Sikh Gurus: Their lives and teachings:Guru Amar Das
“The Sikh Gurus ”
Guru Amar Das
The community was delighted to see
Guru Nanak’s umbrella over Amar Das’ head.
He was seventy-three when Amar Das was ordained the Guru. A mere devotee, who prided himself on being the humblest servant of Guru Angad; living where the Guru desired him to live, doing what the Guru ordained him to do, he was raised to the supreme status of Master who had to provide leadership to a new resurgent community. He felt that he must equip himself for it. In humility and in a spirit of thanksgiving, the first step he took was to retreat to the attic of his house at Goindwal and meditate day and night praying for God’s grace, Guru Nanak’s blessings, and Guru Angad’s guidance for the heavy responsibility placed on his shoulders. Satta, the minstrel, has described Guru Amar Das’ taking over as the third Sikh Guru thus:
The community was delighted to see
Guru Nanak’s umbrella over Amar Das’ head.
The grandson was as revered as the father and the grandfather.
The Sikhs started flocking to him from far and near. However, Datu, one of Guru Angad’s sons, was not reconciled to his father’s decision. He had set himself up as guru at Khadur, as successor to his father. But, to his utter dismay, nobody cared to visit him. Before long, he lost his patience and, accompanied by some of his followers, he came to Goindwal to assault Guru Amar Das. In a fit of temper he said, You were a mere menial servant of the house until yesterday and how dare you style yourself as the Master? He is said to have kicked the revered old soul. Rather than get annoyed, Guru Amar Das held Datu’s foot and started caressing it, as if it might have been hurt while hitting the stiff bones of an old man.
As desired by Datu, Guru Amar Das left Goindwal for an unknown destination, and Datu established himself as the successor to his father. However, no one paid any reverential attention to him; he was held in contempt instead. In the meanwhile, Guru Amar Das went to his ancestral village, Basarke, and shut himself up in a small room with a notice on the door saying, He who opens this door is no Sikh of mine, nor am I his Guru. Days passed, and the Sikhs grew impatient, looking for the Guru. At last, they went to Bhai Budha.
Bhai Budha closed his eyes in contemplation. After a while he opened his eyes, and suggested that the Guru’s mare should be let loose and the Sikhs should follow her. She would lead them to the Guru’s hiding place. The Sikhs did exactly as they were told. They had Bhai Budha also accompany them. And as observed by the great sage, the mare led them unmistakably to the hut where the Guru had hidden himself. But the instruction on the door was forbidding.
Bhai Budha came to their rescue again. He suggested that they should break open the back wall and enter the hut. They would, in this way, not be violating the Guru’s injunction. The Sikhs did accordingly and entering the hut, Bhai Budha remonstrated with the Guru: Guru Angad had tied us to your apron, where should we go now if you are not to show us the way ? This brought tears in the eyes of Guru Amar Das. Unable to disregard his disciples, he mounted the mare and accompanied them to Goindwal. The opening in the wall at Basarke is still intact and has since become a place of pilgrimage. Datu, in due course, understood how mistaken he was in arrogating to himself the title of Guru. Nobody took him seriously now, and he returned to Khadur. It is said that at a little distance from Goindwal, he was intercepted by robbers who looted all that he had on his person and beat him severely.
On his return to Goindwal, Guru Amar Das attended to the various needs of his Sikhs. He set up a free kitchen where everyone, irrespective of caste and creed, was welcome. In fact, the Guru made it obligatory of all those seeking his audience to first eat in the langar and then go to see him. This helped in ridding Hindu society of the evil of the caste system, brought the Hindus and the Muslims closer, and fostered communal harmony. The Guru also tried to eradicate social evils like sati, requiring a Hindu widow to burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre or remain unmarried all her life after the death of her husband. With a view to spreading Guru Nanak’s message far and wide, Guru Amar Das trained a band of 146 apostles, of whom fifty-two were women, to go to various parts of the country and attend to the spiritual needs of the Guru’s followers. It is said that he also set up twenty-two man us (dioceses) presided over by devout Sikhs.
