Analysing the Uniqueness of Martyrdom in Sikhism

Sikh concept of Martyrdom is unique and different from others

Analysing the Uniqueness of Martyrdom in Sikhism
by Amandeep Kaur (Research Scholar, PU Chandigarh)

Martyrdom is a fundamental concept and can be seen in some other Religions of the world also but in which term Sikh concept of Martyrdom is unique and different from others can be understood by knowing the reality of its goal which we can know from the history of Sikhism. Sikh Religion is very advanced, scientific and practical Religion. It is refined picture of old Religions and earlier dichotomous systems. We can know the nature and spirit of Sikhism from the holy book Guru Granth Sahib Ji because Guru Granth Sahib ji is considered as a living Guru not only by the Sikh society but also by that community who have tried to know it practically. Sikhs from the starting till now work and live their life according to the divine orders and teachings written in Guru Granth Sahib Ji .  Sikhs believe that Guru Granth Sahib in every field and in every aspect of their life help them in every situation i.e. Happiness & Sorrow, Good or Bad. So, in Sikhism the goal of a Sikh in this world is to practice righteousness without any fear and to realise his destiny because human life is the only opportunity given to us by God with his mercy. Only while living in this world we can really work according to the creative Will of God and if any problem arises a Sikh always make himself ready to fight against obstruction and even in a very alarming situation pray to God and Guru Granth Sahib Ji and should never lose his will power and never leaves the battlefield while fighting against unjust practice working in the whole society. The whole history of Sikhism especially the Martyrdom history of Sikh Religion from starting   revolves around the principles for maintaining truth ,justice, equality, freedom in the whole society because without these he cannot realise his goal or destiny in a real sense . It is because the result of victory of righteousness and declaration for calling a particular thing right comes from a special kind of power which we can call it as a divine power with the knowledge of which a person realises his goal by binding him with that divine power and realises the manifestation of that spirituality within him. It is only through the base, motive, results and directions or path of Sikh Martyrdom, We can understand that how the meaning of word Martyrdom fully manifest in it and bring this concept closer to spirituality.

This is not only a verbal lesson but we can see in the Sikh Martyrdom history in which Sikh Gurus and their followers gave up their life for upholding righteousness in the whole world. If we try to know the encyclopaedia1 meaning of Martyr is that “giving up a life for some noble cause and who by supreme sacrifice bears witness to its truth is called Martyr”. But if we apply this definition on Sikh concept of Martyrdom then we can call it an incomplete and not a true definition in real terms. To know the real picture behind the Sikh Martyrdom we should understand the reality of Sikh Religion and their goals. The Sikh concept and the definition of Sikh Martyrdom is totally different from other Religions not only historically but practically also. It is because here the definition of Martyrdom in Sikhism itself is inborn   because Sikh Guru has talked not only about the welfare of Sikh people but the whole humanity on this earth.  The origin of their goal which they have for a every human being is transcendental and universal which carries a person thoughts to higher standards and ideals. We can find universality behind the reasons of Martyrdom of the Gurus because the origin of Sikh Religion reflects simplicity and purity in their teaching and gives a clear pavement for living a balanced and pious living hood.

Sikh Gurus and their followers never tried to  prove the  uniqueness of Martyrdom , rather they only followed the path of righteousness and Divine Will and while crossing  this path obstacles came in their way which were restraining them for proving the creative Will of God and while fighting against those they gave up their lives  and accepted Martyrdom. One more uniqueness of Sikh Martyrdom is that Sikh Gurus has given more stress on making a person a perfect human being because the moment a person cannot make himself free from the influence of being dehumanised by any external power, condition, society and a thing which restrain the freedom of person from where he cannot be dispelled, become an obstacle in his grooming and development in a right way. In this way a person cannot reach up to a spiritual level or ideal which is taken as mission by the Sikh Gurus. A person should live a life in such a way in which his part of internal divinity can be developed or nurtured in freedom, otherwise he cannot be able to know the reality and goal of his life. So there should be some qualities like love, clear mind, humility, non- egoistic etc which are necessary for reaching upto the reality through spiritual experience.

