The Historical Milieu : Guru Arjan Dev Ji

It has been a known fact of history that the north-west of India, the region where Guru Nanak Dev ( 1 469- 1 539), the founder of the Sikh faith, was born, faced wave upon wave of nomadic tribes and other invading armies from across Central Asia and regions in the west. These invaders, who successively forced their way into India, included the Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Scythians, Kushans and Huns, and they all came in an unending sequence. These invading hosts came from completely alien lands and cultures, created temporary upheavals but ultimately all of these got imperceptibly sucked into the all-absorbing Hindu social order. Even the Greeks who boasted of a superior civilization were pejoratively called Yavanas, i.e. barbarians, by the native Hindus, and the philosophical Hinduism refused to accept any impact of the Hellenistic ideals of humanism, beauty and art peculiar to the Greek civilization.

It was during the first half of the seventh century that Islam made the first contact with India. It was around this time that some Muslim Arabs reached the southern peninsula as traders travelling through sea. That was the time when the Arabs were, with the might of their sword, subduing many countries including Persia (AD 670) and Spain (AD 71 1). In the north-west of India, they first conquered Sind (AD 711) defeating Raja Dahir and extended their sway to Multan. Although any further progress was halted by the local Hindu chieftains, yet Sind remained under Arab rule for about three centuries. However, this Arab-Indian contact left behind significant cultural impact and Indo-Arab contacts increased in the fields of learning and science as the Barmakides, converts from Buddhism, acquired ministerial authority under the Abbasid Khalifa. Many Indian (Hindu) physicians and scholars are said to have been offered important assignments in Baghdad and elsewhere. Similarly, several Arab scholars also came over to India, especially to the centres of Muslim theology in Sind and Multan.

By the tenth century, the Turkic Muslims began to invade India. The Afghan Turks broke away from the Baghdad Khilafat and set up their own autonomous rule in Ghazni. Soon they subdued the Brahmin dynastry which had ruled parts of Afghanistan and north-west of Punjab for the last many years. The Ghaznavids, a dynasty from eastern Afghanistan, began a series of raids into northwestern India at the end of the tenth century. Mahmud of Ghazni, the most notable ruler of the dynasty, opened the mountain route to raid India, and beginning with his first invasion in 998 he led seventeen expeditions against India. However, the repeated invasions by Mahmud were essentially plundering raids with no desire or attempt at permanent conquest. This was, no doubt, mixed with the zeal to chastise the infidels’ of India, by killing them en mass, defiling and destroying their places of worship and carrying away their women and children. But it took about another century and a half for the Muslim rule to be established in almost the whole of north India. It was one of the successors to Mahmud’s dismembered empire, the Muslim conqueror, Muhammad of Gaur, who began his conquest of India in 1 1 75 and within about twenty years, he had conquerred the whole of north India. After Gauri’s death in 1206, one of his generals, Qutb ud-Din Aibak, occupied Delhi and established the Muslim rule in India. Thus, Punjab hereafter became part of the Delhi Sultanate.

The following three centuries saw several successive Muslim dynasties rule over Delhi – the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs, the Sayyids and the Lodhis. Under the Sayyids the Delhi Sultanate shrank to virtually nothing. The Lodhi dynasty of Afghan origin (1451-1 526) revived the rule of Delhi over much of India. During these about five centuries of Muslim rule over India, many Indians became converts to Islam. The north-west of India including the Punjab remained part of the Delhi Sultlanate under the Mughal rule for a long period of about five hundred years, and as a result of this a great majority of people here became Muslims. Many Muslims married Hindu women and many Hindus otherwise got converted to Islam. Interestingly, the area now forming Bangladesh was once dominated by the Buddhists who converted to Islam during this period.

However, the Sultanate kings in general were far from tolerant, even despising their non-Muslim subjects. Their attitude was harsh and discriminatory against their non-Muslim subjects, yet some Hindus occupied official positions in the court in Delhi and in other towns and villages throughout the empire. As it is, nonMuslims had to be appointed to fill the junior revenue posts at the village level for the simple reason that there were not enough educated and otherwise qualified Muslims to fill such a vast cadre. There was almost no other meeting point between the two communities, conversions and matrimony being the only other factors which somewhat diluted religious and social exclusivism.

