The fifth master of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev Ji and his wife Mata Ganga Ji were blessed with their only child a son, on 19, June 1595, at Wadali Guru, about seven kms from Amritsar. They named the child Hargobind and he went on to become the sixth master of the Sikhs post the martyrdom of his holy father in the hands of the Mughal rulers.
Hargobind was born after many prayers and a special boon given to his mother by Baba Budha Ji, a revered and saintly Sikh who served all Gurus during his long life. His birth threatened the aspirations of his uncle, Prithi Chand, who is said to have made many attempts to poison him to death. It is chronicled that Hargobind, as a child, crushed a poisonous Cobra with his small hands. He also survived a bout of small pox.
Despite such misadventures, Hargobind grew up a handsome young boy; his education of the religious texts was carried out under the watchful eyes of his uncle, Bhai Gurdas.
It was after the birth of Hargobind that Guru Arjan Dev Ji realised the importance of compiling the holy Gurbani (words of the Guru) and completed the task in August 1604. The compilation called the Pothi Sahib, Adi Granth and finally Sri Guru Granth Sahib was installed in the sacred Hari Mandir in 01 September 1604.
By that time, many, especially a courtier in the court of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir called Chandu Lal, had developed inimical intentions against the Sikhs in general and Guru Arjan Dev Ji in particular. They conspired to get the Guru arrested and ultimately tortured to the very end when his physical form vanished in the River Ravi.
Much before his martyrdom, Guru Arjan Dev Ji was well aware the need for the Sikh community to develop adequate military power for self defence against repressive forces. It was with this thought in mind that he decided to train the young Hargobind in martial arts. The responsibility for the same was given to Bhai Budda. Bhai Budda should not be confused with the saintly old Bhai Buddha Ji who possessed no such skill. Guru Arjan Dev Ji also impressed upon his son the need to build a military capacity within the rapidly expanding community. He probably took these steps due to a divine realisation that he would not be in a position to carry them out after the massive task of compiling the holy Granth was completed and they would fall on the young shoulders of Hargobind.
When the summons came from the Mughal Court for Guru Arjan Dev Ji, he knew that he would not come back. Before leaving for the Mughal Court, he declared on 25, May, 1606, that young Hargobind, as the next master of the Sikhs.
On 11, June, 1606, then only 11 years old, Hargobind became the sixth master of the Sikhs on, and came to be known as Guru Hargobind Ji. Some chronicles put his initiation date as 24, June, 1606.
Guru Hargobind Ji, though very young, completely understood what his holy father required of him. During the initiation ceremony itself, he requested Baba Budha Ji to adorn him with a sword rather than the Seli (silk cap) of Guru Nanak Dev Ji as was the tradition. It is said that Baba Budha Ji, who knew nothing about swords, put the sword on the wrong side; Guru Hargobind Ji then requested him to put another sword on the other side and thus started the tradition of his wearing two swords This created the concept of Miri and Piri, implying that henceforth both religious and temporal power would remain vested upon the Guru.
The first step taken by Guru Hargobind Ji was construction of a seat of Temporal Power of the Sikhs. It came up on 15 June 1606, on a high ground opposite the Hari Mandir in the form of a 9 to 11 foot tall platform called the “Akal Bunga.” On this throne like structure sat Guru Hargobind Ji along with Bhai Gurdas and Baba Buddha Ji and held court. He received petitions and dispensed justice. The temporal nature of the Akal Bunga balanced the spiritual nature of the Hari Mandir, thus cementing the concept of Miri and Piri. The building is now a five storey structure with a marble inlay and gold leafed dome and is called the Akal Takht. It is the most important of the five Takhts of the Khalsa community.
Having created the seat of Temporal Power, the young Guru and his dedicated advisors set about strengthening the defences of the holy city of Amritsar. The city was walled and a small fortress named “Lohgarh” was constructed in the outskirts. The Guru initiated his own flag and war drums that were beaten twice a day.
Then began the arming and martial training of the Sikhs; the Guru himself was adept in the use of arms and an avid hunter. Martial Vaars (ballads of heroism) were composed and sung in the Court on a daily basis. The heroic deeds of Sikhs were commemorated. With time the Guru had, under his command, seven hundred horses and considerable Infantry.
Thus, within a few years of becoming the sixth master of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind was well poised to fructify the dream of his holy father of reconstitution the Sikhs as a separate Nation. The seed was sown even though the tree took almost two centuries to grow to its full potential. It is important to note here that to further the concept of nationhood, the Guru adopted all trappings of royalty, but deep within, and in his own words, he remained a simple ascetic and servant of the Sikhs.
