Guru Har Krishan Ji the eighth Guru of the Sikhs was born in the Guru Ghar (Home of the Gurus) on 7 July 1656. He was the son of Guru Har Rai Ji, the seventh Guru of the Sikhs and his wife, Bibi Sulakhni who is also known as Mata Krishan Kaur. His birth place was the beautiful Kiratpur Sahib, nestled in the Shivalik Hills, where Guru Har Rai Ji lived for most of his life. It was here only the young Har Krishan spent his growing years.
Har Krishan was only five years old when his father started keeping indifferent health and felt the need to name the eighth Nanak. The Guru saw in the young Har Krishan a certain divinity which was the outcome of deep love that the young boy felt for the Almighty which, in turn, gave to his innocence a rare power. Guru Har Rai Ji was also not in favour of his elder son Ram Rai who, he felt, harboured too much affinity with the Mughal Court and was willing to be subservient to Emperor Aurangzeb with whom he had established good relations.
These two factors led Guru Har Rai Ji to name Har Krishan as his successor. When the Guru passed away in October, 1661, Har Krishan was anointed the eighth Nanak by the Sikhs with the traditional ceremony on 20 October 1661. The Guru, at the time, was a little over five years old.
The first task for Guru Har Krishan Ji was to console the Sikh disciples who were quite devastated with the unexpected and untimely demise of Guru Har Rai Ji. Despite having lost not only his Guru but also his father, Guru Har Krishan exhibited rare maturity and courage in performing his duties as a Guru. With regard to the passing away of Guru Har Rai Ji, he called upon the Sikhs to accept the will of the almighty in the manner that had been prescribed for them by their Gurus.
Even at that young age, much to the delight of the Sikh disciple, the Guru exhibited great mastery over the Guru Granth Sahib. The audiences that comprised of people of all communities along with the Sikhs disciples were mesmerized by his spiritual renditions and elucidation of the scriptures. With innocence and passion, the young Guru extolled his disciples to follow the path shown by the Gurus and lead a chaste life, worshipping the one true God. Thus, the Bal (child) Guru, as he was called, got down to performance of his duties.
It did not take long for politics to raise their ugly head. Emperor Aurangzeb had already awarded Ram Rai with grants of land and position in Dehra Dun region of the Himalayas. Yet, Ram Rai, consumed by resentment on having been sidelined and unable to reconcile to the wishes of his holy father managed to create in the mind of his benefactor, Emperor Aurangzeb, a sense of insecurity with respect to the popularity of the Bal Guru. Within a short time of Guru Har Krishan Ji being anointed, Emperor Aurangzeb put into motion a plan to call him to Delhi and find an excuse to replace him with his brother Ram Rai as the Sikh Guru. The Emperor accordingly directed Raja Jai Singh to arrange the presence of the Bal Guru in his court. An emissary was, thus, sent by Raja Jai Singh to the Guru at Kiratpur Sahib.
The Sikhs were not in favour of sending the Guru to the Mughal Court since they had witnessed imprisonment of the sixth master, Guru Hargobind Ji when he had been invited to the Court. Guru Har Krishan Ji was also reluctant to go since he had been forewarned by his father about the possibility of such a trap being laid out for him. However, on the insistence of Raja Jai Singh and in order to ensure that his Sikh followers were not persecuted due to his refusal, the Guru took a decision to adhere to the wishes of the Emperor and decided to go to Delhi.
He told Raja Jai Singh that he would proceed to Delhi with his family members after the Baishakhi celebration in March 1662 which also marked the betrothal of Bibi Roop Kaur, the sister of the Guru, to a young boy named Khem Karan who hailed from a prominent family of Sikh disciples hailing from Pasrur.
The Guru undertook the journey to Delhi through the traditional route of Ropasr, Banur and Ambala which remains the same even today. He was given an emotional farewell from Kiratpur Sahib whose residents followed his cavalcade, with many more joining in from Ropar and other places. It is said that they followed their Guru up to a place called Panjo Khara in the outskirts of Ambala and the Guru was compelled to request them to go back to their homes. The Guru took frequent stops to meet Sikh disciples and followers and gave to them sermons from the Guru Granth Sahib. People came out in large numbers to seek his blessings.
