Vaisakhi 1699 – What Really Happened?

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 Myths in Sikhism series 4

I would say almost all Sikhs are familiar with the story of this most important event in Sikhism. The event marks the founding of Khalsa or Sikh nation, 318 years ago. April 14(Nanakshai calendar) the day Khalsa was evolved and Sikhs were given a clear identity with code of conduct when the first five Sikhs were baptized in 1699. The event was organized and conducted by Guru Gobind Singh ji.

The highlights of this event were that Guru ji sent invitations to all Sikhs, come to Anandpur on Vaisakhi day. The Vaisakhi day was chosen as it was Guru Nanak’s avtar divas. Large number of Sikhs gather, Guru ji choose and appointed five Gursikhs (Panj Piares). Amrit was prepared, Guru ji first served the Amrit to these fives, then took Amrit himself from them. Guru ji gave them Oath of Conduct and special identity with five K’s. Guru ji added Singh to their names and declared every Sikh male should adopt Singh as last name and female use Kaur (Khalsa brotherhood and sisterhood).

The objective of this article is to explore how Guru Gobind Singh choose and appointed the Panj Piares? Large number of sources say there were 80,000 Sikhs gathered to witness this event. Most importantly Kabi Sanapati and Bhai Nand Lal the famous poets of Guru Gobind Singh’s court were also there who later described the whole event in their writings.

The most common description of this event goes like:

  • Guru ji erected a tent behind the main stage, had a naked sword in hand, demanded one head
  • one Sikh offered his head, Guru ji took him into the tent
  • Guru ji appeared again with bloody sword and asked for another head
  • Guru ji repeated this for five times
  • Guru ji kept the secret what he had done to five individuals in the tent.

The story also mentioned that Guru ji had male-goats (bakrras) in the tent. The story writer even went further, that Guru ji cut the heads of those five and rejoined the heads with the torsos. This is what we have been hearing from our preachers, dhadies and kathakars in Gurdwaras. This story was found in “Gurbilas Patshahi 10” a book written by Koer Singh in 1751 (43 years after Guru Gobind Singh’s death). Koer Singh justified his writing by saying Guru wanted to Test the Sikhi. In other words Guru wanted to see if Sikhs were ready to sacrifice their lives for him.

Majority Kathakars say there were 80,000 Sikhs to witness the event. As you all know there were no microphones or loudspeakers to make announcements. So,

how Guru ji addressed the 80,000 people sitting in front?

It is not possible to address more than couple hundreds without a microphone. So therefore it is a myth.

Koer Singh’s main points regarding Vaisakhi 1699:

  1. Tent
  2. Blood dripping Sword
  3. Demand of Heads
  4. Cutting of Heads
  5. Joining Heads with torsos
  6. Bakrras in the tent
  7. Guru kept Secret from Sikhs
  8. Test of Sikhi.

However, none of these above points have been found in the writings of Bhai Nand Lal or Kabi Sanapati, who witnessed the whole event. Before I discuss the logistics of the above points, let us find out who was Koer Singh? 

Koer Singh who was an impostor, also had two other names as Bishan Har or Chand and Kant Har. He was a man of considerable talents. He was a Vaishnavite Hindu inside and a Sikh only by name.Please be advised that I have nothing against Hindus, its their rights to what ever they believe. I am just stating historical facts. Koer Singh was very similar to our present day Sikh religious leaders (SGPC) and Derradars. He called himself as Kalal to identify himself with Jassa Singh Kalal, then leader of the Dal Khalsa. There is nothing in his book about the actual place of his residence. The only thing he mentioned that he was living in Kambo neighborhood. He proved himself to be a successful infiltrator and destroyer of Sikh theology. He also composed a Vaar, under the pen name of Gurdas, which had been added as 41st Vaar to the composition of Bhai Gurdas. He said that Guru Gobind Singh worshiped and appeased Kali ( Durga) on the eve of creation of Khalsa. The Sikhs who deny that Guru ji ever worshiped Kali, sing his Vaar “gur das manaei kalka khandae ke vela”, “wah wah gobind singh aape gur chela” without understanding the mischief implied in its contents. He proceeded to regard the Sikh Gurus as incarnation of Hindu Gods. He gave an undesirable tilt to Sikhism in favor of Hinduism.

