G uru Hargobind was born at Wadali village in June 1595 and was the only child of Guru Arjan Dev. He was invested with the Guruship on May 25, 1606 just days before his fathers martyrdom. From a young age he was educated in the sciences, sports and religion as his father had insisted. Baba Buddha was responsible for overseeing the Guru’s religious teachings. During the Guruship ceremony Guru Hargobind respectfully declined to wear the Seli (woolen cord worn on the head) which had been passed down on each successive Guru since Guru Nanak. Instead the Guru asked for a sword. Baba Buddha, never having handled a sword before, placed it on the wrong side of the Guru. Guru Hargobind noticing this, asked for another sword saying “I’ll wear two swords, a sword of shakti (power) and a sword of bhakti (meditation).” Henceforth the Guru would always carry two swords to symbolize his dual role of holding secular power (Miri) and spiritual authority (Piri). Soon after his ascension to Guruship in 1606, Guru Hargobind laid the foundation of a new temple at Amritsar; the Akal Takht. The Akal Takht was built facing Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple). Guru Hargobind had a throne built, and would administer Sikh affairs from here. The temporal nature of the Akal Takht balanced the spiritual nature of the Golden Temple, emphasizing the dual concepts of Miri and Piri introduced by the Guru. Guru Hargobind donned the royal regalia of a King and was known by the Sikhs as Sacha Padshah (The True King). Guru Hargobind knew that the Sikh’s would no longer take their freedom for granted, he undertook to steel his Sikhs against tyranny and oppression. The Guru now gave instructions to the Masands and to all the other Sikhs that they should make offerings in the future of horses and weapons rather than just money. The Hindus had become so weak that they could not contemplate any kind of resistance to the rulers of the date. The Sikhs did not believe in self-denial alone; they grew increasingly aware of the need for assertion also. They wielded arms and lived an active life, reared horses, rode on them, and racing and hunting became their pastimes. Guru Hargobind encouraged Sikhs in physical activity and weapons training as well as prayers. Soon an army of one thousand horses was raised. The spiritual side was not neglected. Guru Hargobind would rise long before the day dawned and after his bath in the holy tank, would go into meditation. The Guru would then join his Sikhs for prayers both in the mornings and evenings. Guru Hargobind did not want his emphasis on the temporal caused by the necessity for a war like posture to detract his followers from the spiritual ideals of Sikhism. The Gurus military activities were soon reported to Emperor Jehangir by the ever jealous Chandu Shah, who still had an unmarried daughter on his hands as a constant reminder of the indignity hurled at him. Guru Hargobind was summoned by Jehangir and decided to go see the Emperor. Many Sikhs were apprehensive about the Guru going as they feared for his life. Before setting out for Delhi Guru Hargobind assigned the secular duties of running the Golden Temple to the honoured Baba Buddha and the spiritual instructions to the great scholar and scribe of the Guru Granth Sahib, Bhai Gurdas. Guru Hargobind then set out for Delhi accompanied by three hundred horses. When Jehangir met Guru Hargobind, he was quickly won over by the young Gurus charm and holiness. The Guru had a number of religious discourses with the Emperor who wanted to be sure that no harm was intended to Islam by the propagation of Sikhism. When asked which religion was better Hinduism or Islam, Guru Hargobind replied quoting Kabir: “God first created light, All men are born out of it. The whole world came out of a single spark; Who is good and who is bad? The Creator is in the creation, and the creation in the Creator, He is everywhere. The clay is the same, the potter fashions various models. There is nothing wrong with the clay or the potter. God the true resides in all, Whatever happens is His doing. He who surrenders to Him gets to know Him. He is His slave. God is invisible, He cannot be seen. The Guru has granted me this sweet gift. Says Kabir, my doubts are dispelled. I have seen the Pure with my own eyes.” (Parbhati) When Jehangir found out that Guru Hargobind was a great lover of sports, he invited the Guru to accompany him on a tiger hunt. During the chase the Emperor was attacked by a ferocious tiger. The attendants accompanying the royal party lost their nerve and their horses and elephants panicked. Guru Hargobind rushed his horse and pulling out his sword, he engaged the killed the dangerous tiger single handed. Jehangir was full of gratitude towards the Guru for risking his life. Jehangir became so fond of the Guru that he asked him to accompany him on a number of