Guru Hargobind ji

Guru Hargobind ji (1606-1644)

Artist Bodh Rai's immpression of  Sri Guru Hargobind ji

While in prison, before his execution at Lahore, Guru Arjun had sent a message to his son, Guru Hargobind, then aged only eleven, that he should henceforth maintain an army. At the very time of his installation as Guru, he insisted that he should wear two swords, one representing his spiritual leadership and the other his temporal and political leadership. Soon after it, he constructed in front of the Amritsar temple, another building called the Akal Takht (God's throne) as the seat of temporal power. This place continues to the present day as the centre of every sociopolitical deliberation and power of the community. There, like the two swords he wore, he raised aloft two flags representing the two aspects of his activities. He told his followers, "My rosary shall be my swordbelt and on my turban I shall wear the emblem of royalty." The Sikhs were already engaged in the trade of horses and the Guru advised every Sikh to keep a sword and maintain a horse, wherever possible. He started recruiting a regular army. He had a personal bodyguard of 57 horsemen and kept 700 horses, 60 gunmen and 500 infantry men. Thus a state within a state, started and developed by the earlier Gurus, was consolidated by him. When this news reached the Emperor, he demanded from the Guru the fine imposed on his father. The Guru was imprisoned in the Gwalior fort along with other political prisoners of high status. Later he was released. Guru Hargobind ji in one of the battles

There is an important incident which brings out the religious policy of the Gurus. One Ram Das, a Maharashtra saint, met Guru Hargobind. He questioned him as to how he reconciled his being a successor to the spiritual seat of Guru Nanak with his living as a soldier, maintaining an army and calling himself a true Emperor. The Guru replied that Guru Nanak had given up mammon (greed for money). He had not renounced the world, and that the sword was for the double purpose of protecting the poor and destroying the tyrant. These words of the Guru most clearly bring out the religious and spiritual philosophy of Sikh mysticism, its originality and its break with the past. Persons brought up in the tradition of old beliefs and ideas of dichotomy between the religious and the temporal life find it difficult to understand and grasp the significance of the Guru's system. The problem of comprehension that confronted saint Ram Das was the same as arose with the Nath Yogis in their dialogue with Guru Nanak. It arises even now with some of our present-day academicians. But, for the Sikh mystic, participation in life is spiritually essential. Consequently, the defence of moral life, reaction and responses to challenges from the environment form an integral part of the Gurus' mystic system. The reply of Guru Hargobind is an unambiguous clarification of the system of Guru Nanak as understood by the Gurus themselves. This also explains the various empirical steps taken by the first five Gurus in order to develop their religious system and organise the Sikhs in the way they did. Saint Ram Das's meeting with the Guru had a great historical consequence, for he was so impressed by the Guru's thesis that he later trained Shivaji, the great Maratha leader, in the same manner.

Guru Hargobind sponsored the cause of the downtrodden Hindus and provided leadership to the oppressed people of Punjab. In this struggle, he fought six battles with the Mughals in the plains of the Punjab. People came to him and joined his forces because they felt that no one else had the power to stand against the Emperor. In one of these battles he defeated 7,000 Mughal soldiers. Finally, he settled at Kiratpur. His reputation as a military leader spread and ambassadors of the hill Rajas waited upon him.

The organisation of the Sikhs into a separate socio-religious group with political implications had started from the time of the very first Guru. This close and integral combination of the temporal and the spiritual life was a thesis which was foreign to the Indian tradition. No wonder that some of the people around the Sixth Guru, including his own followers, could not understand the spiritual character of these military developments. This explains two points. First, that the transformation of the community into a spirituo- political organisation could only be gradual, because the Gurus had to carry the people with them. Unfortunately, they had all been conditioned by the old traditions. The full understanding and acceptance of the new thesis could only be slow.

The Gurus, naturally, had to wait till their followers fully realised the implications of the new doctrine and owned its responsibilities. Secondly, it also confirms the view that the object was to organise a mission and a movement in the empirical world and not merely to deliver a message and embody it in a scripture or a mythical tale. The scriptural thesis had to be lived among the people and not in the seclusion of a monastery for the training of a few. The aim was to uplift everyone irrespective of caste and creed and to show that each one, howsoever placed, could tread the spiritual path. This choice was open to everyone and the Guru was there to organise and lead the movement. Hence, the progress could only be gradual both in the education of the people and in the pace of the movement. The latter could not outstrip the former. The task was stupendous. For, it had to take place in the face of the understandable opposition of one of the greatest empires of all times. falcon

One incident is very significant of the socio-political climate in the Guru's camp. During a hunt being carried out by the Imperial party in a jungle, the Sikhs also entered the same area in pursuit of game. The Sikhs got hold of a falcon, which was claimed by the official party. A clash took place and the Imperial forces were beaten off. But, what is important is the approval of the Sikhs who stressed, "you are talking of the return of the baz (falcon), we are after your tag (crown)." It clearly shows the independence of political status claimed by the Guru and his Sikhs.

The number and areas of sub-centres of preachings were extended. The Guru himself controlled both the religious centres and the temporal centre at Amritsar. The Guru, thereby, only brought out visibly and symbolically what, in view of the steps that had already been taken by the earlier Gurus, was inherent in the integrated spiritual thesis of Guru Nanak. In fact secure and clear foundations had already been laid by him. While the Gurus, and those engaged in these developments, were fully aware of their responsibility to maintain the original spiritual purity of the religion and the entire movement, to some outsiders, including historians conditioned and committed to different doctrines and systems of religion and polity, the Sixth Guru s work has seemed to show a departure from the original growth. But, a departure, as we have seen, it was not.
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