Sikh Missionary Society
Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
Fax: +44 020 8574 1912
Reg Charity No: 262404
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the Apostle of Peace
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the Apostle of Peace

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the Apostle of Peace:



''What a piece of work is man,'' says Shakespeare in Hamlet. ''How noble in reason, How infinite in faculty action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god's But somehow when this glorious being goes wrong his despicable cruelty, dreadful inhumanity, utter fiendishness and jealousy make countless thousands weep. In Gulliver's Travels, the giant sums up his verdict about the human race by saying: ''....the most pernicious race of odious little vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.'' Lin Yutang seemed to have agreed with the Zoroastrian polarities of Ahura Mazda and Angra Manyam when he said: ''Man is born a noble and a wicked creature.'' The story of the simple, sweet and selfless saint, Guru Arjan Dev, is the story of the ineterplay of these two characteristics of Adam's progeny.

Guru Arjan Dev was born on 15th April, 1563, at Goindwal (Punjab). He inherited his capacity for selfless service, loving kindness and humility from his mother, the daughter of Guru Amar Das (the third Guru), and scholarship and piety from his father Guru Ram Das (the fourth Guru). He was fond of the company of saints and ascetics and made friends with Mian Mir, Shah Hussain, Chhaju and Peeloo. Later he left all his property for his haughty, greedy, intriguing and unscrupulous brother Prithi Chand and lived ''like a lotus on the water that floats on the sea of Maya.'' He was a man of parts, a man of immense erudition, a marvellous musician and a great poet. One can very well borrow Chaucer's words to describe him.

''Holy and virtuous he was but then
Never contemptuous of sinful men
never disdainful, never too proud or tine
But was discreet in teaching and benign
His business was to show a fair behaviour
And to draw men thus to heaven and their Savior.''
The succession of Arjan Dev to the Guruship (Aug. 1581) brought immediate opposition from his elder brother Prithi Chand who even plotted to kill his son Hargobind. But the manifold activities in which

Guru Arjan Dev engaged himself endeared him to his followers and soon off-set the effects of opposition from Prithi Chand. Places of worship were built where all could go. Free kitchens were started and lands were set apart, the proceeds from which supplied the provisions. Dispensaries were set up to succour the sick and the Guru himself worked hard to relieve the sufferings of the lepers. His rich followers established a sort of Bank service for the community.

He called the material world ''a passing mirage'' and the spiritual world ''an eternal reality'' which can reach our consciousness not through the eye, ear, hand or mouth or any other physical organ but only through the mind attuned to the praise of the creator. ''As the pillar supports the edifice, so does the praise of God support the mind,'' he said. His religion embraced everybody and united all living creatures into one related family and attached no value to social or political status. He said:

''He who lives in a ruined hut, with all his clothes torn:
Who has neither caste nor lineage, nor respect;
Who wanders in the wilderness.
Who has no relation or kinsmen,
Is yet the king of the whole world,
If his heart is imbued with the love of God.''
He restored the dignity of labour and his usual instruction was to trust in God and to keep the hands busy. He understood the language of human distress and declared all classes equal and all occupations sacred. The result was extremely encouraging and his followers took up horse dealing, farming, banking, embroidery, carpentry, trade and all other occupations. He himself worked with his own hands and would not even mind cleaning the shoes Of the devoted disciples.

Guru Arjan Dev serving the lepers at Tarn TaranLike St. Francis of Assisi, the Guru was deeply moved at the sight of the lepers and he had an asylum built for lepers at Tarn Taran. Another asylum of the same type was later built at Amritsar.

