Guru Amar Das ji (1479-1574)
Sri Guru Amar Das, though born in 1479, became the Guru in 1552 when he was in his seventies. Guru Amar Das ji were born as Bhalla Khatri at village Basarke about 13 km's south-west of Amritsar. His father was Tej Bhan Bhalla,, a local petty trader. They were all staunch sanatanists, and vegetarians. Guru Amar das had a wife, two sons and two daughters. He often went to Haridwar and Jwalamukhi on pilgrimages and strictly observed all religious rites and ceremonies. Before coming into contact with Sikhism Guru Amar Das had crossed sixty years of age. His brother Manak chand lived nearby his house, Manak Chand's wife Bibi Amro use to sing Guru Nanak's hymns. Bhai Amar Das (Later Guru) must have heard her singing many times before. He enquired whose hymns she was singing and immediately made up his mind to call on Guru Angad. It was in 1541, when Amar Das was 62 years old. Guru Amar Das ji were on Guru ship from 1552 to 1574, he moved to Goindwal from Khadur to avoid conflict with Guru Angad's son's., elder of whom named Datu had declared himself as a Guru.
All the same he took many significant steps. He established new centres for conveying to the people the message of Guru Nanak. Guru Amar Das ji, condemned Hindus for Sati, allowed widow remarriage and against Caste systems he started Guru Ka Langar. He passed on his Guru Ship to his son in law, Ramdas Sodhi, who was his most devoted disciple. Guru Amar Das ji organised the protestation of Sikh faith into Manjis. He divided the area into 22 branches called Manjis and appointed a local Sikh preacher at each place. The preacher sat on a Manji (a cot) while the congregation all around it. Here are the name of the people he appointed to preach Sikhism.
In the era of Majha (Amritsar, Lahore, Sialkote) 1. Manak Chand Jhinwar (Water Carrier) at Variowal in Amritsar. 2. Sada ram, a Blacksmith near Amritsar. 3. Hindal at Jandiala near Amritsar. 4. Gangu Shah banker at Lahore. 5. Mutho-Murari, a devoted couple, at Chunian in Lahore Dist. In Jalandhar Doab 1. Paro Julka at Jalandar. 2. Mahesh Dhir at Sultanpur Lodi. In Kangra Hills. 1. Sawan mal, Nephew of Guru Amar Das, at Haripur Guler. 2. Name not given, at Dharamsala. Kashmir Hills. 1. Phirya at Mirpur. Malwa (Area of Patiala, Ludhiana, Bhatinda) 1. Kheira at Firozpur. 2. Mai Das Bairagi in charge of Ludhiana dist. 3. Mai Bhago at village Wayun, tehsil Kharar, dist. Rupar. 4. Mai Sewan at Village Gardnoh in Patiala District. 5. Sachna Shah in charge of Ambala distt. Sind 1. Lalu in charge of some area in Sind.
He started the system of holding two annual gatherings of his disciples from all over the country. At his headquarters, he undertook the construction of a baoli (a well with a perennial source of spring water). For the Sikhs the headquarters of the Guru and this baoli became a holy place of pilgrimage.
Guru Angad had collected the hymns of Guru Nanak. To these Guru Amar Das added the hymns of the former as well as his own. Guru Amar Das appointed three women as preachers was a unique contribution of Amar Das. Guru Amar Das ji were highly pleased with one of his disciple named Bhai Jetha, first Guru Amar Das ji married his daughter Bibi Bhani to Bhai Jetha, and then delighted with the couple's devotion, he passed on the Guru ship to Bhai Jetha as Guru Ram Das. In his devotion to Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, God and his Sikhs Guru Amar Das was as firm as a rock. He departed from this world on September 1, 1574. They administered both to the religious and the temporal needs of the disciples; for, in the Guru's system legitimate temporal needs were included in the religious needs. They collected offerings from the disciples and sent them to the Guru for the common use of the community. The Guru himself earned his living as a small tradesman.
As an anti-caste and anti-pollution measure, he made it incumbent that no one, irrespective of his status or caste, could see him unless he had first partaken, along with others, of the food cooked at the common kitchen. Emperor Akbar had also to dine at the langar before he met the Guru.
In his time, ascetics and recluses again made an attempt to enter the Guru's flock. But the Guru issued a final injunction that no recluse or ascetic could be a Sikh. He also denounced the system of sati and of purdah among women.