During this journey a Brahmin named Lal Chand came to meet the Guru. He was very proud of his caste and his learning for which reason he challenged the Guru to carry out a discourse on the Bhagwad Gita with him. The Guru instead called upon one of his illiterate disciples named Chajju and told him to explain to the Lal Chand the gist of the Bhagwad Gita, Chajju surprised Lal Chand with the depth of his knowledge and insight into the scriptures that he had imbibed as a Sikh disciple. Lal Chand was chastened; he accepted the Guru as his master and became a Sikh. He stayed with the Gurus all his life and fought the Battle of Chamkaur along with Guru Gobind Singh Ji in which he attained martyrdom.
Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi
On reaching Delhi the Guru was accorded a warm welcome by Raja Jai Chand and the local Singh Sangat (congregation). Raja Jai Chand insisted that the Guru stay with him in his Palace to which the Guru graciously agreed. Here people came in large numbers to seek Darshan (audience) with the Guru and take his blessings. It is said that Prince Muazzam, one of the sons of Emperor Aurangzeb who later became Emperor Bahadur Shah-I also visited the Guru in the palace. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi now stands where the Palace was located; it was constructed by Sardar Baghel Singh, the Sikh General who took control of Delhi in the late 18th century
The wife of Raja Jai Chand wished to test the Guru. She requested her husband to get the young Guru to the dwelling of the ladies. When the Guru came she sent forward many ladies dressed ornately and she herself stood in the corner in simple attire. The Guru walked past all the ladies straight to where the Rani (Queen) was standing and asked her as to why being a Queen she had sought to dress up in such a modest manner. The Rani felt chastened and was quick to pay homage to the Guru and also seek his blessings.
The Guru was granted an audience with Emperor Aurangzeb on ChetSudi Naumi, 1721 according to the Bikrami calendar which by the western calendar translates as 25 March, 1664. According to Mahima Prakash, an unpublished manuscript containing anecdotes from the lives of the Gurus, Emperor Aurangzeb had prepared a test to check the spiritual strength of the Guru. On arrival he was presented with two trays, one containing precious stones, beautiful clothes and above all toys that would attract a five year old and the other contained a very simple cloak and cowl of the type worn by holy men in those days. The Guru was prompt in rejecting the tray with worldly goods in favour of the cloak and cowl of a holy man.
Emperor Aurangzeb was convinced of the spirituality and holiness of the Guru but as was the fascination of the Muslims in those days he wanted to see the Guru performing a miracle. He called the Guru to his Durbar (Court) for the second time. The Guru guessed the intention of the Emperor who had similarly cornered his elder brother Ram Rai into performing miracles. Sikh tenets did not permit showing of miracles and thus disturbing the law established by the almighty. He decided that he would not come face to face with the Emperor again. There is a school of thought that says that the Guru did not meet the Emperor at all since he contacted small pox before the meeting could be fixed. Either way, what is clear is that Aurangzeb failed in his attempt to remove the Guru and place his elder brother in the Gur Gaddi (throne of the Guru) of the Sikhs.
It was during this time that Delhi got afflicted with a severe cholera and smallpox epidemic. The young Guru began to tend to the afflicted patients irrespective of their cast and creed. There was a belief that anybody who came to the Guru and drank water from the tank that was located in the place where Gurdwara Bangla Sahib now stands would get well since that tank had been blessed by the Guru. People started thronging the Gurus dwelling in thousands. His selfless service so moved the Muslim population that they started addressing his as a Bal Pir. Bal means a young boy and Pir means a person who has attained a high level of saintliness and spirituality. Emperor Aurangzeb sensed that the Guru was doing great humanitarian service and did not disturb him. He, however, did not give up on his plan to place Ram Rai as the Guru of the Sikhs.
The young Guru remained with the poor and the afflicted day and night. In the process he too, most unfortunately, was seized with high fever and soon got smallpox. Soon the tender body of the Guru was ravaged by the disease. His mother Mata Sulakhni implored him to use the divine powers with which he had healed so many to heal himself too so as to serve humanity more. The Guru however refused saying that as a true disciple of Guru Nanak he was called upon to obey the will of the Almighty as ordained for his mortal body.
