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The Teachings of Guru Amardas Ji
The Teachings of Guru Amardas Ji

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: The Teachings of Guru Amardas Ji:

Sri Guru Amardas

Sri Guru Amardas: His Life

Bhai Amardas was born on 5th May 1479 at Basarkay in Amritsar district. His father Tejbhan Bhalla was a middle class farmer and trader. His mother Bhakht Kaur, also called Sulakhni, was a homely and pious lady. Born in a typical Vaishnava family, Amardas followed its traditional religious practices, and abstained from meat. At the age of twenty-four he married Mansa Devi. In due course, he had two sons - Mohri and Mohan, and two daughters - Dani and Bhani. He was religiously inclined and followed the Vaishnava mode of worship. From the age of forty-two, he started going to Hardwar for pilgrimage every year. After the death of his father (in 1553), he became the head of the family.

In 1541, Amardas as usual proceeded to Hardwar for pilgrimage. On his return journey, he met a monk who got very friendly with him. Both shared a meal and began a religious discussion. During the conversation, the monk - some say he was a Brahamchari devotee - asked Amardas the name of his Guru. Amardas replied that he had no Guru. The monk was much upset by the answer and expressed his regret for having taken food from one who had no Guru. He further added that he had committed a sin by sharing a meal with a Guru-less person and as such he would have to go again to Hardwar for washing away his sin. Amardas reflected on the remark of the monk and realised the need of a Guru. He felt that he had wasted twenty-one years in pilgrimage and achieved nothing on the spiritual plane. Moreover, the label of Beguru Nigura (Guru-Less person) given by the monk to Amardas was a source of constant humiliation to him. So Amardas began his search for a Guru in right earnest.

As soon as Amardas reached home, he began to reflect over his sad plight and inner tension. He could hardly sleep during that night. Lost in his anxiety over the restless condition of his mind, he turned frequently from one side to another in his bed. Fortunately, early at dawn he heard a sweet and inspiring song sung by his nephew's wife - Bibi Amro. He listened to the hymn attentively and reflected on the meaning of the words. Amro had learnt the hymn from her father - Guru Angad Dev - who lived in Khadur. Amardas realised that the hymn summed up his real condition and the need of a Guru for gaining peace of mind and spiritual comfort.

The hymn is as follows: "Conduct is the paper and mind is the inkpot. Good and bad deeds are the writs recorded thereon. As the past deeds drive the man, so he walks. O God! There is no limit to Thy excellence. The body is the furnace and the mind is the iron therein. The fires of five passions heat it up. The mind turned into dross is again transmuted into gold, if the philosopher's stone, like the Guru is met. The Guru blesses man with ambrosial Name of the Lord and then the body and mind become stable." (p990)*
* The number given in brackets refers to the page of the Adi Granth.

As he heard the melody and understood its message, he felt comforted. The sweet and inspiring words soothed his mind. He asked Bibi Amro about the composer of the hymn. She told him that this was the composition of Guru Nanak who had passed away and nominated her father - Guru Angad - as the second Guru of the Sikhs. Amardas requested her to take him immediately to her father at Khadur. She complied with his wish and both of them reached Khadur after a few hours.

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Sri Guru Amardas: Apprenticeship

The first meeting of Amardas - aged 62 - with Guru Angad, now 37, was a sort of love and devotion at first sight He heard Guru Angad's instructions attentively and regarded him as his spiritual guide. He took up the Sadhana (spiritual effort) very seriously.(Guru) Amardas bringing water for Guru Angad Dev First, he engaged himself in Sewa - voluntary service. Rising early in the morning, he brought water for Guru Angad's bath; then he joined the congregation and later did manual work in the Free Kitchen - Langar - for most of the day. He studied Punjabi and Gurbani (hymns) and followed the Sikh way of life. Macauliffe mentions Amardas' routine as under: "He rose at Goindwal a watch before day and proceeded to the river Beas to take water to Khadur for the Guru to bathe. Meanwhile, he repeated the Japji and generally finished it half-way between Goindwal and Khadur. After hearing the Asa-Ki-Var in Khadur, he fetched water for the Guru's kitchen, scrubbed the cooking utensils and brought firewood from the forest. Every evening he listened to the Sodar and the daily vespers and then shampooed the Guru. After putting him to rest, he returned to Goindwal, walking backwards in his supreme reverence for his spiritual master. The half-way spot where he used every morning to finish the Japji is called the Dandama or breathing place?."*
* Macauliffe: The Sikh Religion II P.35

