Mai Bhago also known as Mata Bhag Kaur was a Sikh woman who led 40 Sikh soldiers against the Mughals in 1705.
She killed several enemy soldiers on the battlefield, and led a life of true Sant Sipahi in every aspect. She was the sole survivor of the battle of Khidrana, i.e. Battle of Muktsar fought on 29 December 1705)
In her childhood, Mai Bhag Kaur was called Bhag Bhari, which means “fortunate”. On being baptized, she was named Bhag Kaur. In the Sikh history, she is known as Mai Bhago.
She was born in a well known village, Jhabal, near Amritsar in year 1666.
She was the daughter of Malo Shah, son of Bhai Pare Shah. Her grandfather and Pare Shah’s brother, Bhai Langaha, had served under Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Hargobind.
Bhai Langaha had helped Guru Arjan Dev in the construction of Harmander Sahib and was one of the five Sikhs who accompanied Guru Arjan Dev when he went to Lahore for martyrdom.
The young Saint-Soldier
She visited Anandpur with her father in 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa and was baptized along with other members of her family
She had inherited from her family ideals of bravery and courage.
Faith, truth, and fearlessness were her ornaments.
She had a well built body and started learning the art of warfare and horse riding from her father. She came to know that some Sikhs of her area had deserted Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur Sahib and renounced his guruship in writing (Bedava).
The governor of Sirhind was planning a big attack on Guru Gobind Singh at village Dina where he was staying after the Battle of Chamkaur.
She could not hold herself, and in zeal to serve the Guru, she, the great heroine, said to her husband, “let us lay down our lives for the Guru who has sacrificed his father, mother and four sons for the Sikh faith. We must not sit idle when innocent lives are being bricked alive.”
She motivated the ladies of the area to challenge those deserters. These ladies dressed themselves as soldiers and wanted to proceed with Mai Bhago.
She said to the deserters, “Guru Ji has sacrificed his family and comforts for our freedom. We should not hide ourselves like cowards. Everybody has to die. Why not die like a brave person? If you don’t join me, I shall take a party of women and die for the Guru.” They got armed and they took the oath to die fighting and not to retreat from the battlefield. All of them marched to help the Guru and seek his forgiveness, under the leadership of Mai Bhago Ji.They were also informed that the Mughal forces, under the command of the governor of Sirhand, were proceeding towards the Guru.
In 1704 the city of Anandpur Sahib, the residence of Guru Gobind Singh Ji was under extended siege by the combined forces of the Mughal army and Hill chiefs. The siege took its toll and the meager provisions were completely exhausted, with the Sikhs having to live on leaves and bark from the trees.
Within the Sikh ranks there was a group of Jats of the Majha region, they had had enough and they made up their mind that they wanted to escape and leave Anandpur Sahib. After much deliberation they made their way to the Guru, and their leader Maha Singh told him of their desire to leave. Guru Gobind Singh Ji understood their situation but asked them to stay and fight, but all his persuasive arguments fell on deaf ears, they were resolute, they wanted to leave.
With no alternative Guru Gobind Singh Ji with a heavy heart asked them that if they truly wished to leave then they must write a disclaimer and have it signed by all the deserters claiming that they no longer belonged to the Guru, and the Guru no longer belonged to them. Obviously we can never understand the hardship the Sikhs had to endure and the desperate situation the Sikhs were in but even so, when we think of the great sacrifices made by Sikhs like Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bundha Singh to name but a few it is hard to understand what possessed the Majha Sikhs to put pen to paper and write a disclaimer that “Guru Gobind Singh Ji, we are no longer your Sikhs and you are no longer our Guru,” it must go down as a most shameful episode in Sikh history.
The deserters were from the Majha region and one of the villages in this area was called Jhabal, and in the village lived a woman named Mai Bhago. She was known for her faith and courage and when she saw the 40 Sikhs approaching in the distance she went out to meet them. She asked news about Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and when she heard their sorry tale her blood boiled. She could not contain herself, she charged them with cowardice and a lack of faith in their Guru. She felt, as did the other women folk of the area that they had brought shame on their region. Mai Bhago was determined to wipe this stain of infamy of the Majha sikhs. She told all the women folk not to be hospitable to the Sikhs, she shamed and censured the Singh’s for their cowardice.
