He lived by example
Khushwant Singh | May 17, 2011, 12.00 AM IST
1. He was only a child of nine when his father, the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur was executed by the order of Emperor Aurangzeb. I have little doubt that many persons must have tried to fill young Gobind’s mind with feelings of hatred and revenge against the Mughals. The Guru remained impervious to these influences. When he grew into manhood he announced his mission in life in the following words: “I came into the world charged with the duty to uphold the right in every place, to destroy sin and evil… the only reason I took birth was to see that righteousness may flourish, that good may live, and tyrants be torn out by their roots.”
2. The Guru never subscribed to the theory “might is right”. Although he introduced the worship of arms in Sikh religious ritual and even described the sword, the spear and the musket as ‘the pirs’ — religious mentors of the Sikhs, this was entirely in the context of force as the righter of wrongs. He was fully aware of the fact that the teachings of the first five Gurus and the Granth Sahib were pacific in content. But should truth and goodness be allowed to suffer annihilation at the hands of falsehood and evil?
The Guru’s answer was a categorical “No”. In a Persian composition entitled the Zafarnama, the Epistle of Victory, said to have been sent to Emperor Aurangzeb, he wrote: “When all other means have failed, it is righteous to draw the sword.”
3. The Guru took special care that anti-Muslim sentiment should not stain the crusade he was about to launch against the Mughals. “My sword strikes tyrants, not men”, he said. Among the earliest recruits to his army were Muslims. Although he fought the Mughals all his life — as indeed he did the Hindu Rajputs of the hills — he had both Muslims and Hindus fighting on his side, shoulder-to-shoulder with his Sikhs. This followed naturally from his conviction that all men were of one caste — manas ki jat sab ek pacanbo — he exhorted. And that the mosque and the temple were the same; the call of the muezzin and the chanting of the pandit were the same.
He made them take solemn vows that they would never molest the women of the enemy. He emulated the example of our ancient rishis and yogis and insisted that all Sikhs should wear their hair and beards unshorn — for they were not common soldiers but sant sipahis, soldier-saints.
4. Look at the incredible sense of loyalty and sacrifice that the Guru was able to arouse among his followers. The most well-known was the incident of the ‘baptismal’ ceremony when five men — the Panj Pyaras — willingly agreed to have their heads cut off.
There are innumerable examples of similar sacrifices.
How was Guru Gobind Singh able to fire his followers with this kind of valour? Primarily by setting an example himself. He fought alongside his men. He never put his family before his followers.
It was by this kind of personal example that the Guru was able to train poor rustics who had handled nothing more lethal than a lathi and flabby, pot-bellied, timid shopkeepers, to become some of the greatest fighters India has known. He redeemed his pledge that ‘he would train the sparrow to fight the hawk’ and ‘teach one man to fight a legion’.
5. He was a genuinely democratic spirit. Guru Gobind Singh never claimed divinity for himself. He denounced those who tried to make him an incarnation of God. “I was ordained to establish a sect and lay down its rules,” he wrote. “But whosoever regards me as Lord shall be damned and destroyed. I am — and let there be no doubt about this, — but a slave to God, as other men are: a beholder of the wonders of creation.” He took no credit for what he did. He attributed all achievements to the Khalsa — all his victories, his power, his prestige, he said, was due to the efforts of his followers. Although he was their Guru, he made himself their disciple — ape gur-chela. Whenever the congregation passed a resolution, it acquired the sanctity of a gurumata — an ordinance of the Guru binding even on the Guru himself.
Guru Gobind Singh was thus a rare combination of many qualities — a sophisticated aesthete composing poetry in many languages — Sanskrit, Prakrit, Persian and Punjabi; a handsome cavalier fond of chase and danger; a soldier who dedicated his life to fight tyranny; a leader who looked upon his followers as comrades and equals, a Guru who exhorted people to worship the God they love best but insisted they look up to their fellow beings as equals; a man who sacrificed all he had — his family and his worldly possessions and ultimately himself for his ideals. This ideal he stated in lines which have become the most quoted of his compositions:
O Lord of Thee these boons I ask
Let me never shun a righteous task.
Let me be fearless when I go to battle.
Give me faith that victory will be mine.
Give me power to sing Thy praise,
And when comes the time to end my life,
Let me fall in mighty strife…
Has the world produced many men as great as Guru Gobind Singh?