The enemies of the Sikhs did not take too long to fill the ears of Emperor Jahangir about the changes being brought about in the Sikh community by the new Guru. The Guru was summoned to the court of the Emperor; he decided to go personally after handing over the affairs of the community to Baba Budha Ji, Bhai Gurdas Ji other prominent Sikhs and also his mother, Mata Ganga Ji.
There are conflicting views on the proceedings at the Mughal Court. One version says that the Emperor was intolerant of the evolving identity of the Sikhs and he ordered the arrest and internment of Guru Hargobind Ji in the Gwalior prison. The second version says that the Emperor was impressed by the serenity and charm of Guru Hargobind and listened to his religious discourses with great interest. He also got to know that the holy book of the Sikhs contained the writings of renowned Muslim saints like Kabir. It is also said that during a hunt, Guru Sahib saved the Emperor from an attack by a Tiger. It was later that the enemies of the Guru, especially Chandu, took advantage of the ailing Emperor to send the Guru to Gwalior Fort and interned him there.
Whatever may be the reason, it is an established historical fact that Guru Hargobind was kept a virtual prisoner for a long period starting probably from 1609 and culminating in 1619. The reason was the apprehension of the Emperor and the Mughals about the rising military power of the Sikhs. It is also more or less established that the Guru did get into the good books of Emperor Jahangir. Whether the friendship blossomed in the beginning of this virtual imprisonment or in the later period is not very clear.
Within this time frame he was probably interned in the Gwalior Fort or prison for about two years either from 1609 to 1612 or from 1617 to 1619. The date 1609 to 1612 is more widely accepted.
While in Gwalior Fort/Jail, Guru Hargobind Ji came into the acquaintance of 52 Hindu Princes imprisoned there and kept under deplorable conditions. He spent his time looking after them and became their spiritual mentor.
The release of the Guru was negotiated with Emperor Jahangir by two Muslims, Sain Mian Mir, an old loyalist of the Sikh faith and a friend of Guru Arjan Dev Ji and Wazir Khan, the Governor of Lahore and another admirer of the Guru. When the Guru was ordered to be released, he refused to go without the Hindu princes also being released. Emperor Jahangir relented and said that as many of them who could catch to hem of the Gurus’ dress as he moved out could go with him. The Guru got a large cloak made and all 52 prisoners could hold on to it and secure their release. The day, which coincided with the auspicious Hindu festival of Diwali is commemorated as “Bandi Chhor Diwas” (release of prisoners festival) by the Sikhs. Sri Harmandir Sahib was beautifully lit up to welcome Guru Hargobind Ji and the practice is continuing to date. The Guru is also referred to as “Bandi Chhor Baba.”
It is said that Emperor Jahangir also handed over to the Sikhs their Bete Noire Chandu Shah. He was marched through the streets of Lahore, pelted with stones and filth and hurled abuses. He died a dog’s death. His body was then thrown into the River Ravi.
Guru Hargobind had three wives. The story is that when Chandu Shah spoke ill words about the marriage proposal for his daughter with the very young Hargobind in a derogatory manner the Sikhs requested Guru Arjan Dev Ji to reject the proposal. At that stage Guru Arjan Dev Ji asked as to who in his Sikh Sangat (congregation) would give his daughter’s hand in marriage for his son. Three Sikhs got up simultaneously. Guru Arjan Dev Ji said that he wanted only one but all three insisted that since the proposal has been made it should be accepted since their daughters will not get any other proposal. This led to the three marriages.
There is, however, a considerable gap recorded in the dates of the marriages. While the first marriage with Mata Damodari is said to have been solemnised in August 1604, when both were children, the marriage with Mata Nanki is said to have taken place in March, 1620 and with Mata Marwahi a few months later in July, 1920.
There is an unexplained dichotomy here since the birth of all six children of the Guru is recorded from 1613 to 1621. Baba Gurditta was born in 1613 and Bibi Viro in 1615 to Mata Damodari, Baba Suraj Mal in 1617 to Mata Marwahi, Baba Ani Rai in 1618, Baba Atal Rai in 1619 and Baba Tegh Bahadur in 1621 to Mata Nanaki. This implies that the marriages with Mata Marwahi and Mata Nanki took place before 1617. In certain texts the marriages are said to have taken place in 1610. It is possible that the betrothal took place in 1604 while the marriage was held later; such has been a custom in Punjab since long.