Freedom is taken as the major need in Sikh concept of Martyrdom that is why Sikh philosophy tells us that do not be afraid from anyone and do not make others afraid. But if anybody forcefully restrain your freedom which is against the universal law then raising of sword is pious and just. As stated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji in Dasam Granth.

 ਚੁ ਕਾਰ ਅਜ਼ ਹਮਹ ਹੀਲਤੇ ਦਰ ਗੁਜ਼ਸ਼ਤ ॥ ਹਲਾਲ ਅਸਤ ਬੁਰਦਨ ਬ ਸ਼ਮਸ਼ੀਰ ਦਸਤ ॥
chu kar az hameh heel-te dar guzasht, halal ast burdan b-shamshir dast
When all the devices employed for (solving) an affair or problem are exhausted, (only) then taking your hand to the sword is justifiable. In Zafarnama, Guru Gobind Singh Ji Verses 222

The aim of human being life in Sikhism is to push this process upwards by his own moral efforts deepening his own inwardness. In other words, it means not to think about ultimate reality, but to live it and not only to know it but also to become it. It is possible only in Sikh Martyrdom where we can see a clear picture which proves the reality in a practical way.

Thus we can see that from the time of Guru Nanak Dev Ji the pavement of Martyrdom started because Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first person in the whole humanity who gave a lesson of love to all people, gave the first message to all humanity about loving the Lord and the ability to know his shadow in all humanity.

ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥
Jo Tho Praem Khaelan Kaa Chaao ||
If you desire to play this game of love with Me,
ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥
Sir Dhhar Thalee Galee Maeree Aao ||
Then step onto My Path with your head in hand.
ਇਤੁ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਪੈਰੁ ਧਰੀਜੈ ॥
Eith Maarag Pair Dhhareejai ||
When you place your feet on this Path,
ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਕਾਣਿ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥
Sir Dheejai Kaan N Keejai ||
Give Me your head, and do not pay any attention to public opinion. ||
Guru Granth Sahib, Page No 14123

Guru Nanak Dev Ji told us that Love and Martyrdom are interrelated with each other and it will remain always. Both of these are two parts born from the same seed. Where there is a love of Sikh with the Lord, there will be love for mankind without any difference. And the person who does this will always ready to apply this notion in his life by doing just and good in the community. Not only is this he ready to die against the tyranny and unjust policies at any cost. The root cause of Martyrdom in Sikhism  was not to save Sikhism or to maintain its existence rather in the period of Sikh Religion whatever obstructions came in the way of Sikh Gurus, they raised their voice against unjust and while fighting against those problems they gave up their live and accepted Martyrdom happily. It is because the root from where their mission is originated i.e. reaching up to a spiritual stage by making the society unjust, and becoming obstruction in proving the creative Will of God has itself coming out from the essence of ultimate being i.e. God.

So, every Martyr always see the reflection of ultimate being i.e. God on this earth in all humanity and it is process through which he must go through while giving up their everything for reaching up to their mission of realising the spirituality in God and become a part of that spirituality . In Sikh history, at the time of Guru Nanak Dev Ji Martyrdom word came into existence. During this time Mughal Empire established itself in India and followed a policy of persecution and oppression. So Guru Nanak Dev Ji raised their voice against the unjust policies of Babar, ruler of that time. Guru Nanak Dev Ji called Martyrdom game of love in which helping and protecting the weak from oppression, confrontation with the unjust policies and it becomes a religious responsibility in the light of which Martyrdom of a religious person becomes necessary. One more uniqueness of a Martyr lies in the quality of being fearless, which means not to be afraid of death and this spirit of fearlessness comes from the quality of fearless God.

