GURU ARJAN DEV - THE FIFfH NANAK
AN APOSTLE OF PEACE (1563-1606)
SURINDER SINGH KOHLI
In the Var Ramkali ofSatta and Balwand in Guru Granth Sahib, it is recorded: “Now Arjan, the Guru, is seated on Nanak’s throne, his canopy sparkles and illumines the four corners of the world.” Another bard Kala says, “Guru Ramdas blessed Guru Arjan like philosopher’s stone, which transmutes all it touches into gold.” (Adi Granth p.1404). Another bard Mathura says, “In the sea of Kali age, the Lord’s Name has become manifest through Guru Arjan to save the world.” (Adi Granth p.1409). Bhai Gurdas, the Sikh theologian writes in his twenty-fourth Var: “People from all the four directions bowed to him (Guru Arjan) and the innumerable Sikhs used to assemble in his presence. The Guru-Shabda or the Name of the Lord was served freely; the perfect Guru had the perfect discipline. There waved God’s canopy over the Gurmukh (the Enlightened one), who was immersed in the Supreme State of the Unity with the Transcendent Lord.” (Pauri 20) Such is the first hand report about the personality of Guru Arjan Dev.
A Short Sketch of the Life of Guru Arjan Dev: Guru Arjan Dev was the youngest son of Guru Ramdas, the fourth Sikh Guru. Out of his two brothers Mahadev was a recluse, but the eldest Prithi Chand was a highly self-centred and unspiritual person. As soon as decision for succession was announced, he turned violently hostile towards Guru Arjan Dev and caused great problems for him. He proclaimed himself as the Guru and created a cleavage among the Sikhs, though his machinations were thwarted to a great extent by the two venerable Sikhs Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas. He remained inimical towards the Guru throughout his life and even approached and conspired with the like-minded officials for regaining the high position of Guruship. He even tried to poison Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan Dev, so that his own son Mehervan should get the next chance of Guruship. He and his son began to compose hymns under the name “Nanak” in order to be recognised as suitable successors to the previous Gurus, because Guru Arjan Dev had begun to compose hymns at a very early age, and which had attraced the attention of his father.
The Sikh organisation was firmly established by two important works undertaken by Guru Arjan Dev. He prepared the basic scripture of the Sikh Religion, compiling the hymns and compositions of not only the Sikh Gurus preceding him, but also the hymns of the like-minded pre-Nanak radical saints. On a complaint from the adversaries of the Guru, the Emperor, Akbar the Great, satisfied himself that there was nothing antagonistic in it towards other religions, especially Islam. The other important work that was undertaken by the Guru was the completion of the tank and the construction of a central holy shrine for the Sikhs, where they could gather on significant occasions. Because of great financial necessity for the Panth and for building the shrine, the Guru asked all his Sikhs to donate one-tenth of their income (daswandh) in the name of the Guru. The Muslim news writers considered such donation as a tax levied by the Guru.
Erection of the Sikh Shrine by Guru Arjan Dev: The site achieved prominence in the times of the Sikh Gurus. Guru Nanak Dev, during his journeys, met the young Buddha (Baba Buddha) at this place, who played a prominent part in the Sikh movement. The site lay amidst the villages of Sultan wind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali in the pargana of Jhabal. The third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das, selected this site for his son-in-law Ramdas, on whom he wanted to bestow the Guruship and thus keep him away from his own progeny, in order to avoid any clash. It is believed that the land of the site was granted to Guru Amar Das by Emperor Akbar, when he met the Guru at Goindwal on his way to Lahore. But most probably, the land was presented by the inhabitants of Sultanwind out of their great reverence for the Guru. The legendary importance of the site known to the people of the area about the episode of Rajani, a daughter of Rai Duni Chand, a kardar(revenue-collector) of Patti highlights the medicinal properties of the waters of the pool. She is said to have brought her leper-husband here, who, after having a dip in the pool, was cured of the ailment. Guru Amar Das passed away in A.D. 1574 and in the same year his successor Guru Ramdas settled down by the site of the pool. The original habita,tion was known by the name Chak. Because of its association with the Guru, it was called Chak Guru or Guru ka Chak, sometimes called Chak Guru Ramdas. Later on it came to be known as Ramdas Pura.
