalities inflicted upon them without giving up their faith.
His followers Dyal Dass, Sati Dass and Mati Dass were tortured and killed in the most savage ways before his very eyes. Yet the guru maintained his serenity and witnessed all the brutalities with the name of God on his lips.
Finally Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed on 24 November 1675—he was publically beheaded. His followers were able to retrieve the guru’s severed head and body and perform a proper funeral. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in Delhi mark the places of execution and cremation of the Guru's body.
Guru Tegh Bahadur is revered for the supreme sacrifice he gave to protect the religious rights of the Hindus. He is known as Hind-di-Chaadar (shield of India) for resisting the forced conversions of Hindus in Kashmir to Islam. By giving up his life for the rights of the Hindus, he became the first person in history to sacrifice his life to save the freedom of another religion.
Personal Life & Legacy
Tegh Bahadur was married on 3 February 1633, to Mata Gujri.
He was succeeded by his son Gobind Rai who assumed the Guru Gaddi as Guru Gobind Singh upon Guru Tegh Bahadur’s death.