Mai Bhago who is also known as Mata Bhag Kaur was a Sikh woman who led 40 Sikh soldiers against the Mughals in 1705. She killed several enemy soldiers on the battlefield, and is considered to be a saint warrior by the Sikh Nation for over 300 years.
During the time of the 10th teacher, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the Mughal oppression reached new and terrifying depths. In the regions under the protection of Guru Gobind Singh, people felt free to practice their own religion, ignore the caste system, and freely work and trade with each other. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, threatened by this “rebel” society, conspired with the local hill kings of the area to destroy Guru Gobind Singh’s center of power.
In 1704-1705, for eight long months, the troops of Aurangzeb laid siege to Anandpur Sahib, the capital city of Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikhs. As the Sikhs died of starvation inside the fort, the Mughals offered a deal that they would stop the siege and the Sikhs could peacefully leave. However, the Mughal promise was false. When the Sikhs, the Guru and his family left the fort, the Mughals descended and attacked, killing everyone they could.
For many weeks after, the the troops of Aurangzeb continued to pursue Guru Gobind Singh and a very small contingent of soldiers who stayed with him. There is one legend that, at the Guru’s request, 40 men actually signed a document renouncing Guru Gobind Singh as their teacher and leader.
Here is where Mai Bhago comes into the picture, It is said that, one of the reported 40 men who deserted Guru Gobind Singh and signed the letter of desertion was Mai Bhago’s husband, Nidhan Singh Patti and when he returned home and told his warrior wife what he had done, she became furious.
She ordered her husband to stay home and take care of the house while she rode into battle herself. Mai Bhago took her horse, armed for the fight. Later, her husband, ashamed of his actions, joined her. She also asked the wives to kick their husbands out of their houses if they would not return to fight. Some of the wives even donned their own armor, ready to do battle themselves if their husbands would not join.
After weeks, the 16,000-strong Mughal troops were exhausted and thirsty. Mai Bhago and the 40 deserters knew where Guru Gobind Singh was hiding. They set up camp in front of a well in a town called Khidrana. The well was the only reported source of water in the area, and the 16,000 troops, dying of thirst, were headed right for it. The Mughals did not know the well was dry and there was no water to be had. Mai Bhago and her 40 men created a trap. They spread out their clothes among the trees to look like they had more people than they actually did. And they made the Mughal troops fight bitterly to get to the well. When the Mughal troops finally got to the well and realized it was dry, they mutinied
Many Sikh soldiers died in the war and Mai Bhago was the only Sikh survivor of the battle. She became the personal bodyguard of Guru Gobind Singh. The 40 deserters who died are said to have been liberated by their sacrifice.
Mai Bhago was the daughter of Malo Shah, son of Bhai Pare Shah. Her grandfather and Pare Shah’s brother, Bhai Langaha, had served under Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Hargobind. Bhai Langaha had helped Guru Arjan Dev in the construction of the Golden Temple and was one of the five Sikhs who accompanied Guru Arjan Dev when he went to Lahore for martyrdom.