“The Sikh Gurus ”
Guru Ram Das, a beloved of God, went to God’s own city.
He gave him a throne and seated him on it.
You are Nanak, you are Lehna, you are Amar Das . . ., Satta the minstrel sang when Guru Ram Das succeeded as the fourth Guru of the Sikhs. The same spirit moved from Guru Nanak to his successors, so that to not a few, they appeared to be one another’s images. When Baba Sri Chand, one of the two sons of Guru Nanak who had turned an Udasi (a recluse) and roamed all over the country, came to see Guru Ram Das, he was supposed to have been struck by the Guru’s close resemblance to his own father. He looked at the saintly beard of Guru Ram Das and observed, Why do you have such a long flowing beard? Guru Ram Das knew it was the old grouse-and not curiosity that prompted Baba Sri Chand to ask this question. He replied in all humility, It’s to wipe your feet with. Sri Chand felt embarrassed. He realized that it was humility that had won for the devotees, one after the other, the high honor that had been denied to him.
Guru Ram Das was the son of Han Das, a Khatri of Sodhi sub caste, and Anup Devi, known as Daya Kaur, who lived in Chuna Mandi in Lahore. They were God-fearing and led a simple life. After twelve long years of prayers, they were blessed with a son in 1534. He was formally given the name of Ram Das, though he was popularly known as Jetha-the first born. Jetha was fair of complexion and extremely handsome. When he grew up, he was always found in the company of holy men. His parents were keen that he should take to some worthwhile avocation, so that he could earn his living like everyone else. Accordingly, at the instance of a neighbor who used to peddle roasted gram, Daya Kaur prepared a bagful of roasted gram and gave it to Jetha to go out and sell. Jetha went to the bank of the river Ravi and fed the gram to a band of yogis who had eaten nothing that day. He thee came across a party of Sikhs who were proceeding to Goindwal to pay homage to Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru. Instead of going back home, Jetha joined the Sikhs and came to Goindwal.
Guru Amar Das at once noticed this young man with his pleasant bearing and his sense of devotion. If you have come seeking, then true sovereignty awaits you. The Guru gave him spiritual assurance. And while the rest of his companions returned to Lahore, Jetha stayed back to serve Guru Amar Das. He unfailingly attended to the Guru’s personal comforts. Besides, he was always willing to give a helping hand wherever it was needed, be it in the kitchen or at the baoli among those engaged in the excavation. He won every heart with his hard labor and godliness, including Guru Amar Das himself. It was his devotion that earned him the hand of the Guru’s younger daughter, Bibi Bhani. Even when he became the Guru’s son-in-law, he continued to be as devoted to him as ever. He stayed back at Goindwal and served the Guru as a humble slave. When Akbar invited Guru Amar Das to his court, the Guru deputed Jetha and he acquitted himself most creditably at the Mughal court. With his knowledge of Hindu mythology and Vedic lore, he convinced the Emperor that Guru Amar Das never had any intention to malign the Hindu faith; he was only trying to make people understand the true meaning of life. Only the body is cleansed when one bathes in sacred rivers like the Ganga, the Jamuna, or the Godavari. For the mind to become pure, one has to be with saints and men of God. The Hindus believed in the caste system; according to them, some are born high while others are born low. The Guru believed that all are born equal. It is only our deeds that determine whether we are high or low, good or bad. The Emperor was convinced that the Guru stood for a healthy approach to life and he did not malign any particular religion. Akbar, who was an exponent of Din-i-Ilahi, a new religion trying to combine in itself the best of Hinduism and Islam, found in the Guru’s teachings something essentially close to his way of thinking.
After he had been ordained as the Guru, Ram Das started building a new township on the jagir gifted to Bibi Bhani by Akbar. But till Guru Amar Das’ death, he stayed in Goindwal most of the time. This new township is what came to be known as Amritsar.
The name Amritsar, by which the premier seat of the Sikh community is known even today, is derived from the holy tank called Amritsar-the pool of nectar, around which the township grew. There is an extraordinary story about how people discovered the miraculous powers of this tank, which, it is said, used to be a small neglected pond near Patti, an old settlement. The kardar, or revenue collector, of Patti had five daughters, all five of them charming and talented. The youngest one was deeply religious-devoting a great deal of her time to prayers. She enjoyed meeting holy men. Her father, an arrogant government official, scoffed at her piety.
In due course, her elder sisters were married. For the youngest one who always said, God is the Cherisher of us all, a suitable match was yet to be found, and the father didn’t seem to be bothered about it. Whenever her mother reminded him about it, he reacted in anger and scorn, Let God cherish her.
