Dominating the landscape on top of Gwalior hill, Gurdwara Data Bandi Chor Sahib is a Sikh monument associated with the imprisonment and subsequent release of Guru Hargobind Sahib.
Guru Hargobind was born on 19th June 1595 near Amritsar and became Guru at the young age of eleven after the execution of this father, Guru Arjan, by the Mughal emperor Jahangir. He is revered as the sixth Nanak, the sixth of ten Gurus of the Sikh religion.
His tenure as a Guru was the longest of all nine Gurus, lasting almost 38 years. During that time he introduced militarization in order to protect the Sikhism community against the Mughals, most likely as a response to his father’s execution.
In response to his desire for Sikhs to arm and fight the Mughals, Jahangir imprisoned Guru Hargobind in 1609 when he was just 14 years old in Gwalior Fort. Not wanting to recognise the threat Guru Hargobind was to Mughals, Jahangir instead claimed it was due to an unpaid debt associated with Guru Arjan, Hargobind’s father.
It is not clear how long Guru Hargobind was imprisoned, in some records it was for 2 years, in other sources up to 12 years. Nor is it clear exactly why he was released, many scholars believe it was because Jahangir subsequently felt more secure in his rule and regarded Hargobind as relatively harmless.
There is a legend surrounding Guru Hargobind’s release. The story goes that along with Hargobind there were 52 Rajas also imprisoned in Gwalior Fort for opposing the Mughal empire.
On hearing of Guru Hargobind’s imminent release, the Rajas were dismayed as they were losing a spiritual mentor. Guru Hargobind requested Jehangir to let the Rajas be freed along with him. Jahangir accepted his request, but ordered the release of only as many as could hold onto the hem of his cloak when he walked out. So Guru Hargobind got an especially large cloak made and wore it the day of his release. As Guru Hargobind left the fort, the other 52 captive rajas held the hem of this cloak and thus were freed along with him.
This act earned Guru Hargobind the title Data Bandi Chor (the munificent liberator). The word “Bandi” means “imprisoned”, “Chor” means “release”.
Relations with the Mughals were subsequently luke warm, but deteriorated significantly during the reign of the less tolerant Shah Jahan. Guru Hargobind’s army fought battles with the Mughal armies at Amritsar, Kartarpur and elsewhere. He famously defeated the Mughal troops at the Battle of Amritsar in 1634.
Guru Hargobind died in 1644 at Kiratpur Sahib, a town situated on the banks of river Sutlej. He was cremated on the banks of river Sutlej, where now stands Gurdwara Patalpuri.
A small shrine to Guru Hargobind was built within the walls of Gwalior fort which was looked after by Muslim priests until it was acquired after independence in 1947. The area around the shrine was extended in the 19702s and 1980s to over six acres, and a new much larger shrine and subsidiary buildings were built.
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