The ninth of the ten Gurus of the Sikh religion, Guru Tegh Bahadur was a martyr for religious freedom. On his Martyrdom Day, memorials are held in honour of the supreme sacrifice Guru Tegh Bahadur made to protect the right of all people to practice their beliefs without fear of persecution from other faiths. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s sacrifice is all the more significant because he was not protecting those of his own faith – he was protecting the rights of millions of Hindus.
Under pain of death, the peace-loving people of Kashmir were being ordered to convert to Islam by the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, who eschewed the religious tolerance of his predecessors in favour of a policy of religious persecution against non-Muslims. In 1675, in answer to an appeal by a large group of Kashmiri scholars, the Guru told them to “tell Aurangzeb that if he can convert Guru Tegh Bahadar to Islam, they will all convert. Otherwise he should leave them alone.” Excited at the prospect of converting so many people through just one man, Aurangzeb had the Guru and a number of his companions arrested. They were then taken to Delhi and instructed to convert to Islam under penalty of death.
Guru Tegh Bahadur declared that he would rather sacrifice his life than give up his faith or freedom. In an attempt to terrorise them into submission, Aurangzeb had the Guru tortured for five days. His companions were brutally murdered in front of him. Guru Tegh Bahadur was finally beheaded in the middle of a public square in Chandni Chowk, Delhi – the most prominent public place in India.
In commemoration of Guru Tegh Bahadar’s sacrifice, memorials are held every year on his Martyrdom Day. Although a Sikh holiday, Hindus and people of other faiths also take part in the festival, uniting with the Sikhs in veneration of religious freedom and the right to practice one’s own beliefs without fear of prosecution.
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