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Pre Mughal History | The Sikh Gurus | Post Mughal History

The Indus Valley Civilization
Archaeologists have traced signs of life, in the area now known as Punjab, to as far back as the Indus valley civilization, around 5000 years ago. At its peak, the Indus Valley civilization boasted of splendid urban cities such as Harappa and Mohen-jo-daro.

Indus SealThe Aryan era
One of the reasons for the decline of the Indus Valley civilization was the migration of the Aryans from North-West Asia around 1500-100 BC. For the next thousand or so years, during the Aryan period, present-day Punjab was called Arya-varta (land of the Aryans). It is believed that it was during this period that the oldest of books, the Rig Vedas were written. Sanskrit, the Aryan tongue, became the symbol of their dominance in the region.

The Persian rule
Located at the outskirts of the great Persian Empire, Punjab came under frequent Persian attacks and was occupied by various Persian rulers from time to time. Though Darius the Great is believed to have occupied parts of the area, it was the Persian king Gustasp who in 516 BC completed the occupation of Punjab. In time, Punjab became one of the wealthiest satrapies (province) of the Persian Empire.

The Greek rule
The Greeks, the other great empire of the era, had some knowledge about Punjab. Several expeditions by Greek generals have documented the fertility and riches of the area. The region was described as the land of the five rivers. Greek maps also mention the existence of the mightiest river of all - the Indos (Indus), with its five tributaries.

In 321 BC Alexander the Great invaded Punjab, the last Persian Province. Most of the chieftains of the province submitted to Alexander's power without resistance. But Porus (Paurava), the king of Beteen, refused to submit to Alexander's authority. A historical battle was fought between the mighty Greek army and the small but determined army of Porus. In the end Porus lost and was captured and brought before Alexander. Here the legendary conversation took place when Alexander asked Porus how he should be treated. "The same way a king treats another king", said Porus. Struck by his courage and genius, Alexander not only returned his kingdom to Porus but also added to it the kingdoms of the chieftains who had submitted to Greek might.

After conquering the region, Alexander established two cities where he settled the people from his army. These cities thrived under the Indo-Greek rule, long after Alexander's departure. For the next two centuries, the Punjab region remained under Indo-Greek rule with dynasties like the Seleucid and Bactrian.

In the middle of the second century BC, the westward movement of the Chinese tribe of Yui Chi caused the Sakas (Scythians) to move towards Punjab. The Sakas successfully wrested power from the Indo-Greek rulers. Another Central Asian people to make the Punjab region their home were the White Huns, who after continuous campaigns in this region, finally established their rule in the later part of the 3rd century AD.

Noor MahalThe Muslim invasions
Following the birth of Islam in Arabia in the 6th century AD, the Arabs rose to replace the Persians as the major power in the region. With their considerable power and influence, the Arabs advanced towards the land of the five rivers, already popular as a rich Persian province, and occupied the Multan region. Areas that survived the Arab attacks were divided into small kingdoms.

The various rulers of Ghazni attacked the Punjab region several times during their reign. After uprooting the Ghazni rulers, the Ghauris extended their kingdom as far as Delhi. Ghauri's governor, Qutbudin Aibak, annexed Punjab and founded the Mamluk Sultanate.

From the 13th to the 15th century AD, various dynasties controlled the northern parts of India including Punjab. These dynasties included the Khiljis, the Tughlaks, the Sayyids and the Lodhis. The rule of these dynasties was disrupted twice by the Mongols, who marched as far as Delhi.

The Mogul rule and its relationship with Sikhism

In 1520, Babur attacked India. His troops killed innocent people, took women and children captive and looted their property. Guru Nanak sahib, who had already founded Sikhism and was preaching it all over India, challenged this act of barbarity in strong words. He was arrested along with the other captives. But soon after, he was released after Babur realized his blunder.

After this, Guru Nanak Sahib founded the city of Kartarpur (now in Pakistan) and spent the rest of his life there. After the death of Guru Nanak Sahib, his successor Guru Angad Sahib took over the leadership of the Sikh community. It is believed that Guru Angad Sahib enjoyed cordial relations with the Mogul rulers. Humayun, when defeated by Sher Shah Suri, came to the Guru to obtain his blessings to regain the throne of Delhi.

The third Guru, Guru Amardas Sahib, also maintained good relations with the Moguls. Once, Akbar had to eat at the Langar (free kitchen) before he could meet the Guru. Impressed by this, Akbar offered to grant some royal property to the Langar. Though Guru Amardas Sahib refused this, he was able to get Akbar to waive the toll on non-Muslim pilgrims crossing the Yamuna and the Ganga.

During the time when Guru Arjan Sahib was the Guru, Akbar read the Guru Granth Sahib created by him and commented, "The greatest Granth of synthesis, worthy of reverence".

The good relations between the Sikhs and the Moguls ended with the death of Akbar. Akbar's son Jehangir implicated Guru Arjan Sahib, the fifth Guru, and had him executed. This changed the view of the entire Sikh community towards Muslim rule.

The sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib was arrested and imprisoned by Jehangir for three years. On his release, he requested Jehangir to free the fifty-two Hindu princes who had been arrested on charges of treachery, on his personal surety. This request was acceded to, and it earned him the respect of Jehangir. It also changed Jehangir's outlook towards Sikhism.

After the death of Jehangir, this relationship changed drastically. Jehangir's son, Shah Jahan, did not take kindly to the Sikhs and ordered the destruction of all temples and Gurudwaras under construction. This created a lot of tension among the Muslim rulers and the Sikhs. Guru Hargobind Sahib fought five battles with the Moguls, all of which he won.

The seventh Guru, Guru Har Rai Sahib tried to maintain cordial relations with the Moguls. He helped Shah Jahan’s eldest son, Dara, escape from the bloody hands of Aurangzeb during the succession battle. He also sent medicines from his Ayurvedic centre that saved Dara’s life from an incurable illness. This was a period of cordial relations between the Sikhs and the Moguls.

The period of leadership of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was the one that saw the most conflicts between the Moguls and the Sikhs. The execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur had enraged the Sikhs and they formed the Khalsa army to fight these external threats. The Moguls and the Sikhs engaged in numerous battles during these periods.

Guru Gobind Singh's relations with Bahadur Shah, the next Mogul emperor, were cordial and they even held meetings together. This did not go down well with several Mogul officials who plotted to have Guru Gobind Singh assassinated.

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