Hasan Nizami Nishapuri’s Taj ul-Maazir, Minhaj us-Saraj’s Tabqat-I-Nasiri, Amir Khusrau’s Tawarikh-I-Alai or Khazainat ul-Futuh and Abdullah Wassar’s Tazjivat ul-Asar are full of accounts of excesses and repression committed by the Delhi Sultans. En mass killing of non-Muslims, defiling and destroying their places of worship and carrying away their women and children were common occurrences.

It was during the reign of King Ibrahim of the Lodhi dynasty that Babar (1483-1530), the Mughal ruler originally of Farghana in Central Asia and then of Kabul, turned his eyes towards India after having lost his ancestral possessions in the Central Asia. In fact, it was in 1504 that he came in touch with India whose wealth was a standing temptation: that was the year when he took over Kabul. His first exploratory expedition took place in early 1505, followed by invasions in 1517 and then 1519 when he advanced up to Peshawar. Next year he came again, crossed the Indus and conquering Sialkot marched into Eminabad which suffered the most at the hands of the invading armies. The town was taken, the garrison put to sword and there was much killing and looting. He came again in 1523-24 and ransacked even Lahore.

This time he entered Punjab on the invitation of the governor of Punjab (Daulat Khan Lodhi) and ‘Alam Khan (an uncle of the Delhi king, Ibrahim Lodhi), but had to return home under pressure from Balkh. However, he came back again next year. Unlike in the past when his motive was simply to molest and loot, this time he had other designs in mind. He faced the Delhi king, Ibrahim Lodhi, at Panipat, defeated him and settled down as a conqueror and ruler of Delhi. Babar died on 26 December 1 530, and he was succeeded by his son. Humayun. But he was soon defeated by the Bihar-based Sher Khan Sur only to regain his possessions in 1555 after a gap of about fifteen years.

Politically, India was ruled by the Lodhi dynasty, the king being Ibrahim Lodhi, at the time Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh faith, was born. Ibrahim Lodhi, like most other rulers of the Sultanate, was deeply committed to the Islamic shari’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. However, most of the rulers had to adopt a deliberately hostile policy towards their non-Muslim subjects simply to placate their theocratic advisers. Of course, with the passage of time a sense of expediency on the part of rulers and the compulsions of neighbourly living among the common man had begun to dawn, but there was still no perceptible or significant relaxation in the barriers between the two communities. Guru Nanak, who had just set out on his preaching odysseys after having received revelation, was an eye-witness, at Eminabad, to the death and destruction caused in the wake of Babar’s invasion. He renders, in his hymns collectively known as “Babar Vani” (Babar’s Sway), the agony of the situation with accents of deep power and protest.

These hymns, unlike any other work in the entire Indian literature of the period, are highly critical of the corrupt and tyrannical rule typified by the Lodhis.The Guru condemns them for their unjust and oppressive, exclusivistic and exploitative policies as well as for their inability to defend their subjects. At the same time, he compares the invading hordes from Khurasan with a marriage party of sin and also complains to God for the misery perpetrated at the innocent and powerless by the powerful and mighty. In spite of 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.

Refering to the contemporary rulers, Guru Nanak in his

hymns calls them “cruel man-eaters”. He refers to the

contemporary situation as one where greed, sin and falsehood reigned supreme, and where welfare of the common man was nobody’s concern. One could easily have an inkling of the plight of the masses when they are governed by unjust rulers and what is worse even the judiciary prefers to be partial on the side of the ruling class. What an eighteenth century English poet says in an absolutely different socio-political context seems just an echo of what Guru Nanak had said in one of his hymns much earlier.

Alexander Pope ( 1 688- 1 744), while criticising the unjust behaviour of those who are supposed to provide justice, says: The hungry judges soon the sentence sign/And wretches hang that Jury-men may dine.” Guru Nanak also found the courts of justice in his contemporary society full of favourtism and corruption. He said elsewhere that “the qazi fouls his justice by corruption.” The ruling class led a life of voluptuous ease and irresponsibility, of falsehood and hypocrisy.

