Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606), the fifth spiritual preceptor of the Sikh faith who played a pivotal role in the growth and development of the Sikh faith, gave to the Sikhs their holy Book, now called the Guru Granth Sahib, their central place of worship, the Harimandar (popularly called Darbar Sahib but known as the Golden Temple among the people of the west), and became the first martyr in the Sikh tradition having laid down his life for the freedom of faith and against religious intolerance and fanaticism.
He composed the highest number of hymns among all other contributors to the Holy Volume, compiled the holy volume and installed it in the newly constructed Harimandar at Amritsar. He built the Harimandar, populary also called the Darbar Sahib, in the rnidst of the amritsar tank after having its foundation laid by the famous Sufi saint, Mian Mir. He courted martyrdom, the first ever such instance in the history of Indian religions, when the intolerant and fanatic religious policy of the contemporary Mughal government became apprehensive of the rising popularity of the Sikh movement which stood for religious plurality and their validity.
He was first among the Sikh Gurus to have experienced from the day of his birth an environment saturated with the tenets of Guru Nanak and to spend his entire childhood under the care of the Guru.
Guru Arjan came of a Sodhi family and the Sodhis, as says Guru Gobind Singh in his autobiographical Bachitra Natak, are the descendants of Luv, one of the two sons of Rama, the son of King Dashratha. In one Sodhi family of Chuna Mandi in Lahore was born on 24 September 1 534 Bhai Jetha to Hari Das and Anup Dei, also called Daya Kaur. However, some chroniclers like Kesar Singh Chhibbar in his Bansavalinama Dasan Patshahian Ka or geneology of the ten Sikh Gurus, are of the view that Bhai Jetha was born on 20 Kartik 1587 Bikrami/AD 1530.Bhai Jetha later became Guru Ram Das, the fourth spiritual preceptor of the Sikh faith. He was married to Bibi Bhani, daughter of Guru Amar Das who came of a Bhalla Khatri family. However, as in the case of Bhai Jetha’s date of birth, there is no consensus among historians on the date of his marriage also.
Bhai Jetha left Lahore at the age of twelve and travelled on to Khadur with some people and thence on to Goindwal in the modern-day district of Amritsar. After he came in contact with Guru Amar Das, he preferred to spend more of his time in service of the Guru at Goindwal, the town founded, in 1546, by Guru Amar Das at the command of his predecessor, Guru Angad ( 1 5041 552). However, after his marriage with Bibi Bhani onl 8 February 1 554, Goindwal became their parmanent residence. Although the commom practice in this part of the land favoured the bride shifting over to the native place of the groom yet in this case the couple chose to stay in Goindwal so as to be near the Guru. Guru Amar Das was so impressed by his complete understanding of the articles of Sikh faith that he sent him to Lahore to meet with Emperor Akbar in order to answer objections raised against his running the institution of langar in violation of the traditional religious and social customs ignoring the distinctions of the four castes.
It was here that all the three children – Prithi Chand, Mahadev and Arjan Dev – were born to the couple. Guru Arjan Dev was born 19 Vaisakh (yadi 7), Bikrami 1620 corresponding to 15 April 1563. This Is the date arrived at by the Punjabi University’s Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Scholars like Giani Gian Singh (TawariWi Guru Khalsa), Kahn Singh (Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh), Max Arthur Macauliffe (The Sikh Religion), Ganda Singh and Teja Singh (A Short History of the Sikhs) and Sahib Singh (Jiwan Britant Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji) also agree with this view and give 1620 Bikrami/AD 1563 as the year of the Guru’s birth. However, there is not unanimity on this date though there is no difference of opinion as to Guru Arjan being the youngest of the three siblings. The scholars who do not agree with this date include Kesar Singh Chhibbar (Bansavalinama Das an Patshahian Ka), Santokh Singh (Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth), Gulab Singh (Gurpranali) and Santren Prem Singh (Gur Pur Prakash). They hold that he was born on 18 Vaisakh 1610 Bikrami/AD 1553.
Modern researches have proved the latter view unacceptable, and we also tend to agree with the view and accept 15 April 1563 as the date of the Guru’s birth.
Arjan Dev spent the first about eleven years of his life under the loving care of his maternal grandfather, Guru Amar Das, who bestowed immense love and affection on the precocious child.
