Guru Amar Daas as a Social Reformer
Guru Amar Daas was not only a spiritual guide, but also a great social reformer. Syad Muhammad Latif, a renowned historian, in his book ‘History of the Panjab’( P 251) praises his moral courage for advocating social reforms against stiff opposition. Sattaa and Balwand have also praised Guru jee’s courage in the following quote:
ਝਖੜਿ ਵਾਉ ਨ ਡੋਲਈ ਪਰਬਤੁ ਮੇਰਾਣੁ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 968
‘You are not pushed or shaken by the storm and the wind; you are like the Sumayr Mountain.’
I agree with Bhatt Bhall who has beautifully explained that the virtues of Guru Amar Daas cannot be counted:
ਘਨਹਰ ਬੂੰਦ ਬਸੁਅ ਰੋਮਾਵਲਿ ਕੁਸਮ ਬਸੰਤ ਗਨੰਤ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥
ਰਵਿ ਸਸਿ ਕਿਰਣਿ ਉਦਰੁ ਸਾਗਰ ਕੋ ਗੰਗ ਤਰੰਗ ਅੰਤੁ ਕੋ ਪਾਵੈ ॥
ਰੁਦ੍ਰ ਧਿਆਨ ਗਿਆਨ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੇ ਕਬਿ ਜਨ ਭਲ´ ਉਨਹ ਜੋ ਗਾਵੈ ॥
ਭਲੇ ਅਮਰਦਾਸ ਗੁਣ ਤੇਰੇ ਤੇਰੀ ਉਪਮਾ ਤੋਹਿ ਬਨਿ ਆਵੈ ॥ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1396
The raindrops of the clouds, the plants of the earth, and the flowers of the spring cannot be counted. Who can know the limits of the rays of the sun and the moon, the waves of the ocean and the Ganges? With Shiva’s meditation and the spiritual wisdom of the True Guru, says Bhall the poet, these may be counted. O Guru Amar Daas of Bhalla family !Your Glorious Virtues are so sublime; Your Praises belong only to You.
Guru jee made a number of social reforms. I venture to describe some of the social reforms introduced by Guru Amar Daas in this article.
Uplift of Women
Following in the footsteps of Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Amar Daas paid special attention to the amelioration of the position of women and tried to remove the disadvantages from which they had been suffering for centuries.
He denounced Sati and advocated widow remarriage
Cruel custom of Sati was prevalent in those days. According to it a widow had no right to live after the death of her husband. She had to burn herself alive with her dead husband. If she hesitated, she was forced to do so. Guru jee opposed this unjust treatment with the women against heavy odds. Brahmins and orthodox Hindus stood against the Guru who ordered his followers not to follow this practice at any cost. Thus Guru Amar Daas tried to end this cruel practice long before Lord William Bantik. He declared that a true Sati is one who bravely bears the shock of separation with virtues :
ਸਤੀਆ ਏਹਿ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਨਿ ਜੋ ਮੜਿਆ ਲਗਿ ਜਲੰਨਿ@ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤੀਆ ਜਾਣੀਅਨਿ@ ਜਿ ਬਿਰਹੇ ਚੋਟ ਮਰੰਨਿ@ ॥ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 787
Do not call them ‘satee’, who burn themselves along with their husbands’ corpses. O Nanak, they alone are known as ‘satee’, who die from the shock of separation.
ਭੀ ਸੋ ਸਤੀਆ ਜਾਣੀਅਨਿ ਸੀਲ ਸੰਤੋਖਿ ਰਹੰਨਿ@ ॥
ਸੇਵਨਿ ਸਾਈ ਆਪਣਾ ਨਿਤ ਉਠਿ ਸੰਮ@ਾਲੰਨਿ@ ॥ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 787
‘They are also known as ‘satee’, who abide in modesty and contentment. They serve their Lord, and rise in the early hours to contemplate Him.’