Emperor Muhammad Jalal ud-Din Akbar (1542-1605), who

succeeded Humayun to the Delhi throne, not only consolidated his power but also took some effective steps to improve the social and economic life of the people. His revenue reforms and his liberal religious policy earned him much name and appreciation.

He passed decrees putting to an end various laws discriminatory against the non-Muslims and curbed the power of Muslim

theocracy. His genuine interest in the study of different religions of the world helped him develop a catholic and pluralist attitude.

He built an ‘ibadatkhana or the house of worship where learned men of all religions assembled and held discussions on various theological issues. His pluralistic views prompted him to promulgate a new eclectic faith which he named Din-I-Ilahi: he hoped that all his subjects would veer round to the ideology of this new faith, but it is a different story that it did not happen.

When Akbar was crowned king in 1556, the’nascant Sikh

faith was led by Guru Amar Das (( 1 479- 1 574), the third successive Guru or spiritual preceptor of the Sikh faith, who had taken over from Guru Angad Dev after the latter’s demise in 1552. The Sikh chronicles refer to Akbar ‘s amicable relations with Guru Amar Das. They also allude to Akbar ‘s visit to Goindvai, the seat of the Guru, where he went to meet the Guru. It is also said that by that time the Guru had proclaimed that anybody wanting to see him must first partake of food in the Guru ka Langar, or the community kitchen. These chronicles also say that Akbar refused to walk on the silks spread out for him on the way he had to walk while going to meet the Guru. He is said to have turned aside the lining with his own hands and preferred to walk barefoot. Akbar’s calling on the Guru, his walking barefoot on the ground to go up to the seat of the Guru and his agreeing to partake of food in Guru ka Langar along with other commoners do not imply that he was a follower of the Guru, but it does bring out the Emperor’s catholicity of views, his feelings of respect for the Guru as a holy man or his reverence for a holy many of whatever religious persuasion.

It is also recorded in history that Emperor Akbar also visited Guru Arjan at Goindval on 24 November 1598: the emperor was accompanied by Abul Fazl (1551-1602), the empror’s minister and author of Akbar-nama, who was mainly responsible for moulding and shaping the religious policy of the Emperor. This was the time when the peasants of the region suffered hardship as a result of the failure of the last monsoon. The Guru, it is said, narrated to the Emperor the woes of the poor peasants, and the Emperor remitted the annual revenue. According to another source, complaints were proferred to Akbar as he put up in Batala that the scripture of the Sikhs contained references derogatory to Islam, with the obvious intention to harm Guru Arjan who had compiled the Holy Book. The Guru was summoned, but he sent Bhai Gurdas and Baba Buddha along with the Holy Volume. As they reached the Emperor’s court at Batala, they were asked to open the scripture at random and read the hymn from the spot pointed out by the Emperor. They were also asked to read some more hymns from other pages. However, all the hymns pointed out were in praise of God. Akbar dismissed the complaints and rather honoured Bhai Gurdas and Baba Buddha and made an offering to the Holy Volume as well.

Akbar died in 1605 when Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606) was

leading the Sikh movement : he had taken over after the passing away in 1581 of Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru of the Sikh faith. By this time the Sikh faith had acquired its own scripture, now known as the Guru Granth Sahib; its central place of worship and pilgrimage, the sanctum sanctorum, the Harimandar at Amritsar; its own metaphysics based on the doctrines articulated by Guru Nanak and later enunciated and explained by other Gurus; and its own institutions in the form of sangat and pangat, its own practices like daswandh or tithe and seva or selfless service. The strong scriptural, doctrinal and organizational base transformed the Sikh movement into a potential force for bringing about a cultural and social revolution in the Punjab. The Sikhs lived their spiritual doctrines and social ideals in their practical social life. The cohesive administration first through pious and selfless manjidars and then masands only added to its potential taking the form of practice.

