Mai Bhago (also known as Mata Bhag Kaur) was a Sikh woman who led Sikh soldiers against the Mughals in 1705. She killed several enemy soldiers on the battlefield, and is considered to be a saint by Sikhs. Mai Bhago was a descendant of Bhai Pero Shah, the younger brother of Bhai Langah a Dhillon Jatt a Chief of 84 villages who had converted to Sikhism during the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563–1606), the fifth Sikh Guru.
Mai Bhago was born in her family's ancestral village of Jhabal Kalan, in the present-day Amritsar district of the Punjab. She married Bhai Nidhan Singh Varaich of Patti. Mai Bhago was a staunch Sikh by birth and upbringing. and she had brothers who were also staunch Sikhs. When she was young, her parents took her to Anandpur Sahib to glimpse Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666–1708), the 10th Sikh Guru.
Mughals and hill chiefs had surrounded Anandpur and were demanding it be evacuated. They announced that any Sikh who would say that "he/she is not anymore a Sikh of Guru Gobind" would be left untouched while others would be "done to death". A group of 40 Sikhs, led by Mahan Singh Brar, told Guru Gobind Singh that they were not his Sikhs anymore. The Guru told them that they would have to write a document that said "We are not your Sikhs anymore" and sign it. All forty Sikhs (except one: 'Bedava') wrote their names on this document, and left Guru Gobind Singh. Mai Bhago was distressed to hear that some of the Sikhs of her neighbourhood, who had gone to Anandpur to fight for Guru Gobind Singh, had deserted him under adverse conditions. She criticized them openly. Hearing her taunts, these Sikhs were ashamed of their betrayal. Mai Bhago rallied the deserters, and persuaded them to meet with the Guru and apologize to him. She set off with them (and some other Sikhs) to seek out the Guru, who was then traveling across the Malva region.
Meanwhile, Guru Gobind Singh had had to evacuate the fort of Anandpur, and his children had been separated in the confusion. The two youngest ones, Sahibzada Zorawar Singh Ji and Sahibzada Fateh Singh Ji, had gone along with their grandmother (mother of Guru Gobind Singh Ji), while the elder two, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Ji and Sahibzada Jhujhar Singh Ji, had gone with their father. At the battle of Chamkaur, the Guru's elder sons were killed and attained martyrdom. The Guru himself was saved by five Sikhs, and he and his forces evacuated Chamkaur. Guru Gobind Singh's forces traveled day and night through the jungles of the Malva region with the imperial Mughal forces of Aurangzeb in constant pursuit. The Guru had reached the village of Khidrana, when Mai Bhago and the men she led stopped near the dhab, or pool, of Khidrana and were overtaken by the imperial army pursuing the Guru. Mai Bhago and her men challenged the pursuing host, fought furiously, and eventually forced it to retreat, while the Guru's forces showered arrows onto the Mughals from nearby high ground. When Guru Gobind Singh visited the battlefield, he found all dead except Mai Bhago and the previous leader of the deserters, Mahan Singh. Mahan Singh, who had been seriously wounded, died as the Guru took him into his lap. All forty of the Sikhs who were coming to redeem themselves died and attained martyrdom in this pitched battle.
Guru Gobind Singh blessed those forty dead as the Forty Liberated Ones. He took into his care Mai Bhago, who had also suffered injury in the battle. She thereafter stayed on with Guru Gobind Singh Ji as one of his bodyguard, in male attire. After the death of Guru Gobind Singh Ji at Nanded in 1708, Mai Bhago retired further south. She settled down at Jinvara, 11 km from Bidar in Karnataka where, immersed in meditation, she attained a ripe old age. Her hut in Jinvara has now been converted into a place of worship and learning, Gurdwara Tap Asthan Mai Bhago. At Nanded, too, a hall within the compound of Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib marking the site of her former residence is known as Bunga Mai Bhago.
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