Mata Bhag Kaur, popularly known as Mai Bhago was the first woman in Punjab to fight on a battlefield in 1705. Her name was featured among three of the most badass women in history by BBC on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The other two are early 19th Century Chinese pirate Ching Shih and 20th century Jeannette Rankin who was the first woman to hold a high office in the US Congress.
The BBC quoted Mai Bhago as the ‘little known legend’ who embarrassed the 40 Sikhs for leaving Guru Gobind Singh in the middle of an impending war with the Mughals, “into following her into battle”.
The story further read, “Under her lead, the men managed to force the Mughals back and while none of them actually survived the fracas, they were at least forgiven by Guru Gobind Singh . As for Mai Bhago, she was so good on the battlefield that the Guru decided to make her his bodyguard.”
• Mai Bhago was the daughter of Malo Shah, son of Bhai Pare Shah. Her grandfather and Pare Shah’s brother, Bhai Langaha, had served under Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Hargobind. Bhai Langaha had helped Guru Arjan Dev in the construction of the Golden Temple and was one of the five Sikhs who accompanied Guru Arjan Dev when he went to Lahore for martyrdom.
• The battle she fought along with the 40 Sikhs was the Battle of Khidrana (battle of Muktsar) on December 29, 1705, against a Mughal force who were chasing Guru Gobind Singh. The guru later called the Sikhs chaali mukte (the 40 liberated) and Khidrana as Muktsar (the pool of liberation)
• THe Guru granted Mai Bhago’s wish to be with him as his bodyguard and thereafter, she accompanied him to Damdama Sahib, Agra, and Nanded where he died in 1708.
• After that, she settled down in Jinvara (near Bidar) in Karnataka and preached Sikhism there till the end of her life. That place is now converted into a gurdwara named as Gurdwara Tap Asthan Mai Bhago.
• At Nanded, a hall within the compound of Takht Hazur Sahib, marking the site of her residence, is known as Bunga Mai Bhago.