Guru Arjan Dev occupies a place of special significance not only in the history of the Sikh faith but also in the history of India as well as of Indian religions. He played a very important role in consolidating the Sikh faith and tradition by providing it its scriptural, doctrinal and organizational basis, He gave to the Sikhs their scripture, now known as the Guru Granth Sahib, which moulds and guides the entire Sikh way of life. He also gave to them their sanctum sanctorum, the Harmindar Sahib or what the westerners call the Golden Temple, which has ever since served as the source of inspiration to the community in their spiritual life as well as in their socio-political struggle. He prescribed an ideal, stood witness to the truth of that ideal and ultimately laid down his life to uphold the truth of that ideal. As we have seen in the preceding pages, the work of the first four Gurus was preparatory and it assumed a more definitive form in the hands so Guru Arjan Dev. Later Gurus substantiated the principles manifested in the life of Guru Arjan Dev who thus marked a central point in the evolution of the Sikh tradition.
At the time Sikhism originated, India was ruled by the Lodhi dynasty, the king being Ibrahim Lodhi who, like most other rulers of the Sultanate who preceded him, was deeply committed to the Islamic sharV at laws and was rather severe in his treatment of his non-Muslim subjects. He made a point of destroying all Hindu temples and other places of worship. Of accurse, a sense of expediency on the part of rulers and the compulsions of neighborly living among the common man had recently begun to dawn, but barriers between the two communities had not yet been fully relaxed. Guru Nanak was an eye-witness, at Eminabad, to the death and destruction caused in the wake of Babar’s invasion.
These hymns, unlike any other work in the entire Indian literary corpus of the period, are highly critical of the corrupt and tyrannical rule typified by the Lodhis who failed to protect their proteg£. In spite old all the suffering and death caused by the invasions of Babar, Guru Nanak sees him as an unwitting instrument of the divine will to punish the Lodhis for having violated the laws of God.
Referring to the contemporary rulers, Guru Nanak in his hymns calls them cruel man-eaters”. He refers to the contemporary situation as full of greed, sin and falsehood, and where welfare of the common man was nobody’s concern. Guru Nanak also found the courts of justice in the contemporary society full of favoritism and corruption. Talking about the judicial system in his contemporary society, he says elsewhere that “The qazi fouls his justice by corruption.” The ruling class led a life marked by voluptuous ease and irresponsibility, falsehood and hypocrisy, intolerance and oppression. Emperor Muhammad Jalal ud-Din Akbar who was a contemporary of Guru Arjan earned a name for himself for the revenue reforms and his liberal religious policy.
He put to an end various laws discriminatory against the nonMuslims and curbed the power of Muslim theocracy. However, the government attitude towards the Gurus and the Sikhs underwent a drastic change with the passing away of Akbar, and pendulum swung toward bigotry and intolerance, coercion and oppression immediately after him. That was the last phase of Guru Arjan’s life.
Guru Arjan was born and lived in the socio-religious milieu discussed above, but before taking up the life of the Guru, we have tried to explain the concept and meaning of Guru in the Sikh tradition. The concept of Guru is central to the Sikh thought and way of life. Sikhism believes in the ten person Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh: all the ten Gurus are believed to be one in spirit though different in body. No one else however pious and enlightened can claim to be or accepted as the Guru. Thereafter, the Guru Granth Sahib or more precisely the Word as contained in the Guru Granth Sahib is the Guru Eternal for them. They reverence it like a living Guru, but do not worship it as an idol on the altar. It is like a constitution which governs and shapes the overall Sikh way of life and the Sikhs always approach it to seek guidance from it in every sphere of life.
Sikhism believes that the hymns of the Gurus as found
incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib constitute the revelation.
There are several hymns in the scripture itself which testify to the fact that the Gurus uttered only the Word as received from God- jaisi mai avai khasam ki bani taisara kari gian ve lalo (O Lalo, I proclaim the Lord’s Word as it comes to me), says Guru Nanak. Guru Arjan also calls it dhur ki bani or the Word received from the Highest. Thus, in this sense, God Himself becomes the primal Guru of the whole creation, and this Guru chooses certain persons to act as His instruments. This is how Guru Nanak, in his Sidh Gosti, refers to God as his Guru. “God has placed Himself within the Guru, Which He explicitly explains.”
Says the scripture (466). Sine God’s chosen ones remain ever in tune with the supreme Being, the scripture accepts God as residing within the Guru. Thus, the words God and Guru are used
interchangeably in the Sikh tradition. Also, the words God (the source of revelation), Word (bani or revelation) and Guru (the medium though which revelation is communicated to mankind) are also used as synon>ms at places.
Guru Arjan Dev was an illustrious poet whose poetic output is more than that of any other Guru: his contribution to the Guru Granth Sahib is the most of anyone else. He has composed hymns in a number of poetic meters which shows his deep understanding and mastery of poetics. Although most of his compositions are in Punjabi with a mixture of Sadh Bhakha, but some of his works clearly prove his mastery of Sanskrit, Hindi and Persian languages apart from the Lehndi and other dialects of Punjabi. He was equally proficient in music and his understanding of musicology could be assessed from the fact that he composed hymns in thirty different ragas or musical measures. He not only assigned the compositions of the Gurus and other contributors to the relevant ragas but also added the rlevant gharu to each of the ragas used in the scripture.