Construction of the tank: Guru Ramdas formulated his plan of the construction work of the tank and the town. Undoubtedly, some elementary work regarding the tank was begun by Guru Amar Das, but most of the work of excavation was accomplished in the time of Guru Ramdas. Bhai Gurdas has referred to this task of excavation in his first Var. Originally, the tank became famous as Ramdas Sar or Ramdas Sarovar. These names occur in the verses of Guru Arjan Dev in the Adi Granth alongwith the name of the town as Ramdas Pur. It is recorded that at the time of excavation, the Guru used to sit under a Ber tree and supervise the work. The Amrit Sarovar or the holy tank remained enclosed in kachcha construction until A.D. 1581, when Guru Arjan Dev ascended the throne of Guruship. Then the tank was made pucca and the stairs of the enclosure were bricked. The bottom of the tank was a~so a ttended to. A grea t deal of voluntary service was done by the Sikhs and with their selfless and enthusiastic efforts, the construction work of the tank was completed within a short period. The Guru attributed the feat to the Grace of the Lord. The name of Amritsar (the tank of nectar or immortality) was given to the tank and the city also came to be known by this name. While the work of the construction of the tank was still going on, the Guru had consultations with the elderly and devout Sikhs, especially Baba Buddha, regarding the construction of the holy shrine. It was ultimately decided by him that the shrine be built in the centre of the tank, where the Name of the Lord is symbolised. This shrine would be the Lord’s shrine (Har Mandir). The plan of the Guru was welcomed by the Sikhs.
The foundation stone laying of Harmandir: According to the tradition, the foundation of the sacred shrine was laid by Hazrat Mian Mir, the famous contemporary Sufi saint of the Qadiri Order m A.D. 1588. Chulam Muhayy-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. I, p.141. According to the Sikh records, the foundation-stone was laid by Guru Arjan Dev himself. The foundation that was laid originally was very solid. It was laid on a higher level than the bottom of the tank. A bridge connecting the foundation of Har Mandir with the entrance gate (Darshani Deorhi) was constructed over the props of aquaducts (Surang Dwaries) and arches (mehrabs), Construction of Harmandir : In the traditional Hindu temple architecture, buildings of the temples were built on a higher level, but in the case of Har Mandir, it was built on a level lower than the surrounding ground. The devotees who come to visit the temple have to go down the steps in order to pay obeisance at the sacred temple. This denotes the utmost humility of the Sikh devotees who love to lie in the state of prostration at the feet of the Lord and in the service of humanity. The Lord being Omnipresent and His created humanity living, in all the four directions, the Har Mandir was kept open from all the sides, Every one is free to enter the Golden Temple from any direction, This has been another distinguishing feature of the Sikh Temple. The plan of the construction of Har Mandir was excuted by Guru Arjan Dev himself assisted by a council of elderly devout Sikhs including Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas. Bhai Bahlo was an expert in brick-making, therefore he was entrusted with that task. Bhai Salo, Bhai Bhagtu, Bhai Kalyana and Bhai Paira were asked to arrange the building materials. Thus a magnificent structure was raised, with its matchless design and beauty. There came into being a great place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. In the life-time of Guru Arjan Dev, Ramdaspur (Amritsar) grew into a flourishing town. Members of over fifty caste-groups came to settle here from Patti, Kasur and Kalanaur. A market known till to~day as Guru ka Bazar was established. A good number of bankers and traders became the residents of the town, which became a great trade-centre. The adventurous Sikhs were even sent to Turkistan to purchase horses there and sell them in India.
The preparation of the Sikh Scripture: The compilation of the Adi Granth began, when Guru Nanak Dev, during his travels had his note-book called “Pothi”, A mention of the Pothi has been made in Puratan Janamsakhi. This Pothi was passed on to the second Guru, Guru Angad Dev, when the Guruship was bestowed on him. We cannot say with certainty the names of the saints, whose verses were included in it, because it could not be preserved. During his travels, Guru Nanak Dev might have collected the hymns of Kabir and Ravidas in Uttar Pradesh, of Jaidev in Bengal, of Namdev and Trilochan in Maharashtra and of Sheikh Farid in Punjab. It seems likely on the basis of the Pothis of Baba Mohan, one of whose source of compilation must have been the Pothi of Guru Nanak Dev, Which must have-been received by Guru Amar Das, the third Guru from the second Guru. We find mention of the four Pothis of Baba Mohan, two of which have been preserved and the other two have been lost. Baba Mohan, the son of Guru Amar Das was in the possession of these Pothis when the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, compiled Granth Sahib. The Guru went himself to take these Pothis, which were ultimately handed over to him, though hesitantly. These manuscripts were prepared earlier under the personal supervision of Guru Amar Das, by his grandson Sahansar Ram. One of the available manuscripts is at Patiala and the other at Ahiyapur, district Hoshiarpur. The first manuscript consists of 300 leaves and the second 224. Every leaf contains thirteen lines and every line about thirteen words. The first manuscript begins with Suhi Raga and the second with Ramkali Raga. Both the manuscripts together contain hymns in fifteen Ragas. At the en,d of each Raga, the bani of the saints is given. It seems evident that the bani of other Ragas had been included in the other two manuscripts, which have been lost. Gyani Gyan Singh, the author of Twarikh Guru Khalsa, according to his statement, had seen one of these manuscripts beginning with Sri Raga.
