Mahdiana Sahib. It’s an absolutely beautiful gurdwara on the road between Amritsar, Punjab and Ludhiana, Punjab. Its grounds are covered with roughly lifesize diorama type sculptures that detail important (often incredibly violent) events from Sikh history. It was overwhelming. As heartbreaking as it was it also gave me a lot of hope, strength and a little more pride for those Sikhs who came before me and sacrificed so much.
After walking through Mahdiana Sahib’s grounds, my bare feet in the warm, fine sand, I was pretty sure that taking Amrit is the right thing to do – for me. I was so inspired by those who came before me. It’s hard not to be inspired by people who believe so strongly in love and respect, in their own faith, that they are willing to sustain the most incredible tortures to defend themselves and to protect others. We never stood by and watched as others suffered. It didn’t matter whether they belonged to our community or not. Lessons some are forgetting today, sadly.
As you’ll see from the very brief summaries below, the Sikhs have been through long years of persecution and today remain a peaceful, humble and loving group of people, always ready to be the soldiers we are, at war only when there was no other option. So very happy to be a part of this community.
I can’t really give more than very brief descriptions here. There is so very much more to our history than just what you will read here. I apologize for any mistakes caused by my attempt to summarize these things in such little space. If you want to learn more about Sikh history, there is a lot of material available on the web but also you can check out the Born a Sikh blog, where I will be writing and posting more detailed summaries as time goes on. In the meantime, I hope this summary will give you some idea of where the Sikhs have been. It goes so far in explaining who we are and where we are now. It may also give you some insight into how I fell in love with Punjab and why it will pain me to leave it come March.
The first sculpture – the governor of Lahore (now in Pakistan but part of Punjab) once put out a bounty on Sikh heads. What you see here are bounty hunters collecting silver and gold coins in exchange for the heads of Sikh mean and women, brought to the collectors on spikes. The bounty was high enough that the Sikhs were forced into small bands in the jungles to survive. However, they survived by raiding their Mughal hunters from time to time, collecting food and supplies for their survival in these raids.
The next two pictures show the Battle of Bhangani, which is the first battle fought by our tenth and final living Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, when he was only nineteen years old. Ultimately we were victorious but there would be many, many battles to come for the Sikhs under the leadership of our tenth Guru.
The Sikhs were insanely outnumbered by the hill tribes of the Savalik hills near Anandpur, Punjab. The battle is said to have been initiated by the fact that Guru Gobind Singh Ji had a war drum constructed to enthuse his soldiers in battle. Such drums were reserved only for Rajas for use within their own territories so Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s construction of one was seen as a hostile act. Also his power and influence and the many exotic, expensive gifts he received out of respect irked the Rajas, who came together to attack the Sikhs. Though severely outnumbered, the Sikhs were ultimately victorious against 10,000 soldiers. This battle would not end the matter though, for the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb would soon involve himself and send more and more soldier against the Sikhs, in support of the tribes and in an attempt to reign in the growing power of our Guru. Aurangzeb would spend much time, effort and money to try to bury the Sikhs, but as my new favourite saying goes – “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
The next two photographs show the gruesome death of Bhai (Brother) Mati Das. Our ninth Guru, to protect the Hindus from being forcibly converted to Islam by the Mughals, had decided to sacrifice himself by giving his head in opposition to forced conversion. Bhai Mati Das accompanied Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji to Agra and then on to Delhi for that purpose. He was held captive with Guruji for many months while the Emperor decided what to do with them.
Bhai Mati Das became one of our original shaheeds (martyrs) when the Mughals contained him in a type of stock and then had him sawn in half while he was still alive. This was done in front of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who continues in his resolve to never convert to Islam. Besides Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, who was beheaded, two other Sikhs died for the cause of opposing forced conversion with him – Bhai Sati Das who was burned alive in cotton that was wrapped around his body and Bhai Dayala, who will come up later in this post.
