Understanding Martyrdom Of Guru Tegh Bahadar Using 17th & 18th Century Sources

Inderjeet Singh


Unlike his predecessors, Aurangzeb neither wrote his memoirs nor officially authorised anyone to do so, but few contemporary records are still available. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s intolerance found reasons to meddle in Sikh affairs. He had summoned the seventh Guru, Har Rai to attend his court at Delhi and give clarification abour some verses in Adi Granth (later Guru Granth Sahib). The Guru did not go himself but sent his elder son Ram Rai to Delhi. Later on, Aurangzeb also asked eighth Guru, Guru Harkrishan to come to Delhi. At that time, an epidemic of cholera and smallpox broke out in Delhi. The child Guru began to attend to the sufferers irrespective of their caste and creed. He came to be known as Bala Peer (child saint). During this period, the Guru contracted small-pox himself and he passed away on 30thMarch 1664. He was cremated on the banks of river Yamuna where now stands Gurdwara Bala Sahib.1 Then it was the turn of Guru Tegh Bahadar who was arrested in 1665. Ultimately the Guru was martyred ten years later in 1675.  In this short article, the martyrdom of the Guru Tegh Bahadur is discussed using various contemporary sources belonging to 17th and 18th century.

Padshah (Badshah) Buranji

Buranji are the historical chronicles written by Assam state officials and nobles, initially in Ahom and Assamese language, a tradition which dates back to early 13th century. One such contemporary manuscript is Padshah-Buranji. The scribe may not have personally known Guru Tegh Bahadar or Raja Ram Singh but wrote what he had heard from the official circles. This is one of the first sources which alleges that the Guru ‘was roaming and plundering the country’. However, this reason was given for Guru’s arrest in 1665 like in Siyar-ul-Mutakhirin (written in 1782) which cites almost the same allegation for the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar in 1675. It further states that the Guru had 30,000 Nanakpanthi soldiers. It seems a sinister imagination of a fertile mind that a congregation of simple devotees was put forth as soldiers. One can conclude that the Mughals had to give some official justification and they came up with this accusation which is not backed by contemporary Persian sources.

In Padshah Buranji, Guru Tegh Bahadar is described as a saint of the faith of Guru Nanak and Guru of a large number of Brahmans and Kshatriyas. Remarkably, it adds that the Brahman Bhattacharyas (or priests) and the Qazis reported to Aurangzeb that the Guru does not belong to any particular school or faith and goes about ravaging the country. The Mughal Emperor asked the Guru to appear before him, but the Guru did not come.  The chronicle adds the Guru defied the authority of the Emperor and ‘roamed about plundering and destroying the country, attended by thirty thousand Nanakpanthi sepoys.’

Aurangzeb became angry for this defiance and deputed Alo Khan Pathan who captured the Guru and ordered him to be executed. The Guru sought protection of Raja Ram Singh of Amber, who became his surety but later the Guru escaped. The Mughal ruler accused Ram Singh of allowing the Guru to flee despite standing for him. The manuscript adds that Ram Singh replied that only a Raja or a Nawab is worthy of Emperor’ vengeance. The Guru was only a mendicant faqir. Ram Singh denied the allegation and said, “To accuse me for his escape will cause people to laugh when they hear of it.”

Aurangzeb decided against taking any action against Ram Singh lest it upset other Rajas. He asked Ram Singh to invade Assam which was notorious as none of the Nawabs deputed in past Assam wars had returned safely. They had either died or were killed in the battle.

The waters of Assam were said to be poisonous, its air unhealthy and its hills are covered with dense forests. The Emperor wanted that Ram Singh should die in Assam.2

Early in the book it states that the Raja Ram Singh of Amber was directed to invade Assam by Aurangzeb as a punishment for connivance at the escape of Shivaji Maratha and Guru Tegh Bahadar.3 Interestingly the manuscript goes on to state that Ram Singh took the Guru and five Muslim Pirs to withstand the ‘formidable sorcery and witchcraft’ with which Assam was said to be associated.4

Bachittar Natak

Bachittar Natak, a composition and memoir of Guru Gobind Singh, son of Guru Tegh Bahadar is an important contemporary source. Within the Sikh circles, the authorship of Bachittar Natak is sometimes disputed but its historical value cannot be denied. The Bachittar Natak composition is now part of the Dasam Granth. The internal evidence corresponds with the dates given in other Dasam Granth compositions like Krishnavataar and Ramavtaar which ranges from 1687 to 1698. The stanzas 13 to 15 of Chapter 5 of Bachhitar Natak mentions the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar.

He protected the right of bearing a forehead mark and sacred thread (by the Hindus) which marked a great event in the Iron age.

