Sikh Guru Game Hunters


The portrait on the left is that of the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, from the British Library: “He is shown on horseback, followed by a hunting dog and attendants.” [1]

The crucial word in the above quote, around which this article will revolve, is ‘hunting’.

Due to their acclaimed magnanimity, righteousness, fairness, justice and humanity, the 10 Gurus are revered by all practicing Sikhs. Hence, all Sikhs must regard these 10 moral standard-bearers as the beau ideal to be followed and emulated.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the so-called “Living Guru”, states in no uncertain terms:

Jeea badh-hu su dharam kar thaaphu, adharam kaih-hu kat bhaaee.
Aapas kao munivar kar thaphu, ka kao kaih-hu kaasaaee?

You kill living beings, and call it a righteous action. Tell me, brother, what would you call an unrighteous action? If you religious people are doing ‘religious’ killing for meat, then what is Adharam (atheism)? If you are a religious person then whom will we call a butcher?
(SGGS 1103)

Kabeer joree keeeae julam hai kahataa naau halaal.
Kabeer, to use force is tyranny, even if you call it legal.
(SGGS 1374)

Kabeer jor keeaa so julam hai le-i jabaab khudaai.
Kabeer, it is tyranny to use force; the Lord will call you to account.
(SGGS 1375)

Guru Gobind Singh Hunting Lion Islam Sikhism
10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, on horse back accompanied by both his hunting dog and hawk (Courtesy: British Library).

Emphatic proclamations! The contention is that the Lord will bring any and all forms of tyranny to account. This includes killing living beings, which is akin not just to actions of unrighteousness, but also belief in atheism – disbelief in God Himself.

We wish to see, however, whether these stern warnings are also applicable to those who cruelly hunt animals not for food, but simply for play and amusement.

It is our contention that contrary to claims that the Gurus were a paragon of virtue in upholding the rights of all living things, the reality, however, is that they were, in fact, addicted to the leisurely pursuit of tracking and hunting animals without any justifiable reason.

Our intention is to show that it is Islam rather than Sikhism that has afforded and legislatively enshrined proper rights for animals.

Let the Hunt Begin

It is an undisputed fact that some of these Gurus were involved in hunting animals.

According to the May 1995 issue of ‘The Sikh Review’:

Guru Hargobind, the Sixth Nanak, implemented these ideas, transforming his Sikhs into harbingers of Justice, who paid allegiance only to the Laws of Akal Purakh. One cannot always fight oppression or become sovereign politically without physical strength. The eleven year old Guru announced: ‘If you want to earn my blessing, do physical exercise, relish the game of fencing, acquire skill in horse-riding, and go to the woods for hunting.’ (bold ours) [2]

Although it is admirable that a standing-army be physically honed and ready to fight oppression, it is far from admirable if that physical strength is attained and maintained at the expense of the lives of defenceless animals. What is more, it is condemnable that an eleven year old boy not be corrected and disciplined for encouraging others to participate in woodland hunting expeditions especially when “Guru Hargobind had started joining hunting parties even in the life time of his father”. [3] And who was his father? None other than his predecessor: Guru Arjun Dev. Since Hargobind both encouraged and participated in this leisure, it stands to reason, thus, that his proud father Arjun Dev must have tacitly approved of his son’s actions.

In fact, Guru Hargobind and his fellow Sikhs must have made this quite a habit since according to the following account “racing and hunting [not only] became their pastimes” (bold and underline ours), [4] but also led to the following incident:

The mughal emperor Jahangir was out hunting one day in the vicinity [sic] of Amritsar. A favorite hunting hawk of the emperors flew into the camp of Guru Hargobind who was also hunting. When the emperors [sic] soldiers came to reclaim the hawk, a brief skirmish ensued and the hawk was not returned. Jahangir was so enraged that he sent an army of 7000 cavalry under the command of his general Mukhlis Khan to recover both the hawk and capture the Guru for his insolence. In the ensuing battle the Gurus forces emerged victorious after the Guru killed Mukhlis Khan in single combat with his sword. This battle took place in 1634. This battle marked a turning point as the Sikhs now turned militant under mughal persecution. (bold ours) [5]

