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Guru Tegh Bahadur's Martyrdom

The author of Medieval India for Class XI on the controversy surrounding the passages relating to the Sikh Guru

Guru Tegh Bahadur's Martyrdom
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RECENTLY, A section among the Sikhs has been led to believe that the account in the NCERT's textbook, Medieval India, meant for class XI has cast serious aspersions on the patriotism of Guru Tegh Bahadur and has presented facts in a distorted manner. Fuel has been added to the fire by the press statement (September 29) of the NCERT Director, Dr. J. S. Rajput, who not only talks of some "adverse and derogatory'' remarks in the book about Guru Tegh Bahadur, but goes on to say "this is what was being passed off as history by some self- styled secularists''. He even accuses such historians of working hand-in- glove with destablising forces. If some historians, or for that matter, any individual acts in collusion with destablising forces, the Union Home Minister has all the power and authority to act against them. It is hardly upto the NCERT Director to make such allegations, thereby creating unnecessary tension, and importing politics into what was an historical debate.

For the historians, difficulties have been created because the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur in Delhi in 1675 is not mentioned in any of the contemporary Persian sources. Nor are there any Sikh contemporary accounts, those written towards the end of the 18th century depending on "the testimony of trustworthy Sikhs''. They are, therefore, often conflicting. The earliest account of the events leading to the Guru's execution is in Siyar-ul- Mutakharm by Ghulam Husain Taba- Tabai in 1780, more than 100 years afterwards. Ghulam Husain states that "Tegh Bahadur, the eighth successor of (Guru) Nanak became a man of authority with a large number of followers. (In fact) several thousand persons used to accompany him as he moved from place to place. His contemporary Hafiz Adam, a faqir belonging to the group of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi's followers, had also come to have a large number of murids and followers. Both these men (Guru Tegh Bahadur and Hafiz Adam) used to move about in the Punjab, adopting a habit of coercion and extortion. Tegh Bahadur used to collect money from Hindus and Hafiz Adam from Muslims. The royal waqia navis (news reporter-cum- intelligence agent) wrote to the Emperor Alamgir... of (their) manner of activity, added that if their authority increased they could become even refractory''.

In the book I have called this the "official account'' or the official justification because for an historian, official accounts are generally full of evasion and distortion to justify official action. As it was, Hafiz Adam had died much earlier. Also these events have been placed at Lahore. But there is no reason to reject the Sikh tradition that the Guru was imprisoned and executed at Delhi.

Ghulam Husain's account of "disturbances'' created by Guru Tegh Bahadur in the Punjab is supported by Sohan Lal in his Umdat ut Tawarikh one of the most respected histories of the Sikhs, coming up to the time of Ranjit Singh. After reciting the manner of Guru Tegh Bahadur's accession to the gaddi, he says: "With the passage of time, thousands of soldiers and horsemen used to be with him and camels and goods of all kinds remained at his disposal. Further more, those who were refractory towards the amirs, the zamindars, the ijaraddars, the diwans and the officials in general used to take refuge with Guru Tegh Bahadur. Regardless of the numbers present with the Guru, they were all fed by him. Pain inevitably follows comfort. Some degraded persons reported to Emperor Alamgir that Guru Tegh Bahadur was staying in the country (Doab) of Malwa (in Punjab) with thousands of soldiers and horsemen, whosoever was refractory towards the officials took refuge with him. They warned the Emperor that if no notice of the Guru was taken it would be an incitement to insurrection; and that if he was allowed to continue his activities for a long time, it would be extremely difficult to deal with him (later).''

On this basis, I concluded and wrote in the NCERT textbook as follows: "Sikhism had spread to many Jat (agriculturists) and artisans, including some from the law castes who were attracted by its simple, egalitarian approach and the prestige of the Guru. Thus, the Guru, while being a religious leader, had also begun to be a rallying point for all those fighting against injustice and oppression''. Thus the Guru is absolved of the charge of coercion and extortion, and portrayed as a defender of the people. In the process, there must have been clashes with local officials which they denounced as marks of insurrection. These is another passage in the NCERT text book regarding the Guru's execution to which objection has been taken. It reads as follows: "According to Sikh tradition, the execution was due to the intrigues of some members of the family who disputed his succession and by others who had joined them.''

In this context, it is very well known that right from the death of Guru Nanak there were disputes regarding succession which sometimes led to splits, such as the Udasis and to mutual wranglings, sometimes even leading to violence. Thus, the succession of Guru Tegh Bahadur to the gaddi was disputed by Ram Das, elder son of Guru Har Rai, and by many Sodhis.

We are told that this led Guru Tegh Bahadur moving to Delhi. But here he came face to face with the hostility of Ram Rai, elder brother of Guru Har Kishan, who had been at the Mughal court shortly after Aurangzeb's accession to the throne, and had his own claim to the gaddi. Ghulam Muhiuddin Bute Shah in his Tarikh- i-Punjab, says that the Guru went on a pilgrimage, and then founded Makhowal. He was summoned to Delhi at the instance of Ram Rai. "Ram Rai represented to the Emperor that Guru Tegh Bahadur was very proud of his spiritual greatness and that he would not realise his fault unless he was punished. Ram Rai also suggested that Guru Tegh Bahadur be asked to appear before the Emperor to work a miracle, if he failed, he could be put to death.''

Further details of the story dealing with the Guru's execution hardly concern us. In some other accounts, Ram Rai is not implicated in the attempt to get the Guru murdered. They charge some elements at the court and some amirs who kept demanding that the Guru perform a miracle to prove his spiritual powers. This also appears doubtful because Aurangzeb did not believe in mysticism or miracles.

Regarding the religious aspect which is important but needs a fuller discussion, it has been held in the book that the Guru was also giving expression to the discontent and disaffection of the Hindus of the region for Aurangzeb's breaking even some temples of long standing. The book concludes by saying that "Aurangzeb's action was unjustified from any point of view and betrayed a narrow approach,'' and that "the Guru gave up his life in defence of cherished principles''.

Thus, there seems no occasion for creating and nursing the feeling that in the textbook the Guru has been maligned or that an attempt made to hurt Sikh sentiments. On the other hand, the book places Guru Tegh Bahadur on a very high pedestal. Despite this, if the NCERT Director has a different agenda of replacing the present secular-oriented history textbooks by a different set of books reflecting the current Hindutva ideology that is a completely different matter.


(The writer was Professor of History, JNU, New Delhi and former UGC Chairman. This article first appeared in The Hindu, and is reproduced here courtesy, The Delhi Historians Group)

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