Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fatih!
Sword-Warrior, Sovereign-Mentor, Mediator-Diplomat, Savior-Martyr. All of these, but still beyond them, is the realm of the Absolute. Myriad facets of the limitless and dynamic Guru-personality, description of which is beyond human intellect and expression. People have repeatedly tried to fathom such a transcendent personality only to fall into the trap of mundane stereotyping.
Then, how do we commemorate the martyrdom of the Ninth Nanak, Sword-Warrior, Guru Teghbahadar Sahib as we contemplate these thoughts?
The Guru was brought up and trained under the supervision of Bhai Bidhi Cand’s martial skills, Bhai Gurdas’ literary acumen, and Baba Budha’s statesmanship. Tyag Mal shattered the image as a recluse in the battle of Kartarpur to transform into (Guru) Teghbahadar, only to return to a low-profile life for twenty years in Bakala, never abandoning public or panthak(community) life (misinterpretation of his lifestyle notwithstanding).
After receiving Guruship in 1664, Guru Teghbahadar Sahib worked to build the Panth (Sikh collective) through social activism and community organization by extensively touring the east of the Indian subcontinent. He restructured an increasingly challenging masand (Guru’s emissaries who headed the Sikh administrative units) system. The Guru refused a land offer from the widow of Raj Dip Cand of Bilaspur; instead, he bought it to establish the city of Chak Nanaki (Anandpur), which later became a critical trade center and hub of significant Sikh activity.
Guru Teghbahadar Sahib employed excellent diplomatic skills in tackling familial discords with Dhir Mal, who continued to scheme against the Guru, the mahouts (care-takers) at Sri Harimandar Sahib, and the Mughals and Ahoms on the external front. The Guru brokered peace between Raja Ram Singh, who represented Aurangzeb, and Ahoms of Guahati (Assam), to establish alliances based on issues and ideals, not personal agendas.
Guru Teghbahadar Sahib served humanity with the ultimate sacrifice of his life, and we commemorate that sacrifice today. While the popular narrative of him sacrificing his life to defend the rights of another community has a big lesson for us, we must recognize another less-heard narrative about him in contemporary texts. In these texts, Guru Teghbahadar Sahib is depicted as a rebel leader who was executed to destroy the sovereignty of the Sikh Panth, which continued to grow in strength under the Guru and threatened the Mughal rule.
So, how do we contextualize such a transcendent personality for ourselves? Let us not forget Guru’s revelations that point to a personality that is aware, in love, detached, aloof, humble, fearless, and sovereign at the same time, harmonizing dichotomies of life, both in life and physical death.
As we do so, we also mark the ascendence (Gurgaddi) of the “Rider of the Blue Steed,” the Father of the Sikh Panth, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, to Guruship. Guru Gobind Singh Sahib ultimately realized Guru Teghbahadar Sahib’s personality - the upholder of human rights, liberty, and justice - in the body of the Khalsa (a Sikh initiated through the ceremony of Amrit (Immortal Nectar) via khande-ki-pahul (prepped via double-edged sword).
May we commemorate the day by reflecting on the Guru’s sakhi (teaching).
ਸੋਰਠਿ ਮਹਲਾ ੯ ॥
ਜੋ ਨਰੁ ਦੁਖ ਮੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਨਹੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥
ਸੁਖ ਸਨੇਹੁ ਅਰੁ ਭੈ ਨਹੀ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਕੰਚਨ ਮਾਟੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਨਹ ਨਿੰਦਿਆ ਨਹ ਉਸਤਤਿ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਲੋਭੁ ਮੋਹੁ ਅਭਿਮਾਨਾ ॥
ਹਰਖ ਸੋਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਆਰਉ ਨਾਹਿ ਮਾਨ ਅਪਮਾਨਾ ॥੧॥
ਆਸਾ ਮਨਸਾ ਸਗਲ ਤਿਆਗੈ ਜਗ ਤੇ ਰਹੈ ਨਿਰਾਸਾ ॥
ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਜਿਹ ਪਰਸੈ ਨਾਹਨਿ ਤਿਹ ਘਟਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਨਿਵਾਸਾ ॥੨॥
ਗੁਰ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਜਿਹ ਨਰ ਕਉ ਕੀਨੀ ਤਿਹ ਇਹ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਪਛਾਨੀ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਲੀਨ ਭਇਓ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਸਿਉ ਜਿਉ ਪਾਨੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਪਾਨੀ ॥੩॥੧੧॥
Neither bothered by pain or fear nor distracted by attachment or wealth,
Beyond praise, slander, greed, and pride,
Unmoved by happiness, sadness, honor, or dishonor,
Forsaken hope and expectation and not given to the worldly ways,
Untouched by lust or wrath, that individual is an abode of the Creator,
On whom the Guru’s grace befalls learns this way.
O Nanak, like water in the water, that person is merged with the Source.
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