This way we can find so many other qualities and characteristics of a Martyr in Guru Granth Sahib Ji, which depicts a reflection of God. The characteristics mentioned in Guru Granth sahib for becoming a good and ethical human being can be seen in Martyr also.  A clear view of the path stated by Guru Nanak can be seen in the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji which showed convincing evidence of Guru Nanak Dev Ji teachings by giving up his life.

Then afterwards   Martyrdom took place which continued till the time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji and came as the fury of tyranny. Many rulers came and went, who tried to end the existence of Sikh Religion and its institutions but every time they had to face defeat. Similarly, the Sikh Religion and its history do not actually divide humanity into any kind of communalism, groupism and sects, but gives the message of living with all humanity a mutual love affair.

By reading the history of Sikh Martyrdom, we understand how the practical form of Spiritual hymns, which are compiled by all the Gurus and Bhagats registered in Guru Granth Sahib, can be seen clearly in Sikh Martyrdom.

The uniqueness of Sikh Martyrdom is also that it has not been made by being made great by the Sikh world. Rather, the aim of our Gurus is to show humanity its identity and purpose. They have tried to show Universality in every aspect of life, so they have the purpose of creating enlightened person due to which illuminous society came into existence can be fulfilled. With the help of this illuminious society, righteousness and equality can prevail in this world, which helps us to reaching up to our goal.

If we talk about Martyrdom of four sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji then they set an example  while fighting against righteousness and equality. The Martyrdom of the four sons proved historically that death does not exist for the person who leads life in the light of divine supreme consciousness and nobody can restrain them from reaching upto a spiritual

Salok ||
ਕਬੀਰਾ ਮਰਤਾ ਮਰਤਾ ਜਗੁ ਮੁਆ ਮਰਿ ਭਿ ਨ ਜਾਨੈ ਕੋਇ ॥
Kabeeraa Marathaa Marathaa Jag Muaa Mar Bh N Jaanai Koe ||
Kabeer, the world is dying - dying to death, but no one knows how to truly die.
Raag Bihaagrhaa Bhagat Kabir

ਐਸੀ ਮਰਨੀ ਜੋ ਮਰੈ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਨ ਮਰਨਾ ਹੋਇ ॥੧॥
Aisee Maranee Jo Marai Bahur N Maranaa Hoe ||1||
Whoever dies, let him die such a death, that he does not have to die again. ||1||
Guru Granth Sahib Page No 555

While being in the society, it is necessary to openly adopt any Religion from the heart. As is practiced by almost all Religions, this principle is considered correct and applicable to all communities. We can also call this universal truth. The four Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh Ji proved it. They did not want to save their Religion, but at the time they came to this emperor or -those who were under the tyranny of that time, they had to evacuate from the problem of conversion of Religion, and this was the Martyrdom that could make them successful in this mission. It has been seen today that oppressor did not remain, but the principles remain the same today and will remain forever, neither will change nor anybody can change. The divine command should remain ever-present, whether thousands of Martyrs give up their lives, become the witnesses and shadow of that Divine command.  These are the shadows that keep us tied to God eternal order. Without this understanding, we cannot properly understand the historical facts associated with the Sikh Religion and its institutions.

In Sikh Religion, the art of dying is described by Bhagat Kabir Ji in which they told the nature of death of a heroic person as:

ਸੂਰਾ ਸੋ ਪਹਿਚਾਨੀਐ ਜੁ ਲਰੈ ਦੀਨ ਕੇ ਹੇਤ ॥
Sooraa So Pehichaaneeai J Larai Dheen Kae Haeth ||
He alone is known as a spiritual hero, who fights in defense of Religion.

ਪੁਰਜਾ ਪੁਰਜਾ ਕਟਿ ਮਰੈ ਕਬਹੂ ਨ ਛਾਡੈ ਖੇਤੁ ॥
Purajaa Purajaa Katt Marai Kabehoo N Shhaaddai Khaeth ||
He may be cut apart, piece by piece, but he never leaves the field of battle. ||
Guru Granth Sahib Page No 11055

Martyrdom in Sikh Religion is the source of motivation and a great symbol of courage, humility, heroism   and extreme devotion for every Religion in this world.  In addition to maintaining a religious devotion, the social and political duties of society have also been accomplished. It is the assertion of immortality and celebration of its victory over the unjust forces of the world. The history of Martyrdom in Sikhism is the historical proof of this truth.

