Updated: Dec 17, 2018
In 1658, during the life of the 9th Sikh Guru, 'Guru Tegh Bhadur Ji' (1621 - 1675), a ruthless young prince 'Aurangzeb' (1618 -1707) imprisoned his father Emperor Shahjahan and killed all other male family members. He then proclaimed himself the new Moghul emperor.
India was traumatised, by this misguided, cruel, incompetent, power hungry man. 'Aurangzeb, evil man, failed emperor.
To hide his insatiable personal lust for power and wealth, and to cover up for the misdeeds of his accession he had to win over the clergy and the ruling class.
Claiming he was acting for the greater glory of Islam, he donned the garb of purist Islamic piety.
Aurangzeb was not very discriminating, he was uniformly cruel and inflicted misery upon all his subjects. Even though Muslims suffered under his rule, he preferred to persecute Hindus.
Though an excellent warrior and general, the bigot Aurangzeb, was weak in statecraft, and economics. Overall he was an incompetent ruler who preferred violence and war.
He transformed his inheritance of an efficient, tolerant Islamic empire, into a corrupt, inefficient, intolerant empire. A former socially, culturally, and economically highly successful and wealthy empire, found itself financially, socially and morally bankrupt.
By his actions, Aurangzeb also planted the seeds of the destruction of the Moghul Empire. Probably one his greatest folly was to persecute the fearless but peace loving 9th Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bhadur ji.
Aurangzeb's downfall began when salivating with greed, he set his eyes on his next major victim the fabulously wealthy kingdom of 'Kashmir'. For additional sadistic pleasure, to destroy the 6000 year old pinnacle of Vedic learning and finish off its majority Hindu population.
The people of Kashmir grew terrified and felt helpless. In May 1675 the Hindus of Kashmiri led by the Brahmin Pandit, Kirpa Ram approached Guru Tegh Bhadur ji pleading for his help to save them from the rampant abduction and rape of their sisters and daughters, the looting, killing and destruction of all they held precious, and to save Hinduism.
The great Guru knew that force would not work in resolving this great crisis. He contemplated for a few days, and finally told the Pandits."Such cruelty can only be stopped by a great and noble soul willing to confront the emperor one on one, and thus sacrifice his life".
Gobind Rai (Later to become Guru Gobind Singh ji) the 9 years old son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, overhearing the discussions, asked his father, "Who else is greater then you, O' father?"
Guru Tegh Bhadur ji told the Hindu Pandits, "Go tell Aurangzeb that, if the emperor can convert Guru Tegh Bhadur then you will all become Muslims. If not then he will spare the Hindus of Kashmir"
Kirpa Ram and his companions sent to Emperor Aurangzeb a petition to that effect through Zalim Khan, the governor of Lahore. Aurangzeb grabbed the proposal as a great opportunity. Converting just one individual would save him so much resources and time.
On 11th July 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji left for Delhi after anointing his son Gobind Rai as the 10th Sikh Guru.
En-route, Guru Tegh Bhadur ji was arrested, along with his followers, on 27 July 1675. He was put in chains and kept in an iron cage.
When Aurangzeb asked the Guru, 'Why as a Sikh was the Guru standing up for the Hindus?
Guru Tegh Bhadur ji replied, "Those who become Sikhs, see all as one. We belong to and serve all mankind. We Sikhs, the disciples of Guru Nanak ji, walk on the path of Truth. Therefore its my duty to protect the weak and helpless from injustice and tyranny. I would do the same for our Muslim brothers and sisters if they were being persecuted."
At first Aurangzeb offered Guru Tegh Bhadur ji and his followers great riches and titles. When that did not sway them, Guru ji and his followers were subject to all sorts of torture.
Great courage comes only from a fearless soul, which a true Guru possesses.
Aurangzeb used to dealing with mere mortals was unable to force the Guru to submit to his demands. Neither bribery, nor threats, neither physical, nor mental torture worked.
In an attempt to frighten the Guru into submission, three of the Guru's companions were cruelly tortured before the Guru's very eyes.
When they did not yield, they were martyred in the most horrible way. The first, Bhai Mati Das was sawn into pieces. The second, Bhai Dayala was boiled alive, and the third, Bhai Sati Das was burnt alive.
Unable to break the spirit of the Guru, a defeated and furious Aurangzeb ordered the execution of the Guru. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was beheaded in public at Chandni Chowk (Delhi) on 24 November 1675.
The Guru's stand and message was 'No mortal, no matter how powerful or cruel can impose himself or his rule if people do not submit. You can take the body but not the dignity nor the soul'.
The spirit of sacrifice of such magnitude by so great a soul. The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bhadur ji, was a turning point in Indian history. It compelled the passive Hindus and Sikhs to awaken and rise up and actively work against the cruel empire. It would set in motion a series of events that would destroy the Mughal empire for ever and enshrine religious freedom across the world.
Were it not for the contribution of Guru Tegh Bhadur ji, and his Sikh disciples, India would have become just like Aurangzeb, characterless, violent, despotic, corrupt and intolerant.
We Hindustani, owe a great debt to Guru Tegh Bhadur ji for his sacrifice and martyrdom. That is why the Guru is also known as, 'Hind di Chadar', meaning 'The shield of Hindustan'
Further reading: Guru Tegh Bahadur – Mission, Martyrdom and Message by Mr. Bal Anand