The next series of three photographs show a very gruesome scene. I warn you now that these are not easy to see. None of them are. But imagine what it would have been like for the women and children depicted in them and perhaps you can understand a small part of the torture that the Mughals were willing to dispense on the Sikhs.
In this diorama, the Mughals have collected a group of Sikh women, mothers, in front of a gurdwara. They have taken the young children of these women and dismembered them while the mothers are forced to watch. Some of the children were killed by being impaled on spears before they were dismembered, some were not killed first. The dismembered body parts were then made into horrific necklaces and strung around their mother’s necks.
In 1752, Mir Mannu, the governor of Lahore at the time retaliated against the Sikhs for having lost a battle. This was part of that retaliation. Also in the diorama you see women working on millstones. These women were near starvation when they were forced into this labour, as prisoners in the prison at Lahore.
There was an open well at the prison and many Kaurs jumped into the well voluntarily to escape the atrocities being inflicted on them. This is part of the story that you do not see in the dioramas.
It’s enough to make one want to hate the Mughals and the Islamic religion that they allegedly represented (we all know that powerful people rarely truly represent any religion). But we don’t. Sikhs do not hate. We are warned not to enter into such hatred by our Gurus. The Sikh capacity to remain loving and peaceful, yet firm in our resolve, is a gift from Waheguru.
More than 300 young children were sacrificed for the ego of one man. May God forgive him for what he did here and may we never forget the sacrifices of these women and their children.
This is a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji, Sher-E-Punjab, the Lion of Punjab. Much will be written of him on the Born a Sikh website when I have the time. His story is long, complicated, important and fills many museums here in Amritsar and across the Punjab region.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji was blind in one eye. He founded the Sikh Empire and helped reunite the Sikhs by collecting a variety of Sikh misls. He also is responsible for the gold gilding that is now on the Darbar Sahib, giving it it’s English name – the Golden Temple. His empire was respectful of all religions. Men of all faiths could benefit and attain powerful positions within the empire, though Muslim clergy were still viewed with suspicion. Under his rule, visitors were often confused because everyone appeared to dress similarly – with no divisions between faiths, caste or other distinction.
The next series of photographs shows the Shahebzadas. Our tenth Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji had four sons, Baba Ajit Singh Ji, born in 1687; Babi Jujhar Singh Ji, born in 1689; Baba Zorawar Singh Ji, born in 1696; and Baba Fateh Singh Ji, born in 1698. All would died shaheeds in 1704. The two eldest, Ajit and Jujhar would die martyrs in the Battle of Chamkaur. The two youngest, only eight and six years old, would die at the hands of the Mughals after refusing over several days to convert to Islam.
They were taken along with their grandmother, Mata Gujri to a cell at Fatehpur. A gurdwara is built around that cell today. When the boys refused to convert to Islam, they were then bricked up inside a wall that was conveniently being built at the time and left to suffocate.
This story is a lot more complicated than my poor summary, please forgive the brevity. These children, so strong in their faith and our belief against forced conversion that even at their young ages, they gave their lives for this cause.
During the Battle of Anandpur between 1701 and 1704, Bhai Bachittar Singh Ji drove a spear into an elephant’s head, severely injuring the animal before turning it back on it’s Mughal masters. I don’t believe this is the elephant in question, because it has a khanda, a symbol of the Sikhs, painted on its forehead but I like the story and this is a good place to include it.
Basically, the Mughals got one of their own war animals drunk. Drunk. Yes, that’s right. Drunk. They then turned the animal loose against the Sikhs. Bhai Bachittar Singh Ji, by all accounts, a large and daring man, went to battle against the elephant, driving a spear into it’s head – no small feat at all. The elephant then turned and fled, mowing down Mughal troops that stood in its way before dying itself.
The sign on this display was missing so it is hard to tell but I believe this is Bhai Saheed Bhagat Singh Ji in his cell before his execution. Bhai Bhagat Singh Ji’s life story is complicated and so, again, all I can offer here is a mere summary, which is not enough to tell this man’s story.
