Guru Hargobind and Kaulan
Lately, I have been leisurely perusing The Sikh Religion by Max Arthur Macaulifee. It was written nearly 100 years ago in what reads like very formal, Biblical English. For some, the language is too thick to penetrate, but my mind screens out the “Thees” and “Thous.” Longing to glimpse the remarkable history beneath.
Call it my prejudice from all those hours studying feminist theory in college, but the stories in Macauliffe that capture my attention the most are those brief brief passages that describe interactions between the Gurus and the women of their time. There are the famous Sikh women that we all know – Bibi Bani, the wife of Guru Ram Das; Mata Sahib Dev Kaur, the mother of the Khalsa; Mata Gujari, the wife of Guru Tegh Bahadur and mother of Guru Gobind Singh.
But in the writing of Macauliffe, one can also find other women’s stories. Kaulan, the daughter of Qazi Rustam Khan who ran away from her father’s home to take residence in Amritsar. Another woman, who remains unnamed - a recently married queen of the local Raja during Guru Amar Das’s time in Goindwal. She refused to remove her veil in the presence of the Guru and became mad because of it. Stories of devotion and longing; stories of vanity and pride; so many tiny little stories – almost footnotes in Macauliffe’s vast history of the Gurus – illuminating the unique challenges that women encounter being pulled between the social and the spiritual realities.
My promise to myself for the next year is to write about one of these women once a month and post it on the blog. It’s too slow a pace for the audiences of cyberspace, I know. But if you are willing to indulge me and be patient with the writing – perhaps we will learn something together through the “her”story of these women.
Today’s story is about Kaulan.
It was the reign of the Muslim Emperor Jahangir, housed in the city of Lahore, who was sometimes friendly, sometimes not so very towards the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind. The two kings had already spent some time in each others’ company at the time of this story – a courtly friendship, but nothing more.
During Emperor Jahangir’s reign, the ruling troops would confiscate any possession that caught their eye – a good sword, a fine horse, jewels – without any remorse towards the rightful owner. It was a kind of institutionalized theft, an ad hoc “tax” levied upon the owner of something enviable.
Our story about Kaulan, strangely enough, begins in Kabul where a faithful Sikh, Sujan, had amassed a tremendous amount of wealth for the Guru through offerings. Sujan decided to bring the offerings to Guru Hargobind by purchasing a horse. The Guru loved horses, so Sujan searched his own city of Kabul, and then traveled to other towns and cities, near and far, looking for the perfect horse for his spiritual master. Eventually he found a steed of such rare beauty, strain and speed, he considered it worthy of the Guru. Sujan purchased the animal for 10,000 rupees, but was concerned about how best to transport the animal. Careful to avoid the horse being seen as anything special, Sujan covered the animal with dirty clothes, and took him with 20 other horses destined for the Punjab marketplace.
The disguise failed. While waiting to cross the Indus River, the horse caught the eye of one official. Seeing the dignity of the animal beneath the dirty clothes, the official asked where it came from and where it was going. “This horse would make a wonderful gift for Emperor Jahangir,” he said. Sujan politely disagreed. “Any of these other horses are for sale and can be given as presents to the Emperor,” he told the official. “But this particular horse was purchased for Guru Hargobind. For the King of Kings, and is destined to be given to him as a gift.”
The official objected and levied argument after argument that the horse needed to go to the Emperor. But Sujan stoutly refused. Seeing that he would get nowhere trying to reason with the Sikh, the official immediately sent a letter to the Emperor telling him about the animal. “It is worthy of a monarch,” he wrote. “This Sikh is taking it to Guru Hargobind. My sincere advice is that you use any means necessary to secure ownership of the horse. It is an animal so rare and so beautiful its worth cannot be estimated.”
After reading the letter, Emperor Jahangir immediately dispatched some of his personal troops, along with an order that the horse should be secured for his possession – paying whatever price was asked by the owner, but taking the horse by force if necessary. Sujan, of course, refused to sell or give the horse to the Emperor’s men saying that the Guru had paid for the horse and so the horse rightfully belonged to Guru Hargobind. The Emperor’s men responded, “You can give any or all of these other horses to the Guru as a gift. But this particular horse belongs to the Emperor.” Powerless to fight them off, Sujan watched the Emperor’s men take away the prize horse that he had searched so long to find, that had been purchased with the offerings of the Sikhs as a gift for the Guru.
Dispossessed and despondent, Sujan continued his journey to Lahore where Guru Hargobind had taken temporary residence. Securing a meeting with the Guru, and visibly upset, Sujan told Guru Hargobind about the vast offerings of the Sikhs, of how he had searched so long and so far for a worthy horse to give as a gift; and how, after purchasing the horse for the Guru with the offerings, the Emperor’s men had stolen the animal. Guru Hargobind only smiled. It is reported that he predicted, “No one but me will ever ride the animal.”
