Guru Ram Das was simply called Jetha (which means firstborn) at his birth on 24 September 1534 in Chuna Mandi in Lahore (now in Pakistan). His father was Hari Das, a shopkeeper, and his mother was An up Devl, also known as Daya Kaur. They belonged to the Sodhi family, part of the Khatn caste. At seven he lost both his parents and was cared for by his grandmother in her village Basarke, the ancestral village also of Guru Amar Das. He was an only child.
To earn his meagre keep, Jetha sold cooked beans in the marketplace, yet, as people said, he often gave away his food to hungry people. At twelve, Jetha travelled to Khadur with some people and thence to Goindval, a new habitation founded by (Guru) Amar Das the same year under the orders of Guru Arigad (1504-52), and chose to reside at Goindval permanently. Guru Amar Das, who succeeded to the spiritual seat of Guru Nanak after the death of Guru Angad in March 1552, and his wife, Mansa Devl, recognized Jetha`s upright character and steadfast service and gave their daughter, Bibi Bhani, in marriage to him on 18 February 1554.
The couple chose to stay in Goindval to be near Guru Amar Das rather than return to Lahore and follow the traditional practice of residing in the native city of the husband. They had three sons, Prithi Chand (1558), Mahadev (1560), and Arjan Dev (1563). Bhal Jetha continued to serve the Guru with devotion and humility. Already called by his proper name Ram Das, he distinguished himself by his intelligent understanding of the articles of Sikh faith and by constantly attending to the needs of the sangat Siswe Mas of the Guru, thus endearing himself to both.
Once Guru Amar Das dispatched him to Lahore to meet with the Mughal emperor Akbar in order to answer objections that Brahmans had made in the royal court against running a free kitchen by Guru Amar Das abandoning the traditional religious and social customs and ignoring distinctions of the four castes. Ram Das` simple statement that all are equal in the eyes of God pleased Akbar who dismissed the accusations. Before Guru Amar Das died on 1 September 1574, he had chosen Ram Das as his successor to carry on the light of Nanak as Guru.
Verses in the Guru Granth Sahib (Sad, by Sundar Das, great grandson of Guru Amar Das (GG, 92324), record how all the Sikhs, sons, relations and companions fell at the feet of Ram Das in acknowledgement of his elevation to Guru. Before Ram Das became Guru, Guru Amar Das had instructed him to establish a new town and to construct a pool as the central point. A site was selected 40 km northwest of Goindval. There arc differing accounts of how the land was acquired. One version, reported in the Amritsar District Gazetteer, states that land, 500 bighds`m area, was purchased from the landowners of Tung for 700 Akbari rupees.
Another version says that Emperor Akbar offered the land to Guru Amar Das who refused; so the gift was made to Bibi Bhani who, in turn, donated it to the growing Sikh community. The town was first called Guru ka Chakk (the Guru`s village), then Ramdaspur (the city of Ram Das) and finally Amritsar (lit. pool of nectar; amrit = nectar + sar= pool). Merchants and artisans were invited from distant places to come and settle here. The town grew into a centre of commerce and even more significantly into one of pilgrimage attraction.
Guru Arjan, Nanak V (1563-1606), described Ramdaspur in a hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib as a city par excellence "I have seen all places, but I have seen none other like this..." (GG, 362). In order to finance the construction of the tank and to provide for the langaror free kitchen, Guru Ram Das organized a network of Sikhs to collect offerings. Called masands, these Sikhs travelled to other cities to carry the Guru`s message. Best remembered from among them is Bhal Gurdas, who was despatched by Guru Ram Das to teach in Agra.
Guru Amar Das had established manjis or preaching centres in different parts of the country to knit together the distant communities. The system introduced by Guru Ram Das further helped to consolidate the Sikh faith. Guru Ram Das is pictured as having a long beard. According to tradition preserved in old Sikh chronicles, once Baba Sri Chand (1494-1629), the elder son of Guru Nanak who established the ascetic Udasi sect, came to visit him and remarked in banter that he (the Guru) had grown a long beard. "Yes," replied Guru Ram Das, "I have grown a long beard so that I may wipe with it the feet of saintly men like you."
Baba Sri Chand recalled his father, Guru Nanak, and he told all present that Guru Ram Das was descrvingly sitting in his father`s true place. Sahari Mall, Guru Ram Das` first cousin, came from Lahore in 1580 to invite the Guru to his son`s wedding. Unable to travel himself because of the work then in progress on the holy tank in Amritsar, Guru Ram Das asked each of his three sons to go and represent him. Prithi Chand asked to be excused, as did Mahadev; only Arjan Dev, out of pure devotion to the Guru, his father, agreed to attend.
In addition, Guru Ram Das asked Arjan Dev to stay on in Lahore in order to minister to the Sikhs living there until recalled. After some time, Arjan Dev began to feel the pain of separation; so he wrote a poem to his father expressing his longing to return to the Guru`s court. Prithi Chand intercepted the letter and concealed it. He did the same with a second letter. A third letter, however, reached Guru Ram Das directly, whereupon Prithi Chand`s deception was discovered because the letter had been marked number 3.
Arjan Dev was summoned back to Amritsar where he composed a fourth stanza of the poem in joyful praise of the Guru. Moved by the spiritual idiom of this poem, Guru Ram Das decided to bestow the light of Guru Nanak upon Arjan Dev, who became the Fifth Guru. Shortly thereafter. Guru Ram Das retired to Goindval where he died on 2 Assu 1638/ 1 September 1581. A gurudwara named Guriai Asthan Guru Ram Das in Goindval stands upon the site where he was installed Guru.