The Muslim Divine Mian Mir laying the foundation-brick for Darbar SahibIn order to counteract the instinctive aversion of dogmatic people towards new ideas and the hatred of the established religions (because he wanted to allow the so-ca|led low castes to enter their temples), the Guru had temples built at Tarn Taran and Amritsar. (1590) The Golden Temple at Amritsar is famous not only for its splendour, grandeur and architectural design, but is also the symbol of the service and devout spirit of the Sikhs. Its foundation stone was laid by a Muslim divine, Saint Mian Mir, (a descendent of Caliph Omar). Unlike the temples of other religions, it has four entrances in four directions offering welcome to all irrespective of caste, colour, creed, country or sex. No idol or image is put in the temple and only the praise of God is allowed to be sung. The completion of the temples at Tarn Taran and Amritsar, and later the completion of the sacred Granth Sahib, laid the foundation of a regular rallying place for the Guru's followers. The socio-religious gatherings absorbed all alike as recruits in the army. This made the people think and act in a particular fashion and thus brought into constant use the spiritual faculties which otherwise lay unused. To worship a common God every day became a common drill which encouraged companionship, equality fraternity and a sense of belonging. ''Once thy foot enters the church, God is more there than thou,'' says George Herbert. This is how the Golden Temple came to be known as ''Harimander'' (The abode of God) where all people

''Walk together to the kirk
And together pray
While each to his great father bends
Old men and babes and loving friends
And youth and maidens gay.''
Thus the Guru, once more, brought life to the stream of religion which had dried up in the sands of stereotyped formulae and classifications. He offered new hope to the people who were the victims of tyrannic yoke of the Turks and the spiritual servility of the Brahmans, yogis and the sanyasis.

Compiling the Holy BookLater the Guru compiled the holy book, which has 1430 pages and 15,575 stanzas, out of which the poet prophet Guru Arjan Dev himself wrote 6,204 .* This book can be really called the synthesis of scriptures, a syncretism of religions, a spiritual dictionary or an encyclopaedia of philosophy. It is a marvellous collection of hymns arranged according to 31 classical Indian tunes and is a guide for the social betterment and spiritual uplift of humanity. This book is unique in many ways. It is in poetry whereas most of the other religious books of the world are in prose. A large part of it is written by the originators of the Sikh religion. It is an excellent record of social, political and religious thought in India between the 12th and the 17th centuries. It is secular in character. Like a bee, Guru Arjan Dev has collected spiritual honey from many flowers.
* The Granth contains 2844 slokas (couplets) if one saloka was to consist of 16 letters. Hans Chog by Bawa Budh singe, page 93.

Besides the poetry of the Gurus themselves, it contains the poetry of five Muslims (Farid, Mardana, Satta, Balwand and Bhikhan), a tailor (Nam Dev), a weaver (Kabir), a cobbler (Ravi Das), a vaishnavite (Parmanand), a king (Pipa), a barber (Sain), a farmer (Dhanna), a Brahman (Sur Das) and other saint scholars like Jai Dev (the author Of world famous Gita Govinda) a Madrasi saint (Ramanand), Beni, Trilochan, Sunder and the Bhatts. Let it not be understood that the holy Granth is simply a random collection of poetry. The Guru refused to insert in it any poetry which did not reach his standard in philosophical and poetic terms. Even fast friends like Chhaju, Kahna, Peeloo and Shah Hussain, were flatly refused to their utter disappointment.* The book is unique because it is the authentic record of the Guru's word and is free from interpolations. Not a word has changed since its preparation. Its original signed copy is still available whereas great pains had to be taken to compile the authentic versions of some of the other religious books. The Holy Quran was compiled about a year after the death of Prophet Mohammed. The hymns were collected by Zaid Ibn Thabit under the directions of Abu Bakar. He collected them from date leaves, stones and from the breasts of men on which they had been inscribed. Obviously the record was not authentic and Hazrat Othman had another Quran prepared, and all copies of the old Quran were ordered to be burnt. The present day Muslims believe that all the revelations were collected and that those now present in the Holy Quran were all genuine. The Holy Bible was written about 70 A.D., mostly from memory after the destruction of Jerusalem. King Ptolmey Philadelphus had it re-written and translated as the septuagint which differed from the first version. At one time as many as six different versions of the Bible (Hexapla) were current and yet in 1930 Chester Beatty Papyri discovered buried in jars (in Egypt) added more informational the existing text. As it is, the four gospels differ from each other and some Bibles exclude Ezekiel, Daniel and Esther altogether. Inclusion of the Book of Revelations in the Bible is not approved by some people. The establishment of the authenticity and authorship of the sixty-six books that make the Bible has therefore demanded a considerable amount of sifting and labour over the years.** The Vedas, the storehouse of Indian mythology were written from memory, thousands of years after the deaths of their authors. Modern theologians have worked strenuously to vouchsafe the authenticity of the Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Zend Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians, was written on 12,000 cow hides after the death of Zarathustra. When Alexander the Great, in his reckless march of conquest, set fire to the city of Persepolis in Persia, only a few hides survived to form the modern Avesta. However, the soul stirring poetry of the Holy Granth Sahib was not only written directly under the supervision of Guru Arjan Dev, but also each hymn bears the name of the writer, the tune that sets it to music as well as the number of lines it contains. Hence it is unique.
* Here are some examples of poetry by these Bhagats:

