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Posted at: Nov 3, 2019, 12:45 AM; last updated: Nov 3, 2019, 12:45 AM (IST)

Politics, ethics and faith

The Babur-bani graphically describes how the Mughal ruler’s invasions affected the people. Standing out as a powerful comment on the politics of the time, Guru Nanak’s verses sensitively portray their sufferings

Indu Banga

The term Babur-bani occurs in a composition of Guru Nanak for the proclamation of Babur’s rule. Subsequently, it denoted four somewhat overlapping verses in which he graphically describes the effects of Babur’s invasions and sensitively portrays the sufferings of the people. Together, the Babur-bani verses stand out as a powerful comment on contemporary politics, albeit subordinated to Guru Nanak’s ethical considerations and his faith in God. Since each verse has several layers, an attempt has been made to isolate ideas of different order, and view these in their totality at the end.

1. Raag Asa (Guru Granth Sahib, PP 360-61) 

Guru Nanak says that while Babur befriended ‘Khurasaan’, he terrified Hindustan. He was sent by God as His agent of death. People received so much beating that they shrieked in pain, and Guru Nanak feels obliged to ask God who is the Creator of all beings: ‘Did you not feel compassion?’ ‘If the mighty kill one another, there is no cause for anger.’ But, if a powerful lion preys on the herd of cows, its master is to be questioned. Guru Nanak implies that the ‘dogs’ (Lodi rulers) have spoiled the precious jewel (country), and no one feels concerned about the dead. 

In God’s eyes, a highly placed wealthy person is but a worm pecking the corn. To get something, one should kill one’s ego and remember God’s name.

2. Raag Asa (Guru Granth Sahib, PP. 416-17)

This verse dwells on the suffering of the women, poignantly depicting the conditions after Babur’s invasions: The heads adorned with tresses and partings filled with vermillion, are now shaven with scissors, and the throats are choked with dust. The ladies living once in palaces cannot even come near them. 

Guru Nanak hails God and marvels at His limitlessness: He continuously creates and beholds various situations. 

When the women got married, they had handsome bridegrooms beside them. The brides came seated in palanquins adorned with ivory. Water was sprinkled over their heads to ward off evil, and glittering fans were waved over them. They were gifted a lakh of rupees while seated and a lakh when they stood up. They would eat coconut and dry dates and enjoy the bed. Now, ropes are put around their necks, and their pearl necklaces are broken. Both wealth and beauty, which afforded them pleasure, have become their enemies. The soldiers were allowed to dishonour them and take them away. 

God alone bestows greatness, or awards punishment as it pleases Him. Remembering God beforehand could obviate punishment.

Guru Nanak then turns to the rulers who had lost their good sense in sensual enjoyments. After the proclamation of Babur’s rule (Babur-bani), no prince ate food. Muslims could not offer their daily prayers, and Hindus could not worship their gods. Without the sacred squares (chauke), the Hindu women (Hiduwanian) could not bathe and apply frontal marks (tikke). They never remembered Ram, now they are not allowed to utter Khuda. To enquire about the welfare of their dear ones, some women meet those who had returned home. It is so writ (likhia) in the lot of some that they sit and bewail in pain.

Whatever pleases Him that alone transpires. What is man before God? 

3. Raag Asa (Guru Granth Sahib, PP 417-18)

Guru Nanak evocatively describes change for the ruling class: Where are those sports, stables and horses? Where are the kettle-drums and bugles? Where are those sword belts and chariots? Where are those scarlet uniforms? Where are those mirrored finger-rings and beautiful faces which are no longer to be seen? 

God is addressed as the Master of the world, establishing and uprooting men, and distributing wealth, as it pleases Him.

Where are those houses, doors, pavilions, palaces, and beautiful sarais? Where is the comfortable couch and the beautiful damsel by seeing whom one loses sleep? Where are those betel-leaves, betel-sellers and harems? They have vanished like the shadow.

For this wealth, many are ruined, and many disgraced; it is amassed with sins, and it does not go with the dead. He, whom the Creator Himself destroys, is first deprived of virtue.

When they heard of Babur’s invasions, millions of holy men failed to check his advance. He burned houses, resting places and strong palaces, cutting the princes into pieces and rolling them in dust. But no Mughal became blind, and no one wrought any miracle!