visits. Once while visiting Agra a poor grass-cutter follower of the Guru came to seem him. The grass-cutter, crying that he wanted to see the vision of the True King, was led by the royal attendants into the camp of the Emperor. The grass-cutter put a coin before him and stood with folded hands, praying, his eyes filled with tears and his throat choked with emotion. The Emperor was overwhelmed with the devotion of a loyal subject and offered him a large gift. The Sikh replied, “O True King, if you are so pleased, bless me with the glory of God’s Name that I be emancipated.” When the devotee was told that he had come to the wrong camp, and that the one who granted redemption was housed in the opposite camp, the devotee unhesitatingly left the presence of the emperor picking up his coin saying “Then this too is meant for him, not your Majesty”. While at Agra Jehangir suddenly fell ill. The ever scheming Chandu Shah conspired with astrologers to tell the emperor that he would only be cured if a holy man was sent to Gwalior Fort and undertook penance on the emperors behalf. Guru Hargobind was now requested to go to Gwalior Fort. Fully aware of Chandu’s scheming, the Guru agreed, and accompanied by an escort of five Sikhs left for the fort. Guru Hargobind spent a number of months within the fort sometime between 1617 and 1619 as a virtual prisoner. Here were also imprisoned a number of princes who lived in deplorable conditions. Guru Hargobind uplifted their spirits with daily prayers and distributed much of his rations to them. Chandu Shah even tried unsuccessfully to have the Guru poisoned. Eventually many months after Jehangir’s recovery he was finally convinced by Wazir Khan a admirer of the Guru in the mughal court to release the Guru and invite him back to Delhi. Guru Hargobind refused to leave the fort unless all of the princes who were political prisoners were also not released. Jehangir agreed after he was reminded by Wazir Khan that the emperor owed his life to the Guru. Upon his return to Delhi, Guru Hargobind told the emperor about the intrigue and scheming of Chandu Shah. Jehangir handed over Chandu to Guru Hargobind to avenge the death of his father Guru Arjan. Guru Hargobind handed over Chandu Shah to his Sikhs who eventually took Chandu to Lahore where he was killed by an indignant Sikh who had seen Guru Arjan tortured with his own eyes. Upon hearing this news Guru Hargobind asked God to pardon Chandu Shah’s sins. Guru Hargobind now proceeded to visit Lahore. A devout Sikh from Kabul called Sujan brought a magnificent horse to present to the Guru as a gift. The horse was seized by a Muslim Qazi who refused to return it unless he received a large ransom. Guru Hargobind remarked that “the horse must come to him to whom he was intended”. Soon the horse stopped eating and its health deteriorated. The Qazi sold the horse to the Guru for a minimal rate, thinking that the horse would die anyway. Instead the horse regained its health and Guru Hargobind would ride it regularly. The Qazi became angry and felt that he had been cheated and launched a complaint with the authorities. The authorities did not take any action against the Guru. Meanwhile the Qazi’s daughter ran away from her fathers tyranny and sought refuge with the Guru at Amritsar. There she lived her whole life as a devout Sikh, and Guru Hargobind got a tank known as Kaulsar dug up in her memory. Guru Hargobind now undertook extensive travels. The Guru founded the town of Kiratpur in 1626 where the land had been gifted to the Guru by one of the princes who had been freed from Gwalior by the Guru. While visiting Srinagar the Guru had a discourse with Swami Ramdas Samrath a great spiritual teacher who would later go on to instruct Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha empire. Swami Ramdas asked the Guru “You are on the spiritual throne of Guru Nanak, a great Saint. You are wearing arms and maintain troops and horses. You allow yourself to be addressed as Sachcha Padsah, the True King. What sort of saint are you?” Guru Hargobind replied, “I display royalty only from the outside; inwardly, I’m detached like a hermit. Guru Nanak had not renounced the world. He had only renounced maya (illusion and ego).” The Swami answered that this idea appealed to him and thus he thereafter changed his teachings of hindu renunciation. While visiting the shrine of Guru Nanak, Guru Hargobind met and received the blessings of Baba Sri Chand, Guru Nanak’s son. Soon thereafter in 1613 a son was born called Gurditta. In 1617 another son was born, Suraj Mal. In 1618 a third son, Ani Rai was born and in 1620 Atul Rai was born. Finally in 1622 the last and fifth son, Tegh Bahadur was born. During the life of Guru Hargobind some of the most influential Sikhs of the time passed away. Baba Buddha passed away in 1631 at Ramdas, Bhai Gurdas in 1636 at Goindwal and Baba Sri Chand at Kiratpur in 1629. In October 1627 emperor Jahangir died and Shah Jahan ascended the throne in Delhi.