  1. Kahna: ''I am He, whom the vegas and Puranas sing.''
  2. Chhaju: ''Look thou not on woman. She will take thee and kill thee.''
  3. Shah Hussain: ''Be silent the world is not a place to speak.''
  4. Peelo: They who died at their birth are superior to us. They did not have to soil their feet with mire (The World is a mire).
**On page 32 of his book ''The text of the Greek bible,'' Mr, Kenyon writes, that the apostles were ''using some earlier translation of which we have otherwise no knowledge; for several readings occur in the new Testament, notably in the quotation from Daniel, in the Apocalypse, and Hebrews. There must, therefore, have been some other version than the LXX (Septuagint version) extant in the first century.. ...'' The Ambassador college published in 1969 and again in 1971 a long article titled ''Do we have the complete bible's Also read their book ''Should we use the Old Testament?''

Baba Buddha reverently carrying the Holy Granth to Darbar Sahib. Guru Arjan waves flicker (Chaur) over the Granth Sahib.This is what Macauliffe wrote about the authenticity of the Guru's teaching: ''The Sikh religion differs as regards the authenticity of its dogmas from most other theological systems. Many of the great teachers the world has known, have not left a line of their own composition and we only know what they taught through tradition or second-hand information. If Pythagoras wrote of his tenets, his writings have not descended to us. We know the teachings of Socrates only through the writings of Plato and Xenophanes. Buddha has left no written memorial of his teaching. Kungfu-tze, known to Europeans as Confuscius, left no documents in which he detailed the principles of his moral and social system. The founder of Christianity did not reduce his doctrines to writing and for them we are obliged to trust to the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Arabian Prophet did not himself reduce to writing the chapters of the Quran. They were written or compiled by his adherents and followers. But the compositions of the Sikh Gurus are persevered and we know at first hand what they taught.''

When Guru Arjan Dev, the bombshell of gentle humanity, burst upon the petrified dogma of the early 17th century, he shattered, Old prejudices and flooded the nation with the sunlight of his new ideas. Mulitudes assembled round him but some people closed their eyes and shut their hearts. A religion which in its universal tolerance admitted all into the delights of heaven, became an anathema to king Jahangir who wrote in his memoirs (Tuzak-i-lahangiri):

''In Goindwal, on the river Beas, lived a Hindu named Arjan who wore robes of worldly dignity and high spiritual order. So many of the simple minded Hindus and many ignorant and imbecile Muslims too, had been fascinated by his ways. He was noised about a spiritual master and they beat a drum of his prophetship and called him the enlightener. From all directions shoals of people would come to him and express great devotion. This busy traffic had been carried on for three or four generations. For years it was coming to my mind that either I should put an end to this false traffic and imposturous shop or I must bring him into the fold of Islam.''
The Guru was charged that his Granth Sahib (Holy Book) carried references derogatory to the founder of Islam and was asked to justify the bonafides of his intentions with direct reference to the grants. The Granth Sahib was sent to the king and a random reading from the scriptures brought out this secular and all embracing idea.
''God created light and His omnipotence gave birth to all
All are born from the same light
How can some be called good and some bad?''
Not being satisfied with this, the king insisted that valedictory hymns in praise of Prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam, should be inserted in the Holy Book. The guru refused by saying that the Granth Sahib contained only the praise of God and that no mortal man's praise could find room in its pages. The Guru, who once moved Akbar to remit the land revenue of the people and who once convinced him that the tax imposed on the Khatries of Amritsar was unjust, was now unjustly fined Rs. 200000 for his so called anti-social and irreligious activities, The Guru refused to be thus cowed down and declined to pay anything out of the public offerings which he said were not his property but that of the people. The situation became inflammable and tense, awaiting only the final explosion. Meanwhile prince Khusrau fled towards the Punjab. Rumours reached the Emperor that he had taken shelter in the Guru's camp. The Guru's motto was, ''Whosoever comes to me, I embrace him; for this is the tradition of my faith.'' Infuriated out of all proportions, the Emperor sent for the Guru, who readily reached Lahore knowing full well the Emperor's intentions which we can find in the memoirs of Jahangir (Tuzak-i-Jahangiri). ''I fully knew that his heresies and big lies were a menace to Islam. So I summoned him, attached his property including the house, and gave it to Murtza Khan. I then ordered that he should be tortured to death under some political pretext.''