Swords clashed in the battle between the Mughals and the Pathans. One side aimed and fired the guns, and the other advanced the elephants. They, who lost their lives, were destined to die. The robes of some Hindu, Muslim, Bhatti and Rajput women were torn from head to foot, while some died. How would those women have passed the night whose handsome husbands did not come home? 

Guru Nanak asks, to whom should one complain? The Creator acts on His own and causes others to act. Sorrow and well-being are in accordance with His will. Before whom should one bewail? It pleases God to give His command, and one gets what is writ for him.

4. Raag Tilang (Guru Granth Sahib, PP 722-23)

As God’s message, it is addressed to Bhai Lalo, focusing on the atrocities perpetrated by Babur’s soldiers, in all probability, in Saidpur (Eminabad) in 1521 CE. 

Descending from Kabul with the ‘marriage party of sin’ (Paap di junj), Babur forcibly demands ‘charity’ (‘daan’ of women). Modesty and righteousness have vanished and falsehood has taken over. In place of qazis and Brahmins, marriage rites (actually, rape) are presided over by Satan. Muslim and Hindu women and others became the victims, and in their suffering, they pray to God. The eulogies of blood (Khoon de Sohille) are being sung and the saffron of blood (Ratt ka kangu) is being sprinkled. In this city of corpses (Maaspuri), Guru Nanak alone sings the glory of God and describes this affair.

Having created human beings and attached them to pleasures, God now sits apart and alone, and beholds them. He is the true Master and He gives true justice. By the time the body cloth is torn into shreds, Hindustan shall remember that coming in (Bikrami) 78, they (Mughals) shall depart in (Bikrami) 97, and then a great man shall arise. Guru Nanak says, he utters the word of truth at the right time.

An overview

In the eyes of Guru Nanak, politics is inseparable from ethics. It serves as a yardstick for him. His conception of God is the ultimate arbiter. God’s will and justice provide the final explanation for Babur’s invasions and the sufferings it entailed.

Guru Nanak’s political outlook is rather unique for his times. He thinks of himself as belonging to ‘Hindustan,’ which is distinct from the countries beyond the river Indus. He feels exercised that this ‘jewel’ has been spoiled by the misrule of the Lodis. They indulged in pleasures, neglected administration and oppressed the people. The Lodi rulers also failed in their duty to protect their defenceless subjects against Babur’s invasions. 

Guru Nanak has no problem if warfare is between equals. The battle between the Mughals and Afghans — two broadly equal sides — is mentioned in passing only. The ouster of the Afghan ruling class also seems to be acceptable as a necessary corollary of political change. But Guru Nanak does not absolve Babur of the atrocities perpetrated by his men on the common people, especially women. In moral terms, Babur stands sharply indicted by Guru Nanak, and he visualises an early end of Mughal rule.

Ethically, Babur’s men represented unrighteousness and falsehood — the two things Guru Nanak strongly disapproves of. He holds Babur directly responsible for the sins of his men when they indiscriminately plundered and raped women, throwing modesty overboard. It was futile for religious men try to wrought miracles.Instead, the rulers should have made efforts to check Babur’s advance. But their attachment to pleasures made them oblivious of their duty. 

The wealth amassed by oppression and other wrong means is a sin in Guru Nanak’s eyes. Wealth and virtue do not go together. Rather, ill-gotten wealth leads to destruction. Wealth, at any rate, is insignificant in Guru Nanak’s eyes.

What is important for Guru Nanak is to kill one’s ego or self-centeredness and remember God. Guru Nanak repeatedly suggests that had the men and women remembered God beforehand they would have escaped the suffering entailed in Babur’s invasions. When Guru Nanak uses the word likhia (written), it is destined or preordained only in the sense of punishment by God for bad deeds.

God’s greatness, limitlessness and power are underlined in all Babur-bani verses. He is the master of the world, and is in it and outside it. He watches over everything. He is the real source of greatness and wealth, which flow from His Grace. 

As mentioned earlier, He is also the source of punishment. Guru Nanak seems to account for the fall of the Lodis, rape of women and sufferings of the people, in general, in terms of God’s inscrutable will and true justice, which govern the world. 

In the realm of politics, only a just and righteous ruler lasts because he has God’s mandate. What a mortal could do is to have trust in God.

The writer is Professor Emerita,  Panjab University, Chandigarh

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