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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh






Dr Wazir Singh

The first century of Sikhism is the sixteenth century covering the period of spiritual ministry of the first five mentors from Guru Nanak to Guru Arjan.

Technically, the first date in the history of Sikh religion is A.D. 1469, the year of Guru Nanak’s birth. However, if we consider the date of first proclamation of the new faith as its starting point, it falls in the first decade of the sixteenth century. According to one reckoning, it was the year 1507 to be precise. In fact, the arrival of the young Nanak at Sultanpur in 1504, marks the beginning of that process which culminated in the recognition of Nanak as the Guru and initiator of the Sikh movement, and subsequently in the installation of the Adi Granth at Amritsar in 1604. The process finally led to the acceptance of the holy Guru Granth in 1708, as embodiment of the enlightenment and teaching earlier sought from the preceptors in person. This wondrous transmission of spiritual essence from Guru Nanak to the holy Granth took two centuries to come into full play.

Guru Nanak

The biographical accounts of Guru Nanak available to the present generation, are of course a mixture of history, legend and myth, treated in the nature of hagiographical accounts. Some, very cautious, attempts have been made recently to disentangle historical elements from the myths and miracles associated with the person of Guru  Nanak, but the controversy about the life-incidents, their chronology and dates is far from finally resolved. Dr W.H. McLeod who claims to have applied ‘rigorous historical methodology’ makes bold to sift the authentic and probable from what he rejects as unreliable and impossible, in the tradition generally accepted on faith. This is how he proceeds to relate, in brief, the life of Guru Nanak:

“Guru Nanak was born in A.D. 1469, probably in the month of April. His father was Kalu, a Bedi Khatri living in the village of Rai Bhoi di Talvandi, and his mother was named Tripata. Kalu and Tripata had one other child, a daughter whose name was probably Nanaki and whose husband’s name was Jai Ram. Guru Nanak was married to the daughter of Mula, a Chona Khatri of Batala who had formerly resided in the village of Pakho di Randhavi. His wife’s name was Sulakhani and two sons Lakhmi Das and Siri Chand, were born to them.

“As a young man Guru Nanak worked in the town of Sultanpur, probably in the employment of Daulat Khan Lodi. This must have been during the last decade of the fifteenth century. While in Sultanpur he experienced a sense of divine call and it was evidently in response to this that he began a period of travelling in and perhaps beyond India, accompanied for at least some of the time by a bard named Mardana. Neither the pattern nor the extent of his travels can be determined, but it may be assumed that he visited a number of the more important centres of both Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage. The period of travelling probably ended in or shortly before 1520 as it seems likely that Guru Nanak witnessed Babur’s attack upon the town of Saidpur in that year. It appears, however, that the references he makes to Babur in his works point rather to the invasions of 1524 and I525-6.

“At some stage a wealthy follower evidently donated land on the right bank of the Ravi and there the village of Kartarpur was built. This probably took place after the Guru’s travels had ended. For the remainder of his life he lived in Kartarpur, but made brief journeys from there to places within easy reach. These destinations probably included Pak-Pattan and Multan. Contacts with Nath Yogis were frequent and on one occasion the Guru evidently engaged a group of them in debate at the village of Achal Batala.

“During his years in Kartarpur, Guru Nanak must have attracted many disciples, one of whom was Lehna, a Trehan Khatri of Khadur. Lehna must have impressed the Guru by his devotion and ability, for prior to his death Guru Nanak renamed him Angad and appointed him as his successor in preference to either of his two sons. The Guru died in Kartarpur towards the end of the fourth decade of the sixteenth century, probably in September 1539.2 

In the treatment given above and in most other accounts, the date of Guru Nanak’s birth is placed in 1469, though in a couple of studies the calculations point to the year 1468, increasing the life-span of the Guru from 70 to 71 years.3 Another fact of interest relating to the date of birth is the ‘celebration’ of the Guru’s birthday around November the full-moon (on day corresponding to Katak Sudi I5) every year. The late Sardar Karam Singh, however, questioned the authenticity of this date mentioned in the Janam-sakhi ascribed to Bhai Bala. He held, on the basis of ‘more historical and reliable Janam-sakhis,’ that “the Guru was born on Vaisakh Sudi 3, 1526 Bk., April 15, 1469.” Several traditional accounts, including Meharban’s, support this date. “Sodhi Meharban was a grandson of the fourth Guru Ram Das, and a nephew of the fifth Guru, Arjan. His information about the date of Guru Nanak’s birth should certainly be more reliable.”4

Another date on which agreement lacks is the year in which Guru Nanak’s death is placed, some holding it as 1538, others 1539. The conversion of Indian system of Bikrami era into the Christian era, coupled with the complexity of lunar and solar calendars, may have led to initial miscalculation in this case.