The Guru was incarcerated at Lahore in the custody of Chandu Lal, a Hindu Minister at Lahore court and was sentenced to be tortured to death under the law of Yasa. He was kept hungry for three days and no water was allowed to him. On the fourth day he was taken out and hot burning sand was ordered to be poured On the Guru's pliant body. Not content with this, he was finally made to sit on a hot plate of iron. Like the pillar of a city gate, unmoved, like a pellucid lake, unruffled, he squatted on the plate. There were many to jeer him but only One to cheer him and that was his Muslim friend Mian Mir who showered imprecations On Jahangir's head and asked for the Guru's permission to use his spiritual might to ease the situation. The Guru gently raised his hand in a way that meant ''Forgiveness is more manly than revenge.'' With a flood of tears and crying bitterly, Mian Mir could not say any more, nay, he couldn't see any more. Burnt and blistered, the Guru was ordered to be sewn into the hide of a cow* but thinking that a bath after roasting was more tortuous, he was taken to the river Ravi under a strong escort. The Guru plunged into the Water and became absorbed into the Almighty like a ripple in the ocean or a spark in the fire, proving thereby that there is no permanence in individuality and that the brightest hope is of losing the individuality in the universal light.** To us it is very on-attractive to lose our individuality but the Guru proved it to be the height of bliss and the goal of all striving.
* See Mohammed Latif's History of the Punjab, page 254.
** ''Bhai prapet manukh dehuria Gobind milan ki eh tori baria'' (Ass Mohalla 5 page 11)

''Mil Jagdish milan ki maria Chirankal eh deh sanjaria''
(Gauri Guareri M. 5, page 176)
Even as far back as 400 B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato knew about the fate of such men as Guru Arjan Dev when he said, ''Suppose a man appeared who was completely righteous in every way, and suppose the standards of the community were so false that everything he said or did seemed to them un-righteous; what would happen to him? He would be hated, abused and finally impaled. It's a fact of life, the righteous must suffer.'' This is what happened to Guru Arjan Dev, who wanted to transform the springs of action in men and women-a pious hope in the political context of the time when thirst for power and pelf was another name for religion.

''Dost thou remember,'' says Saadi, ''that when thou was born, thou didst cry, but other people rejoiced. Die so that at the time of thy death, thou shouldst rejoice and others cry.'' This is the type of death that Guru Arjan Dev died. According to Sikhism, death is a mere bend in the road of life, a gateway to new life and not to age long sleep. The life which we live, is an insignificant part of our life as a whole. Tie idea is perhaps akin to the one propounded by St. Paul when he says, ''There is a spiritual body and there is a natural body. The natural body we know, the spiritual we cannot describe.'' The world, as John Keats calls it, ''is a vale of soul making'' and the consummation of the process lies in passing into a sight of even more beautiful things if we have only the faith to believe it. It is like the burning of a phoenix to rise again into life eternal.

