GURU ARJAN DEV
– The FIRST MARTYR, Who Strengthened Faith’s Foundations –
In the chequered history of the Sikhs there were two turning points, which had not only injected patriotism, self-respect and bold defiance of the cruel and tyrannical regimes of the day but had also altered the very course of this peaceful, religious and spiritual movement involving significant social reforms. The first was witnessed after the martyrdom of Fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev who was tortured under Yasa law for five days before his Martyrdom in Lahore on May 30, 1606 under order of Mughal King Jahangir. The second turning point came after the Martyrdom of Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur who was excuted on orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in Chandani Chowk, Delhi on November 11, 1675.
Guru Arjan was the youngest son of Guru Ramdas, the Fourth Sikh Guru and was born on 15th April 1563 at Goindwal to Bibi Bhaani. The third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das was the maternal grandfather of the Guru Arjan. Bibi Bhaani, his mother was the younger daughter of Guru Amar Das.
On the first look at the newborn, Guru Amar Das had observed, “He will become a great man”, “Doheta Bani da Bohetha”— this grandson of mine will guide people across the occean of life through Gurbani. Child Arjan would play at the house of the Third Guru who was also very fond of him. In a few years, young Arjan had learnt Punjabi, holy hyms (Baani) and music. He had a very melodious voice and could sing the hymns in specified Ragas.
One of his two elder brothers, Mahadev was a recluse, while the eldest Prithi Chand was highly self-centred and an egoist. As soon as the decision for succession in favour of Guru Arjan Dev was announced, Prithi Chand turned violently inimical towards him and put many hurdles in the way of the Fifth Guru.
Prithi Chand proclaimed himself as the Guru and tried to create a cleavage among the Sikhs, though his machinations were to a great extent thwarted by the two venerable Sikhs, Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas. But he remained hostile towards Guru Arjan throughout his life and even approached and conspired with the Mughal officials for usurping the high position of the next Guru. He even tried to poison the child Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan Dev, so that his own son Meherban could get a chance to become the Guru.
Prithi Chand and his son started composing hymns under the name ‘Nanak’ so that they could be recognized as genuine successors to the previous Gurus. Thus they tried to imitate Guru Arjan Dev, who had begun composing hymns at a very early age, which had attracted the attention of his father.
Guru Arjan Dev ascended the throne of the glorious House of Nanak on 1st September 1581. The title of Sachcha Padshah was for the first time used for him, meaning True King or king of kings, a title, which was openly resented by the Mughal King.
The Sikh organization was firmly established by two important projects successfully executed by Guru Arjan — building the central Sikh Shrine of Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar and Compiling the main Scripture of Sikh Religion, Sri Granth Sahib.
The Construction of Harimandar Sahib
A well- known Muslim divine, Hazrat Mian Mir was especially invited by the Guru from Lahore for laying the foundation-stone of the sacred shrine in 1588 A.D, underlining the Sikh concept of universality, respect and tolerance for other faiths.
Contemporary Sufi saint of the Qadiri Order in A.D. 1588, Ghulam Myhayy-ud-Din alias Bute Shah, states in his work Tawarikh-i-Punjab that “Shah Mian Mir came to Amritsar at the request of Guru Arjan Dev and he, with his own blessed hands, put four bricks, one on each side and another in the middle of the tank”. This ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone is also recorded in The Punjab Notes and Queries. Vol. 1. p. 141.
Sikhs wanted Harmandir to be the tallest building in the city. But Fifth Guru said “there is no virtue like humility” — the Shrine was built on as low an elevation as possible. Harmandir has four entrances, one on each side, symbolising that it was open to all the four castes and devotees from all the directions were welcome to come in. There was no restriction on any one whatsoever on entering the central holy Sikh Shrine.
“My faith is for the people of all castes, creeds, communities and cultures from which ever direction they come”, said Guru Arjan as recorded by Dr Gopal Singh in his “A History of Sikh People”.
Construction of Harmandir was in sharp contrast to the top heavy and ornate structures of Hindu temples, Mohammadan mosques and even the Christian Churches and Cathederals, which were all built with the wealth and extravagance of state or monarchies.
The simple construction and architecture of Harmandir Sahib differed from heavy and ornate structures built by Hindu and Muslims monorchs and even the Chruches and Cathederals of Christianity built as per the Renaisssance architecture of Europe.
The philosophy of Sikh faith was diametrically opposed to all this. “People had to be drawn to it by the simplicity of the idea that all human beings were equal in the eyes of God and not by the majesty and grandeur of the buildings built in Lord’s name”, Guru Arjan said.
