Sikh Gurus: Their lives and teachings: Guru Angad Dev
“The Sikh Gurus ”
Guru Angad Dev
Angad had the sacred mark on his forehead
And the hallowed umbrella over his head.
He ascended the throne of Guru Nanak,
The Guru’s spirit had entered the disciple.
At Khadur near Taran Taran in the Punjab, there lived a prosperous trader called Pheru. His son Lehna was an ardent devotee of Durga, the Hindu goddess. He led parties of pilgrims to her temple at jwalarnukhi every year. They went singing and dancing all the way.
Early one morning while meditating on the goddess, Lehna heard a neighbor called Jodha recite a hymn which touched his soul. He tried in vain to forget it, the melody echoed and re-echoed in his eats:
There is but one God,
His name is Truth,
He is the Creator,
He fears none.
Nor does He nurse ill will for anyone,
He is immortal.
Neither is He born nor does He die,
He is self-existent.
He is reached by the Guru’s favor.
At dawn, Lehna went to Jodha, his neighbor, and anxiously asked him whose hymn it was that he was reciting. Jodha told him all about Guru Nanak, who lived at Kartarpur. Lehna decided in his heart of hearts to visit Guru Nanak on his way to Jwalamukhi a few days later when he led the pilgrims’ party.
However, when he mentioned it to his companions, they did not approve of it. They worshipped the goddess and they would not pay homage to anyone else, particularly on their way to the deity. Lehna was helpless. Had he not been leading the party, he could have opted out, but as the leader of the group, how could he desert them? He longed to see Guru Nanak.
Lehna prayed to Guru Nanak with folded hands day and night. The hymn had caught his imagination. He must see the Guru. Then one night he mounted his horse and left for Kartarpur without telling anybody. Early next morning, he was with the Master, his head on his feet.
From the day he met Guru Nanak, Lehna served him day and night like a bonded slave. When he went to the fields, Guru Nanak found Lehna working with the peasants, at mealtime he was found serving in the kitchen, at the time of prayers he was among the devotees singing with complete abandon.
Then Lehna wished to be initiated formally as a Sikh and stay with the Guru. Guru Nanak advised him to go to his people for a few days and settle his household affairs before he joined him permanently. He had a wife and children awaiting him. Accordingly, Lehna went home and made adequate provisions for his family, and in no time he was back. The day he arrived he was wearing the rich silken garments of a well-to-do trader’s son. Finding Guru Nanak not at home, he went to the fields looking for him. The sun was setting as he reached the fields. Guru Nanak had three loads of fodder collected and tied up to be carried home for the cattle. Since it had rained in the afternoon, the fodder was wet and muddy. When Guru Nanak found the peasants unwilling to carry the bundles home, he asked his two sons. They, too, declined, saying that they would send a servant from the house who would carry them. At that moment Lehna appeared on the scene. He picked up the bundles one upon the other and carried them home, all three of them. Lehna’s rich dress was completely soiled.
Guru Nanak’s wife, Mata Sulakhni, was unhappy to see a guest treated thus. Guru Nanak told her that the load was carried by one who was fit to carry it. She didn’t seem to understand. See how his clothes have been dirtied, she protested. It’s not dirt, it’s saffron, remarked Guru Nanak. And for a moment Mata Sulakhni didn’t believe her eyes. It was indeed saffron splattered all over Bhai Lehna’s dress. It is said that the three bundles that he carried represented the spiritual, the temporal, and the stewardship of the Sikhs, which were to fall on his shoulders shortly.
One night, a portion of the compound wall in Guru Nanak’s house collapsed. It was during a spell of winter rain. Guru Nanak desired that the wall be erected immediately, that very night. His sons thought it was the job of the masons, who would attend to it the next morning. Lehna volunteered to raise the wall as desired by the Master. Lehna had hardly completed the job, when Guru Nanak turned up and remarked, It’s all uneven. Lehna demolished the wall and started doing it all over again. This time, too, Guru Nanak was not satisfied. The wall was pulled down again. Guru Nanak’s sons advised Lehna not to heed the crazy old man. But Lehna would not listen to them. He obeyed his Master and started doing the wall afresh.
Guru Nanak was extremely pleased with Lehna’s devotion. The more Lehna endeared himself to the Master, the more jealousy he created in the household. His worst enemies were the two sons of the Guru-Lakshmi Chand and Sri Chand. Since Guru Nanak didn’t wish any unpleasantness in the house, he advised Lehna to go back to Khadur and look after his family. Guru Nanak had once stayed at Khadur and there was a nucleus of his devotees who needed guidance that Lehna could provide. Lehna heeded his Master’s instructions in all humility and left for Khadur.