Let us apply the process of exclusion to all the points listed above to prove that Vaisakhi 1699 event described by Koer Singh is a myth.

  1. Tent: It was said that Guru ji erected a tent and no one knew about it.

Was the tent so small, no one was able to see?

Was the tent invisible?

I am sure Guru ji must asked the Sikhs to set up the tent as it could been very hard for one person(Guru ji) alone to set up the tent.

  1. Cutting of Heads and rejoining them with torso: In Sikhism there is no place for miracles. There were no miracles practiced by Guru Gobind Singh or any other Sikh Gurus. If there was such a thing like miracles, why Guru ji did not apply on Aurangzeb to change his thinking? I think Koer Singh made up this mythical story based on literal meaning of Gurbani “cir dhar tali gali meri aao” SGGS M1, 1412. Where as Guru Nanak advise us to give up your own thinking and take Guru’s wisdom(nothing to do with asking for a head and cutting). Cutting and joining of heads not possible even today when medical science and technology is so advanced. There fore it is a myth.
  2. Bakrras in the tent: This point indicate Guru ji betrayed the Sikhs by demanding Sikh heads but slaughtered the bakrras in the tent. This act does not fit with Guru Gobind Singh’s great personality, respect and honor. Bakrras are usually very noisy animal, it is impossible that no one heard them. This point is nothing more than downgrading Guru Gobind Singh’s greatness. So, I strongly believe it is a myth.
  3. Blood dripping Sword: This item depends upon above points 2 and 3, if they are considered myths then this point is not applicable. Therefore one can safely say it is a myth.
  4. Guru ji kept Secret from Sikhs: In Sikhism there is no such thing like keeping a secret between Guru and the Sikh. There is no evidence that any Sikh Guru kept secret from their followers (Sikhs). It is common belief among Sikhs that Guru Gobind Singh kept secret regarding what really happened in the tent? Let us assume that Guru ji really kept the secret from Sikhs and no one knew what happened. I would like to know:

How did Koer Singh the writer of Gurbilas Patshahi 10 find out what happened? Especially 43 years after Guru ji left this world. There is no records in history to indicate that Koer Singh ever met Guru Gobind Singh. I have great faith in my Guru, If Guru ji kept the secret, then that secret went with Guru ji. If any one claimed that he/she knew what happened, it was a total lie. Simply what ever Guru Gobind Singh did that day it was done in front of every body. There fore this point regarding kept secret is also a myth.

  1. Test of Sikhi: Test of Sikhi means that Guru Gobind Singh wanted to know if Sikhs were ready to sacrifice their life for him. The Sikhs who believe that Guru ji did this act to test the Sikhi, I would like to draw their attention to Sikh history:
  2. Guru Hargobind (sixth Guru): Sikhs fought 4 wars under Guru ji leadership in which large number of Sikhs lost their lives.

Wouldn’t you call these 4 wars were test of Sikhi?

  1. Guru Tegh Bhadur’s Martyrdom: Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dyala ji all sacrificed their lives in front of Guru ji.

Wouldn’t you call this was test of Sikhi?

  1. Guru Gobind Singh: Prior to Vaisakhi 1699, Sikhs fought 3 wars under Guru ji leadership in which hundreds of Sikhs lost lives. First was on April 10, 1687 at Bhagni, second in 1688 at Naddon and third in winter of 1688-1689 at Hussani.

Wouldn’t you consider these wars were test of Sikhi?

In a matter of fact Sikhs were getting tested by Guru ji every day. The above historical events proved that Sikhs had already passed the test and Vaisakhi 1699 was not the test of Sikhi, therefore it is a myth.

All the above points indicate that Koer Singh’s story of Vaisakhi 1699 is a myth.

