Sri Guru Arjan Dev – The Concept of Equal Partnership
Dr. Mohinder Kaur Gill
Sri Guru Arjan Dev’s family tradition is in fact the Guru tradition. The fifth Guru not only follows the Guru tradition but extends it further. The main feature of Guru tradition is its non-communal approach. As the Gurus’ institution was established, its traditions also were evolved. To make this identity a distinct one, it is necessary that there should be some clear cut programme within which to work. Without this, it is not only difficult, but impossible, to establish an institution. But what is important to note is whether an institution without the principle of equal partnership can become a centre of attraction. The answer would be – no. The Gurus gave an indication of their sense of equality through the institution of the community kitchen (langar). Lodging was provided to visitors in the dharamsaal (today’s gurdwara). In short, in the Guru tradition, the concept of equality occupies the most important place. In the paper in hand it is not possible to survey the principle of equal partnership in its historical context, nor is it proper. It is relevant here only to know that the hymns of Guru Arjan Dev Ji are full of the spirit of equal partnership for one and all.
To proceed further with my study I am going to discuss this in three sections:
(1) Personal behaviour.
(2) Collective behaviour
(3) All-embracing equal partnership.
In the realm of Gurbani composition, there is no special entity as a specific person. The writers of Gurbani appear to be interested in the entire human race, the common man who has always been in need of overall guidance. Religious leaders have always been quite conscious of this need. This element is found in ample measure in Guru Arjan Dev’s Bani. In his hymns, Guru Nanak Dev discusses the rulers and the leaders of society, whether they are pandits or maulvis, or ruling authority, and severely criticizes them. Guru Nanak’s emphasis is on the class. As against this, the fifth Guru lays emphasis on the person. But the target of his teachings is not a particular person but the common man.
The basic unit of equal partnership is an individual. It is through personal behaviour that people come close to one another or keep distance from each other. The first lesson that Guru Arjan gave to the common man is that one should put an end to one’s inner conflict. With the end to this conflict can be attained purity of behaviour. One’s relationship with others can be pure and fair only if one’s mind is pure. The fifth Guru, taking up this basic point, says:
Hoye ikatar milahu meirey bhayee
Dubidha door karhu live layee.
Hari Namai ke hovahu jodi
Gurmukh baisahu safa vichhayee. (SGGS, 1185)
Get together my dear brethren,
Leave conflict and be in tune
Sit down together on mats
Recite His Name, as the Guru says.
The fifth Guru not only exhorts us to remove conflict in our minds, he elucidates the idea. To assemble, it is necessary to sit together, and this needs patience and not haste. Spread mats, sit together patiently and talk to one another with purity of mind. The first condition for removing the conflict is the purification of mind. One can concentrate on His Name when one’s mind is pure. These lines, while explaining the Guru’s tradition, exhort the common man to free his mind of impurities and then talk to his fellow devotees. Any doubt, misunderstanding or misapprehension can be removed by sitting together. This is the direction which leads one to tread the path of equal partnership.
The fifth Guru’s teaching mostly concerns the person. Learned ones have called this a ‘dialogue with mind’ to make it understand. So long as the mind is not purified, the requisite common values cannot be imbibed without which it becomes difficult to live smoothly. It is for this reason perhaps, that the fifth Guru cautions the person:
Man toon jo ti saroop hain
apna mool pachhan. (SGGS, 441)
O my mind, know thy origin;
Thou art part of His Own Light.
Atam Ram sarab mahi pekh
Pooran poor rahya Prabhu eik. (SGGS, 892)
Perceive Him in one and all
As God dwells in everyone.
Right from birth, one gets entangled in worldly relationships to undergo the imprisonment of countless relationships is one’s destiny. The fifth Guru forewarns us that in the process of pleasing others, one should not lose sight of righteousness:
Bahu parpanch kar par dhan liyavai
Sut dara peh aan lutavai. 1
Man merai bhoolai kapat na kijai
Ant nibera terai jia peh lijai. (SGGS, 656)
You bring in ill-gotten wealth
by fair and foul means.
And pass it on to your wife and sons.
O my misguided mind, don’t do
this type of deception for which
You will be held accountable.
What is really required by human beings is to recite His Name. But entangled in the illusion as he is, he is wasting his time. He has become so very careless that he has forgotten about the end. Guruji warns him:
Hari Naam lehu mita lehu
Aagai bikham panth bhyana. 1. rahau.
