It is time’s own secret when Subeg Singh was born, but we know that the place of his birth was the Jagīr Rāi Bhāgā of the village Jambar in the district of Lāhaur, whose he Zamīndār was to become later on. Subeg Singh was well versed in Persian and Arabic, which he started learning as a young child, and he was very fond of knowledge and scholarship in general. But what really made him stand out were his charity and his compassion, both of which transcended the limits of his community of faith.
For some time Subeg Singh worked in Lāhaur as Kotvāl. People appreciated him for his sense of justice and his love of peace with everyone, and so something happened which at that time was very unusual: Zakarīā Ḳhān, the governor of Lāhaur, respected him and also took him into his service. And he did so for a good reason, for Zakarīā Ḳhān had many problems with the Khālsā Panth.
As so many Muslim rulers before, during and after his time he had made it his mission to eradicate the Sikhs, and for that reason many Sikhs, especially those versed in the art of war, had retreated into the deep forests. Others preferred dry river beds, impassable canyons or life in the desert, beneath the searing sun. What they all had in common was their constant alertness with respect to the enemy, who could attack them at any time, and their determination to once and for all drive the conquerors from the Northeast out of their country. Thus, all of Zakarīā Ḳhān’s attempts to move closer towards his goal even one little bit had failed. As the Sikh community could not be destroyed and the Ḳhān was worried about the general peace of the Pañjāb, he changed his mind and asked the rulers in Dillī for permission to submit a plan for peace to the Sikhs. He gained permission to do so, and it was precisely for this plan that he needed Bhāī Subeg Singh Jī, who acted as mediator and offered the Sikhs a share of one Lakh of the taxes in the areas of Kanganpur, Jhapal and Dayālpur, as well as precious formal clothes like those of a king and the title of Navāb for their Jathedār. In return for this generous offer they were to abandon all hostile acts and intentions towards the government. But the Khālsā refused, for they had been lied to and cheated by the tyrants too many times. Darbārā Singh, one of their leaders, added:
“Gurū Gobind Singh said that the Sikhs would establish their just rule in the Pañjāb.”
Subeg Singh Jī was not a man to resign quickly, and he asked the assembled Sikhs to accept at least the offer of a truce – a truce advantageous to themselves, not to others, for in this phase of quiet and peace, which they needed so badly, they could improve their organisation so as to be ready for difficult times in the future. Once he had brought the faltering Sikhs over to his side with respect to the truce, he carried on and, thanks to his abilities as a negotiator, finally managed to get them to agree to most of the offers the government had made. The Khālsā asked Kapūr Singh, who at that time operated the fans to effect some cooling to the community from the searing heat, to accept the princely robes and the title of Navāb, and so he became Navāb Kapūr Singh, who was to play an important role in the Sikh chronicles.
Zakarīā Ḳhān was full of praise and gratitude for Bhāī Subeg Singh Jī’s successful peace negotations. But the peace was build on sand and started to crumble when the Ḳhān reverted to his old evil game of destroying the Sikhs. And so they returned to whence they had come: to safe forests, to sandy riverbeds, to deep canyons and to the wastelands of the desert.
Subeg Singh Jī had a son called Śāhbāz Singh. He was so beautiful and lovely and had such a gracious shape that everyone was overjoyed at seeing him. But Śāhbāz Singh Jī had also been blessed with a noble mind and great intelligence. His father and his mother had begun to instruct him in their religion, Sikhism, while he was still a child, so that as a young man he had deep knowledge of many things. Knowledge can only be made perfect by observing many things and foreign things, and so his parents taught him about Islām and Hindūism and sent him to a Kāzī to study the Persian language. The Kāzī was deeply impressed with Śāhbāz Singh’s character and his appearance and eagerly wanted to marry him to one of his daughters – but to do that, Śāhbāz Singh first had to convert to Islām. Therefore the Kāzī, during all the hours that the youth spent with him to study Persian, started talking to Śāhbāz Singh about the advantages of Islām. And as the Kāzī had only his own intentions in mind, he sooner or later began to vilify other religions, including Sikhism. But the drops of spiritual poison did not enter Śāhbāz Singh’s mind, for as he was too loyally devoted to his VĀHIGURŪ JĪ and as his parents, whom he told everything that happened in the Kāzī’s house, had instructed him so well, he could counter all the advantages of Islām with the advantages of Sikhism.
Unrequited love often turns into hatred, and the Kāzī was no exception to this. When he saw that all his attempts to convert the handsome youth to Islām remained unsuccessful, he turned against him. He went so far that one day he threatened to go to Zakarīā Ḳhān and accuse Śāhbāz Singh and his father of blasphemy if he would not accept Islām. An innocent heart cannot believe a thing like that, for it is without malice. But the Kāzī really went to see Zakarīā Ḳhān and charged Subeg Singh Jī and Śāhbāz Singh Jī with denouncing Islām. At that time Sikhs had no chance of being judged fairly, even if they were in the right. But the Kāzī seemed not even to trust his own wickedness, for he contacted the Divān of Lāhaur, Lakhpat Rāe, who was known for his profound loathing of the Sikhs, and together they wrote a long list of accusations. This happened in 1745, and one source reports that the first accusation referred back to the year 1733.