The father, however, could not deflect his daughter from her belief. In a fit of temper the father married her to a crippled leper. The girl, instead of feeling broken, accepted her fate patiently. When they had to travel, she even had a basket made to carry her husband in. On their way once, they came to the pond near Patti. The young bride, wanting to collect food for herself and her husband, put her husband under a tree and went away to the nearby village. The leper, to his great amazement, saw a pair of crows come and dip down into the pond and turn into swans and fly away. He, perceiving what had happened, struggled out of the basket, and crawled to the pond. The moment he dipped into the water, he was no longer the leper be had been. When his wife returned from the village, she was most disturbed by this new presence. She wouldn’t believe a word of the story of his transformation. She thought the young man standing before her had maliciously done away with her husband to grab hold of her. She wailed and protested and went to Guru Ram Das who was, at the time, supervising the digging of the tank on the other side of the pooi. Even when the Guru explained the miracle to her, she would not believe. As it happened, the young man had not dipped one of his fingers in the pond water. This finger remained stricken with leprosy. At the Guru’s instance he dipped the finger in the pond and at once it became normal, and as healthy as the rest of the young man’s body. The girl went away with her husband a happy bride.
Bhai Gurdas, the noted scholar and poet, came to Guru Ram Das seeking his blessings and requesting his formal initiation as a Sikh. Greatly moved by his devotion and humility, the Guru asked Bhai Gurdas to proceed to Agra and look after the spiritual needs of the Sikhs there. Before he left, the Guru prescribed the following routine for his followers there:
He who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru
He must get up in the morning and say his prayers.
He must rise in the early hours and bathe in the holy tank.
He must meditate on God as advised by the Guru.
And rid himself of the afflictions of sins and evil.
As the day dawns, he should recite scriptures
And repeat God’s name in every activity.
He to whom the Guru takes kindly is shown the path.
Nanak! I seek the dust of the feet of the Guru’s Sikh
Who himself remembers God and makes others remember Him.
In the meanwhile, the Sikhs were busy day and night completing Amritsar-the holy tank of nectaf. Pilgrims came from far and near and joined in the work. The small hut that the Guru built close to the tank was expanded in due course. It is known as the Guru’s Mahl (palace) now.
Though the Sikhs did not spare any effort, the construction of the holy tank needed a large contingent of hired labour, which meant lots of funds. The Guru sent out his agents to various parts of the country to collect contributions for the construction of the holy tank and maintenance oL the free kitchens. These agents came to be known as masands. The Guru was called Sacha Padshah-the true king. The masands returned with a large fund and the completion of the holy tank was expedieted.
An aged couple came to the Guru and prayed to be blessed with a son. The Guru told them that nobody could change the course of destiny. The old couple persisted, saying that they knew they were not destined to have a son. They wanted the Guru to intercede. Touched by this unshakable faith, Guru Ram Das said, Well, I was to have had four sons, I’ll give one to you and I shall have three instead. And soon a son was born to the old couple. He was named Bhagtu.
Along with the holy tank, a settlement came up rapidly and it was called Ramdaspur-the abode of Ram Das. Later this acquired a new name, Amritsar-the city of the holy tank, as it is still known.
One of the Guru’s cousins, Sahari Mal, came to invite him to visit Lahore in connection with the marriage of his son. The Guru was much too preoccupied with the construction of the holy tank. It was an assignment made to him by Guru Amar Das and he wished to complete the work in his lifetime. He therefore called his eldest son Prithi Chand and asked him to go with Sahari Mal to Lahore. Prithi Chatid feared that his father was, perhaps, trying to eliminate him in order to install his youngest brother Arjan as Guru. Arjan was a great favorite of his father. Also, once it so happened that while the grandfather was eating, Arjan crawled into his room as a baby and tried to share his meal. The Sikh attending the Guru carried the baby away but he reappeared after a little while. He was again forbidden by the Sikh and removed from the Guru’s chamber. When the baby persisted in entering the room the third time, the Guru said, Here, you may have the tray that you must inherit one day. The Sikhs attending the Guru heard this and picked up the baby in reverence. Evidently, it was an indication that the baby would grow up to become the Guru one day Prithi Chand, who knew all this, refused to go to Lahore.
The Guru then called his second son Mahadev. He, too, declined to. oblige on some pretext. At this, Arjan, the youngest son, was summoned and apprised of the problem. He took no time to make up his mind to go to Lahore and participate in the wedding as desired by his revered father. As he was leaving for Lahore, the Guru told Arjan to take charge of the Dharmasala at Lahore and not to return until he was sent for: During one of his earlier visits to Lahore, Guru Ram Das had converted his ancestral house into a Dharmasala and he was keen that it should become popular with the Lahore Sikhs who congregated there for meditation and prayer.
Arjan had been gone to Lahore for several months and the Guru seemed to have forgotten all about him. There was no news from the Guru. As days and weeks passed, Arjan started feeling intensely homesick. He had already spent more than two years waiting for a call. At last he composed a poem and sent it to his father through a servant:
I long to see the Guru
My heart cries like a Chatrik bird.
Its thirst is no quenched nor is it still
Denied the sight of the beloved Saint.
I am sacrifice, I am sacrifice again
For a glimpse of the beloved saint.
When the messenger reached his destination, the Guru happened to be resting. However Prithi Chand, recognizing the servant from Lahore, inquired what brought him there. The messenger innocently told him that he had a letter from Arjan for the Guru. Prithi Chand took the letter and, assuring him that he would pass it on to the Guru, dismissed the servant. He opened and read the letter. Fearing that the moment the Guru saw the letter he would send for Arjan, Prithi Chand decided to withhold it and sent word to Arjan on behalf of his father that he should continue to stay at Lahore a little longer.