Meanwhile, Bhai Jetha - who later succeeded Guru Amardas - being then an orphan, moved with his grand-mother from Lahore to Basarkay in 1541. He came in contact with Bhai Amardas who lived in the same village. The later took him to Khadur from time to time for meetings with Guru Angad. When the Guru ordered Bhai Amardas to shift to Goindwal in order to repopulate and develop the village, his close associate - Bhai Jetha - too moved to Goindwal in 1546.

One stormy, wintry night in January 1552, when Bhai Amardas was carrying water for Guru Angad, he stumbled on a weaver's hole in the ground and got injured. Even so, he mustered courage and brought the pail of water safe but late for the Guru's bath. It is said that the weaver' s wife, who had used disrespectful words for both Guru Angad and Bhai Amardas, lost her wits, but recovered later with the Guru's blessing. Realising the intense devotion of Bhai Amardas, Guru Angad decided to confer the succession on Amardas. During the twelve years of devoted service, in a spirit of humility and dedication, Amardas had proved himself worthy of being an ideal Sikh. Guru Angad blessed Amardas and nominated him as the Third Guru of the Sikhs in 1552. He affirmed: "Amardas is neither poor nor homeless. He shall be the home of the homeless, the shelter for the shelterless, and the protector of the weak and the down-trodden. Thus Guru Amardas gained a permanent home in the hearts of the Sikhs. As Guru Angad Dev merged into the Divine Essence, the throne of Guruship was occupied by Guru Amardas."

Datu kicking Guru AmardasThe sons of Guru Angad were annoyed at their supersession. Datu was pacified by his mother and decided to keep quiet, but Datu declared himself as Guru. He kicked Guru Amardas in the congregation and told him to leave Goindwal. Guru Amardas in all humility kissed Datu's foot, saying: "My bones are hard. They may have injured your foot" Quietly at night, Guru Amardas left for Basarkay, his native village. In the morning, the Sikhs did not find him at Goindwal and they searched the countryside. Meanwhile at Goindwal, no one came to Datu to pay respects as the Guru. In despair, Datu returned to Khadur. Meanwhile Baba Budha traced Guru Amardas who was hiding in a small house in Basarkay. On the persistent request of his followers, he agreed to return to Goindwal and guide them as their Guru.

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Sri Guru Amardas: Guru Amardas (1552-74)

Guru Amardas carried on the mission of his predecessors with great sincerity and devotion. He set before the Sikhs the ideal of Sewa and honest living. He earned his own livelihood by personal effort According to Latif, a Muslim historian: "He never ate anything from the Guru's storehouse, but supported himself by small sums of money which he earned by trading in salt and oil in the market"* When he was asked why he did not eat what the Sikhs ate in the Free Kitchen, he replied: "Whatever the Sikhs eat nourishes me too, for there is no difference at all between us." At another time, he told the congregation that just as a mother feels happy to see her children eat and relish delicacies, in the same way the Guru feels happy when the Sikhs - his children - dine together.
* Mahomed Latif: History of Punjab p.250

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Sri Guru Amardas: Bhani's Marriage