The compilation of the bani of Guru Nanak Dev and the like-minded saints was a Herculian task. The bani of Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ramdas had been preserved in the house of the Guru, but the bani of Guru Nanak Dev lay scattered far and wide because of the extensive travels of the Guru. A Hukarnnama (an order) of the fifth Guru was circulated to all the Sikh centres, both inside and outside the country, for the collection of the bani of Guru Nanak Dev, The Sikh Sangats of far and near, complying with the orders of the fifth Guru, sent the compositions of Guru Nanak Dev preserved by them. Guru Nanak Dev and his successors had composed their verses under the name “Nanak”. In order to differentiate the verses of each Guru the serial number of Guruship was mentioned with them adding the word Mahla. Since the religion ot Guru Nanak Dev was spreading far and wide, the hymns of the Gurus were becoming popular day by day. There were several others in those days, who were passing on their verses under the name “Nanak”, therefore it was a huge task to separate the real verses from the false ones. Since the hymns under the name “Nanak” were increasing with time, the Sikhs requested Guru Arjan Dev to select the genuine verses from them. It was very difficult for them to discriminate between the genuine and the false verses. It was in this context that the idea of Granth Sahib originated. In this way, he preserved the poetry of his predecessors and other saint-poets for posterity.
It is said that the elder brother of Guru Arjan Dev, Prithi Chand by name, had also been trying to compose and get composed hymns and pass them on as those of Guru Nanak Dev and other Gurus. In this way he wanted to be recognised as the Guru. According to Kesar Singh Chhibbar, as recorded in his Bansavali Nama, “Meharvan the son of Prithia (Prithi Chand) used to compose poetry. He studied Persian, Hindvi, Sahaskrit and Gurmukhi. He composed a lot of poetry, putting the name “Nanak” at the end of his poems. The Dooms (minstrels) began to sing the hymns of Meenas (Prithi Chand and his followers). They created another Guruship. These Meenas got prepared a Granth (holy book) and interspersed the hymns of the first four Gurus. The Purohits and Brahmins took sides, some to this side and some to that. Those who went to the other side were inimical to those belonging to this side. Those who came to this side left their (that of the other side) court... Here the Sikh Rababis were employed for Kirtan (congregational singing). Some Sikh recited here a hymn composed by Meharvan, which was heard by Guru Arjan Dev. He said to Bhai Gurdas: “The hymns of the Gurus must be separated. The Meenas are going to mix up hymns, which should be set in order.”
Bhai Gurdas was the scribe, who wrote Granth Sahib in 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 panegyrics with the Gurus, whom they had met in their lives. The hymns of Guru Nanak Dev had been collected from far and near. The hymns of the succeeding Gurus had been there in the house of the Guru. The hymns of the like-minded saints had been collected from their followers, though some of the hymns had been included in the Pothis of Guru Nanak Dev and Baba Mohan. The saints had been travelling extensively within the length and breadth of India. The Maharashtrian saint Namdev is said to have visited Punjab during his lifetime. There is a shrine in his name at village Ghuman of Gurdaspur district. Several other saints like Kabir, Ravidas and others. had been intimately known to the people of Punjab through their devotees and popular hymns. The popularity of the saints like Namdev, Kabir, Ravidas, Sain and Trilochan can be well imagined through the verses of the third, fourth and fifth Sikhh Gurus.