The mughal emperor Jahangir was out hunting one day in the vacinity of Amritsar. A favorite hunting hawk of the emperors flew into the camp of Guru Hargobind who was also hunting. When the emperors soldiers came to reclaim the hawk, a brief skirmish ensued and the hawk was not returned. Jahangir was so enraged that he sent an army of 7000 cavalry under the command of his general Mukhlis Khan to recover both the hawk and capture the Guru for his insolence. In the ensuing battle the Gurus forces emerged victorious after the Guru killed Mukhlis Khan in single combat with his sword. This battle took place in 1634. This battle marked a turning point as the Sikhs now turned militant under mughal persecution. After the battle Guru Hargobind left Amritsar never to return. The Guru shifted to Kartarpur and went on to build the city of Hargobindpur on the banks of the river Beas. The local villagers who were members of the Gherar tribe were very excited, but the headman of the tribe Bhagwan Das did not want the Guru to settle there. Bhagwan Das who was friendly with the mughal authorities made derogatory remarks against the Guru, the Sikhs lost their temper and in the insuing scuffle, Bhagwan Das was killed. His son Ratan Chand went to Abdullah Khan the Subedar of Jullundur and convinced him to attack the Guru at Hargobindpur with a force of 10,000 troops. The Guru felt that he was being forced into a fight when all he wanted was to be left alone to pursue his religious pursuits. He said, “We are fighting for a righteous cause – our right to live with honour and in peace – and not for the sake of self glory or rule over others.” A fierce battle ensued in which the Gurus forces were only half of the invading mughals. Karam Chand the son of Chandu Shah joined Rattan Chand the son of Bhagwan Das for revenge. In the ensuing battle both the Subedar Abdullah Khan as well as his two sons were killed. Rattan Chand was also killed while Karam Chand was captured by the Sikh Bidhi Chand. Guru Hargobind ordered Karam Chand released but he soon returned to battle again. At this Guru Hargobind engaged Karam Chand in single hand to hand combat without any weapons and killed him with his bare hands. The mughal forces were completely defeated and forced to retreat. After the battle the construction of a Gurdwara at Hargobindpur resumed and the Guru ordered that a mosque also be built for Muslims. Friction with the mughal authorities were to continue. A group of devoted Sikhs from Afghanistan were on their way to present the Guru with two extraordinary horses. The horses were seized by the Muslim authorities at Lahore and presented to Shah Jahan who was visiting there. When the Sikhs heard about this, Bidhi Chand decided to rescue the horses for the Guru. He gained the confidence of the keeper of the royal stable at Lahore first disguised as a grass cutter and then as a magician. Both times he was able to safely spirit away both horses to the Gurus household. The fact that the mughals would retaliate was a foregone conclusion, therefore Guru Hargobind shifted his base deep into the forest in the district of Nabha. Here a large contingent of mughal troops sent by the emperor under the control of Lala Beg found there way. A bloody battle lasting 18 hours took place in which the Sikhs suffered over 1,200 casualties but were able to inflict even heavier losses to the mughals and send them retreating in defeat. This battle took place in 1631. Before the death of Guru Nanaks son Baba Sri Chand, he asked Guru Hargobind if he could adopt one of the Gurus sons since he had no children. Out of respect for Sri Chand, Guru Hargobind offered him the choice of his eldest son Baba Gurditta. Baba Sri Chand then chose Baba Gurditta as his successor. Baba Gurditta who was married to Natti gave birth to a son called Dhir Mal who was to later cause much trouble to the Guru and his family. In 1630 Baba Gurditta had another son called Har Rai who was to prove to be a blessing. The son of Guru Hargobind, Atal Rai started displaying his supernatural powers by performing miracles and revived a dead playmate of his. When Guru Hargobind heard about this he reprimanded his son saying, “My son has started dissipating his spiritual powers without discrimination. Shall our occupation now be to revive everyone’s dead son and interfere ever in God’s will, we who are enjoined to accept whatever good or bad comes to us in His pleasure.” Atal Rai took the Guru’s reprimand so seriously that he soon passed away after that. His death caused Guru Hargobind much grief and he constructed a nine storey structure called the Bunga of Baba Atal at Amritsar to commemorate the nine short years of his sons life. Trouble soon evolved among some of the Gurus troops. One of the Gurus favorite