Great men have great compassion. And their mission starts early in life. That's why this story from the life of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, haunts me.
In 1612 AD, when Guru Hargobind was only eighteen years old, Jahangir the Mughal emperor commanded his presence. Despite opposition from some Sikhs in Amritsar. the Guru went to the royal court. Jahangir demanded Rupees two lakhs, the yet-unpaid fine he had imposed on the late Guru Arjun Dev. Failure to comply had resulted in the Guru's death. Now it was Guru Hargobind's turn to face the imperial wrath.
Like his father, Guru Hargobind too refused point blank to comply with the unjust demand. Jahangir sent him to the political prison in Gwalior Fort. In that jail, Jahangir had already imprisoned 52 other Rajas from various parts of India. Most of them had been rotting there, long forgotten. Although Guru Hargobind was the youngest there, as the inheritor of Guru Nanak's spiritual throne he emerged as their leader.
The Rajas started looking up to him for moral support and comfort. Therefore, every morning and evening Guru Hargobind started holding religious Diwan (discourse and prayer) for their benefit, to soothe their frayed nerves. The atmosphere in the prison changed for the better.
After some time, Jahangir realised his mistake and ordered the release of Guru Hargobind. When this news was made known to the other Rajas in the Gwalior prison they became despondent. Without the elevating presence of their Guru they felt lost. They begged him not to abandon them. The Guru refused to leave the prison alone without them. After a short stalemate, Jahanghir agreed to let out as many other prisoners as could walk out holding on to the Guru`s robe. Guruji got a specially designed robe made with 52 long strings sewn to it. Thus each of the 52 Rajas held one string of the robe and all of them walked out of the prison led by Guru Hargobind. For this compassionate act Guru Hargobind is still lovingly remembered as Bandichhod (liberator of prisoners).