Sevat sevat sada sev
Terai sang basat hai kaal. (SGGS, 214)
Recite His Name, O dear friend of mine
The path that lies ahead is so horrifying. pause
Do serve and go on serving
Death dwells within thee.
Evidently the greatest emphasis of the fifth Guru is on those virtues which are concerned with man personally. Man should give up his inner conflict and know himself. He should perceive God in everyone, he should not earn by unfair means and make the best use of time, recite His Name, etc.
In all, the fifth Guru’s teachings lay emphasis on man’s personal behaviour. It should be borne in mind that these values are the same as relate to man’s self, a particular person as also the community and humanity at large. The purity of conduct is necessary in every situation otherwise the relations, whether social or religious, would get more and more complex. Living by honest earning, one feels confident and fearless wherever one goes. Of course, earning can be had by unfair means, it can be lavished on one’s family, but the first disadvantage of this is that it gives one a guilty conscience. One trampled under the burden of guilt cannot remain healthy and remains accountable everywhere, whether in this world or in the next. Being not clean in one’s conduct one remains under an illusion; one considers oneself right and others wrong. Removing this illusion, Guruji says:
Ham nahin changey bura nahi koye (SGGS, 728)
We are not good but others are not bad.
As a matter of fact, one should know one’s own reality. The fifth Guru has reiterated this time and again. He lays great emphasis on self-realization, honest labour, good thoughts, reciting His Name and wise and balanced thinking.
A question can arise that the pivot of Guruji’s teaching is higher human values, which are connected with one’s self. But can this be separated from the multitude? The answer would be ‘no’. Human behaviour is the life breath of a human being. The multitude can be imagined only because of the individual. If equal partnership is the attainment of human behaviour, the multitude is its touchstone. Human values are determined only in the context of the multitude. A multitude is an assemblage or cultural force from which a glimpse of equality can be had. The last phase of individual behavior is to put a stamp on the common virtues for which one has to pass through the multitude. One may talk of a particular individual or specific behaviour; collective behaviour would come at the centre. Without the multitude, the individual or universe remains incomplete. Human behaviour is pivotal to the concept of equal partnership. The multitude has to move around it. It can be compared to a hilly stream which widens at one point and narrows at another, and after completing its journey, flows into the sea. Only an individual joins others to evolve the concept of equal partnership. Only one individual’s perception becomes so wide that everyone comes within its fold. All boundaries and limits disappear. The limited becomes unlimited. A lamp is lit by another lamp. From one to many, and one in many echoes the glory of all.
Up to the time of Sri Guru Arjan Dev a certain set form had been evolved. While Guruji paid attention to the individual, the individual’s social behaviour was also not lost sight of. When a person breaks with himself, he turns to society. His behaviour needs to be accepted by society. But the real social set up is that in which individual behaviour is accepted by society. In Gurmat, congregation or the congregation of the righteous is Sikh society.
When the fifth Guru fixes his attention on the journey of man from the individual to the social state, he says in this hymn:
Prathmai teri niki jaat. Dutia teri maniai paat
Tritiya tera sunder thaan. Biger roop man mahi abhiman.
Sohini saroop sujan bichakhan.
Ati garbai mohi phaki toon. 1. rahau
Ati soochi teri paksaal. Kar isnan pooja tilak lal.
Gali garbahi mukh goveh gyan.
Sabh bidhi khoyee lobh suaan. 2 (SGGS, 374)
First, you belong to a high caste
Secondly you are honoured everywhere
Thirdly your abode is so beautiful
But all this is spoiled by your ego
Blessed with a beautiful body
You are endowed with intelligence
But your egoism reduces your esteem.
Your kitchen is absolutely pure
You take bath and put a red mark
On your forehead and worship
But all these virtues are of no avail
If the dog of greed is within you.
This hymn describes the nature of human desires as to how an ordinary person thinks when he moves in society. Firstly, he should belong to a high caste; secondly, his family should be of good lineage; thirdly he should have a good house to live in. He does not stop here. He needs a beautiful woman who should be intelligent and wise. Thus on the one hand he begins to feel proud of all this, on the other, he gets caught in his attachment to all this. Strangely enough, he goes on performing his outward actions like maintaining a clean and unpolluted kitchen, he takes baths, makes a red mark on his forehead and worships. He talks wisely before others but he feels proud inside. Consequently he loses everything like a dog. Though this hymn has been composed in reference to an individual, it relates to entire society. One makes a show only if someone is there to look at it. Guruji’s mind journeys from individual to society. It could relate to personal conduct also and to society as a whole as well. From an individual to society and from society to an individual; this has been vividly described in the fifth Guru’s hymns.