The generally accepted years of Guru Nanak’s birth and death are A.D. 1469, and 1539, respectively.

The major controversy, however, relates to the chronology of events: the places visited, the discourses held. It is popularly believed, on the basis of tradition, that Guru Nanak set out on pilgrimage more than once, may be four times, or it may be two, three or even five times, depending upon the source of the tradition followed. These spiritual missions, known as udäsis, undertaken by the Guru, following the Sermon at Sultanpur’, led him and his companion, the bard Mardana, to the eastern, southern and western parts of India, besides Kashmir, and perhaps Ladakh and even Tibet, in the north,” as well as to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), to Mecca in Arabia, to Baghdad in Iraq, and to a number of centres in Iran and Afghanistan. If we follow the chronological detail of the first missionary journey worked out by Professor Sahib Singh, the Guru paid visits to the following important centres between 1507 and 1615:6

Departure from Sultanpur                       August 30, 1507

Talwandi (to see parents)                        September 5, 1507

Saidpur (Bhago and Lalo)                        September 10, 1507

Hardwar                                                  March 28, 1508

Banaras                                                    Feb. 19, 1509

Gaya                                                        March 27, 1509

Gauhati (Assam)                                      Oct. 23, 1509

Jagannath Puri (Orissa)7                          June 7, 1510

Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu)                   March 5, 1511

Ceylon                                                     I511-1512

Maharashtra (via Cochin)                        Feb. August, 1514

Gujarat                                                    1514-1515

Ajmer/Pushkar                                        March-April, 1515

Mathura (Gokul)                                     August 6, 1515

Kurukshetra                                            September 13, 1515

Sultanpur                                                 November, 1515

Talwandi/Pakhoke                                  December, 1515

Following the first pilgrimage to a number of Hindu centres of worship, Guru Nanak is stated to have visited the hilly tracts in the north (his second mission of 1517-18), in  order to meet the Natha-yogis who held religious sway over a cross-section of the masses. His third missionary journey (1518-21) took him to the Islamic centres in the West Asian countries. At the conclusion of this last sojourn, Baba Nanak returned to his native Punjab, took off the pilgrim’s robes, and settled down at Kartarpur as a householder. After examining the ways of life of all the three major religious groups and communities inhabiting the Indian peninsula and beyond, he must have decided that the life led as a common citizen was preferable to the life of a recluse. He must have convinced himself that the goal of spiritual life could well be attained without retiring to the forest. He must have been confirmed in his belief, proclaimed during his younger days at Sultanpur, that ‘there are neither Hindus nor Muslims’ – implying that all were men of God and distinctions of communities and creeds were false.

Evidently, it was not wander-lust that impelled Guru Nanak to set out on arduous journeys covering no less than 10,000 miles over a period of 14 years. Nor could it purely be a case of love of adventure and tourism. His performance and accomplishments during these sojourns serve as unmistakable index of his purposes. Firstly, he wanted to put across his message of the basic oneness of humanity, pointing out the hollowness of creed and caste prejudices generating religious fanaticism. Secondly, he tried to pull out the common masses from the marshes of ignorance and conventionalism, superstitious beliefs and meaningless rituals, hypocrisy and inauthentic living. He occasionally adopted dramatic postures to shake people out of their absurd practices. Thirdly, it was his quest for the ultimate truths and wisdom accumulated over the preceding centuries, known to have been deposited at the various holy spots and abodes of the sages, that attracted Guru Nanak to visit such places and find out for himself what they had to offer.

