Guru Angad Dev's Nomination to Guruship and its Significance
In the world of monotheistic religions, Sikhism is now sharing an adequate space. Explanation of the Supreme reality is marvelous in the Sikh scripture. No religion of the world perhaps defines the attributes of God so thoroughly as is done by the Sikh Gurus. The institution of Guruship in Sikhism assumes considerable importance. The Guru leads one on the path to God without any distinction of region, class, caste, creed, sex and colour. He is like a tree of contentment, whose fruit is the knowledge of Supreme reality. He instructs the disciple to imbibe the godly qualities, which constitute the basis for God’s realization. With a view to the significance of the guru in socio-religious way of life, Guru Nanak gave Guruship a new form and content. He made landmark in the institution of guruship when he proclaimed Bhai Lehina eligible for the authority of guruship.1
The important aspect of the community life at Kartarpur was the daily labour of its members. The combination of ‘piety and practical activity’ exemplified in the Life of Guru Nanak and his regular disciples, was a corollary of his ideal of living pure amidst the impurities of attachment through ‘a disciplined worldliness.’ On the whole, the community aimed at practising the three fold ideal mentioned by Nanak in some of his verses: nam, dan and isnan (devotion, charity and purity).
The last important aspect of Guru Nanak’s work at Kartarpur was the nomination of a successor. It has been aptly called a ‘key event’ in the history of Sikhism. The formal appointment of a successor indicates that Guru Nanak attached great importance to spiritual guidance provided by a competent individual. In Guru Nanak’s eyes, one of his most devoted disciples, Lehina was the person who could shoulder this responsibility.2
The chosen Lehina became Angad Dev, literally a part of Guru Nanak’s body and metaphorically an extension of his ‘mission.’ Guru Nanak’s decision to appoint a formal successor was one of critical importance, for there can be no doubt that it was the establishment of an effective succession of Gurus which, above all other factors, ensured the transmission of the first Guru’s teachings and the cohesion of the religious community which he had gathered around him.3 The choosing and formal installation of Angad Dev was the first step in the process which issued in the founding of the Khalsa and ultimately in the emergence of a Sikh nation. Thus, before his death Guru Nanak had entered history.4
To forestall subsequent opposition from his sons, Nanak expressed his preference for Lehna in Public : “Thou art Angad, a part of my body.” Long before his death he had one of his chief disciples, Bhai Buddha, daub Angad’s forehead with saffron and proclaim him as the second Guru.
Angad Dev was guru for thirteen years from 1539 to 1552. By his tact and humility he was able to prevent the schism between his Sikhs and Sri Chand’s followers, who came to be known as Udasis. In his own quiet way, he filled in the brickwork of the edifice whose scaffolding had been erected by Nanak.5
The nomination of Angad Dev as the Guru to the gaddi of Guru Nanak is the fact of profoundest significance in Sikh history. In his bani or compositions, Guru Nanak has empathically stated about the indispensability of the Guru. The vital moment came when he nominated Bhai Lehna, one of his disciples as his successor. By doing so, he made it clear that his ideals should strike roots among the people. Moreover, a precedent or tradition was established by virtue of which the Sikhs were integrated into a community under the un-interrupted leadership.6 Ernest Trumpp states that ‘The disciples of Nanak would no doubt have soon dispersed and gradually disappeared as well as the disciples of many other Gurus before Nanak, if he had not taken care to appoint a successor before his death.’7 Guru Nanak, thus, delegated his office neither to any of his sons, nor to any of his early followers, who were probably not with him at the close of his life, but to Angad Dev, who had joined him not long before his death, and whom he considered the most fit.8 It was humility and unhesitating discipleship which led Lehina to gradually become the successor of Nanak. He emerged as the most appropriate successor of Nanak. A man of humility and prayers, he was noted for his practice of medication and austerities.9