As the message of Guru Nanak spread, more and more people visited Goindwal. Some of them decided to settle there to benefit by living in the Guru’s proximity, attending his darbar morning and evening. It was felt that the town, having expanded out of all proportion, was going through a shortage of timber for construction. When the Guru was apprised of this situation, he deputed Sawan Mal to go to Haripur in Kangra district, arrange for the felling of pine and cedar trees, and float them down the Beas river. Sawan Mal sought the local Raja’s help, which expedited matters. The Raja of Haripur then came to pay homage to the Guru accompanied by his queens. The king also had to partake of food in the Ian gar like everyone else before he could see the Guru. One of the queens insisted on wearing a veil in his presence. He called her jhalli (crazy) for being so self-conscious and she, it is said, became insane instantly, tearing at her clothes and running away into the jungle.
By now Goindwal had become a flourishing town and a number of Muslim dignitaries came and settled there. As members of the ruling community, they tended to be overbearing. They harassed the non-Muslims on one pretext or another. Even their children were unruly. They pelted stones at the Sikhs who went to bring water for the Guru’s household and broke their earthen pots. When the matter was reported to the Guru, he counseled forbearance and suggested that his Sikhs bring water for the household in metal pots. Now, the unruly Muslim youths started aiming arrows at them. A band of sanyasis happened to pass through Goindwal one day and the Muslim youths, spoiled as they were, also misbehaved with them. A scuffle followed, in which a number of them lost their lives. This taught them a lesson and there was peace in the town for some time. However, it did not last long. After a few days, the Muslim youths started their old practice of harassing non-Muslims. Every time it was reported to the Guru, he advised his disciples to be patient. They must not take the law into their own hands. They should have faith in God, who must do justice sooner or later. So the Sikhs could neither retort nor strike back.
A little later, a detachment of the Mughal force was carrying the imperial treasure from Lahore to Delhi. While passing through Goindwal, one of their mules was lost. The mule was carrying the state treasure. The soldiers searched for it high and low. The leader of the detachment had a proclamation made in the town but no one seemed to know where the mule could have disappeared. Eventually, the mule, which had been hidden in the Muslim quarters, started braying in captivity. The matter was duly reported to the Nawab who was already aware of the Muslims in Goindwal harassing the Sikhs and of their scuffle with the sanyasis. He ordered demolition of their houses, confiscation of their property, and their imprisonment.
Once the Guru, along with some of his disciples, was passing along a street. It had been raining for several days and it seemed the wall was about to collapse. The Guru hurried his steps and advised his companions also to do likewise. When they came out of the street, his disciples wanted to know why the Guru behaved the way he did. Was he afraid of death? The Guru smiled and observed, Human life is a blessing that many a demi-god yearns for. One should preserve life as long as possible. A healthy, smiling face is pleasing even to God.
The working of miracles is not looked upon with favor in Sikhism. A number of miracles are attributed to Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus, but it is also a fact that Guru Nanak and the Gurus following him scoffed at miracles as mere gimmickry. A couple of times when Guru Nanak was asked to work a miracle, he declined. Guru Tegh Bahadur specifically forbade his envoy to the Mughal court to work a miracle. Later, rather than deviate from his principle and work a miracle for the king, he chose to give up his life. And yet miracles are said to happen and men of God are believed to have worked them. Accordingly, a number of miracles are attributed to Guru Amar Das.
While Angad refrained from them, even when it meant hardship to his person (he left his town rather than bring rain to a rainless region), Guru Amar Das seemed to have worked miracles from time to time, maybe because he had launched, a massive reformation movement trying to spread Guru Nanak’s message to the people and it is always easier to impress people with something unusual and seemingly supernatural. Among spiritualists, miracles are never deemed to be an achievement. Even novices on the spiritual path are said to have worked miracles.
Some of the miracles attributed to Guru Amar Das are:
Haripur Raja’s mad queen, who was roaming the jungle, assaulted a Guru’s Sikh who called himself Sachansach. He had gone to the forest to collect firewood. The next day the Guru sent Sachansach armed with one of his slippers. When the mad woman came to assault him, Sachansach shielded himself with the slipper. It is said that the moment the slipper touched the queen, she regained her sanity.