In all probability, it was part of Guru Nanak’s mission to collect the literary pieces (poetic compositions in particular) eulogizing God and recommending a way of life in conformity with his own vision. There is reason to believe that he obtained copies of the verses composed by Jaideva, Beni, Kabir, Shaikh Farid and other bhaktas. In several cases, he composed his own hymns that supplemented the work of his predecessors/ contemporaries. Interestingly, both sets of hymns have been preserved in the Adi-Granth, offering a fare of comparative insights. Guru Nanak calls himself a shäyar (poet): he must have carefully preserved his own compositions and those of the like-minded devotees. That is why a reference in one of the Janamsakhis speaks of Guru Nanak bowing before Guru Angad, at the time of succession, and entrusting to the latter his Book of Hymns.8

Another reason that prompted the Guru to climb up hill-tops and pass through difficult terrains in order to have audience with the revered holy men of his days, was to have discourses with them on matters spiritual. He not only was successful in exposing and debunking the established exponents of the creeds of mysticism, physical austerities and supernatural miracles, but was in a position to prove the genuine worth and superiority of the gospel he preached. Bhai Gurdãs depicts him as a victorious hero of the debates he held with the Natha-yogis. If he was critical of the other-worldly orientation of different sects and faiths, he paid homage to the enlightened souls, engaged in their humble wordly chores, always ready to share with others their resources, however meager and scanty. He enriched himself, during his missionary sojourns, with the traditions of music, poetics and philosophy. His compositions set to 19 classical ragas of India are an eloquent testimony to his aesthetic fulfilment, zest for life and divine vision. He was full of praise for the noble ones who wear the finery inside, though donning the coarse over their bodies.”9

Ideological Roots

The origin of the Sikh movement can safely be located in the sixteenth century; at the most it can be pushed back to the year of Guru Nanak’s birth—1469. However, the spiritual ideology the Gurus propagated, had its roots in the distant past. Taking the corpus of the Adi Granth as the standard of Sikh Faith, the twelfth century has to be pinpointed as its definitive origin. For, Baba Farid (born A. D. 1173) and Bhakta Jaideva of the twelfth century are the earliest of the poet-devotees whose compositions are enshrined in the Adi-Granth. Incidentally, Farid is also the first recorded poet of the Punjabi language. Guru Nanak, and subsequently Guru Amar Das and Guru Arjan, placed some of their hymns and couplets beside those of Shaikh Farid, elaborating the themes he had depicted, thus placing their seal of approval on them. Farid’s hymn in the Suhi raga (bera bandh na sakio) and one of Guru Nanak’s in hymns the same musical and motifs, metre, share common terminology the Guru’s hymn supplementing the message put across by the shaikh three centuries earlier. Such community of thought may be discerned between the Guru-poets of Guru Granth on one hand, and the thirty contributors drawn from the ranks of saints, bhaktas and bards, on the other. All of them have collectively laid the foundations of the spiritual outlook of Sikhism. Besides the Muslim divine Farid, and the well-known Sanskrit author of Gitagovinda, Jaideva, the poet-bhaktas of Guru Granth include Trilochan and Nâmadeva of Maharashtra, Sadhna of Sindh, Beni of Bihar, Rämananda, Kabir and Ravidasa of Uttar Pradesh, Pipa and Sein of princely states, Dhanna of Rajputana, Bhikhan, Paramananda and Suradasa of other northern regions. Profession-and caste-wise, these bhaktas belonged to Sufi, and Brahmanical orders, calico-printers, meatsellers, barbers, weavers, cobblers, and farmers. Except Suradasa (born I586), these poets were either predecessors or near-contemporaries of Guru Nanak. At any rate, all of them preceded Guru Arjan, the first compiler of the Adi-Granth. The other set of bards and poets, besides Bhaktas and Gurus, covers Mardana and Sundar, Balwand and Satta, and the eleven Bhattas headed by Kals-har, all belonging to the fifteenth sixteenth century and known to have been associated with one or more of the first five Gurus. The ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, whose compositions were included in the second recension of the holy Granth, flourished during the seventeenth century.

Evidently, the spiritual ideology of Sikhism evolved from its genesis in the twelfth century, to its consummation in the seventeenth. The Scripture comprises the compositions of all the thirty-six like-minded divine poets covering a span of six hundred years, and is venerated by the disciples and followers of the Ten Gurus. Undoubtedly, the person of Guru Nanak is of pivotal significance, as he uniquely stands in the middle of these six centuries, forming the intermediate link between Shaikh Farid and Guru Tegh Bahadur in respect of the scriptural compositions. And as the first of the Ten Gurus in person whose essence is believed to be present in the Scripture, he provided a sound basis to the edifice of spirituality that is Sikhism, and initiated the movement that flowered into the Sikh community.

