The tenth and the last Guru or Prophet-teacher of the Sikh faith, was born Gobind Rai Sodhi on Poh 7, 1723 sk/22 December 1666 at Patna, in Bihar. His father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Guru, was then travelling across Bengal and Assam. Returning to Patna in 1670, he directed his family to return to the Punjab. On the site of the house at Patna in which Gobind Rai was born and where he spent his early childhood now stands a sacred shrine, Takht Sri Harimandar Sahib, one of the five most honoured seats of religious authority (takht, lit. throne) for the Sikhs. Gobind Rai was escorted to Anandpur (then known as Chakk Nanaki)on the foothills of the Sivaliks where he reached in March 1672 and where his early education included reading and writing of Punjabi, Braj, Sanskrit and Persian. He was barely nine years of age when a sudden turn came in his life as well as in the life of tile community he was destined to lead. Early in 1675, a group Kashmiri Brahmans, drivels to desperation by the religious fanaticism of the Mughals General, Iftikar Khan, visited Anandpur to seek Guru Tegh Bahadur's intercession. As the Guru sat reflecting what to do, young Gobind Rai, arriving there in company with his playmates, asked Why he looked so preoccupied. The father, as records Kuir Singh in his Gurbilas Patshahi 10, replied, "Grave are the burdens the earth bears. She will be redeemed only if a truly worthy person comes forward to lay down his head. Distress will then be expunged and happiness ushered in." "None could be worthier than yourself to make such a sacrifice," remarked Gobind Rai in his innocent manner. Guru Tegh Bahadur soon aftenwards proceeded to the imperial capital, Delhi, and courted death on 11 November 1675.
Guru Gobind Singh was formally installed Guru on the Baisakhi day of 1733 Bk/29 March 1676. In the midst of his engagement with the concerns of the community, he gave attention to the mastery of physical skills and literary accomplishment. He had grown into a comely youth spare, lithe of limb and energetic. He had a natural genius for poetic composition and his early years were assiduously given to this pursuit. The Var Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki, popularly called Chandi di Var. written in 1684, was his first composition and his only major work in the Punjabi language. The poem depicted the legendary contest between the gods and the demons as described in the Markandeya Purana . The choice of a warlike theme for this and a number of his later compositions such as the two Chandi Charitras, mostly in Braj, was made to infuse martial spirit among his followers to prepare them to stand up against injustice and tyranny.
Much of Guru Gobind Singh's creative literary work was done at Paonta he had founded on the banks of the River Yamuna and to which site he had temporarily shifted in April 1685. Poetry as such was, however, not his aim. For him it was a means of revealing the divine principle and concretizing a personal vision of the Supreme Being that had been vouchsafed to him. His Japu and the composition known as Akal Ustati are in this tenor. Through his poetry he preached love and equality and a strictly ethical and moral code of conduct. He preached the worship of the One Supreme Being, deprecating idolatry and superstitious beliefs and observances. The glorification of the sword itself which he eulogized as Bhaguati was to secure fulfilment of God'sjustice. The sword was never meant as a symbol of aggression, and it was never to be used for self-aggrandizement. It was the emblem of manliness and self-respect and was to be used only in self-defence, as a last resort. For Guru Gobind Singh said in a Persian couplet in his Zafarnamah:
When all other means have failed,
It is but lawful to take to the sword.
Guru Gobind Singh's two younger sons, Zorawar Singh (b. 1696) and Fateh Singh (b.1699), and his mother, Mata Gujari, were after the evacuation of Anandpur betrayed by their old servant and escort, Gangu, to the faujdar of Sirhind, who had the young children executed on 13 December 1705. Their grandmother died the same day. Befriended by another Muslim admirer, Ral Kalha of Raikot, Guru Gobind Singh reached Dina in the heart of the Malva. There he enlisted a few hundred warriors of the Brar clan, and also composed his famous letter, Zafarnamah or the Epistle of Victory, in Persian verse, addressed to Emperor Aurangzeb. The letter was a severe indictment of the Emperor and his commanders who had perjured their oath and treacherously attacked him once he was outside the safety of his fortification at Anandpur. It emphatically reiterated the sovereignty of morality in the affairs of State as much as in the conduct of human beings and held the means as important as the end. Two of the Sikhs, Daya Singh and Dharam Singh, were despatched with the Zafarnamah to Ahmadnagar in the South to deliver it to Aurangzeb, then in camp in that town.