In the court of Emperor Jahangir, the horse refused to eat or to drink. No one could mount it and day by day, the animal grew sicker and weaker. Every known medicine was tried, every distinguished veterinarian brought to advise – but nothing helped. Finally, when the horse was on the point of death, the head Muslim cleric in the Emperor’s court, Qazi Rustam Khan, proposed a possible solution. “If the Quran were read to the animal, my Lord, he might recover his health.” Having tried everything else, the Emperor surrendered the horse to Rustam Khan, noting that if the Qazi could heal him with his spiritual powers, then he could keep the horse as his own.
Notice, if you will, the powers at play in this moment of karma. In the moment of Dharma. An Emperor, the head Muslim judge of the Emperor’s course, and a gift for Guru Hargobind. The Universe pays no heed to what humans call great. It has its own purpose and moves by its own Spirit.
Rustam Khan was a deeply spiritual man in his own right, but proud and also a little bit afraid. It is easy to be rewarded for spiritual understanding – to be given status and power, wealth and profitable connections. Yet then how selectively blind one can become. Spiritual, but careful to preserve one’s position. Following religious law – but sometimes using that law to further one’s own personal agenda.
Rustam Khan had a daughter, recorded in history as Kaulan, who – like her father – possessed tremendous spiritual understanding. She was considered beautiful, kind and full of virtue. From an early age, she applied herself to spiritual study and apprenticed herself to Mian Mir, a highly respected Muslim saint. When Kaulan became a teenager, her parents tried to arrange a marriage for her. She kindly refused to marry. Instead, she spent her days meditating and praying in small quarters in her parents’ home. She only left the house to meet with her spiritual teacher, Mian Mir.
Rustam Khan did not like it that his daughter refused to marry. He especially did not approve of the company she kept – for the circle of Mian Mir and his spiritual contemporaries were not appropriate companions for the daughter of the Emperor’s highest judge. History does not record much about the dynamic between father and daughter, though there is brief mention in Macauliffe that he physically beat her. We can only guess at the emotional strain existing between the two: the father who was a high public religious figure, and the daughter – a quiet and humble mystic.
But back to the matter of the horse.
It is said that Rustam Khan and the horse walked past the tent of Guru Hargobind on the way to Rustam Khan’s house. And when the horse passed the Guru’s tent, it neighed – begging the Guru for help. Hearing the horse, and hearing the story of what had happened with the Emperor and the Qazi, Guru Hargobind sent for Rustam Khan. The Guru negotiated the purchase of the near-dead animal from the Qazi for another 10,000 rupees – to be paid at the Diwali Fair in Amritsar. Rustam Khan was delighted with the offer and handed the horse to the Guru.
Guru Hargobind led the horse to his stable. It is said that by simply patting the horse on the neck, the Guru restored the animal to health. The horse regained its appetite, its health and its tremendous beauty and strength. The next day and every day thereafter, Guru Hargobind could be seen riding and training the animal.
Rustam Khan, upon seeing this miracle, become envious and angry. Rather than waiting for Diwali to receive his payment of 10,000 rupees, the Qazi began to badger the Guru daily – demanding the price for the horse to be paid immediately.
Imagine, if you will, the insanity that began to take hold of Rustam Kahan’s mind. He had obtained the horse on the quiet boast that it might be restored to health if the Quran were read to it. Indeed, a spiritual medicine did bring the horse back from death – but it was the healing medicine of the Guru’s touch, instead. What kind of envy, how incensed Rustam Khan must have been that the miracle he had sought to work himself had, instead, been performed by another? And how much face did he lose that he didn’t even have the money in hand as compensation?
Complaining bitterly at home about the Guru, Rustam Khan’s daughter sought to soothe her father’s anger by praising the Guru’s virtue. Mian Mir and Guru Hargobind had spent some time together, and Mian Mir declared the Guru to be pure of heart. His words, Mian Mir said, carried a deep wisdom that left the listener transformed. That took them to a state beyond the doubts of their minds.
If her father had been frustrated at her unwillingness to marry, and angry with the company she kept, hearing his own daughter praise Guru Hargobind sent him into a fit of rage. He yelled at her, “You are an infidel. You are praising an infidel. You do not obey the law of Muhammad – because under that law – to praise an unbeliever is to carry the penalty of death.”
Kaulan replied, “Oh father. Dear father. Muhammad’s law does not apply to holy men. Just as it does not apply to me. It only applies to fools who don’t know anything else and can’t obey anything else. Saints are God’s servants. God obeys the saints – and they may do what they please. They have no reason to be concerned about the laws of Muhammad.”
Rustam Khan continued in his rage, and his daughter continued in the Guru’s defense. Finally, insane with anger, Rustam Khan left the house and convened a court of his fellow Muslim judges. That very day, he secured an order to have his own daughter put to death for praising an infidel and refusing to obey Muhammad’s law.
