Sri Guru Amar Das Ji
( 1479-1574, Guruship, 1552-1574 )
Guru Amar Das was born on April 5, 1479 at Basarka village in Amritsar district. He was the eldest son of his parents, Bhai Tej Bhan and Mata Lakhmi. At the age of 24, he was married to Mansa Devi who gave birth to two sons, Mohan and Mohri, and two daughters, Bibi Dani and Bibi Bhani. The early history of Guru Amar Das has been given in the last chapter.
Guru Angad's sons were upset because they claimed that after their father, they were the legitimate heirs to Guruship. Guru Angad's son Datu, therefore, proclaimed himself as Guru in Khadur; but the Sikhs did not accept him as such. Secondly under Guru Amar Das's strict dictum, it was mandatory that all persons, high or low, rich or poor, king or the commoner, Brahmans or Sudras, and Hindus or Muslims, must sit in the same row as equals to dine in the Guru's langar (kitchen). This had upset the Brahmans very much and they were on the search of an opportunity to rectify this situation. These Brahmans and other higher caste leaders saw some chance in Datu's revolt to capture the Guruship. Upon their support, Datu proceeded to Goindwal where the Guru was stationing.
Guru Amar Das was sitting on his religious throne and was delivering instructions to the congregation. Datu came along with a large number of his companions and kicked the Guru, who fell down the platform. Datu took possession of the platform and proclaimed himself as the Guru. Guru Amar Das got up and said in extreme humility," Sir, pardon me, my hard bones might have hurt your tender feet." After this the Guru left Goindwal and went to his village Basarka. He confined himself in a house outside the town without letting anybody know about his whereabouts.
Datu sat on Guru's throne in Goindwal and was very proud of his position. The Sikhs, however, did not accept him as Guru, and all the pilgrims to Goindwal went away on hearing of the insult to their Guru. On seeing the Sikhs' contempt towards him, one day Datu loaded his newly acquired wealth on a camel and returned to Khadur. On his way he was encountered with some robbers who seized the camel with the load, and one of the robbers struck Datu on the same foot with which he had kicked the Guru. Datu's foot swelled up and caused him great pain.
The Sikhs were very much distressed at loosing their Guru. They searched all over but could not find him anywhere. Under the leadership of Bhai Buddha, they prayed and then let Guru's mare loose and anxiously followed it for a short distance. The mare made her way to the Guru's house in Basarka, and stood before his door. It was written on the door," Whoever openeth this door is no Sikh of mine, nor I am his Guru." They did not open the door, but made an opening in the wall and made supplication before the Guru. The Guru could not disregard the love and devotion of his Sikhs and returned to Goindwal. The Guru's return was celebrated with illuminations, rejoicing and feasting.
Bhai Paro belonged to a village, Dalla in Doaba, an area between the rivers Beas and Satluj. He received religious instructions and emancipation from the Guru. A rich Muslim horse- dealer of Delhi, Alayar, brought five hundred horses from Arabia and arrived at Beas. He could not continue his journey because the river Beas was flooded and the boatmen refused to take the risk in crossing the swollen river. Next morning Alayar saw Bhai Paro plunge his horse into the foaming river and reaching the opposite shore in safety. Alayar met Paro on his return and complimented his daring feat of crossing the river. Bhai Paro told him that it was through the blessings of the Guru that he could cross the swollen river. He further informed Alayar about Guru's glory. Alayar became anxious to meet the Guru. Next morning they both went to see him.
Alayar (Ala means God, and yar means friend) was delighted to see the Guru. Hearing his name the Guru said to him,"It is difficult to become friend (yar) of God (Ala), but I will make God thy Master and thee His servant." Alayar was blessed by the Guru and he became his disciple. Alayar was made in charge of the first Manji (diocese) of the 22 Manjis that were set up by Guru Amar Das later on to spread the fragrance of Name. There are numerous such stories of the Sikhs who were blessed by the Guru.
Guru Amar Das purchased some land in Goindwal and laid the foundation of a Bawli (a well with descending steps) in 1559. All Sikhs joined in the work of digging the Bawli. There was great activity throughout the construction of the Bawli.
