20 December to 27 December 1704
Sipanji is a Persian word meaning eight ("seh" is three, and "panj" is five). Guru Gobind Singhji used this word in Verse No 107 of the Zafarnama (the Letter of Victory) that he wrote to Aurangzeb in 1705. In this verse, he referred to the world as "Sipanji Sarai" meaning an inn where people come to stay for just eight days and at the end of this period, yield their places to others who follow them. This period of Sipanji, i.e., eight days (from 20 December 1704 to 27 December 1704) earlier was a decisive period in the history of our nation. This was the period in which extreme hardships were suffered, extreme sacrifices made and extreme heroes gifted to the nation. Historical records are not available to show what actually happened, hour by hour, during these eight days. However an effort has been made, in the following pages, to reconstruct the events of Sipanji.
Pledges Sworn on the Qur'an and the Cow
Having failed to defeat the Khalsa force in battle, the combined forces of the Hill Chieftains and Aurangzeb's Generals laid siege to Anandpur in the summer of 1704. The Mughals and the Hill Chiefs had sworn on Koran and Cow that if Guruji left Anandpur, he would not be harmed. Sensing that their pledges of safety for his Sikhs was worthless Guruji designed a test. He sent out a cart full of useless articles and refuse covered in rich brocades telling the beseigers he was sending out his treasures saying that if they safely made it through the attacking hordes he and his followers would abandon the fort. No sooner did the carts reach the lines of the attackers when they were fallen upon. Guruji now knew that the besiegers were not to be trusted. But with the running out of the provisions, the morale of the Sikhs began to wilt. Their suffering had almost reached an end of human endurance; some even renounced and deserted the Guruji. Then a letter signed by Aurangzeb was received in which he promised safe passage to the Guruji and his Sikhs, again swearing upon the Holy Qur'an; this hardened the resolve of the Sikhs to leave Anandpur. Finally under pressure from his Sikhs and mother; Guruji, thinking that, perhaps, the Emperor's pledge meant something, decided to leave Anandpur.
First Day (20th December 1704)
There is hectic activity going on inside the Anandpur fort. All-important manuscripts, articles of personal luggage, war materials, etc. have been packed. Things that cannot be carried have been torched. All wait for the nightfall. At about midnight, Guruji with his family members and a 500 strong Khalsa force leaves Anandpur fort. The night is dark and bitterly cold. The rain has made the cart tracks muddy which makes it difficult for the convoy to move fast. After going by Kiratpur and Nimohgarh, Guruji heads for Ropar. In the meantime, the enemy forces have come to know that Guruji has left Anandpur fort. Throwing their Ruler's oath and their own to the wind, they give a chase; the Khalsa force engages them in battle at different locations on the way; this goes on throughout the night. Guruji with family members and a small force has reached the banks of the Sirsa, which is in spate on account of the heavy rains.
Second Day (21st December 1704)
It is early morning. The river has subsided and can be negotiated. The party begins to wade through the water; forty Sikhs and Guruji's family members are able to go across. The rest have perished in combat. In the process of crossing of Sirsa, some of the rare manuscripts are lost. After crossing Sirsa, Guruji with 40 Sikhs, two eldest Sahibzadas, Mata Sundri and Mata Sahib Kaur move towards Ropar. On the way, someone has brought news to Guruji that not only are the combined forces from Anandpur in hot pursuit, there is also a large imperial army ahead of his route to Ropar. Guruji changes his route and heads for Chamkaur where he reaches by evening. He stations himself on a mud house or haveili and takes a defensive position to give battle to the enemy. By nightfall, the imperial forces reach Chamkaur and surround the village.
Mata Sundri (the Guru's wife)and Mata Sahib Kaur (the mother of the Khalsa), in the company of a trusted Sikh proceed towards Ropar and spend the night at his house.
Earlier in the morning, in the confusion of the fighting while crossing the Sirsa, Mata Gujriji with Sahibzada Zorawar Singh, Sahibzada Fateh Singh and a faithful attendant are separated from the main party. In the biting cold of early dawn, they walk through the thick jungle. Their bodies are benumbed with cold. Some way across, they are 'fortunate' to run into their former family cook, Gangu Brahmin, who offers to give them shelter in his house; the offer is gratefully accepted. On reaching there, they are put up in the hinder most portion of the house. They sleep on a straw mat spread on the floor.
Third Day (22nd December 1704)
Early in the morning, a section of the Mughal force advances towards the mud house that has been turned into a fortress. This attacking force is met with a volley of bullets and arrows; many of the Sikhs enemies fall to the ground. Section after section of their force attacks but every time are repulsed. When the enemy tries to force the gate open, the Sikhs come out in the open to give them battle. This goes on throughout the day. The advance of the imperial force is checked every time they try to scale the wall. The enemy suffers heavy casualties; many fall after being hit by the gold tipped arrows of Guruji.