Mai Bhago donned on men’s clothing and told them that either they stay behind and look after the children or they try to make amends and return with her to the Guru. Ashamed by their act of desertion they vowed to put things right and mounted their horses and set off towards Frozepur.
Knowing that the enemy Wazir Khan was advancing to attack the Guru, Mai Bhago’s group took up positions near a place called Khidrana. As the enemy forces came close the Sikhs pounced on them, a fierce battle ensued; although heavily out numbered the Sikhs attacked with ferocity and many were killed on both sides. The dust raised by the battle alerted Guru Sahib Ji who by this time had vacated Anandpur Sahib, he joined his Sikhs on a sandy hill (tibbi) and shot arrows on the enemy. As the battle raged Guru Sahib Ji mounted his horse and led his contingent from the west. The enemy could not stand a sudden attack on its left flank and after sustaining heavy loses withdrew leaving the dead and dying on the battlefield.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji dismounted from his horse and surveyed the scene. He saw one of his Sikhs lying wounded and recognised him as Maha Singh, the leader of the 40 deserters. Guru Ji sat beside him and put his head on his lap and wiped away the blood and tears from his eyes, just as a father would a son. Guru Ji was greatly impressed and pleased by his Sikhs. “Ask whatever you will, the house of Guru Nanak is open to you” spoke Guru Ji but Maha Singh only had one thing on his mind, the letter of desertion. “O Lord of all the heavens, if you are in mercy then please forgive me and my companions for our betrayal, and all that I pray for now is that you tear up the letter we handed to you.” The all knowing Guru had kept the letter on his person knowing full well that it would be needed, Guru Ji took it out and tore it in front of Maha Singh.
“You have redeemed yourself here and in the hereafter.” The forty deserters who lay dead in the battlefield were blessed by Guru Sahib Ji as the chali mukhtay –the forty liberated ones. A grand gurdwara now stands at the site of the battle, known as GurdwaraTibbi Sahib, Mukhtsar.
Mai Bhago in the meantime was also laying in the battlefield wounded. Guru Ji blessed her for her courage and fortitude in leading the Sikhs into battle and regaining their honour. In time Mai Bhago recovered from her wounds and remained in the Guru’s presence after the battle. Mai Bhago followed Guru Sahib Ji to Nanded. In 1708 when Guru Ji ascended the heavens Mata Ji settled at Bidhar about 200 km from Nanded where she lived to a ripe old age. Mata Bhago Ji is held in the utmost high regard by Sikhs and considered a saint. Her spear and musket that she used in the battle at Mukhatsar is still preserved at Takhat Sri Hazur Sahib, Nanded.
Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib is associated with the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This place is situated in high sandy mound (tibbi means a small hillock). Guru Sahib chose this place to stay on reaching Muktsar as it provided a very good view of the area. When the battle between the Forty Muktas and the Mughals was in progress, Guru Ji helped his sikhs by shooting arrows at the Mughals from this place. The birthdays of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Gobind Singh Ji and shahidi purab of Guru Arjun Dev Ji are celebrated with great fervour here. Besides, the Magh Mela is organized on the 12th and 13th of January to commemorate the sacrifice of the Forty Muktas. Diwali and Baisakhi are also celebrated with enthusiasm.
The Guru praised the bravery of Mai Bhago. She told the Guru how the forty deserters had fought bravely and laid down their lives.
The Guru asked her to go back to her village as her husband and brother had also obtained Shaheedi in that battle.
She expressed her desire to become an active saint-soldier and stay in the service of the Guru. Her wish was granted and she stayed with the Guru as a member of his bodyguards.
She accompanied the Guru to Damdama Sahib, Agra, and Nanded and lived there until the Guru left this world.
After the Guru’s death, she left Nanded for Bidar.
She lived there & preached Sikhism till end of her life.
She was a symbol of bravery and courage. Her life history and organization skills against odds will always be a milestone in Sikh history.