The Key points
1479 – 1574
Lived for 95 years
He became Guru when he was 73 years of age (1552-1574)
Guru Amar Das Ji was born in May 1479 in the village of Basarke, 13 km. south-west of Amritsar, India. His father was Sri Tej Bhan, a farmer and trader and his mother, Mata Lakshami Ji. He was married to Bibi Ram Kaur Ji and had two sons namely Mohri and Mohan and two daughters, Dani and Bhani.
The Main Points
The third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das ji was born in village of Basarke on May 5 1479, Amritsar, Punjab in India.
He was a very religious Vasishnavite Hindu who spent most of his life performing rituals and fasts.
In 1541 (around 62 year of age) by chance he heard his niece, Bibi Amro (also the daughter of Guru Angad Dev ji), recite a sacred hymn of Guru Nanak Dev. He found this beautiful, soothing and calming. He at once decided to accompany Bibi Amro, to Khadur Sahib, where Guru Angad carried on his mission.
Laying his head at the feet of Guru Angad, he fell in love with all which the 2nd Guru stood for and implored Bhai Angad Dev Ji (our 2nd Sikh guru) to accept him as his humble disciple. For 12 years he occupied his heart and soul in the dedicated service of Guru Angad Dev ji.
It was only in 1552, when Guru Angad (now 73 years old) transferred the light to Guru Amar Das ji, ie the same ‘Light’, that he himself received from Guru Nanak Dev Ji, to continue to enlighten the Sikhs. He had now become the third Guru to the Sikh religion.
He established his headquarters at the newly built town of Goindwal Sahib, which Sri Guru Angad Dev Sahib Ji had established.
Soon large numbers of Sikhs started flocking to Goindwal to see the new Guru. Datu, one of Guru Angad’s sons proclaimed himself as Guru following his father’s death. He was so jealous of Guru Amar Das that he went to Goindwal to confront the Guru. Upon seeing Guru Amar Das seated on a throne surrounded by his followers he said, “You were a mere menial servant of the house until yesterday and how dare you style yourself as the Master?”. He then proceeded to kick the revered old Guru, throwing him off his throne.
Guru Amar Das in his utter humility started caressing Datu’s foot saying; “I’m old. My bones are hard. You may have been hurt.” However as per the order and demand by Datu, Guru Amar Das left Goindwal the same evening and returned to his native village of Basarke.
Here Guru Amar Das shut himself in a small house for solitary meditation. There he attached a notice on the front door saying, “He who opens this door is no Sikh of mine, nor am I his Guru.
A delegation of faithful Sikhs led by Baba Buddha found the house and seeing the notice on the front door, cut through the walls to reach the Guru. Baba Buddha said, “The Guru being a supreme yogi cares for nothing in the world – neither fame, nor riches nor a following. But we cannot live without his guidance. Guru Angad has tied us to your apron, where should we go now if you are not to show us the way?” At the tearful employment of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das was overwhelmed by their devotion and returned to Goindwal. Datu having been unable to gather any followers of his own had returned to Khadur.
At the tearful employment of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das was overwhelmed by their devotion and returned to Goindwal.
The jealousy of the teachings of the Gurus by the high caste Khatris and Brahmins continued. They pleaded with Akbar at the royal court that the teachings of Sikhism would lead to disorder as they went against the teachings of Hindus and Muslims. Akbar summoned the Guru to his court for an explanation. Guru Amar Das politely excused himself on account of his old age, but sent Jetha (his son-in-law) to answer the charges levelled against the Sikhs. In the royal court Jetha explained the teachings of Sikhism. Akbar was open minded and deeply impressed by the religious doctrine of the Sikhs and decided that no further actions were required.
In 1567 while on his way to Lahore the Emperor, Akbar decided to visit and see Guru Amar Das for himself. He stopped at Goindwal to meet the Guru, whose teachings he had heard about. The Guru agreed only to see Akbar if he would first eat in the langer. Akbar agreed and here the Emperor sat down and ate with the poorest of the poor in his company. Akbar was so impressed by Guru Amar Das that he wanted to give the Guru a parting gift of the revenue collected from several villages to help support the langer kitchen. Guru Amar Das refused saying that the langer must be self supporting and only dependent upon the small offerings of the devout.