Since evil begets evil, one wonders whether this battle might have been avoided had Hargobind not been in the position of cruelly hunting animals. [6]

It is also worth noting that Hargobind was the first of the Gurus – emulated, of course, later by his successors – to make use of hunting dogs, as confirmed by none other than arguably the most prominent Sikh theologian, Bhai Gurdas himself, who states the following in his Vaaran (var 26, pauri 24):

The earlier Gurus gave satisfaction to their Sikhs from their seats, but he [Hargobind] goes hunting with his dogs [koutay rakhi sikaaru khilaaiaa]. [7]

Likewise, it is recorded that some other Gurus also subsequently took up this barbaric activity. The following is regarding the 10th Guru, who “like his father … [Guru Tegh Bahadur] enjoyed hunting”: [8]

Under the ablest guidance and leadership of Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs started hunting Tigers and other wild animals in the jungels [sic] around Anandpur Sahib by learning the use of all sorts of weapons including the latest weapens [sic]. [9]

While Raja Medini Prakash, who ruled the state of Sirmur situated along the river Yamuna in the Kayarda Dun valley of the Sivalik hills from 1684 to 1704, invited Guru Gobind Singh in April 1685 to spend some time with him at Nahan, which “had abundant game should the Guru wish to hunt”. Of course “the Guru readily accepted the invitation and travelled to Nahan” and “remained in the Nahan territory for about three years and had a fort built at Paonta. Today the city is known as Paonta Sahib”.

According to the Dasam Granth: “The years spent at Paonta were the most creative and significant in the Guru’s career. He enjoyed hunting in the surrounding thick forests where the opportunites [sic] were enormous. The Guru wrote, ‘I enjoyed myself on the banks of Yamuna and saw amusements of different kinds.'” (bold ours) [10]

Large scale hunting expeditions were organised where soldiers obtained training to use their weapons on live and fast moving targets. The ranges around Paonta Sahib were full of deer and wild boar known for their swiftness and agility. Also, the expeditions lasted many days during which the soldiers were trained to live off the land with an aim to toughen them and acquaint them with battle-like stress and strains. (bold and underline ours) [11]

While Dr Kirpal Singh cites the following recorded account in the Bachittar Natak about Guru Gobind Singh’s stay at Paonta:

After a while I [Gobind Singh] left that country (Makhowal) and proceeded towards Paonta. There I found joy and peace on the bank of river Jamuna and amusement of every kind. There I did HUNT and KILL many a lion, nilgai [antelope] and bear. (bold, underline and capital ours) [12]

Similarly, the seventh Guru Har Rai was “very fond of hunting, a habit he acquired from his grandfather [Hargobind]”. [13] Moreover, we are told:

The Guru [Har Rai] was fond of hunting but due to his sensitive nature he would not kill the animals but keep them as pets in his zoo. (bold ours) [14]

Of course, since his grandfather “was famed as an avid hunter“, it is only natural that “Guru Har Rai continued the hunting tradition of his grandfather, but he would allow no animals to be killed on his grand Shikars (hunting expedition)”. (bold ours) [15]

Sikhi apologetics is always an interesting affair. Does Guru Har Rai’s alleged “sensitive nature” towards not wanting to kill these targeted animals make any difference to the obvious threat the animals would have perceived? To look at it another way: were the animals showing gleeful and happy consent in being chased and hunted down? The explanation is insulting to one’s intelligence and common sense. We can only imagine how distressed and frightened these animals would have been in fleeing for what they would instinctively have read as a threat to their very survival.