A goldsmith in Goindwal married an elderly lady. They naturally didn’t have any children. This made them unhappy. They had a well dug and a temple built for travelers. The Guru was pleased and blessed them. They had two sons. Since the mother was too old to bear children, people started calling the babies maipotre-Mummy’s grandsons. The family continues to be known as Maipotre even today.
With a view to providing his Sikhs a place where they could have a holy dip when they visited Hardwar, Varanasi, and Kasi, Guru Amar Das decided to have a baoli dug in Goindwal. This is a sort of open water reservoir with wide steps approaching the surface of the water. Rather than employing labor, the Sikhs joined hands after prayers on the day of the full moon in the month of Kartik and in a few days dug~, deep enough to strike water. However, they found that there was rock that hindered their progress. The Sikhs were at a loss to know what to do. They went to the Guru for advice. Guru Amar Das contemplated for a while and then told the Sikhs, The slab will have to be blasted, but my fear is that the one who does so, if he cannot be brought out instantly, might be overpowered by the gushing water and drowned. Now who was there to take this risk? The Sikhs looked at one another. Then suddenly Manak Chand of Vairowal volunteered to go down the baoli and do the needed task. As observed by the Guru, the moment the slab cracked, the water gushed forth with such force that Manak Chand was overpowered and drowned! The next morning his body was found floating on the surface of the baoli. Manak Chand’s mother saw it and lamented the loss of her son. His widow shed tears of blood. The Guru took pity on them and called out to Manak who, it is said, opened his eyes in response to the Guru’s call. The baoli in due course, was provided with pucca steps. The Guru declared that he who recited Japji once at every step would be free from the cycle of eighty-four lakh lives destined for every living being in creation.
Prema, a devout Sikh, lived in a village at some distance from Goindwal. He was lame in one leg and yet he carried a pot of milk for the Guru’s langar every morning. He walked with a crutch. Once it rained incessantly and the road to the town became slushy. He was advised by the villagers not to go to the town. But Prema was determined to do his daily duty to his Guru. When he left the village in rain and storm, slipping at every step, the passersby made fun of him, Your Guru heals all and sundry, why can’t he cure you of your limp? Prema paid no attention to what they said. But when he reached Goindwal, he was sent for by the Guru, who seemed to know what the villagers had said to his devotee. The Guru asked Prema to go to a Muslim dervish, Husaini Shah, who lived on the bank of the river and he would cure the limp in his leg.
Prema went over to the dervish and told him about what had come to pass. The recluse was scandalized to hear it. He picked up a stick to chastise Prema. Prema got frightened and ran as fast as he could. He had forgotten his crutch! It is only after he had come a good distance that he realized what had happened. It was, indeed, a miracle. He went back to the dervish and fell at his feet. Husaini said, Your leg had become all right when the Guru sent you over to me. He has only given me the credit for working miracles.
Amongst a band of devotees who had arrived from Lahore one day, Guru Amar Das spotted a handsome youth called Jetha. There was a strange spark in his eyes. He was never idle, always busy at one thing or another, whether it was cleaning utensils in the kitchen or helping in the digging of a baoli or attending to the Guru’s personal needs, such as giving him a massage, pressing his legs, or running odd errands for him. He had endeared himself greatly to the Guru. His real name was Ram Das. And he was truly a slave of God. Humble and helpful, he made friends with everyone with his fine looks and pleasant manners. In the meanwhile, Bibi Bhani, the Guru’s younger daughter, had come of age and her mother Masa Devi was keen to have her married. Once, sitting with her husband, she asked the Guru to look for a suitable match for their daughter. What sort of a match would you like to have for Bhani? asked the Guru. He should be a young man like him, said Mansa Devi pointing to Jetha, who happened to pass by, absorbed in some household chores. Then why not Jetha himself? the Guru asked spontaneously. The decision was made. A date was fixed and Bibi Bhani was duly married to Ram Das. Though married to the Guru’s daughter, Ram Das, rather than taking his bride away as is customary, continued to live with the Guru and serve him as devotedly as ever.