The institution of Guruship assumed considerable significance, in another way also. It helped the Sikhs to integrate themselves as a distinct and self-conscious, socio-religious community. Apart from the importance of nomination of a successor, the institution of Guruship in Sikhism acquired an impersonal character. In the Coronation Ode it is stated:-
ਨਾਉ ਕਰਤਾ ਕਾਦਹੁ ਕਰੇ ਕਿਉ ਬੋਲ ਹੋਵੈ ਜੋਖੀਵਦੈ॥
ਦੇ ਗੁਨਾ ਸਤਿ ਭੈਣ ਭਰਾਵ ਹੈ ਪਾਰੰਗਤਿ ਦਾਨੁ ਪੜੀਵਦੈ॥
ਨਾਨਕਿ ਰਾਜ ਚਲਾਇਆ ਸਚੁ ਕੋਟੁ ਸਤਾਣੀ ਨੀਵ ਦੈ॥
ਲਹਣੇ ਧਰਿਓਨੁ ਛਡੁ ਸਿਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਸਿਫਤੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਪੀਵਦੈ॥
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਆਤਮ ਦੇਵ ਦੀ ਖੜਗਿ ਜੋਰਿ ਪਰਾਕਇ ਜੀਅ ਦੈ॥
ਗਰਿ ਚੇਲੇ ਰਹਰਾਸਿ ਕੀਈ ਨਾਨਕਿ ਸਲਾਮਤਿ ਥੀਵਦੈ॥
ਸਹਿ ਟਿਕਾ ਦਿਤੋਸੁ ਜੀਵਦੈ॥੧॥10
Thus, the personality of the Guru was detached from the Guruship which was to be regarded as one indivisible and continuous. This was entirely a novel feature and it distinguishes Sikhism from similar institutions in other religions. The Guruship having been the embodiment of the spirit acquired the character something sacred and infallible with the result that it exacted veneration. The fact which provided cohesion and ensured unity.11
Moreover, the personal magnetism of Nanak was so great that he had succeeded in winning the love and allegiance of thousands who had come under his direct influence. His successor followed the same policy, but he realized that Nanak’s mission should nevertheless possess a distinctive character and his followers, though forming a part of the main body, should have an individuality of their own.12
For I.B. Banerjee, it was really ‘vital moment’ when Guru Nanak appointed a successor.13 He writes ‘whatever might have been the object of Nanak, whether he intended to found a separate path of his own or whether as Narang says, ‘it was simply to leaven the social and religious thoughts of Hindus, and to improve the general tone of their moral and spiritual life.’ It is clear that under the circumstances some sort of a cleavage was inevitable.’14
Looked at from this standpoint, the nomination of Angad Dev was a matter of supreme importance as it placed the movement under the guidance and control of a definite and indisputable leadership and gave it a distinctive turn at the very outset of its career.15
Angad’s nomination to the Guruship was not looked upon with favour by Nanak’s family at Kartarpur and one of the first acts of the second Guru was to remove his seat to Khadur. Infact, the Coronation Ode distinctly states, the sons of Guru Nanak did not obey his words and had become rebels, so it was idle to expect that they would now give their allegiance to their father’s nominee.
ਮੇਰੋ ਸਰੂਪ ਗੁਰੁ ਅੰਗਦ ਜਾਨੋ। ਵਹ ਦਰਸ਼ਨ ਮੇਰੋ ਨਿਜ ਦਰਸ਼ਨ।
ਸਭ ਉਨ ਕੀ ਸੇਵ ਕਰੋ ਮਮ ਸਰਸਨ॥ ਤਬ ਲਖਮੀਦਾਸ ਸ੍ਰੀਚੰਦ ਬੁਲਾਏ।
ਪਿਤਾ ਪਰਮਾਨੁ ਕੀਓ ਨਹੀਂ ਆਏ। ਚਾਦਰ ਓਢ ਦਿਆਲ ਤਬ ਲੀਆ।
ਨਿਜ ਪਰਮਾਧਾਮ ਕੋ ਧਿਆਨ ਕੀਆ।16
Guru Angad Dev soon resumed his proper place among his followers and the Sikh chronicles undeniably give the impression that he worked unswervingly in the path chalked out by his Master.17
Guru Angad Dev had to face some problems immediately after his succession to the gaddi of Guru Nanak. The latter’s son Baba Sri Chand, posed a serious challenge to the infant faith by enunciating a sect of ascetics called the Udasis. Moreover the Panth of Nanak might have succumbed to the aggressive impact of Islam in its Sufi form. Though, the mere appointment of successor was no adequate assurance against any of the challenges, but the challenging task entrusted to Angad Dev by his Master enriched his personality and ‘brought out qualities of leadership which had so long been latent in his character.’ Without losing his natural humility, Angad Dev developed a quiet firmness which was needed to meet his problems. He not only maintained but also strengthened the solidarity of the infant religious community and put it on track which led towards self assertion and development of a distinct personality. I.B. Banerjee states that Nanak had directed Angad Dev after his appointment to the Guruship to return to Khadur although the devoted disciple was anxious to remain in attendance on his Master even to his last breath.18
Also, there are the usual stories of the Guru’s disputations with Jogis and tapas or penitents, the point of which all seems to lie in Guru Angad’s strict adherence to the simplicity of his Master’s teachings and his ceaseless efforts, by precept and example, to keep his spirit alive.19
