Founding of Lohgarh
The idea of Lohgarh Fort was conceived by Guru Hargobind Sahib during his imprisonment in the Gwalior Fort. Guru Hargobind spent about six years (1613 to 1618) in Gwalior Fort prison. This prison was reserved for exceptional persons (especially defaulter taxpaying rulers, state officials, opponents of the state or rebels) and non-Muslim religious personalities. At the time of the imprisonment of the Guru, 101 rulers, princes, chiefs, chieftains, feudals, landlords, state officials and other prominent persons had been interned in Gwalior Fort. They had been interned for non-payment of taxes or for disobeying one or another command of the Emperor. They included Kalyan Chand and his son Tara Chand (the ruler of Kehlur/ Bilaspur state), Hari Chand (the rulers of Handur/ Nalagarh state) and others from hilly or Rajputana states. Before the arrival of the Guru, these prisoners had been living in a state of anxiety, despondency and helplessness. When the Guru reached there, he began daily keertan (singing of hymns) and religious and philosophical discourses. The Guru gave them confidence and made them cheerful. Those who were feeling despondent and helpless and suffering from the problem of psychosis began living in hope and high spirits. They became devotees of the Guru. It seems that here the Guru might have planned to build a very powerful Fort to ensure a defense system to face the Mughal Empire. Lohgarh Fort seems to be a part of this strategy.
Release of the Guru and the Heads of the States
In 1618, Murtaza Khan the Governor of Lahore died. In the meanwhile, Wazir Khan of Chiniot (later Governor of Lahore) had become a favorite courtier of Jahangir; almost during the same time Jahangir had a meeting with Mian Mir. Both of them (Wazir Khan and Mian Mir) requested Jahangir to release Guru Hargobind; Jahangir’s beloved wife Nur Jahan too impressed upon him to accept their advice and release the Guru. By this time, Jahangir too had become free from the influence of the fanatical Muslim clergy (including Sheikh Ahmad Sarhandi); all this made Jahangir to issue orders for the release of Guru Sahib.
The orders of the release of Guru Sahib were delivered by Wazir Khan himself. When the other royal prisoners came to know of the release of Guru Sahib, they became very sad and some of them began weeping also. Daily discourses of the Guru had changed their lives and they had begun living in high spirits. Guru Sahib decided to help them. He told Wazir Khan: ‘I will leave the prison only if other prisoners too are released.’ Wazir Khan promised to approach the Emperor; and when Wazir Khan met Jahangir and informed him about the Guru’s wish, the Emperor was very much impressed. He ordered that those prisoners who had been given short sentences (one to two years) be released and from amongst the rest all those would be released who clung to the Guru’s cloak. Jahangir, perhaps, wanted to test as to whom the Guru preferred as there were 49 prisoners who had been given short sentences and 52 were those who were undergone long sentences.
When Guru Hargobind came to know about the orders of the Emperor, he requested the jailor Hari Das Yadav to get him a cloak which had 52 hanging stripes. The cloak was ready by the next morning. The Guru wore the cloak and got all the prisoners released as each was holding one stripe of the cloak. Those who got released included several kings and princes from hill states of the Punjab (Bilaspur, Handur etc.), Rajputana and other zones. The Guru was released on the 26th of October 1619. When Jahangir got this news he was convinced that the Guru was really a genuine pir for whom everyone was equal. After this, Jahangir ordered the arrest of Sheikh Ahmad Sarhandi, who was interned in this Gwalior Fort prison.
Battle of Ruhila:
Guru Arjan had founded Gobindpur (now Hargobindpur) at the site of the ruins of the erstwhile Ruhila village on the right bank of river Beas. After the arrest of Guru Hargobind, this village had been occupied by Chandu and Bhagwan Das Gherar (father of his daughter-in-law). When Guru Sahib chose to stay at Guru-Da-Chakk, he decided to take possession of Gobindpur. Although Chandu had been killed in the summer of 1620, his son Karam Chand had still not learnt a lesson. When he came to know that the Guru had taken possession of Gobindpur, he collected a large number of men and attacked the Sikhs. A battle was fought on the 27th of September 1621 . The Sikhs battled the invaders and gave them a crushing defeat. After their defeat, they approached the police chief of the Jalandhar – Doab and offered him money and requested him to help them. He agreed and sent several Mughal soldiers to help them.