After his release, Guru Hargobind, knowing full well that the Sikhs would need to fight for their rights and their freedom continued to tacitly build on military power, without exciting anxiety among the Mughals. He called upon the Sikhs to make offerings of horses and weapons along with other items. The Sikhs were encouraged to undertake physical activity and military training for which the Guru gave a personal example. Activities like riding, wrestling and hunting were encouraged. Soon a small army of the Sikhs took shape. All of the foregoing was done without losing emphasis on the spiritual aspect.
The Guru, used his freedom to strengthen Sikhism. He started with Punjab and made Kartarpur the Headquarter of the Sikhs in Doaba; he also laid the foundation of a new township to be called Sri Hargobindpur. He then visited Malwa and is deemed to be responsible for the spread of Sikhism in the region’ He went all the way up to Nanakmata which is in the present state of Uttrakhand and which Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited in his third Udasi.
The Guru also visited Kashmir in 1620 on the invitation of Emperor Jahangir. He extended the footprints of Sikhi in the region. A large number of Kashmiris’, both Hindus and Muslims embraced Sikhism due to the devoted and committed preaching by Guru Sahib. The Guru then went via Baramula, Uri and Muzafrabad on to areas that now fall in Pakistan to include Mirpur, Bhimbar Rehran, Sialkot, Wazirabad, and onwards to Rai Bhoe-di-Talwandi (The birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji) and Gujarat in Pakistan. He came back via Lahore and Kurukshetra. He left behind devoted Sikhs to carry on the process of preaching.
Despite the good relations between the Guru and Emperor Jahangir, there was a skirmish between the Sikh forces and a Mughal Garrison from Jullunder in 1621. It is termed as the Battle of Rohilla. The trigger was an altercation over the land where the new town, Hargobindpur, was being built. Some Hindus lay claim on the land and one Bhagwan Das with his hired ruffians was killed. The Hindus complained to the Mughal Governor of Jullunder, Abdullah Khan, who set out to teach the Sikhs a lesson. He was met by a Sikh contingent at Rohilla Ghat on the bank of the River Beas. The Mughals were defeated; Abdullah Khan, his two sons and some of the Hindu perpetrators were killed as were many loyal Sikhs of the Guru. Emperor Jahangir did not pay much attention to the face-off and things went back to normal.
The uneasy truce with the Mughals broke down after the death of Jahangir in 1627. His successor Emperor Shah Jahan looked upon the Sikhs with distrust. By then, Guru Hargobind had created a fairly large military force and was not ready to take things lying down. The situation was aggravated by a few incidents. These factors led to some armed face-offs and skirmishes.
The second battle fought by the Sikhs against the forces of Emperor Shah Jahan is recorded as the Battle of Amritsar, 1634. On Baishaki day a Sikh hunting party set their Hawk on a Hawk of the Mughals and brought it down. When the Mughals demanded it back the Sikhs refused. On hearing of the altercation Emperor Shah Jahan got enraged and ordered his General Mukhlis Khan to subdue the Sikhs. Mukhlis Khan advanced towards Amritsar with a 7000 strong force and invested Lohgarh. The Sikhs had already left the fort except for a small garrison. Guru Hargobind with his family moved to Chabal where, amidst the tension, he solemnised the marriage of his daughter, Bibi Veero Ji. The Mughals gained partial entry into the fort and resorted to plundering, which included the residence of the Guru.
The second day witnessed fierce fighting, Bhai Banno, a famed soldier of the Sikhs was killed which resulted in Guru Hargobind personally taking command of the troops. The day was carried by the Sikhs with Mukhlis Khan being killed by the Guru personally. The Sikhs won the day but suffered significant loss in their already meagre resources. The significance of this two day battle lies in the breaking of the Mughal “military invincibility” in Punjab. Sikh power had finally arrived.
Another face-off with the Mughals took place in the biting cold of December, 1634. The trigger this time was the forcible confiscation by the Subedar of Lahore of two beautiful horses that were brought from Afghanistan as presents for the Guru by his devout Sikhs. Unable to digest this slight a Sikh disciple, Bhai Bidhi Chand, in two separate incidents managed to whisk away the horses from the royal stable. Infuriated yet again, Emperor Shah Jahan sent a large contingent under his commandeer, Lalla Beg, in pursuit of the Guru who had proceeded towards the semi-desert plains of Bhatinda after shifting the holy Granth from Amritsar to Kartarpur.
The vastly superior Mughal force established contact with the Sikhs beyond Nabha. The Sikhs, who knew the terrain well, decided to give battle in the outskirts of Village Mehraj and Village Lahiri near modern day Rampura Phool in District Bhatinda.