Recall what Kabeer is made to say in Sri Guru Granth Sahib:

Kabeer joree keeeae julam hai kahataa naau halaal.
Kabeer, to use force is tyranny, even if you call it legal.
(SGGS 1374)

In comparison, dwell over the following incident narrated by our Prophet’s (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) companion ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood:

Once we were travelling with the Prophet and he went to do something. Meanwhile (we found a bird with its young ones) so we took them. The bird came and started flapping its wings continuously. Whereupon the Prophet asked: “Who has distressed this bird by taking its young? Return them to it at once.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)

The Hunters’ Club

Since these Satgurus are the role-model to be imitated, it is unsurprising to find numerous examples of Sikhs following in their shikari (hunter) footsteps.

We have the example of Roshan Singh – a Sikh warrior in attendance upon Guru Gobind Singh – who is said to have killed a lion single handedly:

During their journey to the Deccan in 1708, records Kuir Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, Guru Gobind Singh and Emperor Bahadur Shah were out together on an hunting excursion when they suddenly found themselves face to face with a lion. Bahadur Shah dared his men to kill the beast without the use of a firearm or bow and arrow. Two of his soldiers tried one after the other, but were killed by the lion. Then Roshan Singh from among Guru Gobind Singh’s followers came forward holding a sword and a shield of animal hide. As the lion came charging at him, Roshan Singh, says Kuir Singh, knelt down and took the animal’s paws on his shield, slashing its belly with a swift stroke of his sword. Everyone applauded Roshan Singh’s feat. The Guru rewarded him with his blessing, for he would not accept any worldly prize.

1. Santokh Singh, Bhai, Sri Gur Pratap Suraj GRANTH. AMRITSAR, 1927-35
2. Kuir Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, ed. Shamsher Singh Ashok. PATIALA, 1968 [16]

Of course, the tiger cannot be at fault for defending itself against an expedition it instinctively perceived as a threat to its life.

The eldest son of Guru Hargobind, Baba Gurditta (1613-1638), is also “as the legend goes” said to have “resurrected earlier on that day a cow which he had inadvertently killed while out hunting”. [17] Although the legend does not elaborate on how one “inadvertently” kills a cow!

Sher Singh Maharaja, Sikh sovereign of the Punjab from 1841-1843, was the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and “loved hunting and hawking”. [18]

While “wrestling, horseback riding, and hunting were his [Baba Banda Singh Bahadur (1670-1716)] major hobbies.” [19]

Deep Singh Shahid (1682-1757) is said to be “one of most honoured martyrs” of Sikhism. He “also learned the art of horsemanship, [and] hunting”. [20]

Bhai Banta Singh (1894-1921), was “one of the Nankana Sahib martyrs, was the son of Bhai Bhola Singh Dhillon and Mai Bhag Kaur of village Bihera, in Hoshiarpur district” and “as a youth, he had engaged in wrestling and gone out hunting”. [21]

There are many more although this shall suffice the point being made.

Islam’s RSPCA

We could not do justice to the subject of hunting as practiced by the Gurus without comparing it to the rights afforded to animals in Islam.

Our Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) was sent as a mercy to all creatures, as the Lord of the heavens and the earth states:

And We have not sent you except as a mercy to the aalameen (all creatures). (Qur’an 21:10)

Islam has encouraged the humane and just treatment of animals with Allah having ensured abundant reward for those Muslims who do so. Conversely, any who violate these divinely prescribed animal rights have been sternly warned and threatened with severe punishment having incurred the anger of their Mighty Lord for such mistreatment.

In fact, prior to the inception of Islam over 1400 years ago, one will be hard pressed to find such comprehensive rights as those established in the Shari’ah (Divine Islamic Legislation).

This is no better demonstrated than by the distinguished example of our Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) who said:

The merciful are shown mercy by the all-Merciful (Allah). Show mercy to those on earth, and He Who is above the heaven will show mercy to you. (Abu Dawood; At-Tirmidhi)

The famous account of the cat that came and slept on the robe of Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) while he read the Qur’an is a perfect example to begin with. Such was his merciful nature that when it came to the time for him to get up, rather than disturb the cat, he gently tore the necessary part of his robe upon which it slept. How far apart is this sublime and noble behaviour in comparison to those who disturb the peace and hunt down animals in order to captivate or kill them?

