The mighty myth of Sikhs saving Hinduism

The narrative of Sikhs coming to the aid of Hindus needs to be re-examined.

The mighty myth of Sikhs saving Hinduism

“Tumhari quam ke liye khade na hote, tumhari ma behan biwi ke liye lade na hote, to tumhare waris kabhi bade na hote” (If we have not stood for your religion, if we have not stood for your mothers, sisters and wives, your children would’ve never grown) said a fluffy face Sikh girl rhapsodically with laborious effort in an effort to sound savage – in a short video message; which was later shared by the best selling author from the Sikh community, Harinder S Sikka on his Twitter account. The sonorously angry girl with a discernible supremacist tone and dramatically plain expression continued to add a very casual threat – “Agar pata hota nazre humhi par hai to jis zameen ke taraf bad rahe ho, usi me gade na hote” (If it was known that your eyes are on us, then you would’ve been buried in the same land towards which you’re heading to).

Another one of the influential Sikhs – Yograj Singh, father of cricketer Yuvraj Singh – proudly regurgitated it with same rue – “we saved their women”. Recurrences of this theme – of Sikhs saving Hindus – has seen particular accretion in the past few years owing greatly to the nationalist brigade’s unflinching dedication to it. The natural result of which is Sikh fawning Hindus and self-preening Sikhs, all while seriously battering the historic events and their readings. The narrative – which has now turned into mammoth propaganda – is clearly short of any legitimacy at historic evaluations.

Since the start, till up to the 5th Guru, Sikhism had hardly established itself as a separate religion. It was seen more as a long extending branch of the great tree of Hinduism. And this branch, under the ruling, or rather guidance, of the earlier 5 gurus, was largely a peaceful one – not habitual to carrying arms & far away from proper militarisation. It was under the celebrated clans of Rajputs, particularly Rathores, that the militarisation of Sikhs was initiated. According to Sikhan di Bhagat Ratan Mala (written in the 17th century), Guru Hargobind was taught Shastarvidya by two Rajputs, namely Rao Sigara and Rao Jaita. His great-grandson Guru Govind Singh, the tenth Guru of Sikhs, was taught Shastra-Vidya by Rao Bajjar Singh Rathore, great-grandson of Rao Mandan Ji Rathore. And later Guru Govind’s kids were taught by Rai Alam Singh Chauhan, who, till today is considered as one of the finest generals to have ever lead Sikhs.

The most prominent of names, under the Sikhs saving Hinduism claim, is of the tenth Guru, Govind Singh. However, history around him is not as simple as has been painted over the years with a thick bold brush. When his father Guru Teg Bahadur, who later became the ninth Guru, was facing heavy opposition from other Sikh groups against heading the Sikh community; it was Sawai Jai Singh who supported and played a crucial role in ensuring his elevation to the top. The same Sawai Jai Singh also, along with Rana Raj Singh, saved Guru Teg Bahadur from the evil clutches of Aurangzeb and also gifted Gurudwara Bangla Saheb to the Sikhs. As per Guru Govind Singh’s own confession in the Zafarnama – a letter, of him to the tyrant Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, with a complex set of challenging and pleasing words of pure puffery – Guru Govind was an ‘idol-breaker’.

“I vanquished the vicious hill chiefs, they were idol-worshippers and I am idol-breaker,” he said as per the verse 95.

Aurangzeb was sufficiently pleased with the letter for he ordered his governor Wazir Khan – who was in conflict with Guru Govind prior to the letter exchange – not to trouble the Guru anymore. One of the instances of Wazir Khan troubling Guru Govind comes at the famous battle site of the Chamkaur-sahib, in 1704, when Guru Govind, after being chased by Wazir Khan and 700 horsemen and losing his 40+ men and 2 young sons, was in a hapless and life-threatening situation. If it wasn’t for Roop Chand & Jagat Singh – the two Hindu Rajputs of Kachhawaha clan – who provided protection & refuge to the Guru, darkness would have swooped the time frame.

Guru’s conflict with the hill Rajas was not confined only to words. His men had plundered the domains of the semi-autonomous Hindu Rajas in the Punjab hills, some of them being the same who gave Guru Govind asylum post his father’s execution. In course of these conflicts with the hill Rajas, Guru Govind came into a direct confrontation with the Mughal empire. This undertaking wasn’t to oust Muslim Mughals and save Hindus, as some still think, but to satisfy his own political ambitions. All of these Guru Govind’s conflicts have been summarised succinctly by Dr Koenraad Elst in his sharp words –

“Govind Singh, only fought the Mughal army when he was forced to, and it was hardly to protect Hinduism.”

And at times Guru Govind sought power and also supported the Mughals after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 when the Guru militarily assisted Bahadur Shah in his quest for the throne. A fight which can safely be termed as an inter-Mughal conflict, not against Muslims or to save Hindus, as claimed. On the contrary, as Elst pointed out, one of the battles he fought on Bahadur Shah’s side was against the rebellious Rajputs. As a reward for which he received a fief in Nanded on the Godavari river in the south. His end in life journey also came while in engagement with the Mughals. He was stabbed by two Pathan assassins (possibly sent by Wazir Khan, fearing Govind Singh’s influence on the Mughal emperor) in 1708 when he was accompanying Bahadur Shah in an expedition to the south.

