Very few people know that, numbering over one crore and spread in the areas of Jharkhand, Bengal and Chhatisgarh, Satnamis are those Sikhs who had taken on Emperor Aurangzeb at the behest of Guru Teg Bahadur against his decision to charge jeziya and destruction of temples and teaching centres of Hindus and Sikhs. Rebelling against Aurangzeb, for a considerable time, they had in their possession the whole areas of Southern Haryana and North Rajasthan. These Sikhs associated themselves with Sikhism during the visit of Guru Nanak. They recited ‘Sat Nam’ and still do so.
In 1667, Aurangzeb declared that all Hindus would pay five percent jeziya tax. On April 9, 1669 he passed orders that all Hindu temples, and educational institutions be destroyed and their religious activities be banned. This decision was implemented ruthlessly (Masir-e-Jahangiri 1947, P.51-55, Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb Part 3, P. 265). On hearing these orders, Guru Teg Bahadur started from Assam towards Punjab in December 1671 and reached Delhi in January 1672 (Punjab Past and Present, April 1975, P.234) In Delhi he gave the call “bhai kahu ko det nahi, na bhai manat aan” ( Neither I cause fear to anyone nor I accept fear). It were these Satnamis who implemented this call of the Guru. When Guruji was in Delhi, the leader of Satnamis came to pay obeisance along with his associates and described the details of atrocities leashed on Hindus. Guruji understood that the time had come to face the tyranny, and that by sitting in fear, Mughals would only be more ruthless. This was the main reason he called upon every Sikh to be fearless. It included Jagjivan Das also.
On receiving the call, Satnamis congregated and decided that they being followers of Guru Nanak would not pay anything to anyone except the Guru. When government officials came to their houses to collect taxes they declined. The soldiers tried to force; but were beaten back. The ruler of the area attacked them, they retaliated. The Mughal forces fled from the area of Narnaul. Rumour spread in the area that the Satnamis were blessed, hence they cannot be defeated by anyone.
On the other hand, a fear spread in the royal circles. The fact that Satnamis could not be defeated would result in rebellion in other parts as well. The situation would go out of control. Aurangzeb lost his sleep over this. He was already worried due to rebellions in Afghanistan and Peshawar. Afghanistan had already seceded after a rebellion. Rebellion at Narnaul being so near the capital could cause serious repercussions, possibly resulting in loss of power also.
The Satnamis were not sitting complacent either. They had fortified themselves under the leadership of Jagjiwan Dass Chandel and were prepared for any eventuality. The entire information was constantly relayed to Aurangzeb. He had the task in hand to break the fortifications of Satnamis and to break the myth of their being invincible.
Understanding the need of the hour, Aurangzeb decided to tackle this rebellion on a large scale. He prepared a contingent of forces under his general Salar Sayyad Ahmed Khan. He wrote with his own hands, the ayats of Quran on the army flags so that they may diminish the fear that Satnamis were blessed and cannot be defeated. He propagated widely the power in the ayats of Quran to thwart any magic. Addressing the forces he said, “The ayats on your flags will keep you safe and nobody will be able to defeat you because you are going to annihilate the Kaafirs” (Mahan Kosh, P. 147).
Armed with guns and weaponry, these forces reached Narnaul and encircled the few Satnamis. How could these unarmed Satnamis take on the heavily armed enemy for long? None of the Satnamis surrendered. They fought till dusk and left when night descended. They reached Madhya Pardesh eventually, closely followed by the Mughal forces. Along with their families they scattered themselves in the forests of what is now Chhatisgarh. Aurangzeb’s army was recalled as they were required elsewhere.
Since then, the Satnamis remained in these forests. Worse happened when they were oppressed a lot by the rich and strong sections of the local population. Satnamis lived in their huts reciting Naam and remained aloof from the rituals of Pandits. Later Ghasi re-united them, thwarting the oppression of Pandits and spreading education among them. When the British came, they converted some of them to Christianity. Former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s family is one of those Satnamis, who became Christians.
A few years ago, the house of a Satnami, near Dhamtari, caught fire. Everything in his house was destroyed except for a wooden box which contained a copy of the Granth Sahib. The news spread far and wide. The Script of the Granth could not be understood by the educated local. Few Punjabis also lived in the area. One of them visited the site and found that this was an ancient ‘birh’ of Guru Granth Sahib. The housekeeper informed that his ancestors used to read and worship the Granth (Dainik Bhaskar, Raipur Edition, November 8, 2003).
When people of Dhamatri came to know of this, they expressed a wish to build a Gurdwara there. The housekeeper gifted the land for the Gurdwara and realising that his ancestors were Sikhs, partook amrit himself. From then on, many of the Satnamis got baptised as Sikhs. Now this onus has been taken by the Satnam Foundation of Raipur, assisted by Scottish Sikh Council, along with other associations, which continue even now.
~ by Dr. Davinder Singh Grewal