Bhai Bhagat Singh Ji was said to have been at Jallianwala Bagh as a young boy and witnessed for himself the terrible atrocities that the British Empire was willing to inflict on Sikhs. You can read about Jallianwala Bagh in an earlier post when I visited the site.
Later in life, he was became a freedom fighter of sorts, protesting against the continued presence of the British Empire in India. He was born into a Sikh family and some say that he became an atheist but nevertheless, he has become a Sikh hero.
During a meeting of members of the British government, Bhai Bhagat Singh Ji threw a ‘bomb’ intended to surprise the sitting members and force them to stop talking long enough to listen. The British believed he threw it in an attempt to kill others, however he deliberately threw it in an area where it would cause no injury but would make a lot of noise. In the end, he was convicted and ultimately hung for this crime of demanding independence.
This diorama shows (I think) Bhai Bhagat Singh Ji sitting in his cell, visiting with a Sikh elder while his British employed guard stands nearby.
This is Bhai Udham Singh Ji, another Saheed in the fight for independence from British rule. He shot to death one of the men responsible for the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh – Michael O’Dwyer. Michael O’Dwyer was governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre and had supported the actions of Brigadier-General Dyer. General Dyer had ordered his troops to open fire on the protesters at Jallianwala Bagh,
More than 300 were killed at Jallianwala Bagh, their exit blocked by soldiers who were firing on them. Some 1200 others were injured. Bhai Udham Singh Ji had been serving water to the protesters when the gunfire erupted and was a first hand witness to what happened. He was executed for having killed O’Dwyer.
The next photograph shows Bhai Jai Singh Kalkaat. He was meditating in the fields when Mughal governor Abdul Samund Khan passed by and ordered Bhai Jai Singh Kalkaat Ji to carry his baggage, which included shisha tobacco. Being a good Sikh, he refused to even touch the tobacco, for which he was ordered to be hung from a tree and flayed alive. He was then set on fire, his family was collected and also killed. Only a daughter-in-law managed to escape.
The next three photographs show Bhai Dayala Ji. Bhai Dayala Ji also accompanied our ninth Guru, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji from his arrest at Agra to Delhi where he would sacrifice himself in the name of religious freedom – that is the right of Hindus not to be forcibly converted to Islam.
The Mughals ordered that Bhai Dayala Ji be boiled alive in front of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, in an attempt to persuade our Guru Ji to convert to Islam. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and Bhai Dayala Ji were unmoved by this method of vicious persuasion and so Bhai Dayala Ji met his end in a vat of boiling water, becoming a shaheed in the name of religious freedom for all.
There is a little room here to tell the story of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji’s sacrifice, though it is not shown in the dioramas at Mahdiana Sahib.
A large number of Hindu pandits from the Kashmir region of India had come to the Guru to complain of and seek help with the Mughal policy of forced conversion in Kashmir. Hindus there were being forced to convert to Islam or die. Thinking on the problem, the Guru Ji’s son, Gobind Rai, told his father that there was no holier man to be sacrified that Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji agreed and told the pandits to tell the Emperor that they would convert to Islam if the Emperor could convince our Guru Ji to convert. Guruji of course knew that he would never convert and that such a plan would mean he would be sacrificed. He immediately left for Delhi to meet that end.
On the way, he was arrested and ‘detained’ at Agra. When I put ‘detained’ in quotes, it is said that he at will disappeared and then reappeared in his cell there. Three Sikhs were arrested and detained with him – Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dayala. Each would be put to death before Guru Ji but none gave in.
The Muslim man in this diorama is Hazrat Mian Mir Sahib, who laid the foundation stone at Darbar Sahib.
He was a Sufi Saint who became a lifelong friend of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. As the Darbar Sahib was to open to all people, regardless of race or religion, Guruji invited his friend, a Muslim, to lay the foundation stone after which there was a great celebration and prayers were offered.
At the very right of the photograph are three Sikhs in a stock, ready to die rather than cut their kesh (hair).
These are part of a mass execution that occurred here after the invasion of Nader Shah.
