Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, was the embodiment of Godly devotion, Selfless Service and Universal Love. He was the treasure of celestial knowledge and spiritual excellence. He substantially contributed towards the welfare of the society. He stood steadfastly for the principles he believed in, sacrificed his own life, and attained a unique and unparalleled martyrdom in the history of mankind.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji was born on April 15, 1563, in the house of Guru Ram Das Ji, the fourth Guru. He was the youngest of the three sons of Guru Ram Das Ji. His oldest brother, Prithi Chand was very astute in social and worldly affairs. He was noted for his diligent management of all the affairs of the Guru’s household, including the running of the langar (communal kitchen).
The second son, Mahadeve was captivated with reclusive tendencies. He wanted to lead the life of an ascetic. His attitude, full of fierce interactions towards the congregants, was contrary to the modesty of the Guru’s teachings. Moreover, he himself displayed no inclination for the acceptance of the Guruship.
Father’s high expectations
Guru Ram Das Ji had envisioned heavenly qualities in his youngest son Arjan. From his earliest childhood the Guru had found him to be imbued with the Name, and immersed in tranquillity. Almost since his birth it seemed that the Guruship was destined to be bestowed upon Arjan. One day baby Arjan had crawled up onto the Divine throne of his grandfather, Guru Amar Das Ji the third Guru, and sat there comfortably.
Seeing this the Guru smiled and prophesied, “My maternal Grandson will ship the Name across.” But growing up Arjan was always well aware that despite his Grandfather’s prediction, it was the service to the Sangat, not their lineage that had bestowed Guruship on the previous preceptors, Guru Angad Dev Ji and Guru Amar Das Ji. With this in mind, he indulged in Seva (service) most ardently.
But his emotive intentions were always quite perceptible to his father, Guru Ram Das Ji and, all to apparent to his eldest brother, Prithi Chand, who suspecting the consequence of their Grandfather’s prophecy, indulged in numerous means to disrupt the life of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, that ended in bringing about what he had feared.
Sent to Lahore to attend a family wedding
Sent to Lahore to attend a wedding on behalf of his father, Arjan was kept there for a long time, by the cunning manipulations of his elder brother Prithi Chand, who had long worked to inherit the Guru Gaddi (Throne) himself. But by his interception and concealment of a series of letters that Arjan had sent to his father; (Majh M.5 G.G.S. Page 96) his duplicity, when it was discovered, ended with Arjan being installed as the fifth Guru.
Despite his brother’s actions he showed no resentment to his elder brother and inundated him with reverence and honour. Guru Arjan Dev Ji was a born an apostle of peace. Although he ascended the throne of Guru Nanak Dev Ji at the age of 18, he was far more advanced in wisdom than normal for his years not to ention his angelic qualities. The letters he wrote to his father from Lahore, not then even a teen-aged boy, stand testimony to that fact.
Marriage to Mata Ganga
Guru Arjan Dev Ji was married to Mata Ganga Ji on 19 June 1589. Mata Ji was the daughter of Bhai Krishan Chand of the village of Mau, 10 km west of Phillaur in the state of Punjab, India. The now famous historical town of Doaba (Bilga) is where the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji arrived the day before the wedding. He stayed in this village for two days to take rest while going to village Mau Sahib for wedding ceremony.
The village now a town is famous as the holy clothes of Guru Arjan Dev Ji are kept here in the memory of this wedding. The people of Bilga served the Guru heartily and Guru Ji was pleased and blessed them. Gurdwara Bilga Sahib stand in memory of the Guru’s visit. On his departure, the Guru presented the following personal item of his clothing: Saili (cap), chola, pyjama, Batva, Dushala, Simrana Mala and Chandan ki chawanki after taking bath.
Every year on the occasion of marriage of Guru Arjan Dev and Mata Ganga Ji, a great fair is held here over 3 days. On the last day of these celebration, the holy clothes of Guru Sahib are shown to general public before the closing ceremony of Diwan.
