Transforming a People:

The Reforms of Guru Gobind Singh Ji

By Angad Singh
(KCF Gurbani Class)

           Guru Gobind Singh Ji was nothing short of a revolutionary. Guru Ji’s actions and words instilled an unwavering sense of confidence within the Sikh psyche that stressed eternal optimism no matter what the situation. This new mindset would be crucial later on in Sikh history as the faith would be forced to overcome numerous obstacles such as holocausts and wars to maintain its survival. Furthermore, Guru Ji’s emphasis on maintaining self-respect and helping the weak led him to create an elite fighting force that could not only wield the sword but more importantly have the power of naam to guide that sword in the right direction. In short, Guru Ji’s reforms guided the Sikh people in the direction of God while also not forgetting to protect the helpless. He left the Sikhs with an everlasting sense of hope- a hope that will lead to the first Sikh nation in 1798.

           Although the Guru had been participating in battles with the surrounding Hill Rajas and Mughals for years, his creation of Mai Halla, or Hola Mohalla as it is called now, helped give a sense of the Guru’s eternal optimism. It is important to note that this festival took place after the Sikhs had fought many battles. The political atmosphere at the time was tense as the Sikhs had to be on guard in case of any attacks by the surrounding Hill Rajas or Mughals. The festival had two parts: one was a military training exercise in which the Sikhs would have a mock battle to practice both offensive and defensive tactics. The goal of the battle was for the offensive side to capture a practice fort. Secondly, after the training was over, the Sikh soldiers played Holi and feasted on large quantities of karah prashad. The poet Bhai Nand Lal was at the event and writes about his feelings while watching[1]:

Many have written about the flower of Holi in the garden of the world. It made the lips beautiful like a flower bud. Rose water, amber, musk, and saffron water fell like rain from all sides. The scattering of gulal by the blessed hand of the Guru reddened the Earth and sky…When my king (Guru Gobind) wore the colored neck cloth, both the worlds became happy through his kindness. One who has happened to see his divine face, achieved the object of his life. My heart has only one desire that I should sacrifice myself on the dust over which the Guru’s devotees pass.

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           Despite knowing the dangerous situation his Sikhs were in, the Guru displays open optimism which spreads to his people as well. Rather than worrying about the current circumstances and having a solemn mood, Guru Ji’s actions fill his soldier’s with a sense of happiness and hope. He sets an example for all Sikhs to follow in his show of optimism despite the unfavorable situation.

           Guru Gobind Singh Ji wanted to combine his sense of optimism with one of disciple because he believed that the Sikhs could only be successful if they were committed to their duties. At this time the Sikhs could not afford making many mistakes in battle due to the volatile political atmosphere of India. He makes his love of discipline clear in his writings[2]:

He is not a Sikh who does not observe disciple

Without disciple one is just a vagabond

Wandering aimlessly from door to door,

Without discipline one falls into the hellish pit…

One who does not observe disciple cannot be happy

Therefore hold fast to the disciplined way of life.

           Furthermore, Guru Gobind Singh Ji believed that optimism did not simply mean wishing for the best and not doing anything constructive to achieve that happiness. On the contrary, the Guru’s emphasis on discipline, hard work, and obedience gave Sikhs the skills necessary to survive while being optimistic. He was practical in his teachings to his Sikhs and pointed out that success comes from honest labor and steady faith in which one stays committed to achieving certain goals. Moreover, the concept of discipline was central to the idea of a saint-soldier, or sant-sipahee. The saint-soldier focused on his objectives and did not waver from the path to reach that objective[3]:

The saint-soldier is the very embodiment of renunciation and devotion to duty. He is ever ready to give up all what is dear to him, even his life to defend freedom to innocent people, freedom of the country and to protect dharma…His life is synonymous with discipline. Heroism is ingrained in his very nature.

One of Guru Gobind Singh’s most important achievements was the creation of the Khalsa in 1699. After calling all Sikhs to Anandpur and finally after having panj pyarras[4]:, he displayed to the world his new fighting force. He gave the panj pyarras amrit (sugar water) thereby symbolizing their baptism into the Khalsa. Along with amrit, the Guru gave the Sikh faith five distinctive features necessary of all members of the Khalsa: Firstly, he ordered Sikhs to never cut their hair or trim their beards (kesh). Secondly, a small wooden comb was required to keep the Sikh’s hair neat thereby emphasizing cleanliness and hygiene (kanga). Thirdly, the Guru gave the Sikhs a small dagger to be carried at all times thereby symbolizing the need to protect oneself and others from oppression (kirpan). Fourthly, he gave Sikhs long shorts to be worn at all times which symbolize chastity before marriage and having faith to one’s partner in marriage (kacha). Lastly, the Guru gave his Khalsa a steel bracelet to be worn at all time which serves as a constant reminder of Sikh spirit and as a warning not to commit actions contrary to Sikhi (karra).

           Yet, Guru Ji’s new Khalsa had much greater implications than simply the five K’s because the tenets of the group itself fundamentally differed, and some may even say threatened, the status quo of the time. One of the most important actions Guru Ji did during the ceremony was that he himself got down on his knees and took amrit from the panj pyarras. This was a very humble act that proved he truly believed in the values of equality and brotherhood. In the Khalsa there was no caste system as everyone was an equal. This blatant equality was directly contrary to the open discrimination in the Hindu-dominated society at the time which heavily enforced the caste system in people’s everyday lives.

           The Khalsa was also formed to raise Sikh spirits at the time. The Guru employed four main ideas that he believed would help raise Sikh courage and confidence to new heights[5]:. Firstly, the Guru inspired his disciples with the idea that they were under God’s protection and to remember that God was dwelled inside their physical and mental beings thereby ridding them of fear. Secondly, the Guru emphasized that the Khalsa army was the army of God and was meant to embody holy ideals. The Khalsa was always supposed to remain optimistic and never give up because the Khalsa’s cause was supported by God Himself. Thirdly, the use of the name “Singh,” or lion, was enacted to replace all other last names which not only further emphasized the sense of brotherhood and equality but also gave Sikhs pride. The lion was considered a very powerful, yet noble and majestic creature that was the king of all animals. Thus, the Khalsa became one of the most powerful armies in the region. Lastly and most importantly, the Guru stressed the important of path and naam simran as a way to invoke confidence and attain a warrior spirit guided by morality. Without a clear understanding, respect, and use of the spiritual writings, a Sikh would never be able to become a true saint-soldier and thus would fail to embody the Guru.

           Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Khalsa would give Sikhs a new boost of confidence and inspiration to continue fighting for the oppressed but at the same time staying true to the Gurus through their writings. The Khalsa would fulfill Guru Ji’s aspirations as history would later show the Khalsa rescuing kidnapped women and children from the hands of invaders and defending the rights of those unable to do so themselves. Furthermore, Guru Ji’s sense of optimism was never forgotten and some may say was the single most important factor in regards to the survival of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh Ji laid the foundation for the burgeoning of Sikh tradition as culminated in the forming of the first Sikh state under Maharajah Ranjit Singh in 1798.

[1] Hari Ram Gupta

[2] Tankhah Nama, quoted by Sher Singh in his Social and Political Philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh

[3] Hari Ram Gupta

[4] The Guru held a bloody sword and asked who was ready to sacrifice his/her life for the Guru. The Panj Pyarras were the five Sikhs who answered the Guru’s call. They were taken to a tent in the back and later they were dressed in new clothes and were the first to be given amrit.

[5] Gokul Chand Narang

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