Guru jee encouraged widow remarriage and declared that a widow has right to remarry if she likes. Forster has written in his book’ Forster Travels’(p. 309) that it was a revolutionary step in the history of India.
In his congregation, Guru Amardas jee did not allow women to cover their faces. Even queen of Raja Hari Chand, when she with her husband visited the Guru had to obey this rule as the Guru objected to her covering her face. Guru jee declared that modesty is the real cover. Dorthy Field has written that Guru Amar Daas freed the female from this unjust custom of covering their faces.
The third Guru ji also prohibited women to perform Syapa, beating of breasts by women in the form of a parade on the death of a relative. He insisted on monogamy.
He assigned three women to the responsibility of supervising three out of twenty districts (Manjies) established by him to guide the disciples and collect offerings from them. It raised the status of women. As the number of disciples and the area inhabited by them had increased manifold, establishment of Manjis helped in propagating the message of the Guru.
Condemned Female Child Infanticide
As shown in the following quote, Guru jee severely condemned female infanticide:
ਬ੍ਰਹਮਣ ਕੈਲੀ ਘਾਤੁ ਕੰਞਕਾ ਅਣਚਾਰੀ ਕਾ ਧਾਨੁ ॥
ਫਿਟਕ ਫਿਟਕਾ ਕੋੜੁ ਬਦੀਆ ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ ॥ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1413
He who kills a spiritual person, a cow and a female infant, and accepts the offerings of an evil person, cursed is he with the leprosy of sins; he is forever and ever filled with egotistical pride.
Guru Amar Daas tried to eliminate caste distinctions among his followers. Guru’s Langar (common kitchen) had become a well-established institution. Guru jee obliged all visitors to partake food in the Langar (community mess) before seeing him. The author of Suraj Parkash mentions on page 30 that ‘Pahle pangat pichhe sangat’ (Take food before meeting the Guru) was the slogan. Even Emperor Akbar and the Raja of Haripur Guler in Kangra Hills had to dine sitting with common people before seeing the Guru. The Guru advised the Brahmins who were so proud of their high caste thus:
ਜਾਤਿ ਕਾ ਗਰਬੁ ਨ ਕਰੀਅਹੁ ਕੋਈ ॥
ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬਿੰਦੇ ਸੋ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਹੋਈ ॥ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1127
‘No one should be proud of his social class and status. He alone is a Brahmin, who knows God.‘
Guru jee built a Baoli (well with 84 steps, descending to the water level), at Goindval. Everybody irrespective his/ her caste or creed could draw water from there. It solved the water problem of the residents and helped to decrease the caste distinction among the people.
Guru jee attached great importance to the physical fitness of his followers . He told them that human body was the temple of God and they must keep it fit. He condemned torturing of the body by Yogis He also denounced the use of intoxicants:
ਕਾਇਆ ਹਰਿ ਮੰਦਰੁ ਹਰਿ ਆਪਿ ਸਵਾਰੇ ॥
ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਹਰਿ ਜੀਉ ਵਸੈ ਮੁਰਾਰੇ ॥ Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1059
‘The body is the temple of the Lord; the Lord Himself embellishes it. The Dear Lord dwells within it.’
ਜਿਤੁ ਪੀਤੈ ਮਤਿ ਦੂਰਿ ਹੋਇ ਬਰਲੁ ਪਵੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਆਇ ॥
ਆਪਣਾ ਪਰਾਇਆ ਨ ਪਛਾਣਈ ਖਸਮਹੁ ਧਕੇ ਖਾਇ ॥– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 554
‘Drinking the wine, his intelligence departs, and madness enters his mind; he cannot distinguish between his own and others, and he is struck down by his Lord and Master.’