Bal Guru blessing those afflicted by the plague
It is said in the the Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth that the Bal Guru built the morale of his desperate Sikhs and his family by saying, “The Gur Gaddi, Guru Nanak’s throne, is eternal. It is everlasting and will command increasing honour. The Granth is the Lord of all. He, who wants to see me, let him with faith and love see the Granth. So will he shed all his sins. He, who would wish to speak with the Guru, let him read the Granth with devotion. He, who practices its teachings, will obtain all the four Padarathas (most cherished objects) of human life. He, who has faith gains all. He, who is without faith, acquires but little. None in this world lives forever. The body is mortal. In the Granth abides the Guru’s spirit. Daily bow your head to it. So will you conquer your passions and attain liberation.” To assuage his mothers sorrow he said, “”The body is perishable. As you learn to have faith in God’s Will, you will attain to realms sorrow less. Eternal peace will be yours.”
The elder brother of the Guru had always made his intention of usurping the Gur Gaddi by whatever means possible including engineered intervention from the imperial powers. There were others from the extended Sodhi clan like Dhir Mal who also wished to stake a claim and become Guru of the Sikhs. Guru Har Krishan Ji was aware of this as were his nears and dears and loyal Sikhs. His Sangat expressed worry about what the future would hold for the nascent religion in the eventuality of his time ending prematurely. The Guru told his Sikhs to shed their fear since no power on earth could stop the sacred word of Guru Nanak from spreading its holiness and radiance. So saying he said two words “Baba Bakala” thus conveying that his successor would be found in the small village of Baba Bakala in Punjab. There is a possibility that the Guru deliberately did not name his successor and left only a sign to be pursued by his Sikhs after his passing away, since he was aware of the security risk from imposters that the named Guru would face. It was on the basis of the sign given by the Guru that the Sikhs, through a spiritually guided process identified Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji as their ninth master. The ninth Guru was, at that time, was meditating in Baba Bakala.
Guru Har Krishan passed away on Saturday, 16, April 1664, in the tent that had been erected on the banks of the River Yamuna for him when he asked to be moved out of Delhi because of his infection of smallpox. His last rites were performed in the same place and the ashes taken for immersion in Kiratpur Sahib in the presence of his sister, Bibi Roop Kaur. Gurdwara Shri Bala Sahib now astride the outer ring road of Delhi stands in the location as a commemoration.
At the time of his passing away the Guru was only eight years old and had been on the Gur Gaddi for just 2 years, 5 months and 24 days. In this short period of time he had lent to his exalted position a certain maturity and humanity that reflected upon his extraordinary persona. Despite having lost his father, Guru Har Rai Ji, at such a young age he diverted his energies more towards consoling the grief stricken Sikhs who felt orphaned by the untimely demise of their Guru. He gave them confidence by his spiritual discourses, he told them to accept the will of the almighty and sing his praises in memory of his father rather than giving way to despair. He brought much needed stability in their lives. He then took a wise decision to proceed to meet Emperor Aurangzeb and thus saved his disciples from the imperial wrath, in Delhi he put paid to all machinations of his elder brother, Ram Rai, directed towards becoming the Guru with deceit.
His biggest contribution, however, was in assuaging the suffering of the people of Delhi in the course of the debilitating plague. His helping hand extended to all without heed to caste or religion. He performed this sacred duty at a small age in the true spirit of the teachings of Guru Nanak and in the process gave up his own spiritual journey prematurely.
In his final days the Bal Guru had to, yet again, put his own worries and pain due to the affliction aside and console his family and his Sikhs who were beside themselves in grief at the prospect of losing him at such a young age. Whenever he gained strength he called upon his disciples to do Kirtan (singing of Sikh hymns) and Path (reading of the Holy Scriptures). As in the case of his father, he firmly instructed his disciples to accept his passing away as the will of the Almighty and praise him for the same.
It is in view of the extraordinary life of Guru Har Krishan Ji that the tenth master Guru Gobind Singh Ji commemorated him in the Sikh Ardas (supplication to the almighty) with the following words, “Sree Har-Kishan d’hiaa-ee-aae jis dit’haae sabhe dukhe jaa-aae” (Let us think of the holy Har Krishan, whose sight dispels all sorrow). To respect and honour his inherent humanity and great social service, the Guru is well loved by Hindus and Muslims too. The Hindus refer to him as “Balmukand” and the Muslims as “Bala Pir.”