The Holy Gurus and their Commandments
Guru Angad Dev shifted the seat of his mission to Khadur Sahib. Religious congregations began to be held there morning and evening. The new Guru continued in the footsteps of Guru Nanak Dev himself. Devotees from far and near were attracted to him. It had become known everywhere that Guru Angad Dev was occupying the "throne" of Guru Nanak
The new Guru too, like Guru Nanak and his own successors, composed holy verse or Gurubani. In all compositions by the Gurus, the author’s name appears as ‘Nanak’, indicating that all the Gurus were one in spirit and essence. Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur all used the name "Nanak" in their compositions, in pursuance of this vision.
The time came when Sri Amar Das, who was to be a great consolidator of the Sikh faith in its early phase, was attracted to the second Master, Guru Angad. Guru Angad Dev’s daughter, Bibi Amro, was married to the nephew of Sri Amar Das. She was reciting Gurubani one morning when Sri Amar Das chanced to listen to it. He was deeply religious at heart and had been regularly going to Hardwar on pilgrimage for many years. He was attracted to the "Gurubani" and, on inquiring, was told that Guru Angad had his seat at Khadur Sahib.
Sri Amar Das was fired with an intense desire to discover the true basis of religion. The various aspects of Hindu philosophy, the teaching in almost all books of religion, presumably came in for threadbare discussions at Hardwar. The search stirring within him was not quenched.
Bibi Amro, the daughter of Guru Angad Dev, was destined to attract him to the "word" of God revealed through Guru Nanak Dev and her father. Her recitation of Gurubani infused the keen desire in the listener to meet the author. He went to Khadur Sahib where the gracious presence of Guru Angad Dev conquered his soul. Sri Amar Das became an ardent devotee. Despite his advanced years, he rendered devoted service to the Master, thus setting an example to others.
When Guru Angad was about to leave this mortal world in March, 1552 he selected Sri Amar Das to succeed him as "Sacha Patishah" (Holy Monarch).
Guru Amar Das, the third Nanak, who was born at Basarke in the present Amritsar district in May, 1479, succeeded Guru Angad Dev as the third Guru. He established the famous shrine known as "Gurdwara Baoli Sahib" at Goindwal, situated in the Amritsar district. He emphasized his predecessors’ teachings that all men and women without distinction of caste or creed were equal in the eyes of God. He made it a rule that nobody should come to him without partaking of food in the common kitchen known as" Guru-ka-Langar". A memorable event occurred when the Emperor Akbar passed through Goindwal. He too was invited to partake of food from the community kitchen. It is recorded that he was so deeply impressed that he gifted some villages to the holy shrine.
Within the new Sikh Society the Caste System had been abolished, along with the curse of untouchability. Guru Amar Das also abolished the secluding of women, called purdah.
His commandment was that all His
Devotees must practice monogamy.
He made an injunction against "Sati" which was the practice of burning widows on the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands. To be pure, a woman was to live a life of inspired faith taking God as her companion, and was not to immolate herself.
Many of his devotees caught the religious spark from the Guru with fervour. They started propagating the new faith from numerous centres. Lahore was a city imbued with the new Sikh spirit. It was from Lahore that Bhai Jetha was attracted to Goindwal. As soon as he caught sight of Guru Amar Das, he spontaneously exclaimed "Waheguru" which meant that the Guru was unique and beyond admiration.
While his companions returned, Bhai Jetha continued to serve with intense devotion at Goindwal. Guru Amar Das had two daughters, Bibi Bhani and Bibi Dani. When the occasion for finding a life companion for Bibi Bhani arose, and the topic assumed importance, it was indicated by Bibi Bhani’s dear mother that the bridegroom should be as noble a youth as Bhai Jetha. Guru Amar Das there and then observed that Bhai Jetha alone could be his own parallel. So by the Guru’s will Bibi Bhani was given in marriage to Bhai Jetha.
