22nd December 1666: Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, was born

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru and founder of the Khalsa, was born on December 22, 1666, in Patna in present-day Bihar, to Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, and Mata Gujri. Guru Gobind Singh was called Gobind Rai as a child and studied Hindi, Sanskrit, Punjabi and Persian. In 1672 Guru Tegh Bahadur took his family to Anandpur Sahib, which he had founded in 1665.

Guru Gobind Singh shifted to Paonta in Sirmaur state in 1685 following the invitation of the local ruler who sought the Guru’s help in fortifying his position against the rival king of Garhwal. In the years that the Guru was in Paonta he composed sacred texts.

In 1687 the Guru joined forces with Bhim Chand and some hill rulers to defeat Alif Khan and his supporters’ troops in the Battle of Nadaun. In another battle the following year, the Garhwal ruler attacked Paonta but the Guru who marshaled forces on the other side emerged victorious in the Battle of Bhangani.

Following the victory at Bhangani, the Bilaspur queen appealed to the Guru to return to Anandpur Sahib. He agreed to this request.  

In 1699, heeding the call of the Guru, his followers gathered at Anandpur on April 13. It is said that at this gathering he asked for volunteers who were willing to instantly give up their lives as proof of their dedication to the Sikh cause. The Guru called the five volunteers who stepped forward — Daya Ram, Dharam Das, Himmat Rai, Mohkam Chand and Sahib Chand —  the Panj Pyare  or the five beloved ones. These five men, henceforth known as Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh, Bhai Himmat Singh, Bhai Mohkam Singh and Bhai Sahib Singh, became the first of the Khalsa or baptized Sikhs. And female members of the Khalsa began to be called ‘Kaur’.

The Guru explained the basic principles they should follow as part of the new order. These included equality of men and women, disregarding the caste system and superstitions, and believing in one God. The five K’s — kesh (uncut hair), kangha (comb), kara (bracelet), kirpan (sword) and kacchera (undergarment) — were also introduced.

With the teachings of the Guru growing in influence and popularity, the hill Rajas were worried and fought at least three battles against the Guru. Some also sought the assistance of the Mughals in curbing what they perceived as increasing Sikh influence.  

Consequently the forces of Wazir Khan, the Mughal governor of Sirhind, attacked the Guru and the Guru eventually had to retreat to Basoli, whose Raja respected him. Later the Guru re-took control of Anandpur.

In 1705 a combined contingent that included Mughal forces and hill Rajas attacked Anandpur. With the city under siege, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in a letter urged the Guru to leave Anandpur in return for a safe passage. The Guru did so but a night later he and his men were attacked by the Mughal forces.

The Guru, his two older sons, and a group of followers reached Ghanaula village. He went on to Machhiwara and Raikot. Eventually there was a battle at Chamkaur where the Guru’s sons Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh were killed. It was then decided that a section of the warriors would fight the enemy while the Guru would go elsewhere with the remaining group. The Mughal army, believing that the Guru was still trapped inside the fortress, launched an attack the next day, and killed all the fighters inside.

The Guru went on to Machhiwara and later Raikot, helped by several people on the way, Hindus and Muslims, who had great respect for him. But the Guru’s two younger sons who had been separated from their father were captured by Wazir Khan and executed. Later, when the Guru reached Dina, Aurangzeb sent him a letter, proposing talks to resolve matters. The Guru rejected the offer, and in his letter to the emperor listed out the misdeeds of the Mughals and the cruelties inflicted by them. The Guru continued with his travels and inspired several people, initiating them into the Sikh faith.

After Aurangzeb’s death in March 1707 his sons fought over the control of the Mughal throne. The Guru, on the request of Muazzam, Aurangzeb’s second son, sent a group of men to bolster his side. Muazzam was successful in becoming emperor and took the title Bahadur Shah. The new Mughal emperor treated Guru Gobind Singh with respect. The Guru even accompanied Bahadur Shah in his military campaigns.  However, they later parted ways.   

Meanwhile, Wazir Khan, wary of Guru Gobind Singh joining hands with the emperor, sent two aides to assassinate the Guru. One of them, Jamshed Khan, ambushed the Guru while he was resting in Nanded in present-day Maharashtra. The Guru, though seriously wounded, is said to have killed the attacker with his sword.

Guru Gobind Singh succumbed to his injuries on October 7, 1708, in Nanded. Before he died he urged the Sikhs to consider the Guru Granth, the sacred text, as embodiment of the Gurus. Thus, through his teachings and deeds the 10th Sikh Guru not only ensured that Sikhism survived but turned it into a vibrant faith that attracted more and more followers in the years and decades to come, leading to the foundation of the great Sikh empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Also on this day:

1853 — Sarada Devi, key figure in the Ramakrishna Movement, was born

1887 — Srinivasa Ramanujan, Indian mathematician, was born  

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