This army reached Ruhila on the morning of the 3rd of October 1621; that day, another battle was fought; this was a decisive battle in which Chandu’s son Karam Chand, his father-in-law Bhagwan Das Gherar and (Bhagwan Das’s son) Ratan Chand were killed. After their deaths, their mercenaries fled the field. After this, none dared to attack the Sikhs. When the news of Guru’s victory at Ruhila reached Kalyan Chand (ruler of Bilaspur), he contacted other hill chiefs and decided to visit the Guru to congratulate him. In fact, they wanted to seek the favour of the Guru in case they had to face an enemy attack or clashes with the Mughal Emperor.
On the 28th of March 1624, a big gathering of the Sikhs was held at Guru-Da-Chakk; those who attended included the rulers of Bilaspur and Handur etc. (whom Guru Sahib had got released from Gwalior Fort prison in 1619). The ruler of Nahan (Sirmaur state) too joined Kalyan Chand. Kalyan Chand, the ruler of Bilaspur, requested the Guru to establish his headquarters in his country; he made an offer of land too. The Guru was already interested in a strategic defense bastion so he agreed to establish a new village, but refused to accept the gift of the land. The Guru toured the area around river Satluj and selected some territory of the villages of Kalyanpur, Bhatoli and Jiowal and paid the price of the land. At first Raja Kalyan Chand refused to accept money, but when the Guru refused to accept donations of land, he (the king) had to accept the money.
Purchase of Land For Establishment of Keeratpur
Though the Guru had purchased the land but he could not move to the new place; finally, he asked his eldest son Gurditta to take charge of the land. Gurditta founded the city of Keeratpur on the 1st of May 1624 and began living there.
From 1624 to 1634, Guru Hargobind stayed at Guru-Da-Chakk (now Amritsar). During this period, Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor had died on 28 October 1627; he was succeeded by Shah Jahan. With the passage of time, Shah Jahan too came under the influence of fanatic Muslim clergy. During this the Guru had to face attacks by some minor Muslim generals and chieftains. The Guru had to face three attacks: on 13 April 1634 at Guru-Da-Chakk, on 16-17 December 1634 Mehraj and on 26-28 April 1635 Kartarpur.
Though the Guru had won all the three battles, he realized that this won’t end anywhere, and there would be further attacks and clashes; so, he decided to leave the plains and move to Keeratpur, a city founded by him in Bilaspur state. Having discussed it with his courtiers, on the 29th of April 1635, he left Kartarpur for Keeratpur.
Guru Hargobind reached Keeratpur on the 3rd of May 1635. Now Keeratpur became the major centre of the Sikhs. Besides the Sikhs, most of the rulers of the hill states too began visiting the Guru. They were pleased to see the Guru near them because they knew that the Guru had defeated the invading armies several times; and they expected the Guru to defend them in case of a Mughal attack.
During the Guru’s stay at Keeratpur, the rulers of Kehlur (Bilaspur), Handur (Nalagarh), Sirmaur (Nahan) and other states used to send regular messages and even paid visits to the Gurus. During this time, several Rajput rulers and princes as well as other political refugees had taken refuge with the Guru and had been living at Keeratpur. Bhai Lakhi Rai Vanjara and other major traders like Bhai Mai Das Parmar (father of Bhai Mani Singh) and Bhai Dasa (father of Makhan Shah Lubana) too used to make frequent visits to the Guru. It seems that during this time the Guru planned the construction of a Fort. Lakhi Rai was the owner of a great track of land in the Shivalik foothills (between Kala Amb and Yamna river), he might have offered to build a Fort. The construction of the Lohgarh Fort seems to have been begun by Lakhi Rai under the instructions of the Guru.
Guru Hargobind breathed his last on the 3rd of March 1644. When his body was cremated, a former Rajput ruler jumped into the pyre and immolated himself (it was a Rajput way of expression of love and devotion); this Rajput ruler had sought asylum at Keeratpur after having killed several Mughals to save the honour of his daughter. At the time of the Guru’s funeral, he became so emotional that he could not bear separation from the Guru; when another Rajput tried to jump into the pyre, Guru Har Rai stopped him; he, however, killed himself with his own dagger; he too was cremated along with the Guru.
Guru Har Rai spent early days of Guruship at Keeratpur. In 1645, Tara Chand, the ruler of Kehlur (Bilaspur) State, stopped paying tribute to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and the latter ordered his arrest. The Guru advised him to either declare sovereignty or get ready to fight against the Mughal Emperor or pay him the amount of tribute. But he did not bother for the Guru’s advice (eventually he was arrested and imprisoned). When Tara Chand did not bother for the Guru, the latter left Keeratpur and moved to Thapal (in the old state of Nahan/Sirmaur, in Lohgarh zone). It seems that major work of construction of Lohgarh Fort was done during stay of Guru at Thapal. On the other hand, when Tara Chand was released, he visited Guru Har Rai at Thapal and requested him to return to Keeratpur.