Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708)

Gobind Singh is the Sikhs' tenth and final human guru.  Whereas Guru Nanak was the tranquil mystic, seeking God through contemplation and retreat, Gobind Singh's image is more like the warrior king, as this image clearly shows (the crown, quiver, sword, spear, and lion-mouthed cannon). 

This changed emphasis was largely driven by rising conflict with the Mughal authorities--who had executed both Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, Gobind Singh's father.   In a poem called the Zafar-Nama, stresses that after all other avenues have been exhausted, one may take up the sword to defend one's life, family, and community.

According to tradition, Guru Gobind Singh instituted the Khalsa in 1699 in order to transform his followers into a potent fighting force, or as tradition records, "from sparrows into hawks."  This tradition is my best guess for the meaning of the small bird in the upper right.

This image comes from Popular Sikh Art by W.H. McLeod (Oxford U. Press, 1991). 

 

This image shows Guru Gobind Singh bestowing amrit (initiation) on the "Five Beloved Ones" (panjapyare).  Sikh tradition reports that this happened on Baisakhi Day in 1699 in Anandpur Saheb, and marks the founding of the Khalsa.

Tradition reports that Guru Gobind Singh called his followers together on Baisakhi (when Sikhs had traditionally come to offer fealty to their Guru), and asked the assembled Sikhs for someone to offer his life for the community.  After a moment a man stepped forward and was led by the Guru into a tent, from which the Guru shortly emerged with a bloody sword.  This scene was repeated four more times, after which Gobind Singh revealed them all to be alive (having slain 5 goats in their stead).  The Guru then mixed sugar in water, stirring it with a dagger, and gave it to them (in modern times the initiate will drink some, and also have some sprinkled on his or her head).  After that, Gobind Singh asked them to give this same mixture to him (and to this day, 5 initiated Sikhs must be present at this rite).

The Panjapyare represent the willingness to sacrifice everything for the faith.  According to tradition, they also came from five different groups in Indian society, and thus symbolized that the Sikh community transcended Indian caste distinctions. 

This image comes from Popular Sikh Art by W.H. McLeod (Oxford U. Press, 1991). 

 

In this picture, Guru Gobind Singh is rallying his Sikhs during the siege of Anandpur. 

This image comes from Popular Sikh Art by W.H. McLeod (Oxford U. Press, 1991). 

 

 

Since the time of Guru Ram Das (d. 1581) the Sikh Gurus had all been members of a particular extended family.  Historians suggest that one reason Gobind Singh declared that he would be the last human guru is because his four sons all predeceased him.  The two older sons (dressed here in yellow) were killed in battle during the siege of Anandpur, and the younger two (in red) were captured and executed by the Mughul authorities, who bricked them alive in a wall. 

This picture thus shows a tender and poignant family moment, with the Guru holding three of his sons, and the oldest riding his horse.  The viewers, of course, know how this story ends, and the reference to the four Sahibzadey is one of the elements in the prayer known as the Ardas (in which one part calls Sikhs to remember those in the past who have suffered for their faith). 

This image comes from Popular Sikh Art by W.H. McLeod (Oxford U. Press, 1991). 

 

This shows the events that took place after the fall of Anandpur, when against all odds Gobind Singh managed to escape capture and death.  The picture at upper right shows him resting in the jungle at Machhiwara following the evacuation of Anandpur; he was eventually led through the Mughal lines by two Pathans.

The building in the top center is Kesgarh Sahib Gurudwara at Anandpur, where Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa in 1699.  This is one of the five Sikh Takhts ("thrones") or significant historical sites.

This image comes from Popular Sikh Art by W.H. McLeod (Oxford U. Press, 1991). 

 

 

 

This image refers to the final days of Guru Gobind Singh.  After the death of Aurangzeb, Gobind Singh had come to the Deccan to meet with the new emperor Bahadur Shah.  The meeting with the emperor went very well, but while he was there Gobind Singh was stabbed by a Pathan (who is suspected to have been sent by Wazir Khan, governor of Sirhind).  The wound was stitched up and Gobind Singh appeared to be recovering, but several days later the stitches burst when he tried to string a difficult bow, and all efforts to save him failed.

The image shows Gobind Singh surrounded by his four sons, who all predeceased him.  The large building in the bottom center is Gurudwara Hazur Sahib in Nander, Maharashtra, which marks where he died; this is one of the five Sikh Takhts ("thrones") or significant historical sites.  

 

 

 

 

 This image comes from Popular Sikh Art by W.H. McLeod (Oxford U. Press, 1991). 

 

 

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Last modified 3 September 2006