Our Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) inculcated in his followers not just good treatment towards animals, but to proactively seek opportunities to gain reward and the pleasure of their Lord by looking after them:

If any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity. (Al-Bukhari)

While a man was walking on a road he became very thirsty. He came across a well, got down into it, drank (of its water) and while coming out saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. The man said to himself: “This dog is suffering from the same state of thirst as I did.” So he went down the well (again), filled his shoe (with water) and held it to its mouth to satiate the dog’s thirst. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.

The people asked: “O Messenger of Allah! Is there a reward for serving the animals?”
He said: “(Yes) There is a reward for serving all living things.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim)

Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

Whilst a dog was walking around a well, almost dying of thirst, one of the prostitutes of the Children of Israel saw him, took off her shoe and gave him water. She was forgiven because of that (one act). (Ahadeeth al-Anbiya 3208)

There are numerous examples where the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) admonished, warned and disciplined those guilty of animal cruelty – including his beloved wife:

Ai’shah narrated that she once found difficulty in riding a horse, so she kept reining it in repeatedly prompting the Prophet to say: “You must have gentleness.” (Muslim)

Ibn Mas’ud said:

Once we were travelling with the Prophet and he went to do something. Meanwhile (we found a bird with its young ones) so we took them. The bird came and started flapping its wings continuously. Whereupon the Prophet asked: “Who has distressed this bird by taking its young? Return them to it at once.” (Abu Dawood)

Ibn ‘Umar entered upon Yahya ibn Sa’eed and one of Yahya’s sons had tied up a hen and was shooting at it. Ibn ‘Umar walked over to him and untied it, then he brought it and the boy and said:

Do not allow your boys to tie up birds in order to kill them, for I heard the Messenger of Allah forbidding the tying up of animals or other creatures in order to kill them. (Al-Bukhari; Muslim; with the version of Muslim stating: “The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be the peace and blessings of Allah) cursed those who do that.”)

Ibn ‘Abbas said:

The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be the peace and blessings of Allah) said: “Do not use anything in which there is a soul as a target.” (Muslim)

Again Imam An-Nawawi said regarding this tradition:

The Messenger of Allah (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) forbade detaining or tying up animals (for the purpose of killing them); according to another report: “Do not take anything in which there is a soul as a target.” The scholars said that tying up animals means restraining them whilst they are still alive in order to use them as targets and so on. The words: “Do not take anything in which there is a soul as a target,” means: do not use living animals as targets for shooting as targets made of leather and so on are used. This prohibition means that doing this is haraam (strictly prohibited). Hence the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, according to the report narrated by Ibn ‘Umar which follows this report: “Allah cursed the one who does that.” And because it is torturing animals, a waste of their [animals’] lives, a waste of money, causing the animal to die without slaughtering it in the proper Islamic manner if it is an animal whose meat may be eaten, and wasting an animal from which benefit may be derived in other ways if it is an animal whose meat may not be eaten. [22]

Subhan’Allah (Glorified is Allah)! The difference between this and those who practice hunting is insurmountable.

Similarly, there are reports of the Prophet prohibiting overburdening animals:

Sahl ibn Al-Hanzaliyya reported that the Prophet saw a camel which was carrying a huge load to the extent that one could neither see its back nor its belly, so he said: “Fear Allah with regard to livestock. Ride them in a fitting way and eat them when they are in good condition.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Hibban)

Jaabir ibn ‘Abdullaah reported that the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) also invoked the curse on the one who branded the face of a donkey by stating: “May Allah curse the one who branded it.” (Muslim)

While Ibn ‘Umar said:

“The Prophet forbade beating (animals) on the face.” (Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)

Imran ibn Hussain reported:

We were with Allah’s Messenger in some of his journey and there was a woman from the Ansar riding a she-camel that shied causing her to invoke a curse upon it. Allah’s Messenger heard it and said: “Unload it and set it free, for it has been cursed (wrongly).” (Muslim)