The quality which is unique in every Sikh Martyr is that even at the time of distress and the question of death came, every time they were deeply connected to the timeless all pervading consciousness. The present of this light within the Sikh Martyr is something that becomes clearly observable almost to every common man. That there is a divine light present in such a person does not remain a matter of doubt because it’s strongly manifest before all. Emotion of love does not hide and manifest in the behaviour of person despite his effort to hide it. Similarly the deep existential bond of the religious person with the timeless all pervasive consciousness does not hide and manifest in his life clearly. His chosen death in the form of Martyrdom becomes a very special evidence of this truth. Even at the time of distress they demands boon from God

ਦੇਹ ਸਿਵਾ ਬਰ ਮੋਹਿ ਇਹੈ ਸੁਭ ਕਰਮਨ ਤੇ ਕਬਹੂੰ ਨ ਟਰੋਂ ॥

Deh siva bar mohe eh-hey subh karman te kabhu na taro ॥

ਨ ਡਰੋਂ ਅਰਿ ਸੋ ਜਬ ਜਾਇ ਲਰੋਂ ਨਿਸਚੈ ਕਰ ਅਪਨੀ ਜੀਤ ਕਰੋਂ ॥

Na daro arr seo jab jaye laro nischey kar apni jit karo ॥
ਅਰੁ ਸਿਖ ਹੋਂ ਆਪਨੇ ਹੀ ਮਨ ਕੌ ਇਹ ਲਾਲਚ ਹਉ ਗੁਨ ਤਉ ਉਚਰੋਂ ॥
Arr Sikh ho apne he mann ko, eh laalach hou gun tau ucharo ॥
ਜਬ ਆਵ ਕੀ ਅਉਧ ਨਿਦਾਨ ਬਨੈ ਅਤ ਹੀ ਰਨ ਮੈ ਤਬ ਜੂਝ ਮਰੋਂ ॥231॥
Jab aav ki audh nidan bane att he rann me tabh joojh maro ॥

Translation: Dear God, grant my request so that I may never deviate from doing good deeds.
That, I shall have no fear of the enemy when I go into battle and with determination I will be victorious.
That, I may teach my mind to only sing your praises.
And when the time comes, I should die fighting heroically on the field of battle ||
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in Dasam Granth (Holy Text), Page No 2316

Thus it is not a matter of declaration of only Sikh community to call them great Sikh Martyrs but they were called so by the people of other communities also. The proof of their Martyrdom is the present of divine light within them and their fearless celebrating attitude. To step out of their material life with the full awareness of that divine light. It is a matter that becomes manifest before any common person due to which they are called Martyr’s. The Sikh concept of Martyrdom has shown this truth clearly. The Martyrdom of Shri Guru Arjan dev Ji, Shri Guru Teg Bahadhur Ji, the Four Sons of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji and hundreds of Sikh Martyrs were recognised not because Sikh community declare them so but even the tyrant who put them to the Martyrdom also acknowledges with awe that they were divine souls.

In the coming days, if the reality of Sikh Religion is misunderstood and misinterpreted without understanding its principles, then the consequences should be understood from the impact of earlier results. Gold always remain gold it never lose its shine if we make  full layer of bronze on it to make him fade away. But in the end its own identity remains the same like Sikh Religion and its history also.


1. Wikipedia, The free Encyclopaedia, Martyrdom Definition
2.   Zafarnama (Letter) written by Guru Gobind Singh Ji Verse 22 to Aurangzeb
3. Guru Granth Sahib, Page No 1412
4. Guru Granth Sahib, Page No 555
5. Guru Granth Sahib, Page No 1105
6. Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in Dasam Granth (Holy Text), Page No 231

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