The Concept of Equal Partnership:
It would be appropriate here to have a look at the concept of equal partnership in Guru Arjan Dev’s hymns. Everyone has equal rights and has to make equal contribution because it is for everyone. Everyone is part of it, and none is regarded outside its ambit. Once there was a famine in Guru Arjan Dev’s time. Everyone was crying out for food. Guruji, moved greatly as he was, prayed to God :
Sabhe jia samhal apni mehar kar.
Ann paani mukh upaye dukh dalad bhann tar.
Ardas suni Datar hoyee sisat thar.
Levahu kanth lagaye apda sabh har.
Take care of every one, O God, bestow Thy Grace.
Let grain and water be available in ample measure
Remove difficulties and troubles of Thy children.
God heard the prayer and bestowed His blessings
Embraced His children and removed the calamity.
In this stanza is covered the well-being of entire creation. It speaks of the high value dear to Guru’s heart. Gurbani is not unmindful of the difficulties of the joys and sorrows of particular people but its approach is all-embracing. Its scope is very wide and extensive. Its message is not for one or a few but for all. The hymns of saints belonging to all faiths are enshrined in Gurbani, that is, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Gurbani talks of higher human values but its basic point is the individual. This is the main purpose of writing of Gurbani. There can be countless people having different ways of life – poor, rich, workers, traders, etc. but the message is the same for all of them. This is the secret of equal partnership for all.
Gurbani, because of its far-reaching approach, has great depth. It is more interested in the human and worldly concerns. It tells us much more than a human being ordinarily lives on, or what is visible:
Sagal banaspat mahi besantar
Sagal doodh mahi ghia
Ooch neech mahi joti samani
Ghat ghag madho jia. 1
Santahu ghat ghat rehya samahio.
Pooran poor rehyo sarab mahi
Jal thal Ramaiya ahio. rahau. (SGGS, 617)
Fire abides in all vegetation
Butter oil dwells in all milk.
His Light illumines everyone
He, the Master, lives in all. 1
O saints, he lives in every heart
He is all pervading, everywhere
He lives in water as also in land.
Though the Guru’s views are based on his own experience, it is very clear that he communicates not only with a particular people but the entire world at large. When he looks for the hidden truth, it is not expressed as concerning a particular religion. He simply gives some idea of the varied manifestation of the Supreme Lord:
Tera varan na japai joop na lakhiai
Teri qudrat kaun bicharai.
Jal thal mahial ravya sabh thayee
Agam room girdharai. 3
Kirat kareh sagal jan teri
Too abinasi purakh murarai.
Jio bhavai tio rakhahu suami
Jan Nanak sarani duarai. (SGGS, 670)
You can’t be described, your form can’t be perceived
No one can have an idea of your creation.
You are all pervading – in water, land and the ethereal world,
O Formless upholder of mighty mountains. 3
The entire world sings your praises, you are Eternal who vanquishes the enemies.
Save me, my Lord, in whatever way you like,
Thy servant, Nanak, is at your door seeking shelter.
God has been praised eloquently in this stanza. The Brahm hidden behind this praise, His omnipresence and His wondrous actions as Almighty are not linked to any particular religion, section, country or caste. It is for one and all. Evidently, the fifth Guru’s hymns shows his approach which is above any narrow consideration of community or caste, etc. God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent and He guides the entire universe in His Will. The mystic Gurus not only talk of the greatness of Brahm, but to Him, His unseen and Formless Self also. A reader can err in thinking that the one who talks and the other who listens can be human beings only though such experience can be had after attaining Him. One talks to one’s God in one’s ecstatic state when one gets fully attuned with Him and expresses his love for Him:
Sun yaar hamarai sajna, ik karau benantiya.
Tis Mohan lal pyarai hau phirau khojantiya (SGGS, 703)
Listen to a request of mine, O dear friend
Am ever in quest of my dear one – a gem.
Mohan nind na avai havai
Hark kajar bastra abharn kinai
Udini udini udini
Kab ghar avaigo.1 rahau (SGGS, 830)
O so dear to my heart, my lord,
I can’t sleep in distress
All make up and ornaments have I
Have also dressed myself well
Still I go on waiting eagerly
When would He come home!
Mandir char kai panth niharau
Nain neer bhar aiyeo. (SGGS 624)
I look for His arrival from my house top
With my eyes filled with tears.