Several months passed and still there was no news. Arjan then composed another cants and sent it to his father:
You’ve a charming face, the melody of your word is enchanting.
It’s ages that the Sarang bird has seen water.
Blessed is the place where you dwell,
My dear friend and lord.
I am sacrifice, I am sacrifice again to my friend and lord. (2)
Lahore constantly, intercepted this letter also. He returned the messenger again with a message purported to be from the Guru that Arjan should continue to stay at Lahore and that the Guru would himself come to Lahore shortly, when he could accompany him on his return journey.
Again for several months Arjan waited for the Guru’s promised visit to Lahore but there was no news about it. In the meanwhile, he was feeling desperate. He longed to have a glimpse of his father, the Master. Arjan composed yet another piece and sent it to the Guru, making sure that the message this time was delivered to him personally by the messenger and to no one else:
A moment’s separation and it was like an age.
When do I see you now, my beloved Lord?
My night doesn’t pass, nor do I get sleep
Without seeing the Guru’s darbar.
I am a sacrifice, I am a sacrifice again to the true darbar of the Guru (3)
Since it was the third letter, this fact was duly indicated at the end of the composition by the figure 3. When the Guru read it, he wanted to know about the earlier two compositions. The messenger said that he had been delivering these to Prithi Chand. The Guru summoned Prithi Chand immediately. He, however, denied having any knowledge about the earlier communications. At this, the Guru sent an attendant to Prithi Chand’s quarters asking him to fetch the papers lying in the pocket of a garment that hung from a peg in a particular room.
Prithi Chand was humiliated for his treachery. He had no excuse to offer. Guru Ram Das sent for Bhai Budha and asked him to go to Lahore to bring Arjan with all honours back home. On arrival, Arjan recited the following composition in gratitude:
I am blessed having met the Saint Guru.
I find God Immortal in my own house.
Nanak! I am your slave.
I am a sacrifice, I am a sacrifice again to
Nanak whose slave I am. (4)
Everyone present was thrilled to hear the composition. The Guru embraced his son. He then ordained Arjan as the next Guru, inviting Bhai Budha to apply the tilak on his forehead. As one candle is lighted with another, the divine light traveiJing from ~urü Nanak to Guru Angad, from Guru Angad to Guru Amar Das, and from Guru Amar Das to Guru Ram Das, it now came to Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.
Prithi Chand didn’t accept Guru Arjan as the Guru and continued to misbehave and abuse the Guru and everyone else for denying him what he considered to be his birthright. Since he would not see reason, Guru Ram Das. had to condemn him publicly.
Shortly thereafter, Guru Ram Das felt that his end was not far. He sent for his family and his Sikhs, and taking their leave, closed his eyes not to open them again. It was in the year 1581.
Guru Ram Das was forty-seven years old when he left this world. He had been the fourth Sikh Guru for barely seven years when he chose his youngest son Guru Arjan Dcv as his successor.
It is a mark of his humility that, apart from the 679 hymns in which he sang of his devotion to his Guru, he has left little record about his own person.
Efforts had been afoot since Guru Nanak’s time to rid Hindu society of the rituals and the stranglehold of the priestly classes. The mass of people were soaked in superstitions and the privileged classes exploited their ignorance. Guru Ram Das introduced social reforms, particularly in the wedding ceremony, making it a simple affair and endowing it with the sacrament of the holy word. He composed a long poem in four parts to be recited at the time of the ceremonial perambulation:
At the first round I dedicate myself to the Lord
To Whom I am a sacrifice!
I accept the word as Brahma and truth as the Vedas.
I remember dharma and meditate on the Name:
Repetition of Name leads to meditation.
Devotion to the True Guru helps wash away sins.
I have attained the spiritual stage of Sahj
And have started relishing His Name.
Nanak! This is how I have made a beginning in the first round.
With the second round, I meet the True Lord
To Whom I am a sacrifice!
I have become fearless and cleansed of the filth of ego.
I fear God the Pure, I sing His praises and feel His presence.
My Master is omnipresent and I see Him everywhere.
He is alone in and out, I meet him and I hail Him.
Nanak! With the second round I enjoy the bliss of ecstasy.
Excited at the third round, I care not for worldly love,
0 Lord to whom I am a sacrifice.
With good luck I have found the saint who has led me to God.
i’ve come to God, the Pure, I sing His praises, I speak His language.
With good fortune I’ve found the saint.
I can now tell the tale that couldn’t be told.
The melody has started echoing in my heart
And I repeat His Name, lucky that I am.
Says Nanak! With the third round I have shed all worldly attachments.
At the fourth round my spiritual stage of Sahj
Has led me to the Lord to Whom I am a sacrifice!
Blessed by Him I’ve become a Gursikh.
I love God from my heart and soul.
I love God, God loves my loving Him.
I meditate on Him day and night,
I’ve attained my heart’s desire by singing His praises.
God Himself has made the beginning.
The bride is delighted remembering Him.
Nanak! with the Fourth round, I’ve found God the ever-loving!
Guru Ram Das could neither complete the holy tank nor start constructing the Golden Temple on its present site, because he left this world rather early in life.