The religious temper of both his grandparents influenced him deeply. He was only a small kid when Guru Amar Das, realizing the potential wisdom of the child, had declared him bani ka bohitha or the vessel of Word. After the death of Guru Amar Das in 1574, the family shifted to the new habitation of Chak Ramdas (modernday Amritsar) where Guru Ram Das had taken up the long-drawn and arduous task of founding a new habitation around the holy tank, called amritsar, which he had got dug. The young Arjan Dev spent the next about five years under the care of his father. Here he is said to have taken keen interest in the construction of the newly coming up town and helped his father in various ways.
Guru Arjan Dev, as we said, spent his childhood under the care of his maternal grandfather, Guru Amar Das, and thus benefited from the spiritual atmosphere at home. There is not much information available about the kind of education he received : although he had received much of his spiritual training under the care of his maternal grandparents, yet Baba Budha was deputed to teach Gurmukhi and scriptural literature to [Guru] Arjan Dev. During this while, Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Sawan Mall and others were his mates in the class. He learnt Hindi from Keso and Gopal in the village Chatsal and Sanskrit from Pandit Beni. He studied Persian from the local school. He was divinely blessed with a precocious mind and learnt different languages and literature in a short time. A study of his works shows that he had a very sound grounding in Hindi, Sanskrit and Persian apart from Punjabi and some its dialects.
The Sikh tradition holds that Guru Arjan married twice. His first marriage was solemnised with Ram Dei, daughter of Chandan Das, a Khatri of village Maur. However, Ram Dei did not live long and is said to have died soon after the marriage. Thus, the Guru married the second time, and the second marriage was with Mata Ganga, daughter of Kishan Chand of village Mau in Jalandhar district. Just as difference of opinion on the date of Guru Arjan Dev’s birth has persisted, scholars have differed on the dates of his marriages as well. As it is, there are scholars who conveniently skip the issue of second marriage and of determining the date of marriage. There are scholars like Bhai Kahn Singh, Mahan Kosh, who refer only to one marriage of the Guru whereas some others say the Guru married the second time. According to the scholars (like Kesar Singh Chhibbar, Bansavalinama, and Gulab Singh, Gurpranali) which hold on to AD 1553 as the Guru’s birth, Guru Arjan Dev got married in 1622 Bikrami/AD 1565 to Ram Dei of Maur, also called Marua. Since modern research has rejected this date of birth, it seems difficult to agree to this date of marriage also. Another date of marriage given is 1633 Bikrami/AD 1576 which could possibly have been the date of the Guru’s first marriage. The Guru was at this time about thirteen years of age and marriage at such a young age was the norm of the day. The Encyclopaedia ofSikhism gives 19 June 1589 as the date of Guru Arjan’s marriage with Mata Ganga. As we said earlier, the Mahan Kosh and the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism refer only to the Guru’s marriage with Mata Ganga.
When the Guru’s spouse did not conceive for several years after marriage, the entire family felt worried. It is said that the wife of Prithi Chand would often taunt Mata Ganga for being childless. Only Prithi Chand and his wife were happy because they felt that in the case of Guru Arjan remaining childless, the spiritual succession which Prithi Chand felt disappointed to lose to Guru Arjan would come to Manohar Das (1581-1 640), popularly known as Miharban, the eldest son of Prithi Chand, whom Guru Arjan also held in much affection. Various chronicles refer to how Prithi Chand’s wife used to taunt the Guru’s wife for not giving birth to a child and how openly she would say that all the material possessions of the Guru would one day come over to her son.
Some traditional accounts say that one day Mata Ganga
approached Guru Arjan with a request that the Guru who showers varied blessings on his devotees should also bless her with a son.
Contentment and humility were the most prized virtues with the Guru. He who with the blessings of God imbibes humility in heart attains all joy in this world and the next, says Guru Arjan in one of his hymns included in the Sikh scripture (GGS, V, 278). Therefore, he advised Mata Ganga to go to Baba Buddha,( 1 506- 1 63 1 ), a Sikh of the time of Guru Nanak and a pious soul who had had the rare honour of performing the succession rites in the case of all the preceding Gurus, and seek his blessing. It is said that first she went to Baba Buddha with all pomp and show and failed to receive the Baba’s blessing. Then the Guru advised her to go in all humility like a seeker and she obeyed. This time, so says the account, Baba Buddha blessed her saying that a son will be born to her who will be such a great warrior as he will thrash the heads of the cruel and oppressive monarchy. Guru Arjan and Mata Ganga had a son Hargobind, born to them on 19 June 1595 at Wadali.
