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.
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.
BAWLI AT GOINDWAL:
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 KA LANGAR (FREE KITCHEN):
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 Mohalla 3, 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.
EMPEROR AKBAR VISITS THE GURU:
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 .
A COMPLAINT AGAINST GURU TO AKBAR :
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 reverenceth 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 qoutes ‘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.
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.
ABOLITION OF SATI:
The status of women in Hindu society at that time was very low. When the husband died, the wife either voluntarily burnt herself on the pyre of her husband or was thrown into the fire without her consent. In popular term the woman who did perform this act was called Sati (truthful). Guru Amar Das carried out a vigorous campaign against the practice of Sati. He gave special attention to the improvement of the status of women and thus prohibited this practice. G.B. Scott acclaims the Guru as the first reformer who condemned the prevailing Hindu practice of Sati. The Guru advocated the following:
“Satis are not those who are burnt with husbands,
O Nanak, true Satis are whom pangs of separation can finish.
Those are considered Satis who live contented, embellish themselves with good conduct;
And cherish the Lord ever and call on Him.”
(Var Suhi ki- Slok Mohalla 3, p-787)
The Guru lifted the status of women as equal to men. He prohibited the practice of Sati and preached in favor of widow marriage.
ESTABLISHMENT OF MANJI SYSTEM:
The Guru’s following increased considerably. Steps were taken to organize the scattered congregation into a unified whole which was called Manji system. His whole spiritual domain took the shape of 22 Manjis (dioceses). It was so named because the incharge of a Manji sat on a cot (called Manji in Punjabi) to deliver the message of the Guru. The incharge of each and every Manji was a devoted Sikh who was blessed by the Guru before he was appointed to that position. His function was to preach the mission of the Guru, to keep the Sangat (congregation) in touch with the Guru and he was also responsible for the offerings of the Sikhs which they made in token of their reverence to the Guru.
Guru Amar Das established another organization called Piri system. The incharges of the Piris were ladies whose objective was to lit the flame of Guru’s word and spread the fragrance of Nam among women. Bibi Bhani, Bibi Dani and Bibi Pal were some of the most revered incharges of the different Piris. Guru Amar Das gave authority and power to 146 of his apostles to go to various parts of the country and unfold the glory of Nam . Out of these 146 persons, 94 were men and 52 were women. They were all glowing with Nam and filled with Divine Spirit.
COMPOSITION OF ANAND SAHIB:
One day a Sidh Jogi came to the Guru and complained that he performed every form of penance but did not obtain any peace of mind. He further showed his desire to abandon his body to be reborn in Guru’s family so that he be happy worshipping God and singing His praises. His wish was granted. The Guru had two sons, Mohan and Mohri. Mohri’s eldest son was Arth Mal and it is said that this Sidh Jogi was reborn as Mohri’s second son. When the Guru heard of the Jogi’s rebirth, he sent Bhai Ballu to bring the infant to him. On seeing the child, the Guru uttered the composition of Anand (Ramkali Mohalla 3, Anand) or the Song of Joy, and called the child, Anand. This composition (Anand Sahib) is now recited on the occasions of marriages and rejoicing.
SELECTION FOR GURUSHIP:
It should be remembered that Guru’s eldest daughter, Bibi Dani was married to Rama who was a zealous Sikh. He used to work in Guru’s kitchen and administer to the needs of the pilgrims. Jetha was his younger son-in-law. One day the Guru asked Rama and Jetha,”Each one of you make a platform by the side of Bawli. I will sit on one in the morning and on the other in the evening.” When the platforms were completed, the Guru went to inspect them. Rama showed his work and thought that he had done well. The Guru told Rama,”Your platform is not straight, bring it down and rebuild it.” Rama dissented but rebuilt another one. It still failed to please the Guru. Rama after long argument, pulled the platform down but refused to build it third time.
The Guru inspected Jetha’s platform and said,”Jetha, I do not like it. Demolish it and build another one.” Jetha built the second one which was also not of Guru’s liking. He demolished it and rebuilt it. The Guru continued to find fault with it until it was destroyed and rebuilt seven times. Jetha then fell at Guru’s feet and begged, “I am a fool and lack understanding, while thou possesseth all knowledge. kindly bless me with the wisdom so that I may be able to erect the platform of your liking.”
On hearing this the Guru smiled and embraced Jetha and commented,”Obeying my order, you have built the platform seven times, so seven generations of thine shall sit on the throne of Guru Nanak.”
Bibi Bhani, Guru’s youngest daughter, used to attend her father. She used to fan him, draw water and work in the kitchen. One day the Guru was sitting on his couch (chauki) in deep meditation, when Bibi Bhani noticed that one leg of his couch had broken. Fearing that his meditation would be disturbed, she put her arm in place of the broken leg to support the couch. When the Guru opened his eyes, he found blood coming out of Bibi Bhani’s arm. On inquiry Bibi explained that broken leg might have caused disturbance in his meditation and so she thought herself fortunate to serve Guru by substituting her arm for the broken leg of the couch. The Guru commented,”Whosoever does good work, shall reap the reward thereof.” He invited her to ask for any favor. She humbly requested that the Guruship should remain in her family. It is believed that the Guru told Bibi Bhani that the Guruship was not a bed of roses and he warned her of the trouble and torture that the later Gurus would have to go through. Bibi Bhani agreed to embrace all those troubles, and again requested to grant her the wish that the Guruship would remain in her family. So far the Guruship was earned by obedience and devotion to the Guru. Here again Bibi Bhani earned it, for her family, with her devotion and sacrifice. The Guru granted her the wish and the Guruship thereafter remained in Bibi Bhani’s family.
Guru Nanak appointed his successor at Kartarpur but asked him to go and live at Khadur. Guru Angad asked his successor, Guru Amar Das to live in Goindwal. Guru Amar Das asked Jetha to search for a place other than Goindwal as a residence for the Sikhs. Jetha found an open land about 25 miles from Goindwal, and he established himself there. He built a house for himself and got a tank excavated which was called Santokhsar. It is also believed that the Guru asked Jetha to excavate another tank towards the east which would be called Amritsar- tank of nectar.
SUCCESSION OF GURU RAM DAS:
Guru Amar Das having tested Jethaji in every way, found him perfect and asked for special congregation. Then he asked Bhai Ballu to bring coco-nut and five paise. He asked Jethaji to bathe and clothe in new raiment. Then the Guru descended from his throne and made Jethaji seat on it and called him Guru Ram Das. Bhai Buddha, according to the custom, attached the tilak of Sovereignty to Guru Ram Das’s forehead. Among great rejoicing, all Sikhs made offerings according to their means and saluted Guru Ram Das on his appointment. This ceremony was performed on August 30, 1574 at Goindwal.
GURU AMAR DAS’S DEPARTURE:
Guru Amar Das proclaimed,”God’s summons hath come. Let there be no mourning when I have gone, sing God’s praises, read God’s Word (Gurbani), hear God’s Word and obey God’s Will.” On the first of September, 1574 , Guru Amar Das left for his heavenly abode and the spirit blended with the Master Spirit.