Nahar, one of the Generals of the Mughal forces has tasted a gold tipped arrow and left for the other world. Many of the enemy troops, out of fear, are seen hiding behind a wall. Sahibzada Ajit Singh has realised that the odds have turned against the defenders. With the blessings of the Master, he is seen piercing into the enemy ranks with a lance in his hand. And when the odds get still stiffer, Sahibzada Jujhar Singh also leaps into the enemy ranks; shooting and killing them. At the end of the day, three of the Panj Piaras, both the Sahibzadas, and most of the defenders have attained martyrdom. Only five Sikhs are left inside the fortress with Guruji. The Mughal force, being unsuccessful till now, retires to take stock of the situation and plan new strategy for the next day.
Inside the fortress, the five Sikhs are begging the Master to leave for his safety; he is adamant in staying on with his Sikhs till the end. Ultimately the Sikhs, after due consultation with each other, have passed a Gurmata, asking him to leave the fortress. He has no other option but to accept their edict. Accordingly, accompanied by three Sikhs, he leaves the fortress in the dead of night leaving two of them inside and heads towards village Kheri. The sky is clear. It is a moonlit night that makes it easier for distant things to be seen. (Guruji has described in Verse 42 of Zafarnama that during that night the moon was shining with all its glory). Guruji and his three Sikhs go their separate ways planning to meet later at a pre chosen location. In the darkness all three men clapp loudly confusing their enemies.
Mata Sundri and Mata Sahib Kaur leave Ropar for Delhi in the company of the trusted Sikh at whose house they had spent the previous night. (They reach there safely after a few days trip).
Mata Gujri and the two young Sahibzadas continue to stay at the house of Gangu Brahmin.
Fourth Day (23rd December 1704)
Guruji reaches Kheri village before daybreak. It is extremely cold. He has neither slept nor eaten anything for days. Thirst, hunger, and fatigue have totally exhausted him. He takes tender leaves and milk of the Akk plant; since nothing else is available here. His courage is strong like steel but limbs are weak. He is in the cluster of trees. The night falls and the Master is lying under the canopy of heaven; he is singing in praise of the Almighty. It is here that he composes the famous hymn " The disciples message to the dear Friend". After a few hours rest,he starts again in the direction of Malwa. It is difficult to keep moving on. So he lies down and rests in a garden in Machhiwara which belongs to a Masand named Gulaba.
Mata Gujri and the two young Sahibzadas continue to be at the house of Gangu Brahmin.
Fifth Day (24th December 1704)
According to their agreed plan, the three Sikhs who had separated from the Master when they came out of Chamkaur fortress have again met him at the garden in Machhiwara. They have informed Guruji that the Mughal forces are still in hot pursuit. But the Master cannot walk because of blisters in his feet; he is carried to the well nearby where he takes bath after many days. Gulaba has also come to know about Guruji's presence in his garden. He is much pleased and takes him to his house for nourishment and shelter.
Gangu Brahmin scolded when he was caught taking valuables from Guruji's mother's package has gone to the Mughal official hoping for a reward. He treacherously informs him of the presence of Mata Gujri and the two Sahibzadas at his house. They are arrested immediately and taken to Sirhind where they are confined in the Thaanda Birj in the fort.
Sixth Day (25th December 1704)
A Clever Change of Clothes Saves the Day Guruji's presence at Gulaba's house has been noticed by his neighbours. Gulaba is scared lest the Mughal forces come to know about it. He has refused shelter to Guruji and asks him to leave. There is no resentment or sorrow at Gulaba's lack of heart. Before leaving Guruji wants to meet Gurdevi, the lady, who has been yearning to meet the Master for whom she has been weaving cloth for some time. The Master brings joy to Gurdevi by visiting her and accepting the cloth. At the suggestion of the two Muslim followers, who have also joined him, the cloth is dyed in blue, made into robes and all six (including Guruji) dress up as Muslim faqirs.
Four of them carry him in a litter with one Sikh waving a Chauri over him. For all, the Master is now the 'Uch Da Pir' or Spiritual Chief of the Saints of Uch. (Thus disguised as a Muslim Sant they travel in safety towards Hehar in Ludhiana District, Raikot, Jatpura, and finally to Dina where Guruji stayed for quite some time wroting his Zafarnama. (was this was a lesson that Bhagat Singh learned well?)
