The following is excerpted from the book Heroes, Saints and Yogis: Tales of Self Discovery and the Path of Sikh Dharma, compiled by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Guruka Singh Khalsa.
In India endless battles were waged for power and territory. In a culture full of war and revenge, in a climate of fear and hostility, the peacemaker is persecuted. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, a man of peace, marked a major turning point in Sikh history.
When Guru Arjan Dev’s son, Hargobind, became the sixth Nanak, he trained his Sikhs to become warriors so they could defend their rights and the rights of others to live and teach according to their faith.
The advent of the Sikh way of life and the establishment of the Mughal Empire took place at the same time in history. Sikhs were not against Islam. They opposed the feudal and imperial structure that encouraged injustice and exploitation.
The scourges of caste divisions, religious discrimination and superstitions made daily life intolerable for ordinary people. The oppressors shielded themselves behind Islam, as well as Hinduism. Guru Hargobind used both the power of prayer and the sword to fight this oppression.
Hargobind was only 11 years old when his father, Guru Arjan Dev, was martyred. When he learned of his father’s torture and death, he remained calm in his sadness. His father had nobly returned Home to God. He did not grieve because his father had forbidden it. Instead, Hargobind requested the highly respected Baba Buddha to recite the Guru Granth Sahib, and instructed musicians to sing the Guru’s hymns.
Within ten days, Hargobind was installed as the Guru. Previous Gurus had all worn a woolen string called a seli as a sign of the Guruship. When Baba Buddha presented it to Hargobind, the boy proclaimed that he would wear a sword instead. “Sikhs must defend their faith and commit to fight whenever necessary.” Baba Buddha placed a three-foot sword at the Guru’s right side. When he went to move it to the customary left side, the Guru asked him to leave it there and put another sword on the other side.
The Concept of Miri and Piri
Guru Hargobind explained the sword on his left, which he called “Miri” (earth), represented earthly power, worldly leadership, and guidance; while the sword on his right was named “Piri” (heaven) and symbolized spiritual authority and power.
His purpose was not to mix religion with politics, but to defend the rights of the exploited people against the oppression of the rulers. Bringing religion into politics enabled the Mughals to persecute people. History has many examples of ruling classes oppressing people from behind the shield of religion.
With the two swords, he demonstrated we must live consciously in the physical world, although the spiritual realm is our real home.
Martial Arts Training
Guru Hargobind knew there must be a Sikh Army if Sikhs were to survive against their oppressors. He set up training in the military arts: fighting, fencing, hunting, archery, riding, and wrestling. With total devotion, and without pay, young Sikhs flocked to offer their allegiance to him. They were each given a sword and a horse.
He raised the Sikh flag and used large drums (nagaras) to get everyone’s attention when he made announcements. In 1606, he had the Akal Takhat built in front of Harimandir Sahib, the Golden Temple. Seated there, he listened to people’s problems and complaints, issued orders, and solved disputes.
He turned saints into soldiers and yet remained a man of God. He felt that nonviolence used out of helplessness or fear is cowardice. He made clear that true non-violence (ahimsa) comes from a position of strength and requires standing up to defend the defenseless.
He was a strong leader of men and a hero on the battlefield; nevertheless, he was not happy with having to be involved in so much bloodshed. He cared deeply about the spiritual welfare of his people and encouraged them to read from the Guru Granth Sahib, as he did every morning and evening.
In the book Heroes, Saints and Yogis: Tales of Self Discovery and the Path of Sikh Dharma, compiled by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Guruka Singh Khalsa:
What does it mean to live as a Sikh? How is this lifestyle relevant today? In this reader friendly collection of personal stories you will find “People Like You and Me” candidly sharing their experiences of self-discovery along the path of Sikh Dharma. This one-of-a-kind book includes fascinating tales of the unique lives of the ten men of higher consciousness who forged a path of everyday learning and personal excellence.
Note: the chapter this story was drawn from was partly based on an article published at www.sikhiwii.com by Pritpal Singh Bindra, author and columnist, and winner of the Akali Phoola Singh Book Award 1998.