Tales Through Time: Mai Bhago; The Saint Warrior
Volume 4 Issue 1
November 6, 2023
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Mai Bhago was born in 1666 in the Punjab village of Chabal Kalan, India. It is today known as the Tarn Taran district. She was raised in a Sikh household with religious views and values. She lived with four other family members: her grandpa, father, and two brothers. Her mother was said to have died while she was little. Her father, Malo Shah, was a soldier in Guru Hargobind's (Sikhs' 6th Guru) army, and she also braved to be taught in weaponry (Shastar Vidya). Her great grandpa, Bhai Pero Shah, was converted to Sikhism with his consent during the reign of Guru Arjan Dev Ji (the 5th Guru of Sikhs).
Mai Bhago was born “Bhag Bhari” which means “fortunate” or “one who is full of good fortune.” After being blessed with Amrit (like baptism), she was named Bhag Kaur. Her family was highly associated with the Sikh Gurus, and she was severely moved by Guru Arjan Dev's (5th Guru) martyrdom, Guru Hargobind's (6th Guru) warfare, and the Mughal army's injustice to the Sikhs. She made two visits to Guru Tegh Bahadur (9th Guru) and went to Anandpur with her father in 1699, when Guru Gobind Singh (10th Guru) established the Khalsa. Her father brought her back despite her wish to join the Sikh army because no women were serving in the Sikh army at the time. Mai Bhago continued studying combat and horseback riding from her father. She then practiced piercing trees with her spear and quickly became a devoted soldier. A couple of years later she married Bhai Nidhan Singh of Patti village near Amritsar.
The Mughals dominated the majority of India and Pakistan at the time. Aurangzeb controlled the Mughals, yet he was neither peaceful nor understanding. He was especially hostile against Sikhs, partially for religious reasons and partly because Sikhs were opposed to the caste system. In truth, the Sikhs were generally egalitarian and saw women as equal to males.
Liberated Sikhs (Chali Mukte)
Aurangzeb, the expansionist Mughal Emperor, attacked Sikh territory with an army of 16,000 warriors in 1704-05 and surrounded the Sikh capital of Anandpur Sahib. During this time, 40 Singhs made the decision to leave Anandpur Sahib and return home. They signed a Bedava (document of dissent) declaring that they were no longer Sikhs under Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. This group included Mai Bhago's spouse and two of her brothers. Outraged by this betrayal, Mai Bhago left home with her own horse, armor, and weapons to seek down the deserters. Mai Bhago is reported to have dressed in traditional "male" attire and collected up the deserters. She went to their houses and urged their wives not to provide refuge for their husbands. Mai Bhago and the other women accused them of being cowards and lacking trust. Some of the women armed themselves and joined Mai Bhago, vowing to fight for the Guru if their husbands refused. Shaken by this, the 40 deserters consented to return to Mai Bhago's service.
Battle Of Mukatsar
When Mai Bhago's band arrived at Khidrana, they fought against Mughal soldiers in what became known as the Battle of Muktsar. So, despite the fact that they were certainly going to die, the forty (chali) men, along with Mai Bhago, charged headlong into the Muslim forces (around 10,000 soldiers) and inflicted so much damage that the Muslims were forced to abandon their attack and retreat. In the end, all 40 men died, but Mai Bhago and Guru Gobind Singh ji survived. Chali Mukte, or the 40 Liberated Ones, was the name given by Guru Gobind Singh Ji to the dead soldiers. Guru Gobind Singh praised the martyred Sikhs, tore the Bedava paper, and re-established relations with the Sikhs who had deserted him here. Mai Bhag kaur was a celebrated Sikh woman and was the first woman in Punjabi history to fight on a battlefield.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji was proud of Mai Bhago and fulfilled her ambition to be a true saint-warrior by becoming the Guru’s bodyguard until his death. She later settled in Jinvara and practiced Sikhism until her last breath.
Her life demonstrated that, while sexism exists in this world, it is not encouraged by the Gurus. Her beautiful journey continues to inspire countless people today.