When the time for the Guru to marry his younger daughter Bibi Bani, he selected a pious and diligent young follower of his called Jetha from Lahore. Jetha had come to visit the Guru with a party of pilgrims from Lahore and had become so enchanted by the Guru’s teachings that he had decided to settle in Goindwal. Here he earned a living selling wheat and would regularly attend the services of Guru Amar Das in his spare time.
The main achievements
Guru Amar Das institutionalised the free communal kitchen called langer among the Sikhs. The langar kitchen was open to serve all day and night. Guru Amar Das made it obligatory that those seeking his audience must first eat in the langer. This way the rich ate with the poor to promote equality and help to eradicate the awful caste system that existed.
Guru Amar Das Ji was very friendly to the emperor Akbar. The Emperor came to pay respects to Guru Amar Das Ji at Goindwal and according to custom partook in the Langar. He was very much impressed by the universal message of Sikhi and its free kitchen.
The Guru spent his time personally attending to the cure and nursing of the sick and the aged.
Guru Amar Das not only preached the equality of people irrespective of their caste but he also tried to foster the idea of women’s equality. He tried to liberate women from the practices of purdah (wearing a veil) as well as preaching strongly against the practice of sati (Hindu wife burning on her husbands funeral pyre). Guru Amar Das also disapproved of a widow remaining unmarried for the rest of her life.
Guru Amar Das continued a systematic planned expansion of the Sikh Institutions. He trained a band of 146 apostles (52 were women) called Masands and sent them to various parts of the country. He also set up 22 dioceses called manjis across the country. These twenty two dioceses helped to spread Sikhism among the population while collecting revenues to help support the young religion. Guru Amar Das also declared Baisakhi (April 13), Maghi (1st day of Magha, mid January) and Diwali (festival of lights in October/November) as three special days where all the Sikhs should gather to hear the Guru’s words.
Seeing the rapid expansion of Sikhism, Guru Amar Das asked his trusted follower Jetha to oversee the founding of another city. He wanted him to dig a tank there and to build himself a house. Jetha first purchased the lands for the price of 700 Akbari rupees from the Zamindars of Tung. Here he started the digging on the tank.
This new township called Ramdaspur would in due time become present day Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs and where the Golden Temple is situated.
Guru Amar Das Ji, in the tradition of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, tested his disciples before nominating a successor. He found in his son-in-law, Bhai Jetha Ji, a devoted and humble Sikh. He, therefore, installed him as Guru Ramdas Ji in 1574.
What “test” did Guru Angad give those chosen to succeed him
One winter night, the clouds hid the moon, it rained all night, cold wind blew, lightening flashed and everyone stayed cosy in their homes. Just three hours before sunrise, Guru ji said to his two sons, “I want some water.” But the Guru’s son’s pretended not to hear him, “I want water.” No one answered. The Guru shook them awake. His sons checked in the kitchen and told him, “There is no water here.” “It’s too early, we’re going back to sleep.” Their father said: “Still, I want water, my throat is dry.” His older son said: “But we’d have to journey all the way to the river!” “It’s too early and there’s a huge storm out there!”
The sons went back to sleep. Bhai Amar Das saw this and said: “Oh great king, your slave will be happy to get water.”
Guru Angad: “Amar Das ji at your age, this is not work for you to do.” Amar Das replied: “Sir, your service has made me young!”
Bhai Amar Das immediately put the large water pot on his head and left for the river in the lightening storm and pouring rain. He walked for miles with the cold wind blowing and the rain stinging his skin. He trod through mud and deep puddles in the dark night singing softly to himself: “Ik ongkar satnam karta purkh…”
Many times he almost slipped but… as if the angels were helping him, he continued on his errand without falling. When he finally reached the river he found that if he filled the pot to the brim, it was too heavy to lift out of the river.