In Chuna Mandi in Lahore, Gurdwara Janam Asthan marks his birthplace. Guru Ram Das di Nagri (the City of Guru Ram Das), the name of Amritsar in pious terminology, will remain a living monument to the memory of Guru Ram Das. Guru Ram Das was a poet of high merit. The Guru Granth Sahib contains 638 hymns in 30 different rdgas or musical measures, composed by him on social and spiritual themes. His poetry, divinely inspired, speaks of God`s name and praise in rhymed verse.
The most often quoted composition of Guru Ram Das is an instruction for the daily practice of a Sikhrising before dawn, bathing, and meditating on God with the coming of the light: One who considers himself to be a disciple of the Guru should rise before the coming of the light and contemplate the Divine name. During the early hours of the morning he should rise and bathe, cleansing his soul in a tank of nectar, while he repeats the Name the Guru has spoken to him.
By this procedure he truly washes away the sins of his soul. Then with the arrival of the dawn he should sing the hymns of praise taught him by the Guru. He should hold the Name in his heart all through the busy hours of the day. The one who repeats the Name with each breath is a most dear disciple of the Guru. The disciple who has received the gift of the Lord`s Name truly wins the favour of the supreme Lord. I seek the very dust under the feet of such a one who repeats the Name and inspires others to do so (GG, 1305). In this passage, Guru Ram Das defines a Sikh by what a Sikh does, rather than by what he is by birth, status or belief.
The best known among his compositions is Ldvan, comprising four 4line stanzas, used as a wedding hymn which is sung at the Sikh marriage ceremony, known as anand kdraj, the recitation of each stanza preceding and accompanying successively the four circurnambulations (Idvdn, in Punjabi) around the Guru Granth Sahib performed by the couple being married. The poetry of Guru Ram Das expresses both the profound humility and the joyful exaltation of a person meeting God. His words speak sweetly to the inner voice of the listener: Inside, I thirst for God.
The Guru`s word enters my heart like an arrow. Only I can know the pain of my heart. Who else can feel my sorrow? Oh God, the Guru fascinates me. I am in wonder and ecstasy seeing the Guru. I wander abroad, searching, because I am intent on seeing Him. I surrender my body and soul to the Guru who has shown me the pathway to God. If anyone comes with a call from the Lord, the sound is sweet to my mind, heart, and soul. I cut off my head and put it at the feet of the one who has met God and can make me meet Him, too (GG, 183536). His poems are rich with feeling of devotion; he speaks of being a slave, worthy only of the dust from the feet of those who are conscious of God.
His words express a deep longing for union with the Lord. He writes that if he were slandered and driven away, still he would meditate on the One who can carry his soul safely home. The Guru reveals God`s Name and elevates the human being to the highest state of peaceful poise and majestic dominion. The Guru is the word of God, and the word of God is the Guru herein lies the essence of nectar. In meditating on the sacred Name of God, the mortal becomes one with God. There is no greater pleasure than to speak the Name of God. This comes from the blessing of the Guru.
The endearing sound of God`s name is reflected in the language of Guru Ram Das; his poems have a soft, mellifluous sound: The Name of God fills my heart with joy. My great fortune is to meditate on God`s name. The miracle of God`s name is attained through the perfect Guru, but only a rare soul walks in the light of the Guru`s wisdom. I have tied the provision of God`s name to my gaiment. It is the companion of my breath and always comes with me. The perfect Guru puts the never ending wealth of God in my lap. God is my friend, my beloved, my king. Let some one come and take me to meet God. the life of my breath. I cannot live without seeing my beloved.
My soul flows out in tears. The Guru helped me as a child and is my friend. Oh my mother, I cannot live without it. Oh God, my soul, have mercy and unite me with the Guru. Nanak has the wealth of God in the sachet of his soul (GG, 94). In the act of reciting Guru Ram Das` poems the reader speaks the name of God many times overmatching the message of the poetry. Guru Ram Das is full of praise for the saints who remember God`s name in their hearts, but he is equally direct in his criticism of those who have forgotten God and gone astray in illusion and pride. 0 man!
The poison of pride is killing you, blinding you to God. Your body, the colour of gold, has been scarred and discoloured by selfishness. Illusions of grandeur turn black, but the egomaniac is attached to them. Humble Nanak is saved by the Guru, because the Guru`s song releases him from ego (GG, 776). The spiritual sovereignty of Guru Ram Das is attested by Bhatts or musical poets who composed songs of praise in the court of Guru Arjan. The inclusion of these compositions in the Guru Granih Sahib confirms their authenticity and standing in the Sikh tradition.
They portray the stature of Guru Ram Das, as he was viewed by his contemporaries. These eulogies occur towards the end of the Holy Book in section of poems called Savaiyyas. Guru Ram Das was invested with the regal dignity of raj jog (king of yoga), writes the bard named Nal (GG, 398). Guru Ram Das was given the glory of God`s Name by the true Guru who established the permanent throne of Guru Ram Das, says Das the bard (GG, 1404). The powerful Guru placed his hand on the head of Guru Ram Das and he was blessed with God`s truth (GG, 1400).
Guru Ram Das received the fruit of his service to God by being blessed with the enduring treasure of God`s Name (GG, 1401). Kirat, the minstrel, prays to be under his protection (GG, 1406). Perhaps, the greatest tribute is sung by the bards Balvand and Satta who composed an ode of praise singing, "You arc Nanak, and Lahina (Angad), you are Amar Das, too. The miracle is complete, the Creator adores you. Blessed, blessed is Guru Ram Das" (GG, 968). Madanjit Kanr, The Golden Temple Past and Present. Am ri tsar, 1983
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