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.