According to the Guru, the human body was the temple of God. He, therefore, laid emphasis on keeping it healthy and sound to the end. For the same reason, he denounced the ascetic practices of torturing the body. The Guru felt that the health of the body could not be divorced from moral and spiritual well-being.
Guru Amar Das was born in the village of Basarke on May 5, 1479. He was the eldest son of Tej Bhan a farmer and trader. Guru Amar Das grew up and married Mansa Devi and had two sons Mohri and Mohan and two daughters Dani and Bhani. He was a very religious Vaishanavite Hindu who spent most of his life performing all of the ritual pilgrimages and fasts of a devout Hindu.
It was not until his old age that Amar Das met Guru Angad and converted to the path of Sikhism. He eventually became Guru at the age of 73 succeeding Guru Angad as described previously.
Soon large numbers of Sikhs started flocking to Goindwal to see the new Guru. Datu one of Guru Angad's sons proclaimed himself as Guru at Khadur following his fathers death. He was so jealous of Guru Amar Das that he proceeded to Goindwal to confront the Guru. Upon seeing Guru Amar Das seated on a throne surrounded by his followers he said; "You were a mere menial servant of the house until yesterday and how dare you style yourself as the Master?", he then proceeded to kick the revered old Guru, throwing him off his throne. Guru Amar Das in his utter humility started caressing Datu's foot saying; "I'm old. My bones are hard. You may have been hurt." As demanded by Datu, Guru Amar Das left Goindwal the same evening are returned to his native village of Basarke.
Here Guru Amar Das shut himself in a small house for solitary meditation. There he attached a notice on the front door saying, "He who opens this door is no Sikh of mine, nor am I his Guru." A delegation of faithful Sikhs led by Baba Buddha found the house and seeing the notice on the front door, cut through the walls to reach the Guru. Baba Buddha said, "The Guru being a supreme yogi, cares for nothing in the world - neither fame, nor riches nor a following. But we cannot live without his guidance. Guru Angad has tied us to your apron, where should we go now if you are not to show us the way?" At the tearful employment of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das was overwhelmed by their devotion and returned to Goindwal. Datu having been unable to gather any followers of his own had returned to Khadur.
Guru Amar Das further institutionalized the free communal kitchen called langer among the Sikhs. The langar kitchen was open to serve all day and night. Although rich food was served there, Guru Amar Das was very simple and lived on coarse bread. The Guru spent his time personally attending to the cure and nursing of the sick and the aged. Guru Amar Das made it obligatory that those seeking his audience must first eat in the langer. When the Raja of Haripur came to see the Guru. Guru Amar Das insisted that he first partake a common meal in the langer, irrespective of his cast. The Raja obliged and had an audience with the Guru. But on of his queens refused to lift the veil from her face, so Guru Amar Das refused to meet her. Guru Amar Das not only preached the equality of people irrespective of their caste but he also tried to foster the idea of women's equality. He tried to liberate women from the practices of purdah (wearing a veil) as well as preaching strongly against the practice of sati (Hindu wife burning on her husbands funeral pyre). Guru Amar Das also disapproved of a widow remaining unmarried for the rest of her life.
Goindwal continued to experience growth as many Sikhs thronged there for spiritual guidance. Pilgrims moved there in large numbers to be close to the Guru. Muslims and Hindus also moved to the thriving town. When there was racial fighting between the three groups and calls for revenge, Guru Angad instructed his Sikhs; "In God's house, justice is sure. It is only a matter of time. The arrow of humility and patience on the part of the innocent and the peaceful never fail in their aim."
Once during several days of rain while Guru Amar Das was riding by a wall which he saw was on the verge of falling he galloped his horse past the wall. The Sikhs questioned him saying; "O Master, you have instructed us, 'fear not death, for it comes to all' and 'the Guru and the God-man are beyond the pale of birth and death', why did you then gallop past the collapsing wall?" Guru Amar Das replied; "Our body is the embodiment of God's light. It is through the human body that one can explore one's limitless spiritual possibilities. Demi-god's envy the human frame. One should not, therefore, play with it recklessly. One must submit to the Will of God, when one's time is over, but not crave death, nor invite it without a sufficient and noble cause. It is self surrender for the good of man that one should seek, not physical annihilation. "
With a view of providing the Sikhs with a place where they could have a holy dip while visiting Goindwal the Guru had a type of deep open water reservoir called a baoli dug. As the Hindus believed in reincarnation in 84 hundred thousand species, Guru Amar Das had the well dug with exactly 84 steps. To symbolize that God could be reached through his remembrance rather than just a cycle of reincarnations he declared that who ever would descend the 84 steps for a bath while reciting the Japji of Guru Nanak at each step would be freed from the cycles of births and deaths.