No doubt, Guru Ram Das and Bibi Bhani were blessed with a grandson when a son, Manohar Das Miharban, was born to their eldest son, Prithi Chand. However, Guru Arjan was still issueless and he showered all his affections on Manohar Das Miharban.
This led Prithi Chand and his wife to believe that since the Guru loved Miharban so much and since he himself was issueless, the succession would naturally pass over to Miharban: the thought of his son succeeding Guru Arjan was a great consolation to Prithi Chand who himself had missed it. However, unfathomable are the ways of God. Guru Arjan and Mata Ganga were blessed with a son, named Hargobind. At the birth of his only son, there were rejoicings in the Guru’s household but Prithi Chand and his wife were saddened. Burning in the fire of jealousy, they now stooped very low and made several attempts at the life of the child, but life and death, as they say, are in the hands of God, and the child Hargobind survived all such attempts.
In the Sikh tradition the spiritual succession did not come as a rightful claim to the elder male issue, and it was never sure that it will remain in family. The succession always went to the most deserving of the disciples, whether in the family or outside of it.
Guru Nanak appointed Bhai Lahina (later Guru Angad Dev) his successor ignoring the claims of both of his sons simply because Lahina was the most deserving of them all. Similarly, Guru Angad Dev bypassed his own sons in favour a deserving disciple, Guru Amar Das. As the time came Guru Amar Das selected his most deserving disciple who also happened to be his son-in-law, Bhai Jetha who later came to be known as Guru Ram Das. When it a was time for Guru Ram Das to appoint his successor, he had three of his sons and innumerable disciples to choose from. In the secular life, it is the eldest son who generally succeeds his father and it is, as goes a very important Indian tradition, also the eldest son who at the time of his father’s death is offered a turban which symbolizes responsibility. However, the spiritual succession in the Sikh tradition did not follow this secular pattern.
The eldest son of Guru Ram Das was no doubt a very wise and intelligent person in worldly affairs and he rendered very useful service to his father-Guru in managing diverse kinds of jobs.
However, he was not doing all this in a selfless way, rather he had been doing this with an eye on succession. In fact, he always contrived to remain close to the Guru so that he could oversee all the activities going on in the Guru’s durbar and also have access to all the offerings being made to the Guru. However, he meticulously kept up the pretence of one rendering service under the Guru’s command. Having done so much for the Guru and the Sikhs, the office of the Guru, he assured himself, was rightfully his. He was ignorant of the Sikh teaching that service rendered with a motive gives birth only to ego, and only he who serves in a selfless manner meets the Lord (GGS, V, 286). At another place, the Sikh scripture says that service should be rendered without any deceit or motive in mind because only the service thus rendered brings all joys and comforts (GGS, IV, 861). Prithi Chand who was very jealous of his youngest brother who through his selfless service had become the object of the Guru’s love, had also begun to conspire with certain masands and others to manipulate the succession decision in his favour. The Guru, of course, forbade him several times from such activities, but the more he was advised against the more keenly he got involved in such unbecoming acts.
If the eldest of the sons, Prithi Chand, was very intelligent and more given to the affairs of the world, his younger brother, Mahadev, was completely other-worldly by temperament. He had ascetical leanings and had absolutely no interest in the affairs and things of the world. An ideal sikh must keep close to each other the parallel streams of esoteric and exoteric life. The Guru realized that neither of his elder sons was worthy of leading the Sikh movement initiated by Guru Nanak Dev whereas he found in his youngest son, Arjan Dev, the perfect blend of this-worldly and the other-worldly, the potential to keep close to each other the spiritual and secular aspects of life. He was also the only one to pass the test of willing and unquestioned submission to the Guru’s will.He was a divinely inspired poet who also had the moral strength to suffer, with a calm mind, the torture and even death for the sake of righteousness.