Battle of Gurusar, as the ensuing conflict is recorded, lasted two days. The Sikhs first caused disarray in enemy ranks with Guerilla warfare. On the second day a bloody battle ensued in which the Mughals were defeated with heavy loss of life and all senior commanders killed. For the Sikhs also the victory came at a heavy price with more than 1200 loyal followers and compatriots of the Guru falling in the battle.
After this Guru Hargobind Ji did not set foot in the holy city of Amritsar again during his lifetime. He remained in Malwa, particularly the deserts area of Bhatinda for some time preaching the Sikh religion and then went to Kartarpur.
In Kartarpur too, he remained targeted by the Mughals. A force led by his erstwhile friend, Painda Khan, attacked Kartarpur in April 1935 but was defeated in what is recorded as the Battle of Kartarpur. Tyag Mal, the fifth son of the Guru, only 13 years old, fought this battle with great valour and earned the name Tegh Bahadur (brave sword wielder). Later he became the ninth master of the Sikhs and was known as Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. Painda Khan and his partner Kala Khan were killed in the battle. Guru Hargobind Ji, was aware that the Mughals would come for him to Kartarpur again, with the intention of avoiding more bloodshed he retreated to Kiratpur in the Shivalik hills and there is spent the remainder part of his life reorganising the Sikh community and updating preaching centres and practices.
In order to bring the community together Guru Hargobind initiated the process of congregational prayers wherein, when a Sikh wished for a favour or gift from the Almighty, he would request the entire assembly to pray for him.
It was in Kiratpur that Guru Hargobind commenced his search for the seventh Nanak. His eldest son Bhai Gurditta was a good choice but, Baba Sri Chand, the ascetic son of Guru Nanak Dev Ji who was then very old asked for him to run the Udasis sect. The Guru could not refuse, so Bhai Gurditta went to head the Udasis. Another son Baba Atal Rai died in his lifetime and Baba Suraj Mal also died in 1645, Baba Ani Rai was reclusive and did not marry and Baba Tegh Bahadur exhibited meditative inclinations. Guru Hargobind was aware that Baba Tegh Bahadur would one day become Guru and do great things, but the timing was not right for the same. He said so to his wife Mata Nanki, who was the mother of Baba Tegh Bahadur Ji.
Bhai Gurditta had two sons, Dhir Mal and Har Rai. Dhir Mal was overly eager to become Guru and created problems all the time. When the Guru moved from Kartarpur to Kiratpur, Dhir Mal refused to go with him and retained the holy Granth with him. The ambitions of Dhir Mal were give a considerable boost by Emperor Shah Jahan which prompted the imposter to issue statements against his grandfather and in favour of the Mughal state.
In his grandson Har Rai, Guru Hargobind found the most able successor and he started training him for the spiritual and temporal responsibilities that would come his way. When Har Rai was 14 years of age, Guru Hargobind Ji ordained him as the seventh Nanak and bowed before him. Soon after that he left his physical form.
Guru Hargobind Ji carried forward the light of Guru Nanak Dev Ji while adding to it the spiritual sanction to fight for what is righteous and justified. Under his watch, the Sikhs continued to remain spiritually energised while also accepting the need to counter the high handedness of suppressive powers, at that time, epitomised by the Mughal dynasty. The existing aura of invincibility of the Mughals and Muslim invaders was first broken by his Sikh soldiers. The task of converting Sikhs from a peaceful farmers into a warlike cmmunity was initiated by him and culminated by his grandson Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This spirit continues to be an intrinsic part of the Sikh culture and way of life to date. It was in the watch of Guru Hargobind Ji that the Sikh identity emerged as a Nation.
Guru Hargobind made a big contribution in preaching and spread of Sikhism. He personally undertook extensive tours of Punjab, Kashmir and other areas, wherein he initiated many to followers to the path of Sikhi. On his directions Sikhs spread out as far as Bengal, Bihar and what is today called the North-East. He also incorporated the Udasi sect for the preaching of the Sikh religion and reached out to Meharban, the son of his estranged uncle Prithi Chand to dissuade him from his hostility. It was during the time of Guru Hargobind that many prominent personalities who had remained dedicated to the Sikh cause for a very long time passed away. Baba Budha Ji passed away in 1631 and Bhai Gurdas Ji in 1636; Baba Sri Chand passed away in 1629.
Guru Hargobind Ji left his physical form soon after on 28, February, 1644 at Kiratpur Sahib where he had spent the last ten years of his life in spiritual pursuits while also guiding the Sikh community. He was cremated on the banks of the River Sutlej where today stands Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib