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Barfi of Mochi Gate - Lahore

Sikhs have paid homage to the well and the ‘Berry tree’ that fed their guru for six long months

There is an old mansion in Mochi Gate area of old Lahore known popularly as the "Lal Haveli". The people of old Lahore still place oil lamps there at an old well known as the "Lal Khuh" every year. They also purchase "Barfi", a local sweet and distribute it to the poor. They do so to make a "Wish" or "Mannat" in the memory of friendship between Hazrat Mian Mir with Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. Let's take a few moments to discuss the execution of the Guru and the subsequent reaction of Lahore's local population.

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Guru Arjan Dev Ji (Gurmukhi: ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜੁਨ ਦੇਵ) (1563 - 1606) was the fifth Guru of Sikhs. He was born in Goindval Punjab India the youngest son of Guru Ram Das and Bibi Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das.

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A summary of the main highlights of Guru Ji's life:

  • Compiled and collated the Hymns of the previous Sikh Gurus as the "Adi Granth"
  • Guru Arjan contributed a total of 2218 hymns to Sri Guru Granth Sahib
  • Added hymns from Hindu saints and Muslim Sufis in "Adi Granth"
  • Completed the construction of Hamandir Sahib (Later known as Golden Temple)
  • Installed Adi Granth in the Harmandir Sahib
  • Developed Amritsar as a center of business by inviting Marwari businessmen
  • Established monetary collection system by appointing "Masands" across India
  • Solidified alliances with peaceful and like-minded Sufis and Hindu saints
  • Gave blessing to moderate Mughal Prince Khusrao against pro-Sharia Jahangir
  • Guru Arjan Dev was the first Sikh Guru to be martyred

Sikh Gurus and Mughal Empire

The relationship between political authority and the people it serves is a complex subject especially when it involves the connection between the state and socio-religious institutions. In this context, we should analyze the relationship between the Mughal rulers and Sikh Gurus.

Guru Nanak created a peaceful spiritual movement that rejected priestly rituals, idol worshiping, radical fundamentalism, and forced conversion. He taught equality among humans - caste, gender, race, or religion. Guru Nanak confronted Babar, the founder of Mughal Empire for the atrocities committed against the natives of India. Since then the relationship flourished during the reign of moderate Emperor Akbar who had a very cordial relationship with Guru Amardas.

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Emperor Akbar listens to Guru Amardas Beginning as a spiritual sect, the Sikhism evolved into a structured socio-religious movement and finally a separate religion at the time of Guru Arjan Dev. His establishment of "Adi Granth" in Harmandir Sahib and opening the doors of the temple to all got the attention of Muslim clergy, Hindu priesthood, as well as the Mughal empire.

The relationship between the Gurus and Mughal rulers has, almost without exception, been one of good versus evil, freedom versus oppression, and the persecuted versus the persecutors.

Moderate vs. Orthodox Conflict

It will be wrong for us to paint all Muslims in one brush on this topic. To better understand the Muslim psyche we need to understand internal conflict between the orthodox Muslim clerics who preferred "Sharia" and the moderate Sufi clerics who supported collaboration with Sikh Gurus.

Mir Mohammed Muayyinul Islam (1550 – 1635), popularly known as Mian Mir or Sain Mir, was a famous Sufi Muslim saint of Qadiri order who resided in Lahore. A close friend of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, he was invited to lay the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib, (now known worldwide as the Golden Temple).

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The Confrontation

Mughals were insecure about their future being a minority among a large population of natives. This insecurity drove them to commit forced conversions of Hindus which was opposed spiritually and socially by the Sikh Gurus. The good relationship between his liberal father, Emperor Akbar and Guru Amardas, the 3rd Sikh Guru also bothered the clergy. The confrontation between the Sikh movement and the Islamic power bent upon enforcing the Shariat was, therefore, inevitable. It was a clash between two opposed ideologies.

The straw that ultimately broke the camel's back is Guru Arjan Dev's decision to give shelter and bless the rebel Khusrao, who was attempting a coup d'etat against his own father Jahangir. This blessing was sought for his success in his rebellion and support for moderate form of Islam.

Ahmad al-Faruqi al-Sirhindi was a Hanafi jurist and a prominent member of the Naqshbandi order. He has been credited as the Mujaddid Alf Saani, meaning the "Reviver of the second millennium" for his work in rejuvenating Islam and opposing the moderate opinions prevalent in the time of Akbar. Sheikh Ahmad had great influence on Jahangir.

