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Baba Deep Singh ji is one of the most honored martyrs known to Sikh history and his life is intimately woven with the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh ji. He belonged to the order of Akali Nihungs whose origins are ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh in the aftermath of his severest battles with the Mughal Empire. The account is reminiscent of the establishment of the Khalsa in 1699. While halted at Damdama in Bhatinda district of southern Punjab in 1706, a Sikh lamented to the Guru that there were no more true Sikhs left as they all now worshipped power alone. The Guru set out to disprove this notion by asking those Singhs present for five heads to be ‘fed’ to the tutelary goddess of war, Chandi (i.e. to let themselves be decapitated by the Guru’s sword). Five Singhs promptly offered themselves and were duly honoured with the honorific of ‘shaheed’ for their willingness to be sacrificed. Among the five was a warrior named Deep Singh (1682-1757).*
Today Baba Deep Singh is remembered by Sikhs as a noted warrior and scholar who pledged to wrest Amritsar from the hands of an Afghan garrison in 1757. The Afgans, under the conqueror Ahmad Shah Durani had invaded India numerous times to plunder the massive wealth of its cities and take captive men, women and children in the tens of thousands to be sold as slaves in Kabul. However, on their return journey through the Punjab, the Sikhs would attack and harass the invading army, take back the wealth and free scores of captives. Akali Nihungs were often at the forefront of these attacks and these warriors of the ‘shaheed’ or martyr battalions were always the first to enter the battlefield but the last to leave it. The Afgans took revenge on the Sikhs by attacking their spiritual heart, the Harimandir Sahib. They destroyed Harimandir Sahib with a barrage of artillery and as a final act of contempt, filled the holy tank with blood and animal carcasses.
The news of the desecration of the Sikh’s holiest place soon reached Baba Deep Singh Ji who, at age 75 years old, emerged from scholastic retirement and declared to the congregation at Damdama Sahib that he intended to expel the Afghan garrison besieging the temple and rebuild it. He took a vow before the assembled sangat not to come back alive without fulfilling this mission and performed Ardas, promising to reach to Sri Harimander Sahib: “Sir jaave ta jaave, mera Sikhi sidhak na jaave” (If my head is severed, let it be, but don’t severe my Sikh way of life)”. In defiance of the Afgans, he announced that the coming Diwali festival would be celebrated at Amritsar. Five hundred men came forward to go with him and as he went from village to village, many more Sikhs joined him. By the time they reached Tarn Taaran, their numbers had swelled to several thousand. Then Baba Ji drew a line on the ground with his khanda, and beseeched only those who were willing to fight and die to cross it. All the assembled Sikhs crossed this line eagerly. Baba Deep Singh Ji then recited the Shabad: “Jo to praym khaylan ka chaao, sir dhar tale galee mayree aao.” (Those who wish to play the game of love, come to me with your head in your palm). “It maarag pair dhareejai, sir deejai kaan na keejai.” (If you wish your feet to travel this path, don’t delay in accepting to give your head). His companions were eager to win martyrdom in this sacred cause so they bathed in the pool at Tarn Taaran and offered prayers. They put on the dress of bridegrooms, tied festal ribbons called ganas on their wrists and sprinkled saffron on their robes. Thus dressed, they marched forth to wed Princess Death.
When news of Baba Deep Singh Ji’s intentions reached the Afgan General, he immediately mobilized an army of 20,000 men and proceeded towards Tarn Taran. Baba Deep Singh Ji and the Sikh shaheedi army intercepted the Afghan forces near the village of Gohalwar, about five miles from Amritsar. At this point, there was a bloody clash between both sides. Baba Deep Singh Ji fought with his 18-ser khanda (weighing about 32 lbs). Each Sikh fought with such great valor and courage that the enemy was near defeat. However, in the midst of the battle, a large contingent of reinforcements arrived for the Afgan side, turning the odds against the Sikhs. Despite this, the Sikhs lead by Baba Deep Singh Ji, continued fighting tirelessly and advancing towards Amritsar. During the pitched battle, Baba Deep Singh ji received a mortal wound to his neck that would have severed the head of an ordinary man. Upon seeing this scene, a young Sikh warrior called out to Baba Ji, reminding him of his vow to reach Sri Harimandir Sahib. Baba Deep Singh Ji stood back up, supported his head on his left palm and, holding his khanda upright in his right hand, continued fighting and moving towards Sri Harimandir Sahib. Upon seeing the sight of Baba Deep Singh, most of the men in the Afgan army lost heart and began to flee. Baba Deep Singh Ji was able to continue fighting and reached Sri Harimander Sahib, where he bowed his head at the prakarma and died a martyr. Baba Deep Singh Ji’s shaheedi inspired the Sikhs to continue to fight against oppression for many years and even today, his life serves as an example for all Sikhs on how to live and die with dignity. He acknowledged neither bodily comfort nor pain, living and dying as a true martyr. In the true Akali Nihung spirit of old, Baba Deep Singh was a tenaciously chaste man of divine contemplation and penance, and was given to charity. Though a true warrior, he remained absorbed in deep contemplation. Where there was battle to be fought, he was not held back for fear of death. Where the Khalsa community faced its greatest danger, he placed his body at the very front. Wherever the battle was, he was to be found in its vanguard, with standard in hand, beating the war drum, he was always the first to engage the enemy.*
*source – Warrior Saints – Four Centuries of Military History Vol.1 by Amandeep Singh Madra & Parmjit Singh