During one of his visits to Lahore, Emperor Akbar was crossing the river Beas. And he decided to make a slight detour and visit Goindwal to pay homage to Guru Amar Das, about whom he had heard a great deal. To see the Guru, even the Emperor had to partake of food in the langar like any other visitor. It is said that the Emperor sat with the lowliest of the low and ate with them and then had an audience with the Guru. Akbar was highly impressed at the meeting and wished to grant a jagir to the Guru for the maintenance of the free kitchen. The Guru would not agree to it. The rations are brought by the devotees daily and are distributed among them every day, said the Guru. We start afresh every morning. Nothing is saved for the next day. The Emperor insisted on making the grant in appreciation of the great humanitarian work being done by the Guru. Since the Guru would not accept any favor from the king, Akbar thought of a way out. I can, at least, present a few villages as a wedding gift to your daughter, Bhani, who is as much my daughter. The Guru could not decline it and the king had his way. After a few days when the headman of the town brought the formal papers of the endowment and other bounties from the king, the Guru sent for his son-in-law, Bhai jetha, and handed them over to him.
Once a rich devotee brought a necklace of pearls and offered it to the Guru. He wished to put the costly necklace around the Guru’s neck. I am too old for it, said Amar Das. You may put it on one who is most like me. The banker did not understand what the Guru was trying to convey. He handed over the precious necklace to the Guru and requested him to give it to anyone who he thought had been cast in his image. The Sikhs sitting around the Guru started making their conjectures. It could be either of the two sons of the Guru, Mohan or Mohri, they thought. To their utter astonishment, the Guru sent for jetha and put the necklace on his neck. It was a clear indication of what the Guru thought regarding a successor.
Consistent with the practices of Guru Nanak, who had advised Guru Angad to settle down at Khadur after his appointment as the second Guru, and Guru Angad, who had encouraged Guru Amar Das to reside at Goindwal, a time came when Guru Amar Das sent for Jetha and suggested that he set up a new township for himself. He had been endowed a jagir by the Emperor and it was the best way to make use of it. Accordingly, jetha decided upon a vacant tract of land at a little distance from Goindwal and built a house for himself. He then started the digging of a tank. In due course, a big village grew around it.
When Guru Amar Das felt that his end was drawing near, he sent for Bhai Budha and other prominent Sikhs, including his two sons, Mohan and Mohri, and declared: According to the tradition established by Guru Nanak, the leadership of the Sikhs must go to the most deserving. I, therefore, bestow this honor on Ram Das, known as jetha. Everyone present, excepting Mohan, bowed his head in reverence. As the custom was, Bhai Budha was then asked by the Guru to apply the tilak on Guru Ram Das’s forehead and the spiritual sovereignty passed on to the fourth Guru. Guru Ram Das became the image of Guru Amar Das, as Guru Amar Das was the image of Guru Angad, and Guru Angad was the image of Guru Nanak himself. It was the same spirit passing from one Guru to the other. Guru Ram Das was appointed the fourth Sikh Guru in 1574.
There was great rejoicing. Everyone was happy except Mohan, the Guru’s son, who felt that he had been denied his birthright. In the meanwhile, Bibi Bhani, too, created a complication. In a moment of fatherly exuberance, the Guru once told Bibi Bhani, Ask anything you desire and it shall be given unto you. The mother in Bibi Bhani said, If you are kind, the spiritual leadership should now remain in my family. The Guru hesitated, but he had given his word. He told Bibi Bhani, Your progeny will be revered by the world. You will be the mother of a universal saviour but, since you have plugged the free flow of Guru’s light, there will be unpleasantness and heart-burning at every step.