After compiling the material from different sources for Granth Sahib, Guru Arjan Dev started the work of editing the great scripture within the bounds of Ramsar, Amritsar. The compilation work had been finished in AD. 1601 and for the next three years, the work of editing was done and compieted in AD. 1604. The scribe of the first edited recension was Bhai Gurdas, the great Sikh savant and poet. The very first consideration for the inclusion of
the hymns of various saints for the new anthology was the ideology of Guru Nanak Dev. Another criterion besides the ideology was that of the musical modes.
Installation of the Sikh scripture in Hannandir : After the completion of the holy temple, the next remarkable development was the compilation and editing of Granth Sahib, 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 anxious labour, and distributed sacred food amongst them as a thanks - giving for the completion of the scripture. The volume was by the advice of Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas placed in the Har Mandir. At the conclusion of his task, the Guru told his Sikhs that the Granth Sahib was the embodiment of the Gurus, and should, therefore, be held in extreme reverence. 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. The Guruship was later bestowed on Granth Sahib or the Adi Granth (the First Book) by the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in AD. 1708.
The growing influence of the Sikh Movement: Guru Arjan Dev was a great organiser. Because of the above mentioned two projects, firstly, the shrine of Golden Temple and secondly, the Granth Sahib, the scripture, the number of Sikhs increased immensely in Punjab. They 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 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 Emperor Jahangir in his Tuzuk, wherem 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 peace-loving and totally imbued with the Name of the Lord, having his mace of humility and double-edged sword of modesty. Frederic Pincott says: “Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, was an active and ambitious man. He laid aside the dress of a faqir, which had been worn by all his predecessors, and converted the voluntary offerings of his disciples into a tax. This raised him to some importance, and enabled him to take men into his pay, a proceeding which conferred additional dignity upon him, and at the same time, intensified the jealousy of his Muhammedan neighbours.” A. Barth, the author of The Religions of India says, “He (the Guru) was the first to surround himself with the paraphernalia of royalty, and he took advantage of his power to play a political part.” All this is a misrepresentation, because Guru was called Sacha Patshah (True Emperor) by the Sikhs.
The Guru as first martyr of Sikhism : After the death of Akbar the Great, Jehangir ascended the throne of Delhi. He came under the impact of Mujaddid Alf-i-Sani Sirhindi, who was a staunch adversary of the growing Sikh Movement. This Naqshbandi saint and the 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 the Emperor. The Emperor’s son Khusrau revolted against him and while fleeing came to the Guru. The Guru seeing his plight took compassion on him. This incident gave an excuse to the Emperor ‘to put an end to the false traffic’ within a few months of his accession. He 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 than, 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 in rigorous confinement.” “The Guru was subjected to all sorts of tortures. His blistered body, when taken for a bath, disappeared in the cold waters of the river Ravi. According to Bhai Gurdas, the Guru bore all this agony with great equanimity, during the night (previous to his martyrdom) having been deeply absorbed in the Name of the Lord, just like a deer engrossed in the sound of the horn (Var 24, Pauri 23). The Guru had totally resigned himself to the Will of the Lord, thus subjecting himself to the discipline enunciated by Guru Nanak Dev. The martyrdom of the Guru has been described in Dabistan in the following way: “Khusrau having been taken, the king ordered the imprisonment of Arjun-muIl, and wanted to extort a large sum of money from him. The Guru was helpless; they kept him prisoner in the sandy country of Lahore until he died from the heat of the sun and illtreatment. This happened in 1606.”
As a poet: Guru Arjan Dev was the most prolific Guru-poet after Guru Nanak Dev, whose religious philosophy he has faithfully recorded and elaborated. In Guru Granth Sahib, the compositions of which he compiled and edited with great care, diligence and scrutiny, his own contribution is the largest. Out of thirty-one Ragas, in the scripture, he composed his bani in thirty Ragas, the thirty-first having been added later by Guru Gobind Singh in the recension of Damdama. He also composed Swayyas. Besides his six Vars, his other significant longer poems are Sukhmani, Bawan Akhri and Baramaha. Sukhmani may be called a modern Upanishad like the ]apuji of Guru Nanak Dev. Whereas the ]apuji of Guru Nanak Dev is aphoristic, the Sukhmani of Guru Arjan Dev is expositional. It consists of 24 cantos (ashtapadis). Each canto contains one shloka and one ashtapadi (a composition of eight stanzas). According to the Guru, peace is obtained by drinking deep the Nectar of the Name of the Lord, Who is both Transcendent and Immanent. Before the creation of the world, he was in abstract meditation. But when it is His Will. He Creates the world of diverse forms and colours. God is Truth, therefore His Creation cannot be illusion. It is relatively real, though it is a changing phenomenon. Everything that takes birth is prone to die. The soul (Atman) is subservient to the Will of God. The Lord is Omnipresent, Ommpotent and Omniscient, but the soul has no power of its own; it denves all its power by the Grace of God and works in diverse fields. God Himself is the Primal Guru. He is Generous and Kind. He is Unfathomable, Impenetrable, Inexpressible and All-Pervasive. The endlessness of the created cosmos and the variety of the forms of species have been mentioned in the tenth canto. The eleventh canto relates the limitations of the individual self.