The Guru's wife - Bibi Ramoji - was keen to get her youngest daughter married, as she had reached the age of puberty. Guru Amardas asked her what kind of groom she desired for her simple and pious girl. She pointed to Bhaijetha who was standing at some distance indicating that someone like him would be suitable for Bibi Bhani. The Guru replied: "He (Jetha) is his own parallel, for God has made none other like unto him."* Both Guru Amardas and his wife agreed that Bhai Jetha - who was later to become Guru Ramdas - was a suitable match for Bhani. They formally made the proposal to him and he was overcome with joy. The wedding took place at Goindwal early in 1553. Guru Ramdas later composed the following hymn of thanksgiving to God: "The Lord has accomplished the work; he has come to wed a holy bride." (p.775)
* Macauliffe: The Sikh Religion, II, p.91

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Sri Guru Amardas: Missionary Tour

In 1553, Guru Amardas undertook a missionary journey to the eastern and south-eastern parts of the Punjab. He first visited Kurukshetra on the occasion of the Abhaijit festival to preach the Guru's way to the thousands of pilgrims who had gathered there. It is wrong to say, as some biased historians have written, that Guru Amardas undertook the pilgrimage to holy places to appease the Hindus who were alleged to have been dissatisfied with his rejection of caste restrictions and ancient rituals.

The Guru preached to the crowds that the Abhaijit solar eclipse was a natural phenomenon and there was no merit gained by fasting and bathing on this occasion. The best pilgrimage is bathing inwardly in the Holy Name. Guru Ramdas subsequently composed a hymn to expound the message to Guru Amardas to the congregation at Kurukshetra, Jamna, Hardwar and places en route.

"A sight of the true Guru (Amardas) is the real bathing of the Abhaijit festival" (p.1116).
"The true pilgrimage is meditation on the Holy Name and a dip in the divine nectar" (p.687).
Huge crowds followed the Guru's party because the tax-collectors did not collect the pilgrim tax from the Guru. The rush was great at Hardwar where the local gentry gathered in a central place to hear the Guru's discourse.* The Guru also held discussions with Yogis, Jain Digambars, Sanyasis and the exponents of the six systems of Indian philosophy and won their love and respect**
* G. S. Mansukhani: Guru Ramdas, p.32
** There is a Gurdwara at Kankhal in memory of the Guru's visit

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Sri Guru Amardas: Baoli Sahib

Construction of Boali Sahib at GoindwalThe violent opposition of the caste-conscious Hindus of Goindwal to the egalitarian principles and practices of the Third Guru led to their breaking the pots of and stoning the Sikhs who went to the village well for fetching water. Guru Amardas ordered the excavation of a deep well - Baoli Sahib - in 1556 to provide a source of water for his followers and the depressed classes. The annoyance of the local Hindus and Khatris increased, because a large number of the Sikhs from different parts of the country came to Goindwal to participate in the construction of the well. Bhai Jetha - the Guru's son-in-law took an active part, not minding the carrying of baskets of earth, lime and stone on his head. When his relatives protested to Guru Amardas for permitting cooly-work to be done by his son-in-law, Bhai Jetha apologised to the Guru on their behalf. When the Baoli Sahib was completed in 1559, Guru Amardas held a big celebration and invited all the people of the neighbourhood to a feast One of the jealous Hindus, called Tappa, first rejected the Guru's invitation, but tempted by a money-offering sent his son rather late who broke his leg while jumping over the boundary-wall to join the feast Guru Ramdas referred to this incident in a hymn as under: "All the village elders began to laugh, saying that the wave of greed has over-taken Tappa" (p.315).

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Sri Guru Amardas: Meeting with the Yogis

Kingrinath with his band of Nath Yogis came to Guru Amardas at Goindwal. He held a discussion with the Guru on Yoga. The Guru told him what true Yoga is, through a hymn, as follows: "O Yogi! Put on the rings of modesty in your ears and make compassion your patched coat. Apply fear of birth and death to your body as ashes, then shall you conquer the three worlds. Strike such strains on your harp, O Yogi, that it may emit the celestial melody and you may be absorbed in God's love. Make truth your platter, and contentment your wallet Put the embrosial Name therein as your food" (p.908).