When it came time for the Guru to marry his younger daughter Bibi Bani, he selected a pious and diligent young follower of his called Jetha from Lahore. Jetha had come to visit the Guru with a party of pilgrims from Lahore and had become so enchanted by the Guru's teachings that he had decided to settle in Goindwal. Here he earned a living selling wheat and would regularly attend the services of Guru Amar Das in his spare time.
In 1567 while on his way to Lahore the Emperor Akbar decided to visit and see for himself Guru Amar Das. He stopped at Goindwal to meet the Guru, whose teachings he had heard about. The Guru agreed only to seem Akbar if he would first eat in the langer. Akbar agreed and here the Emperor sat down and ate with the poorest of the poor in his company. Akbar was so impressed by Guru Amar Das that he wanted to give the Guru a parting gift of the revenue collected from several villages to help support the langer kitchen. Guru Amar Das refused saying that the langer must be self supporting and only depend upon the small offerings of the devout.
The jealousy of the teachings of the Gurus by the high caste Khatris and Brahmins continued. They pleaded with Akbar at the royal court that the teachings of Sikhism would lead to disorder as they went against the teachings of Hindus and Muslims. Akbar summoned the Guru to his court for an explanation. Guru Amar Das politely excused himself on account of his old age, but sent Jetha to answer the charges leveled against the Sikhs. In the royal court Jetha explained the teachings of Sikhism. Akbar was open minded and deeply impressed by the religious doctrine of the Sikhs and decided that no further actions were required.
Guru Amar Das continued a systematic planned expansion of the Sikh Institutions. He trained a band of 146 apostles (52 were women) called Masands and sent them to various parts of the country. He also set up 22 dioceses called manjis across the country. These twenty two dioceses helped to spread Sikhism among the population while collecting revenues to help support the young religion. Guru Amar Das also declared Baisakhi (April 13), Maghi (1st day of Magha, mid January) and Diwali (festival of lights in October/November) as three special days where all the Sikhs should gather to hear the Guru's words. Although advanced in years, Guru Amar Das undertook a tour of a number of Hindu places of pilgrimage along the banks of the Yamuna and Ganga rivers as well as Kurukshetra. Here the Guru would hold religious services and large numbers of people would come to hear his preaching.
For their religious scriptures Guru Amar Das collected an anthology of writings including hymns of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad and added his own as well as those of other Hindu saints whose poems conformed to the teachings of Sikhism. All of these were in Punjabi and easily understood by the common people. When a learned Brahmin once questioned the Guru; "Why do you impart instruction to your disciples not in Sanskrit, the language of gods in which all the Hindu lore is written, but in their mother-tongue, like Punjabi, the language of the illiterate mass." To this Guru Amar Das replied; "Sanskrit is like a well, deep, inaccessible and confined to the elite, but the language of the people is like rain water - ever fresh, abundant and accessible to all." He said; "I want my doctrines to be propagated through every language which the people speak, for it is not language but the content that should be considered sacred or otherwise."
Seeing the rapid expansion of Sikhism, Guru Amar Das asked his son-in-law and trusted follower Jetha to oversee the founding of another city. He wanted him to dig a tank there and to build himself a house. Jetha first purchased the lands for the price of 700 Akbari rupees from the Zamindars of Tung. Here he started the digging on the tank. This new township called Ramdaspur would in due time become present day Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs.
On September 1, 1574 sensing that his end was near, Guru Amar Das sent for Baba Buddha and other prominent Sikhs including his tow sons Mohan and Mohri. He declared; "According to the tradition established by Guru Nanak, the leadership of the Sikhs must go to the most deserving. I, therefore, bestow this honour on my son-in-law Jetha." Guru Amar Das then renamed Jetha as Ram Das, meaning Servant of God. As was the custom Baba Buddha was asked to anoint the forehead of Amar Das with the saffron mark. All those present bowed before Guru Ram Das except for Mohan, Guru Amar Das's eldest son. Shortly thereafter Guru Amar Das breathed his last on the full moon day of Bhadon in 1574 at the ripe old age of 95.