The tithe paid voluntarily by all Sikhs to meet expenses for the completion of ventures of common weal put the movement on a stable economic base. It was commonly said during those days that one might delay or forego payment of tax to the state but a Sikh would readily pay tithe to his Guru. The growing popularity of the Sikh movement, its stable socio-economic base and the Sikh stress on leading a life of self-dignity and help others in this regard made the Mughal government apprehensive of the Sikh movement considering it a state within a state.

After Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) ascended the throne of Delhi following the death of Akbar in 1605, the government attitude towards the Gurus and the Sikhs underwent a drastic change. If Akbar was known for his liberal religious policy and his catholic attitude toward other religions, pendulum swung toward bigotry and intolerance, coercion and oppression immediately after him.

There was an orthodox section among his courtiers who, under the influence of people like Shaikh Ahmad of Sirhind (d. 1624), worked conceitedly for the reversion of Akbar ‘s policy of religious neutrality: Shaikh Ahmad belonged to the Naqashbandi order of the Sufis. If Akbar’s policy had resulted in his amicable relations with the Gurus, the government’s attitude now became obviously hostile after Jahangir’s taking over. A man of many natural abilities and a great lover of art and literature, Jahangir the emperor accepted the influence of this orthodox section among his courtiers, and it was this hostile attitude of the emperor which ultimately led first to the arrest and execution of Guru Arjan and then the

imprisonment of his son and successor, Guru Hargobind.

The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1 675), the ninth Guru of the Sikh faith, under the orders of Emperor Aurangzib and the struggle waged by Guru Gobind Singh and the following suffering he and his family went through subsequently were all the consequences of the religious policy of intolerance and exclusivism now started by Jahangir and followed by Shah Jahan and then Aurangzib.Though Aurangzib had nothing personal against Guru Tegh Bahadur, yet both of them stood clearly for ideals in stark opposition to each other – the former for religious exclusivism and the latter for the freedom of conscience. The severe persecution that the community went through during the eighteenth century when prices were fixed on their heads and efforts were made to exterminate them is also indicative of the Sikh stance against religious intolerance and exclusivism.

Guru Nanak inherited a society honeycombed with racial

arrogance, social exclusiveness and superstititons of diverse kinds.

Religion in such a set up could hardly be anything but a formal and shapeless system of arid beliefs and lifeless rituals, thereby losing almost completely its relevance to the needs of contemporary society. Instead of performing the three-dimensional functions of providing for man’s relationship to God, his relationship to fellow human beings, and his relationship to himself, his conscience which are required of all the religions, religion in medieval India found itself garbled beneath the complicated web of rituals and completely divorced from its social praxis. It was in such a cataleptic society that Guru Nanak lived and restored religion to its lost freshness and vitality, making it relevant and useful to the needs of contemporary society.

The social scene in medieval India was dominated by two very vital yet mutually exclusive and in several ways contradictory culture-forms represented by Hinduism and Islam: Jainism and Buddhism, two other religions of Indian origin belonging to the sramanic tradition, were numerically a very insignificant minority.

These two streams had been running their parallel course ever since the first Muslim contact with India in the 8 th century. The invaders brought with them the enthusiasm of a newly acquired religious faith and an outlook completely different from that of the native Hindus on many fundamental points. The prevalent Hinduism at that time was polytheistic, iconographic and ascetical whereas Islam was monotheistic, iconoclastic and socially motivated and practical. The former was tolerant in its religious attitude accepting several sects with many different and even contradictory doctrines as its own, but had developed a rigidly corseted social structure. The latter, on the other hand, had a liberal social system but was bigoted and fanatical in its religious belief. The reign of Ibrahim Lodhi who was a contemporary of Guru Nanak has been described as the “most severe and

inquisitorial” in its treatment of the non-Muslims subjects.

The Hindu society was hierarchically divided on caste lines, and the lowest of them ail, called sudras or outcastes, lived an almost ostracized life and their houses were invariably on the outskirts of the other habitations. They were debarred from entering a place of worship and listening to a religious discourse.