This is Hari Singh Nalwa, a Commander-in-Chief of the Khalsa, the army of the Sikhs. The Khalsa was created by our tenth Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
The life story of any person of this position is going to be complicated so again brevity will not do any justice here. He is responsible for the expansion of the Sikh Empire to the Khyber region.
Behind him, on the brown mount is Akali Phoola Singh, a Nihang Sikh who served the Sikh Empire as an advisor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji.
He was a Jathedar of Amritsar who did not always agree with the Maharaja, especially when it came to the Europeanization of the Khalsa army.
In this piece, Banda Singh Bahadur Ji is seen with his young son who is being murdered. His heart was removed and stuffed into his father’s mouth. Bhai Banda Singh Bahadur Ji is also having chunks of his flesh removed. Until his death by tortured, part of massacre of thousands of Sikhs, he had been a military commander. The massacre involved 700 cartloads of severed Sikhs heads and 2000 more on spears in a procession. Another 780 taken prisoner were executed publicly 100 at a time at the order the Mughals when none would renounce their faith and convert to Islam.
This is Bhai Taru Singh Ji. He told the Mughals that he would rather be scalped than to cut his kesh (the long hair that Sikhs keep). So with a crude chisel, while Bhai Taru Singh Ji repeated the Japji Sahib (a prayer), they removed the top portion of his skull. He continued live for another 22 days, until the death of Zakaria Khan, the Mughal who ordered his torture.
This is a death wheel, called a charkhari. On it is Bhai Mehtab Singh Ji who is said to have accompanied Bhai Taru Singh Ji on his arrest by the Mughals. While Bhai Taru Singh Ji survived his torture for some weeks, Bhai Mehtab Singh Ji died on the charkhari.
This is the longest and largest of the sculptures and shows the Battle of Muktsar. 40 Sikhs had deserted Guru Gobind Singh Ji. On learning of the desertion, some of the Sikhs having been from her village, Mai Bhago mocked the men and criticized them openly. After they felt the shame of their desertion and wanted to return, Mai Bhago led them back into battle.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji would forgive the deserters by tearing up the piece of paper on which they renounced themselves as Sikhs of Guruji.
This is Peer Budhu Shah Ji presenting his four sons to Guru Gobind Singh Ji on the battlefield at the Battle of Bhangani. Peer Budhi Shah would lose all four sons in that battle.
He would also fight in the battle himself after 40 pathans that he had hired deserted the field at the last moment, an act likely planned ahead of time with the hill tribes.
The front of the gurdwara. On the left and right of the entrance are the first two Pyares – the first to be initiated into the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Bhai Daya Singh Ji (with the black mount) and Bhai Dharam Singh Ji (with the white mount). The creation of the Khalsa is a far more complicated story than can be told in this post, so that will have to wait for a later time. These men though, along with Bhai Sahib Singh Ji, Bhai Himmat Singh Ji, and Bhai Mokham Singh Ji are the first five members of the Khalsa and are known as the Beloved Ones.
This is Sardar Sham Singh Atariwala, a general of the Sikh Empire. He also served on the council of regency for Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji.
The Sikhs were persecuted again under the Mughal governor of Lahore, Zukriya Khan. They were forbidden from entering the Darbar Sahib or bathing in it’s holy pool. Khan put Massa Ranghar in charge of Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple). Ranghar watched dancing girls, drank alcohol and smoked hooka inside of Darbar Sahib, desecrating it.
Bhai Mehtab Singh Banghu Ji volunteered to bring the Sikh congregation at Bikaner, the head of Massa Ranghar. Bhai Sukha Singh Ji asked to go with him. Disguised as landlords bringing revenue, they entered the Darbar Sahib and found Ranghar there watching the girls and smoking. Tossing him a bag that he thought was full of coins (but was full of shards of pottery instead), he bent to retrieve the bag and was beheaded. The two Sikhs then took care of Ranghar’s guards and escaped safely, bringing the head of Ranghar before the Sikh congregation at Bikaner.
Until the next post all,
Peace and love,