Back at Sirhind
The young Sahibzadas have been summoned before Wazir Khan, the Governor of Sirhind. Before leaving the fort of the confinement, their grand mother exhorts them to be true to the ideals of their grandfather and father. On reaching the court of the Governor, the young souls refuse to bow before him when asked to do so. Both brothers are cajoled in an attempt to have them take up Islam, the offer of conversion is refused, with a firm no. They are offered the best of life if they change their religion. Their reply that they will prefer to die rather than live as apostates, infuriates the Governor who thunders that he will give them one more day to think; they are warned if they don't change their views they will be tortured. The Sahibzadas are taken back to the fort.
Seventh Day (26th December 1704)
The Sahibzadas are again brought to the court of Wazir Khan. He again suggests they take up Islam only to be spurned ever more vigorously. The Governor is at the end of his wits and cannot swallow the adamant attitude of the young children. He gives them a last chance to think over his proposal otherwise they should be ready to face dire consequences. They are again taken to the fort. Mata Gujriji is aware of what is in store for the young princes. She reinforces their resolve on remaining firm in their conviction.
Eighth Day (27th December 1704)
The two brothers are again taken to the Governor's court, where the same offer is made and is again rejected. The Governor is convinced by now that the young Sahibzadas will not yield and forsake their religion. He announces his verdict: they are to be bricked alive and then beheaded. Someone in the gathering objects to this punishment for the young boys. The Quazi intervenes to say that the holy law has given them choice between Islam and death; it is they who have chosen death. The brothers have been made to stand near each other. A mason starts building a wall around them. An executioner with drawn sword is also standing nearby. So are the Quazi with a copy of Qur'an in his hand and an official of the Governor's court to ensure that the orders are carried out properly. The wall has come up to the shoulder height; the Governor again visits the young princes and again offers them freedom if they take up Islam; he gets the same reply. There upon, on a nod from the Governor, prince Zorawar Singh's head is severed from his body. At this stage prince Fateh Singh is again asked to accept Islam if he wants to avoid the fate of elder brother. His reply: be quick so that I can meet my elder brother. He is also beheaded. When Mata Gujri hears of the violent end of her grand children, she closes her eyes and it is related she fell from the Birj she was imprisioned in, and soon she was together with the slain princes.
How do we remember the Heroes?
The above is a short history of Sipanji - the most tragic period of our nation. A period, which gave us our greatest heroes. The tyrants furnished the situation to them; their courage provided the theme for their great deeds. Where can we find a handful of newly trained combatants taking on the might of an empire (Guruji has described their numbers as forty verses ten lakh in Verse No 19 of his Zafarnama.
Sahibzadas Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh, knowing fully well what awaits them in the battlefield outside the Chamkaur fortress, each willingly leads a charge against the enemy forces and sacrificed their lives. Countless others who had faith in the Master gave their lives for a cause in which they had unflinching faith. The young princes could not be coerced into taking up Islam in spite of the threat of death; their indomitable spirit could not be broken. A grand mother sends her grandsons to embrace death rather than let them change their faith. And finally the hero of heroes, Guru Gobind Singh, who gave everything he had, his father, his four sons, his mother, his dearest Khalsa for bringing an end to tyranny.
How do we observe this period of Sipanji and remember our heroes. To begin with, we may narrate their deeds to our children. Over a period of time, this will become part of our folklore. The heroes are the beacons who light up our path in the journey of our lives. The greatest inspiration to a young mind is the hero he decides to emulate. We may also take the children to the sites where these heroic deeds were performed especially during Sipanji. The more adventurous may actually walk in their footsteps from Anandpur Sahib to Chamkaur Sahib on 20/21 December every year. International shooting / archery competitions (the main weapons used by the heroes) may be organised each year. People may like to have Sehaj Path at their homes during this period of eight days.
Reasons to Celebrate and Reasons to Reflect
As the Days begin again to grow longer on December 20 - 23 each year and people celebrate around the world we too have reason to celebrate as Guru Gobind Singh ji was born on 22 December in 1666. And as the increasing sunlight each year brings hope so did Guru Gobind Singh relight the Sikh Paanth after the dark days brought to our community by the Death of his (our) father Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Finally, since this was a period of extreme pain for the creator of the Khalsa, people may like to dispense with indulgence in merry making during Sipanji. Even though 22 December is also a joyous occasion for the nation (Guru Gobind Singhji was born on this day in 1666), the day can still be celebrated with solemnity.
The above is only a suggestion as to how we can observe Sipanji and remember our heroes. Ultimately as we believe in Bhana (the Will of God) and that in the interest of and for the benefit of His Creation Sikhs have suffered severe hardship, today every family must decide what to do, if at all any thing has to be done, during this period when "Chardi Kala", which allows each of us to sail through the ups and downs of each day and every season, is so important.
The purpose of this article is to bring home to every one that there was a short period in our history when extreme sacrifices were made by our heroes in the formative years of our nation.