The Yogis were much impressed by the Guru's words. The Guru felt that the cult of Yoga and renunciation was unsuited to the needs of the times. Moreover, it gave no peace of mind nor banished man's ego. He said, "What if a man lives naked, discarding clothes? What if a Yogi wears matted hair? Of what avail is the holding of the breath in the Tenth Gate, if the mind is not purified?" (p.1169).

The Guru emphasised control over the mind through meditation in place of spiritual austerities.

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Sri Guru Amardas: Preservation of Life

Guru Amardas greatly valued human life and regarded it as a wonderful opportunity for working towards salvation. The body is the temple of God and as such, it should be looked after and not mutilated or mortified. The Guru emphasised the needs of good health and the avoidance of unnecessary risks. One day as the Guru approached a dilapidated house, he rode quickly past it. When the Sikhs saw this, they question him if he was afraid of death. He replied in the negative and explained that human life must be duly preserved. If we protect the body and look after it, we can perform holy and charitable works. The body which can confer benefit on oneself and others, must be cherished by all. He elaborated the idea with a simile. Just as a tree, if preserved will bear blossom and fruit, in the same way, if the body is cared for, it can practise charity and meditation.*
* Macauliffe: The Sikh Religion, II, P.73

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Sri Guru Amardas: Langar Institutionalised

Guru Amardas developed Langar (Free Kitchen) into an institution for service of the community and for channelling the charities of the Sikhs. Moreover, he made it compulsory for everyone to eat in the Free Kitchen, before he could meet the Guru or join the congregation. His directive became a maxim - Pahlay Pangat, Pichhay Sangat: first take a meal in the Community Kitchen and then join the congregation.

Langar not only broke the caste barriers on account of the interdining of the Hindus, Moslems and Shudras, but also rejected taboos about ritual cooking in plastered or purified spots.

Guru Amardas' Langar was open most of the day and night. According to one writer, all types of dishes were served: sweet, saltish, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. The rations were supplied by the devotees in plenty and there was no shortage of foodstuffs at any time. Balwand and Satta - the court musicians - have made a special mention of the Guru's Langar, as stated below: "Ever in your Kitchen, butter and flour are served (in plenty)" (p.986).

The food was prepared and distributed to the rich and the poor alike, while they took their seats in a row on the carpeted ground. Whatever was left over was given to the birds and animals and even to the fish in the river Beas, flowing close by.

Emperor Akbar and the Raja of Haripur (Kangra hills) who came to meet Guru Amardas followed the tradition and took food with the ordinary men seated in a line in the Free Kitchen. When Akbar talked to the Guru, he offered land for the maintenance of the Kitchen, but the Guru did not accept it, saying that it is a Sikh institution and must be supported by the offerings and services of the disciples.

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Sri Guru Amardas: Cordial Relations with Akbar

King Akbar visits Guru AmardasThe tolerant and liberal policy of emperor Akbar was to some extent responsible for the cordial relations between the Sikh Gurus and the Muslim gentry. Akbar had a regard for holy men of all faiths. Earlier, he was called upon to give a decision on a complaint filed by some orthodox Brahmins and Khatris against Guru Amardas for rejecting age-old Hindu caste-practices and taboos. Guru Amardas sent Bhai Jetha to Lahore, who explained the egalitarian and liberal principles of Sikhism to the emperor. Akbar dismissed the petition in 1566. Failing in this attempt, Gond Khatri and his agent filed another false petition, that the Guru had illegally occupied the land belonging to them. This claim was also rejected because it was proved that the Guru was in lawful possession of the land at Goindwal. Guru Ramdas later composed a hymn and referred to this incident: "The apostate was sent to slander and backbite others, but there too, the faces of both the perverse persons were got blackened" (p.306). As mentioned earlier, Akbar took food in the community Kitchen at Goindwal and was pleased with the arrangements of the mess. At the suggestion of the Guru, he remitted the land-revenue for he Lahore district for one year on accent of the considerable fall in grain prices. The peasants became very happy and thanked Guru Amardas for his good offices.*
* G.S. Mansukhani: Guru Ramdas, p.30