Even after acquiring the status of son-in-law, Bhai Jetha continued to serve the Guru with unique humility and devotion. Then an event, very significant to all spiritual history, took place. There is some variation in the versions, but the point of agreement converges on the fact that in a situation when the Guru found that his daughter had risked the placing of her hand in substitution of one of the broken supports of the seat on which he was engaged in meditation and blood had trickled out, deeply touched, he asked her for a boon. Without hesitation, she prayed that Guruship should thereafter continue in her family. The Master observed that only those possessing the merit of belonging entirely to God were to ascend the throne of Nanak, but since he had agreed to grant the boon, her wish would be fulfilled.
History bears testimony that Guru Amar Das, before departing from this world in September, 1574, installed Bhai Jetha as the fourth Guru. Bhai Jetha, on ordination, took the name Guru Ram Das.
Guru Amar Das had indicated to his successor that he was to shift his seat to a place which was to be formed into a city in a portion of the land which had been gifted by the Emperor Akbar. The place, which originally came to be known as "Ramdaspur", was the forerunner of the great city of Amritsar. It is believed that since time immemorial there had existed a small pool which contained water possessing healing qualities. The fourth Nanak, Guru Ram Das, founded the city enclosing the pool inside it. The construction of the tank, capturing the waters of the heavenly pool inside it, was started by him. The Golden Temple was later erected in the middle of this tank.
The compositions of the Gurus were set to the tune of the Indian classical measures called Ragas. Thirty-one such measures are represented in the corpus of the holy Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Ram Das, like his predecessors, made a great contribution to "Gurubani" and his compositions in various "Ragas" are contained in appropriate places in Guru Granth Sahib.
Before leaving this mortal world, Guru Ram Das, on the basis of his spiritual foresight, bestowed Guruship on his son, Arjan Dev who was the youngest among his three sons.
It became established that the Guruship was to devolve on the basis of high merit and it was not a kind of right by primogeniture. The spiritual light passed on from one Guru to his successor.
Guru Arjan Dev came on the scene at a time when the Mughal authority was coming to realise the potential of the Sikh mission as a spiritual and political force of great consequence.
Guru Arjan Dev was especially gifted as an accomplished musician and a charismatic guide of mankind. He was a great builder of institutions. As his later life showed, he had in him the stuff that inspires man to seek martyrdom. With him, the Sikh mission acquired the dimensions of a nation, with its own organization, ready to perpetuate its distinct identity.
Despite the hostility of his elder brother who was intriguing against him, Guru Arjan Dev toured the areas of Central Punjab. Having imparted the message of Guru Nanak to all alike, whether living in mansions or in hamlets, he built new houses of worship, and established the town of Taran Taran, a few miles South of Amritsar.
Guru Arjan Dev planned cities and holy places in a grand design. Associated with him are the twin great temples of Amritsar and Taran Taran and holy pools in both places. All these are great marvels of organization and skill, to which the resources were provided by the devotees’ voluntary sacrifices, in money and labour. This tradition persists among the Sikh people.
The holy tank surrounding the holy Temple (now universally famous as the Golden Temple) at Amritsar was completed by Guru Arjan Dev.
The Sikh Gurus of Sikhism bore no rancour towards anyone. Religious eminence in any person received appreciation at their hands. A god loving Muslim saint, Mian Mir, was a devoted friend of the Guru. The compositions of another Muslim saint, Sheikh Farid, were included in the Sikh Scripture, the Granth Sahib, which Guru Arjan Dev compiled.
A unique achievement by Guru Arjan Dev was the compilation of the holy Granth, destined to be revered as the eternal Guru by the Sikhs. It was a great spiritual enterprise to select the hymns to be included in the Granth Sahib. Guru Arjan Dev not only collected the compositions by the first four Gurus and included his own, but also graciously made selections from the hymns of Kabir, Ravidas, Jaidev and other divine personages of India. The hymns of Namdev, who had advocated the worship of the one Sole God, had abjured inequitable caste and taught mankind the noble way of life, were included.