Hari Das, a Khatri of Sodhi tribe, lived with his wife, Daya Kaur, in Chuna Mandi, a suburb of Lahore. Both husband and wife were very religious. After twelve years of their marriage, a son was born to them on September 24, 1534. They called him Ram Das, who was generally known as Jetha meaning first-born. He was very handsome having fair complexion with pleasing personality. As he grew up he liked the company of holy men. One day his mother boiled some pulse, put it into a basket and gave it to him to sell and make profit. Jetha went to the river Ravi. Soon he saw a company of holy men, and Jetha gave the boiled pulse to them and went home. The holy men were very much pleased and prayed for the boy.
One day Jetha saw a company of Sikhs singing the hymns and proceeding with great rejoicing. He asked whither they were going, one of them said," We are going to Goindwal where Guru Amar Das holds his court. Every blessing in this world and the next is obtained by his favor. Come with us." On hearing this Jetha was delighted and he joined them in their pilgrimage.
On seeing the Guru, Jetha's heart was filled with love and devotion. When he made his obeisance to the Guru, he was attracted by his pleasing personality. The Guru remarked," If you have come abandoning all worldly desires, you shall obtain a true sovereignty. Perform work and service." Jetha happily applied himself to the Guru's service. He worked in the kitchen, cleaned dishes, shampooed his Master and brought firewood from the forest. He worked in the excavation of the Bawli during his leisure time.
Guru's eldest daughter, Bibi Dani (also known as Sulakhni) was married to Rama. The other daughter, Bibi Bhani was very religious from the very childhood. When she was of marriageable age, her mother reminded the Guru that it was time to search for a match for her. The Guru ordered the search. When his agent was ready to depart, Bibi Bhani's mother saw a young person standing outside and she said to the agent," Search for a boy like him." The Guru heard her remarks and exclaimed," He is his own parallel, for God had made none other like unto him." The young man thus chosen was Jethaji (Ram Das).
At the time of marriage, the bridegroom was asked by the Guru to choose a gift for himself, as it was customary to do so. Jethaji replied," Sir, bless me with the gift of Hari Nam." Bibi Bhani not only considered the Guru as her father but her Guru also. In the same way she served Jetha not only as her husband but as a saint also. Prithi Chand was their first son and three years later Mahadev, the second son made his appearance. On April 15, 1563 Jetha and Bibi Bhani were blessed with their third son, Arjan, at whose birth there were unusual rejoicing.
Meanwhile the Sikhs continued excavation of the Bawli. After digging very deep they found large stones which hindered the progress. The Guru asked the Sikhs if there was any one who would be courageous to drive a peg into the base to remove the obstruction. He had, however, warned that the operation had great danger because if the person could not avert the gush of the water, he might be drowned. All the Sikhs remained silent and no one came forward to take such a risk. At last Manak Chand of Vairowal, who was married to a niece of the Guru, offered his services. This was the same Manak Chand whose parents were blessed with a son (Manak Chand) by Guru Nanak.
Manak Chand, invoking God's name and through the grace of the Guru, was able to wedge through the stone and the stream of water immediately overflowed the Bawli. He was overtaken by the gush of the water. He almost drowned but by the grace of the Guru, he came to the top from where he was taken out and was revived. Therefore, he was called 'Marjiwra' (revived after death).
The Bawli when finished yielded sweet drinking water. The Sikhs rejoiced at the successful completion of their labor. There were eighty-four steps reaching down the Bawli. It is believed that whosoever recites Japji attentively and reverently at each step, is saved from the cycle of transmigration.
Guru's free kitchen (Guru ka Langar) which was started by Guru Nanak and developed by Guru Angad, was further strengthened by Guru Amar Das. It was the injunction of Guru Amar Das that none would have his audience unless he had first eaten from the Langar. The Guru intended to remove the caste restrictions and prejudices of untouchability. It was, therefore, declared unequivocally that all persons of all castes, high or low, rich or poor, Brahmans or Sudras, Hindus or Muslims, must sit in the same line and eat the same food from Guru's kitchen. When Raja of Haripur or even Akbar, the Mughal Emperor of India, came to see the Guru, they had to sit with common people and dine with them before they could have audience with the Guru. In this way people were lifted above the hypocrisy of caste system and were able to look at one another as brothers and equals.
Mai Das was a renowned Pandit and a devout worshipper of Lord Krishna. He was a strict Vaishnav, he would eat only what he had cooked with his own hands within a purified square. The Guru rejects these purified squares:
"All outlined purified squares are false; O Nanak, Only God is pure." (Maru ki Var, Slok Mohalla3, p-1090)
When he came to see the Guru, he was informed that unless he had eaten from Guru's kitchen, he could not see him. Being a strict Vaishnav he could not do that, so he left for Dwarka where he thought to have a glimpse of Lord Krishna. On the eleventh day of lunar month Mai Das used to fast and would eat just fruits during that period. Due to winter season the fruits were not available in the forest. Mai Das wandered hungry in the forest looking for fruits but could not find them. Finally he started calling on his gods for help.
