Guru Tegh Bahādur sacrificed himself bravely to protect the brāhmaṇas from Kashmir who had taken refuge in him. He thus became a martyr in the cause of dharma and hence an immortal.
He was born at Amṛtsar as the youngest of the five sons of Guru Hargobind (A. D. 1595-1644). The early years of his life were spent at Amṛtsar where he was trained by Bhāī Buḍḍhā and Bhāī Gurudās in martial arts as also in religious texts.
He was of a contemplative and mystical temperament. This found an expression in later years in poetry of deep spiritual insight.
At the tender age of twelve he was married to Gujarī, daughter of Lāl Cand and Biśan Kaur hailing from Kartārpur.
From A. D. 1628 onwards, the Sikhs were forced to come into conflict with the Mughal emperor Shāh Jehān (A. D. 1592-1666). Guru Tegh Bahādur too had to take part in one of the battles (at Kartārpur in A. D. 1635) and fought bravely.
After this battle, Guru Hargobind retired to Kartārpur. Tegh Bahādur too moved with him and had an opportunity to live with him and serve him for nine long years.
When Guru Hargobind passed away in A. D. 1644, Tegh Bahādur shifted to Bakālā, a village in Amṛtsar district and lived a retired life spending most of his time in meditation and austerities according to Sikhism.
When the Guru Harkṛṣaṇ—the eighth Guru—passed away at Kirātpur in A. D. 1664, alluding to the next Guru in rather ambiguous terms, several ‘Gurus’ or claimants to the throne of the Guru—twenty-two, to be more specific—appeared on the scene. However, the miraculous experience of Makkhan Shāh, a rich businessman, settled the issue and Tegh Bahādur assumed the Guru’s mantle in August 1664. He then shifted to Amṛtsar.
He established contacts with all the saṅgats (Sikh congregations) through masands (Sikh priests) and started issuing hukamnāmas (edicts or commandments) now and then.
He travelled widely. It was he who established the town now known as Ānandpur.
Gobind Dās (later known as Guru Gobind Singh) was born to him at Patna in A. D. 1666 during his travels.
When he was at Ānandpur a group of Kashmiri brāhmaṇas who had been oppressed by the Mughal governor came and sought his protection. While accepting the challenge of their protection he is said to have remarked that the Mother Earth would be redeemed only if a truly worthy person came forward to sacrifice his head. His son Gobind Dās who was just nine years old at that time, remarked, ‘None could be worthier than yourself for such a noble act.’ The Guru appreciated this remark. After nominating him as his successor and conferring on him the marks of Guruship he left the place. He was arrested by the agents of the then Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (A. D. 1618-1707) and kept in prison for over three months. He was later tortured and beheaded in the Chandini Chowk of Delhi because he refused to accept Islam. His devoted disciples smuggled his head and torso and got them cremated. The two places with Gurudvāras containing the relics are Ānandpur (in Punjab) and Rikābgañj (in Delhi).
Thus ended the life of a great man who voluntarily became a martyr in the cause of his religion.
Guru Tegh Bahādur’s bāṇī (teachings) is small in bulk, comprising 59 śabads (sayings) and 57 ślokas (verses) in all. The latter are included in the Guru Granthsāhib.
Affirmation of the ultimate Reality, and devotion as the chief sādhana to attain mukti (liberation) are the basic teachings in these compositions.