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Martyrdom Of Guru Arjan

In June 1606, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir ordered Guru Arjan be tortured and killed after the Guru refused to stop preaching his message of God as started by Guru Nanak. The Guru was made to sit on a burning hot sheet while boiling hot sand was poured over his body. After enduring five days of unrelenting torture, Guru Arjan was taken for a bath in the river. As thousands watched he entered the river, never to be seen again.

Accordingly, in June of every year since 1606, the Sikhs commemorate the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru and the first Sikh Martyr. Before the arrest, torture, and martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the Sikhs had nothing to do with weapons or violence, as all the Sikh Gurus had taught the message of compassion, love, dedication, hard work, worship of one God, and the commitment to peace and harmony for all the peoples of the world.


During the Guruship of Guru Arjan, many thousands of the native people began to follow the teachings of Sikhism. In addition, many hindus and muslims, including muslim converts, were crowding into Goindwal (the center of the Sikh faith during the late 1500s), where they too soon became Sikhs.

The Mughal clergy, who had persistently chafed Akbar for his tolerance, grew increasingly irate at the popularity of the Sikh Gurus and the growth of their following. After the death of Akbar in 1605, they saw their best chance at destroying the Sikh institution in Akbar's eldest son. Named Jahangir, meaning "world-conqueror", Akbar's son was a muslim fundamentalist who was very taken with the idea of turning the entirety of hindustan (the name of the mughal kingdom in North-western India) into an Islamic State.

The powerful hindus associated with the mughal Court, having seen their own power base disappear rapidly under the influence of Guru Arjan, joined the muslim Ulema in their attempt to influence Jahangir to arrest Guru Arjan - they hoped to plunge a dagger into the heart of Sikhism.

Jahangir, with his own jealousies, promptly obliged the enemies of the Guru and many baseless allegations were brought against both Sikhism and the Guru. They accused the Sikh Granth of defaming the hindu and muslim religions and produced the claim that Jahangir's son and rival, the rebellious Prince Khusrau, was aided by Guru Arjan. Prince Khusrau was seen as a very fitting Emperor by Akbar and many other nobles of the court, more so than the wine and opium loving Jahangir.

However, in the war of succession, Jahangir had won all of hindustan and Prince Khusrau retained only Punjab. Diwan Chandu Shah, who had finally warmed to the marriage of his daughter with Guru Arjan's son (Guru) Hargobind, became inflamed at the rejection of his proposal by Guru Arjan. He went to Jahangir and "filled his ear with poison against the Guru."

Jahangir, The Tyrant

Emperor Jahangir, a notorious alcoholic, drug addict and womanizer, had the following written in his diary the "Tuzuk-i-Jahagiri" ("Memoirs of Jahangir");

"I ordered them to produce him and handed over his houses, dwelling-places, and children to Murtaza Khan, and having confiscated his property commanded that he should be put to death."

We cannot say for certain whether Jahangir's bragging over his order of the death actually happended or whether he was trying to increase his 'fame'. There is no mention (in all of Sikh History) of the Guru's houses, dwelling-places, and children ever being seized by Murtaza Khan.

Written history and oral tradition seems to back up the fact that Murtaza Khan (influenced heavily by Chandu Shah) was left to decide Guru Arjan's punishment and it is even believed that Jahangir turned Chandu Shah over to Guru Hargobind for his role in the torture of his father Guru Arjan. Murtaza Khan was never heard of again and Jahangir's diary never even mentions Guru Hargobind.

Jahangir did not take the trouble of ordering an investigation into the nature or implications of the alleged political misconduct of the Guru. He took immediate action, for he 'fully knew his heresies.' The condemnation without a hearing, the ferocity of the punishment, and the specific mention of 'heresies' betray the Emperor’s real motive.

Although some details relating to the tragedy are obscure, there is little doubt that Jahangir's own account in his autobiography, read in the light of the circumstances connected with his accession and the jubilation of the Mujaddid (another muslim) at Guru Arjun’s death, can be interpreted only in one way, viz, it was a classic case of religious persecution.