The Act of Succesion

It is not enough to call Guru Nanak ‘the greatest of the sons of the Punjab’. He must be counted among the greatest of the sons of India.” So says A.C. Banerjee, recalling W. H. McLeod’s remarks. "He was the founder of the last of the great religions of the world. He planted a poetical sappling which has blossomed into one of the great literatures of India. He laid the foundations of a brotherhood which has enriched our national heritage by struggle against religious intolerance, social injustice, and denial of political freedom.”10

Closely integrated with religion was Guru Nanak’s programme of social regeneration, of which the abolition of the caste system was the cardinal point.” “The foundations of a casteless society were well and truly laid by Guru Nanak, and his successors continued to build till the structure reached its full height and solidarity.” “Guru Nanak was uncompromising in his opposition to asceticism. He killed, by example and precept, the old idea that a householder’s life was a barrier to spiritual progress. Indeed, he emphasized the point that honest labour was a necessary qualification for one who sought realization of God.”11

In the shaping of the new community emerging around the person of Guru Nanak, during the last two decades of his lifetime, a number of important institutions were set up, in order to consolidate the fraternity “marked by faith, charity, equality, affirmation, trust, mutual help and service.” In his appraisal of the social life at Kartarpur (lit. the Lord’s Township), Harbans Singh refers, in particular, to the following: “An institution of far-reaching import was the langar, or community meal, which symbolized brotherhood, equality and humbleness.” “This common food was eaten by all, inmates and visitors alike, sitting in rows together signifying surrender of caste scruples and affirming their new sense of community. Sewa, or voluntary physical labour in the service of the community, was regarded as the rarest privilege and was sought avidly in its different forms.”12

“The Guru had made numerous disciples during his vast travels and Sangats had been set up at several places. Kartarpur was now the centre to which adherents rapaired to seek his blessing and reaffirm their duty. All visitors were expected to take part in the congregational prayers and eat in the Langar in company with the others.”13 And finally, “‘to assure the community of his disciples a continuing witness to his teachings, Guru Nanak appointed a successor. The succession of teachers and leaders was not to be dynastic, and thus he bypassed his own sons. A disciple was chosen and was made by the Guru an equal with himself. He transmitted to him not only his responsibilities but, as the poets declared, his light as well.”14

As stated by Gopal Singh, “the nomination of a successor by Guru Nanak as worthy as Guru Angad has been described by historians as one of the most significant events in the evolution of the Sikh faith into a dynamic society.”15  This observation is corroborated by Paul B. Courtright who emphatically asserts “When Guru Nanak passed the office of Guru on to Angad, he made the most momentous move for the growth of Sikhism. His doctrine of the Guru made it an eternal office, necessary for the liberation. The guruship secured religious authority for the Sikhs outside Hindu and Islamic sources off authority.”16

Bhai Lehna, re-named Angad (i.e., part of one’s own frame), born A.D. 1504, and a shopkeeper by profession, met Guru Nanak at Kartarpur in 1532, while proceeding to Jammu as a pilgrim to Vaishno Devi. He parted company with his companions and stayed back with the Guru. For the following seven years, he excelled everyone else in service, self-surrender and dedication to the Guru, and eventually succeeded him as the Second Pontiff, or embodiment of the Nanak-Light in its second human form. If the quality of relationship obtaining between Bhai Lehna (lit. the creditor) and his spiritual Master is to be described in one word that word is ‘obedience’. Guru Nanak in turn became one who owed something (the debtor), and he passed on the spiritual ministry to this most worthy disciple-on merit indeed.

Guru Angad

Angad became the Guru in 1539 and continued to spread the message of his Master till his death in 1552. His lifetime (1504-1552) coincided with the last years of Lodhi dynasty, establishment of the Mughal rule and its displacement at the hands of Sher Shah Suri. Babur’s son Humayun reigned from 1530 to 1540, and then for another short spell during 1555-56. In between, Sher Shah ruled the country for 15 years, that is, practically the period of Guru Angad’s pontificate. The Sikh chronicles refer to a meeting between Humayun and Guru Angad, at the latter’s village of Khadur, when the Mughal king after his defeat in 1540 visited the Punjab.17

Guru Angad, like his predecessor, was a householder, married to Bibi Khivi, and had two sons and two daughters. Following in the foot prints of Guru Nának, he strengthened the institutions of congregation and langar, the community kitchen. He is known to have popularized the gurumukhi script used by Guru Nanak for recording his spiritual out pourings. He used to teach the children at the village school established by him, enabling them to read the message contained in the Nanak-Bani.