Significantly, Harmandir Sahib was built at a level lower than the surrounding ground with the result that the devotees have to go down the steps in order to pay obeisance at the sacred shrine. Every one is free to enter the Golden Temple from any direction. The plan of the construction of Harmandir was personally supervised by Guru Arjan Dev, who was assisted by a council of senior Sikhs, including Baba Buddha, and Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Bahlo, Bhai Salo, Bhai Bhagtu, Bhai Kalyana and Bhai Paira.
Thus a magnificent structure was raised, with its matchless simplicity of design and beauty. A great place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs was thus set up.
In the lifetime of Guru Arjan Dev, Ramdaspur (Amritsar) grew into a flourishing town. Professional artists and artisans, members of over fifty caste-groups, came to settle there from Patti, Kasur and Kalanaur. However, Harmandir Sahib was not, built in a short time. It was the result of on- going effort and contributions of many people in its contruction process which extended to many decades and even centuries— if we include the unparalleled contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in further beautifying the Harmandir Sahib complex.
It was basically built through Kar Sewa of Sikh Sangat, which has since become a unique feature of strong Sikh culture and tradition of service.
After the completion of the holy temple, Harmandir, the next significant development was the compilation and editing of the Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture.
The compilation of the Adi Granth began, when Guru Nanak Dev, during his travels and odyssys, regularly used his note-book called “Pothi” for recording not only his own Bani but the meetings with top religious leaders. According to well-known commentator, (Teekakar) Professor Sahib Singh, a reference to Guru Nanak’s Pothi has been made in Puratan Janamaskhi. This Pothi was passed on to the Second Guru, Guru Angad Dev, when the Guruship was bestowed on him.
During his extensive travels inside as well as outside the country, Guru Nanak Dev used to record in writing his own hymns and those of other saints and sages like Kabir and Ravidas in Uttar Pradesh, of Jaidev in Bengal, of Namdev and Trilochan in Maharashtra and of Sheikh Farid in Punjab which he had.
Bhai Gurdas was the scribe, who wrote Guru Granth Sahib using the Gurmukhi script, which was one of the prevalent scripts in Punjab in those days. Guru Arjan Dev collected all the material for Granth Sahib which came from several sources. The bards had left their eulogies and plaudits with the Gurus, whom they had met. The hymns of Guru Nanak Dev had been collected from different sources. The hymns of the succeeding Gurus had been there in the house of the Guru. .
Installation of the Sikh Scripture: As recorded by M.A. Macauliffe in “The Sikh Religion”, Guru Arjan Dev invited all his Sikhs to see the precious compilation, the fruit of so much strenuous labour, and distributed sacred food (Karah Prasad and Langar) amongst them as a thanks giving for the completion of the Scripture. The volume was, on the advice of Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas, placed in the Har Mandir. At the conclusion of his task, the Guru told the Sikhs that the Granth Sahib was the embodiment of the Gurus, and should, therefore, be held in extreme reverence.
It may be added that the Adi Granth (the First Book) was accorded the status of Guru by the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in A.D. 1708 at Hazoor Sahib in Naded, Deccan, a little before his demise. He had ordained the Sikhs to consider Guru Granth Sahib as the Eternal Guru for all times to come.
As a poet: Guru Arjan Dev was the most prolific Guru-poet after Guru Nanak, whose religious philosophy he had faithfully recorded and elaborated, in Guru Granth Sahib, the compositions of which he compiled and edited with great care, diligence and scrutiny. Guru Arjan’s own contribution to Guru Granth Sahib is the largest. Out of thirty-one Ragas in the longer poems in the Scripture, he composed his bani in as many as thirty Ragas. The thirty-first Raga ‘Jaijawanti’ in which Guru Tegh Bahadur had composed Gurbani was added later by Guru Gobind Singh when he dictated the entire Adi Granth to Bhai Mani Singh from his memory at Damdama.
Growing Influence of Sikhism: Guru Arjan Dev was a great organizer. Because of the above mentioned two projects - first, the construction of the shrine of Golden Temple and second, the Sikh Scripture of Granth Sahib, the number of Sikhs swelled immensely. Baba Buddha was made the first Granthi (high priest) of Har Mandir. Granth Sahib was installed in the centre of the shrine, in order to spread its divine message in all directions.
This attracted many Sikhs from far and near. The Masands appointed by the Guru for the collection of Guru’s dues came on Baisakhi day every year with a good number of people who had joined the Faith as new Sikhs. The universal message of the new religion brought many new converts, not only from the Hindu fold, but from Muslims also.
This fact has been recorded by Mugal Emperor Jahangir in his Tuzuk-e, (Memoirs or Dairy) wherein he says: “ So many of the simple-minded Hindus, nay many foolish Muslims too, had been fascinated by his (Guru’s) ways and teachings. He was noised about as religious and worldly leader. They called him Guru, and from all directions crowds of fools would come to him and express great devotion to him. This busy traffic had been carried on for three or four generations. For years the thought had been presenting itself to my mind that either I should put an end to this false traffic, or he should be brought into the fold of Islam..”
