Guru Arjun Dev

From Father Jerome Xavier's letter, September 25, 1606


There is only one solitary reference to the Sikh Gurus known to exist in the records of the contemporary European writers, and that is about Guru Arjun's death.* It is to be found in a Portuguese letter written from Lahore on September 25, 1606, by the well known Jesuit Father Jerome Xavier to the Provincial at Goa. The substance of it is reproduced by Father Fernao Gurreiro, S. J., in his Relacao Annual das Coisas que Fizeram os Padres da Compenhia de Jesus nos partes da India Oriental, printed at Lisbon in Portugal in 1609 (New edition, 3 vols, Coimbra-Lisbon, 1930-42).

While describing the flight of the rebellious prince Khusru, son of Emperor Jahangir, from Agra to the Panjab, Fr. Xavier mentioned towards the end of his letter the arrest and death of Guru Arjun. An English translation of the relevant portion of the letter is given by Mr. John A. D'Silva in his article The Rebellion of Prince Khusro according to Jesuit sources, published in the Journal of Indian History, volume V, 1927, p. 278; also in C. H. Payne's Jahangir and the Jesuits (The Broadway Travellers Series), pp. 11-12.

Fr. Xavier's account appears to be based on second-hand information regarding the details of tortures to which Guru Arjun was subjected. There is no indication in the letter that Fr. Xavier knew the Guru personally or that he had seen him during his imprisonment at Lahore or that he was an eye-witness of what he has recorded in his letter. My only apology for reproducing the relevant portion of the letter is that it is the earliest account written by a contemporary European, and that when read along with Emperor Jahangir's own account of the motives behind the persecution and death of Guru Arjun, as given in the Emperor's autobiography, the Tuzk-i-Jahangiri, together with present editor's notes, it would help students of history to arrive at conclusions not far from truth.

According to the Emperor's memoirs, Guru Arjun's teachings had so captivated the hearts of many Hindus and Muslims that they called him Guru (became his disciples) and expressed full faith in him. The Emperor did not like this. It is true that he was not a religious bigot, but, for political reasons, he had in the beginning of his reign to play the role of a fanatic to win the sympathies of the bigoted Muslim divines, the mullahs, who were opposed to the broad and open-minded religious policy of his father, Akbar the Great. He had, therefore, evidently to exhibit his zeal for Islam as interpreted and practised by the law-givers, promised to uphold Islam, when he came to the throne, and suppress all those who preached un-Islamic or non-Islamic creeds.

Against Sikhism, the Emperor was deeply prejudiced. There is no doubt about it; And it was this religious prejudice that was mainly responsible for the persecution and death of Guru Arjun. The visit of the rebellious prince Khusru to the Guru's headquarters at Goindwal during his flight to the Punjab only afforded an opportunity for his arrest. The Emperor writes in the Tuzk:
In Goindwal, which is situated on the Bank of the river Biyah (Beas), there lived a Hindu, named Arjun in the garb of Pir and Shaikh, so much so that having captivated many simple-hearted Hindus, nay even foolish and stupid Muslims, by his ways and manners, he had noised himself about as a religious and worldly leader. They called him Guru, and from all directions fools and fool-worshippers were attracted towards him and expressed full faith in him. For three or four generations they had kept this shop warm. For years the thought had been presenting itself to me that either I should put an end to this false traffic or he should be brought into the fold of Islam.

At last when Khusrau passed along this road, this insignificant fellow made up his mind to wait upon him. Khusrau happened to halt at the place where he was. He (Guru Arjun) came and saw him, and conveyed some preconceived things to him and made on his forehead a finger-mark in saffron, which the Hindus in their terminology call qashqa (tika) and is considered propitious. When this came to the ears of our majesty, and I fully knew his heresies, I ordered that he should be brought into my presence, and having handed over his houses, dwelling places and children to Murtaza Khan, and having confiscated his property, I ordered that he should be put to death with tortures.

There were two other persons, Rajoo and Amba by name. They led a life of tyranny and oppression under the shadow of Daulat Khan Khwaja-sera's protection. During the few days when Khusrau was near Lahore, they committed depredations. I ordered that Rajoo be hanged and that a fine be levied on Amba because he was known to be a rich man. One lakh and fifteen thousand rupees were received from him. This amount I ordered to be spent upon artillery and for charitable purposes.

From the above it is clear that long before the rebellion of his son, Emperor Jahangir had been incensed against Guru Arjun on account of his increasing religious influence amongst the Hindus and Muslims. And, therefore, he was for years (muddat-ha, for a long time) thinking of either putting an end to his religious preachings, which he contemptuously calls 'false traffic' (dukan-i-batal), or making a Mussalman of him.

It is of great historical significance to note that no report was made to the Emperor of the visit of Khusru to Guru Arjun on the spot at Goindwal, when the Emperor crossed the river at its ferry, nor did anything on the subject 'come to his ears' for about a month after his departure from Goindwal, during which period the prince bad been arrested and made prisoner and a large number of his followers had been impaled, and both of his accomplices Hasan Beg and Abdur Rahim had been inclosed and sewed up in the raw hides of a cow and a donkey. It was only on the eve of the Emperor's departure from Lahore that the report of the alleged complicity of Guru Arjun in the rebellion was made to the Emperor. This throws a doubt on the truth of the report. If Khusru had actually met the Guru and had been blessed by him, it would certainly have been reported to the Emperor on the spot at Goindwal or in its neighbourhood where it could have been easily verified,and the Guru would have been carried a prisoner to Lahore with him.

