AMAR DAS, GURU
AMAR DAS, GURU (1479-1574), the third of the ten Gurus of the Sikh faith, was born into a Bhalla Khatri family on Baisakh sudi 14, 1536 Bk, corresponding to 5 May 1479, at Basarke, a village in present day Amritsar district of the Punjab. His father\’s name was Tej Bhan and mother\’s Bakht Kaur; the latter has also been called by chroniclers variously as Lachchhami, Bhup Kaur and Rup Kaur. He was married on 11 Magh 1559 Bk to Mansa Devi, daughter of Devi Chand, a Bahil Khatri, of the village of Sankhatra, in Sialkot district, and had four children two sons, Mohri and Mohan, and two daughters. Dani and Bhani. Amar Das had a deeply religious bent of mind.
As he grew in years, he was drawn towards the Vaisnava faith and made regular pilgrimages to Haridvar. Chroniclers record twenty such trips. Amar Das might have continued the series, but for certain happenings in the course of the twentieth journey which radically changed the course of his life. On the return journey this time, he fell in with a sadhu who chided him for not owning a guru or spiritual preceptor. Amar Das vowed that he must have one and his pledge was soon redeemed when he was escorted in 1597 Bk/AD 1540 by Bibi Amaro, a daughter in law of the family, to the presence of her father, Guru Angad, at Khadur, not far from his native place.
He immediately became a disciple and spent twelve years serving Guru Angad with single minded devotion. He rose three hours before daybreak to fetch water from the river for the Guru\’s bath. During the day he worked in the community kitchen, helping with cooking and serving meals and with cleansing the utensils. When free from these tasks, he went out to collect firewood from the nearby forest for Guru ka Langar. His mornings and evenings were spent in prayer and meditation. Several anecdotes showing Amar Das\’s total dedication to his preceptor have come down the generations. The most crucial one relates how on one stormy night, he, braving fierce wind, rain and lightning, brought water from the River Beas for the Guru.
Passing through a weaver\’s colony just outside Khadur, he stumbled against a peg and fell down sustaining injuries, but did not let the water pitcher slip from his head. One of the weaver women, disturbed in her sleep, disparagingly called him “Amaru Nithavan” (Amaru the homeless). As the incident was reported to Guru Angad, he praised Amar Das\’s devotion and described him as “the home of the homeless,” adding that he was “the honour of the unhonoured, the strength of the weak, the support of the support less, the shelter of the unsheltered, the protector of the unprotected, the restorer of what is lost, the emancipator of the captive.” This also decided Guru Angad\’s mind on the issue of the selection, of a successor.
The choice inevitably fell on Amar Das. Guru Angad paid obeisance to him by making the customary offerings of a coconut and five paise. He had the revered Bhai Buddha apply the tilak or mark of investiture to his forehead, thus installing him as the future Guru. Soon afterwards, on the fourth day of the light half of the month of Chet in Bikrami year 1609 (29 March 1552), Guru Angad passed away. Guru Amar Das made Goindval his headquarters. He was one of the builders of the town and had constructed there a house for his family as well. Goindval lay on the main road connecting Delhi and Lahore, at the head of one of the most important ferries on the River Beas. From there Guru Amar Das continued preaching the word of Guru Nanak Dev.In his hands the Sikh faith was further consolidated.
He created a well knit ecclesiastical system and set up twenty-two man/Is (dioceses or preaching districts), covering different parts of India. Each was placed under the charge of a pious Sikh, who, besides disseminating the Guru\’s message, looked after the sangat within his jurisdiction and transmitted the disciples offerings to Goindval. Guru Amar Das appointed the opening days of the months of Baisakh and Magh as well as the Diwali for the Sikhs to forgather at Goindval where he also had a baoli, well with steps descending to water level, built and which in due course became a pilgrim centre. A new centre was planned for where Amritsar was later founded by his successor, Guru Ram Das.
He laid down for Sikhs simple ceremonies and rites for birth, marriage and death. The Guru\’s advice, according to Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima Prakash, to his Sikhs as to how they must conduct themselves in their daily life was: “He who firmly grasps the Guru\’s word is my beloved Sikh. He should rise a watch before dawn, make his ablutions and sit in seclusion. The Guru\’s image he should implant in his heart, and contemplate on gurbani. He should keep his mind and consciousness firmly in control. He should never utter a falsehood, nor indulge in slander. He should make an honest living and be prepared always to serve holy men. He must not covet another\’s woman or wealth. He should not eat unless hungry, nor sleep unless tired.
He who breaks this principle falls a victim to sloth. His span is shortened and he lives in suffering. My Sikh should shun those who feign as women to worship the Lord. He should seek instead the company of pious men. Thus will he shed ignorance. Thus will he adhere to holy devotion.” From Goindval, Guru Amar Das made a few short trips in the area around to propagate Guru Nanak\’s teaching. According to the Mahima Prakash, “The Guru went to all the places of pilgrimage and made them holy. He conferred favour on his Sikhs by letting them have a sight of ham. He planted the seed of God\’s love in their hearts.
He spread light in the world and ejected darkness.” Liberation of the people was also cited by Guru Ram Das, Nanak IV, as the purpose of pilgrimage undertaken by his predecessor. According to his hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Amar Das visited Kurukshetra at the time of abhijit naksatra. This, by astronomical calculations made by a modern scholar, fell on 14 January 1553. This is the one date authentically abstracted from the Guru Granth Sahib, which otherwise scarcely contains passages alluding to any historical events and this date is also one of the fewest so precisely known about the life of Guru Amar Das.
Guru ka Langar became still more renowned in Guru Amar Das\’s time. The Guru expected every visitor to partake of food in it before seeing him. By this he meant to minimize the distinctions of caste and rank. Emperor Akbar, who once visited him at Goindval, is said to have eaten in the refectory like any other pilgrim. The food in the langar was usually of a rich Punjabi variety. Guru Amar Das himself, however, lived on coarse bread earned by his own labour. Whatever was received in the kitchen during the day was used by night and nothing was saved for the morrow. Guru Amar Das gave special attention to the amelioration of the position of women. The removal of the disadvantages to which they had been subject became an urgent concern.
He assigned women to the responsibility of supervising the communities of disciples in certain sectors. The customs of purdah and sati were discouraged. The barn, the Guru\’s revealed word, continued to be a precious endowment. Guru Amar Das collected the compositions of his predecessors and of some of the bhaktas of that time. When he had recorded these in pothis two of them preserved in the descendant families to this day an important step towards the codification of the canon had been taken. Like his predecessors, Guru Amar Das wrote verse in Punjabi. His compositions which express deep spiritual experience are preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib.They are in number next only to those of Guru Nanak and Guru Arjan, Nanak V. Guru Amar Das composed poetry in seventeen different musical measures or ragas, namely Siri, Majh, Gauri, Asa, Gujari, Vadahans, Sorath, Dhanasari, Suhi, Bilaval, Ramkali, Maru, Bhairau, Basant, Sarang, Malar, and Prabhati.
In terms of poetic forms, he composed padas (quartets), chhants (lyrics), astpadis (octets), slokas (couplets) and vars (ballads). Best known among his compositions is the Anandu. Guru Amar Das\’s poetry is simple in style, free from linguistic or structural intricacies. Metaphors and figures of speech are homely, and images and similes are taken from everyday life or from the popular Pauranic tradition. The general tenor is philosophical and didactic. Before his death on Bhadon sudi 15, 1631 Bk/1 September 1574, Guru Amar Das chose Bhai Jetha, his son in law, as his spiritual successor. Bhai Jetha became Guru Ram Das, the Fourth Guru of the Sikhs.
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