There was no intercourse between them and the so-called ‘twiceborn’ and other higher castes.The mere shadow of a sudra was considered polluting by a Brahmin. The Bhakti movement, a kind of reform movement within Hinduism, did criticise the practice of human inequality and the evil of untouchability, but since they did not reject the theological basis of this ideology, the evil practice could not be wiped out. However, the fact that many of the protagonists of the Bhakti movement belonged to the so-called lower castes brought about a change in the mindset of people.

Now the non-Brahmins with personal spiritual experience began to earn respect as spiritual teachers, though there were also instances of the Brahmin opposition to it.

Besides these outcastes and other low-caste people,

womankind was also discriminated against and was not given a status of equality with man in the medieval Indian society. Not only in India but even in Europe, she was given, to put it in the words of the famous author and playwright Shakespeare, the other name of frailty. In that male-dominated society, even the birth of a female child was considered inauspicious and the cases of female infanticide were not uncommon. The Indian woman of the time of Guru Nanak was completely denied an independent personality of her own. Female infanticide, child marriage, malnutrition and sati were some of the evils resulting from this Weltanschauung.

She was regarded as intrinsically evil, spiritually contaminated, poisoning by her very presence and an obstacle to salvation. The law book of Manu, the Manusmriti, so depicts the licentiousness and grossly sensual character of woman that it cannot be discussed without violating decency and modesty. The cumulative effect of such ignominous practices laid a heavy burden of guilt on the Hindu woman and she expiated her ‘sins’ by an abject submission to the dictates of orthodoxy. Her husband was a god to her even if, as says the Padma Purana, he was aged, infirm, debauched, offensive, a drunkard, a gambler, a frequenter of places of ill-repute, living in open sin with other woman and destitute of honour. Since she was denied an indepenent entity, she committed self-immolation at the pyre of her dead husband. The situation was not much different in other religions. For example, certain sects in Jainism even still hold that women must be reborn in male form before attaining moksa. Similarly, a Jain nun or sadhvi however old and senior must bow to the male Sadhu however young and junior.

Although some social reformers did realize that the Hindu culture has erred on the side of excessive subordination of the wife to her husband yet her plight did not materially change for the better. Male chauvinism continues in Indian society even today and majority of women are still as timid as the cow. The sense of liberation which the Western woman seems to enjoy today is too modern a phenomenon and still a dream for an ordinary Indian woman. Guru Nanak’s was perhaps the first voice against this discrimination. He proclaimed that woman is not an evil or a seductress, but the mother of mankind. Woman appears a

seductress to one who himself is a seducer. Sikh Gurus have advised man to look at a beautiful woman as if she were a mother, sister or daughter to him. The Sikh rahitnamas or the code of conduct, lay equal obligation on both men and women as regards the virtue or chastity or fidelity. Adultery, stated in Sikhism to be one of the five serious evils, must be desisted from by every one, including both man and woman, and not even the king can be exempted.

The religious scene in medieval Indian society was also not very encouraging: almost all the religions of Indian origin (Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism apart from various sects and sub-sects) considered this world mere maya and thus a hindrance in the spiritual progression of man. Therefore, renunciation of the world and family life was considered obligatory if one wanted to attain salvation. As a natural consequence of this, all enlightened beings became indifferent to the moral and ethical life of man.

Bhai Gurdas also refers to this kind of situation when, in one of his vars, he laments the fact of the siddhas” (enlightened) beings renunciation of world in favour of a life in the mountains and forests because in that situation there remained nobody to take care of the moral and ethical health of society. The result was utter degeneration in the social, political and religious affairs.

Complete lack of guts and values on the part of common man was somewhat like T.S. Eliot’s ‘patient etherised upon a table’: it gave rise to a situation wherein exploitation and hypocritical behaviour became the order of the day. As says Guru Nanak, ‘it was an age of falsehood and utter degeneration: avarice and sin were the kings and the minister and falsehood their chief. Lust was the advisor and so they all confabulate.’