The author of the Mahma Parkash tells us that the Guru was then at Tarn Taran and not at Goindwal. Khusru could not have, therefore, met him. No wonder that the whole story might have been an imaginary concoction by the Guru's traducers with a view to entangling him in the rebellion which had brought such severe punishment on Khusru and his friends and companions. Jahangir, apparently, found in this concocted report a long-looked-for opportunity for putting an end to the 'false traffic', that is, the religious activities of Guru Arjun, and, without any investigation whatever, he ordered him to be tortured to death.

Muhsin Fani, the author of the Dabistan-i-mazahib says that a heavy fine was imposed on the Guru who was unable to pay it. He was, therefore, imprisoned at Lahore where he died from the heat of the sun, the severity of the summer and the tortures of the bailiffs. But Jahangir makes no mention of any fine imposed on the Guru. He only mentions the death sentence passed against him. Apparently the fine of two lakhs of rupees demanded from Amba gave currency to the wrongful impression amongst the people who were Muhsin Fani's sources of information. Might be, that the non-payment of the so-called fine by the Guru had been advertised by his enemies to explain away the cause of his death.

The exact date of Guru Arjun's death is Jesht Sudi 4, 1663 Bk., Asharh 2, 1663 Bk., Safar 2, 1015 Al-Hijri, corresponding to May 30, 1606 A.D.

It is in the light of Emperor Jahangir's own account and the discussion thereon that the letter of Father Jerome Xavier should be read.

Dr Ganda Singh


Extract from Fr. Jerome Xavier's letter dated Lahore
September 25, 1606, translated by John A. D'Silva

When the prince [Khusro, son of Emperor Jahangir] was fleeing from Agra, on that road1 there was a pagan,2 called the guru, who was considered among the pagans like our Pope. He was supposed to be a holy man and honoured as such. And on account of his dignity and reputation, the prince visited him desirous of hearing a good prophecy from him. The Guru congratulated him for assuming sovereignty3 and applied three marks on his forehead.4 Although the Guru was a heathen, and the prince a Mussulman, yet he was glad in putting on the prince's forehead that pagan sign as a mark of good success in his enterprise, taking the prince as the son of a pagan mother.5 The prince received this sign on account of the wide reputation of the sanctity of the guru. The King came to know of this. Keeping the prince as a prisoner, he ordered the Guru to be brought before him and imprisoned him also.

Some pagans begged the King to release him, as he was their saint. At last it was settled that he should pay a fine of 100,000 cruzados.6 This was done at the request of a rich pagan7 who remained as a surety for him. He thought that the King might remit the fine or the saint might pay, or that he might borrow that amount, but in this affair the rich man was disappointed. He brought what 'his Pope' had in his house, including the household furniture, also the clothes of his wife and children, and finding that all he had was not enough to cover up the fine, since the pagans have no respect to their Pope or their father, besides depriving him of all his money, he tormented the saint with new insults every day. The poor saint even received kicks on his face on many occasions and was prevented from eating till he had paid more money. The rich man did not believe that he had no money, though he had absolutely nothing and no one was even willing to give him. Thus having suffered so many injuries, pains and insults, given by the same that were adoring him, the poor Guru died.

The surety-giver wanted to escape but was made a prisoner and killed after all his possessions had been confiscated.

1. At Goindwal, on the bank of the river Beas, in the present district of Amritsar, Panjab.
2. Guru Arjun, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.
3. This is apparently baaed on hearsay, as Fr. Xavier never saw or met the Guru either at Goindwal or at Lahore. That the Guru congratulated Khusru for assuming sovereignty is not borne out by any other authority. According to Macauliffe (Sikh Religion, ill. 85), Khusrau visited the Guru at Tarn Taran and tho the latter gave him five thousand rupees to defray his expenses to Kabul. On being questioned by the Emperor on this point, the Guru is said to have replied: 'I regard all people, whether Hindu or Musalman, rich or poor, friend or foe, without love or hate; and it is on this account that I gave thy son some money for his journey and not because he was in opposition to thee. If I had not assisted him in his forlorn condition, and so shown some regard for the kindness of thy father, the Emperor Akbar, to myself, all men would have despised me for my heartlessness and ingratitude, or they would say that I was afraid of thee. This would have been unworthy of a follower of Guru Nanak, the world's Guru'. (Ibid, iii. 91.)
4This again is incorrect and based on wrong information. The Sikh Gurus never applied marks on the forehead of anyone except of those whom they nominated as their successors.
5.Khusro's mother, Man Bai, was the daughter of Raja Bhagwan Das of Amber (Jaipur). (Tod, Annals, ii. 286.)
6.As stated in the Introductory Note, there is no mention in Jahangir's Tuzk of any fine having been imposed by him on Guru Arjun. The fine was, in fact, imposed on one Amba from whom Rs 115,000 were received and ordered to be spent on artillery and for charity.
7.Who this rich 'pagan' was is not known to history. Sikh histories mention the name of one Chandu of Lahore having been responsible for the tortures inflicted upon the Guru. Whether he was the surety-giver mentioned by Fr. Xavier is not certain. This man. according to the Padre's letter, wanted to escape after the Guru's death, 'but was made a prisoner and killed.' This must have happened immediately after the Guru's death or within four months, at any rate before September 25, 1606, the date of Fr. Xavier's letter. Chandu, however, is said to have met almost a similar fate, but after the release of Guru Hargobind, son of Guru Arjun, from the fort of Gwalior where he was kept as a prisoner for at least twelve months. According to Muhsin Fani's Dabistan-i. Mazahib Guru Hargobind remained there for twelve years. This is, however. incorrect. The exact period has yet to be determined.

Source:Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, Dr Ganda Singh

[ Back ]