In fact Gurbani establishes a one-sided dialogue. Therefore its emotional construction is single in nature. But strangely enough, its hero is the Primordial Eternal and Timeless Lord who always seems silent but who seems to assume human form when He is moved (by the love of the devotees). In that event, experiencing the mystique, He is in full form. Brahm, above the effect of illusion, is heard by him and such words are for the entire human race, and they descend into the minds without any discrimination like raindrops on the earth. No distinction is left between man and man. Everyone can feel the ecstasy of such an utterance; can feel joyous at such a wonder!
Such a state of mind is far above a temple, mosque, church or gurdwara for which only pure ground of mind is required. Everyone can share this:
Dukh bhanna bhai bhanjanhaar
Apnai jian ki kiti saar.
Rakhanhaar sada meharbaan.
Sada sada jaiyai qurbaan. (SGGS, 1271)
Everyone can experience the joy of God’s Grace
by purifying one’s mind.
Can thank Him (for His Blessings).
Can enumerate the kindnesses bestowed on one.
Guru Arjan Dev, being in the Guru tradition, follows a set lifestyle (evolved by Guru Nanak and his successors). This tradition is two-fold. On the one side is one’s own concern, and on the other is the concern for entire humanity. The Guru’s teaching to followers is equally applicable to others. Gurus do not exhort their Sikhs to any action which may be injurious to humanity or lead to enmity between man and man or lead people, driven by jealousy, to fight against one another. The Guru’s teaching is for the entire world. Everyone can derive benefit from it by following it. For the Gurus, the love of God is supreme:
Nanak vechara kya kahai. Sabh lok salahi eik sai.
Sir Nanak loka pav hai. Balihari jao jetai terai nav hai. (SGGS, 1168)
How can humble Nanak describe all His blessings
When all the people sing His praises all the time?
Nanak’s head is at the feet of those who worship Him
And he sacrifices himself unto all His Names.
Atam Ram sarab mahi pekh.
Pooran poor rehaya Prabh eik
Ratan amol ridai mahi jaan
Apni vastu too aap pachhaan. (SGGS, 892)
Perceive Him in everyone.
God Almighty is Omnipresent
Find the priceless Gem in your heart
Recognize your own by yourself.
Koyee bolai Ram Ram koyee Khudaye
Koyee sevai Gosaiyaan koi Allahe.1
Karan Karan Karim. Kirpa dhar Rahim.
Some say Ram-Ram, other’s recite Allah’s Name
Some serve the Gosayee (Master), others Allah.
He is the doer of everything
Shower Thy kindness, O Kind One!
Guru Arjan Dev’s sense of equal partnership does not lie only in the composition of hymns but its spiritual and social sphere is also wide and powerful. Today loud talk of national integration is heard everywhere but its real form has been shown by Guru Arjan Dev while compiling Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Fifteen saint poets of India were seated side by side with him (in the Holy Book). It was a great revolutionary act in the world of religion when the stranglehold of caste system was so strong and religious tension gripped the hearts and minds of people. There was opposition to the Muslim rule on one hand, and on the other, Sufi saints like Sheikh Farid, Bhikhan and Sant Kabir’s Bani was included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Though Brahmins were predominant in all spheres of life, the hymns of a barber (Sain), a butcher (Sadna), a cobbler (Ravidas) a Jat (Dhanna) and a Brahmin (Ramanand) found a place of honour in the Holy Book. Not only have their hymns been incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but the hymns have been placed in an order that the reader, while reading the Holy Book, goes from the hymns of the Gurus to those of the Bhagats and then again returns to the hymns of the Gurus. Such an integrated national consciousness without any difference is a unique design in itself. The entire Bani is given equal reverence. It was given only to the fifth Guru to give equal status to the hymns of all the Gurus and Saints. This Bani is an epitome of equal partnership, and like the commonwealth, it permits its free distribution. Everyone can read it; can enjoy reading it and experience peace of mind. Guru Arjan Dev built four tanks – Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ram Sar, and Santokh Sar; he also established three towns – Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Kartarpur; three Divankhanas (Assembly Halls) – Lahore and Kartarpur; five Baolis (wells with steps leading to water surface) – Baoli Sahib, Lahore, Bibi Bhani wala Khooh, Guru ka khooh, tin harta and chhe-harta; one Garden (Guru ka bagh in Amritsar); and one Kusht Ashram (Leprosy clinic) at Tarn Taran.