From Dina, Guru Gobind Singh continued his westward march until, finding the host close upon his heels, he took position astride the water pool of Khidrana to make a last-ditch stand. The fighting on 29 December 1705 was hard and desperate. In spite of their overwhelming numbers, the Mughal troops failed to capture the Guru and had to retire in defeat. The most valorous part in this battle was played by a group of 40 Sikhs who had deserted the Guru at Anandpur during the long siege, but who, chided by their womenfolk at home, had come back under the leadership of a brave and devoted woman, Mai Bhago, to redeem themselves. They had fallen fighting desperately to check the enemy's advance towards the Guru's position. The Guru blessed the 40 dead as 40 mukte, i.e. the 40 Saved Ones. The site is now marked by a sacred shrine and tank and the town which has grown around them is called Muktsar, the Pool of liberations.
After spending some time in the Lakkhi Jungle country, Guru Gobind Singh arrived at Talvandi Sabo, now called Damdama Sahib, on 20 January 1706. During his stay there of over nine months, a number of Sikhs rejoined him. He prepared a fresh recension of Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, with the celebrated scholar, Bhai Mani Singh, as his amanuensis. From the number of scholars who had rallied round Guru Gobind Singh and from the literary activity initiated, the place came to be known as the Guru's Kashi or seat of learning like Varanasi.
The epistle Zafarnamah sent by Guru Gobind Singh from Dina seems to have touched the heart of Emperor Aurungzeb. He forthwith invited him for a meeting. According to Ahkam-i-Alamgiri, the Emperor had a letter written to the deputy governor of Lahore, Munim Khan, to conciliate the Guru and make the required arrangements for his journey to the Deccan. Guru Gobind Singh had, however, already left for the South on 30 October 1706. He was in the neighbourhood of Baghor, in Rajasthan, when the news arrived of the death of the Emperor at Ahmadnagar on 20 February 1707. The Guru there upon decided to return to the Punjab, via Shahjahanabad (Delhi) . That was the time when the sons of the deceased Emperor were preparing to contest succession. Guru Gobind Singh despatched for the help of the eldest claimant, the liberal Prince Muazzam, a token contingent of Sikhs which took part in the battle of Jajau (8 June 1707), decisively won by the Prince who ascended the throne with the title of Bahadur Shah. The new Emperor invited Guru Gobind Singh for a meeting which took place at Agra on 23 July 1707.
Emperor Bahadur Shah had at this time to move against the Kachhvaha Rajputs of Amber (Jaipur) and then to the Deccan where his youngest brother, Kam Baksh, had raised the standard of revolt. The Guru accompanied him and, as says Tarzkh-i-Bahadur Shahi, he addressed assemblies of people on the way preaching the word of Guru Nanak. The two camps crossed the River Tapti between 11 and 14 June 1708 and the Ban-Ganga on 14 August, arriving at Nanded, on the Godavari, towards the end of August. While Bahadur Shah proceeded further South, Guru Gobind Singh decided to stay awhile at Nanded. Here he met a Bairagi recluse, Madho Das, whom he converted a Sikh administering to him the vows of the Khalsa, renaming him Gurbakhsh Singh (popular name Banda Singh ). Guru Gobind Siligh gave Banda Singh five arrows from his own quiver and an escort, including five of his chosen Sikhs, and directed him to go to the Punjab and carry on the campaign against the tyranny of the provincial overlords.