A practicing Muslim who understands the religion of Islam is ever aware of mistreating animals especially in light of the following authentic tradition:

A woman was doomed to enter the Hell-Fire because of a cat. She imprisoned it and neither fed it nor set it free to eat from the rodents of the earth. (Al-Bukhari)

Imam Al-Shawkaani said commenting on this tradition:

It is understood from this hadith that it is haraam (strictly forbidden) to detain cats and similar animals without giving them food and water, because this is tormenting the creation of Allah, which has been forbidden by the Lawgiver…. An-Nawawi said: “It seems that she (this woman) was a Muslim, but she entered the Fire because of this sin.” [23]

It is for this reason that the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) called for mercy and perfection in the slaughtering of animals for consumption. When he saw a person preparing a lamb for slaughter by laying it down while sharpening the knife in front of the animal, the Prophet exclaimed with displeasure:

Do you want to kill it twice? Sharpen your knife before you lay it down! (Al-Bukhari, Muslim)

Based on this, it is impermissible for Muslims to slaughter animals in front of other animals since it is known to cause unnecessary distress. [24]

Similarly, the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things. Thus, if you kill, kill well, and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters. (Muslim)

Islam likewise prohibited the disgusting act known as ‘Muthla‘, which involved the Pagan Arabs cutting off the limbs of animals while they were alive during the pre-Islamic period. Ibn ‘Umar narrated:

The Prophet cursed the one who did Muthla to an animal (i.e. cut off its limbs or other parts of the body while the animal is still alive). (Al-Bukhari)

Hence, the Muslim is cognisant of the rights of animals because s/he knows that every single action and deed done in this life will be brought to account on a day when all scores will be settled with absolute justice. Our Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) warned:

All scores will be settled on the Day of Resurrection; even the hornless sheep will settle its scores with the horned sheep. (Muslim)


Where does all of the above leave us?

As is consistent with the religion of Sikhism, it has again failed in providing unambiguous and specific guidelines on how animals are to be treated fairly. This failure is a clear indication of an imperfect and, therefore, man-invented religion.The apologetic excuse will always be the usual flippant one that goes something along the lines of: Sikhism is not a religion of rigid rules of do’s and don’ts.

Guru Gobind Singh hunting a lion. (Courtesy: Gurinder S. Mann)

As Muslims, we know where that leads: the relativisation of morality. Although in this case, we are surprisingly told that rules do exist, albeit extremely vague and general to the extent of ambiguity. However, the actions of those who presumably enacted them, viz. the Gurus, ended up belying the rules. Hence, we are told in Sri Guru Granth Sahib that the killing of living beings is an unrighteous deed, that “it is tyranny to use force“; and yet these Satgurus enjoyed terrorising animals during their hunting sprees – something that, as we have shown, became their “pastime”.

As with so many obscurities to do with Sikhism, it is mind-boggling when explanations over why some Sikhs cannot eat meat are compared to the treatment of animals in this regard. Observe:

The reason why a Sikh doesn’t eat meat is not related to ‘ahimsaa’ or “respect for all life” like the Jains. The reason is ‘daya’. Mercy evaporates when we butcher and eat meat. A carrot may have life but it will never run away screaming when you go to the garden to get it. Guru Sahib is clear in Gurbani that life must sustain itself on life. There is no lack of mercy or daya (mercy) excercised [sic] when cutting a vegetable as it does not reacts [sic] to being cut. Contrast that with animals. (bold and underline ours) [25]

Contrast this with animals indeed! Except, of course, unlike an animal being hunted, you will never find a carrot running away screaming. Where, then, did the Gurus’ daya evaporate to during these pastime pursuits?

The above cited article inexplicably concludes:

Why is it Muslims can do Halal on humans? It’s because they have so much experience with animals that the jerking, gasping of dying animals and blood is something usual for them. A butcher will have the heart of a butcher. A butcher can never be a ‘Dharmi’ (spiritually pious) person. [26]

How about the “jerking, [and] gasping of dying animals” during hunting? Can we, thus, conclude from this reasoning that the Gurus, who became avid hunters, could never have been Dharmis? Do we conclude that the Gurus had the hearts of ruthless hunters?