Guru Arjan was a great leader in social reform and condemned harsh constraints like ‘Sati’. At Taran Taran, he constructed hutments on one side of the holy tank wherein lepers were given shelter. It was long afterwards during the British regime that a lepers’ home and hospital were built, thereby the Christian Missionaries following the Guru’s example.
A complaint was made to the authorities that Guru Granth Sahib had belittled the Muslim faith. The Emperor Akbar, who was then reigning, after inquiry, felt satisfied that the holy Granth did not contain anything against Islam or any other faith. It preached the worship of one God, and universal brotherhood and goodwill.
It was destined that a new precedent should come to be established. A serious misunderstanding arose and one of the influential courtiers succeeded in persuading the new Emperor, Jehangir, to direct that Guru Arjan Dev should be arrested. The consequence was that Guru Arjan was imprisoned and was taken to Lahore to stand trial. False charges of abetting sedition and perverting religion were leveled against him.
Finding him fearless and upright, it was decided that he should be put to dire tests. History records that he was made to sit on a hot iron sheet. Not satisfied with that type of torture, the tormentors placed him in a cauldron of burning hot water. Ultimately, the boils on his body reached the bursting point and it became obvious that some blood might come out and fall on earth. There were the instructions that his blood was not to be allowed to fall on the earth. There are conflicting versions regarding the end of the Guru’s life. The accepted version regarding his attaining martyrdom is that he was thrown into the river Ravi, close to the royal fort at Lahore. At this spot now stands the holy shrine of Gurdwara Dehra Sahib in Lahore, commemorating his martyrdom.
Among the great compositions of Guru Arjan Dev is Sukhmani (Psalm of Peace), a noble spiritual composition that is daily recited by devotees. It brings peace to the soul, and is recited to the sick to bring solace and to comfort the last hours on earth departing life.
Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom remains a significant turning point in the history of the Sikh people. He stood up against tyranny and was unflinching before terror and torture. He sacrificed himself in order to inculcate the teaching that one must not bow to injustice. By his example, the Sikhs have been inspired to follow the path of sacrifice with self-dedication. In another aspect, his sacrifice was a turning point in the history of Sikhs, as it impressed upon them the need for self-defense against tyranny. This was institutionalized by the new Guru, Hargobind, successor to Guru Arjan Dev.
Guru Arjan Dev had exhibited the spirit of non-violence against tyranny. The cardinal points in his teaching are:
The hymns in Guru Granth Sahib had come from God and were to be worshipped and the directions therein were to be practiced through thought, word and deed. The faithful were to perform all their actions realising that they were living in the presence of God.
All human beings are to be treated as equals. Fearlessness is to be the rule of everybody’s conduct.
No compromise must be made with tyrannical rulers. The principle of righteousness must be cherished.
No rancour should be entertained against anyone on account of his belonging to any particular religion, caste or creed.
Guru Arjan Dev had included in the Granth Sahib hymns composed by Hindu and Muslim saints belonging to various castes, some held ‘low’ by tradition.
The Guru obviously visualized a time when, to defend faith and freedom, arms might have to be used. He had himself arranged training in the use of arms for his son and had started accepting horses and weapons of war.
Guru Arjan Dev was succeeded by his son Guru Hargobind whose birth had taken place on June 14, 1595 at Wadali, a place in the present district of Amritsar. He succeeded his father as the sixth Nanak in 1606.
It is stated that before being taken to Lahore under arrest, Guru Arjan Dev had asked his son to add temporal power to the spiritual, and to raise a force.
It is recorded that while going through the ceremony of accession, Guru Hargobind asked for two long swords and wore them, one on the right side and the other on the left. This assumption of the twin swords implied that temporal authority stood combined with spiritual authority and that the forces of evil were surely to be fought out and vanquished.
It is indeed important to recall that during the lifetime of the sixth Guru there lived a great saint reverentially called Bhai Buddha. Beginning with the accession of Guru Angad Dev, it was he who conducted the accession ceremonies of all the Gurus including Guru Hargobind.
