Today is the day when the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, attained martyrdom when he was executed by Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb for opposing the forced conversions of Hindus and Sikhs to Islam.
In fact, it was Guru Teg Bahadur who was one of the principal torchbearers for religious freedom. That he took on the powerful Mughal emperor at a time when the empire was at its zenith and conditions for Hindus and Sikhs were at the lowest.
Tormented and tortured by the despotic Aurangazeb, the Hindus and the Sikhs found in Guru Teg Bahadur a resilient figure who would not bow down before the whims of the radical Islamic ruler.
The ninth Sikh Guru was born Tyaga Mal, one of the six children of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind on April 1, 1621.
Ever since Jehangir became the emperor, the Mughals were constantly trying to force the Sikhs and Hindus to convert to Islam.
Following the martyrdom of fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan, at the hands of Jehangir, the Gurus not only started training in martial arts but also trained followers in the same. This is why Guru Teg Bahadur, too, was an expert in martial arts, especially archery.
The name, Teg Bahadur, was given to him by his father when he displayed excellence in the art of swordsmanship in a battle with the Mughals.
In 1633, the Guru was married to Mata Gujri. Sometime in the 1640s the Guru moved to Bakala in Amritsar, his ancestral village. It was here in Bakala that the Guru was anointed as the ninth Sikh Guru.
The peripatetic Guru Teg Bahadur took the teachings of Sikhism as far as Assam. In fact, the Guru was in Assam in 1666 when his son, the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was born in Patna.
It was when the Guru was travelling in Shimla that he bought land from Rani Champa of Bilaspur and laid the foundations of the now famous Anandpur Sahib.
He also travelled the north-west part of the then Indian subcontinent trying to save Hindus from persecution. Of particular note is his attempt in saving Kashmiri Pandits from forced conversions and torture at the hands of Muslims in the region.
Various historical records state that the Guru was not only an influential figure but also a powerful one. But it was not his growing influence that became a problem for the despotic Aurangazeb; it was the Guru’s defiance in the face of the ruler’s increasing religious intolerance.
It was the time when the power of the Mughals was being challenged from almost every direction. (In the south west from rose a great Maratha king called Chatrapati Shivaji.)
Guru Gobind Singh’s composition Bachittar Natak tells us that Aurangazeb called Guru Teg Bahadur to Delhi on a pretext. When the Guru arrived, he was told to convert.
Upon his refusal to convert, Guru Teg Bahadur and his associates were arrested. They were tortured and subsequently executed. Guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded in public.
It was his martyrdom that had a deep impact on Guru Gobind Singh, who would go on to organise the Sikh faith in the martial race it is identified with today so that it could defend itself and save people of other faiths from being persecuted at the hands of Muslim rulers.