Hargobind was born in 1595 in Vadali Guru, a village 7 km west of Amritsar, the only son of Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru. He suffered from smallpox as a child and survived a poisoning attempt by an uncle, as well as another attempt on his life, when a cobra was thrown at him. He studied religious texts with Bhai Gurdas and trained in swordsmanship and archery with Baba Buddha (not to be confused with the Buddha.
On 25 May 1606 Guru Arjan nominated Hargobind as his successor and instructed his son to start a military tradition to protect the Sikh people and always keep himself surrounded by armed Sikhs for protection. Shortly afterwards, Guru Arjan was arrested, tortured and killed by order of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Guru Hargobind’s succession ceremony took place on 24 June 1606. He put on two swords: one indicated his spiritual authority (piri) and the other, his temporal authority (miri). He followed his martyred father’s advice and always kept himself surrounded by armed Sikhs for protection. The number fifty two was special in his life, and his retinue consisted of fifty two armed men. He thus founded the military tradition in the Sikh faith.
Guru Hargobind had three wives: Mata Damodari, Mata Nanaki and Mata Maha Devi. He had children from all three wives. Two of his eldest sons from the first wife died during his lifetime. His youngest son by his third wife was Tegh Bahadur, who became the influential ninth Sikh Guru.
The Guru was a martial artist (shastarvidya), an avid hunter and, according to Persian records, unlike earlier Gurus, he and the Sikh Gurus that followed him were meat eaters. Guru Hargobind encouraged people to maintain physical fitness and keep their bodies ready for physical combat. He had his own Darbar (court). The arming and training of some of his devoted followers began. The Guru came to possess seven hundred horses and his Risaldari (army) grew to three hundred horsemen and sixty musketeers.
He nominated his grandson to succeed him as the seventh Guru har rai. He died in 1644, and was cremated on the banks of River Sutlej, where now stands Gurdwara Patalpuri.