The Valour of Guru Tegh Bahadur

This article is part 1 of 76 in the series The Tradition of Kshaatra in India

Aurangzeb attacked Kashmir and attempted to kill all the Kashmiri Pandits. Struck by the fear of death, they requested the king of Kashmir to surrender the kingdom itself. In this manner, without the slightest resistance, Kashmir surrendered to Islam. Since the Kashmiri Pandits stepped back from sacrifice and martyrdom, the entire land fell to Islam. The society doesn’t pay heed to people who are not willing to sacrifice themselves. If we are unable to make sacrifices then we must accept our ordinariness. The Pandits who did not make sacrifices then are struggling to this day.

Aurangzeb sent a chief named Sher Afghan to the Kashmiri Pandits with the message that either they convert to Islam or die. At that point, a group of Pandits rushed to Anandapur and sought an audience with Guru Tegh Bahadur. They told the Guru about Aurangzeb’s orders and requested him to protect them. Guru Tegh Bahadur was lost in thought as to how this problem could be solved; upon seeing his father in a pensive mood, his son Gobind Singh asked him what the problem was. Guru Tegh Bahadur said, “Some great man has to go to Aurangzeb and tell him on his face, ‘What you’re doing is wrong!’ At least then the rest will be spared from the sword of conversion dangling over their necks. And that great man should be ready even to lay down his life.”

In response, Gobind Singh said, “Who else but you can go? You are indeed that great man!” Adhering to the words of an innocent young boy, Guru Tegh Bahadur left Anandapur and went to Delhi along with a small group of his followers. He engaged in a debate with Aurangzeb. That rogue agreed to nothing. Not just that, he said in a mocking tone, “Perform some miracle in front of me!” In response, Guru Tegh Bahadur retorted, “I will not perform any miracle to convince people such as you!”

The Kashmiri Pandits sent a memorandum declaring that if this one man, Guru Tegh Bahadur, would convert to Islam, they would all follow suit. And the person behind this suggestion was the Guru himself. In Delhi, even after Aurangzeb tried to convert the Guru using guile and threat, he simply refused to yield and said in a fearless tone, “Not just me, even a single strand of my hair will not convert to Islam!” Aurangzeb threw Guru Tegh Bahadur and his associates into prison. When the Guru began to harbour doubts about surviving for long, he wrote a letter to his son Gobind Singh. The summary of the letter is as follows: “All human efforts have failed. The only thing left is the Divine. Earnest means of reconciliation has become helpless today. It is only the Supreme who can save us.”

In response, his nine-year-old son wrote: “We have Divine grace, we also have strength. The fetters of slavery shall break free. There is always value for truth and freedom. We have to accept that the Supreme is all-powerful and the world is his playground. We have to wait for his blessings.”

Both these letters later found their way into the Guru Granth Saheb. Guru Tegh Bahadur realized that his son was mature and an appropriate heir. In the Sikh tradition, there was a practice of sending betel leaves to the person who is the heir to the position of a Guru. Thus, the purohita Gurdit escaped from prison and took the betel leaf to Gobind Singh. Enraged that one of them escaped, Aurangzeb had the rest of them cut into pieces. With the horrific idea that if he tortured and killed his students in front of him Guru Tegh Bahadur would convert to Islam, Aurangzeb made the Guru’s disciples undergo cruel ordeals, tortured them, and had them killed. But neither did he convert to Islam nor did he display any weakness of heart.

Finally on 11th November 1665, Aurangzeb ordered that Guru Tegh Bahadur’s head should be chopped off in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. Guru Tegh Bahadur spread out a sheet of cloth and sat down, in Chandni Chowk, awaiting his death. With a view that the Guru might agree to convert to Islam in the very last moment, a Maulvi was present. The executioner stood waiting with a sharpened sword in his hand. Everyone around was shedding tears. Bhai Chaitanya, a lower caste road sweeper too was wailing. He pleaded with the Guru, “Why don’t you perform a miracle to save your life?” Guru Tegh Bahadur replied, “I will not resort to any miracles to save my life. My life itself is a miracle.” The executioner raised his sword, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s head rolled down. A small chit was attached to the rosary beads he had worn around his neck. On it was written “Sir diya par sirhardiya,” meaning “I gave my head but didn’t give up my faith.” Thus he gave his own life but ensured that the Kashmiri Pandits’ faith in Sanatana Dharma remained unaffected.

Bhai Chaitanya took his head and ran to Gobind Singh. Lakhi Singh took his body, placed it in his own hut and then set fire to the hut, thus performing the last rites of Guru Tegh Bahadur. 

In Delhi’s Rakhabganj there is the sacred spot where Guru Tegh Bahadur’s last rites were performed. In the place where he was executed, the Sisganj gurudwara stands today. In this way, Guru Tegh Bahadur exhibited incomparable valour and imbued the Sikhs with the martial spirit by offering his own life.

Soon after this, Guru Gobind Singh took over as the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh had four children. Once when Aurangzeb was at Anandapur, he invaded the city. At that time, two of his elder children attain martyrdom. Guru Gobind Singh’s mother Gujaridevi escaped with his two younger children Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, thus protecting them. However, Sangu, the lady who was a cook at Guru Gobind Singh’s house for twenty years, gave away the secret, falling prey to the desire of great rewards. Gujaridevi and the two children were thrown into prison. They were taken to Nawab Vazir Khan. He forced the children to convert to Islam. The Qazi there said that just because their father Gobind Singh was an enemy of the Mughals, the children should not be punished. However, since they refused to convert to Islam, they were killed by a most cruel punishment of building a wall around them even when they were alive. 

Both the children were made to stand and around them a three-foot thick wall was being constructed using brick and mortar. At that point, the elder of the two, Zorawar Singh had tears in his eyes. His younger brother Fateh Singh saw this and said, “Brother! Are you crying out of fear?” The elder one replied, “No, not because of fear. You are shorter than me and therefore you will die earlier. You will be sacrificing yourself first for the sake of dharma. I’m sad that I did not get this meritorious opportunity!” After the wall was completely built, it was broken after an hour, the corpses were dragged out, and chopped into pieces. Guru Gobind Singh’s mother Gujaridevi was killed by throwing her off a turret of the fort. When the wealthy merchant Todar Mal begged them to release the mortal remains so that he could perform the last rites, he was told, “Fill with gold coins the space that is covered by all that land used for their last rites. Only then will we give you the chance to perform the funeral rites.” It is only after Todar Mal filled the place with gold coins that he was given permission to perform the last rites of the valorous mother and the two child martyrs.

When Guru Gobind Singh heard about this great sacrifice of his mother and his sons, instead of shedding tears, he announced, “The Mughal Empire has seen its death!”

A sanyasi named Madhav Das used some device and ensured that anyone who sat on his seat, the seat would roll away. Guru Gobind Singh easily sat on it. Deeply influenced by this, Madhav Das said, “I am your Banda (servant)” and surrendered to Guru Gobind Singh, who said in response, “It is not enough if you are just Banda, you have to be Bahadur (brave) as well!” Later, he was the one who led an army and fought under the name Bahadur; with a huge army he established a Sikh kingdom.

To be continued...




Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.


Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in philosophy, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 35+ books, mostly related to Indian culture. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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