He is also credited with arranging the first biography (Janam-sakhi) of Guru Nanak to be written. His own compositions consist of couplets and short hymns (slokas) 62 in number, interpolated in the various vars of Guru Granth.

A favourite theme of Guru Angad’s poetry is the spirit of love and dedication with which service he rendered to the Master. “Lover is not the one who indulges in calculation,” nor is one the ‘servant’ who argues or asserts oneself. In one of his hymns, he points to the tradition of Vedic literature with its tales and narrations, discussion of piety and impiety, hell and heaven, incarnations and grades of men; but the “immortalizing nectar that is Nanak-Bani, reveals the Essence to one’s inmost depths.”18

In this way, he firmly advocated the distinctive value of Guru Nanak’s spirituality.

Guru Amar Das

In 1552, Guru Angad transmitted the Nanak-Light to the third Guru, Amar Das, who was 25 years his senior in age. Born in 1479, Amar Das was only 10 years younger to Guru Nanak. At the time of his ‘coronation’ as the third spiritual sovereign, he was already 73, and lived up to the ripe age of 95 years. He was a contemporary of Akbar, the third Mughal king, who ascended the throne in 1556. Akbar with his reputation of a liberal-minded ruler, once paid a visit to Goindwal, the abode of Guru Amar Das, and partook his meal in the community langar, in company with the Guru’s disciples and other visitors, before having an audience with the Guru.

It is interesting to note that Guru Amar Das (1479-1574) was a contemporary not only of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad (for 60 years and 48 years respectively), but also of his successors, Guru Ram Das (for 40 years) and Guru Arjan (for 11 years). The fourth Guru was his son-in-law and the fifth Guru his grandson (on daughter’s side). When Amar Das met Guru Angad for the first time in 1540, he was past 61; he rendered exemplary service to his Master for 12 years and turned out to be his most worthy disciple eminently fit to be appointed his successor. He had so completely imbibed the spirit of Nanak I and Nanak II that the voluminous compositions he bequeathed to posterity, speak of the same message, in the same idiom, set to 17 of the same musical metres, as adopted by Guru Nanak the only difference being Guru Amar Das’s extraordinary simplicity of diction and maturity of style.

Guru Amar Das, in his wisdom, further consolidated the Sikh community by formalizing the institutions set up by his predecessors. He established the first regular Goindwal centre for the scattered community, at (a short distance from Khadur,” now in Amritsar District), in the form of a guru-dvara prototype of the Sikh church. He also appointed deputies to spread the mission of Guru Nanak through a network of sub-centres called manjis (dioceses), 22 in number. During the twenty-two years of his spiritual ministry, he issued specific guidelines for the observance of ceremonies like birth, wedding and death in a simplified form, marking them off from the elaborate rituals of the Hindus.

The third Guru, like both of his predecessors, was a family man; he had two sons and two daughters. He prescribed norms of virtuous conduct for his disciples, in order to cleanse the family and public life of the prevalent social evils. In particular, he forbade his followers from observing the custom of sati (the widow burning herself at the deceased husband’s pier) and purdah (the women veiling their faces in public). He thus distinguished himself as a pioneer-reformer of the Punjabi social life in the sixteenth century. “Not only did the Guru’s kitchen serve the poor, night and day, but he personally attended to the cure and nursing of the sick and the aged.”19

The impact of Guru Amar Das on the Sikh way of life can well be gauged from the fact that his masterpiece Anand-a composition in the Rämkali raga, is collectively sung on all social functions of the Sikhs,-be it an occasion of joy or sorrow, or be it the conclusion of daily prayer or ceremonial recitation of the Guru Granth hymns. Even the wedding ceremony of the Sikh couples is called ‘Anand-karaj’-after the name of the composition Anand. It is also one of the five select texts recited at the Amrit ceremony, initiating a disciple into the Khalsa fold. A gift of Guru Amar Das, Anand indeed forms an inalienable part of the Sikh culture.

Anand, as a concept and an experience, is the summit of Sikh spirituality. It implies the ideal state of blissfulness, as also an aspect of sat-cit-ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss)-the composite Indian concept of the Supreme Reality. ‘Anand’ as a poetic marvel of Guru Amar Das describes the seeker’s state of equipoise (sahaj) and his experience of spiritual bliss, at the same time indicating the path that leads to this blissful state of harmonious merger with the Ultimate. The Guru through his word guides the disciple along this journey. Guru Amar Das cautions his followers against the fake compositions (kaci bani) circulated in the name of Guru Nanak by rival agencies. He was quite particular in preserving the authentic compositions (saci bani) in pristine form, for the benefit of humanity at large.

