image caption: Book by Gurmukh Singh OBE

Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji: The True Story




     In Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Sikhs have a most remarkable story to tell the world torn apart by religious conflict. It is the story of a great saint-martyr who gave his life for the religious freedom of all. He was witness to the end, to the founding belief of Guru Nanak&rsquos egalitarian ideology: that all have the fundamental human right to own chosen religious path to seek the Ultimate Reality described by numerous Names. His was a protest through his supreme sacrifice, against zealous proselytization and bigotry.


    It was in that sense that in the history of great martyrdoms for worthy causes, Guru Tegh Bahadur&rsquos martyrdom was described as unique by Nanak X, Guru Gobind Singh. The universal objective of Guru Nanak&rsquos mission was to secure the human rights of all. Religious freedom is one of those rights. 

    The clash between Baabay ke and Babar ke started with the egalitarian ideology of Guru Nanak. There was an immediate confrontation between Guru Nanak and Babar but the inevitable was delayed till the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur followed the Sikh-Mughal conflict during the Guruship of Guru Hargobind and the extensive preaching tours of Tegh Bahadur before and after Guruship.

   Guru Gobind Singh&rsquos "Tilak janju Rakha Prabh tanka"  should be read in the sense that it was a consequence of the egalitarian Sikh ideology. Even the highly biased NCERT historian (see below) realised this when he wrote a distorted account of Guru Tegh Bahadur's lifestyle and about the reason for the shaheedi.

    The main reason for this publication is that earlier publications about the life and martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur either do scant justice to the Guru&rsquos active life or have been written more like fiction in the traditional saakhi (story-telling) style. One example is an otherwise informative biography of Guru Tegh Bahadur by Dr Trilochan Singh (see Bibliography) which is written more like a historical novel. That is the style of most traditional Sikh writers and poets. It is almost impossible to separate fact from flight of poetic imagination!

       Many writers have not taken too much trouble to cross-check even some important events and dates and just carried on with the traditional accounts written on the basis of oral tradition of story telling, or hearsay, or even guesswork when evidence was not available. Nevertheless, what the great Sikh poets and scholars believed to be true at different times of Sikh history, is an important aspect of historiographical evidence. This is a point missed by many Indian historians relying e.g. on Persian sources.

     One serious consequence is distortion of Sikh history in educational textbooks approved by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) of India. My attention was drawn to this re-writing of Sikh history by Dr M S Rahi, a Chandigrah based lawyer, in August 1998. As requested, I sent a formal Affidavit in the form of an &ldquoopinion&rdquo to the High Court of India dated 9 May 1998 (Annex II).

    That evidence related to just one passage about Guru Tegh Bahadur from the publication Medieval India &ndash A History Textbook for Class XI. To quote a few lines:

      &ldquoThe Sikhs were the last to come into military conflict with Aurangzeb. As we have seen, there was conflict with the Sikh Gurus during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. But the reasons for the conflict were political and personal rather than religious. The Guru had started living in style, with an armed following, and assumed the title of sachchah padshah ("the true sovereign"). However, there was no conflict between the Guru and Aurungzeb till 1675 when Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested with five of his followers, brought to Delhi and executed. The causes of this are not clear. According to some Persian accounts, the Guru had joined hands with a Pathan, Hafiz Adam, and created disturbances in Punjab. According to Sikh tradition, the execution was due to intrigues against the Guru by some members of his family who disputed his succession and who had been joined by others. But we are also told that Aurungzeb was annoyed because the Guru had converted a few Muslims to Sikhism and raised a protest against religious persecution in Kashmir by the local governor {5}. It is difficult to sift the truth of these allegations.......&rdquo

(see full text of this passage at Annex)

      Such distortion of Sikh history in text books requires not an emotional but research-based response. That has been my main objective as I have collated evidence about the life and unique martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. The project was undertaken at the request of colleagues at the Sikh Missionary Society UK in January 2016. This proved to be a much more challenging task than anticipated. Fortunately, due to more recent research by late Prof Piara Singh Padam, we have the evidence of Bhat Vahis which has been made available for cross-checking, albeit, with caution, of dates and events.

     I am convinced that here we have, at least, the start of a serious study of Guru Tegh Bahadur&rsquos life and martyrdom &ndash otherwise much distorted by parcharaks (traditional preachers) and Indian NCERT historians alike. There are pointers to further research to show the Guru Jote-Jugat (Spritual Light & method) continuity during this critical period. The same twin-track approach emerged as the Sikhi miri-piri tradition symbolized by Akal Takht Sahib.

    So, the main reason for this publication is to produce a factual account for the research student and the mature lay reader. While some dates may not be necessarily correct, the chronological order of events is based on reasonably authentic records available to date.

      This is my labour of love for the Great Guru who laid the foundation for the final chapter in Guru Nanak&rsquos mission, the revelation of the Khalsa Akal Purakh ki Fauj (Khalsa, the Army of the Timeless Being).

    (The book is available from The Sikh Missionary Society UK)

Gurmukh Singh OBE