It is said that once a cousin of Guru Ram Das came from Lahore and called on the family to extend them an invitation for the marriage of his son, Sanhari Mall, at Lahore. However, Guru Ram Das was so preoccupied with his responsibilities that he could not find time to go and visit the family in Lahore, but since it was a social obligation, he wanted the eldest of his sons to represent the family. But the wily mind of Prithi Chand apprehended that it might not be a ruse to get him out of the way to pass over the succession to one of his younger brothers. So he excused himself from going there. Guru Ram Das then asked Mahadev to go and attend the marriage, but he was also not interested though for different reasons. When Arjan Dev was asked, he willingly obeyed and got ready to leave. Before his departure however, the Guru asked him to remain there after the marriage, establish the congregations in and around Lahore and preach the message of the Gurus and also look after the ancestral house and other properties. The command was obvious that he was to stay on in Lahore until called back.
Arjan Dev went to Lahore, attended the wedding ceremonies and stayed there doing the Guru’s bidding and waiting for a message to return to Amritsar. Days passed into months and months passed into years. He is said to have continued the work of preaching and organizing congregations in Lahore for about three years. This was for the first time that he had been made to stay away from the Guru for such a long time. He felt very anxious to have a glimpse of the Guru, but was bound by the Guru’s directive to stay back in Lahore until called back. He had gone to Lohore in 1636 Bikrami/AD 1579 and remained there till 1638 Bikrami, which came to about three years. As he intensely felt the pangs of separation, he wrote, so says the chronicle, a versified letter to the Guru expressing the pangs of his separation from the Guru and his keenness to have a glimpse of him. As the letter reached home, Prithi Chand received it on the Guru’s behalf. He managed to hide it from the Guru who was never informed of the letter and of the feelings of Arjan Dev. After a while, he wrote another letter which also met the same fate. This made him further desperate, unable to comprehend the reasons for keeping him away for so long. Now he decided to send another letter through a devoted Sikh with the directive that he should deliver the letter direct to the Guru. As the letter was numbered three, the Guru wanted to know the fate of the previous two letters but Prithi Chand denied having received any though, it is said, the Guru was able to have them traced from Prithi Chand’s residence. All the three letters, pregnant with spiritual overtones, gave vent to the pangs of his heart. The Guru realized the feelings of Arjan Dev and immediately sent Baba Buddha to bring him back.
As Arjan Dev reached back in Amritsar, he composed the fourth stanza to supplement the earlier three he had sent in the form of letters to the Guru. This fourth stanza, in joyful praise of the Guru, highly impressed Guru Ram Das with its spiritual idiom.
This was the time when Guru Ram Das had made up his mind to bestow the light of Guru Nanak upon Arjan Dev whom he found perfectly suitable for this responsibility. As the Guru felt Arjan Dev fit to inherit the mantle of Guru Nanak, he assmbled many of his prominent Sikhs and proclaimed his decision appointing Arjan Dev as his successor. As per the tradition, Guru Ram Das placed before him five pice and a coconut and bowed to him. Baba Buddha put the ceremonial mark on his forehead as he had done at the time of previous three successions. The congregation that had gathered on the occasion was also directed to accept now onwards Arjan Dev as the Fifth Nanak. This happened on Bhadon sudi 1, 1638 Bikrami/1 September 1581.
However, Prithi Chand was not happy at this development as he had been under the impression that being the eldest son and having done a good deal of work looking after the visiting devotees and the institution of langar, he was the only rightful inheritor.
Now he got desperate and is also said to have used foul language first with Baba Buddha and then with his own father. Guru Ram Das did not like the behaviour of his eldest son but with a view to avoiding any further bickering, he left Chak Ramdas (Amritsar) for Goindwal soon thereafter and took lodgings where once Guru Amar Das had stayed and meditated. Baba Mohri, a son of Guru Amar Das, came to the Guru to pay his obeisance. It was here that the Guru breathed his last and his body was cremated on the bank of the Beas.
Prithi Chand continued to conspire against Guru Arjan. First, he did not accept the succession to Guru Arjan and with the help of some unscrupulous masands put himself up as the Guru. The Sikh devotees who came to have a glimpse of the Guru and seek his blessings felt themselves in a dilemma on reaching Amritsar.
Baba Buddha and some other well meaning Sikhs tried their best to explain the truth to the devotees, but some hired masands continued spreading falsehood for the sake of some material gains.
