The Golden Temple
He’ll avenge, with large helping
Of nightmare fuel.
I dub this Ehler’s Choice Week, where certain members of my family get to demand the topics. Today we have one my eldest brother has been waiting patiently for – Baba Deep Singh!
(A note before I proceed: Indian history is not an area of my expertise, nor is Sikh history. If I get anything wrong or leave out some essential fact, you are entirely welcome to set me straight. Also, as is a religious martyr we’re talking about, I’ll try to keep respectful, godless heathen though I am.)
Baba Deep Singh Ji was born in 1682, in a village 40 km away from Amritsar. When he was 12, his family traipsed off to Anandpur to do a few days of Sewa (essentially, religiously encouraged volunteer work). There, he caught the attention of Guru Gobind Singh Ji (the last of Sikhism’s human form gurus), who asked him to stick around and learn some things. And so young Deepa (as he was known at the time) did, cramming his head full of languages, theology, philosophy, and oh, all the skills he’d need to become an incredibly badass warrior.
Baba Deep Singh’s subsequent career is much too lengthy for me to get into with any depth, so here are the cliff notes: over decades, his time was split between scholarship, helping the needy, and serving as a military leader. The last he did even once he was ostensibly retired, at an age when most would be doting over grandchildren.
Fast forward to 1757. Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the modern state of Afghanistan, was committing one of his habitual raids on Northern India. The Sikhs were not having this and Baba Deep Singh and his crew proceeded to relieve the Afghanis of a healthy percentage of their prisoners and valuables. Ahmad Shah Durrani was not having THIS, and proceeded to blow up the Golden Temple (Harimandir Sahib) in Amritsar, fill the sacred pool with animal guys, and leave behind an army of 10,000 in case the Sikhs took further exception to his actions.
Baba Deep Singh did, as did 500 of his fellow warriors. This number grew to 5000 as the force marched towards Amritsar. They reached the city in November 11 and battle ensued.
Here are two takes on Baba Deep Singh’s final moments:
Version One: Upon decapitation, he scooped up his head in one hand and kept swinging his sword with the other, until he reached Amritsar and died.
Version Two: Upon receiving a mortal neck wound that was almost but not quite a complete decapitation, another soldier reminded Baba Deep Singh that he did promise to keep fighting until he reached the Golden Temple. So he proceeded to hold his head with his left hand and swing his sword with the right, until he reached his destination and died.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the Afghan army was terrified and scarpered. Baba Deep Singh was declared by the Sikhs to be a martyr, the place his head fell marked and memorialized, his sword preserved.