Guru Arjan was not only a prolific poet but also a meticulous editor with an eye for exactness and thoroughness. The manner in which he has numbered the hymns, while compiling the scripture, in each poetic form and meter as well as of each of the contributors and added these numbers from one step to other has proved infallible over the years: no interpolation in the scripture has been possible without disturbing the entire numbering scheme.
This has helped in maintaining the authenticity of the sacred text.
Guru Arjan was an original thinker and practical philosopher.
His hymns reiterate the non-dual dynamic nature of reality which is not only the creator of this manifest material world but is also immanent in it. His immanence in diverse manifest forms doest not, however, affect his unity. Since he has created all the beings, He loves them all, having enmity towards and fear of none. He is the creator of all, but He himself is self-created (saibham); He is never born in any form and is not subject to birth and death. The ultimate object of human life has been to realize the essential oneness with the Creator-Lord, but man in his ignorance and haumai begins to consider himself independent of God. This results in his separation from God and isolation from fellow human beings, thus causing him spiritual anguish and material suffering. Guru plays a very vital role in guiding man on the path to spirituality, but he does not take man to a position of higher spirituality as if by miracle or on a crutch: he simply guides and shows seekers the path but the seeker has to tread the path himself.
The idea of the immanence of God leads to the spiritualization of the social and socialization of the spiritual. In other words, the same God pervades all beings and all places. This implies the mundane world we live in is not maya or unreal, rather it is the abode of God. Since each being has the same divine spark witchin, all humans are equal and it becomes everybody to imbibe feelings of love and compassion for other. This implies that causing injury to one’s own body by way of penance or austerity as well to the others is like injuring God Himself. Since this mundane world is also the abode of God, renouncing it in favour of forests and mountains in search of God is in fact like running away of God.
Sikhism calls human body the temple of God and this world the dwelling place of God. It also advises man to endeavor for the welfare of humans as well as of society at large. Unlike the prevalent Indian belief, it does not ask man to depend on the intervention of any god/goddess or incarnation to help him overcome evil: man has to struggle and strive himself. The struggles faced and sacrifices made by Guru Arjan Dev and other Gurus are an example of putting that precept into practice.
The life of Guru Arjan Dev was full of challenges. Born the son of Guru Ram Das and maternal grandson of Guru Amar Das, the fourth and third spiritual preceptors, respectively, of the Sikh faith. Guru Arjan ungrudgingly faced the numerous conspiracies and complaints from his own elder brother, Prithi Chand. Guru Arjan’s contribution towards giving a strong organizational base to the Sikh faith has also been very significant. The institution of masands worked so smoothly and efficiently under his supervision that it made the imperial government apprehensive of the Sikh movement. The government became apprehensive of this coming into being a ‘state within a state’. The practice of tithe was also followed regularly and meticulously. It has also been said about its regularity that one may skip or delay the payment of tax to the government, but the devotees never delayed the daswandh or tithe which they sent to the Guru, through the masands, for philanthropic ventures undertaken by the Guru. The Guru dug wells and baolis in various villages and towns for the benefit of the people. All this made the Guru very popular among the common masses and a large number of people embraced the Sikh faith during his pontificate.
Guru Arjan was the first martyr of the faith. Throughtout his life he ungrudgingly faced many conspiracies and complaints of his elder brother, Prithi Chand, Chandu Shah who was an offical with the governor of Punjab under the imperial Mughal
government, and several others. He never spoke or acted ill towards any of them. However, his unswerving commitment to the values of truth and tolerance placed him in opposition to emperor Jahangir who supported the policy of religious intolerance and hatred toward those who were not his co-religionists. The Guru held strongly to the view that everybody should have the freedom of conscience, freedom to practice the faith of his choice. His hymns as well as his compilation of the scripture are ample evidence of his pluralistic tendencies which Jahangir could not accept and tolerate. The rising popularity of the movement was also not liked and approved by the powers that be. No doubt, he had begun maintaining a small band of armed followers but he harmed none and led a peaceful life. But the very fact that the Sikh movement was rising in popularity and that the dumb and etherized Indian people were regaining, because of the Guru’s teachings, the moral strength to stand up to the truth of their ideal and even getting ready to suffer privation or death for it was a soar point in the Emperor’s intolerant eye who decided to either convert or eliminate him. Chandu’s role in the entire episode cannot just be overlooked even if he played only a contributory role.
In sum, Guru Arajan 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, and their central place of worship, the Harimandar (popularly called Darbar Sahib but known as the Golden Temple among the people of the west). He composed the highest number of hymns among all other
contributors to the Holy Volumne, compiled the holy volume and installed it in the newly constructed Harimandar at Amritsar. He built the Harmandar, the modern-day Golden Temple, in the midst 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, for the sake of human dignity, for the freedom of conscience, for the freedom to practice the faith of one’s choice.