The most logical explanation of Vaisakhi 1699:

Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha provided very valuable information in Mahan Kosh on pages 2781 – 2782 that Panj Gursikhs ( Piares) were serving Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur 14 – 22 years prior to Vaisakhi 1699. It means, these five Gursikhs did not come on Guru’s invitation like the other thousands did. These five Gursikhs must had fought in 3 wars before Vaisakhi 1699 as stated above.They must had developed trustworthy honorable relationship with Guru ji.

The Panj Piare’s tradition was started by Guru Nanak and followed by other Gurus. All of their names are not available at present except Guru Arjan’s and Guru Tegh Bahadur’s. Guru Arjan’s panj piares were Bhai Bidi Chand, Bhai Jetha, Bhai Langha, Bhai Pirana and Bhai Pairra. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s panj piares were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Gurdita, Bhai Dyala, Bhai Udha and Bhai Jaitta.

Guru Nanak observed the Political, Cultural,Justice and Religious systems of that time and decided to bring Social change in the society. The corrupt religious leaders (Kazies and Brahmans) were taking bribes from innocent people.

Kazi hoe rishvati vaddhi laike haku gavai  (1/30) Vaaran Bhai Gurdas

Kadi koor bol mal khai, brahan navae jeea ghai  SGGS, M 1 , 662

For this reason Guru Nanak started the five Gursikh council to resolve Sikh community’s issues or affairs at local level. This was to protect Sikhs from the corrupt Kazi or Brahman who were appointed by the evil rulers. Guru Nanak explained this council in Jap bani as “panch parvan panch pardhan” . The five Gursikhs were chosen by Guru himself. Guru ji must established a protocol or criteria for the selection, such as knowledge, loyalty, leadership skills, communication skills, bravery and honesty etc. Over time these five Gursikhs being called Piares. Their responsibilities were extended by Guru Gobind Singh to include the duties of the ex- Masands and also to perform Amrit ceremony.

All Sikh Gurus including Guru Gobind Singh were Head or Leaders of the Sikhs. Let us see Guru’s leadership through the analogy of what a Prime Minister (PM) or President is to a country. The Prime Minister select his/her ministers based on established criteria. The PM is always familiar with all the potential candidates, their credentials and performances etc. The PM make announcement of the appointments of Ministers in front of public and the media. Then the Ministers take oath to serve the PM and the country.

Similarly that’s what happened on the day of Vaisakhi 1699. Guru ji had a plan established by Guru Nanak, a set criteria and was familiar with all the potential candidates. On Vaisakhi day Guru ji made announcement of the Panj Piares he chose in front of Sikh Sangat. Guru ji prepared Amrit and served to Panj Piares. Panj Piares took oath to serve Guru ji and Sikh public (humanity). Guru ji established code of conduct for them to follow and special identity with 5K’s. All Panj Piares were young men (30 to 35) years of age.

The above explanation seems very logical and believable.It does not matter, we believe this simple explanation or the mythical story by Koer Singh, it should not make any difference to our admiration to Guru Gobind Singh who sacrificed his life and his family for the welfare of the humanity. One thing I would like to say that we should have more faith or trust in the writings of Guru’s loyal poets Bhai Nand Lal and Kabi Sanapati than Koer Singh who was an impostor.

It is true but sad, the true concept of Panj Piares are no longer exist in Sikhism, even the Gurdwara’s issues are solved by the state courts. Now a days it is common to see Panj Piares ( most of them old men) dressed in traditional attire, carry swords on their shoulders or front of their face and often walking bare feet at Nagar Kirtans. This was not the real purpose of the Panj Piare’s tradition Guru ji established.

My humble request to Sikh sangat (public), when ever you hear this mythical story or any other illogical stories, please raise questions to the preacher, kathakar, dhadi or a baba. Hopefully, this will help to eliminate myths in Sikhism.

References:

  1. Sangat Singh; The Sikhs in History a millennium study, Fourth edition, January 2001.
  2. Prof. Kashmira Singh USA; Vaisakhi 1699 and Panj Piares, KhalsaNews.org, April 15, 2016.
  3. Prof. Inder Singh Ghagga; Personal communications, April 28, 2017.
  4. My special thanks to Dr. Gautam Srivastava, Dept. of Computer Science, Brandon University, for his expert help in editing this article.

Ramjit Singh Mann