The concept of "Miri Piri" was highlighted by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind when he was throned Guru on 11 June 1606. At the Guruship (succession) ceremony the Guru asked for two kirpans to be donned on him; one to symbolize the concept of Miri or temporal authority and the second to symbolize the concept of Piri or spiritual authority. The wearing of two swords was a departure from previous Guruship tradition when only the "salli" (for spiritual power) was worn by the preceding Gurus.
For many years now, the Sikh community worldwide have honoured the sixth Guru's vision of Miri and Piri and have celebrated this vision on 21 July every year by calling this day the - Miri Piri Divas or the Miri Piri Day.
What do these words mean?
Miri: This word has come from the Persian word “miri”, which itself comes from the Arabic “Amir”. The word "Amir" (which is pronounced as "a-MEER") literary means commander, governor, lord, prince, ruler, chieftain, etc. and signifies temporal power or material power. The concept of Miri signifies worldly, materialist and political power. The concept is linked to the traditional power enjoyed by kings and ruler where the might of the military resulted in the power and ability to rule or influence the people.
Piri: This word has again come from the Persian word “pir” which literary means saint, holy man, spiritual guide, senior man, head of a religious order and stands for spiritual authority. The concept of "Piri" is linked to the power enjoyed by religious leaders, church priests, qazis, pandits, etc. to have power or influence over the devotees by way of "spiritual power" or religious power. The words miri and piri are now frequently used together to give the concept promoted by the sixth Guru.
Concept of Miri Piri
Miri Piri: The adoption of the term “miri, piri” in Sikh tradition has been made to connote the temporal and spiritual components of life; the materialist concept of human existence and the spiritual aspect of the human soul. Guru Hargobind by wearing the two kirpans of Miri and Piri has endowed on the Sikhs the importance of these two important aspects of life. The term represents for the Sikhs a basic principle which has influenced their thought process and has governed their social structure, political behaviour, communal organisation, leadership and politics.
The Sikhs have to have regards to both the material needs of the community and the people and also the spiritual concept and rights of the people. Langar is an important aspect of the Miri concept; it provides for the materialist needs of the community. The right to follow your own chosen religion, a concept safeguarded by Guru Tegh Bahadar is an aspect of the "Piri" tradition. The Sikh has to keep an eye on both these important aspects of human endeavour; and the needs of all human beings be they Sikhs or non-Sikhs.
On becoming the Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind wore two swords declaring one to be the symbol of the spiritual (Piri) and the other that of his temporal investiture (Miri]. According to Macauliffe 4, the Guru reported to Bhai Buddha ji as follows:
“It is through thine intercession I obtained birth; and it is in fulfilment of thy blessing I wear two swords as emblems of spiritual and temporal authority. In the Guru’s house religion and worldly enjoyment shall be combined – the caldron to supply the poor and needy and scimitar to smite oppressors.”
In these words is the concept of Degh Tegh which was established by Guru Nanak; the Degh or "kitchen" or "cooker" (sometime caldron or even kettle or cooking pot)to provide food for the body and 'Tegh' sword or kirpan. Degh Tegh (Punjabi ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ) is a term that forms part of the Sikh Ardas where it is recited in the line: "ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ ਫਤਹ, ਬਿਰਦ ਕੀ ਪੈਜ, ਪੰਥ ਕੀ ਜੀਤ...." "Daeg taeg Fateh, bihrd kee paaej, Panth kee jeet....".
As explained before, the word "degh" means "Large cooking pot" or "cauldron" or an "offering". The word "tegh" means "sword" or "kirpan". The term "degh tegh" refers to the concept of serving food Langar and protecting the liberty of the community. The two concepts of making sure that everyone in the community is fed and does not go hungry; and also that no one's life is in any danger and that all in the community feel safe are both concepts equally promoted by Sikhi and the Sikh Gurus.
In Chaubis Avtar which is part of the Dasam Granth, Guru Gobind Singh says: "Deg Teg Jag Maih Dou Chleha" which means "May both the kitchen and the sword prevail in the world" (ਅਪਨਾ ਜਾਨ ਮਝੇ ਪਰਤਿਪਰੀਝ ॥ ਚਨ ਚਨ ਸ਼ੱਤ ਹਮਾਰੇ ਮਰੀਝ ॥ ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ ਜਗ ਮੈ ਦੋਊ ਚਲੈ ॥ ਰਾਖ ਆਪ ਮਹਿ ਅਉਰ ਨ ਦਲੈ ॥੪੩੬॥. In this line the Guru ordained that the kitchen to feed the poor and the sword to teach the tyrant should go together hand-in-hand.
