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Does 'Singh' mean a Leo?

A very good friend of mine, asked me 'Does Singh mean a Leo and why'? Yes indeed Singh means a Leo and to answer 'why', I will have to describe certain incidents in the Indian History, in order to explain its cause. 

In the year 1675, some Kashmiri Pandits (a person who belongs to a sect of Hindu Pandits who originate from the Kashmir region) led by Pandit Kirpa Ram of Matton (Martandya) visited Anandpur to seek Guru Tegh Bahadur's (the then Guru of the Sikhs, ninth Guru) assistance against persecution from the Islamic Mughal rulers. Guru Tegh Bahadur proceeded to the Mughal capital Delhi, to discuss the emperor Aurangzeb's policy towards the non-Muslims (Hindus were forced to convert to Islam, those who refused, were killed or heavily taxed, women were forcefully taken from their homes and forced to convert to Islam, often raped and, were forced to carry children, in order to spread the growth of Islam). The emperor had previously made very clear that the Guru's influence was unwelcome and was openly hostile to his presence. Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded, on 11 November 1675 at Chandani Chowk (A Gurudwara (Sikh Church) was constructed and named as 'Sis ganj', where the beheading took place), after refusing to convert to Islam. His head was to be put on the public square to deter the public from objecting to Aurangzeb's policies. The beheading of Guru Teg Bahadur frightened many of his disciples, some of whom even refused to acknowledge themselves as his followers, in order to avoid persecution. 

Guru Gobind Singh, the son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who was only around 9 years old at the time when he lost his father, later became the last, or the tenth Guru of Sikhs, is considered as a leader of the Sikh faith, a warrior, a poet, and a philosopher. Guru Gobind Singh is considered a perfect example of manhood; highly educated, skilled in horsemanship, armed combat, chivalrous, and generous in character.

Guru Gobind Singh's life and teachings have had a lasting impression on Sikh ideology as well as in their daily life. His establishment of the Khalsa is considered as one of the most important events in the history of Sikhism. He fought twenty defensive battles with the Mughals, not only to revenge his father's death, but to protect the hindus from the atrocities of the Mughals. Guru Gobind Singh was the last human Sikh Guru; and declared the Guru Granth Sahib in 7 October 1708, the holy scripture of Sikhism, as the next permanent Sikh Guru.

In 1699, the Guru sent hukmanamas (letters of authority) to his followers, requesting them to congregate at Anandpur on 30 March 1699, the day of Vaisakhi (the annual harvest festival). He addressed the congregation from the entryway of a small tent pitched on a small hill (now called Kesgarh Sahib). He first asked everyone who he was for them? Everyone answered - "You are our Guru." He then asked them who were they, to which everyone replied - "We are your Sikhs." Having reminded them of this relationship, He then said that today their Guru needs something from his Sikhs. Everyone said, "Hukum Karo, Sache Patshah" (Order us, True Lord). Then drawing his sword he asked for a volunteer who was willing to sacrifice his head. No one answered his first call, nor the second call, but on the third invitation, Daya Ram (later known as Bhai Daya Singh) came forward and offered his head to the Guru. Guru Gobind took the volunteer inside the tent and later returned to the crowd with blood dripping from his sword. He then demanded another head. One more volunteer came forward, and entered the tent with him. The Guru again emerged with blood on his sword. This happened three more times. Then after a long wait, the five volunteers came out of the tent, together with the Guru, in new clothing, unharmed.

Guru Gobind then poured clear water into an iron bowl and adding Patashas (Punjabi sweeteners) into it, he stirred it with double-edged sword accompanied with recitations from Adi Granth. He called this mixture of sweetened water and iron as Amrit ("nectar / holy water") and administered it to the five men. These five, who willingly volunteered to sacrifice their lives for their Guru, were given the title of the Panj Piare ("the five beloved ones") by their Guru. They were the first (baptized) Sikhs of the Khalsa: Daya Ram (Bhai Daya Singh), Dharam Das (Bhai Dharam Singh), Himmat Rai (Bhai Himmat Singh), Mohkam Chand (Bhai Mohkam Singh), and Sahib Chand (Bhai Sahib Singh).