An interesting episode is stated to have preceded the birth of Guru Hargobind. Guru Arjan Dev for long years remained without a child. His wife naturally yearned to have a son. Guru Arjan Dev asked her to invoke Bhai Buddha’s blessings as he had served Guru Nanak. When offerings were taken to Bhai Buddha, the meal included raw onions. Accepting the food prepared for him and his companions, Bhai Buddha took one of the onions and crushed it with his fist. He observed that the son to be born to her would crush the heads of tyrants in the same manner in which the onion had been crushed by him.
Guru Hargobind was the embodiment of the blessings given by Bhai Buddha. Guru Hargobind started for the first time the training of a regular fighting force and introduced into it various ranks. In order to initiate martial traditions, hunting and practicing of war exercises became a predominant feature of his way of life. Those who joined the ranks of the army gained the requisite instructions pertaining to offensive and defensive warfare. Thus a new turn was given to the Sikh faith, and it became militant in the service of God. A new confidence was infused among the Guru’s followers that they were equal in valour to those who were claiming superiority as belonging to the ruling race.
The preparations were methodical. Apart from training the army units, a fort was constructed in Amritsar. It was given the name ‘Lohgarh’ (The Iron citadel). The construction of the fort implied that the city of Amritsar was to possess and embellish a sovereign status. Nobody’s dominance was to be acknowledged.
The Guru’s throne established in Amritsar was not to acknowledge any ruling authority whose laws could be enforced in that city. The followers of the Guru, wherever they resided, were not to accept any temporal or spiritual authority except that of their Master.
In order to declare clearly for all times that the Sikhs were not to bow to any extraneous dominance, a high divine seat of temporal authority named ‘Akal Takht’ was established right across facing Hari Mandir now known as the Golden Temple. This was the ‘Immortal Throne’ of the Guru.
The precepts to be issued by the Akal Takht were always to be obeyed and complied with by those who professed Sikhism. To recall an instance, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was wielding absolute power as a king, was hauled before the Akal Takht when certain allegations were preferred against him. The Maharaja willingly appeared before the high priests functioning there. He was held guilty of certain lapses. He bowed before the Sikh congregation and submissively offered to be punished.
Till today, all those who have been found guilty have accepted the punishment imposed by the high priests functioning at the Akal Takht .
The Akal Takht, established by the Sixth Guru, is the acknowledged seat in the Sikh world wherefrom decrees pertaining to the Sikh organizational life are issued. Religious discourses are delivered there every day and a general atmosphere of strict piety is maintained.
It was a unique commandment issued by the Sixth Guru that the Akal Takht was for all times to be obeyed by all the Sikhs in temporal and religious matters. If there is any conflict in respect of any matter, then on a reference to them, the decision of the high priests functioning at the Akal Takht becomes final and binding.
Apart from the reciting of hymns in stirring tunes, the blowing of trumpets and the gathering of warriors had become very common. When the armed units marched at night, they had in front of them persons bearing burning torches raising high flames.
The Emperor Jehangir was persuaded that the activities of the Sikhs were to be curbed. He issued orders to secure the person of the Guru who was detained in the fort at Gwalior. He was detained along with some of the princes who were already confined there. It did not take long for the Emperor to realize that the detention of the Guru had added fuel to the fire and incited the Sikhs to swell their army ranks. The Guru was released from the fort. It is narrated that the Guru declined and asserted that he would not leave the fort if the others who were being held there were not released. The decision made was that all those who were able to hold in their hands any part of the cloak worn by the Guru would be allowed to come out along with him. Fifty-two princes were in detention. It was devised that the Guru should wear a wide cloak which should have attached to its rear part, fifty-two soft silken strings of different length. The garment was prepared. It was then worn by the Guru and the fifty-two companions in detention, each holding one of the strings, followed him out of the confining walls of the fort at Gwalior.
The Sixth Guru’s commandment becomes historically significant and important. It was that his Sikhs must, while being in love with God, imbibe the best martial spirit in order to be able to defend their inalienable rights.