At last he heard a voice,"You have not eaten food from the Guru's kitchen, and you have not had holy sight of him; therefore shalt thou not obtain perfection. If you desire to do so, then first behold Guru Amar Das." Upon this Mai Das returned to Goindwal. He partook of food from the Guru's kitchen, and then was allowed to see the Guru. The Guru welcomed him," Come, Mai Das, thou art a special saint of God." The Guru initiated him as his Sikh, blessed him with Nam and bestowed on him the spiritual power of conferring salvation on others. Mai Das held one of the 22 Manjis (dioceses) set up by Guru Amar Das.
Akbar, the Emperor of India, on his way to Lahore, paid a visit to the Guru at Goindwal. He was informed that he could not see the Guru until he had dined with others from the Guru's kitchen. Akbar partook of the food in the Langar, the more he had it, the more he relished it. After that the Emperor had an interview with the Master. It is said that the Guru rose to receive the Emperor in his arms, but Akbar spontaneously bowed to touch the feet of the Master. The monarch felt a thrill of joy and peace by the holy touch.
Having seen the large number of people fed from the Guru's kitchen, Akbar requested the Guru to accept his services and his offerings. But the Guru replied," I have obtained lands and rent- free tenures from my Creator. Whatever comes daily is spent daily, and for the morrow my trust is in God." Akbar then replied," I see you desire nothing. From thy treasury and thy kitchen countless people receive bounties, and I also entertain similar wishes, I will grant these 84 villages to thy daughter, Bibi Bhani." This was the estate where Guru Ram Das built the city of Ramdaspur which is now called Amritsar.
When the Brahmans and the Khatris failed in their mission to derail the Guru from Guruship by inciting Datu to declare himself as Guru, they made a special complaint to Emperor Akbar. In their complaint they alleged," Every man's religion is dear to him. Guru Amar Das of Goindwal has abandoned the religious and social customs of the Hindus, and abolished the distinction of the four castes. He makes his followers of all castes sit in a line and eat together from his kitchen irrespective of caste or religion. There is no offering of water to ancestors, no pilgrimages, no worship of idols of gods or goddesses. The Guru revereneth not Jogis, Jatis or Brahmans. We, therefore, pray thee to restrain him now, else it will be difficult later on."
Akbar sent a high official to Goindwal to request Guru's attendance. The summons was not a brutal order of a modern court,"Herein fail not, but kindly grant me a sight of thee." The Guru sent Jetha saying," Thou art in my image; Guru Nanak will be with thee and none shall prevail against thee. Fear no body and give suitable reply."
Jetha gave suitable replies to all the questions and satisfied the Emperor who then gave his decision," I see no hostility to Hinduism in this man, nor do I find any fault with his compositions." The Brahmans left the court in utter defeat. Macauliffe quotes 'Suraj Parkash', "Upon this the Emperor took Jetha aside, and told him to request Guru Amar Das, who before his conversion to Sikhism used to make yearly pilgrimages to the Ganges, to make one pilgrimage more in order to divert the wrath of the Hindus. The Emperor added that he would issue an order that no tax should be levied on the Guru's party...... The Guru in compliance with the Emperor's suggestion, and also in order to have an opportunity of preaching his religion, set out for Hardwar." 'The Guru's going to Hardwar for one more pilgrimage to avert the wrath of the Hindus', seems totally unfounded because it is against the tenets of the Guru who says:
"Tirath nawan jao, tirath nam hai
Tirath sabad bichar untar gian hai."
(Dhanasri Mohalla 1, p-687)
'What is pilgrimage? Pilgrimage is Nam,
Pilgrimage is contemplation on Word and realization of inner knowledge.'
(Translation of the above)
"If mind is sinful, everything is sinful,
By washing the body, mind will not become pure."
(Wadhans Mohalla 3, p-558)
It is not right to assert that Guru Amar Das went to Hardwar for one more pilgrimage to please the Hindus. Guru Amar Das went to Hardwar and Kurukshetra not to make a pilgrimage but to preach his doctrine and gospel of Nam to the thousands of battered souls.