Many human beings are paid for their good works with ingratitude. When Zakarīā Ḳhān had the list of accusations in his hands, he did not side with Subeg Singh, whose moral value he knew well and who had worked so hard to reconcile the Muslims with the Sikhs, but turned against him and his son and ordered them to be arrested and confined in separate prison cells.
So the father and the son did not know of each other’s fate, and after some time Śāhbāz Singh, who was barely eighteen, was told that his father had been found guilty of blasphemy and executed, but that he himself could be saved by accepting Islām. When Śāhbāz Singh heard the news of his father’s death, a shiver ran through his body. His blood left his rosy cheeks, but he braided his tears into a pale band which he kept hidden from his enemies. When he was alone again, Śāhbāz Singh Jī raked his mind over his father’s dead, and when his mind gave way, the voice of the heart started telling him very quietly that his beloved father was still alive. He became calm again and regained his strength, for he knew that the voice of the heart never fails. The news of his father’s death was only a ploy to force him to accept Islām. He thanked GOD and stayed with him in prayer. On the other hand, Subeg Singh Jī had been told that his son had become a Muslim. Without hesitating, he answered:
“I cannot leave my faith.”
On July 1, 1745 Zakarīā Ḳhān died unexpectedly. He was succeeded by his son Yahiā Ḳhān, who was even more hostile towards the Sikhs. Yahiā Ḳhān had Subeg Singh and Śāhbāz Singh brought in front of him to pass judgement on them, and so father and son saw each other again. Tired and haggard, but firm in their faith, they refused to convert to Islām even when they were threatened with being tortured to death. They had accepted the inevitable a long time ago in their dungeon and had spent their time reciting sacred songs from Gurū Granth Sāhib Jī and thinking of all the martyrs who had gone this painful path before them. When Yahiā Ḳhān realized that father and son could not be won for Islām, he asked the Kāzī what would be a just punishment. The Kāzī suggested death on the wheel, which was accepted by Yahiā Ḳhān without hesitation.
Subeg Singh and Śāhbāz Singh are chained to a large wheel, back to back, head downwards. Next to them stands the wheel with the large sharp blades that are to tear them up. Again they are asked:
“Do you accept Islām?”
The executioners start turning the wheels. When the razor-sharp blades start cutting into their heads, they both scream:
Their screams are so full of pain that they set everyone’s teeth on edge. And the wind, which also hears their inhuman cries, has no voice to carry their pain upwards to heaven.
Turning the wheels with the condemned men on them so they can be mauled by the knives is hard and tiring work for the executioners. What has destroyed their song so much that they are willing to do this work and have quenched all pity within themselves? What makes them so numb and unfeeling towards their victims’ pains that they are able to carry on with their horrible actions? It is the deed of lost souls. Slowly, slowly the wheels turn. Blade by blade they cut up Subeg Singh’s and Śāhbāz Singh’s bodies. Again the Kāzī has the wheels stopped. Asks. Hopes. What for? There is no way back for the brave Sikhs. So the Kāzī has the wheels set in motion again. Unleashed pain runs through the two men’s bodies as the blades again cut into skin, flesh and bones.
Minutes turn to hours during which their innocent blood runs into the bottomless bowl of eternity.
“AKĀL! AKĀL!” the silent gawking crowd, whose faces remain unmoved as if of stone, hears them scream. Here and there a tear rolls and is wiped away quickly, furtively. The eyes of the lord of darkness are everywhere, and showing pity may mean one’s own death.
An inward scream, a plead that only HE hears:
„ VĀHIGURŪ JĪ! Will it never stop? O YOU my GOD! Have mercy! this pain…it…is…a…wheel of fire.”
Again and again the wheel’s blades cut into wounded flesh. Somewhere, behind walls, mothers are crying. Maybe also the judges’ and executioners’ mothers cry about having given birth to such monsters.
A final agony runs through Subeg Singh Jī’s and Śāhbāz Singh Jī’s maimed bodies, a spasmodic rattling breath, a final scream, already dying away:
It is over. The condemned men’s souls float above the place of horror. Pain, blood and the stench of death have ceased to be. Suddenly there is a light, brighter and more golden than the sails of the heavenly sun bark. HIS light! It is HIS light that enfolds father and son, dries their tears with infinite gentleness and heals all their wounds. The indescribable light, the redeeming light becomes one with Subeg Singh Jī and Śāhbāz Singh Jī and carries them into the midst of VĀHIGURŪ JĪ’s loving heart.
The atrocious execution that made Bhāī Subeg Singh Jī and Bhāī Śāhbāz Singh go down as Śahīds in the history of the Sikhs took place on March 10, 1746. The news of the execution spread like wildfire, and many Sikhs left their hiding-places, taking their arms with them, and in their rage entered Lāhaur to retaliate upon the rulers. Then they retreated again. They were unable to catch Divān Lakhpat Rāe, who had told influential Hindus who had asked him for mercy for the innocent Sikhs:
“Even if GOD himself came and wanted to forbid me, I would not stop.”
There can hardly be greater blasphemy against one’s own GOD. GOD, and also one’s own GOD, does not approve of shedding the innocents’ blood.
“Vengeance is mine”, GOD says.