Rise of the Sikh Power
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469 in the Western Punjab village of Talwandi. Even as a child, he was given to deep thinking with no interest in worldly life. At the age of thirty, he got enlightenment. Thereafter, he travelled almost the whole of the country and went over to Mecca and Baghdad, preaching his message. On his death he was followed by nine other Gurus in succession.
Guru Angad Dev Ji (1504-1552) was Guru for thirteen years (1539-1552). He created a new script gurmukhi and gave the Sikhs a written language. After his death Guru Amar Das Ji (1479-1574) followed in succession. He showed great devotion and made the langar an integral part of Sikhism. Guru Ram Das Ji took over as the fourth Guru, he composed hymns, which were later incorporated in the sacred writings. Guru Arjan Dev Ji became the fifth Guru of Sikhism. He built the world famous Harmandar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple in Amritsar. He also compiled the holy Granth Sahib, a sacred religious book of the Sikhs. Guru Arjan Dev suffered martyrdom in 1606 and was followed by Siri Guru Hargobind, who maintained a standing army and symbolically wore two swords, representing spiritual and temporal power.
Guru Siri Har Rai, the seventh Guru was born in 1630 and spent most of his life in devotional meditation and preaching the teachings of Guru Nanak. He passed away in 1661 and ordained his second son, Harkishan as the Guru. Guru Siri Har Krishan Ji got enlightenment in 1661. He gave his life while serving and healing the epidemic-stricken people in Delhi. The place where he breath his last is the one where, the renowned Gurdwara Bangla Sahib stands in Delhi. Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur became Guru in 1664. When Mughal Governor of Kashmir resorted to forcible conversion of Hindus, Guru Tegh Bahadur decided to fight it out. Gurdwara Sisganj in Delhi stands at the place of Guru Sahib’s martyrdom and Gurdwara Rakabganj at the site of his cremation. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was born in 1666 and became guru after the martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Gobind Singh, at the time of his death invested the ‘guru Granth Sahib’ as the supreme head of the sikhs, thus bringing the practice of nominating a religious head to a grinding halt.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
Chhatrapati Shivaji (1630-1680), the great Maratha hero established the Maratha Empire in the Deccan fighting the powerful Mughals who were ruling India then. He motivated and combined the common man to fight against the domination of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, by inculcating wisdom of pride and nationality in them. Shivaji showed his spirit at the young age of 18, when he overran a number of hill forts near Pune. He raised a strong army and navy, built and renovated forts. A regular element of his campaigns was his use of guerilla warfare.
He joined together the Maratha chiefs from Maval, Konkan and Desh regions for the promotion of Maharashtra Dharma and carved out a small kingdom. Shivaji became an inspirational leader to his people and took the responsibility of leadership of the Marathas. The audacious Shivaji provided a thrust to the Marathas and other Hindus with martial tactics, which the Marathas effectively used against the sultans of the peninsula as well as the Mughals.
The small kingdom established by Chhatrapati Shivaji known as “Hindavi Swaraja” (Sovereign Hindu state) grew and stretched from Attock in Northwest India (now in Pakistan) beyond Cuttack in East India, in course of time, to become the strongest power in India. Shivaji died in 1680 at Raigad, at the age of fifty from an attack of dysentery. His premature death at the age of 50 (April, 1680) created a blankness, though his place in Indian history has been documented, recognised and remembered.
The Decline of Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire started disintegrating with the death of Aurangazeb in 1707. His son and successor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was already old when he took the throne and was confronted with one rebellion after another. At that time, the Empire was facing challenges from the Marathas and the British. The inflated taxes and religious intolerance weakened the grip of Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire was split into numerous independent or semi-independent states. Nadirshah of Iran sacked Delhi in 1739 and exposed the fragility of the power of Mughals. The empire rapidly shrank to the extent of being reduced to only a small district around Delhi. Yet they managed to rule at least some parts of India until 1850s, although they never regained the dignity and authority of their early days. The imperial dynasty became extinct with Bahadur Shah II who was deported to Rangoon by the British on suspicion of assisting the sepoy mutineers. He died there in 1862.
This marked the end of the medieval era of Indian history, and gradually, the British paramountcy over the nation increased and gave birth to the Indian struggle for freedom.