They would mislead the common devotees, accept their offerings on behalf of Prithi Chand and then send them to the langar being run by Guru Arjan. Thus, the paucity of funds created several problems and it became rather difficult to run the langar. Truth prevailed ultimately though it involved a lot of effort on the part of Baba Buddha, Bhai Gurdas (who had just returned from Agra where he was earlier appointed to preach the Gurus’ teachings) and some other Sikhs to undo the false propaganda being done by Prithi Chand and his hired masands.
Prithi Chand also made complaints to the government seeking interference on the plea that being the eldest son it was his right to succeed his father. He even once invited Sulhi Khan, a Mughal faujdar, to visit Hehar, the village of his in-laws where he had now begun to reside, on the pretext of collecting revenue in the Amritsar area. He wanted to involve the Guru in some case and get him arrested or executed so that he could then succeed him.
As the Guru got the news of Sulhi Khan visiting Hehar, he sent his family to Wadali apprehending some mischief or misfortune.lt was here at Wadali that the child Hargobind was born. On the other hand, Sulhi Khan who had gone to inspect the brick kiln of Prithi Chand accidentally fell into it and got burnt alive. Thus, there was rejoicing in the Guru’s family at the birth of a son and wailing and weeping in that of Prithi Chand at the loss of a friend and benefactor. Thereafter Sulhi Khan who set out to harm the Guru got killed on the way by his own subordinates as a result of some tiff with them.
Around the month of Magh in 1650 Bikrami/AD 1593, Emperor Akbar was on a visit to the Punjab when he is said to have spent a few years in the northwest of his kingdom: it is said that on 23 Magh he set out from Lahore on a hunting expedition and reached Sheikhupura near Sultanpur Lodhi. On his way back to Lahore, he passed by the newly coming up city of Amritsar. Prithi Chand and his coterie took this opportunity to complain against the Guru for having usurped Prithi Chand’s right. The Emperor is said to have had a meeting with the Guru, but the evil designs of Prithi Chand did not succeed.
After Guru Nanak, the following Gurus including Guru Arjan Dev did not travel far outside the Punjab, but a network of manjidars had been established to keep the sangats or congregations in far flung areas connected with the Guru. Earlier, they were called melis or manjidars : some even called them sangatias. Guru Arjan further strengthened this system and re-designated these preachers of the faith as masands, the word used in the Persian for a noble. Perhaps the Guru did so because he himself had also started to live in style and the followers had begun to address him as Saccha Patshah. It is also said that the Guru had started the tradition of maintaining a group of armed Sikhs. The Guru also initiated the practice of dasvandh or tithe : the masands would collect these offerings willingly made by the devotees and deposit them with the Guru twice an year – on the Vaisakhi and the Diwali days. Various chronicles record that the Guru’s share was paid more willingly and without fail than the revenue of the Mughal government. These funds were used by the Guru to meet expenses on building plans, digging of wells and such other philanthropic ventures undertaken by him.
The first task that Guru Arjan Dev undertook was the
completiton of the sacred pool of amritsar. Devotees came from far and wide to render volunteer service in the digging of the sacred tank. Alongside this, the Guru also started extending the town and building the Harimandar in the midst of the sacred pool.
The famous Sufi saint, Hazrat Mian Mir (1550-1635), was requested to lay the cornerstone of the building. He is said to have come to Amritsar at the Guru’s invitation and “with his own blessed hand put four bricks, one on each side, and another one in the middle of the tank.” The prevailing practice at that time was to have the entrance of the holy place on the eastern side only, and that used to be the only entrance. However, the Guru gave four doors to the building, one on each side. It is believed that the four doors symbolized its accessibility to each from any side: people belonging to all the four castes, i.e. the entire mankind, could enter in and say their prayers. Unlike the Hindu temples and Muslim mosques which are usually built on a raised plinth, the Harimandar was constructed on a lower plinth than the surrounding area. The idea was that one should go to the temple of God with humility in mind. The Harimandar, which gradually became a cultural and spiritual centre of the Sikhs, was also provided with a langar in keeping with the practice of his predecessors. Anybody irrespective of his caste or creed or colour or race or sex could go inside the sanctum sanctorum to pray and everybody could go to the langar and partake of food with everybody else. Around the temple developed various markets to which the Guru invited traders from different regions to settle and open their business.