Although sacrifice as a religious ritual had almost disappeared by the time of Guru Nanak yet the ideas of purification and defilement had been borrowed from earlier religious practices and refined and extended to several aspects of life. The Brahmins did not attach much importance to the inner purity but instead performed the ritual of keeping their hearth clean. As Guru Nanak says in one of his hymns, these Brahmins drew a line around their cooking place so as to keep it free from all influences of pollution and defilement while their hearts were full of impurity as they still harboured the four vices in their hearts. These Brahmins also carried this concpet of purification and defilement to many other aspects of life as well. A woman was called defiled under certain circumstances. The whole house was considered defiled in which a child was born, outsiders could not enter that house for a certain length of time.Certain days were auspicious whereas others were declared inauspicious. This kind of attitude gave rise to false temple and hypocritical behaviour which were witnessed in the Hindus who practised their Hindu rituals secretely within the confines of their home but donned the Muslim garb and followed the Muslim practices outside in the society.

No doubt, under the Turks and the Mughals, Hindus and

Muslims happened to live in isolation of each other, but around the 14 th century we perceive small symptoms of the desire for religious co-existence trying to assert itself as against the dominant culture of distrust and disharmony, intolerance and oppression that prevailed. On the one hand, certain Hindu Bhaktas like Ramanand and Kabir raised their banner of revolt against the orthodoxy of religion and favouring catholicity and equality in religious and social life. It is difficult to say whether the Muslim presence, the presence of a religion different from and at certain points opposite to Hinduism encouraged this trend or it was a natural reaction to a given historical situation or it was part of a world-wide phenomenon of upward social mobilization of the subaltern classes. The religious Weltanschauung they tried to evolve had a universal appeal, was more a way of life than being a set of some arid and lifeless rituals. On the other hand, the Muslim missionaries and Sufis who preached in the Indian countryside also presented to the masses a somewhat liberal view of Islam.

Unlike some of the Muslim rulers who tried forcible conversion, these holy men gave out the message of love and attracted following cutting across religious barriers .


Guru Arjan Dev

A positive outcome of both these currents was the implicit stepping down by Hinduism and Islam from their respective citedals of orthodoxy to find out a few meeting points, notwithstanding the doctrinal differences between the two traditions they represented. The ensuing interaction between the two gave a new dimension to the religious life of the country, taking religion as something above sectarian level. Consequently, the holy men coming from both the Hindu and Muslim traditions attracted a mixed following coming from different religious backgrounds.

All this helped in the creation of an environment in which one could think of the universality of the essential values of religion, religious Catholicism spiritual unity and ethnical equality of mankind, universal Fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of mankind. It was in this socio-religious situation that Guru Nanak was born.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Vaisakh of AD 1469 at Talwandi Rai Bhoe, now called Nanakana Sahib in Pakistan. He got married and had two sons. He was a precocious child with a unique intellectual and mystical genius. However, his mind was not in acquiring the learning of the mundane world, rather he was ever absorbed in God. He was at Sultanpur when he had had the revelation and he took out four preaching odysseys to different parts of India and outside to share that revelation with mankind in general. Wherever he went, he established sangats (holy congregations) and dharamsalas (places for congregation). He asked his followers to congregate at specific intervals or at any time in the dharamsalas and sing (kirtan) eulogies of God. Sikhism makes no distinction between individual (private) and collective/communal (public) prayer: neither of them is better or more effective than the other. However, the Sikh preference for the latter is only to provide the devotees an occasion and a platform to sit and pray together. This was necessary to eradicate the malady of caste inequality and untouchability so deeply ingrained in contemporary Indian society.

Guru Nanak preached through precept and practice the unity of Reality and spiritual unity of mankind. According to him, God is a non-dual dynamic Reality: He is one, and He is the creator of the entire manifest phenomena and being creator He is also immanent in the entire creation. This doctrine leads to the Sikh view of the Fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of mankind. The metaphysical doctrine of the oneness of God becomes the vis-a-tergo for the spiritual unity and ethnic equality of mankind. Birth in a particular caste or family does not make one better or higher than the other: it is the deeds done by man during his lifetime in this world which make him better or worse than the others. Guru Nanak declared truthful life higher than anything else, higher than even Truth. Hypocrisy and falsehood are severely condemned. He wanted man to lead a life given to honesty and righteousness, to kirat karna (doing honest labour), nam japna (remembering the Name Divine) and wand chhakna (sharing with the needy what one earns with the sweat of one’s brow), to altruism and truthful behaviour, and to love and service of mankind.