For the sake of saints, he laid down his head without even a sign. For the sake of Dharma, he sacrificed himself. He laid down his head but not his conviction.

The saints of the Lord abhor the performance of miracles and malpractices.

Breaking the potsherd of his body on the head the king of Delhi (Aurangzeb), He left for the abode of the Lord.

None could perform such a feat as that of Tegh Bahadar.’5

Bhatt Vahis

The Bhatt Vahis are the scrolls or records maintained by Bhatts, hereditary bards and genealogists. The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism notes that it was customary for the Bhatts to visit their hereditary patrons usually twice a year at harvest time to sing their praises and receive rewards or customary donations as well as to collect information (births, marriages, deaths and other important events) for record in their vahis (ledgers). Even today there are over 300 Pandas or hereditary priests in Haridwar who keep genealogy registers, of families.6 Although the records in many cases have been noted down after the events (after a few months), nevertheless they are contemporary sources.

Bhat Vahi Jodobansian Khata Barhtian, a contemporary scroll records that Guru Tegh Bahadar was at Dhamdhan (Dhamthan7) of Pargana Bangar. Alam Khan Rohilla (Padshah Buranji states Alo) came with imperial order from Delhi and arrested the Guru on 8th November 1665 along withBhai Sati Das & Bhai Mati Das, Gawal Das, Gurdas, Sangat, Jetha & Bhai Dayal Das among other pious Sikhs.8

The Guru and his followers were brought to Delhi. The Guru was kept in the custody of Prince Ram Singh, son of Raja Mirza Jai Singh of Jaipur. Aurangzeb issued the orders for Guru’s execution, but Ram Singh desisted and later released Guru Tegh Bahadar on 16th December 1665.9

Persecution Of Sikhs

HR Gupta mentions that the book Kalimat-e- Tayibat states that a Sikh place of worship in a village in the Sirhind division was turned into a mosque. He adds that Mirza Inayatullah Khan in his book Ahkam-e-Alamgiri on pages 12-13 states that under Aurangzeb’s orders a Gurdwara of the Sikhs (Butkhana-e-Nanakprastan) in the town of Buriya, Parganah Khizarabad, Sirhind province, was pulled down by the Qazi and a mosque was built in its place. Sayyid Zafar Darvesh was appointed in charge of that mosque to guide prayers. Some Sikhs attacked the mosque and killed the Sayyid. These incidents were not uncommon.10

Khafi Khan in his book Muntakhab-ul-Lubab (1722) writes: “There is a sect of infidels called Guru, more commonly known as Sikhs. Their chief, who dresses as a fakir, has a fixed residence near Lahore. From old times he has built temples in all the towns and populous places and has appointed one of his followers to preside in each temple as his deputy. When anyone of the sect brought presents or offerings for the Guru to the temple, the deputy had to collect them, and after deducting sufficient for his own food and expenses, his duty was to send the balance faithfully to the Guru. This sect consists principally of Jats and Khatris of the Panjab and of other tribes of infidels. When Aurangzeb got knowledge of those matters, he ordered these deputy Gurus to be removed and the temples to be pulled down.”11

Brahmins From Kashmir

Contemporary sources Bhat Vahi Talauda Pargana Jind quoted first by Fauja Singh is corroborated by Bhai Swaroop Singh’s Guru Kian Saakhian which state that a deputation of Brahmins mainly from Kashmir under Kirpa Ram came to Anandpur on 25th May 1675 pleading Guru Tegh Bahadar to save their religion from the Mughal regime.

Syad Muhammad Latif writes “the emperor (Aurangzeb) had in those days thrown hundreds of Brahmans into jails, in the hope that, if they first embraced the religion of the prophet, the rest of the Hindus would readily follow their example.”12

According to Bhat Vahis and Kesar Singh Chibber’s Bansavalinama, Kirpa Ram later accepted Khande di Pahul and became full-fledged Khalsa and died while fighting in the battle of Chamkaur (1705 AD).


Guru Kian Saakhian states that on 8th July 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadar before leaving for Delhi appointed his son, Gobind Das as the next Guru. The Guru along with his three companions left for Delhi taking with him the plea of Brahmins of Kashmir. They were arrested at Malikpur Rangran on 12th July and produced before the governor of Sirhind the next day. Why were they arrested? Guru Kian Saakhian simply states that when the governor of Sirhind came to know that Guru Tegh Bahadar was proceeding towards Delhi taking with him the plea of Brahmins of Kashmir, the governor deemed it right to arrest them. Latif mentions that the Emperor Aurangzeb efforts were directed to converting the whole world to the Mahomedan faith.13

HR Gupta quotes William Irvine and writes that the order for arrest was kept secret for some time. Obviously the Kotwal (senior police officer or magistrate) was waiting for a suitable opportunity. He did not like to carry out the orders at Anandpur, where a large number of Sikhs were always present. But he had employed spies to inform him of the Guru’s daily activities and programme. It was reported to him that the Guru had decided to go on a tour about the middle of July, 1675.14

The stature of the Guru among non-Muslims and state efforts to bring everyone to the Islamic faith was good enough reason to arrest them. The governor would have thought that it would be a feather in his cap if his efforts lead to the conversion of the Guru.

