Development of the Khalsa Commander in Chief.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji was first and foremost the spiritual leader of the Sikhs, but here we analyse Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s role as a military commander.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji had realised from his childhood that war has ceased to be a pursuit of regular professional armies. Guru Ji knew that one cannot realise oneself if he is without strength and fortitude, hence there was a definite need of raising the whole community fit for combat where each individual, in addition to leading himself or a body of troops into battle, has also to function as a leader of the community. Therefore, in addition to military virtues of soldiers based upon very sound moral, ethical code, each individual was to be trained to understand the society in which he lived in, nationalism, flexibility of mind and spiritual advancement.


Guru Sahib Ji considered the best soldiers were those who were physically strong, mentally and morally sound and also who were ready to lay down their lives smilingly without hesitation or second thought. Guru Ji instilled in them that war was for the privileged and martyrdom in combat the ultimate honour. The culmination of this was when Guru Gobind Singh Ji staged a most extraordinary feat on Vaisakhi 1699 in order to create the nucleus of his army by creating the Panj Piyaray and the Khalsa panth.

The myth of martial and non-martial races need not be given much credence as three of his baptised Panj Pyairay were from low and untouchable classes of society. Guru Sahib Ji slashed down the age old traditions of society that war was the prerogative of the Kahatris alone. Any one, who was sincere, puritan by heart could be a soldier in the Guru’s army. To Guru Gobind Singh Ji all races could fight equally well if and when provided with a just cause and good leadership.

The leader and the led where like a hand in a glove. Both fight a common enemy with a single mission – either victory or martyrdom. Irrespective of their ranks and status both leader and led in the Gurus army sat and ate together.

They were given the name Singh (lion) which even today is a basic factor to prove the universal brotherhood of the Khalsa; a pure soldier fighting for the cause of righteousness against tyranny and injustice in the name of Dharama.

Guru Ji symbolised war as Dharam Yudh which was a war of righteousness in which, participants were proclaimed as God’s warriors, fighting battles under God’s protection and gained victories in His name.

The sword became a substitute for the rosary with which God was to be saluted and worshipped. It was to strike terror into the hearts of the oppressor and infuse courage and confidence in the hearts of his Khalsa soldiers.

At this occasion Guru Ji blessed the Khalsa with the battle cry of “Bole so nihal Sat siri Akaal” – The one who believes in the truth of God is immortal; which ever has been shouted has unnerved and nonplussed the enemy in the battle field. In the eyes of General Wavell “Never met a despondent Sikh in the front line, in a hospital, in the rear, he may moan over a small wound but in a fight, he will go on to his last breath and die laughing at the thought of paradise with the battle cry of Bole so nihal Sat siri Akaal as he falls.”

To begin with, one out of four Sikhs in a family was required to enlist as a regular soldier in the Guru’s army. If a family found it difficult to spare a member, it then bore the expense of employing a soldier. This had to be resorted to because the common masses dreaded the very thought of fighting the Mughals who had established themselves in all spheres of life. But gradually the people began to realise that in order to alleviate their sufferings, despondency and frustration a third community under the leadership of Guru Gobind Singh Ji was the only solution.

Within a short time, in response to Guru Ji’s call, large bands of Sikhs from the villages far and near Anandpur Sahib volunteered to join Guru Ji’s army. In fact Guru Ji’s message was so deep rooted and strong that Sikh boys, before they learnt to tie their turbans learnt the use of arms, and white bearded men wanted to join up. The Khalsa was fed on the divine words of chivalry and fearlessness.


Guru Gobind Singh Ji had realised that equally important to the knowledge of use of arms and weapons for the success of his programme was the building up of the right type of psyche in the minds of the soldier. Therefore certain methods were used to psychologically prepare every Sikh fit for war :

Although the term Sikh had started in the times of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, everyone in the community was called a Sikh, one who has had Sikhia or learning. Thus each individual by virtue of his association with the community was to consider himself Guru’s soldier.
The name of Singh was given to each individual to remind him of all times to be brave, nimble and powerful as a lion.
Names were to be set on terms of valour, bravery, victory and heroism. Examplary in this regard are the name of Guru ji’s sons : Ajit Singh – Invincible lion, Jujhar Singh - Lion expert in hand to hand combat, Zorawar Singh – powerful lion and Fateh Singh – victorious lion.
Each soldier was considered equivalent to one and a quarter lakh soldiers – sava lakh. It was the psychological training which was meant to enable a soldier to be mentally prepared to face a vastly superior in numbers enemy.
Old scriptures confirm that strength and vigour received by the human body from food gives impetus to the same thought process which the person had while eating his food and consequently moulds the actions of the man consciously and unconsciously. Therefore, Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s war drum, known as Ranjit Nagara, was sounded unabated while his soldiers had their food in the langar.
Guru Sahib Ji issued hukams/orders forbidding all and sundry from giving Jayziya (a tax levied by Aurangzeb on non –muslims) , bowing to the muslims with folded hands and assisting the agents of the emperor in realising jaziya. So for the new community Guru Ji changed the old ideal of humility and surrender into a new one of self assertion and self reliance. The aim partly being that his soldiers did not undergo such psychological human subjugation under any Moghals.

Each individual was characterised by the possession of Kesh, Kanga, Kara, Kuchha and Kirpan at all times, to remind him that without these he was incomplete and to bring war like change to his entire attitude and personality. The five items all had military bearing and significance and were designed to give uniformity to the Khalsa in character.

Guru Ji infused the idea in his Sikhs that fear from any mortal was a myth and to be fearless in combat is God’s rare virtue, which every Sikh must possess in order to be near Him. Thus Guru Ji twined religion with sacrifice and martyrdom.
In Asa-di-vaar, an integral part of the prayer itself is a vow which every Sikh took religiously every morning. This reminded him that his sole mission in life was to do or die at the command of his leader, Guru Gobind Singh.
Guru Ji gave blue colour to the uniform of the Khalsa army which was symbolic then to only the contemporary Moghal forces in order to defy the Moghals from the very beginning.
Symbolised victory through every salutation ie Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh to that the concept of impersonal victory grows deep in the psyche of every individual at all levels of society. It was a revolutionary sociopolitical- religious thought given to the masses for the first time in the history of India. The concept of impersonal victory basically ensured that his Khalsa never became complacent about his success and remained away from the deadly clutches of vanity and pride.
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