One of the very significant undertakings of Guru Arjan Dev’s career was the compilation of the scripture. The Gurus had made unequivocal statements in their hymns that the “bani is the Guru and the Guru is banV By compiling these revelatory hymns in one volume, the Guru wished to affix the seal on the sacred word and preserve it for posterity. For this purpose, he had to collect the hymns, sift the genuine from the counterfeit and then sit down to assign the hymns to appropriate musical measures. The work involved editing and recasting wherever necessary and then the entire corpus was to be transcribed in a minutely laid-down order. The work involved meticulous thoroughness and
extraordinary exactness and a precise method had to be followed to set down the compositions of different authors. It was a task which involved sustained labour and rigorous intellectual discipline.
The Guru chose a beautiful and quiet spot in the vicinity of Ramsar and started on this project, with Bhai Gurdas acting as an amanuensis with him.The work on the compilation of this holy volume was completed on Bhado sudi 1, 1661 Bikrami/1 6 August 1604.
Guru Arjan Dev left Amritsar to meet the congregations and preach his message. Throughout his pontificate he travelled only through the central Punjab. Recorded history speaks of his journeys between Amritsar, Goindwal, Lahore, Tarn Taran and Kartarpur (Jalandhar).He seems to have concentrated on consolidation and development of the community through his leadership, institutional reforms and hymns. He left Amritsar along with Bhai Gurdas, Baba Buddha, Bidhi Chand and others and first went over to Jandiala at the invitation of Handal. From there he travelled through Khara village to Behar-Bela where there was a big water-pond. Tradition holds that Guru Amar Das had discovered on the bank of this pond a plant the leaves of which when rubbed had cured the white patches on the skin of Guru Angad Dev. The Guru, attracted by its natural surroundings, purchased this land from its owners and began work on turning it into a pucca pool and a shrine. The place where the Guru had halted came to be called Dukh Niwaran, literally emancipator of sorrows, and the sacred water pond came to be called Tarn Taran because of the curative powers of its water. Many lepers were especially drawn to the place because the Guru treated them here with such loving care. The town that developed around the pool and the shrine also came to be known as Tarn Taran.
Travelling through various villages and towns and spreading his message, Guru Arjan crossed the Beas and reached Sultanpur and Dalla. Wherever the Guru went, he helped people sink wells and undertake several other works of public welfare. He helped people in various ways to alleviate their hardships caused by the famine that had hit the region. The Guru then founded the town of Kartarpur, between the rivers Beas and Satluj, by first erecting there a dharamsala and a few residential quarters close by. He also rebuilt a ruined village Ruhela on the right bank of the Beas and renamed it Sri Hargobindpur. Now the Guru made Kartarpur his headquarters from where he went on preaching tours to different directions.As a result of his teachings of equality, love and compassion, many people from the Majha area embraced the Sikh faith. As the Dabistan-I-Mazahib says, at least a few Sikhs were definitely found in most of the towns in the country.
During one such preaching journey when Guru Arjan happened to be in Goindwal, Emperor Akbar visited him there on 24 November 1598 and, as per the testimony of Abul Fazal’s Akbarnama, the Emperor remitted, at the instance of the Guru, the annual revenue of the peasants of the districts who had been hit hard by the failure of the monsoon. The Emperor was still in the Punjab when complaints reached him about the then recently compiled scripture containing references derogatory to Islam and other religions. When the emperor was camping at Batala, he sent for the Guru so as to reply to the allegations. The Guru deputed Bhai Buddha and Bhai Gurdas to go to the emperor along with the holy volume. The book, so says a Sikh chronicle, was opened at random and a hymn was read out from the spot pointed out by the emperor.
The hymn was a eulogy of the Absolute One, and so were the several other hymns read out subsequently for the satisfaction of the emperor. Akbar was fully satisfied and as a token of his appreciation and regard, he made an offering of fifty-one gold mohars to the scripture and presented the robes of honour to both Bhai Buddha and Bhai Gurdas besides giving another one for the Guru.
As we have said earlier, Prithi Chand had been conspiring again the Guru for the past so many years. Gradually, when his activities and intentions were fully exposed to the Sikhs, he left Amritsar and took up residence at Hehar, the village of his in-laws which was close to Lahore. Emperor Akbar had left Punjab and was on his way to the south via Delhi and Agra. He had put his grandson, Prince Khurram, who later on came to be called Emperor Shah Jahan, in charge of the Punjab. Prince Khurram was the third son of Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) and was even more fanatic than his father. Soon thereafter Prince Salim was also appointed to the province of Ajmer in the neighbourhood of Punjab. All this provided a good opportunity to Prithi Chand and his coterie to feed the ruling authorities with reports against the Guru and his intentions.