For days now, I have paused here. Wondering what to write next. This moment – this passage – touches me so deeply. In this disagreement between father and daughter we can see the entire fractured psyche of the human race when it comes to matters of wealth, power, influence, truth, love and daughters.
There is the ego of the man – or perhaps more fairly one should say – the ego of the one who holds the position of power. There is the perspective of the spirit of one who does not hold the power. There is a moment where spirit and ego clash. And then – there is a will to violence.
The father who cannot hear the voice of his daughter’s spirit. The judge who follows something blindly in order to preserve a tradition . The tradition that does not allow for the spirit to directly perceive the truth – but rather says – if you do not see things this particular way – you must be wrong, and the penalty for seeing things differently is to be: ostracized, abandoned, rejected, denied work, denied food, denied security, jailed, tortured, killed…
We see it all around us – in every court, every company, every country – this play being acted out. Where Spirit speaks truly. And truth is denied. Power used to silence it. And yes – let us say that in this Kali Yug, it can happen that the worst perpetrators of this silencing are sometimes those who do so in the name of religion.
As in the home, so in the society. What touches me most about Kaulan is how completely contemporary and relevant her plight is – though perhaps it was more deadly then than now. If the voice of the daughter speaks the truth. And the voice of the father comes from ego. And the daughter has to choose between violence and silence – what possible hope is there for the world? How can institutions of power function properly when the fundamental power relationship – the relationship between the vulnerable daughter and the father charged with a duty to protect – is trapped in this game?
Kaulan’s mother heard what her husband had done. She called her daughter to her and they went to Mian Mir. Mian Mir understood the seriousness of what had happened, and said to Kaulan, “There is no possible way we can save and protect you here. If you stay, you will be put to death by these tyrants, though you are innocent. It is better if you go to Amritsar and seek the protection of Guru Hargobind. In this time, there is no one but him who can save your life.” Kaulan agreed to what her teacher told her. Without wasting a moment, she packed her belongings, and with one of her spiritual companions, left for Amritsar.
How was Kaulan received at Amritsar? History doesn’t say. Funny enough, Macauliffe focused more attention on Rustam Khan’s fight with the Guru over the horse, than on the plight of a daughter who was sentenced to death by her own father. But let us imagine that is was both terrifying and exhilarating to take such a journey – from Lahore to Amritsar. That Kaulan may have been concerned about how she would survive, or how she would be received. And then coming upon the beauty of the Harimandir Sahib. Kirtan playing, people dipping in the waters and praying. Commerce and families surrounding the temple. Langar for all. Plenty of opportunity to do seva. It must have been a heady and amazing change from what she had experienced under her father’s roof. I wish I could imagine what it must have been like for her. But it doesn’t do her story justice to invent something. I can only write what it could have felt like if I had been in her shoes – but we are not the same.
What history does tell us is that Rustam Khan didn’t even bother to visit his home after his meeting with the court securing Kaulan’s sentence. Rather, around this time, Guru Hargobind left Lahore to return to Amritsar. Concerned about his 10,000 rupees, Rustam Khan pursued the Guru, following him on his journey, demanding the money. It was only when he arrived in Amritsar that he heard his daughter had fled Lahore and had come to live in the Guru’s city.
There are only two lines that describe what happened when the father heard that the daughter had left her home. Macauliffe writes. “Not long after the Qazi’s arrival in Amritsar he heard that his daughter was there. He besought her to return to her religion and her home, but she, exceedingly afraid of being put to death, did not at all desire to accompany him.”
She – “exceedingly afraid of being put to death” – why would she return home with her father? And what could he have been thinking? That he would rather see his daughter dead in her own hometown as a Muslim than alive, living a different religion, somewhere else?
In my mind, I try to picture this scene. Rustam Khan in Amritsar, seeing the temple of the Harimandir, hearing the kirtan, possibly even partaking in the langar. And then a rumor reaches him – how? From whom? That his daughter is there. “My daughter? Why would my daughter be here?” Searching for her – trying to find her. Seeing her in a crowd, or all alone praying. I see them talking – along the edges of the sarovar. The wind whipping her hair and her chuni. Defiant, hurt – looking up to a towering figure she had tried to communicate with all of her life – saying no. I will not go back with you. And he is a shadowy figure in my mind. I can only see the back of him – dressed in black – casting a shadow by his presence – with a long beard. Trying to command what he no longer has the authority to command. His daughter’s life. Because rather than protecting it, he forfeited it. And what we are given by the hand of God to protect, if we do not do our duty to protect to the best of our ability, then by the hand of God – we shall loose it.
Rustam Khan went back to Lahore, lamenting the loss of his daughter, complaining about the Guru, the horse, the money, reproached bitterly by his wife…
But Kaulan? What happened for her?