Guru Arjan was a peace-loving person totally imbued with the Name of One Lord, having his mace of humility and double-edged sword of modesty.”
India’s First Martyr
After the death of Akbar the Great, Jehangir ascended the Mughal throne of Delhi. He came under the impact of Mujaddid Alf-I-Sani Sirhindi, a staunch adversary of the growing Sikh Movement. This Naqshabandi saint and Jahangir’s minister Chandu Shah, who had a grudge against the Guru for not accepting the hand of his daughter for his son, poisoned the ears of Emperor Jahangir.
The Emperor’s son Khusrau, who had revolted against him, had come to the Guru. The Guru seeing his plight took pity on him. This incident gave an excuse to the King ‘to put an end to the false traffic’ within a few months of Jahangir’s accession.
Jahangir imposed on the Guru a fine of Rs 2 lakhs and put another condition “ to drop all references to Islam in the Granth Sahib. Guru ji said, “All the money belongs to Sangat, Sikh devotees, and was not his. And the hymns were the revelations in praise of God by holy men and none could dare change them”. Jahangir states in his autobiography: “The idea struck me several times to make the Guru a convert to Islam, till at last Khusrau crossed the Beas and proceeded in the direction of the Guru.
“No sooner did I hear of this man, convinced as I was of the absurdity of the notion, I ordered the Guru to be brought into my presence. All his private property was confiscated to the State, and he himself placed under rigorous confinement”.
According to English Ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe ‘Mughal’ emperor’s eldest son Khusrau was in favour of learning valour and discipline of war, abhorring all courtesies and base customs of his ancestors and the nobility. Since Jahangir had crushed Khusrau’s revolt with an iron hand and the fact that Khusrau had met Guru Arjan Dev, it was used as an excuse by the Emperor to arrest Guru Arjan and inflict inhuman torture on him.
“I ordered them,” writes Jahangir in his Tuzk-e-Jahangiri Memoirs, “to produce him and to hand over his houses, dwellings places and children to Murtaza Khan and having confiscated his property, commanded that he should be put to death with torture.” The Emperor had ordered that the Guru be dealt with the penal laws of Ba-Yasa.
While Guru Arjan told the King that he had done nothing wrong, but still Jahangir ordered Guru Arjan to be punished under Ba-Yasa (laws of Torture) and made him sit on the red hot iron plate as burning sand was poured on his body. Guru was then given a dip in boiling water and was tortured for five days under “Yasa — a Mongol law which lays down that the torture should be such that no blood of the victim is shed”. Yasa according to translators of Tuzk-e-Jahangiri means death by extreme tortures.
Kesar Singh Chhibbar, the writer of the Bansvali Namah, was quite clear in his mind that Jahangir held a grudge against Khatris to which caste Sikh Gurus belonged. Emperor felt that Khatris were always the enemy of Islam.
Shiekh Ahmed, head of the Naqashbandi school of Sufis of Sirhind believed that “Glory of Islam consisted in humiliation of infidels”. He was sworn against the independent ways of the Sikhs. He did not believe “Ram and Rahim are the same” So Ulemas and hard core Hindus both ganged up when the Guru was presented in the court on trumped up old charges of blasphemy of Hindu worship and Muslim prayers. The Guru was subjected to all sorts of tortures. His blistered body, when taken for a bath, disappeared in the cold waters of river Ravi.
According to Bhai Gurdas, Guru Arjan bore all his agony with great equanimity, during the night, previous to his martyrdom, having been deeply absorbed in the Name of the Lord. The Guru had totally resigned himself to the Will of the Lord.
Sayeed Mian Mir, the saintly Muslim Faqir had sought pemission to intercede but was advised by Guruji to accept the “Will of the God”. Guru ji remained immersed in the constant meditation throughtout his ordeal and accepted the “Will of God” as a spiritual hallmark of the philosophy of the Sachcha Padshah. Guru Arjan found his Atmaan’s ultimate flight to Paramatmaan on May 30, 1606.
A beautiful Shrine, Gurdwara Dera Sahib stands on the site of his martyrdom in Lahore, which is visited by thousands of devotees from all over the world on the Martyrdom of the Sachcha Padshah, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev to seek his blessings.
Thus, Guru Arjan Dev, through his personal sacrifice, piety and vision and organisational skill constructed the superstructure of Sikh religion on the foundation already laid down and raised by the preceeding four Sikh Gurus. By establishing the two indispensable marks of an organised religion in the form of Sikh place of worship (Church) and its sacred text (scripture), Guru Arjan’s contribution is land mark in the history of Sikh religion. His supreme sacrifice in defence of his faith without compromising with tyranny and oppression set the foundation of Sikh martyrdom which gave Sikh religion a distinct identity.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2014, All