Similar contrasting records to the recent narrative can also be seen in events relating to another Sikh Guru, Hargobind Singh, the 5th Guru. When Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior jail in February 1620, he had with him the company of 52 Rajput princes of the Rathore clan. These Rajputs then went on to raise an army of 700 horsemen for the protection of the ruling house of Sikhs. The local Jagirdars of Punjab – who, being unhappy after Guru Hargobind’s release from Gwalior, had struck an alliance with Mughal governor Abdul Khan – attacked Guru at Rohilla, in, what later came to be known as the first battle of the Sikhs. Luckily for the Sikhs and the Guru, Rajputs under Rao Mandan Ji Rathore were standing as the bulwark in between. The Mughal governor was badly defeated and Jagirdars, the enemies, were made to flee. Subsequently, the Sikh Guru was saved & protected by the mighty and glorious among the already battle-hardened Rajputs.

Another of such instances of effort and sacrifice by Hindus for the Sikh Guru can be seen when in 1628 CE Guru Hargobind visited Raja of Bilaspur Kalyan Chand at his capital Kot-Kehloor. Raja gave him patronage along with the village of Kiratpur and Kalyanpur as Jagir. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir, taking serious objection to it, asked the Raja to remove the Guru from the hill state of Kehloor, to which the Raja refused. Later Raja Kalyan Chand shifted his capital from Kot-Kehloor to Sunhani (Bilaspur), but didn’t renege from his stance[1].

In modern propaganda, both the contributions of Hindus in saving Sikhs and instances of Sikhs harming Hindus – as in of Guru Hargobind breaking the idol at Naina Devi temple (per Dabistan a contemporary work) – is often sidelined and slipped under the carpet. And the other who can’t be ignored gets appropriated. As with Banda Bahadur, the man who slaughtered Afghans and Mughals greatly and protected the Sikh Guru, is now being claimed by some as Sikh. While he was a Hindu Rajput (of the Manhas Clan) and was born as Lakshman Dev. The first Sikh state was created by him. As part of a Bairag Vaishnav sect, he had an ashram of his own, where Sikhs used to throw meat and slaughter goats. Infuriated with which his contempt against those Sikhs increased and is apparently seen in verses (18, 19, 20, 21) of Sri Gur Panth Prakash. Verses tell that Banda Singh had written that he was no longer a follower of the Guru but now of Bairagi Vaishno seat. Adding that he harassed and tortured those Sikhs as brutally as they had slaughtered goats in his monastery.

One of the darkest of turns came in April 1796, when a huge Kumbh Mela in Haridwar was organised with around 25 lakh people. On the last day of the mela, a Sikh band of Patiala’s Raja Sahib Singh made wolf attacks on Hindus[2].

“On the morning of the 10th of April (which day concluded the mela), about 8 o’clock in the morning the Sikhs… assembled in force and proceeded to the different watering places, where they attacked with swords, spears, and fire-arms, every tribe of faqirs that came in their way. These people being all on foot and few if any having fire-arms, the contest was unequal; and the Sikhs who were all mounted, drove the Sannyasis, Vairagis, Gosains, Nagas &c., before them with irresistible fury… and having slaughtered a great number pursued the remainder. Accounts agree that the faqirs lost about 5,000 men killed, among whom was one of their mahants named Manpuri and they had many wounded: of the Sikhs about 20 were killed” (Asiatic Researches, vol. VI)[3].

Shocking as it may be, it might not surprise those who are aware of Sikh rule in Kashmir, which was dubbed then as the poorest in the entire country by travellers.

“Everywhere the people were in the most abject condition, exorbitantly taxed by the Sikh government and subjected to every kind of extortion and oppression by its officers. The consequences of this system are the gradual depopulation of the country.”[4]

Contemporary British veterinary surgeon, who travelled throughout Kashmir on his way to Bukhara, painted a painful portrait of Kashmir under Sikhs through his words. The Kashmiris, he said, were treated ‘little better than cattle’. In 1831 Victor Jacquemont, a French botanist and contemporary traveller to the valley, said the appearance of Srinagar was the ‘most miserable in the world…nowhere else in India are the masses as poor and denuded as they are in the Kashmir’. Godfrey Vigne, traveller to Kashmir in the 1830s, narrated of a similar fate.

‘Not a day passed whilst I was on the path to Kashmir, and even when travelling in the valley, that I did not see the bleached remains of some unfortunate wretch who has fallen a victim either to sickness or starvation.’

It is upon the sidelining or ignoring of real events like these that the now demotic and supremacist myth of Sikhs saving Hinduism is floated. A gradual reading of the historic unfolding over the years gives us a clear understanding that how myths like these are nothing but crude simplifications and vulgar exaggerations at the heavy expense of serious historiography. No single caste or community holds the exclusive prerogative to wear the badge of saviours of Hinduism. The safety, security and prosperity of Hinduism has been and is a collective effort. There is no “Assi Hindua Nu Bachaya Si”.


[1] Bilaspur Through Centuries – Capt. Shakti S. Chandel

[2] A History Of Dasanani Naga Sanyasis


[4] Kashmir In Conflict – Victoria Schofield Page Number 05

About Author: Yogendra Singh

Yogendra Singh is a History and Geopolitics undergraduate student from Betul, Madhya Pradesh. He is a three-time state topper in the Science Olympiad and the Art of Lecturing.

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