Without needing to get into a debate over the no-brainer row of whether meat is good for human-consumption or not, at least the butcher has the excuse of slaughtering animals for food or trade. In stark contrast, had the Gurus hunted to control a given animal population, i.e. for pest-control purposes, then that might have served as a justification. Instead they merely hunted animals to hone their martial skills.

Today, we have Sikhs hunting and poaching too; completely understandable given that they are only following in the footsteps of their Satgurus. Perhaps this is why the Takht Kesgarh Sahib Jathedar, Prof Manjit Singh, reportedly said:

Referring to the menace of poaching in the state, he said, the Sikhs should refrain from hunting as the new world order demanded protection of wild life. Generally the misinformed Sikhs feel free to indulge in poaching, as the Gurus had promoted the sport. Since it was a need of the hour during the war times, the practice should not be allowed to continue, Prof Singh emphasised adding, “the Gurus had never hunted for fun, but to make the community stand recklessly against the invaders”. (bold and underline ours) [27]

Presumably, therefore, the Gurus’ hunting expedition was part of the old world order. They helped develop their community during war times to stand against being slaughtered by hunting and slaughtering animals! But, sadly, “life must sustain itself on life”; in this case, the animals were mercilessly terrorised and hunted down in order for the Guru and their followers to survive.

All praise is due to Allah who has guided us to the religion of justice and fairness and saved us from the confusion of falsehood.

On the Day (of Judgment) when every soul will come pleading for itself, and every soul will be recompensed (fully) for what it did, and none will be wronged in the slightest. (Qur’an 16:111)

Whilst the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

All scores will be settled on the Day of Resurrection; even the hornless sheep will settle its scores with the horned sheep. (Muslim)

[1] This revealing citation was later removed when the original page was moved to:
[2] The Sikh Review, May 1995, Vol. 43:5, p. 19
[3] D. Singh, Sikhism: A Miri-Piri System, (Institute of Sikh Studies; accessed: 16 Nov, 2016).
[5] Ibid.
[6] The following account (euphemistically titled: Duty, Love and Faith: The Sikhs & Guru Hargobind Sahib) states:

Bhai Javanda & the Gate
One day Guru Hargobind Sahib was going hunting and as he was leaving the city gates of Kartarpur, he asked Bhai Javanda to stand by the gate and wait for his return. Satguru jee returned from hunting but entered the city from another gate and went back to his place of residence. Three days and three nights passed but Bhai Javanda did not move from the place Guru Sahib told him to wait. When Guru Sahib found out about this, he himself went to Bhai Javanda, still waiting by the gate and embraced him and showered his blessings.
(,5758, translated from Pr. Satbir Singh’s “Gur Bhaaree”)

[7] S.S. Kohli (2007), Bhai Gurdas, The Great Sikh Theologian, His Life and Work, (Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patiala), p. 209.
[8] Transformation of the Sikh Panth, (Division of Religion and PhilosophyUniversity of Cumbria; accessed: 16 Nov, 2016).
[12] K. Singh (2007), Significance of Guru Gobind Singh’s Stay at Poanta, (Sant Sipahi Magazine, April), p. 44.
[22] Sharh Muslim: 13/108.
[23] Nayl al-Awtaar: 7/7
[24] As a side note, ponder over this ruling prescribed over 1400 years ago by the all-Knowledgeable Law-giver against the horrific slaughtering procedure carried out in abattoirs throughout the western world; yet they have the audacity to claim that Muslims wish to re-enact a primitive law!
[25] What is Kuttha? (Part 2), (The Panthic Weekly, 29 Nov 2006).
[26] Ibid.
[27] Sikh Guru and “Green Cause”, (The Tribune; accessed: 16 Nov, 2016).

One comment

  1. Mercy should be the last thing attributed to sikh gurus, which soulless creature on earth wud find joy in killing animals for mere fun

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