Guru Teg Bahadur – His Empathy for Humanity and Human Rights


By Dr Surjit Singh Bhatti, Ex – Professor & Head and Dean, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar (surjitsinghbhatti@gmail.com/ drssbhati.ca)

Guru Teg Bahadur (1621-1675) was the 9th Sikh Guru. His hymns in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) focus mostly on the need for human detachment from the worldly allurements, and attachment with God. He purchased the land and founded the town of Chakk-Nanaki in Punjab, later called Anandpur Sahib (City of Bliss and Peace). He was named Tyga Mal (Master of Renunciation) in his childhood. He learnt many languages and spiritual philosophy from Sikh scholars, and archery, swordsmanship, and horse-riding from his warrior father Guru Har Gobind Ji, the 6th Guru. At a very young age, he accompanied his father against Moghuls in the Battle of Kartarpur and was renamed Teg Bahadur (Brave sword-wielder) because of his bravery.

An Unparalleled Sacrifice for Dignity of Hinduism

Guru Teg Bahadur was approached in May 1675 by Kashmiri Pandits, seeking his intercession against the forced conversions of Hindus to Islam by Aurangzeb, the then Moghul ruler of India. He asked the Pandits to tell the Emperor that if he could convert Guru Teg Bahadur, the Hindus will also follow suit. In November 1675, Guru Sahib himself went to tell Aurangzeb that he will not convert to Islam. Guru Sahib was told that his refusal to convert to Islam and his support for the Hindu Pandits would result in his death. Guru Sahib accepted the death penalty, to save his own right and the right of the Pandits to live with honour. Today, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib stand at these sites of martyrdom and cremation of Guru Ji’s body. It was also an act of the Empathy which Guru Sahib had for the Hindus.

Guru Gobind Singh wrote about the sacrifice of Guru Teg Bahadur to the following effect:

To protect the right to wear their (religious) symbols and sacred threads, Guru Teg Bahadur sacrificed his life. To help the pious and uphold their faith, he (voluntarily) gave his head but did not utter a word in pain. He did not perform any jugglery or miracles but set an example of the limit of resistance (to injustice). No one has ever performed an act as noble as his. As he left, the world cried in grief and horror, but he was welcomed as a victor in the Realm of God.

Poet Senapati, one of the 52 poets in the Darbar of Guru Gobind Singh (the 10th Guru), wrote:

Guru Teg Bahadur manifested himself (in the human form in this world) and blessed the entire humanity with his benevolent (voluntary) sacrifice for (their fundamental) human rights.

Guru Teg Bahadur – The First-ever Protector of Basic Human Rights of Others

It is unprecedented in the history of the world for a brave warrior to willingly sacrifice his life to uphold the dignity, freedom, and other human rights of the persons of another faith. Guru Teg Bahadur did not practice the customs, traditions, or the religious rituals of the Hindu Pandits who came to him for help. But he strongly believed that Hindus had the right to follow their own faith and nobody, not even an Emperor, could force them to convert to Islam. Guru Teg Bahadur, like all other Gurus, held the belief that every person has equal right and freedom to follow any preferred mode of worship of God, irrespective of whether others agree with it or not.


Declaration of Human Rights in Europe


In the West, the concept of human rights emerged after the historic French Revolution (during 1789-1799) with the slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Pioneering French thinkers like Voltaire (1694-1778) spoke first in Europe against Religious Intolerance. The Genevan, Rousseau (1712-1778) advocated the respect and equality of all religions and crusaded against the bigotry of cruel kings and priests in Europe. All ten Sikh Gurus (between 1469 and 1708) not only gave these lofty concepts much earlier, but they fought for them. The great loss of human lives in the two World Wars led to the establishment of the United Nations with the twin aims of bringing Peace and Protection of Human Rights.


The UN Charter of Human Rights (1948)


The UN General Assembly adopted a Universal Charter of Human Rights which was declared in Paris on 10th December 1948. It has 30 clauses that define the basic principles on which dignity, equality, independence, and progress of all human beings depends, all over the world. It is obvious that the Sikh Gurus were the First to enunciate these principles and work for their implementation, irrespective of caste, community, and personal beliefs. Centuries later, these ideals continue to be enshrined in the Daily Prayer (Ardaas) of the Sikhs as Sarbat da Bhala (Welfare of All).


Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606), the 5th Guru Sahib and his grandson Guru Teg Bahadur accepted martyrdom for the Protection of Basic Human Rights – not only their own but also of Hindus and other people. Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the 10th Guru Sahib, fought several fierce battles against Moghuls and sent a scathing ‘Epistle of Victory’ (Zafar-Nama), exposing the perfidy of Aurangzeb. Guru Sahib sacrificed not only his father, but also his four young sons, the indomitable Sahibzadas, and his mother, for the Protection of Human Rights., not for any personal gain.

Guru Teg Bahadur – The King of Detachment as well as Optimism

In his verses, Guru Sahib has revealed the worthlessness of (excessive) human desires and focused on renunciation (Tyag) and detachment (Bairag). This is evident from some of his Slokas in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) recorded under Mahala -9. The brief implications of these verses are given below. Frequent use of some special words (highlighted here) is discernible.

This world is unreal, like a dream of the night; one should develop real relationship with God who destroys grief and is merciful to the humble.

Treat the world as a dream, where nothing belongs to us, the human beings. Hence, one should not have false pride – of worldly possessions.

The world is unreal, like a wall of sand, which does not endure. No one belongs to you. Attach yourself only with God, who is real and true.

Nothing is permanent in this world and everyone shall perish one day. Kings who had large families, also died. Do not worry in unexpected situations. Leave all unnecessary entanglements and sing the Glory of God.

One who has forsaken sins and is detached from the world, has a good destiny. God resides in the heart that gives up possessiveness and is free of all attachments and fears.

The world is like an illusion and a mirage. One’s dead body, treated as a ghost, is not kept even for half an hour. Only God can bring Salvation.

To know the essence of this world, treat pain and pleasure alike, consider honor and the lack of it, in the same way, remain detached from joy and sorrow, renounce both praise and blame. Few who understand and adopt this difficult path, get Nirvana.

Do not have (excessive) attachment with children, friends, and worldly desires. The world is like deer’s delusion, do not run after it.

People captive of lust, anger, attachments, believe the human body is forever. Realize that body will perish and what we see is the passing shadow of clouds, to get sanctuary of God.

Detachment is Not Despondency but a Higher State of Mind

Guru Sahib’s hymns, however, do not imply that one should lead a life of pessimism. He was a brave warrior and had fought against unjust systems and cruel rulers. He sacrificed even his own life for upholding the basic human rights of others. His sacrifice was the cornerstone of the Freedom of India from the then tyrannical Moghul rule. He showed that detachment is essential to get rid of the fear of losing one’s worldly possessions. To provide solace and dignity to oneself and to others, one can acqire empathy for others in this way, if the help of God is invoked.

We need to muster the strength and devise all the wherewithal to break our shackles. Guru Sahib says we should pray only to God to help us in our efforts – as God alone has the Supreme Power in His Hands.

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