soldiers Painda Khan let the honour and gifts presented to him by Guru Hargobind go to his head. He gave the choice gifts which he had personally received to his son in law Asman Khan who also captured one of the Gurus favorite hunting hawks and refused to return it. When Guru Hargobind asked Painda Khan for an explanation he replied in a rude and insulting manner. Therefore the Guru regrettably terminated the services of Painda Khan. The disgruntled Painda Khan along with 500 troops loyal to him approached the emperor in Lahore and offered to join the imperial forces against the Guru. The emperor was pleased to have the help of such a close confidant of the Gurus. Painda Khan told the emperor that the Gurus army was only composed of poor peasants. In the year 1634 Fifty thousand troops under the command of Kale Khan and supported by Painda Khan were dispatched to attack the Sikhs at Kartarpur. When the Gurus forces heard about the impending attack, Dhir Mal the Gurus grandson sent a secret letter to Painda Khan pledging him his full support. The battle was fierce with Guru Hargobinds two sons Gurditta and Tegh Bahadur also fighting along with their father. Many great soldiers fell on the battlefield including Kale Khan. The mughal forces were decimated until among the remaining Painda Khan engaged Guru Hargobind in battle. Guru Hargobind had raised Painda Khan from a young age and loved him like a son, therefore he refused to strike the first blow. Painda Khan struck two times unsuccessfully missing the Guru both times. Painda Khan continued to taunt and insult the Guru until finally Guru Hargobind killed him with his sword. Seeing his body in the dust, Guru Hargobind clasped his old comrade in his arms and put his shield over Painda Khan’s face to shade it from the scorching sun. Guru Hargobind then wept over the death of one so dear to him and prayed that God grant Painda Khan forgiveness and a place in heaven. In another part of the battlefield Baba Gurditta also wept at killing another mughal general Asman Khan who had been his childhood friend. The mughal forces were successfully routed and retreated with heavy losses although the Sikhs suffered over 700 dead. Immediately following the battle Guru Hargobind and his family left Kartarpur to retire to the out of the way town of Kiratpur in order to avoid further bloodshed. Here the Guru had also promised to visit a Muslim devotee of his Budhan Shah who was near death and had previously met Guru Nanak. The Gurus grandson Dhir Mal refused to move, instead he remained in Kartarpur and with possession of the original copy of the Granth Sahib which he refused to hand over. Dhir Mal had aspirations of succeeding Guru Hargobind as the next Guru because he had the Holy Granth. Here are Kiratpur Guru Hargobind remained the rest of his life peacefully. He kept a small army of men and 900 solders as his protection. The Guru continued to receive countless devotees who flocked to Kiratpur to hear and see the Guru and Sikhism continued to spread throughout the Indian Subcontinent. The most accurate eye witness account of Guru Hargobind’s life appears in the Dabistan-i-Mazahib written by the Muslim Mohsin Fani. In this he writes about the Sikhs, “The Guru believes in one God. His followers put not faith in idol worship. They never pray or practice austerities like the Hindus. They believe not in their incarnations, or places of pilgrimage nor the Sanskrit language which the Hindus deem to be the language of the gods. They believe that all the Gurus are the same as Nanak. The Sikhs are not restricted in the matter of eating and drinking.” Soon the Guru received the shocking news of the death of his eldest son Baba Gurditta who passed away at age 24. He passed in much the same manner as Atal Rai, having taken to heart the reprimand of the Guru for reanimating a dead cow of an angry farmer which he had accidentally killed while out hunting. Guru Hargobind was much saddened by the death of his son and requested his grandson Dhir Mal to appear for his fathers last rites and receive his fathers turban. Dhir Mal refused to come even on such a solemn occasion, only caring about styling himself as the next Guru, especially now with his fathers untimely demise. Guru Hargobind now started training his grandson Har Rai the other son of Baba Gurditta as his natural successor. The Gurus own sons; Gurditta had passed away, Suraj Mal and Ani Rai were too worldly while Tegh Bahadur preferred solitude and meditation. Har Rai was a pious young man and Guru Hargobind proceeded to train him in the use of arms as well as spiritual matters. At the age of fourteen Har Rai was ordained by Guru Hargobind as the seventh Sikh Guru. Guru Hargobind bowed before Guru Har Rai as his successor. Soon thereafter Guru Hargobind passed away in 1644 having in his lifetime transforming the Sikhs into soldier-saints.