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Baba Bakala, Guru Teg Bahadar and the 22 Impostors

Makhan Shah Outwits 22 Impostors to Find the Ninth Guru

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Gurdwara Bhora Sahib Bakala

Gurdwara Bhora Sahib on right side erected where Guru Teg Bahadar meditated for 26 years and 9 months, before being discovered by Makhan Shah in Bakala.

Photo © [Vikram Singh Khalsa, Magician Extraordinaire]

Makhan Shah the Trader

Makhan Shah was a seafaring merchant in the 17th century and traded along the Northern Coast of India from Deccan to the Gulf of Khambhant. He and his father Naaik Daasae Shah were of the Lubana Clan from Tanda, a village in located in the present day Muzaffarabad province of Jammu, Kashmir. They received Guru Har Rai in their home in the year 1660, when the seventh Guru had toured their province, and were devoted Sikhs. Makhan Shah had given his support to the child Har Krishan of the Sodhi line when he had been appointed to succeed Har Rai as eighth guru. After tending to the needs of those suffering an epidemic in Delhi, the compassionate Guru Har Rai had succumbed to small pox and perished alongside the Yamuna River bank while Makhan Shah had been at sea. Guru Har Krishan had indicated that his Uncle Teg Bahadar Sodhi should succeed him, uttering as his final words, "Baba Bakala, meaning the elder in Bakala." Teg Bahadar had visited the young Guru in Delhi and departed for Bakala just before the Guru had taken sick. A delegation had been sent to Bakala to carry out the inauguration of Teg Bahadar however the situation was in an uproar. No less than 22 impostors had set up in Bakala claiming to be Guru. Makhan Shah had just arrived in Bakala to see the Guru on a particular personal mission.

The Storm and Sinking Ship

Just weeks before, Makhan Shah had been on the deck of his ship peering into the gloom through blinding rain. A howling gale tossed his ship about in a turbulent sea. Wind had torn at his turban and salt spray soaked his beard. A wave had broken over the craft knocking him to his knees and washing barrels of merchandise overboard. He could hear surf pounding against the rocky shore. The men sailing with him fought to lower the sails before the boat capsized. Another wave had poured over the ship, the men cried out as it swept them off of their feet. The planking twisted and groaned. It had seemed as though his ship would be torn apart even before being driven upon the rocks. The pounding of his heart had drowned out the pounding of the waves for a moment. Makhan Shah had thought of his Guru. His lips had formed a prayer of their own accord while his mind clasped the Guru’s feet. “Guru Nanak, Lehna Angad, Amar Das, Raam Das, Arjun, Har Gobind, Har Rai, Har Krishan, servants of omnipotent divine. Please spare me that I might make of myself an offering and carry to Thee what is Thine.” The litany had calmed him as he prepared to meet his end. The winds and sea had also been calmed. His craft had risen on the crest of a wave as though uplifted from the depths, and had been carried safely to harbor.

The Impostors

When he had safely come to shore, Makhan Shah had set out immediately to meet the Guru only to learn of the circumstances in Bakala. He learned that although there had been an inauguration ceremony held Guru Teg Bahadar Sodhi that the Guru had taken no steps to denounce the impostors and so they remained. He had discovered Dhir Mal Sodhi, the late Guru Har Rai’s elder brother, to be chief among the pretenders. Other Sodhis had also made claims hoping to get a following. Makhan Shah had with him several hundred gold mohars which he intended as an offering of tribute to the Guru and devised a plan. He let it be known that he had come with an offering for the true Guru. He then made the rounds visiting each of the impostors by turn accompanied by curious onlookers. Each welcomed Makhan Shah and gladly received his token offering as their rightful tribute.

Is There Another Sodhi?

When he had visited every one of the pretenders, Makhan Shan inquired of the town’s people whether he might not find yet another Sodhi in Bakakla. A boy stepped forward and told him that a Sodhi by the name of Teg Bahadar who was the youngest son of Sixth Guru Har Govind, lived on the outskirts of town, but that he had made no claim to the throne of guru. Makhan Shah insisted that he be taken to meet Teg Bahadar. When he arrived at Teg Bahadar’s home, the Guru’s mother Nankee greeted Makhan Shah and the town’s people who accompanied him. She told them that her son spent his days in contemplation and had no wish to be disturbed by the intrigue going on in the town. Makhan Shah pleaded to be allowed to see Teg Bahadar as he had come on a personal mission from the Coast.

The True Guru

Teg Bahadar agreed to receive the merchant. Makhan Shah approached Teg Bahadar respectfully and placed a token offering at his feet. Teg Bahadar inquired of Makhan Shah that if he had disturbed his meditations to offer him gold after coming from so far away, why he had not offered all he had intended to give. Makhan Shah then emptied his purse at the Guru’s feet. He then respectfully inquired of the Guru why he had not made public his position. The Guru bared his shoulder and revealed bruises. He reminded Makhan Shah that he had not been remiss as he done his duty as Guru in saving his men and ship, but that he had no need of public recognition. Makhan Shah insisted that all of the people had a right to know their Guru and the Teg Bahadar should put an end to all the confusion caused by the pretenders. The Guru replied that it blackened the face of a man to make the throne of the Guru a public display for collecting alms. Makhan Shah took ashes from the Guru’s fire and applied them to his face. He showed the Guru that nothing could diminish the radiance and joy he felt in his Guru’s presence. Makhan Shah climbed to the rooftop and cried out to the town’s people that he had found the true ninth Guru of the Sikhs and told them all which had passed. He called out again and again saying that all others are false. I have found the one and only true Guru residing in the person of Guru Teg Bahadar.

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