The seductive power of the organs of perception and action has been clearly brought out in the fifth canto. The ears listen to the calumny of others. The eyes are attracted towards the beauty of other women. The tongue tastes the prohibited food and also utters vicious words. The feet lead towards vicious actions. The purity does not come without truth, which is the highest of all the virtues. The truthful person is a real saint. His tongue never touches falsehood. His eyes never wander after the beauty of other women. His ears never listen to the calumny of others. He considers himself lowliest of the lowly. He forsakes all the five vices and has full control over his senses. But such persons are very rare in this world. We find the mention of such a saint in a first stanza of the ninth canto.
In Sukhmani, humility has been assigned a very high position among the virtues, as ego among vices. The twelfth canto employs the figurative method for their description. The knower of Brahman (Brahm-Gian) is the store-house of all the virtues. A glimpse of this can be found in the eighth canto. The love of maya is like the love of the shade of the tree. Nothing can be achieved from it. The five vices are lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. The five virtues corresponding to them are self-restraint, tolerance, contentment, devotion to duty and modesty. The Pathway to God can only be traversed by those, who imbibe virtues and godly qualities. This path is the path of Bhakti (love). Sukhmani lays emphasis on devotion through love. All formalism and ritualism have been decried. The wisdom of the world leads us nowhere. One can obtain release from the net of maya and noose of attachment with the help of the Name of the Lord. The Name or Word is obtained from the True Guru (Satguru). By the remembrance of the Name, the seeker becomes one with the Lord, but the meditation on the Name can only be done most effectively in the company of the saints (Sadh Sangat). For Bhakti, the Grace of the Lord is a pre-requisite. Therefore, it is the duty of the seeker to surrender completely before the Guru and the Lord. By the Grace of the Lord, one meets the True Guru and by the Grace of the True Guru one meets the Lord.
Though Guru Arjan Dev did not travel extensively like Guru Nanak Dev, we still find the use of several languages and dialects in his bani. The reason for this appears to be his intensive study of various scriptures and his meetings with the votaries of various religions and religious sects. The study of Indian scriptures gave him an insight into the Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhramshas. He discarded the use of purely Sanskrit diction and preferred to use Prakrit and Apabhramsha formations, while addressing the pundits and Brahmins in Sahaskriti, a variation of the folk-language. This was done only for the satisfaction of the learned people, who did not want to talk in vernaculars. The Guru belonged to the central Punjab (Majha), but his Sikhs had spread far and wide. The saints and hermits used to visit him from far off places. Therefore, the use of the common religious terminology was natural. The Guru used this common diction or the saint-language (Sant-Bhasha) in several of his compositions. He also used the standard Punjabi as wen as various Punjabi dialects in his
hymns. The specialty of Jaitsri ke Var is the use of three languages/dialects in one composition. The Pauri is composed in Eastern Punjabi and the two shalokas preceding it are composed in Sahaskriti and Lahndi respectively.
In Maru Ki Var, the Guru has made use of Sindhi, the language of the southern areas of Punjab.
Like Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Arjan Dev is against an sorts of social divisions and multifarious garbs. All the human beings are the children of the same father. The real objective of the precious human life is love for the Lord and the attainment of the union with Him through self-surrender and whole-hearted devotion. An the ritualism, formalism and symbolism are useless. The vices like lust, anger, greed, attachment, ego, calumniation, duality, etc. must be curbed, and instead, the virtues like truth, contentment, mercy, righteousness, modesty, tolerance, etc. must be imbibed. The whole world can be conquered with the mace of modesty and the double-edged sword of humulity. The Name of the Lord is the panacea of an ills. “I HAVE BEFRIENDED ALL” was the MOTTO of his life.
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