Chandu, who held a senior position with the provincial Khurram government in Lahore, held a grudge against the Guru.
As it happened, he had sent some emissaries to search out a suitable match for his only daughter.The emissary happened to visit Chak Ramdas and meet the Guru’s family there. He found that Hargobind was a suitable match for Chandu’s daughter. He went back to his master to report this to him and seek his permission to go ahead for the betrothal. Incidentally that was the time when Kahna, whose compositions the Guru had rejected as unsuitable for inclusion in the Guru Granth Sahib and who was rather upset at this rejection because he was proud of his official position and poetic potential, died on his way back from Amritsar. Chandu, a colleague and friend of Kahna, viewed the Guru responsible for his death. When the emissary reported the possibility of a matrimonial alliance with the Guru’s family, he was rather angry and upset. He agreed to accept the word given by his emissary but expressed his arrogance by speaking some derogatory words against the Guru and his family. As his disparaging remarks came to the knowledge of the Sikhs, they went to the Guru and reported the whole matter to him. As was expected, the Guru did not want any alliance with such an egoist person and naturally he rejected this matrimonial offer. Chandu took this humiliation to heart and became a bitter foe of the Guru.
On the other hand, the Sikh faith gained a large number of adherents during Guru Arjan’s travels. There were not many cities in the inhabited country where some Sikhs were not to be found, says a Persian source. And they were very well organized through the institution of masands. Inspite of the nefarious activities of the Minas, this is how Prithi Chand and his coterie had come to be known by that time, the masands were very particular in collecting from the Sikhs and handing over to the Guru the voluntary donations or the tithe made by them. The political authorities in Delhi were also apprehensive of the rising popularity of the Sikh movement which, to some, seemed like a state within the state. This fact gets confirmed even from Jahangir’s Tuzk wherein the Emperor seems to have made up his mind to put an end to the Sikh movement.
Another event took place in Delhi which hastened the pace of events in the Punjab. Within a few months of the succession of Jahangir in 1605, his eldest son, Khusrau (1587-1622), fell foul with his father and rebelled against him. As the latter was on his way to Lahore with a view to take over Punjab, he is said to have called on the Guru and sought his blessings. The Guru, as says the Tuzk, put the ceremonial mark on his forehead. Some Sikh chronicles say that the rebel prince stayed overnight with the Guru and partook of food in the Guru ka Langar. Some chronicles also say that the Guru provided him financial help as well. He resumed the journey the next morning, but was soon overtook by the imperial forces at the bank of the Chenab. The rebellion was thus suppressed with the arrest of Khusrau. However, this made Jahangir take very harsh measures against all those whom he suspected of having helped Khusrau in any way. When Jahangir learnt of Khusrau’s meeting with Guru Arjan, earlier imperial impressions about the Sikh movement and the complaints lodged by Chandu and others were also in his mind. Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi who, as says a contemporary Persian chronicle, felt jubliant at “the execution of the accursed kafir of Goindwal” had also played a very significant role in inciting the Emperor against the Guru as well as against other non-Muslims.
A very significant contemporary account of what reasons might have prompted the Emperor to penalise the Guru is contained in a letter written from Lahore on 25 September 1606 by Father Jerome Xavier, a Jesuit who had been working in India for more than a score of years. A small Jesuit church was opened in Lahore in 1597 and under Jahangir, who tarried in Punjab until 1608, the Jesuit possessions were confirmed and a cemetery was soon added to them. Jerome Xavier’s letter, written originally in Portugese language and addressed to the Jesuit Provincial Superior of Goa, is a private letter and has since been preserved amongst the Marsden manuscripts of the British Museum. The letter, apart from the life of the small Christian community, touches upon the last few months of the life of Guru Arjan Dev, focussing on the revolt of Prince Khusrau against his father and the catastrophe that led to the martyrdom of the Guru. The part of the letter relating to Guru Arjan has been translated by E.R. Hambye into English as follows:
…When the Prince [Khusaro] was fleeing from Agra, he passed through a place where was living a man whom they call the Guru of the gentiles, as amongst us the Bishop and Pope, of theirs. He was held as a saint and venerated as their universal head, and the Prince went to meet him. He asked him for some good omen. He gave it to him for the good of the newly reigning Prince, and put a tikka on his head, although this one [the Guru] was a gentile and the Prince a Moor; yet the Prince was the son of a gentile woman. Thus, owing to the opinion [the Prince] had of the saintliness of that [Guru] he took that mark as a sign of the good success of his undertaking.