Considering that it was at the ripe old age of seventy-three that Guru Amar Das had become the Guru, his achievements during his tenure are considerable. By this time the Sikhs had emerged as a distinctive community. Amar Das sent out h~s emissaries to various parts of the country with a view to consolidating Guru Nanak’s followers into a well-knit brotherhood. Those who came to pay homage to him were properly looked after. The free kitchen, called Guru da Langar, became a permanent feature of the Guru’s headquarters. He provided the pilgrims a baoli and other amenities. He ensured that timber was available in the town for those who wished to settle in Goindwal permanently. The mischievous elements amongst the Muslims in the town, who harassed his Sikhs, were left to God for punishment. Similarly, when the orthodox Hindus complained to the king that Guru Amar Das was violating their time-honoured practices by rejecting Sanskrit and decrying their rituals and religious practices, he listened to the kings’ suggestion and agreed to visit Hindu places of pilgrimage, since he found God everywhere. The king, on his part, went out of his way to exempt the Guru and whosoever followed him, from the pilgrim tax. It is said that wherever the Guru went, he attracted large crowds. The Guru’s slogan Sat Nam Sri Wahguru resounded all over. He lived a simple life, eating two frugal meals a day, though it is said his langar offered all sorts of dainties for pilgrims. He spoke Punjabi and propagated his message in the language of the people. In view of his age, he didn’t do much travelling excepting a brief visit to Hardwar and other Hindu pilgrim centers, but he visualized the setting up of a premier Sikh center with a holy tank at Amritsar. A beginning towards this was made in his lifetime, though the main project was left to his successor, Guru Ram Das, to complete.
His teachings were as simple as his way of life.
Mere reading of the Vedas, the Shastras, and the Puranas can lead one nowhere, it is the Guru who can show the way
The Smritis and the Shastras talk about good and evil.
But they know not the truth,
They know not the truth,
Without the Guru they know not the truth.
Pilgrimages, penance, or the rituals of the Hindus were all right for the three ages-Satyug, Dwaparyug and Tretayug; they would, however, not do for the Kaliyug. It is the Name alone that can earn salvation in this age.
The Guru helps those who have endurance. God rewards patience. If anyone ill-treats you, bear it once, twice, thrice. God will Himself intervene on your behalf the fourth time.
A yogi does not become holy by donning garb and wearing earrings:
Wear the rings of humility on your ears,
And let compassion be your ascetic’s garb,
The fear of death be your ashes.
This is how you’ll conquer the three worlds, 0 Yogi!
There is no place particularly pure or impure. Where God is remembered, the place becomes sanctified:
The fire, the wind, and the water are impure,
Impure is whatever is eaten,
There is impurity in rituals and in worship,
Only he who remembers God is pure.
One must serve God alone. It is the service of the men of God that brings liberation. After one has prepared food, one must feed the holy men and then eat it himself:
Serve God and none other.
His service alone will get you your heart’s desire.
All other service is of no avail.
The Guru counselled the Sikhs on the day-to-day problems that they brought to him. Those who used to consult astrologers before undertaking any new venture he advised that the most favourable time is when a Sikh prays to God. One must invoke God even before starting to eat meals. Women must not wear veils; they are in no way inferior to men. One must not look at another’s wife with covetous eyes. One must avoid evil company. One must not be conceited and should not glorify oneself. One should forswear slander and falsehood. One should eat and work according to one’s capacity; overeating is bad, equally bad is not doing one’s duty. One must give a little of one’s earnings in charity. One should associate with virtuous people and should help and entertain strangers.
Though a number of miracles have been attributed to Guru Amar Das, there are also instances to show that he did not approve of them. He wished his Sikhs to accept the will of God and not to interfere in His ways. It is said that one Girdhari, a rich Sikh from the South, who had been married for many years, came to the Guru and wished to be blessed with a child. He had been married for many years and didn’t have progeny. He took a second wife but remained childless. The Guru heard him and said, No one can undo what’s written in one’s fate. The Guru advised him to do good deeds, remember God, and obey His will. Girdhari’s eyes were filled with tears. Evidently, his prayer had not been heard. As he was leaving the Guru’s darbar he happened to meet a Sikh t~’ the name of Paro. He was a great favourite of the Guru. Taking pity on him, Paro said, If you have faith, you should have five children. It is said that, in due course, Girdhari had five children. He brought them to the Guru. When the Guru came to know how he had been blessed with five children, he sent for Paro and reprimanded him. Bhai Paro, who had done so out of compassion for a Guru’s Sikh, asked Guru Amar Das’s forgiveness.
But then, as the Guru himself had said, saints are unaffected by joy and sorrow, as the lotus remains unaffected by water.
Like Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das had more copies of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad’s bani made, to which he added his own for use at the various man jis he had set up all over the country.
In Guru Amar Das we have another major step towards the consolidation of the Sikh community by inculcating in the Guru’s followers the virtues of clean living and service of the people in a spirit of humility and devotion to God.