Shouldst thou be eager to join the game of love, enter my street with thy head placed on the palm; stepping onto this path, sacrifice thy head without demur”, says Guru Nanak.
To sacrifice one’s life to uphold dharma has been an integral part of the Sikh faith. A shahid or martyr, by his supreme sacrifice for the right cause, bears testimony to its truth and to his own commitment to it. To ensure justice and to see that no one is oppressed is enjoined as a duty of every Sikh. As says the Guru, “Listen O mind, that person who fears nothing nor gives anyone cause to fear, has alone obtained true knowledge.”
A martyr is one who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce his faith. Sikh history is replete with incidents of martyrdom and the Sikh gurus set the example for the Sikhs by sacrificing their life. Among the supreme martyrs are four sons of Guru Gobind Singh, char sahibzade.
The word “sahibzade” means “sons” in Punjabi and “char” means “four” and the term “char sahibzade”, in Sikhism, is used for four sons of the tenth Guru, all of whom died as martyrs at a very young age. The “vaade sahibzade” or the older sons, aged 18 and 14, died fighting a battle at Chamkaur Sahib. The younger sons, “chotte sahibzade” attained martyrdom at the ages of six and nine.
Ajit Singh, the eldest son of Guru Gobind Singh, was born on January 25, 1687. He was taught Sikh theology, history and philosophy as well as martial arts like swordsmanship, horse-riding and archery. He fought his first battle when he was only 12 years of age. Ajit Singh laid down his life fighting heroically in the battle of Chamkaur. The second sahibzada, Jujhar Singh, born on March 14, 1691, was fearless and a great warrior. He also, like his brother, sacrificed his life, fighting for a noble cause. This tradition of martyrdom does not employ “physical death” but embodies moral and spiritual significance. Guru Nanak says, “The death of heroic men is holy, should they lay down their lives for a right cause.”
Zorawar Singh, the third son of Guru Gobind Singh, born on November 17, 1696, was only nine years of age when he attained martyrdom. Fateh Singh, the youngest son, was born on February 25, 1699 but lost his mother in 1700. He was very close to his grandmother, Mata Gujri, who brought him up inculcating typical Sikh values.
Mata Gujri, along with both the sahibzadas, was consigned to the cold tower (thanda burj) and on their refusal to forsake their faith, Zorawar Singh, aged 9 and Fateh Singh, only 7, were ordered to be bricked alive in a wall. But as the masonry reached above chest height, it crumbled. The next day the sahibzadas were again given the choice to convert or to accept death. They chose death and attained martyrdom.
The martyrdom of the “char sahibzadas” is remembered everyday during Ardas and the week from December 21 to 26 is observed as “Shahidi-hafta” (martyrdom week) by the Sikhs. The Sikhs visit Fatehgarh Sahib and Chamkaur Sahib to pay obeisance to the martyrs and pray to the Almighty to instil the feeling of sacrifice into their life. The Sikhs cheerfully sing, “To martyrdom we are wedded. We turn not our backs upon it.”
Sikhism has a long history of shahidi or martyrdom, which is regarded as a supreme sacrifice for the right cause.