In the Dabistan written by Mobad (the poetic title), the Parsi priest, the author represents the Sikhs of the mid-seventeenth century as saying ‘…when Nanak left his body, he absorbed (himself) in Guru Angad…and…Guru Angad is Nanak himself.’ Guru Gobind Singh expresses the idea as follows: ‘Nanak assumed the body of Angad’.20
The basic idea that Guruship was a continuing institution operating through transformed human personality was evidently a precious legacy which the Sikh community received from Nanak himself. It was a unique contribution to the development of religious thought and organisation. The mere selection of a successor would have been important enough. Other medieval saints such as Kabir and Chaitanya took no such step to ensure the uninterrupted development of the religious fellowships created by them. The step taken by Nanak carried a deeper meaning. A.C. Banerjee states that to invest the successor with a distinctive halo, to say that the founder of the faith ‘became absorbed in him’ – was to put him in a special position which was entirely different from Guruship in Hindu religious tradition.’21
Guru Angad’s nomination to succession was a significant step in the development of that process of differentiation between Sikhs and Hindus which marked the former’s religious and social identity in later times. Although Angad Dev was ‘exalted to the skies’ at a crucial moment in the history of Sikhism, there was nothing in the record of his years of devoted service to Guru Nanak to show that he was endowed with the qualities needed for leadership of the new community. A good disciple is not necessarily a good leader. A.C. Banerjee writes that Guru Angad ‘uneventful pontificate’ of more than twelve years was a period of profound significance in the consolidation of the new community’.22
The nomination of successor by Nanak as worthy as Guru Angad Dev has been described by historians as one of the most significant events in the evolution of the Sikh faith into a dynamic society. It is suggested that Guru Nanak not continued the line of succession, his doctrines, whose fundamentals he had clearly enunciated would not have been put to the test of living life over a long period so as to burn them into the soul of a people. There was so much in the writing of Nanak on which a cult of asceticism could also be built. And then, Hinduism itself being not a fixed dogma like Islam but a parliament of religions, could easily have absorbed the new faith as one of its many diverse sects. Moreover, in spite of the best spiritual instruction, men do not easily give up their caste and custom and merge in a new society unless there is a strict guidance over a long period, not only in words but also through deeds. And this is what Guru Nanak intended and Angad Dev fulfilled with such high distinction.23
Sikhs were now held together not by the commonality of certain doctrines and beliefs about God, Karma, soul and transmigration but assumed the form of a society expressing its doctrines through a living, dynamic social life.24 Guru Nanak urged his followers to obey and serve Guru Angad Dev with the same devotion with which they had served him, since he had displayed the basic three cardinal principles of unshakable devotion, obedience to Guru, dignity of labour and love for mankind to attain this position. He said, “Guruship is a position which depends on self sacrifice and Bhai Lehina has exhibited this virtue in the highest degree. His sincere devotion and extreme humility have won him this honour.”25
The Guru’s body was dead but his mighty truth could not die. His spirit moved to the body of Guru Angad Dev, who became verily Guru Nanak himself. So the light of Guru Nanak continued to shed its lustre through ten human forms called the Gurus.26 Bhai Gurdas, the contemporary Sikh savant of third, fourth, fifth and sixth Gurus, described the succession of Guru Angad Dev as under:
ਜਾਰਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਸੁਲਤਾਨ ਦੀ ਫਿਰਿ ਕਰਤਾਰ ਪੁਰੇ ਨੋ ਆਇਆ।
ਚੜੇ ਸਵਾਈ ਦਿਹਿ ਦਿਹੀ ਕਲਿਜੁਗ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ।
ਵਿਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਹੁਰ ਮੰਗਣਾ ਸਿਰਿ ਦੁਖਾ ਦੇ ਦੁਖ ਸਬਾਇਆ।
ਮਾਰਿਆ ਸਿਕਾ ਜਗਤ੍ਰਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਪੰਥ ਚਲਾਇਆ। ਥਾਪਿਆ ਲਹਿਣਾ ਜੀਵਦੇ ਗੁਰਿਆਈ ਸਿਰਿ ਛਤੁ ਫਿਰਾਇਆ ।
ਜੋਤੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਮਿਲਾਇਕੈ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਰੂਪ ਵਟਾਇਆ।
ਲਖਿ ਨ ਕੋਈ ਸਕਈ ਆਚਰਜੇ ਆਚਰਜ ਦਿਖਾਇਆ।
ਕਾਇਆ ਪਲਟਿ ਸਰੂਪ ਬਣਾਇਆ।27
So one can say that, Lehna became Nanak himself, ‘Guru Nanak changed his own form and imparted his light to Lehna.” When the news spread that Guru was ready to embark on his last journey, the disciples began to arrive in large numbers to see him “Hindus and Musalmans all came….The Guru went to sit under an acacia tree. The withered tree burst into bloomy new leaves and followers appeared. Guru Angad Dev touched his feet in adoration.”28
The selection of Bhai Lehina as his disciple successor by Guru Nanak in preference to his own sons and his formal installation was the first step in the process which issued in the founding of the Khalsa and ultimately in the emergence of a Sikh nation.29 G.C. Narang writes : There ‘although the object of Nanak was simply to leaven the social and religious thoughts of the Hindus, and to improve the general tone of their moral and spiritual life, and he had never thought of founding a sect, yet he was anxious that his work should continue after his death.” He further reiterates that ‘Had Nanak died without a successor there would have been no Sikhism today at best simply another Kabirism.’30 Thus in the words of W.H. Mcleod, the lineal succession of the ten Sikh Gurus is of crucial significance in the history of the Sikh Panth and in the development of its distinctive doctrinal system.31
1. Jogeshwar Singh, "Guru Angad and His Succession as Explained in Ramkali Ki Var", Journal of Sikh Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1-2, Department of Guru Nanak Studies, Amritsar, 2002, p. 95.
2. J.S. Grewal, Guru Nank in History, Publication Bureau Punjab University, Chandigarh, 1969, p. 285.
3. Loc cit.
4. J.S. Grewal, Guru Nank in History, Publication Bureau Punjab University, Chandigarh, 1969, p. 286.
5. Khuswant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Vol. 1, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1963, p. 50.
6. Surjit Singh Gandhi, History of the Sikh Gurus, Gurdas Kapur Sons, Jullundhar, 1978, p. 169.
7. Ibid., p. 170.
8. S.M. Latif, History of the Punjab, Eurasia Publishing House, New Delhi, 1964, p 250.
9. R.N. Singh, Encyclopaedia of Sikh Heritage, Vol. 1, Common Wealth, New Delhi, 2002, p. 57.
10. Rai Balvand and Satta the Dum; Var Ramkali, Adi Granth, p. 966.
11. S.S. Gandhi, History of the Sikh Guru, Gurdas Kapur and sons, Jullundhur, 1978, p 170..
12. G.C. Narang, Glorious History of Sikhism, New Book Societies of India, New Delhi, 1972, p. 25.
13. I.B. Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol. 1; Mukherjee Publication, 1979, p. 146.
15. I.B. Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol. 1; Mukherjee and Co., Calcutta, 1979, p. 147.
16. Sarup Dass Bhalla, Guru Nanak Mehima (Mehima Parkash), Part-1, Language department, Punjab, 1970, p. 343.
17. I.B. Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Mukherjee and co, Calcutta, 1979, p. 151.
18. A.C. Banerjee, The Sikh Gurus and Sikh Religion, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1983, p. 152.
19. Loc cit..
20. Ganda Singh, ed., The Punjab Past and Present, Guru Nanak Quincentenary volume, 1969; p. 49.
21. A.C. Banerjee, The Sikh Gurus and Sikh Religion, Munshiram Manhorlal, New Delhi, 1983 p. 151.
22. A.C. Banerjee, The Sikh Gurus and Sikh Religion, Munshiram Manhorlal, New Delhi, 1983 p. 151.
23. Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People (1969-1978), World Sikh University Press, New Delhi, 1979, p. 147.
24. Ibid., p. 151.
25. Jasbir Singh, "Lehina to Guru Angad", Journal of Sikh Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1-2, Department of Guru Nanak Studies, Amritsar, 2002, p. VI.
26. Sahib Singh, Guru Nanak and his Teachings, Lok Sahit Parkashan, Amritsar, 2002, p. 185.
27. Giyani Hazara Singh Pandit (ed), Vara Bhai Gurdas, Khalsa Samachar, Amritsar, 1972, p. 39.
28. Harbans Singh, Guru Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith, Asia Publishing House, 1961, p. 185.
29. Bhagat Singh, Sikh Polity in the 15th and 19th century, Oriental Publishing and Distribution, New Delhi, 1978, p. 23.
30. G.C. Chabbra, Advanced History of the Punjab, New Pub. Jullundhur, 1960, p 122.
31. W.H. Mcleod, Textual Sources for the study of Sikhism, Manchester, 1984. p. 26.
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