At Khadur, Bhai Lehna lived in the style of his Master. He spent his time in the service of the people and in meditation. Every day his wife cooked food that was distributed to the poor and the needy. Whenever he found time, Lehna went out of town and, sitting by the side of a tank, meditated on the Master. Though physically he was at Khadur, Bhai Lehna’s thoughts were always with the Master. He longed to see the Guru. And then his prayers were heard and Guru Nanak paid him a visit. He was extremely happy about the way Bhai Lehna had collected the devotees around him. Congregations were held both in the morning and in the evening. Guru Nanak blessed Lehna and, after staying at Khadur for a little while, got ready to leave for Kartarpur.
Lehna wanted either the Guru to stay with him or himself to accompany him to Kartarpur. Moved by his devotion, Guru Nanak agreed to take Bhai Lehna along with him to Kartarpur. At Kartarpur Bhai Lehna again plunged himself into the service of the Master. His humility and devotion won for him the worst hostility in the household. Guru Nanak was greatly pleased with him and one day, placing his hand on his head, blessed him and gave him the name of Angad-a part of his ang (body). He was no longer Lehna the son of Pheru, the trader of Khadur.
All indications were that Angad was to succeed Guru Nanak. He was the closest to him. But Guru Nanak must prove it to the fullest satisfaction of other aspirants, and humble their pride.
Guru Nanak made several tests, the last being one in which he asked his sons to eat what appeared to them to be a corpse. They scoffed at the suggestion, while Angad obeyed the Master blindly. Not only this, when he found it to be the sacred food, he brought it first to Guru Nanak and his sons to partake of it and he would eat only the leftover.
Before long, Guru Nanak ordained Angad as the Guru and invited Bhai Buddha, a trusted Sikh, to anoint him. After his succession, Guru Angad shifted to Khadur. Bhai Gurdas, the noted Sikh bard, has described it thus:
Angad had the sacred mark on his forehead
And hallowed umbrella over his head,
He ascended the throne of Nanak,
The Guru’s spirit entering the disciple.
Though he had come away from Kartarpur fully blessed and anointed by the Guru, the disciple missed his Master. Day and night he remembered his mentor and wished to have a glimpse of him. One day he came across a Jat girl called Nihali, who had heard about him and longed to pay homage to him. She was making cowdung cakes for fuel when she saw the Guru pass by the side of their house. She flung
herself at his feet and wished to entertain him with fresh milk. Guru Angad was moved by her devotion and asked if they could place a room at his disposal where he could live in hiding as he wished. What more did Nihali want in life? They vacated a room for the Guru and placed it at his disposal. It is said the Guru would have nothing but a little milk twice a day and meditated in the room for six long months, unknown to the world from which he had disappeared.
In the meanwhile, the Sikhs became panicky. They looked for the Guru everywhere. A deputation comprising Bhai Lab, Bhai Saido, Bhai Ajita and others went to Bhai Buddha, who ~was greatly respected by Guru Nanak, to have him help them locate Guru Angad. Bhai Buddha was a man of great insight, he had been particularly blessed by the great Guru. He led the anxious Sikhs to Khadur to Bibi Nihali’s house, where in a secluded room Guru Angad was found in deep meditation.
The Sikhs were astonished to find that their Guru appeared to he the very image of Guru Nanak. The same glow in his eyes, the same resplendence on his face, the same halo around his head. His words were poetry. He was compassion incarnate. Still Guru Angad seemed to long for Guru Nanak. When he saw Bhai Buddha, he said:
He whom you love, die for him.
Accursed is the life lived without the beloved.
The head should be sliced that does not bow before the Master.
o Nanak! the body should be burnt that suffers not the agony of separation.
By using the nom de plume Nanak, Guru Angad testified to the fact that he was Guru Nanak himself. The great Guru’s spirit had entered into him. He was no longer Lehna, trader Pheru’s son.
Bhai Buddha and his companions persuaded Guru Angad to come out of his hiding-place and meet his disciples, who were yearning to have a glimpse of him.
It was difficult to refuse Bhai Buddha. Guru Angad asked Bhai Buddha how he happened to come so close to Guru Nanak and be favored by him. Bhai Buddha told him that as a child he was once
watching his mother make a fire. He was surprised to see that the small pieces of firewood lighted more easily and were consumed faster than the larger pieces. He was convinced that death was a reality and it was no respecter of age. One could die any time. He had not yet recovered from this perception when one day the king’s soldiers passed through their village mindlessly ravaging the crops. Bhai Buddha ran home to report to his father, who said, Child, you can do nothing with the king’s soldiers. Bhai Buddha realized that if his father couldn’t protect his own crops from the king’s men, how could he save his child from the clutches of death? This realization led him to Guru Nanak, who showed him the light and freed him from the fear of death.
We have now come to you. You are Guru Nanak incarnate. Kindly show us the path of liberation, said Bhai Buddha and his companions.