The Guru acquired horses and men of all ranks became experienced horsemen. There were many men with fire-arms in the small army which the Sikhs formed. At that period, an incident took place which caused bitterness. The Guru’s followers and those of the Emperor Shah Jehan were involved in serious altercation disputing that a particular hawk did not belong to one party but to the other. Hot words were followed by blows. It is stated that the royal party was brow-beaten. When the Emperor came to know of the incident, he realized that if allowed to prosper, the Sikh power would be a serious challenge. In order to crush this rising tide, the Emperor directed that the Sikhs be attacked. Mukhlis Khan, a general in the Mughal army, was directed to attack Amritsar and capture the Guru. When the Mughal armies turned up for attack, they had to suffer defeat at the hands of the Guru and his men. Mukhlis Khan was slain. The Mughal forces had to go back empty-handed. The Guru proceeded from Amritsar to a nearby place, Jhabal. There the marriage of his daughter took place. Thereafter, he went to Kartarpur, now in the Jullundur district. There the ranks of the Guru’s forces began to swell further. The Mughals became aware of the increasing strength of the Sikhs.
After some time, the Sikhs were attacked by the Mughal army led by one Painda Khan. At that time, the Guru had two grown up sons, Baba Gurditta and Baba Tegh Bahadur. The Sikhs fought bravely in a crusading spirit. The consequence was that Painda Khan was killed and the Mughals were put to flight.
Taking into consideration the prevailing circumstances, the Guru decided to establish his authority in a new Centre. He moved to the northern regions. Crossing the stream of Sirsa, which flows beyond Ropar, he established himself at Kiratpur. The Guru thoroughly inspired confidence in his followers that their freedom to continue with their own way of life would be protected only if they were able to exert their armed strength. They were destined to guard the independence which they had achieved.
Guru Hargobind’s life presents a significant effort to enlarge the area from which Mughal dominance was to be eliminated. From Amritsar he had got to Kartarpur. Therefrom he had gone to the Malwa region. Having successfully fought the battles earlier, he shifted more than a hundred miles to establish a new impregnable centre for the Sikhs. The Hari Mandir and the Akal Takht were functioning all the while. At different places, there came to be establishments upholding the Sikh way of life. It was at the height of his achievements that he decided to impart the divine light to his grandson Hari Rai. Hari Rai was the son of Baba Gurditta and was twenty-four years of age when he ascended the throne of Nanak as the seventh Guru. Guru Hargobind having passed away on March 3, 1644, at Kiratpur, Guru Hari Rai began to function from there. His stay was, however, cut short and he felt the necessity of leaving Kiratpur with his family and the entire body of devotees around him. For some time he had to live in deep mountainous regions.
It was during the seventh Guru’s time that Aurangzeb became the ruler of India. From the very outset, he displayed a keen desire to convert, through pressure or persuasion, all non-Muslims of India to Islam. Guru Hari Rai continued to forcefully inculcate in his followers the spirit that they had the fundamental right to continue with their freedom of worship. He preached that they would give up their lives but not their faith and convictions.
He returned from the mountainous regions to Kiratpur. He left the world after a holy ministry of a few years.
Guru Har Krishan succeeded him as the eighth Guru on October 6,1661.
In the history of the human race, it will always remain unique that the spiritual light and leadership was imparted to a child who was only six years and some months old, and that he came to occupy the throne because of the inborn divine powers that he possessed. Guru Har Krishan was the younger son of Guru Hari Rai. His elder son, Ram Rai, was discarded because he had tended to compromise the high ideals held by the Guru’s household.