Guru Ram Das

History of the Sikhs and Their Religion In his later years, Guru Amar Das planned to set up a new centre for the growing Sikh community and entrusted his younger son-in-law, Ram Das, with this mission. The later, who subsequently succeeded the father-in-law as the fourth Guru, acquitted himself admirably and gave the Sikhs their capital-city of Amritsar. He selected the site near a pool of water, believed to have been sanctified by the divines, and founded a township known as Guru-Chak (as also Ramdäspur) in the year 1577.  The name Amritsar (literarly, the tank of nectar) was given to this township when the original pool was converted into an impressive tank, with a temple erected at its centre and a flourshing town coming up around. In the meantime, Guru Amar Das passed away in 1574, after appointing 40-year old Ram Das as his successor-Guru.

Guru Ram Das (1534-1581), hailing from a khatri Sodhi family of Lahore and orphaned in his childhood, had steeled himself in facing a tough life, sometimes earning his livelihood through selling boiled grains, but never tired of rendering meritorious service at the Goindwal project of Guru Amar Däs. He caught the discerning eye of the Guru and got married, at the age of 19, to Bibi Bhani, the younger daughter of Guru Amar Das, in 1553.20 Even as a son-in-law, he continued to serve the Master, taking upon himself responsibilities of the Guru’s household, of the community-life, and of the spiritual interests of the disciples. It is amazing that despite the limitations of his early life and the later involvements, he could train himself as an aesthete, with a fine sense of music and poetry. He composed hymns in as many as 30 musical metres. Earlier, Guru Nanak had tried his hand on 19 ragas and Guru Amar Das on 17, for their respective poetic compositions.

During the seven years of his Guruship, Guru Ram Das, apart from encouraging the growth of Amritsar as a commercial town and maintaining good relations with the emperor, Akbar, led the community to the great spiritual heights. He gave them his sublime verses, including four well-known lavan hymns recited at the wedding ceremony of Sikh couples. He had three sons, of whom the youngest one, Arjan Dev, blossomed into a fine genius and was eventually chosen to succeed father as Guru. He also strengthened the institutions set up by his predecessors in order to spread the message of Guru Nanak far and wide. He initiated the custom of appointing messengers (masands) who, besides carrying the message of the Guru to his disciples, periodically collected monetary offerings of every household of the Sikhs living away from Amritsar. In this way, adequate funds for the common pool of the growing community and its on-going projects were provided. Later, Guru Arjan Dev fixed the quantum of these offerings one-tenths (dasvandh) of each household’s earnings, thus augmenting financial resources for the welfare projects of the community.

Like his predecessors, Guru Ram Das chose his successor purely on considerations of merit. Bypassing his elder sons, Prithi Chand and Mahadeva, he selected the youngest one, Arjan Dev, who at the tender age of 18, was found eminently qualified for shouldering the spiritual and social responsibilities of guruship and nurturing the fast-developing community under his stewardship.

Guru Arjun Dev

The installation of Arjan Dev as the fifth Guru in 1581, caused resentment and bitterness to his brother Prithi Chand who had claimed the guru-gaddi as a primogeniture right. He constantly demonstrated his sense of jealousy and put impediments in the smooth working of the Guru Arjan’s mission, with the connivance and support of his associates. For sometime he succeeded in effecting an economic blockade of Guru’s household, cornerig all the supplies and collections brought in by the masands and disciples, and cleverly sending streams of visitors to the Guru’s langar for free food. The situation was squarely tackled by some of the veteran disciples of Guru Arjan and the preceding Gurus. They included Bhai Gurdas, the first scholar and interpreter of Sikhism, and Bhai Budha (lit. the revered old man) who had the honour of anointing the tilak mark on the foreheads of four Gurus at their respective succession ceremonies upto that time.

Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606) carried forward the task initiated by his father: he completed the sacred tank dug up at the Amritsar site and put up the structure of Harimandir at its center. According to popular legend, the foundation-stone of this temple was laid by the venerated Muslim divine Mian Mir of Lahore, in 1588 at the invitation of Guru Arjan. The final touch to be given to the project was to place the holy Book in the temple. Guru Arjan paid attention to this task during the last five years of his lifetime. when he edited the first recension of the Adi-Granth and installed it inside the Harimandir in 1604, that is, a century after Guru Nanak’s arrival at Sultanpur Lodhi where he had made the first proclamation of the new faith.

