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Tthe Sikh Selfless Service To Humanity – A Forerunner Of The Red Cross Movement


Jun 1, 2004
In the midst of all this factionalism among the Pasthuns, the small voice of a devoted minority like the Sikhs, for unity of mankind still prevails. Let us trade love rather than ‘you’ and ‘me’ as the Holy Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs says in many hymns.

Bhai Brother Kanhaiya was a disciple of Ninth and Tenth Gurus. He was devoted to his Gurus, and loyally served his fellow-man without any discrimination as to religion, caste or region. Bhai Kanhaiya was born in 1648 at village Sodhra near Wazirabad on the bank of river Chenab, now Pakistan.

His father was a wealthy trader, but he himself had a religious bent with little interest in the family trade. When his father died, he waited for his brothers to take over the responsibility and set out to find his Guru who could guide him on the path of service. He came to Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur Sahib and served him for three months. He then went back to establish a ‘Dharamshala’ at Kavha- a place where travellers get free lodging and food and where righteousness is preached and practiced – near Attock, now in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan – to serve the people and spread the message of ‘Universal Brotherhood’ as taught by Guru Nanak, the First Guru of the Sikhs.

In 1705, when Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Guru, was engaged in battle with Muslim armies of the Mughal emperor, Bhai Kanhaiya moved to Anandpur Sahib (where the Guru lived) and took over the responsibility of serving drinking water to the wounded in battle. Attired in simple clothes with a white flag fixed in the left side of his belt, he carried the Mashk – a leather bag filled with water – on his shoulders and served water to the wounded without discrimination, friends and foe.

When a few Sikhs complained to Guru Gobind Singh that Bhai Kanhaiya was serving water to the enemy as well, the Guru called him to hear his version. Bhai Kanhaiya submitted. “With Thy Grace My Lord! My Eyes Are So Enlightened That I See Nothing Else But Your Divine Spirit Pervading Everywhere and In All Since I Served None Else But Only Thyself My Lord.”

Guru Gobind Singh said to his Sikhs, “He has understood my message in the sense of true Sewa – service.”

The Tenth Guru then blessed Bhai Kanhaiya as a holy man and gave him a box of Haldi ointment – Turmeric powder: an antiseptic for healing wounds. This inspired a group of volunteers who worked under his guidance and thus became a forerunner of the Red Cross movement founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland by Henry Dunant about 150 years later.

When Guru Gobind Singh left Anandpur Sahib, Bhai Kanhaiya continued to serve the people and devoted his remaining life to preach and practice the teaching of the Sikh Gurus. He left the world at the age of 71 years, as he sat listening to the sacred hymns of Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Scriptural Guru of the Sikhs. Bhai Kanhaiya left behind a unique movement of ‘Sewa Panthi,’ literally meaning The Brotherhood for Service to Humanity.

The message of Bhai Kanhaiya’s mission is enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib in a hymn, “Na Ko Bairi Nahin Bigana, Sagal Sang Ham Ko Ban Aiye.” There is no enemy and no stranger to me. All have come as my companions – brothers.

The message of Bhai Kanhaiya continues to be as relevant today as it was three hundred years ago. An award has been instituted in memory of Bhai Kanhaiya to honor individuals and organizations who serve mankind in the same spirit of devotion and selflessness. The Indian Department of Post has issued a stamp in honor of Bhai Kanhaiya showing him spreading the message of universal brotherhood, as a water server.

Bhai Kanhaiya retired to Sodhra where he died in 1718.


by Tejwant Singh
Don't Mistake Me for a Muslim


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