AT a time when invaders marched into lands for glory and wealth, when innocent men, women and children were massacred, enslaved and raped, when towers of heads of children were erected for the wicked pleasures of an emperor, when mothers were forced to eat the flesh of their children, and when intolerance destroyed places of worship, libraries and everything in their path, there rose a man to challenge the wicked.
He brought the Mughal empire to its knees and gifted the world "The Khalsa". That man was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth holy guru of the Sikhs.
Born in 1666 to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji who was martyred at Delhi by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Guru Gobind, or Gobind Rai as he was known then, became a guru when he was just 9.
He was a brilliant poet, scholar, a tactical general and an astute politician. Above all, he was a very spiritual and God-fearing man.
Sikhs praying during the Vaisakhi celebrations at Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya last year.
The atrocities committed by the Mughals demoralised the society during that period. Guru Gobind transformed ordinary people into powerful warriors and altered the course of the history of India.
In the year 1699, the Guru Gobind called his followers for a meeting in Anandpur Sahib during the annual harvest festival of Baisakhi (or Vaisakhi).
During the meeting, Guru Gobind tested his followers by holding a sword in his hands and asking for a head. One man volunteered. The guru took him into a tent and returned with a bloodstained sword.
He asked for another volunteer, took him into the tent and emerged with blood dripping from his sword. The guru demanded another head and did the same thing to the next three volunteers.
Finally, all five volunteers came out of the tent in new clothing -- unharmed. This was only a test.
Guru Gobind then blessed them and gave them amrit (nectar) and with the cry of Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh, he initiated them as the first "Sikhs" of the Khalsa with the title "Singh", meaning lion, attached at the back of the names of these new Sikhs.
The guru then knelt and asked the five to initiate him as a member. He was given the amrit and when he stood up, Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the lion of Hindustan.
He formed the Khalsa. These spiritual warriors defended the weak and fought for justice. Despite the battles and hardship they had to endure, they never forgot the teachings of their gurus, starting with their first guru -- Guru Nanak Ji.
As an example, during a terrible battle, the city was surrounded by Mughal soldiers. Water and food supplies were cut off.
A Sikh by the name of Bhai Kanhaiya carried a goat skin water pouch serving anyone who needed water, including the enemy.
News reached Guru Gobind that Bhai Kanhaiya was giving water to the enemies.
He was summoned by the guru who asked him: "Do you feed water to the enemy and they recover to fight again, is this true?"
Bhai Kanhaiya replied: "Yes, my Guru, what they say is true. But Maharaj, I saw no Mughal or Sikh on the battlefield. I saw only human beings. Guru ji, have you not taught us to treat all people the same?"
Guru Gobind was delighted and he embraced Bhai Kanhaiya and said: "You have understood the true message of Gurbani."
The guru then gave Bhai Kanhaiya some medical ointment to heal the wounds of the enemies, too.
We find that some great men in history were given titles -- such as Alexander the Great -- but these rulers committed ruthless atrocities against innocent people.
Guru Gobind, although a powerful man, never did such things. And in all the battles he fought, he had no personal ambition or territorial aim.
Guru Gobind not only inspired freedom, democracy, righteousness and self-sacrifice in people who were suppressed under the Mughals but also reignited the craving for brave deeds in a rightful way, and thus created a distinct breed of people known as the Sikhs.
The Sikhs since then have proved to be brave warriors against the British. Bhagat Singh, an Indian freedom fighter, and many more Sikhs, gave their life for India's independence.
Let us all wish our Sikh friends and fellow Malaysians "Happy Vaisakhi".
By Ariff Shah R.K., Penang | firstname.lastname@example.org