After his assumption of office, it was not for long that the child Guru Harkrishan lived at Kiratpur. He was called by Aurangzeb to Delhi. It is stated that Raja Jai Singh offered him his bungalow to stay therein. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib has come to be established as a great holy shrine in New Delhi, near Connaught Place, at the same place where Guru Har Krishan Sahib had resided. The Emperor summoned him to attend his durbar, which the eighth Guru declined. It has passed from generation to generation that an epidemic of smallpox broke out. The belief is that when the eighth Guru was requested by his devotees that the victims of small-pox, who were dying, should be relieved of the agony, the Guru invited the dreaded disease on himself. While suffering from a serious attack of small-pox, he merged into the universal light at Delhi and, in order to indicate as to who was to be his successor, he uttered the words ‘Baba Bakale’. He left the earthly scene on the 30th March, 1664.
The indication that the next Guru was to be found at Bakala in the present Amritsar district was prefaced by the word ‘Baba’. By using the word ‘Baba’, the eighth Nanak had indicated that the ninth Nanak was to be found out from amongst those who were in a higher degree of relationship with him.
A miraculous story is related as to how the next Guru was discovered. It is related that at the time when Guru Har Krishan passed away at Delhi, there was a ship on the high seas. It was suffering damage and the owner, Makhan Shah Labana, prayed to the Guru that his ship be saved from being wrecked. In his prayers, Makhan Shah vowed that if by the Lord’s grace, his cargo should land safely, he would offer five hundred gold mohurs to his Master, the Sikh Guru. The divine power having been sincerely invoked, although the ship was badly damaged, the cargo was saved. Makhan Shah’s faith was joyfully affirmed. He took the decision that he would fulfil his obligation at all costs.
When he came to the Punjab, he was told that the eighth Guru had passed away after giving the indication that his successor was to be found in Baba Bakala, Makhan Shah had plenty of gold mohurs with him. As he reached Bakala, the news spread that a very rich merchant had come and that he was to offer some gold mohurs to the one who had saved his ship. It also became clear that whoever was discovered to be the right Guru, would ascend the throne of Nanak. The descendents of the Gurus, who belonged to the Sodhi clan, put themselves up by establishing their seats of authority for the purpose of being accepted as successors to the eighth Guru.
Makhan Shah was a highly sagacious person. He knew that the Guru was all-knowing, He went about to the various contenders and placed five gold mohurs before each of them. He exhaused all the efforts, but was not able to find the true Guru. He was about to come away when he realised that the eighth Nanak had graciously declared that the Guru was to be surely found at Bakala. He was persuaded to institute a serious inquiry as to whether there was any other scion of the Sodhi family living at Bakala. He came to know that there was a cave-like dwelling, in which a member of the Sodhi clan was engaged in deep meditation. He, however, would not come out. His mother used to take some food to him inside the cave. Makhan Shah decided to visit that personage. He was able to secure the permission to bow before him, sitting in deep meditation.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was enshrined in eternal bliss. Makhan Shah quietly paid regards and placed five gold mohurs before him. Guru Tegh Bahadur opened his eyes, smiled and reminded Makhan Shah that while in difficulty, he had promised to offer five hundred gold mohurs instead of which he was producing only five now. Makhan Shah was enthralled. Guru Tegh Bahadur did not leave things at that. He slightly removed the garment covering his shoulders. It is chronicled that the marks on the shoulders disclosed that the Guru had gone under the waves and had borne aloft the ship which was going to suffer a wreck. Makhan Shah was now illuminated. In great delight, he placed five hundred gold mohurs at the feet of the Master and then rushed out and loudly proclaimed that the true Guru had been found out. When he narrated the unique discovery, the devotees poured in to touch the feet of the ninth Nanak.
There are certain writers who do not agree with the version that ninth Guru was discovered by Makhan Shah Labana. History, however, reveals that there came to be a sect called ‘Labana Sikhs’. The author, while studying at Khalsa College, Amritsar, came to know a contemporary who happened to be a direct descendant of Makhan Shah Labana. He was positive that his ancestor Bhai Makhan Shah Labana had played a significant part in finding out the ninth Guru.
The great contribution made by Guru Tegh Bahadur, which remains stupendous and unique, bears out that the eighth Nanak had in divine grace given the accurate direction that his successor was to be found at Bakala.
The Holy Gurus and their Commandments