The nation would henceforth observe December 26 as ‘Veer Baal Diwas’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday (December 9), the Parkash Purab (birth anniversary) of the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh.
What is the importance of December 26 in the history of Sikhism, and the political context of the Prime Minister’s announcement a month ahead of Assembly elections in Punjab?
Veer Baal Diwas — a tribute to the bravery of children — is dedicated to the Chhote Sahibzaade, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, the two youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh, who were bricked alive on the orders of Wazir Khan, the Mughal faujdar of Sirhind, for refusing to renounce their faith and become Muslim.
Zorawar Singh was 9 years old at the time, and Fateh Singh only 7. Soon after they were walled up alive, their grandmother Mata Gujri (Guru Gobind Singh’s mother) died of shock.
Today, Gurdwara Sri Fatehgarh Sahib stands on the site where the two Sahibzaadas were executed on December 12, 1705, which translates to December 26 as per the current calendar.
It is believed that after no one in Sirhind town agreed to spare land to cremate them, a rich Hindu trader named Diwan Todar Mal purchased a small piece of land by covering it with at least 7,800 gold coins, and performed the last rites after getting the Sahibzaadas’ bodies released from the Mughals. Later, Gurdwara Jyoti Sarup was built on this site in Fatehgarh Sahib.
“Guru Gobind Singh had four sons, the Chaar Sahibzaade, all of whom four sacrificed their lives to uphold the identity and dignity of Khalsa Panth against the Mughals. The two elder ones, Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh, died in the battle of Chamkaur Sahib. But the bravery and sacrifice of Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh is considered unparalleled not just because of the tender age at which they chose death, but also for the cruel and barbaric conditions that the Mughals had created for the children and their grandmother before their execution,” said Prof Paramvir Singh of the Department of Encyclopaedia of Sikhism at Punjabi University, Patiala.
“Before the execution, the two children and their grandmother were held captive at the open-air Thanda Burj (Cold Tower) of the fort for days in the chilly weather, in which they shivered endlessly but refused to convert. For days, they were pressured and threatened with death if they did not accept Islam, but they did not fear the Mughals and refused to renounce their faith,” Prof Singh said.
Jujhar, Zorawar, and Fateh were the sons of the Guru’s first wife Jito Ji, and were cared for by their grandmother after Jito Ji passed away.
The Encyclopedia of Sikhism published by Punjabi University, Patiala recounts the story of the final days of the Chhote Sahibzaade and Mata Gujri:
“Guru Gobind Singh evacuated Anandpur on the night of 5-6 December, 1705… In the front ran Sarsa stream swollen with rain water. Under cover of quick rearguard action fought on the banks of the stream, he succeeded in crossing it but the members of his family got scattered in the tumult… Mata Gujri, and her two grandsons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, aged 9 and 7 years respectively, had nowhere to go until their cook, named Gangu, offered to take them to his own village Kheri. They accompanied him to his house.
“But he proved deceitful and betrayed them to Jani Khan and Mani Khan of Morinda. The latter despatched them to Sirhind where they were consigned to the Cold Tower (Thanda Burj) of the Fort. On December 9, 1705, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh were produced before Wazir Khan. He tried to lure them to embrace Islam with promises of riches and honours, but they spurned the offer. He threatened them with death as an alternative to Islam, but they remained firm. A death sentence was eventually awarded.
“Nawab Sher Muhammad Khan of Malerkotla protested that it would be improper to harm the innocent children and was against the teachings of Islam. Wazir Khan, however, ordered them to be bricked alive in a wall, if they still refused conversion. They were kept in the Cold Tower in that severe winter for another two days with their grandmother. On December 11, they began to be paved with bricks standing on the ground. However, as the mason reached above chest height, it crumbled. They were again sent to Cold Tower for the night.
“The next day, December 12, 1705, the alternative of conversion being again turned down, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh were put to death by execution. The aged Mata Gujri, who had all along been kept in the Cold Tower, only a little distance away, breathed her last as the news reached her ears.”
For long, the Sikh community has asked that December 26 be marked as a special day in memory of the Chhote Sahibzaade. Some politicians and activists have even demanded that Children’s Day be observed on this day rather than on November 14.
Jor Mela, a religious fair, is organised from December 25-28 every year in memory of the children and their grandmother at Sri Fatehgarh Sahib, which is attended by lakhs of devotees, not just from Punjab but also from other states.
Current political context
The BJP is going into the election of February 14 without its old ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a panthic party that puts religious and gurdwara affairs as the top of its agenda, and believes that dharma (religion) and politics cannot be separated in Punjab.
For the Modi government and the BJP, which have lost significant political capital during the year-long standoff with farmers protesting against the three farm laws that the Centre was ultimately forced to withdraw, the announcement is in the nature of a peace offering.
It is seen as an effort to placate angry and upset Punjabis — not just Sikhs, but people from all communities who revere the sacrifice of the Chhote Sahibzaade.
The SAD has, however, objected to the decision being taken without consultation with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which is responsible for the management of Sikh places of worship.
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SAD spokesperson Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said, “We appreciate the PM’s move to honour the sacrifice of the Chhote Sahibzaade, but the name of the day should be decided after consultation with the SGPC to do justice to the history behind this unparalleled sacrifice. The Sikh religious literature and gurbani should be consulted to name this day.”
SGPC member Kiranjot Kaur tweeted, “I strongly oppose naming Shaheedi Diwas of Sahibzaade as Veer Bal Diwas. Babas are being reduced to children. Govt has no business reinterpreting our beliefs in a reductionist way.”
Prof Paramvir Singh said that even though Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh were only 9 and 7 respectively at the time of their martyrdom, they are referred to as “Baba Zorawar Singh” and “Baba Fateh Singh” because according to Sikh faith, they were not merely ‘children’.
“Their actions and wisdom were beyond their age and hence they are referred to as ‘Babas’, not children. We consider them our revered elders who made the supreme sacrifice for the Sikh faith, so limiting them to the word ‘Baal’ might be objectionable,” he said.