I suppose I must have heard of him for the first time from my parents or grand-parents, while I was very young. Later on, a few years after I had started going to school, I read about his life and times in an illustrated comic book.
I do not recall how much information my text-books at school provided me about him, if at all. However, I do remember that a considerable amount of information was available in the books for the History and Culture of Punjab course that I had to take up as one of the two compulsory subjects at college, in accordance with the syllabus prescribed by the Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Although I had a fair idea of the main precepts of my faith i.e. Sikhism and the Khalsa panthh (the foundation of which marked a quantum leap in the evolution of Sikhism, in my opinion) initiated by the tenth Guru (teacher) of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, since my early days, like belief in a single, formless, indestructible, eternal Supreme Being i.e. WaheGuru, who is never born and never dies and is omnipotent and omnipresent and whom people that practise different religions address by different names, it was much later, when I actually started reading the scriptures that I realised that Sikhism is more of a way of life than a religious faith.
The Guru Granthh Saahib, I found, after I read certain portions of it, lays down a complete code of conduct that one can follow from birth to death. It will certainly not lead to the fulfilment of every wish, but can let one have something over and above that, which is peace of mind. Not every one who claims to be a Sikh these days, mostly on account of having forefathers who had, at some point of time, developed faith in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, seems to understand that, though, and some seek alternative means for the fulfilment of their material desires. The truth is that even I did not comprehend that, until very recently, when I started reading Gurbaani on my own. At various points of time in my life, I have, in fact, been silly enough to pray for a certain score in my school or college examinations or even to request the Almighty to let some girl or the other to pay more attention to me, if not marry me! Little did I realise then that as a Sikh, when I pray for sarbat da bhalaa (the welfare of all), as a part of my daily prayers, I liberate myself from the need to ask for anything specific for my own self.
I suppose that if the entire body of knowledge included in the holy book is taken as being analogous to that acquired by some one with a bachelor's degree, then I am still in kindergarten. With the average level of intellect that I possess, I may never actually be able to assimilate all of it in my lifetime, it appears to me, let alone practise it. That realisation has brought home another more profound one, related to the wisdom of the ten Gurus of Sikhism. I have always thought of them as incredibly wise men, but this has added an entirely new dimension to that.
That the Gurus were all well-versed in music is quite obvious, since not only did they employ musical compositions to spread their message far and wide, but the contents of the Guru Granthh Saahib have also been set to music, with an appropriate raaga prescribed for each of the verses, to be made use of when these are to be recited with musical accompaniment.
Beyond that, when one tries to recall those amongst them who learnt and practised the art of war, the two names that come to mind are those of the sixth master, Guru Hargobind, who sought to combine miri and piri (the temporal and the spiritual) and raised an army of the Sikhs for the first time and the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh, who, as mentioned before, founded the Khalsa.
Although both have been my boyhood heroes, I tend to connect more personally with Guru Gobind Singh, firstly, because I revere him for having made the supreme sacrifice (like the fifth master, Guru Arjan Dev, and the ninth master, Guru Tegh Bahadur) for the cause of righteousness and having inspired thousands of others, including all four of his own sons, to do the same. He infused a sense of immense self-belief among his followers and was able to remove fear of every kind from their hearts, including that of death, which is a source of great inspiration for me. He declared:
"Sawaa laakh se ek laRaauN
MeiN chiRiyaan toN baaz banaauN
Tabhai Gobind Singh naam kahaauN..."
(This can be roughly translated as:
"I instill the confidence in each of my soldiers to be able to fight alone against even a hundred and twenty five thousand enemy combatants;
I make hawks out of sparrows;
Only then do I get to be called Gobind Singh...")
Secondly, I have had the good fortune, like many others, of course, of being afforded a good look at some of the articles of his personal use. These have included weapons of various kinds like swords, spears, guns and arrows (Tales of his skill with the bow and arrow abound, to this day.), besides clothes and other personal effects, displayed at numerous Gurdwaras in different parts of India, in addition to some exhibitions held on special occasions.
On a recent visit to the town of Mandi, in the state of Himachal Pradesh, when I visited a local Gurdwara along with my parents, I learnt that it had originally been built by a local ruler, at the invitation of one of whose ancestors the tenth master had spent six months as a guest of the royal family. Among the articles on display there, was a rebab that the Guru is said to have played himself, every evening, while reciting verses from Gurbaani. Besides that, there was a musket that Guru Saaheb used for target practice and, most interestingly, a charpoy and a mattress that were made especially for the tenth master's use, during his stay there. Most intrestingly, because it became clear after taking one look at it that the man who slept on it could not have been more than five and a half feet tall or perhaps even less than that.
At that moment, the admiration and respect that I have for the Guru increased manifold. The man with that medium-sized frame, who has been and always will be a spiritual guide to millions, was, evidently, an accomplished poet, author, linguist, musician and philosopher, as well as being a skilled horseman, swordsman, archer, marksman and military strategist.