The Fifth Guru devoted most of his time and energies to the consolidation of the Sikh community, firstly by providing a temple at Amritsar; secondly by establishing another township, Tarn Taran, in the Majhä, spreading Guru Nañak’s mission; and then by compiling and editing the Granth. Like his father, he composed hymns in 30 musical metres and wrote six vars, besides a large number of slokas. His well known composition Sukhmani - the largest poem in the entire spiritual literature of medieval India, stands out as a poetic marvel and is regarded as one of the masterpieces, like Guru Nänak’s Japuji and Guru Amar Das’s Anand. Sukhmani (Psalm of Peace) occupies a place of honour in the Sikh way of life.

The final act of Guru Arjan’s was his martyrdom in 1606, under the orders of Jehangir, the fourth Mughal emperor who had succeeded Akbar only a year earlier. Jehangir was surrounded by parochial-minded advisers, intolerant of the rising Sikh community under the leadership of the Gurus. Mian Mir tried to intervene on behalf of Guru Arjan, but it was too late; the callous officials had tortured and executed the Guru in the Lahore jail and consigned his body to the flowing waters of the Ravi. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan proved a turning point for the Sikh movement; now onwards the community was to tread the path of continual confrontation with a hostile administration.

In his estimation of the performance of the first five Gurus, K. Ishwarn refers to the foundations that were so firmly laid by them. “A brief look at what they did should underline the organizational abilities of the Sikh religion.” The Guru Granth further gave the community “a common focal point, and symbolic unity.”23

Before proceeding to Lahore under orders of arrest, Guru Arjan appointed his 11-years old son, Hargobind, as the sixth Guru. Transformation was evidently taking place in the character of the Sikh movement, under the changed political dispensation. It was for Guru Hargobind to lead the movement in a new direction which combined spiritual growth with militant resistance to oppression.

With the conclusion of the sixteenth century A.D., and the execution of Guru Arjan in 1606, the first century of Sikhism came to an end.



  1.   Sahib Singh upholds this date which practically accords with Meharban’s account. Mcleod places it a couple of years earlier. According to his reckoning, Nanak arrived at Sultanpur around 1500.

  2.   Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Delhi, 1976 (Oxford, 1968), p. 146

  3.   See Gopal Singh, History of the Sikh People, Delhi, 1979, pp. 32-3; Randhir Singh in Alochana, (Punjabi), Ludhiana, 1969 issue, pp. 83-4

  4.   Ganda Singh (ed.), The Panjab: Past and Present, Patiala, 1969 issue p. 17.

  5.   As regards Tibet no conclusive evidence has been cited, apart from speculations based upon some legends, quoted in Ganda Singh, op. cit, pp. 326-33.

  6.   Guru Nanak Dev and His Teachings, Jullundur, 1969, pp. 101-102.

  7.   This date of Guru Nanak’s visit to Puri (1510) has the support of Ganda Singh but is disputed by some scholars who place it around 1515 or even 1518. See Journal of Sikh Studies, Amritsar, August, 1976, pp. 158-72.

  8.   Gopal Singh, op. cit., p. 132. Also Sabib Singh, in his A di Bi! Bare (Punjabi), 1977 (1970), p. 38.

  9.   Var Asa, A di-Granth, p. 473.

10.   Guru Nanak and His Times, Patiala, 1971, p. 212.

11.   Ibid., pp. 187-8.

12.   Guru Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith, Patiala, 1969, p. 180.

13.   1bid

14.   Ibid., p. 222.

15.   Gopal Singh, op.cit., p. 147.

16.   Paul B. Courtright in Essays in Honour of Dr Ganda Singh (ed. Harbans Singh and Barrier), Patiala, 1976, p. 428.

17.   See Khazan Singh, History of the Sikh Religion, Patiala, 1970 (1914), p. 113.

18.   Var Särang, Adi - Granth, p. 1243.

19.   Gopal Singh, op. cit., p. 168.

20.   Sahib Singh, Gur Itihas (Part IV), 1976.

21.   lbid., (Part V).

22.   Taran Singh, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Da Sahitak Itihas, 1963, p. 393.

23.   The Record of Sikhism’ in Perspective on Guru Nanak, ed. by Harbans Singh, Patiala, 1975, p. 526.




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