Building activity at such a large scale has a very clear purpose behind it. The tank, well and garden are a silent call to people to assemble. Divankhanas are also a means to get together. History bears witness to the fact that when the town of Amritsar was built, people engaged in 52 professions were financially assisted to settle down there. People from all sections of society were settled there. This provided an equal opportunity for all to stand on their own feet. Numerous artisans with a variety of crafts showed their skill in construction activity. Evidently the spirit of equal partnership, as set forth in Guru Arjan Dev’s Bani, is present in his philosophy of life. Guru Granth Sahib is the only authoritative symbol of a common devotional tradition of India. It contains the verses of saints of all regions. The imprint of the common culture of India is clearly seen in the Bhagat Bani included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Arjan Dev made use of many types of folklore and poetic forms as the medium of expression in Bani. These empty forms were filled with the contents of divine words, thus communicating the divine words to the people through a common idiom. On the other hand, folklore, which was on the lips of the people, was draped in writing. Thus folklore became the common heritage of the people for common use. Guru Arjan Dev made this common, shared wealth the means of communication of the divine message, thereby making it easily comprehensible. Moreover, the tone of equal partnership got higher.
On the whole, it can be said that the family tradition and the Guru tradition of Sri Guru Arjan Dev are parts of a single unit. His situational truth and Bani truth are the aspects of the same existence (two sides of the same coin). No feeling of discrimination or ‘otherliness’ is discernible anywhere in his verses. Side by side with the following of tradition, he is interested in establishment also but it is worthy of note that even in establishment, the principle of equal partnership is present in a big way. Guru Arjan Dev’s programme of ma contact not only led to carrying out building activities, the devotional aspect also received the greatest attention. He makes use of various forms of verse, musicology, prosody, etc., and many of his hymns are addressed to the listener, maintaining the important aspect of equality and fraternity. Else how could he be so well versed in fine arts? There is no duality seen in his verses. There is nothing out of place anywhere in his vast contribution. There is a cohesion of the spirit of national integration (Some recite the name of Rama, and the others of Allah), highly accomplished use of available means, and a fine sensibility. In his writing one can envision even the minutest detail of the material world coupled with a universal view, of which equal partnership is an important element. For example:
Karan karan karim. Sarab pritpal rahim.
Allah alakh apaar. Khud khudaye wad besumaar.1
Onamo bhagwant gusayeen.
Kahalq rav rahya sarab thayee.
Jagannath jagjiwan madho.Bhauhbanjan rid mahi aradho.
Rikhikesh gopalgovind. Pooran sarbatra mukand.2.
Meharbaan mauola tuhi eik. Pir paikambar seikh.
Dila ka malak karai haak. Qur’an kateb tei paak.
Narayan narhari dayal. Ramat Ram ghat ghat adhaar.
Basudev basat sabh thaye. Lila kichhhu lakhi na jaye.4
Mehar daya kar karnehaar.
Bhagat bandagi dehi sirjanhaar.
Kahu Nanak gur khoye bharam. Eiko Allah parbrahm.5 (SGGS, 896-97)
Thou art the cause and effect, O Kind Lord, the compassionate bestower of Grace on one and all.
Thou art Allah, beyond description, for some. Thou art God, above all, and All-Pervading,
Master of all; salutations!
The sustainer abiding in every one and everywhere.
Thou art the master of the universe; its life’s breath. Thou destroys the fears of those who remember Thee.
Creator, sustainer and destroyer, O Lord, art Thou. Thou grants salvation.
Thou art the One kind Master, the Pir and the Prophet.
Thou justly rules over all hearts. Thou art holier than the Quran and other scriptures.
Thou art the benevolent Lord. Thou abides in everyone and sustains everyone.
Thou art the master of the earth and abide in every particle thereof. The mystery of Thy creation cannot be unravelled.
Show Thy kindness, Omnipotent Lord.
Give Thy devotees Thy love, O Creator.
Sayeth Nanak, the Guru has destroyed all the illusion (and made us understand that) Allah and Parbrahm are one and the same.
It is clear that Guru Arjan Dev’s Bani is all embracing, without any consideration of caste and creed. And it is unique in its approach towards humanity. It is rich in word consciousness, intellect consciousness, action consciousness, knowledge consciousness and devotion consciousness, giving it the imprint of consciousness of One God Almighty. That is why it is unique. It has in it the capacity to absorb everything in its common culture and endow everyone with equal partnership.