Since Guru Nanak wanted to give consistency and stamina to the movement he had initiated, he appointed a successor to his mission. The successor was Bhai Lahina, renamed Angad, i.e. the ang or limb of his own body. Thus, Angad became the second Nanak. “Guru nanak imparted his light to Lahina by changing his form,” says Bhai Gurdas. This idea of oneness, in spirit, of the Gurus despite their bodily vestures being different has also been reiterated by Satta and Balwand whose Var is included in the Sikh scripture. This process of succession was repeated successively until the installation of the tenth spiritual preceptor, Guru Gobind Singh, who just before his demise put an end to the institution of person-Gurus and declared the scripture to be the Guru Eternal for the Sikhs. Guru Angad continued the work begun by the founder of the faith. He also standardised the Gurmukhi script and introduced it for writing down hymns of his own as well as of his predecessor. He is also said to have prepared the first biography of Guru Nanak. He used to hold regular wrestling bouts as part of his evening congregations, thereby stressing alongside spiritual progress the physical well-being of his followers and others.

Guru Amar Das (1479-1574), the third Guru of the Sikh faith, continued further the work initiated by his predecessors. Among other things, he took special care to preserve the hymns received from his predecessor besides adding his own to them. He also created a well organized ecclesiastical system and set up twenty-two manjis or dioceses to facilitate the work of preaching the Sikh tenets to people in far off areas: melis or manjidars were appointed to these dioceses who deputized for the Guru in their respective areas. He took steps to put into practice the precepts taught by them and the institution of langar or community kitchen was one such step. He also commanded his followers to congregate at Goindwal, his headquarters, on Maghi, Diwali and Vaisakhi days.

Although the process of the Sikh community acquiring a separate and distinct identity, hastened and sharpened as it was by their persecution, was gradual, yet this command by the Guru was perhaps the first step in this direction.

This process of consolidating the faith and tradition was continued by the fourth Guru, Ram Das ( 1 534- 1581). He founded the modern-day township of Amritsar on a piece of land which he had purchased in AD 1577 from the farmers of village Tung. In fact, he got a tank, called amritsar (the tank or sar of nectar of amrit), dug and a flourishing township came up around it. It was this name of the tank which later on transferred itself to the town, earlier named Chak Ramdas or Ramdaspur. It has since become one of the most important places in Sikh tradition. This pulsating city has since been a rallying ground for the Sikhs and their activities. Guru Ram Das strengthened the institution of langar and made it essentially a people’s organization, wholly dependent on the charity and donations of the devotees. He put the missionary system on a still more sound footing . The manjis and melis were now replaced by the masands so as to make the system more efficient. The word masand is a Punjabized form of the Persian word masnad which was used for high dignitaries during the Afghan rule. These masands preached the Gurus’ Word in their respective areas, settled disputes among the Sikhs and advised them on personal matters, and collected offerings from the devotees on behalf of the Guru which they deposited with the Guru twice an year – on Diwali and Vaisakhi days. As the amritsar tank was being dug, the Guru advised his followers to put in physical labour. The aim was to inculcate among them the value of dignity of labour and voluntary work. It fact, it was during his pontificate that the Sikh virtues of kirat karna, nam japna and wand chhakna were highly stressed and nurtured. He prescribed the routine of a Sikh and advised him to strive for inner devotion, do honest labour and share food with the needy.

Guru Ram Das passed away in 1581 and just before his demise . He appointed his son, Arjan Dev, to succeed him in the spiritual office. As we shall see in the following pages, the work of the first four Gurus was preparatory and it assumed a more definitive form in the hands of 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 faith and tradition.