Only a few individuals in history can be held both as great warriors and great saints. Mata Bagh Kaur is one of those few. She is known as the ferocious warrior that fought against the Mughals. And she is also reserved as a saint by the Sikh community. She is also called Mai Bhago in the Punjabi language, translating as ‘mother lioness’.
She was born in a traditional family of Sikh warriors. Her father was a soldier in the army of Guru Hargobind. She grew up learning sword fighting, horse riding, and archery. She also learned shastra vidya, which means the education of weapons and fighting styles. In her late teen years, she got inducted into the guru Gobind Singh army. Two of her older brothers were already a part of it. A year later she got married to Nidhan Singh, who was also a part of the army.
It was a period when the Mughal empire was ruled by the cruel Aurangzeb. Unlike his ancestor, Auranbzeb had no tolerance for other religions. He was on a conquest to destroy the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh was under constant threat from the Mughals. Though the Sikh army was brave and loyal, they were no match for the mighty Mughals. Hence, Guru Gobind was always on the go, never settling anywhere. This also served as a way to spread his message of Sikhism across the nation.
One time while on road, Guru Gobind Singh along with his followers was trapped by the Mughal regiment. The Mughal regiment offered harmless retrieval to anyone who would denounce Sikhism. Forty of Guru Gobind’s men gave up his leadership and ran away.
Somehow Guru Gobind Singh and his men successfully escaped but they had the Mughals on their tail.
The news of these events reached Bagh Kaur. She led a unit of the army to help Guru Gobind Singh. On their way, they met the group of forty men who had betrayed Guru Gobind. Bagh Kaur gave an inspiring talk to them. She insisted they come back and help fight against the Mughals. Most of those men were from the same village as Bagh Kaur. Her words represented the words their family would say once they reached home. Inspired and motivated they were tagged along with Kaur’s army.
In the middle of their journey, they met the Mughals. They had the higher grounds and hence decided to attack. Bagh Kaur knew that they would give Guru Gobind ample time to reach a safe territory despite the result. The battle started early in the morning. Kaur’s army rained arrows from the higher position and Mughals had nowhere to hide. Mughals dealt heavy damages but soon backed away from the ranges of Kaur’s arrows. As the sun went down the Mughals attacked. They outnumbered the Sikh army and arrows became useless at night. By the next morning, the battle was lost by Kaur’s men.
After knowing this event, Guru Gobind returned with a bigger army to the site of the battle. All of them were dead, except Kaur and the leader of 40 betrayers. Soon after telling the entire chain of the event he too died on the lap of Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind was moved by their sacrifice and named them ‘Chali Mukte’, the liberated ones. He also took Kaur with him to his ashram. Kaur had lost her husband and her brothers in the same battle.
After recovering from her wound, Kaur spent a lot of time with Guru Gobind. He taught her about the spirituality and philosophies of Sikhism. Soon Bagh Kaur started meditating for long hours. She declared herself a sanyasi and gave up on food, clothes, and shelter. But Guru Gobind Singh convinced her to complete her duty as a warrior first. She became part of the personal bodyguards of Guru Gobind Singh. The only woman to ever do so.
Guru Gobind Singh was the last Sikh Guru to ever live. After his death, Bagh Kaur chose the life of a saint. She went south, away from the Mughals, and started teaching the principles of Sikhism. She spent the majority of her later life in Bihar. Today a tower of a war memorial in honor of her stands in Nanded, Maharashtra.