Down Memory Lane History & Culture

Delhi’s gory heritage of the Khalsa panth

The Sis Ganj Gurdwara is a Chandni Chowk landmark that writers have extolled.Gaynor Barton and Laurranie Malone, who visited it some 30 years ago, described the goings-on inside this 300-year-old place of worship. Outside it is a shop selling four of the five “Ks” of the Sikh faith (except kesh or hair, which every Sikh must grow long): kangha (comb), kara (steel bangle), kirpan (dagger, for protection), and kacchha (underwear, for easier movement during sword fighting). Enter the gurdwara and you will find the holy book of 5,984 hymns, known as Granth Sahib, covered with marigold flowers and kept under a golden canopy, and placed for safety, in a special room at night. Attached to the gurdwara is the langar or eating hall which accommodates thousands.

The gurdwara is dedicated to Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs, born in Amritsar in April 1621. According to a Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee publication, the Guru was on a tour of Assam and Bengal when he heard that Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, had issued orders for the persecution of Brahmins. The historian Syed Mohammad Latif says hundreds of Brahmins had been thrown into jail and promised freedom if they converted to Islam. A number, under the leadership of Pandit Kirpa Ram of Kashmir, met Guru Tegh Bahadur when he returned to Anandpur to seek his help.

In 1675 the Guru reached Agra, where he courted arrest and was brought to Delhi. When he refused to perform miracles to please Aurangzeb, he was thrown into prison (actually the Kotwali where Gurdwara Sis Ganj later came up). His disciples, Bhai Dayal Das, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das were tortured to death. He too was beheaded on 11 Nov, 1675 under a banyan tree, before a large wailing crowd.

That night they say a terrible storm (Kali Andhi) struck. The Moghul soldiers on guard lost their bearings and a man called Jaita took them by surprise. He picked up the head of the guru and fled into the night. Simultaneously, Lakhi Shah, a contractor of the Moghul Court, came with horses and bullocks, driven by his eight sons, and carried away the body, under the cover of darkness. They drove past the Red Fort and on to their house, situated in the wilderness of Raisina Hill. The body and house were both set on fire. With none suspecting their motives, they were able to bury the body in an urn, where the house stood.

The head was taken away to Anandpur in Punjab where it was cremated. Today, the site of the house which was set on fire is marked by Gurdwara Rakabganj. The name Rakabganj is common to localities in North India, some of them associated with the sale of utensils, particularly plates (rakabis). But this one is different in that, along with Sis Ganj, it brings to mind the strange evening of 1675, when nature frowned on a ruthless act.

Part of the trunk of the banyan-tree trunk is still preserved in the gurdwara which has now expanded much more after acquiring the erstwhile Kotwali (now moved to Daryaganj) and the Majestic Cinema building. Opposite it the area around the fountain built by Lord Northbrook in the late 19th century has been renamed Bhai Mati Das Chowk to honour the Guru’s companion.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 4:23:00 PM |

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