At this, Guru Angad uttered these words in utter humility:
He who has been blessed by Guru Nanak
Is lost in the praises of the Lord.
What could one teach those
Who have Divine Nanak as their Guru?
Guru Angad followed Guru Nanak in his daily routine. He woke up long before daybreak and went into meditation. At dawn, the recitation of lap ji was followed by Asa di var sung in a congregation with the Sikhs joining from far and near. Satta and Balwand, the two local musicians, were particular favorites and they led the singing of hymns daily. Guru Angad also followed Guru Nanak’s practice of maintaining a free kitchen for all those who came to visit him, irrespective of caste and creed. He also took a keen interest in physical exercise and watched wrestling matches in which his devotees participated. Guru Angad came to be known as the healer of incurable ailments like leprosy, and poor patients came to him in large numbers.
Once Malu Shah, an orderly in the Mughal army, came to Guru Angad for spiritual guidance. The Guru was aware that the Mughals were in a bad way those days. He advised Malu Shah to remain loyal
to his master and serve his King devotedly, more so in his adversity.
Humayun had succeeded Babar on the Mughal throne but he was soon overpowered by Sher Shah. As he was being hounded out of India he came to Khadur to seek Guru Angad’s blessings. It so happened that, when he came to the Guru, he was sitting in a congregation listening to hymns being sung by the devotees. The Mughal king had, therefore, to wait for a while. Humayun felt slighted and, losing his temper put his hand on the hilt of his sword, threatening to attack the Guru. Guru Angad was unmoved by this threat. He chided Humayun, When you should have used the sword, you did not, rather you ran away from the battlefield like a coward. Here with a dervish, you show off, threatening to attack unarmed devotees engaged in prayer! Humayun heard it and felt humbled He wished to be pardoned. Guru Angad then reminded Humayun about Guru Nanak’s prophecy. He must leave the country in his own interest and, as foreseen by the great Guru, he would return to his throne shortly thereafter. History is witness that Humayun attacked India in due course and regained his throne.
A certain Sikh, Mana by name, used to serve in the Guru’s kitchen. He was a good cook and became a great favorite of the Guru. This turned his head. He would listen to no one and was rude to everybody. He said that he would serve only the Guru and none else. It so happened that one day a few Sikhs visited the Guru at an odd hour. When asked, Mana was reluctant to attend to them. He insisted that he would obey the Guru and listen to none else. At this, Guru Angad sent for him and told him to go into the jungle, make a funeral pyre, and burn himself. Mana must obey the Guru’s orders. He went to the jungle and collected firewood and erected a funeral pyre. But when it came to setting fire to himself, he wavered. At that very instant, a robber turned up in the jungle and asked Mana what he was going to do. Mana told him all about his Guru. When the robber heard it, he was so much moved that, handing over the pot in his hand to Mana, he decided to honor the Guru’s word. The robber burned himself to death, while Mana carried the pot, which was full of jewelry and precious stones, to the town to sell it. As he was negotiating the sale of his fortune, he was arrested by the police for having committed a robbery and was then hanged.
Similarly, Satta and Balwand had also become swollen-headed. They had come to believe that all the popularity of Guru Angad was due to their excellence as musicians. They started making all sorts of fantastic claims. Guru Angad put up with them, but then came a stage when he felt that he had to take some action. He asked them to quit service and advised his followers to have nothing to do with them. At this, they started their independent service. It was indeed very rude and Guru Angad ordered that, far from having anything to do with them, none may mention even their names in his presence. He who spoke about them to the Guru would have his face blackened, be mounted on a donkey, and taken through the town. They were not only rude to him, they were disrespectful even to Guru Nanak. They believed that since they sang the Guru’s praises, the Sikhs came to him. Without them, no one would visit the Guru. They continued holding musical sessions at their own place. They sang both in the morning and in the evening but no one ever went to them. On the other hand, the Sikhs in Guru Angad’s congregation started singing hymns on their own and were highly popular. Before long, Satta and Balwand realized their folly and started looking for someone who could arrange for their reconciliation with the Guru. But in view of the Guru’s condemnation of their conduct, no one dared give them any quarter. They tried their best but they failed miserably. At last, they went to Lahore to see Bhai Ladha, who had considerable influence with the Guru. Bhai Ladha was aware of their misbehavior but, as a true Sikh of the Guru, he decided to do good for evil and intercede on their behalf. He, therefore, had his face smeared with ash, and riding on a donkey he went through the entire town of Khadur and then, presenting himself before Guru Angad, begged his favor to pardon the erring minstrels. The Guru was greatly moved at Bhai Ladha’s spirit of self-abnegation and dedication to the lofty ideal of. mercy and compassion upheld by Guru Nanak, and took Satta and Balwand back in his fold.