Guru Tegh Bahadur's Martyrdom Day is observed each year on November 24. This day commemorates the death anniversary of the ninth Guru of the Sikhs – Guru Tegh Bahadur.

The Sikhs lovingly remember Teg Bahadur for his utmost sacrifice to uphold the principle of freedom to observe one’s own religion.

The Sikhs consider this to be one of the most important days in their religious calendar. His followers lovingly call him “Hind Di Chaadar” or “The Shield of India”.

A brief life history of Guru Tegh Bahadur (1 April 1621 – 11 November 1675):

Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth Guru of the Sikhs who took over on March 20, 1665, following the footsteps of Guru Har Kishan who was his grand nephew. He was the youngest among the five sons born to Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, and his wife Nanaki at Tyaga Mal Khatri in Amritsar. He was named Tyag Mal. Amritsar during that time was the center of Sikh culture and heritage, being the seat of the Guru, especially under the able leadership of Guru Hargobind who had shown a lot of valor in a battle against the Mughal Emperor.

Tyag Mal was named Tegh Bahadur by Guru Hargobind after he displayed valor in the battle with the Mughals. Tegh Bahadur literally means Mighty of the Sword. Tegh Bahadur was brought up with values and principles of the Sikh culture. He was not only taught the old classics, but also trained in martial arts, archery and horsemanship. From a very young age he had a deep spiritual and mystical temperament. On February 3, 1631 Tegh Bahadur was married to Mata Gujri.

In the 1640’s Guru Harkishan moved to their ancestral village of Bakala with his family. There Tegh Bahadur spent his life like an ascetic immersed in meditation and spiritual thinking. Yet he never shied away from his domestic responsibilities or from those towards his family. He also was active for he went out riding and chasing, and made visits outside his hometown. He also paid a visit to the eight Sikh Guru Har Kishan when the Guru was in Delhi. During his stay in Delhi, Guru Har Kishan had suffered from small pox, and his followers wanted him to guide them to the next Guru. The Guru simply said Baba Bakale, meaning that the next Guru would be found in the village of Bakala.

Many people tried to take advantage of this ambiguous situation and claimed to be the next Sikh Guru. In fact there were about twenty two people faking this way, the most influential one being Dhir Mall, the nephew of Tegh Bahadur. There was an air of confusion. Meanwhile a wealthy Merchant by the name of Makhan Shah faced a turmoil weather condition in one of his business expeditions where he had his ships carrying valuable goods at sea. He vowed in his mind that he shall offer five hundred gold coins to the Guru if his merchandise could reach his home in a safe condition. His wish was fulfilled. Makhan Shah immediately set out to meet the Sikh Guru, and then he came to know of the confusion that was prevailing. Makhan Shah decided to pay something to all the twenty two people at Bakala who were claiming to be the next Guru. He visited all twenty two of them and offered them two gold coins each. Then a child pointed him to Tegh Bahadur’s house saying that there lived an ascetic in that house. Makhan Shah decided to pay that person his homage too.

When Makhan Shah entered the abode of Tegh Bahadur, his family warned the merchant that Tegh Bahadur did not like to attend visitors. Moreover he was meditating then, and the merchant would have to wait if he wanted to meet him. Makhan Shah waited patiently for his turn. When he met Tegh Bahadur, he placed two gold coins before him too. Tegh Bahadur blessed him, smiled and said that he thought that the merchant had pledged for five hundred gold coins. Makhan Shah was elated, he kissed Tegh Bahadur on his feet, and rushed to the roof of the house shouting that the new guru has been found. When the Sikhs heard the story they were overjoyed and much rejoicing was held for many days. Thus, the humble, quiet and pious Tegh Bahadur became the ninth Guru of the Sikhs as the natural successor of Guru Harkrishan.

The one person who was not so happy about this incident was Dhir Mal, the grandson of Guru Hargobind. Dhir Mal wanted people to accept him as the next Sikh Guru since he possessed the Guru Granth Sahib that was originally written by Guru Arjan Dev. Dhir Mal planned to assassinate Tegh Bahadur. Tegh Bahadur was attacked in his sleep and his house was ransacked too. Fortunately, Tegh Bahadur was not seriously wounded. The Sikhs retaliated by looting the house of Dhir Mal including the aforementioned Guru Granth Sahib. They presented all the bounty before their Guru Tegh Bahadur. Tegh Bahadur believed in forgiveness. So he ordered everything to be returned to the rightful owner.

The Guru practiced what he preached. Through his own living and also through his preaching he was able to mould the conscience of his followers. He also travelled far and wide. It was during this time that the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was trying to fulfill his dream of converting the whole of India into Islam. Trouble arose in Kashmir at this point. A minority of conversions were done peacefully. This was especially due to the fact that the then Viceroy of Kashmir Iftikhar Khan also followed Aurangzeb’s policy rigorously and carried out conversions, even by force if required.

At this juncture a group of Kashmiri Pandits (Hindu Brahmins) approached Tegh Bahadur for his help. The guru asked them to let Aurangzeb know that they were willing to convert into Islam if Tegh Bahadur did so. The Guru was arrested as per the orders of Aurangzeb. Tegh Bahadur was intelligent enough to know that the position of the Sikh Guru may soon again be in jeopardy. As such, before he left, he nominated his son Gobind Rai, who later came to be known as Guru Gobind Singh, to be the next Sikh Guru. Along with Tegh Bahadur some of his followers too were arrested. They were Bhai Dayala, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das. They were kept in confinement in iron cages for three months before they were taken to Delhi before the Emperor where they were tortured so that they embrace Islam. Then the Emperor killed the Guru’s followers before his eyes so make him change his mind. Then the Guru was asked to prove his Divinity, which is refused. When all attempts failed, Aurangzeb beheaded Tegh Bahadur. Gurdwaras have been erected at the sites in Delhi where the execution was done, and where he was cremated. Guru Tegh Bahadur his highly regarded for his sacrifice that proves the Sikh principle of standing for one’s right – whether it is for self or for anybody else. He made a noble attempt to help prevail freedom of practicing one’s own religion in India.

Type of Holiday in India:

Guru Tegh Bahadur's Martyrdom Day is not a gazetted or national holiday in India. However, people all across the various cities of the country who observe the occurrence have the option of taking a Restricted Holiday on this day to mark the occasion. Government and private offices remain open on this day though. Also, local businesses, banks and transportation systems in the cities operate in full swing. However, certain institutions may opt to remain closed on this day.

Observances to mark the occasion:

Guru Tegh Bahadur's Martyrdom Day is observed with much reverence by Sikhs all over the country. It is considered to be one of the most valued Sikh festivals. This is because of the fact that the Guru’s sacrifice is an exemplary one, and it establishes the basic Sikh principle of standing up against any discrimination or unfairness, be it on oneself or anyone else for the matter, who may not even belong to one’s own community. To commemorate this occasion, a Prabhat Pheri (Early Morning Parade) is organized where many people join in. the holy march is often accompanied by musicians. Holy scriptures are often recited during the parade. Also, in some parades, devotees also display martial arts. Special prayers are also organized at the Gurdwaras. Kirtans (devotional songs) are also performed. Recitals of holy Sikh scriptures take place. People also give alms to charity. Often at Gurdwaras ‘langar’is also hosted – this is a community kitchen where any person can have a (free) meal.  Apart from that, many lectures and discussion panels are also organized for. Here people not only discuss bout the teachings of the Guru, but also get more familiar with his life and his principles – something he held so dear that he never hesitated to sacrifice his life for it.

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