Bhai Mati Das (ਭਾਈ ਮਤੀ ਦਾਸ) is one of the great martyrs in Sikh history. He along with his younger brother Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dyal Das, all disciples of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, were executed along with Guruji at the Kotwali (police-station) near the Sunehri Masjid in the Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi, under the express orders of emperor Aurangzeb.
Born to a Brahmin family of the Chhibber clan, Bhai Mati Das belonged to the village of Karyala, a stronghold of the Chhibbers, in the Jhelum District in Punjab (Pakistan), about ten kilometres from Chakwal on the road to the Katas Raj Temple Complex. The village stands on the top of the Surla hills. This part of the country is known as Dhanimeaning rich. A few kilometres away are the Salt Mines and coal mines of Dandot. The Katas lake is beautiful.
His grandfather, Bhai Praga, had embraced the Sikh faith in the time of Guru Hargobind and had taken part in battles with the Mughal forces. His uncle Dargah Mall served Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishan as Diwan or manager of the household. Bhai Mati Das and his brother, Bhai Sati Das, assisted Dargah Mall in his work during Guru Tegh Bahadur’s time. The former was himself appointed Diwan along with Dargah Mall who was by then considerably advanced in years.
Diwan Mati Das accompanied Guru Tegh Bahadur during his travels in the eastern parts in 1665-70. He was one of the companions of the Guru who were detained at Dhamtan in 1665 and then released from Delhi at the intervention of Kanvar Ram Singh, of Amber. In 1675, when the Guru set out from Anandpur for Delhi, Bhai Mati Das bravely faced certain death as he volunteered to accompany Guru Tegh Bahadur to Aurangzeb’s Court to confront the Emperor over his threat of forcing the Pandits of Kashmir to convert to Islam or be killed. The Guru and his steadfast companions were arrested under imperial orders, and taken in chains to Delhi. Upon his refusal to forswear his faith, he was tortured to death. He was, on 24 November 1675, sawn in half, from his head – downwards.
Brutality of Aurangzeb
At Delhi, the Guru and his four companions were summoned into the council chamber of the Lal Kila (the Red Fort}. The Guru was asked numerous questions on religion, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. It was suggested to the Guru that he should embrace Islam. On the Guru’s emphatic refusal to abjure his faith, he was asked why he was called Teg Bahadur (Brave Swordsman). Bhai Mati Das immediately replied that the Guru, then named Tyag Mal, had won the title by inflicting a heavy blow on the imperial forces at the young age of fourteen. He was reprimanded for his breach of etiquette and outspokenness. As Mati Das was a Brahmin, the Guru was asked why he had courted the company of such men when he did not believe in caste, and why he was defending the Brahmins of Kashmir. The Guru replied that when a person became a Sikh, he lost his caste. As for the Kashmiri Pandits, it was his duty to raise his voice against cruelty and injustice. The Guru and his companions were ordered to be imprisoned and tortured until they agreed to embrace Islam.
After a few days, Guru Teg Bahadur and three of his companions were produced before the Qazi of the city. Gurditta had managed to escape. He remained in hiding in the city, and in spite of all the efforts of the Government, he could not be traced. The Qazi turned to Mati Das first and asked him to embrace Islam. He refused to do so. He was condemned to an instantaneous death.
The executioners were called and the Guru and all the three of his companions were made to sit at the place of the execution. Bhai Mati Das approached the Guru with his palms pressed together , as he asked for his blessings, saying that he was happy to be the first to achieve martyrdom.
The Guru blessed him telling that they must resign themselves cheerfully to the will of the Lord. He praised him for his lifelong single-minded devotion to him and his cause. With tears in his eyes, he bade him farewell saying his sacrifice would occupy an abiding place in history. Mati Das touched the Guru’s feet, embraced his friend and brother, and came to his place.
Mati Das while standing erect was tied between two posts. He was asked if he had any parting words, to which Mati Das answered, “I request only that my head be turned toward my Guru as I am executed.” Two executioners placed a double-handed saw on his head. Mati Das serenely uttered “Ek Onkar” and started reciting the Japji Sahib, the great morning prayer of the Sikhs. He was sawn in half from head to loins. It is said that even as the body was being sawn into two, the Japji continued to reverberate from each part until it was all over.