Indian history is replete with stories of great women warriors, who have taken up the sword to fight for a cause. One such great warrior was Mai Bhago, also known as Mata Bhag Kaur, who became immortalized in Sikh history, after she led a group of 40 Sikh warriors, against the 10,000 strong Mughal army in the Battle of Muktsar in 1705. Later, she even served as a bodyguard to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, during his exile in Nanded, in Maharashtra.
Mai Bhago persuaded 40 Sikh warriors from her village to return to the battlefield.
We know very little about Mai Bhago’s early history. What we do know is that she was the only daughter of a prominent landowner named Bhai Mallo Shah, from Jhabal Kalan village in the present day district of Amritsar in Punjab. Her parents were staunch Sikhs, and would frequently take her to Anandpur, where Guru Gobind Singh resided.
Mai Bhago makes a sudden appearance in historic records around 1704-5 CE. Alarmed by the rising power of the Sikhs, the Mughals aided by the Pahadi (hill) Rajas of Himachal had launched a joint attack on Anandpur, the seat of the Sikh Guru. When Anandpur was under siege, a group of 40 Sikh men from Mai Bhago’s village, were not permitted by the Guru to fight the Mughals, and hence returned to their native village. Mai Bhago, on hearing of this, berated these men and persuaded them to return to the battlefield.
Meanwhile, in Anandpur, there was turmoil. Guru Gobind Singh had evacuated the besieged citadel on the promise that his men would get a safe exit, but in the confusion that followed, a large number of his followers and well as his sons were killed. With just a handful of surviving followers, Guru Gobind Singh took up position on a hillock overlooking a pond in the Khidrana village of Ferozepur district of Punjab. Here, he was joined by Mai Bhago , who was leading the band of 40 men.
Mai Bhago settled down in Jinvara in the Bidar district of Karnataka and today there is a Gurudwara where her hut once stood
Guru Gobind Singh’s followers decided to make a last stand in Khidrana. In May 1705, the 250 strong Sikh force led by Mai Bhago and her 40 followers, launched an attack on the 10,000 strong Mughal army, that was in hot pursuit. Mai Bhago was the sole survivor from the Sikh side, and was found injured in the battlefield. Touched by the sacrifice of Mai Bhago’s band of 40 strong warriors, Guru Gobind Singh blessed the martyrs as ‘Chali Mukte’ or ‘the forty liberated ones’. The Khidrana pond from then, came to be called ‘Muktsar’ or the ‘Pond of the liberated’.
Guru Gobind Singh nursed the badly wounded Mai Bhago back to her health. She was among his many followers who accompanied him in exile to Nanded and became his loyal bodyguard. After the demise of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708 CE, Mai Bhago settled down in Jinvara in the Bidar district of Karnataka. While we do know that she lived to ripe old age, we don’t know exactly when she passed away.
Today, there is a Gurudwara in Jinvara, exactly where her hut once stood.
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