Completion of the Harmandar Sahib
The Basics of the new religion had been defined by Baba Nanak, and the groundwork was carried out by three of his successors. Guru Arjan Dev Ji set upon a mission of putting it on a solid footing. As ordained by his predecessors, Guru Nanak through Guru Ram Das Ji, he took the task of the completion of the place where his father had constructed a clay tank of Nectar. In the true spirit of “I am neither Hindu, nor Muslim…” Guru Arjan Dev Ji invited Mian Mir, a Muslim Saint from Lahore to lay the cornerstone of the foundation of the Harmandar, the present Golden Temple. The doors on all four sides of the building signified its acceptance of all the four castes and every Religion. Contrary to the requests of the congregation, the floor of the Harmandar Saheb was kept lower than the surrounding area; as the water flows downward so would the seekers of God’s blessings. Along with God’s House came the existence of the City of Amritsar with all its reverence, amenities, and gaiety.
The completion of the Adi Granth
The preparation of the Holy Book is the most valuable achievement of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. With three things in his mind he initiated the compilation of the Holy Book, the present Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Unfortunately the Hymns and teachings of the first four Gurus were being added to and even distorted by impostors. Seeing such things going on Guru Arjan wanted to preserve these original treasures. Not only fixing the path of the efforts of his predecessors, but also bestowing, on the Panth, an ever-lasting guiding light that was to serve as both a physical and spiritual phenomenon.
And most of all he wanted to establish the credibility of the Sikh Religion as a casteless and secular society. Laced among the Hymns of the earlier Nanaks he added his own compositions as well as, the celestial utterances of Sheikh Farid Ji and Bhagat Kabir Ji, Bhagat Ravi Das Ji, Dhanna Namdev Ji, Ramannand Ji, Jai Dev Ji, Trilochan Ji, Beni Ji, Pipa Ji and Surdas Ji. All of whom belong to different times, beliefs, sects, and Castes from high and low.
The poetic revelations of Guru Arjan Dev Ji are of the greatest aesthetic calibre. More than half of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is constituted of his own holy renderings. The Granth Sahib is not only a collection of the revelations but also it throws considerable light on the contemporary political and social life; the physical being and spiritual awareness are fused into one. Among his other equally important accomplishments are the creation of new cities at Kartarpur, Tarn Taran with its magnanimous Tank of Salvation and the construction of the Baoli at Lahore.
The Masand system strengthened
Guru Ram Das Ji introduced the institution of Masands (representative of the Gurus at far flung places) along with the principle Dasvand of a Tenth of an individual’s income payable for the Guru’s Langar (Common Kitchen) and for other acts of benevolence on behalf of the poor. In Guru Angad’s days the professional bards, Satta and Balwand, who sang the hymns at the Guru’s Darbar had started to believe that their excellence as musicians and singers was responsible for their Guru’s popularity. With his love for music and expertise in the Ragas, Guru Arjan Dev Ji introduced the tradition of singing by the congregants themselves to avoid such egoism.
During his incumbency the Punjab was very badly effected with a famine. By dint of his influence he gained Mughal Emperor Akbar’s consent to eliminate land revenue, to some extent, for that year. But Jeth Sudhi 4 Smt. 1663 corresponding to May 30, 1606 A.D. is the most momentous date in the Sikh chronology. Mughal Emperor Akbar had already been convinced of the piety of the Sikh Gurus. During one of his campaigns he had come to Goindwal and partook of the Langar; sitting on the floor he ate the simple food of the Amar Das’s Langar seated among men of every caste before he was able to meet with Guru Amar Das Ji.
A Muslim Pir, the Saint, Mian Mir of Lahore had great affinity with the Guru’s domain. The opinions and words of the Pir were immensely revered by Akbar, which on one occasion resulted in the charges levelled against Guru Arjan Dev Ji in the Akbar’s Court by a few impostors (Prithi Chand and his son Meharban) and some jealous Brahmin Priests, being totally disregarded. The complainants were virtually thrown out of the King’s court, but humiliated they were unfortunately to continue their designs, with more success, after the death of Akbar.