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Sri Guru Amardas: Consolidation of the Sikh Church

The major contribution of Guru Amardas was the propagation of the message of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad and the consolidation and extension of missionary work. In order to give a momentum to missionary activity, Guru Amardas appointed his representatives for each region of India. These regions or dioceses were called Manjis, li-terally means cots, because the person in charge sat on a cot. These regions, were further divided into small units called Piris (small stools). So a number of missionary centres, each in charge of a devoted Sikh, were set up in different places all over the country. There are three lists on Manjis, first of Mehma Prakash, second of Gurdwara Haveli Sahab picture, and the third of Bhai Kahan Singh.*
* Balbar Singh: Amar Kavi Guru Amardas, p.57

If the different centres mentioned in the three lists are taken into consideration, the number goes up to forty. However, historians have agreed on the total of twenty-two centres, perhaps on the ground that the Mughal empire consisted of twenty-two provinces. As Guru Amardas was regarded as the spiritual king, his jurisdiction was also divided into twenty-two dioceses. However, the thirteen centres mentioned in all the lists may be regarded as fairly correct These centres and their missionaries are as under:

1. Bhai Paro Jhulka called Param Hans in charge of Doaba region;

2. Bhai Lalu in charge of Sind and the West Coast;

3. Bhai Mahesha Dhir in charge of a part of Malwa region;

4. Bhai Maidas Vairagi in charge of a part of Malwa region;

5. Bhai Manak Chand Jeewra who did great service at the exca-vation site of Baoli Sahab, in charge of Vairowal;

6. Bhai Sawan Mal, the Guru's nephew in charge of Haipur and Kangra region;

7. Bhai Hindal who did service in the Free Kitchen at Goindwal, in charge of Jandiala region;

8. Sach Nisach who did service in the Free Kitchen at Goindwal, in charge of the Ambala region;

9. Bhai Gangu Shah, once a banker in Delhi, in charge of Lahore region;

10. Bhai Sadharan, an iron-smith, in charge of Bakala region;

11. Mutho-Murari, a devoted couple, in charge of Chunia, near Lahore;

12. Bhai Firya in charge of Kashmir and Mirpur regions;

13. Bhai Kheda in charge of Ferozepur region;

It is also mentioned that one Manji was given to Allahyar - a Muslim devotee of the Guru, living in Lahore. In addition, two Manjis were allotted to women - Mai Sewa of Goindwal and Bibi Bhago of Kashmir.

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Sri Guru Amardas: Some Devotees

Bhai Sawan Mal, the son of Guru Amardas' brother was a devoted Sikh. He was sent to Haripur in the Kangra hills to arrange for the supply of timber for the construction of buildings in Goindwal. His humanism and spiritual wisdom endeared him to the Raja of Haripur who came to Goindwal and became a follower of the Guru.

Gangu Shah, a Khatri merchant of Lahore, suffered losses in business and came to Goindwal to seek the Guru's blessing. The Guru said to him: "Go to Delhi and start your business. Remember God and help the needy and you will be wealthy". A needy Brahmin sought financial aid from Guru Amardas for his daughter's marriage. The Guru gave him a letter for Gangu Shah, asking him to help the Brahmin. Wealth had made Gangu arrogant and miserly. He thought that if he helped the Brahmin, the Guru might send other men also to him for help. So he told the Brahmin that he could not do anything for him. The Brahmin returned disappointed to Goindwal. The Guru told the congregation to collect funds and also himself contributed some amount towards the marriage expenses of the Brahmin's daughter. After some time, Gangu suffered losses in business, and returned to Goindwal empty-handed. He dared not show his face to Guru Amardas; so he served in the Langar for all the time. One day, the Guru called him and blessed him. He was put in charge of the mission at Lahore for the rest of his life.

