GURDAS, BHAI (1551-1636), much honoured in Sikh learning and piety, was a leading figure in early Sikhism who enjoyed the partronage of Guru Arjan under whose supervision he inscribed the first copy of Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is still extant. He was born in a Bhalla Khatri family (father: Ishar Das; mother: Jivani) at Goindval in 1608 Bk/AD 1551. Bhai Tshar Das, one of Guru Amar Das\’s cousins had settled in Goindval soon after the town was founded in 1603 Bk/AD 1546. Bhai Gurdas, who was the only child of his parents, lost his mother when he was barely three and his father when he was 12. 

He spent his early years at Goindval and Sultanpur Lodhi.At the former place, he had the opportunity of listening to many men of knowledge and spiritual attainment who kept visiting the town which fell on the Delhi Lahore road and was then the religious centre of the Sikhs. He later proceeded to Varanasi where he studied Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures. He was initiated into Sikhism by Guru Ram Das in 1579.

He travelled extensively visiting Agra, Lucknow, Varanasi, Burhanpur, Rajasthan, Jammu and Chamba hills, preaching Guru Nanak\’s word.After the passing away of Guru Ram Das, in 1581, he returned to the Punjab, visited Goindval and thence proceeded to Amritsar to pay his obeisance to Guru Arjan, Guru Ram Das\’s successor.He made Amritsar his home and through his devotion and love of learning carved for himself a preeminent position among the Guru\’s disciples. When the Guru decided to compile the Holy Granth containing the hymns of the Gurus and of some of the saints and sufis, he chose Bhai Gurdas to be his principal helper.

They worked together on the volume which was completed in 1604. The entire text was inscribed by Bhai Gurdas. The copy written in his hand is preserved to this day in the family of the Guru\’s descendants at Kartarpur, in Jalandhar district of the Punjab.Bhai Gurdas also contributed the labour of his hands to the excavation of the sacred pool at Amritsar (1577).

He was chosen to recite the Guru\’s hymns to Emperor Akbar when he visited Kartarpur in 1596-97 on his way back from a military campaign. As the tradition goes, the Emperor had been incited by Prithi Chand and his supporters against Guru Arjan saying that the hymns he was planning to compile into a volume had an anti Muslim tone. As Bhai Gurdas read out verses selected at random, the Emperor was deeply impressed with their spiritual content. When Guru Hargobind, Nanak VI, decided to construct in front of the Harimandar, Akal Takht, Throne of the Timeless Lord, he entrusted the task to the two most revered Sikhs of the time, Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Buddha, the latter blessed by Guru Nanak himself.

Bhai Gurdas was assigned to looking after the premises.Guru Hargobind also appointed him to teach his young son (Guru) Tegh Bahadur ancient classics even as Bhai Buddha supervised his training in manly arts of archery and horsemanship. Bhai Gurdas led a batch of Sikhs to Gwalior where Guru Hargobind had been detained under the orders of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. He was present at the weddings of the Guru\’s sons Baba Gurditta (April 1621) and Baba Suraj Mall (23 April 1629).

He offered ardas at the death in 1621 of Mata Ganga, wife of Guru Arjan, and recited Scripture and offered ardas at the time of Baba Buddha\’s death on 17 November 1631.Bhai Gurdas was the bulwark of Sikhisrn for many years.He was the expounder and exemplar of the Sikh way of life. He was a man of wide learning especially in ancient texts and philosophy, and devoted his exceptional talents to preaching the Sikh faith.

He composed verse which is valued for its racy style and for its vivid exposition of the teaching of the Gurus. His poetry, now available in two volumes, in Punjabi Varan Bhai Gurdas and in Braj Kabiti Savaiyye, forms part of accepted Sikh canon and is sung along with gurbani, the Guru\’s word, at holy congregations. Guru Arjan put his seal of approval on it by designating it as the “key” to the Holy Scripture. Bhai Gurdas, who never married, died at Goindval on Bhadon sudi 5,169 Bk/25 August 1636.

References :

1. Jaggi, Ratan Singh, Bhai Gurdas: fnian I.e Rnchnd. Patiala, 1974
2. Sardul Singh, Bhai Gurdas. Patiala, 1961
3. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
4. Daishan Singh, Bhai Gurdas: Sikkhi de Pahile Viakhiakar. Patiala, 1986