The concept of "Miri Piri" is a further clarification of the term "Degh Tegh" which was prevalent during the time of the first 5 Gurus of Sikhi.
|ਕੋਟੀ ਹੂ ਪੀਰ ਵਰਜਿ ਰਹਾਝ ਜਾ ਮੀਰ ਸਣਿਆ ਧਾਇਆ ॥|
kotee hoo peer varaj rahaa-ay jaa meer suni-aa Dhaa-i-aa.
Millions of religious leaders failed to halt the invader, when they heard of the Emperor's invasion.
|ਥਾਨ ਮਕਾਮ ਜਲੇ ਬਿਜ ਮੰਦਰ ਮਛਿ ਮਛਿ ਕਇਰ ਰਲਾਇਆ ॥|
thaan mukaam jalay bij mandar muchh muchh ku-ir rulaa-i-aa.
He burned the rest-houses and the ancient temples; he cut the princes limb from limb, and cast them into the dust.
|ਕੋਈ ਮਗਲ ਨ ਹੋਆ ਅੰਧਾ ਕਿਨੈ ਨ ਪਰਚਾ ਲਾਇਆ ॥੪॥|
ko-ee mugal na ho-aa anDhaa kinai na parchaa laa-i-aa. ((4))
None of the Mugals went blind, and no one performed any miracle. ((4))
"Hearing of the invasion of Mir (Babur - the Mughal ruler), millions of Pirs (religious persons) were engaged by Pathans to perform miracles (praying and reciting of Kalmas /mantras) to check or repel the attack by the Mir. But the Mir (Babur) burned all the age-old temples and resting places, and princes were cut into pieces and thrown away. Not even a single Mughal (Mir) was blinded by religious leaders (Pirs) and none of their miracles could check the invasion of Mughals (Mir)."
At the end of the above verse Guru Nanak says:
|ਹਕਮੀ ਹਕਮਿ ਚਲਾਝ ਵਿਗਸੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਪਾਈਝ ॥੭॥੧੨॥|
hukmee hukam chalaa-ay vigsai naanak likhi-aa paa-ee-ai. ((7)(12))
The Commander issues His Command, and is pleased. O Nanak, we receive what is written in our destiny. ((7)(12))
"Laws of the Nature are going on under the order of the Almighty. Therefore, every one gets what one sows."
Guru Hargobind sahib was only eleven years old at the time of the martyrdom of his father, Guru Arjun dev sahib. He was faced with two choices, either to let the Muslim tyrannical rulers (Mughals) and fanatical clergy to annihilate Sikhism and other non-Islamic religions of India or fight the tyranny. Guru sahib chose the latter and showed extraordinary personal courage, valour and political acumen and manoeuvred Sikhism on its course chartered by Guru Nanak through the initial crucial stages.
The martyrdom of Guru Arjun in 1606 at the behest of the fanatical Mughal Emperor Jahangir prompted the succeeding young Guru Hargobind sahib to refocused the role of the Sikh Gurus. The Guru discerned sagely that the Sikhism had to fight for its survival or be devoured by the mighty Mughals who were tyrannically converting predominantly Hindu society of India to Islam. At his succession ceremony the Guru donned one sword to symbolize Piri, [spiritual authority] and second to symbolize Miri, [temporal authority]. Evidently the Guru sahib's concept of Miri Piri and motivation to assume the dual role of Miri and Piri were to challenge the religious coercion, political tyranny, social oppression and ensure peaceful and prosperous co-existence not only for the Sikhs but also, for the whole multi-religious and multi-cultural society of India.
The Guru's motives to assume the dual role of Miri Piri were misconstrued at the time; but were soon validated when the Sikhs had to fight four defensive battles in 1628, 1630, 1631, 1634, A.D. against the aggressive Muslim imperial forces. Led by the Guru himself, the Sikhs routed the numerically superior Mughal forces in all four battles.
Guru Teg Bahadur's Martyrdom
lftkhar Khan, the Governor of Punjab (1671 to 1675) waged a campaign of terror and converted the Hindus to Islam at the point of the sword. Confident of the Sikh Gurus' invincible resolve to defend universal religious freedom, a delegation of sixteen Brahmins led by Kirpa Ram, approached and beseeched Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib in 1675 to save their religion from the Muslim tyrants. Fully aware of the ominous consequences the Guru Sahib assured the delegation that the Guru Nanak’s house will help. To the zealot Muslim tyrants the Guru Sahib came to represent a charismatic leader of the non-Islamic, predominantly Hindu, segment of the multi religious society and threat to their evil designs to create an absolute Islamic society in India.