The Guru was kept in lock -up at Bassi Pathana for 3 months and sent to Delhi on 4th November 1675. The Suba, commander of Delhi gave three options to the Guru, to display some miracle to accept Islam or to get ready to accept death. The Guru said, “Miracle is the epitome of calamity. Holy men don’t revel in miracles.” And accepted the third condition. On 11th November the three companions of the Guru were put to death, one by one, in front of Guru Tegh Bahadar in the hope that this may break his resolve. Later in the afternoon, the Guru was martyred.15

Few Mughal accounts suggest that Aurangzeb was at Hasan Abdal (Attock district, West Punjab) and the above account substantiates it.

Prejudice Of The Regime

The Emperor’s mind was already prejudiced against Guru Tegh Bahadar. He hated the word Sacha Patshah used by the Sikhs for the Guru. According to Aurangzeb, it implied that the Guru was a true king and the Emperor was a false king. He also detested the word Bahadar in the Guru’s name as this term was reserved for nobility of the Mughal court only.16

Martyrdom And Siyar-Ul-Mutakhirin

Most non-Sikh historians have relied on Siyar-ul-Mutakhirin, written by Sayyid Ghulam Husain in 1782, almost 107 years after the martyrdom.Sayyid Ghulam Husain was a native of Lucknow and wrote that Guru Tegh Bahadar and Hafiz Adam, a disciple of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (contemporary of Jahangir, in one of his letters he had expressed great delight at the execution of Kafir of Goindwal (Guru Arjan Dev) had collected a large body of men. They moved about in countryside and seized money and material by force. It was feared they might revolt against the government!

HR Gupta has given an apt explanation. About this time the Sikhs had become supreme in Northern India. In June 1781, Najaf Khan, the prime minister of the Mughal Empire, had confirmed the Sikh’s right to Rakhi at 12.5 per cent of the standard land revenue in Haryana and the upper Ganga Doab (western Uttar Pradesh). The Sikhs often extracted Rakhi tax from the territory of the Nawab of Oudh across the Ganga (Central Uttar Pradesh). Needless to say, Ghulam Husain did not have, a good word to say for the Sikhs and their Guru.17

In addition to baseless allegations, Ghulam Husain made a grave error here by bracketing Guru Tegh Bahadar with Hafiz Adam. Hafiz Adam was banished by Shah Jahan in 1642, thirty-three years earlier. Hafiz went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina where he died in 1643. Dr Fauja Singh in 1975 had quoted several works (with page numbers) to prove the discrepancy of the year by Ghulam Husain and fallacy of his allegations.

According to Nazeer Ahmad Deobandi’sTazkrat-ul-Ahdin p 124125; Maulvi Ghulam Nabi’s Mirat-ul-Qaunainp 417; MirzaMuhammad Akhtar’s Tazkara-i-Auliya-i-Hind-wa-Pakistan, p 401; Saiyad Abdul HayeeHasani Rai-Bareilvi’s Nazzat-ul-Khwatir vol 5 p 1-2, Hafiz Adam was a disciple of Mujadid Alf Sani, there was no possibilityof his joining the Guru.18

Hafiz Ahmed was no way associated with Guru Tegh Bahadar. Sayyid Ghulam Husain had charged the Guru with plundering people. This allegation was stated in Padshah Buranji when the Guru was arrested in 1665. It could be that Ghulam Husain was quoting the official allegations (however no contemporary Mughal records have been found as yet). It seems bit odd that the two arrests which span over 10 years were based on same allegation.

Sikhs Unhappy With The Emperor

HR Gupta quotes Saqi Must-id-Khan, a contemporary writer who wrote Masir-e-Alamgiri and mentions an interesting incident “When he (Aurangzeb) alighted the boat and was about to get on to the movable throne (Takhte-Rawan), an ill-fated disciple of Guru Tegh Bahadar threw two bricks on the Emperor, one of which hit the throne.”Obviously, people were unhappy with the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadar and he was seen as a martyr by many.19

Martyrdom & Persian Accounts

There are few contemporary Persian accounts which mention the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar Sahib. The tone of the account is surprisingly neutral. Readers must bear in mind that any slightest critique of the Mughal Emperor would have resulted in death penalty for the author. Consequently, some of them try to give justification for the execution. They were initially translated by Ganda Singh during his illustrious career but a more recent translation from the book Sikh History from Persian Sources has been used here.