So he got in the river with the pot on his head and submerged himself completely in the water to put the pot on his head under the water. He got out dripping wet with the full pot of water on his head. In the dark night there was no way to find the right way back. He came upon the weavers house. Next to the house there were holes in the ground where the weavers used to steady their looms. Bhai Amar Das tripped in one of the holes and fell down hard. Without concern for himself he did his best to make sure the water didn’t spill. Somehow, he managed to not spill the pot of water.
The weaver and his wife heard the commotion outside their home. The weaver ran outside saying: “Let me check outside, there may be a thief!”
And his wife said, “It’s no thief, it’s Amru the crazy man who never sleeps. He is homeless and lowly. He roams around doing endless errands.”
Bhai Amar Das showed his patience and didn’t mind that she had slandered him.
“SatiNam” he said. “And what kind of Guru would make a 73 year old man do a fools errand in a dark storm like this!?” she replied.
But he could not take insults to the Guru and said to her: “Dear lady, you have lost your mind. That is the only reason you could possibly speak about the Guru like this!”
Then he continued onwards to bring the water to the Guru. He ventured through the muddy, cold, wet and darkness and finally reached the Guru’s house. He had passed his final test of devotion. The Guru joyously hugged Bhai Amar Das ji. The next Guru had been chosen.
In the mean time the weavers wife had gone crazy,“faoijalkjela!” she yelled. They went to several doctors but no medicine could cure her madness. She babbled and no one could understand anything she said. “eoiclclkaoijfa!”
The weaver bemoaned: “Why doesn’t any medicine work, we have tried everything!”
So they went to see the Guru. The weaver said, “My wife has insulted your servant and afterwards she lost her senses.”
The Guru said, “Amar Das has done great service and his work is approved. His words prove to be true. He shall have spiritual and worldly power. Where Amar Das tripped, a green tree shall grow there. This woman shall recover her senses. Whoever serves Amar Das will get the deepest wish of their heart fulfilled. You called him lowly and homeless. He shall be the home of the homeless, the honour of the honourless, the strength of the weak, the shelter of the poor, the finder of the lost. the freer of the captured.”
Everything Guru Angad said came true. Guru Angad called for a ceremony and announced that Amar Das would sit on the throne of Nanak.
“My sons, bow to Amar Das. All my beloved Sikhs, Amar Das is the True Guru. Whoever will serve him will be happy in this world and exalted in the next world. Whoever will be jealous of him will be sad.” Soon after that, Guru Angad left his physical body and Guru Amar Das stood as saviour for the people of this world in this dark age.
It is said that the followers of Sri Chand, son of Guru Nanak Dev Ji who had started the Udasi group and who had advocated the renunciation of home and property, came to Guru Amar Das Ji for consultation. The Guru advised them to lead a life of renunciation in the midst of the home. He explained it was a compromise between asceticism and worldly enjoyment. The householder’s life was indeed the best life, because it offered an easy way for the common man – Remembrance of God, sharing of food and income, and honest living – Naam Japna, Wand Chhakna and Dharam-di-kirt. The Guru started a new centre of worship at Goindwal where he dug a well for the benefit of the people.
In September 1574 sensing that his end was near, Guru Amar Das sent for Baba Buddha and other prominent Sikhs including his two sons Mohan and Mohri. He declared; “According to the tradition established by Guru Nanak, the leadership of the Sikhs must go to the most deserving. I, therefore, bestow this honour on my son-in-law Jetha.” Guru Amar Das then renamed Jetha as Ram Das, meaning Servant of God. As was the custom Baba Buddha was asked to anoint the forehead of Amar Das with the saffron mark. All those present bowed before Guru Ram Das except for Mohan, Guru Amar Das’s eldest son. Shortly thereafter Guru Amar Das breathed his last on the full moon day of Bhadon in 1574 at the ripe old age of 95.
Sikhs believe that wealth is only acceptable if it is used for other people such as giving them work or food. It is the responsibility of the rich to look after the poor.
To sum up. Guru Amar Das ji’s words
Blessed is the godly person and the riches they possess because they can be used for charitable purposes and to give happiness.
A place in God’s court can only be attained if we do service to others in this world.
GURU AMAR DAS, GURU GRANTH SAHIB JI 26