No Room for Udasis and Ascetics
He declared that there was no room for Udasis and ascetics among his followers. Cunnigham, an eminent historian, in his book ‘History of the Punjab’ (pp. 54-55) writes:
Guru Amar Daas declared passive and recluse Udasis to be wholly separate from active and domestic Sikhs, and thus finally separated the infant church or state from disappearing as one of many sects.’ Latif in his book 'History of the Panjab’ writes: "He separated the inert and torpid sect of Udasis, founded by Baba Sri Chand from the active and worldly Sikhs, and thus prevented the former from being lost in oblivion as a distinct creed.’(p. 251) He praised the life of a householder and condemned those who ran away from social responsibilities in search of the Lord:
‘Yoga is not obtained by wearing saffron robes; Yoga is not obtained by wearing dirty robes. O Nanak, Yoga is obtained even while sitting in your own home, by following the Teachings of the True Guru. ‘ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1421
A Zealous Preacher
Guru jee composed 869 sacred hymns in 17 musical measures in a very simple language. His masterpiece ‘ Anand Sahib’ is recited at the end of every congregation in the Gudwaras. He also warned his followers against fake compositions and instructed his son, Mohan, to collect the hymns:
‘Without the True Guru, other songs are false. The songs are false without the True Guru; all other songs are false.’
Latif in his book mentioned above (page 251) writes about Guru Amardas jee: He was successful as a teacher, and his zeal and activity in preaching combined with his genial habits and affable disposition, secured for him many converts to the new faith. He was a just and wise Guru, humble and patient. He composed beautiful verses, which have been incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and are much liked for their simplicity of diction and purity of idea.
Besidesestablishing Goindval as a pilgrim center and planning a new center where Sri Amritsar was founded by his successor, Guru ji fixed the opening days of the months of Baisakh and Magh as well as Diwali when his followers should gather at Goindwal where he had a Baoli.
Code of Conduct
According to Sarup Daas Bhalla, author of Mehima Parkash, Guru ji instructed his followers how they should conduct themselves in their daily life. He has described in detail on page 27 of the above mentioned book. Bhai Santokh Singh, author of Suraj Parkash, has also mentioned these instructions on pages 51 to 65.
As written by Baba Sundar in Raag Ramkali, Guru ji instructed his follwers not to weep after his death. Guru jee also laid down simple ceremonies and rites for birth, marriage and death:
ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਭਾਣੈ ਆਪਣੈ ਬਹਿ ਪਰਵਾਰੁ ਸਦਾਇਆ ॥
ਮਤ ਮੈ ਪਿਛੈ ਕੋਈ ਰੋਵਸੀ ਸੋ ਮੈ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਭਾਇਆ ॥– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 923
‘The True Guru, in His Own Sweet Will, sat up and summoned His family. Let no one weep for me after I am gone. That would not please me at all.’
ਅੰਤੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਬੋਲਿਆ ਮੈ ਪਿਛੈ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਕਰਿਅਹੁ ਨਿਰਬਾਣੁ ਜੀਉ ॥
‘Finally, the True Guru said, “”When I am gone, sing Kirtan in Praise of the Lord alone.’
In the following lines, Guru jee has left a piece of advice, worthy of being written in Golden letters, for the house holders and couples going to marry telling them that marriage is a sacred relation and not a temporary contract:
ਧਨ ਪਿਰੁ ਏਹਿ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਨਿ ਬਹਨਿ ਇਕਠੇ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਏਕ ਜੋਤਿ ਦੁਇ ਮੂਰਤੀ ਧਨ ਪਿਰੁ ਕਹੀਐ ਸੋਇ – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 788
‘They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. They alone are called husband and wife, who have one light in two bodies.‘
Macaliffe, who was the first to write an authentic account of the Sikhs in The Sikh Religion that Guru Amar Das instructed his followers: 'Worship not cremation grounds, tanks, Hindu or Muslim shrines'. On page 396 of ‘ History of Freedom Movement in India, its author writes : This constituted a distinct break with Hinduism.
Besides his spiritual guidance, social reforms made by Guru Amar Daas have a special place in the Sikh history. These reforms lifted the status of women, freed his followers from the Brahmins who were fleecing people by asking them to follow so many useless rituals.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2013, All