Guru Gobind Singh then recited a line which has been the rallying-cry of the Khalsa since then: 'Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji Ki Fateh' (Khalsa belongs to God; victory belongs to God). He them blessed them all the name "Singh" (Lion), and designated them collectively as Khalsa (the Pure Ones), the body of baptized Sikhs. The Guru then astounded the five and the whole assembly as he knelt and asked them to in turn initiate him as a member, on an equal footing with them in the Khalsa, thus becoming the sixth member of the new order. His name became Gobind Singh.

Today members of the Khalsa consider Guru Gobind as their father, and Mata Sahib Kaur (not the Guru's wife, but a member of his household) as their mother. The Panj Piare were thus the first baptised Sikhs, and became the first members of the Khalsa brotherhood. Women were also initiated into the Khalsa, and given the title of kaur ("princess"). 

Guru Gobind Singh then addressed the audience; 
“ From now on, you have become casteless. No ritual, either Hindu or Muslim, will you perform nor will you believe in superstition of any kind, but only in one God who is the master and protector of all, the only creator and destroyer. In your new order, the lowest will rank with the highest and each will be to the other a bhai (brother). No pilgrimages for you any more, nor austerities but the pure life of the household, which you should be ready to sacrifice at the call of Dharma (duty). Women shall be equal of men in every way. No purdah (veil) for them anymore, nor the burning alive of a widow on the pyre (burning dead body) of her spouse (sati). He who kills his daughter, the Khalsa shall not deal with him.

Five K's you will observe as a pledge of your dedication to my ideal.
  • Kesh: Hair unshorn representation of saintliness.
  • Kangha: a comb to keep hair clean and untangled.
  • Kara: a iron/steel bracelet to denote one universal God and to keep you handcuffed from doing wrong .
  • Kacchha: a piece of practical wear to denote modesty.
  • Kirpan: a steel dagger for your defence and to defend the helpless.
Smoking being an unclean and injurious habit, you will forswear. You will love the weapons of war, be excellent horsemen, marksmen and wielders of the sword, the discus and the spear. Physical prowess will be as sacred to you as spiritual sensitivity. And, between the Hindus and Muslims, you will act as a bridge, and serve the poor without distinction of caste, colour, country or creed. My Khalsa shall always defend the poor, and Deg (community kitchen) will be as much an essential part of your order as Teg (the sword). And, from now onwards Sikh males will call themselves 'Singh' and women 'Kaur' and greet each other with 'Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki fateh (The Khalsa belongs to God; victory belongs to God). ”

A result of the Guru's actions is arguably that the strength of Sikhism in the 18th and 19th centuries was based on the third, fourth, and fifth orders of Indian society, even though some of its leaders still came from the Kshatriya varna. An interesting representation of the first amrit ceremony is found in the paintings that show two dead hawks, lying on their backs on the ground, while their killers, two doves, sit upon the bowls of amrit. Symbolically, the Sikhs, the doves, had gained the strength of hawks, the strong, militant people who lived on all sides of them.

Further it is believed that, the Sikhs fought several battles, fearlessly, with the Mughals, with the sole objective to protect the hindus, from the atrocities of the Mughals. The hindus were so impressed that, they promised to raise their first son as a 'Singh' thus, to contribute to the Sikh army or the Khalsa. 

Guru Gobind Singh's respect for the Khalsa is best represented in one of his poems:

“ All the battles I have won against tyranny
I have fought with the devoted backing of the people;
Through them only have I been able to bestow gifts,
Through their help I have escaped from harm;
The love and generosity of these Sikhs
Have enriched my heart and home.
Through their grace I have attained all learning;
Through their help in battle I have slain all my enemies.
I was born to serve them, through them I reached eminence.
What would I have been without their kind and ready help?
There are millions of insignificant people like me.
True service is the service of these people.
I am not inclined to serve others of higher caste:
Charity will bear fruit in this and the next world,
If given to such worthy people as these;
All other sacrifices are and charities are profitless.
From toe to toe, whatever I call my own,
All I possess and carry, I dedicate to these people. ”

Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
City: Kolkata
Country: India
Date: May 19, 2010