Guru Sahib was arrested along with his three devoted disciples Sati Das, Mati Das (both brothers) and Dyal Das at Mallikpur Rangra by Mirza Noor Mohammed, the jail warden of Roper and taken to Delhi after being jailed for four months at Sirhind. Like his grandfather, Guru Arjan Dev Sahib, Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib was offered the choices of conversion to Islam or face death! The indomitable Guru Sahib chose the latter. To intimidate Guru Sahib Mati Das was sawed alive in two, Dyal Das was boiled alive in a cauldron and Sati Das was wrapped in cotton wool and burnt alive before him. The Governor and Quazi of Delhi tortured Guru Sahib for five days. Finally the Guru Sahib was martyred by beheading at the behest of Aurangzeb.
The martyrdoms of the Sikh Gurus are unique exemplifications of ultimate sacrifices for a cause of the universal religious freedom. Since Guru Tegh Bahadar Sahib championed the cause of religious freedom at the request of a Hindu delegation, many mischievous Hindu writers with ulterior motives portray Guru Sahib’s martyrdom as a sacrifice to save Hinduism because they want to propagate contemporary, progressive Sikhism as a sect of primeval Hinduism. The guru Sahibs would have done the same for the Muslims if they were victims of Hindu atrocities.
There were striking similarities in the crucial events in the lives of the sixth Guru Hargobind Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. Both had their fathers martyred. Both were young, eleven and nine years of age respectively at the times of their fathers' martyrdoms and succession to the Guru-ship. And both had to face the dilemma of either annihilation of Sikhism or challenge the tyrannical Muslim Rulers who were far superior in manpower, resources and equipment. Both opted for the latter and not only successfully warded off the murderous onslaughts but inflicted mortal blows to the mighty Mughal Empire and Muslim Jihad (crusade). The Mughal Empire crumbled soon after. Although both the Gurus won decisive battles against aggressive Mughal and Hindu forces but they made no attempts to occupy territory.
Dr Jai Dev Singh represented the concept of Miri-Piri in Sikhism as follows 8:
"In Sikhs Miri Piri has great significance… At the time of his coronation, Guru Hargobind asked Baba Budda ji to get him two swords and put the traditional Saili away with great respect. The two swords represented Miri and Piri respectively. He wore two swords, one on each side, completely separate from each other meeting briefly at one intersection only, thus symbolizing that the two powers were separate altogether and yet so close they have to exist in life together… Thus Guru Hargobind ji separated Miri and Piri, recognizing both as the essential integral part of life."
In every article on Miri-Piri the use of kirpan by the Sikhs is mentioned extensively. The Abstracts of Sikh Studies Editorial2 has specifically mentioned the use of kirpan as follows:
“The kirpan constantly reminds the Sikhs of three things. First, of his responsibilities to confront injustice and oppression in the political field, both as an individual and as member of the Sikh society. Second, the use of force, to the extent necessary, is permitted. The third reminder is equally significant, namely, that the Sikh society should never shirk its socio-political responsibilities, nor decline into monasticism, withdrawal or asceticism.”
This article with many thanks to:
- 1. AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint) 1430 p. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = Page of the AGGS). AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint).
- 2. Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July 1993. Editorial. Sikhism: A Miri-Piri System. Pp1-51. Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh.
- 3. Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. Copyright 1997. The Peasant’s Life; The Church. The Learning Company, Inc. 6160 Summit Drive North, Minneapolis, MN 55430, USA.
- 4. Macauliffe, M. A. 1893. The Sikh Rekigion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors. 6 Vols. Reprint in 1978. S. Chand & Co., Ltd., Delhi.
- 5. Singh, Fauja. 1996. Hargobind, Guru (1595-1644). ). In: Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Harbans Singh, Editor-in-Chief, Punjabi University, Patiala. Vol. II: Pp 232-235.
- 6. Singh, Dr Gopal. 1987. Sri Guru Granth Sahib. 4 vols. World Sikh Centre, Inc. New Delhi.
- 7. Singh, Major Gurbax. 1997. Miri-Piri. In: The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Harbans Singh, Editor-in-Chief, Punjabi University, Patiala, Vol III p 91.
- 8. Singh, JaiDev. 2000. Comments on previous articles. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 2 (1): 37-38.
- 9. Singh, Manmohan. 1972. Hymns of Guru Nanak (Punjabi and English). Language Department, Punjab, India.
- 10. Singh, Sahib. 1972. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan (Punjabi), 10 vol. Raj Publishers (Reg.), Jallandhar.
- 11. Talib, Gurbachan Singh. 1988. Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Vols. 4.Punjabi University, Patiala.