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Citing the Guru’s blessings bestowed upon Prince Khusrao, he instigated the Emperor against the Guru. Jahangir wrote in his biography Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri:

"A Hindu named Arjan lived at Goindwal…simple minded Hindus and ignorant and foolish Muslims have been persuaded to adopt his ways… this business has been flourishing for three generations. For a long time it had been in my mind to put a stop to this affair or to bring him into the fold of Islam…

... Khusrau happened to halt at the place where he was and homage to him. He behaved to Khusrau in certain special ways, and made on his forehead a finger-mark in saffron, which the Hinduwan (the people of India) call qashqa (Tilak). When this came to my ears and I clearly understood his folly, I ordered them to produce him and handed over his houses, dwelling-places, and children to Murtaza Khan, and having confiscated his property commanded that he should be put to death."

Arrest of the Guru

Guru Arjan Dev was arrested by Murtaza Khan on order of Jahangir and brought to Lahore. A hefty fine of Rs. 200,000 was imposed on the Guru and he was asked to delete the verses from "Adi Granth" that were critical of Islamic and Hindu rituals. The guru responded by saying he had done no wrong and refused to pay the fine, or let others pay it. He also refused to delete any portion of the holy Granth. On this, Chandu Shah was allowed to drag the guru to his house and imprison him in a small cell at the corner of his haveli inside Mochi Gate of Lahore. Next to the cell was a well and a ‘Berry’ tree, the ones that still survive.

Chandu Shah was a revenue minister in Lahore court and he had old enmity with the Guru as his proposal to marry his daughter with Guru's only son was rejected. Chandu tortured the Guru and starved him in a small cell in his house in order to extract the fine.

Mian Mir and Barfi of Lahore

Sufi Mian Mir offered to pay the fine, which the guru disallowed. For six whole months no food was allowed to Guru Arjan. Every Thursday, Mian Mir would come and pray for him under the ‘Berry’ tree. He would purchase Barfi from a poor shopkeeper at the corner of the opposite lane, wrap it in a cloth and throw it through the tiny cell window.

After six months, the governor of Lahore, Murtaza Khan, asked Chandu Shah whether the guru had starved to death. When replied in negative, he flew into a rage. He ordered Guru Arjan be dragged through the streets of Mochi Gate and brought to the Lahore Fort. It's said that the Muslims of the area sang poems about Karbala when he was being taken in chains to the fort.

There he was tortured by making him sit on heated iron sheets and hot sand was poured on him. The Mughal court documents say he died after five days of torture (Tuzk-i-Jahangiri). Local sources say he was to be sewn in a buffalo skin and thrown in the Raavi river flowing outside. But the guru wanted to have a bath, and dived in the river, never to return.

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Method of Execution

All this was done based on Islamic tradition which dictates that the blood of a religious infidel should never fall on the ground as it will generate rebellion:

  • It's you and your religion against them and theirs. They won't stop fighting until they make you a "renegade from your religion" and if they succeed in that so you die in disbelief, Allah will burn you forever in the Fire. 2:217
  • Kill disbelievers wherever you find them. If they attack you, then kil them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. (But if they desist in their unbelief, then don't kill them.) 2:191-2
  • We shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Their habitation is the Fire 3:151
  • If the unbelievers do not offer you peace, kill them wherever you find them. Against such you are given clear warrant. 4:91
  • Allah says that you must keep fighting until there is no more persecution and everyone on earth is a Muslim. Then you can stop killing people. 2:193a
  • After non-Muslims die, they will make excuses for their unbelief -- like saying that they were oppressed. Then the angels will ask them, "Why didn't you move to another country?" But the angels won't wait for an answer. They'll just take them all to hell. 4:97
  • "How can I sorrow for a people that rejected (truth)?" Shu'eyb tells the Allah's victims that they deserved to die for rejecting Islam. 7:93

Aftermath of Martyrdom

The result was a scarring of the Sikh psyche that would reverberate for centuries and ultimately destroy the Mughal empire forever. Mian Mir raised slogans on the streets of Lahore to mourn the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev. He never accepted any gift sent by Emperor Jahangir, or his Ministers or nobles.

The end of Chandu Shah is amazingly ironic. Jahangir turned against him and handed him over to Guru Arjan’s son Guru Hargobind Rai, who had the Sikhs of Lahore drag him out of ‘Chandu de Haveli’ and along the same route to the river by the fort. On the way, every Sikh slapped and kicked him in rage. The final ignominy was that the man who poured hot sand on Guru Arjan was made to do the same to Chandu Shah.

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Over the ages, Sikhs have paid homage to the well and the ‘Berry tree’ that fed their guru for six long months. Some even purchased barfi from the small shop and gave it to the poor to eat. That tradition remains till this day. Over time, Laal Khoo has become more famous for its Barfi, not the Mullahs.

Incidentally, a hadith (Sahih Bukhari 553) claims that on the Day of Judgement, God will not look at those who withheld water from the people. smiley (8K)

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