Bhai Paro Jhulka - also called Parma Hans - belonged to Dalla village in the Doaba region. He used to visit Goindwal every day by crossing the river Beas. Guru Amardas was much pleased with his humility and devotion and desired to nominate him as his successor. Bhai Paro declined this honour, saying: "I am content with being the Guru's disciple, because I have received the treasure of the Holy Name". The Nawab (Governor) of Jallundur, named Abdullah became a Sikh, because he was impressed by the ideal living of Bhai Paro.

Baini, a learned Pandit, came to Guru Amardas and mentioned the advantages of austerities and sacrifices mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. He also paraded his knowledge of Sanskrit books. The Guru did not like his vanity and display of scholarship. The Guru said to him: "He alone is a real Pandit who casts off the load of three gunas" (p.1261). Guru Amardas emphasised that austerities and rituals prescribed for the previous three yugas are impossible in kalyuga. Devotion and remembrance of the Holy Word is most beneficial in this age. Naam gives bliss and opens the door of salvation.

The Guru told Baini that his followers are family-men. The Sikhs are enjoined to lead family life and devote themselves to good deeds and the Holy Word. They live in the world and yet remain detached from its attachments and pull of maya. The Guru said: "They are true house-holders whose minds are concentrated on Truth". (p.230)

Baini became the Guru's follower and was regarded as a good preacher.

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Sri Guru Amardas: Training and Succession of Bhai Jetha

Bhai Jetha, the Guru's son-in-law, proved himself a true and devoted Sikh. He had been in close touch with the Guru from 1546. After shifting to Goindwal, he served the Guru and the Sangat (congregation) at BaoliSahab. Guru Amardas decided to establish a big centre of religion and trade at a new place for the Sikhs. So he deputised Bhai Jetha to find a suitable site close to the trade routes. Bhai Jetha purchased land from the Zamindars of Gumtula, Tung and Sultanwind and developed it. It came to be known as Chak Guru and later Ramadaspur. He collected a large number of masons, carpenters and ironsmith for the construction of residential buildings and shops. Soon a market sprang up, which to this day is called Guru-Ka-Bazar. A Free Kitchen - langar - was set up for the workers and the artisans. Bhai Jetha, though busy with the planning and construction work of the township, organised missionary work and delivered discourses to the congregations held at the site. The construction work which started in 1570 was interrupted for some time and restarted in 1576. The excavation of the tank - Amritsar - began in 1577 and was completed in 1581.*
* G.S. Mansukhani: Guru Ramdas, p.32

Guru Amardas felt that his end was approaching and so he must select a successor. He devised a test to select the best Sikh as the next Guru. The two serious contenders were his two sons-in-law. He asked both of them to construct a platform according to his specification. Rama, the elder son-in-law, and Bhai Jetha, the other son-in-law, started the construction of separate platforms. When these were ready Guru Amardas inspected them and rejected them. He asked them to demolished the platforms and build new ones again. For three times he disapproved of the platforms built by both of them separately. Rama refused to build the platform for the fourth time; Bhai Jetha, however, completed the platform and it was rejected again. So he continued his efforts. When he built the platform for the seventh time, Guru Amardas approved of it and decided to select him as the successor because of his patience and devotion. He called the congregation and seated Bhai Jetha on the throne of Guruship, as Guru Ramdas - the Fourth Guru of the Sikhs. Balwand and Satta composed the following coronation ode: "You are Nanak. You are Angad. You are Guru Amardas, so do we regard you; deeming you as the Transcendental Lord, your followers and the congregation bow before you". (p.969)

Guru Amardas passed away at Goindwal on 1st September 1573. His mantle fell on the shoulders of Guru Ramdas.

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