No student of mughal history can believe that an unarmed religious teacher - a man of peace who compiled the Adi Granth and composed the 'Sukhmani' was a danger to the safety of the Empire in 1606 or that Jahangir could act upon such an illusory fear.

The role attributed to Chandu Shah in this narrative seems to be exaggerated, although it is possible that he tried to rouse the Emperor’s ire in order to have his revenge on the Guru for the social insult which he had suffered. This is, however, entirely a side issue. The Emperor hardly needed any prodding; even before the Khusrau incident, he was thinking of taking measures against the Guru 'to put stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.'

Reclaimed by God

After five days of torture Guru Arjan asked for a bath in the Ravi River which flowed along the walls of the city of Lahore. Chandu reveled at the thought that the Guru's body, full of blisters, would undergo greater pain when dipped in cold water and so he permitted him to bathe in the river. Chandu also thought perhaps the cold water may cause the Guru to re-consider his position. Chandu sent Guru Arjan with an escort of soldiers armed with swords and matchlocks. He ordered them to keep a close watch on the Guru. Guru Arjan looked at Sikhs, and still forbade any action and said;

ਗੁਰੁ ਮੇਰੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਦਾ ਹੈ ਨਾਲੇ ॥
gur mayrai sang sadaa hai naalay.
My Guru is always with me, near at hand.

ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਤਿਸੁ ਸਦਾ ਸਮ੍ਹ੍ਹਾਲੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
simar simar tis sadaa samHaalay. ||1|| rahaa-o.
Praying, praying in remembrance on God, I cherish God forever. ||1||Pause||

ਤੇਰਾ ਕੀਆ ਮੀਠਾ ਲਾਗੈ ॥
tayraa kee-aa meethaa laagai.
Your actions seem so sweet to me.

ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਾਂਗੈ ॥੨॥੪੨॥੯੩॥
har naam padaarath naanak maaNgai. ||2||42||93||
Nanak begs for the treasure of the Naam, the name of the Lord. ||2||42||93||

~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Arjan, Aasaa, Ang 394

On arriving with very slow and painful steps at the Ravi, Guru Arjan took up some of its cold water recently melted from Himalayan ice and bathed his feet and hands. He then went into the water and bathed his whole body. Meanwhile he recited with great devotion the Japji, which confers salvation on Sikhs. His men, who were like a halo round him, followed his example.

The Guru bowed at the end of his devotions and thus addressed his Sikhs, "I have succeeded in effecting the object of my life. Go to my son (Guru) Hargobind, and console him from me. Tell him not to mourn or indulge in lamentations but sing God's praises. Let him also restrain the other members of my family from grief. Let him sit fully armed on his throne, and maintain an army to the best of his ability."

Guru Arjan continued, "Let him become the Guru and treat his Sikhs with the utmost courtesy. Let him hold Baba Budha in honour, and in all respects, except the wearing of arms, adopt the practices of the preceding Gurus. Do not attempt to find and cremate my body." As many watched, Guru Arjan entered the Ravi river and was reclaimed by God, never to be seen again.

When Chandu's daughter-in-law heard of the Guru's death she too abandoned her body, as if it were a worthless blade of grass. Her corpse remained concealed in her chamber and none knew that her spirit had accompanied the Guru's in its heavenly flight.

This was how Guru Arjan for his sanctity, his conversion of the hindus and muhammadans, his compilation of the Aad Granth Sahib and his assistance to the grandson of his former benefactor, fell a victim to the bigotry and inhumanity of a muhammadan emperor. In the end, Guru Arjan was victorious over torture and tyranny.

Guru Arjan sowed the seed of martyrdom, which became the heritage of the Sikhs. With his martyrdom the attitude of the Sikhs towards life changed. Emulating the Guru, they could now readily give their lives for any cause dear to them.

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