Those lives unparalleled, spirits sublime: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan
A happy Christmas to you, dear HT readers. Christmas, like Janmashtami, is dearly beloved to us for its spirit of joyous welcome to a divine energy believed to have taken form in our midst. Christmas, like Janmashtami, makes us want to believe in positive transformation, in redemptive spiritual ‘magic’. How curious that both Krishna and Christ were born in humble places, that their death was sought by tyrants even as babies, that they were both charismatic rebels. Such facts may be well-known but their festivals are a chance to remember and renew our interest and affection. This came home to me poignantly on Thursday, December 22, regarding a personage who seems to me to combine aspects of Krishna and Jesus. His was a life that is unparalleled in history for sacrifice and staunchness. Unlike the avatars from antiquity, this personage was well-documented during his own time on earth, which was fairly recent, between 22 December 1666 and 7 October 1708. His name was Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru.
On Thursday, along with many others, I set out on the prosaic chore of going to the bank. A few yards away, I passed by a Hindu gentleman of my acquaintance and said, “Namaste, Sir’ as I usually did when I saw him. Now this is one of the nicest things about being Indian. People often drop their guard, tell you whatever is in their heart and make you feel you have received a very special gift. This gentleman returned my greeting with a smile and suddenly stopped. Without any preamble, he said, “There was nobody like Guru Gobind Singh, you know.” I felt a thrill of kinship and waited for more. “He lost four sons,” he said, and we repeated the names of the martyred sahibzadas in remembrance. “He knew both Sanskrit and Persian”, he said and we softly recited the famous sword verse from the Zafar Nama. “He was a great poet” said the gentleman, and that was our cue to remember two incandescent and inspiring verses by Guru Gobind Singh, ‘Deh Shiva’ and ‘Mitter pyare nu’, which made us close our eyes, entranced. We stood there on that ordinary lane with ordinary things happening around us, in a quiet daze of joy remembering this most extraordinary person on his birthday, and went our way without another word.
Do you remember why the Guru instituted long hair for Sikhs? It was an act of political rebellion against an oppressive Mughal tax. Besides jaziya and pilgrim tax, the Mughals levied ‘bhaddar’ on Hindus and Sikhs, a tax that had to be paid by anyone who shaved his head in cultural custom when someone in his family died and was cremated. Guru Gobind Singh declared that Sikhs would not cut their hair, which routed this hostile, profiteering law.
Krishna challenged the cowherds’ fear of Indra by diverting their worship to Mount Goverdhan. Jesus swept away the tradesmen from the temple. Guru Gobind Singh rejected Delhi’s tyranny and Gandhi, who knew Jesus well, opposed exploitative British laws. On Christmas Day, it is not submission we rejoice in, after all, but righteous resistance.
The views expressed are personal