Khulasat-Ut-Tawarikh (1695)

Sujan Rai Bhandari’s Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh, completed in 1695, is a history of India. The main account of the Sikhs and their history is given in the chapter on the province of Lahore. He mentions the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar without going into much detail lest he would have incurred the wrath of the Mughal ruler. Bhandari gets the year of martyrdom wrong by a year. He writes:

“Then Tegh Bahadar, the younger son of Guru Hargobind, occupied the seat for fifteen years. In the end, he was imprisoned under Imperial officers, and in 1081 A. H. (1670- 71AD), corresponding toAlamgir's 1673-74 AD, he was executed at Shahjahanabad (Delhi) in accordance with Alamgir’s orders. At the time of writing this book, Guru Gobind Rai, the son of Guru Tegh Bahadar, has been in occupation of the sacred seat for twenty-two years.”20

Nuskha-I-Dilkusha (1709)

Another Persian account, Bhimsen’s Nuskha-i-Dilkusha, is a history of Aurangzeb’s reign, written largely in the form of memoirs. Bhimsen was an officer of Dalpat Rao Bundela (A Rajput & trusted military commander of Aurangzeb), who died at the battle of Jajau in June 1707. Bhimsen gives an account of that battle, at which he was present. He also refers to Guru Gobind Singh’s meeting with Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah, successor of Aurangzeb in 1708. In relation to Guru Tegh Bahadar, he seems to suggest that the Guru was martyred as he was called Padshah, a sign of sovereignty. His account notes

“Some of his descendants (of Guru Nanak) have been masters of mystic attainments and have adopted the way of poverty and humility. Many took to the path of rebellion, such as Tegh Bahadar, by name, who lived in the mountains near Sirhind, he got himself called King (Padshah), and a large body of people gathered around him. When the news was conveyed to His Majesty Emperor Alamgir (Aurangzeb), it was ordered that he should be brought to the Court. When he came to the Court, he was executed.”21

Ibratnama (1719)

Muhammad Qasim in his Ibratnama mentions that Guru Tegh Bahadar came under the wrath of Aurangzeb and were condemned to death. Interestingly he calls Sarmad (an Armenian saint executed by Aurangzeb) a martyr and says Guru Tegh Bahadar belonged to the same group. He writes:

“After him Guru Tegh Bahadar, his son, rose further in status in comparison with his father. He spent much time in sport and game, but because of the effect of the attention and pleasing ways of acceptance of that accepted one, the inclinations of the people and the flow of worldly things [towards him], such as petty items and valuables, money and goods, elephants and horses, did not decrease, so that instead of himself [doing so], his followers from time to time claimed sovereignty for him. A long time he spent in this way in the mountainous country in the proximity of Sahrind [Sirhind] and Bajwara. At last, the seat of sovereignty received lustre by being occupied by His Majesty Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir, who, owing to his own passionate nature and regard for royal power, did not like such meaningless tumult. In the beginning of his reign he secluded himself in the company of many recluses and held discussions on spiritual and mystic truths with this set of men, free of all [worldly] constraints. Some, like His Holiness Shah Daula of Gujarat [Punjab], Shah Sadruddin of Qasur, and His Holiness Shah Hasan Durr, who has his elevated seat [shrine]near Shah Dara on the opposite bank of the Ravi, at Lahore, sat[in the Emperor’s company], of their own accord, possessing hearts that are free from cares. Others, like Sarmad, the mendicant (qalandar), entrusted their lives to Fate and tasted martyrdom from the sharp sword. To this latter group belonged Guru Tegh Bahadar, who obtained the honour of saluting [His Majesty] upon being summoned to the Court. Owing to what has been written above, he came under [the Emperor’s] wrath and saw himself condemned to death.”22

Chahar Gulshan

Rai Chaturman Saksena completed in 1759-60 a work entitled Chahar Gulshan, which is fairly well known among historians for the geographical information it provides. Less well known is the information given in its fourth part or gulshan about religious sects. The Sikhs or ‘Nanak Panthis’ have the last section of this portion devoted to them. His couple of lines on Guru Tegh Bahadar are same as those of Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh.23

European Account

Francois Xavier Wendel’s Les memoires de Wendel sur les fat, les Pathan, et les Sikh, written in French in 1768 had been lying in British Library archives till it was edited and printed by Jean Deloche in 1979. Wendel account on Guru Tegh Bahadar’s is sympathetic and respectful of the martyrdom.

