The winter chill enters my whole being as I stand in Thanda Burj in Gurudwara Fatehgarh Sahib on a January day in 2023. The shudder is more than physical when I do parikrama. The burj marks the place where the children of Guru Gobind Singh, Baba Zorawar Singh, 9, and Baba Fateh Singh, 7, along with their grandmother, Mata Gujri, were confined. That was 317 winters ago, on December 26, 1705 (the year is 1704, according to one historical version).
Captured by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb’s governor in present day Punjab’s Sirhind, Wazir Khan, they were tortured and starved. Their confinement in the cold tower in the freezing winter itself was an act of torture. The children were targeted to break the will of the Guru, who had made it his mission to fight the Mughals, hell bent on converting the entire country to Islam. Earlier, the three got separated from Guru Gobind Singh when the huge Mughal army, in an act of subterfuge, attacked the Guru after he left the fort at Anandpur Sahib along with his family and 40 soldiers, under an agreement about a safe passage. He lost five of his seven generals, including two teenaged elder sons Baba Ajit Singh and Baba Jujhar Singh, and 32 soldiers in the three-day battle (December 22—24), in what is called the Second Battle of Chamkaur.
The younger sons, after their capture, were told to embrace Islam or be prepared to face death. The method chosen for their execution—bricking alive—was also intended to terrorize them and the general Hindu population into conversion. Until then, the diabolical rulers had done beheadings, sawing, burning and boiling alive as a way of terrorizing and converting Hindus. The conversations between the emissaries of the governor and the children in the run up to the execution are the stuff that only the devout can understand and be stirred by. In those dialogues, we get a peep into the spiritual powers that Guru Gobind Singh, his family and followers had. They are reminiscent of the story of Bhakt Prahlad, whose devotion to Lord Vishnu could not be dented by all the atrocities committed on him.
The spot of execution of Guru Gobind Singh’s children is about 40 meters away from the place of confinement, and is known as the Fatehgarh Sahib Gurudwara, named after the seven-year-old Baba Fateh Singh. I had visited the shrine four decades ago, when I was a student, but don’t recall how I felt then. The latest visit was stunning. There was a strange numbness in the mind as I approached the place of execution, the walls. Only a part of the walls erected around the children can be seen; a structure has been built around them in a basement, and the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth, has been kept there.
The visible part of the walls is a painted brown in color. But what hits you is not what you see, it is what you feel. At first, I was benumbed. I took multiple rounds of the place, almost helplessly. As I sat around, I felt a rare force touch me. I remembered the tenth guru’s lines, “sura so pehchaniye jo lade deen ke het, purja purja kat mare, kabhu na chhade khet” (a valiant soldier is one who fights in the defence of the weak, and does not leave the battlefield even when he is cut to pieces).
Guru Gobind Singh, his father, Guru Teg Bahadar, all his four sons and each of their associates and followers lived up to every word of these lines. They were all supreme beings. It is sublimating to sit in places touched by their energy. It is here that one realizes what it takes to be a true Sikh. How casually we all identify our religious identity, and how difficult it is to live it up. All I can say after the latest visit to Fatehgarh Sahib is that it would take lifetimes of sacrifices in righteous causes for any of us to become a Sikh. Meanwhile, I would like to visit these powerful spiritual centers, pulsating with the energy of the gurus, and remain there in long silences.
The author is a Delhi-based journalist
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