THURSDAY, JANUARY 13: The sacrifice of 40 lives is commemorated by Sikhs today, as devotees call to mind the 40 Sikhs who became martyrs when defending the Guru Gobind Singh from an attack by an imperial army. The Sikh soldiers are often called the “Forty Liberated Ones,” or “Chali Mukte,” and they are remembered in a big way. (Wikipedia has details.)
Tonight in Punjab, many Indians will be lighting bonfires for the coming of the harvest festival—read all about this and other regional festivals at The Hindu—but the largest gathering of all will be at Mukstar. In Mukstar, devotees will visit shrines and attend elaborate fairs, and an enormous group of pilgrims will march from the main shrine to Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib, a place of worship that was especially sacred to Guri Gobind Singh. Today’s march and festival are both happy and sad for Sikhs: Jan. 13 is the anniversary of the cremation of the soldiers’ bodies, but Sikhs also celebrate the soldiers’ bravery and courage. Sikhs around the world mark this event with prayers and recitals in their gurdwaras.
For the Hindus in Punjab who attend the festival at Mukstar, today is a great reminder of just how much separate religions can be intertwined. (The Punjab harvest festival is known as Lohri—read more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.) During the ruling of the 6th Mughal Emperor of India, Aurangzeb, Hindu temples were being destroyed, injustice against Hindus was becoming more prevalent and the emperor was attempting to turn all Indians to Islam. The ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur, pondered this situation—and at the suggestion of his young son, Gobind Singh, the ninth guru gave his life as a public example against the emperor. Guru Tegh Bahadur is sometimes referred to as “the shield of India,” and his son, Gobind Singh, wrote eloquent poems in Punjabi language on the importance of defending the vulnerable. Gobind Singh established the order of the Khalsa to fight injustice.
Although some Sikhs and Hindus in India may celebrate in the same communities today, Sikhs around the world tend to face more friction partly because of their distinctive dress that sets them apart in public. A school in Michigan recently barred Sikh students from carrying a kirpan, Global Sikh News reported, and Sikh organizations are taking action to raise awareness of this minority faith. The United Sikhs and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund recently joined to launch a campaign that would educate Americans on Sikhs and their religion.