Enormous popularity of the Sikh Gurus
During the Guruship of the fifth Guru, the House of Baba Nanak had began to gain enormous popularity under the illuminating and guiding light of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. The Guru’s message of peace and harmony in such tragic times when the Mughals were inflicting barbarous action on the masses rang a chord with the popular population. Both Hindu and Muslim populace flocked to the Guru’s house in equal intensity to pay their homage. To the dismay of Orthodox Muslims, Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s popularity increased their hatred of him.
During the period from 1581-1606, Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s time, the Sikh population in greater Punjab grew enormously; masses of people started coming to the Guru’s sangats in the newly constructed Harmandir Sahib and thousands of new followers became the Guru’s Sikhs during this period. Even powerful chieftains like Chaudhary Langaha Dhillon, of Jhabal, Chaudhary Amrika of Tarn Taran Sahib area, and Bhai Manjh of Kang Mai village, and many many more, had become followers and adherents of the popular Guru.
Growth of Sikhism
A vast number of the Punjabi tribes such as Khatri, Jatt, Rajput, Tarkhan, Chamar, Arora, Kamboja, Saini, etc converted to Sikhism, mainly from Hinduism and a few also from Islam. Due to the purity of the Guru’s message and his enormous popularity, even Muslim pir’s also became followers of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, and even Hindu saints, yogis, sidhas became Sikhs and adherents of the Guru; for the first time the new Sikh religion, had became the prominent popular religion of medieval Punjab.
During his period Guru Sahib had founded many villages, towns and cities and constructed numerous wells in the Punjab region. Sikhism was fast becoming a popular and majority religion in Majha, Doaba, Malwa, Nakka, regions of Punjab. Peace and prosperity was once gain returning to this region. Although the masses living in Punjab were happy with this development, the Mughal leaders in Delhi were perturbed.
The popularity and wrong rumours create hatred
This increase in popularity of Guru Arjan Dev Ji caused jealousy and grave concern among the strict and fundamentalist Muslims at the Mughal court in Delhi, who started being hostile towards the house of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. This great doubt, concern and wrong suspicion about the Guru in the minds of the Mughal leader was being flamed by the enemies of the house of Nanak.
This was further heightened by the malicious manipulations of Chandu Shah, an influential Hindu banker and revenue official at the Emperor’s Darbar (Court) at Lahore. He had once been advised to arrange a marriage of his daughter with Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s only son, Hargobind, but because of his contempt for the Guru, he laughed at such a suggestion using harsh words that eventually were repeated to the Guru.
The Mughal court leaders spread wrong rumour about the Guru to the Mughal leadership; so much so that Emperor Jahangir was totally confused about who the Guru was and what his message was for this world. Read what Emperor Jahangir had written in his diary the “Tuzuk-i-Jahagiri” ( “Memoirs of Jahangir”) about the Guru and realise how confused he was:
- “In Goindwal, which is on the river Biyah (Beas), there was a Hindu named Arjun, in the garments of sainthood and sanctity, so much so that he had captured many of the simple-hearted of the Hindus, and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners, and they had loudly sounded the drum of his holiness. They called him Guru, and from all sides stupid people crowded to worship and manifest complete faith in him. For three or four generations (of spiritual successors) they had kept this shop warm. Many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.”
Guru Arjan arrested
- Main article: Martyrdom of Guru Arjan
Immediately after the death of Akbar, the Muslim clergy captured the thought of Prince Saleem and helped him to regain the throne as Emperor Jahangir. He was assisted with the understanding on the agreement that he would reinstate the Shariyat (Orthodox Muslim Law) in the country when he became Emperor.
Akbar’s grandson, Khusro was a pious man who was as liberal as his grandfather. Akbar had designated him next in line to head the kingdom. But the domination of Muslim clergy made it necessary that he had to run for his life. While passing through Punjab he visited Guru Arjan Dev Ji at Tarn Taran and sought his blessings.