“When he (Guru Nanak) passed away, his post and pire’s chair remained with someone of his family who, by descent, delivered it in the end to one Deg-bahadr, under Aurangzeb, and once more a number of devotees incorporated themselves into this sect and made so much of this gourou, at that time president, that this king, being besides a great enemy of things having a connection with gentilism, asked him to explain himself. Having made Deg-bahadr come to his presence and, having questioned him a great deal on his conduct and way of living, this prince, it is said, asked of him a miracle in confirmation of the doctrine that he was claiming as divine, most of it in opposition to mahometisme [Mohammadanism]. Excusing himself due to inadequacy and because miracles are the work of the all powerful, Deg-bahadr had in the end to choose either to renounce the doctrine and become a musulman or confirm it by the death to which he had been condemned; he did not hesitate to refuse, graciously giving his head and arousing by his example his disciples to do as much at their turn, when the occasion would present itself which they did not fail to dofollow”24


Important events in history should be based on contemporary and varied sources. And they need to be evaluated for their human bias. None of the near contemporary Persian and French accounts accuses Guru Tegh Bahadar as a renegade or criminal unlike Siyar-ulMutakhirin. In 1975, the Sikh world commemorated the tri-centennial martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar. A great work was done by Dr Fauja Singh, Dr HR Gupta, Dr Ganda Singh, Garja Singh, Dr Pyara Singh Padam and others. Their work has been in the public domain for past 45 years and despite this, modern non-Sikh historians continue to quote Siyar-ul-Mutakhirin, as a gospel truth. This account was written 107 years after the martyrdom and mentions Hafiz Adam as the Guru’s accomplice when he had been banished by Shah Jahan more than three decades earlier in 1642 and died the next year.  Last year in UK, Lord Indrajit Singh resigned from BBC Radio 4 after delivering ‘Thought of the Day’ programme for 35 years as BBC anchor and tried to censure his script on martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar lest it may offend Muslims. The script said nothing against the faith, Islam. It is important to take this discourse outside the Sikh circles and make non-Sikhs aware of this martyrdom for human rights.

The arrest of Guru Tegh Bahadar following his support to the cause of Kashmiri Brahmins in July 1675 which later led to his martyrdom in November 1675 should not be seen in isolation. Aurangzeb had previously arrested the Guru in 1665 and even ordered his execution. The martyrdom in 1675 was continuation of events which happened 10 years earlier, in 1665.


  • Harbans Singh (1999) Sikh relations with Mughal Emperor in Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Patiala: Punjabi University.
  • K. Bhuyan (1947) Annals of the Delhi Badshahate. Gauhati: Government of Assam p 162-64
  • Ibid p. 7
  • Ibid p. 10
  • Sri Dasam Granth Sahib translation by Dr Surinder Singh Kohli, 2010
  • Accessed on 15th December 2020, Rooting out a Hindu family history the traditional way https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18442924)
  • Dhamthan situated between Narwana and Tohana, 170 kms from Delhi in HR Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal p. 193. It is now in Jind district.
  • Fauja Singh & G.S. Talib (1975) Guru Tegh Bahadur, Martyr & Teacher. Patiala: Punjabi University p. 34
  • Pritpal Singh Bindra (2005) Bhai Swaroop Singh Kaushish’s Guru Kian Saakhian. Amritsar: Singh Brothers p. 81
  • HR Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
  • Ibid p. 199
  • SM Latif (1891) History of the Panjab. Calcutta: Calcutta Central Press p. 260
  • Ibid p. 259
  • HR Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs, Vol 1. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
  • Pritpal Singh Bindra (2005) Bhai Swaroop Singh Kaushish’s Guru Kian Saakhian. Amritsar: Singh Brothers p. 86-91
  • HR Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
  • Ibid p. 205
  • Fauja Singh & G.S. Talib (1975) Guru Tegh Bahadur, Martyr & Teacher. Patiala: Punjabi University p. 82-83
  • HR Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal p 218
  • JS Grewal & Irfan Habib (2001) Sikh History from Persian Sources. New Delhi: Tulika p92
  • Ibid p105 22. Ibid p112
  • Ibid p163
  • Amandeep Madra & Parmjit Singh (2004) Sicques, Tigers or Thieves Eyewitness Accounts of the Sikhs (1606-1809). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan p 1415.

© Copyright Inderjeet Singh

Inderjeet Singh is author of the book, Afghan Hindus & Sikhs History of a Thousand Years. He is based in Nottingham and regularly writes on Punjab and Sikh history.

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