When the king had the Prince in his hands, he sent for the said Guru, held him prisoner, and some gentiles interceded for their saint. Finally he was condemned [to pay] more than 100,000 cruzados [a cruzado was a gold coin struck in Goa since about 1512, then valued 420 reis the most common highest denomination then], and a rich gentile
begged the mercy of the king, coming forward to stand
credit for the said Guru, I say for that money; the king handed him [the Guru] to him [the rich gentile]. It appears that the rich gentile hoped for some interventions to succeed in remitting also the fine. He was mistaken… he gave every day new torments to his saint. He ordered to give him
much torture… he took away his food, he did him thousand and one dishonours. In that way their good Pope died,
overwhelmed by the sufferings, torments and dishonours….
The letter quoted above is by a Jesuit who cannot be biased to either of the parties and no such aspersions have ever been cast on its authenticity and catholicity. Generally, historians have trusted its truthfulness and it has been quoted in almost all works on Guru Arjan Dev. A careful reading of the letter quoted above brings out two facts rather vividly. One, it was the Emperor who ordered the arrest of the Guru and imposed a very heavy fine on him. Some Sikh chronicles say the fine imposed was two lakh rupees.Two, *a rich gentile’ takes it upon himself to pay the fine to the Emperor but it appears this payment to the Emperor is not to seek the release of the holy man but to secure his legal custody so as to torture him to death. The letter, quoted above, obviously states that ” he gave every day new torments to his saint. He ordered to give him much torture… he took away his food, he did him thousand and one dishonours. In that way their good Pope died, overwhelmed by the sufferings, torments and dishonours…”
Sometimes some critics argue that the Tuzk, apart from imposing a fine, also states that in the event of non-payment of fine, the Guru’s family would be arrested and his properties confiscated.
There are scholars who hold the view that the arrest of Guru Hargobind is also part of this decree whereas others look at the entire account with some reservation since the entire decree was not carried out. They obviously overlook the fact that the Emperor duly received the fine from “a rich gentile”. There was apparently no justification for any further action on his part after having received the payment of fine.
This ‘rich gentile’ was, as the contemporary and later Sikh history and tradition suggests, Chandu who nursed a grudge against the Guru and was ever on the look out for an opportunity to harm him. Some Sikh scholars also hold that Chandu used the influence of his office and took upon himself the “mean task” of torturing the Guru to death. The Sikh tradition also stands witness to the fact that after Emperor Jahangir gave up hostility toward Guru Hargobind, son and successor of Guru Arjan Dev, and adopted a more reconciliatory attitude, what the Guru sought from the Emperor was the custody of Chandu Shah whom he considered responsible for the torture and execution of Guru Arjan and his own incarceration. Chandu was handed over to the Sikhs. Dragged through the streets of Lahore by angry Sikhs who were witness to the atrocities perpetrated by him on Guru Arjun, Chandu Shah ultimately met a very cruel and violent death. Ironically, the final blow came from the very person whom Chandu had employed to pour hot sand on the Guru’s blistered body.
Anyway, as this opportunity came his way, Chandu did not want to lose it. He paid the fine to the Emperor in lieu of the legal custody of the Guru. The Guru was taken a prisoner in Lahore and was subjected to extreme physical torment for several days.
He was made to sit on a red-hot iron plate and burning hot sand was poured over him. He was also made to take a dip in the boiling water. Mian Mir, on learning of this, came to see him and offered to intercede on his behalf. But the Guru forbade him and enjoined him to find peace in the will of God. The Guru, it is said, then expressed a desire to bathe in the river Ravi where he was asked to take a dip. The cold water of the river was more than the blistered body could bear. The Guru passed away on 30 May 1606 wrapped in meditation and peaceful in mind.