'The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Churchill says Tartulliap. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev was a socio-religious necessity because the people looked up to him for help as a nursling clings to the breast of its mother. Only a noble sacrifice could root out the old fashioned and detrimental belief in the law of Karma. The sociopolitical anaemia of the nation called for a blood transfusion, and we know that at such times if gold rusts what then will iron do? At that time the Guru was the only man of note and his sacrifice was purposeful and had far reaching effects.

The Karma theory originated from Brihadaranyka upnishada (LV-4) where it is written: ''Whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.'' The idea is as complicated as it seems simple. The same line is very frequently found in the Guru Granth Sahib and also in the other religions books such as the Holy Bible (Gal. 6, 7), but Upnishadas and Brahmanas explained it in such a way that pain and suffering in this world came to be understood as the result of bad deeds done in the previous life. Even today, when something unexpected happens, pleasant or unpleasant, but more often the latter, people commonly complain, ''What did I do in a former life to deserve this?'' The idea became so deep rooted that when someone suffered, people thought he deserved it because he had done something wicked in the previous life and invited pain as a penalty for his sin. Obviously this had its corollary that ''the virtuous never suffer.'' Perhaps this explains why Indian people tolerated the cruel and unjust application of the caste system assuming that the low castes suffer for some heinous crimes committed in their previous lives. This in turn brought sweet resignation in the low castes making them disinterested in the thoughts about ameliorating their condition. Man came to be regarded as a robot or a mechanical toy wound up by past actions and heading towards the predestined goal of retributive justice. Those who sowed the wind reaped the whirlwind. Dasartha suffered from pain and separation because he had killed Sarwan and made his parents suffer from pain and anguish. Actions involving pain, thus came to be looked down upon and self sacrifice and patriotism almost vanished from India. It was to counteract this cowardice and to infuse the spirit of sacrifice into the myriads of people that the prince of saints, the apostle of peace, the most cultured man of the age and yet the lowliest of the lowly, the simplest, the sweetest, the humblest and most unassuming man won the crown of martyrdom. who could have believed that Guru Nanak's eclectic creed would in a century and a half become a militant faith. Guru Arjan Dev's inhuman and gruesome murder provoked millions and had the desired effect. Whatever dignity, nobility, humility and devotion attaches to the name Sikh, is primarily due to Guru Arjan Dev; one of the most unostentatious, quietest and humblest of workers in the cause of truth and justice.   'The measure of man, 'said Mansur on the scaffold, '' is the stake and that of a hermaphrodite the temple.'' The secret of life is in the sacrifice of self. Guru Arjan Dev considered self-sacrifice as the foundation of all goodness. According to him, self-sacrifice is the law of nature. The mother has to sacrifice her beauty to see the child. The plower must perish to give birth to fruit. Guru Nanak called ''pain'' a ''medicine'' and in Maru Dakhne he calls upon his followers to ''renounce all hopes of life, accept death, be the dust of everybody's feet and then come to me.'' Thus Guru Arjan Dev demonstrated the practicability of Guru Nanak's idea and revealed to us a new standard of values which demonetized much of the Karmic currency of his times. The Guru established by personal example that the suffering of a man is not only a physical fact but also a spiritual one. There is no death but the shedding of an old and useless material garment. The soul travels out of this fictitious world of senses into the factual World of sense and gain comes to it through pain suffered for a noble cause. Guru aryan Dev's sacrifice was thus a big victory over evil because it smoothed the furrows on the face of suffering humanity and served no personal ends.

''Death is the privilege of the brave, provided they die for an approved cause.'' (Guru Granth sahib)
The most important thing, therefore, is to accept death for the sake of something which man loves more than himself. The way in which Guru Arjan Dev suffered and the cause for which he suffered gave energy of spiritual life to the cramped and maimed human hearts, which gained from it new faith, hope and love. They consequently emerged richer in vitality and soul, as a sea bird who rises up by means of the very storm that would beat it down. Death in this sense is a means of life and,

''It is not good that life should know too soon the lovely secrets, kept for those who die.'' (canon Holmes).

Table of Contents
Next Chapter - Politico-religious conditions of the times
Return to the top of the page.

Copyright (©)2004 by Sikh Missionary Society (U.K.)
All Rights Reserved.