Negative forces act against the Guru
Later when Chandu saw the wisdom of the match his family priest had suggested and had an offer of the union sent to Guru ji, the Guru aware of his attitude and contempt rejected the marriage.
Sheikh Ahmad Sarhindi was very much revered by Muslims. He presented himself to be Islam’s Prophet of the second millennium; the first millennium belonging to Prophet Muhammad.
He asserted that his status was higher than the Sikh Gurus. This was emphatically rejected by Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Sheikh Ahmad had great influence on Jehangir. Citing the Guru’s blessings bestowed upon Prince Khusro he instigated the Emperor against Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Jehangir wrote in his biography:
“A Hindu named Arjan lived at Goindwal…simple minded Hindus and ignorant and foolish Muslims have been persuaded to adopt his ways… this business has been flourishing for three generations. For a long time it had been in my mind to put a stop to this affair or to bring him into the fold of Islam…”
False accusations launched against the Guru
Khusro was later ‘captured and blinded in punishment’. Thereafter ‘Jehangir summoned Guru Arjan Dev Ji to Lahore’. With preconceived ideas, Jehangir showed dissatisfaction with the Guru’s explanation of Khusro’s shelter. He labelled the Guru as a party to rebellion and ‘wanted to punish him with death’.
But on the recommendation of Pir Mian Mir he commuted his sentence to a fine of two lakh rupees’ plus ‘an order to erase a few verses’ from the Sri Granth Sahib Ji. Guru Arjan Dev Ji refused to accept. The Sikhs of Lahore wanted to pay off the fine but the Guru flatly refused any attempt to pay an unjust fine.
The Guru accepts Hukam of the Lord
The Guru was imprisoned and excessively tortured. His body was exposed in the scorching heat of May-June sun. He was made to sit on the red-hot sand, and boiling hot water was poured on his naked body.
Pir Mian Mir approached him and offered to intercede on his behalf. Some say that he even offered to demolish the whole city of Lahore with his ecclesiastic power in punishment, but the Guru refused his help holding that all that was happening was by God’s will, “thine doings seem sweet unto me, Nanak craves for the wealth of God’s name.” (Rag Asa M.5 P.394).
The Guru returns home
And on this day of May 30, 1606, he enveloped his blistering body in the cool waves of the River Ravi and journeyed to his heavenly abode. Bhai Gurdas Ji, a contemporary of Guru Arjan Dev Ji and the pioneering scribe of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, summed up:
“Like a rain-bird, thirsting only for a drop of rain and no other water, Guru Arjan Dev Ji abandoned all worldly opportunities offered to him and desired but an abiding repose in the love and will of God. So deeply was he absorbed in the undisturbed and unbroken vision of the Lord, that his enlightened and elevated spirit conquered all sorrow and pain and his soul rested peacefully in the eternal embrace of God’s love. I am a sacrifice unto Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the Perfect one.”
“The Lord of man and beast is working in all; His presence is scattered everywhere; There is none else to be seen. One talks, another listens; God is in both. He is the Unity and Himself the Diversity.” (Sukhmani XX11.1)
“In the company of saints man learns how to turn enemies into friends, As he becomes completely free from evil, And bears malice to none. In the company of the good, there is no swerving from the path, No looking down upon anybody as evil. Man sees all round him the Lord of Supreme Joy, And freeing himself from the feverish sense of self, Abandons all pride. Such is the efficacy of fellowship with a holy man, whose greatness is known only to the Lord: The servant of the ideal is akin to his Master.” (Sukhmani V11.3)
“He is a prince among men Who has effaced his pride in the company of the good, He who deems himself as of the lowly, Shall be esteemed as the highest of the high. He who lowers his mind to the dust of all men’s feet, Sees the Name of God enshrined in every heart.” (Sukhmani 111.6)
Above based on article by: Pritpal Singh Bindra, Author & Columnist Winner: Akali Phoola Singh Book Award ‘98