It is a truth that for the daughters of men – when their fathers’ limitations damage or destroy their daughters’ capacity to express their spirit – it can be catastrophic. Women who have deep insecurity and phobias as the result of an imbalanced relationship with their own fathers have a difficult time trusting Akal Purakh – the Divine Father, the Deathless Protector. And when a woman has no sense of the Divine as her protector, she will move to create her security from her own ego. In that wounded sickness, of using her ego to create her security, a lot of pain can come to her – and to those associated with her.
It is a wound so deep – there is no medical science that can understand it, and no psychological science is competent to heal it. But for those who have the fortune to walk the Guru’s path, there is a spiritual cure. To create forgiveness for that earthly father who, by his karma, could only do what he could do. And to open up to being truly protected – protected body, mind and spirit, by the love of the Guru.
Guru Hargobind took over the role of spiritual guide and counselor from Mian Mir. Under his guidance, Kaulan learned to meditate and sing the teachings songs of the Sikhs. Guru Hargobind instructed that a separate building be built for her as living quarters, and told her not to worry. She could spend her time as she pleased. In her home in Lahore, Kaulan spent hours in deep meditation and prayer. In her new home in the Guru’s court, she continued her routine of study and meditation. It is said that when Guru Hargobind saw her continual dependence on the Divine, he was deeply pleased with Kaulan’s devotion. And in order to protect that devotion, to give it shelter so it could flourish, he took care of her completely.
This, then, is the moment of total healing. To lose one father – but to gain another. To lose the protector who was conditional and willing to destroy a life. And to gain the one who Protects the journey of the spirit, the longing of the soul. Who Protects truth. Who protects Love.
One day, Kaulan approached Guru Hargobind with a simple request. She had taken jewels with her from her home – and seeing how she was completely taken care of by the Guru for the rest of her life – she laid those jewels at the Guru’s feet. With her hands folded, she humbly asked. “Friend of the poor, would you be so kind as to apply the price of these jewels to the creation of some spiritual project which could serve the sangat? And by whose creation – my name might be remember for a while in the world?”
There is a tank in Amritsar, named Kaulsar (according to Macauliffe), built through the jewels given to Guru Hargobind by Kaulan. Its construction began in AD 1621.
And let us be very honest – if it were not for the creation of this tank – her story might have disappeared from the history of the Sikhs for good. It makes one wonder how many other stories about women and the Gurus have been lost.
Seven years after the excavation of the tank in Amritsar, Kaulan became ill. Ever her Protector, Guru Hargobind came to see her. She was so weak, she could hardly speak. Guru Hargobind could see that she had only another day to live – another 24 hours. As she lay there, weak in body, with little voice, he took her through the experience of her life. How lucky she was, it is reported he said, that she left the company of people who had no sense to see the Divine. How fortunate that she had come into the company of the Guru and the Sikhs to meditate and pray. With his compassion, he guided her to assess her life and see that there was no reason to feel pain about leaving her family – but only joy at how her life had been transformed.
Then, he began to give her spiritual instructions that would guide her through the last 24 hours of her life. He directed her to keep meditating and reflecting on the Akal Moorat – on the deathless spirit that lived within her. Death could not touch her spirit, her awareness – it was only an illusion. For the next 24 hours, the Guru instructed, she should do nothing but meditate on the Creator, and stay present with that Deathless Awareness inside of herself. He promised that he would come at the moment of her departure.
Twenty-four hours later, as he had promised, Guru Hargobind returned to Kaulan’s side. Macauliffe’s account of Kaulan’s death is too moving re-write. So let me just share with you what he wrote.
“The Guru proceeded to Kaulan’s apartments and addressed her consolatory words. ‘Be ready. Prepare thyself. Thine hour hath come. Dismiss all consideration for thy body and fix thine attention on God, who is unborn and imperishable. The world is unreal and only shineth with His light. The soul is pure, real, conscious, happy. As long as man is proud of his body he is subject to birth and death. But when he hath obtained divine knowledge and passed beyond the bounds of love and hate, then he obtaineth deliverance.’
When Kaulan, after meditating on the Guru’s instruction, again opened her eyes, she addressed her last words to the Guru. ‘I thank thee! I thank thee! O patron of the homeless that I found shelter in thee. Thou didst in a moment confer on me the position which Jogis for years vainly strive to attain. Thou didst dispel the ignorance which hung over my millions of births like an inveterate disease.’ She then fixed her attention on God, repeated ‘Waheguru,’ and heaving her last breath departed to the heaven of her aspirations. The Guru ordered her maids and manservant to prepare her for the last rites. Her maids bathed her and clothed her in a shroud and costly shawl. While the minstrel sang the Guru’s hymns, her body was removed to the garden attached to her dwelling and there cremated. The Sohila was read and prayers offered for the repose of her soul.”
Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.
Ek Ong Kaar Kaur