Shri Guru Amar Das Sahib Ji (23 May 1479 to 16 September 1574 )
Guru Amar Das Sahib Ji, third of the 10 gurus, disavowed caste with the institution of langar, pangat and sangat. It is recorded that before becoming a Sikh, Bhai Amar Das Ji as he was known at the time, was a very religious vaishanavite hindu who spent most of his life performing all of the ritual pilgrimages and fasts of a devout hindu.
One day, Bhai Amar Das Sahib Ji heard some hymns of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib being sung by Bibi Amro Ji, the daughter of Sri Guru Angad Sahib Ji Maharaj, the second Sikh Guru Sahib, Bibi Amro Ji was married to Bhai Sahib’s nephew, Bhai Manak Chand Ji’s son who was called Bhai Jasso Ji.
Bibi Amro Ji lived together with Bhai Sahib’s brother. It so happened that Bhai Sahib was at his brother’s nearby house when he heard the wonderful recitation of Gurbani by his niece-in-law. Bhai Sahib was so impressed and moved by these Shabads that he immediately decided to go to see Shri Guru Angad Sahib Ji at Khadoor Sahib. It is recorded that this event took place when Bhai Sahib was 61 years old.
Bhai Sahib also had a younger brother called Bhai Ishar Das whose son Bhai Gurdas Ji, was a superb poet and scholar of comparative religions who would later become the scribe that was chosen by Guru Angad Sahib to pen the first edition of the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj.
In 1635, upon meeting Guru Angad Sahib Ji, Bhai Sahib was so touched by the Guru’s message that he became a devout Sikh. Soon he became involved in Sewa to the Guru and the Community. Under the impact of the Shri Guru Angad Sahib Ji and the teachings of the Gurus, Bhai Amar Das Ji became a devout Sikh. He adopted Guru Ji as his spiritual guide (Guru).
Bhai Sahib Ji began to live at Khadoor Sahib. He used to rise early in the morning, bring water from the Beas River for Guru Ji’s bath, he would wash the Guru Ji’s clothes and fetch wood from the Jungle for ‘Guru ka Langar’. He was so dedicated to Sewa and the Guru and had completely extinguished pride and was totally lost in this commitment that he was considered an old man who had no interest in life, he was dubbed Amru, and generally forsaken.
However, as a result of Bhai Sahib’s commitment to Sikhi principles, dedicated service and devotion to the Sikh cause, Shri Guru Angad Sahib Ji appointed Sri Guru Amar Das Sahib Ji as third Shri Guru Nanak Sahib in March 1552 at the age of 73. He established his headquarters at the newly built town of Goindwal Sahib, which Shri Guru Angad Sahib Ji had established.
Soon large numbers of Sikhs started flocking to Goindwal to see the new Guru. Meanwhile, going against his father’s wishes, Datu one of Guru Angad’s sons proclaimed himself as Guru at Khadoor following his father’s rejoining with God. He was so jealous of Guru Amar Das that he, with a small group of his supporters, proceeded 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; how dare you style yourself as the Guru?”.
At that point, Datu kicked the aged Guru Amar Das Ji so hard that he fell to the floor. Taking the seat of the Guru he then proclaimed himself Guru to the assembly of Sikhs. The Sangat must have been shocked as this not only flew against Guru Angad’s wishes, but against centuries of respect that the people of India and the Punjab had for their elders, to kick the revered Guru was indeed shocking.
Guru Amar Das, however, in utter humility, righted himself and caressed Datu’s foot saying, “I am old and my bones have grown very hard, I fear they have hurt your tender foot. “After this Guru Amar Das left Goindwal that evening and returned to his native village of Basarke Gillan.
At Basarke Gillan, Guru Amar Das shut himself in a small house for solitary meditation. He had told no one where he was headed, but just in case someone tracked him down 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, finally chose to ‘go between the Guru’s words’, cutting a hole through a wall to reach their beloved Guru. Then Baba Buddha said to the Guru, “Guru Sahib, being supreme, we know you care for nothing in the world – neither fame, nor riches nor a following, but we cannot live without your guidance. Guru Angad has tied us to your apron, where should we go now if you do not show us the way?”
At the tearful emtreaty of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das, overwhelmed by their devotion, returned to Goindwal where Datu, who had been unable to gather any followers of his own, had returned to Khadoor.
At Goindwal, Guru Amar Das propagated the Sikh faith in a logical and planned manner. He himself visited and sent Sikh missionaries to different parts of India to spread Sikhism. He divided the Sikh Sangat area into 22 branches called Manjis and appointed a local devout Sikh preacher at each place. The preacher sat on a Manji (a cot) while the congregation all sat around the Manji or cot. Here are the initial 16 names of the people he appointed to preach Sikhism.
In the area of Majha (Amritsar, Lahore, Sialkot)
1. Manak Chand Jhinwar (Water Carrier) at Variowal in Amritsar.
2. Sada ram, a Blacksmith near Amritsar.
3. Hindal at Jandiala near Amritsar.
4. Gangu Shah banker at Lahore.
5. Mutho-Murari, a devoted couple, at Chunian in Lahore Dist.
In Jalandhar Doab
6. Paro Julka at Jalandar.
7. Mahesh Dhir at Sultanpur Lodi.
8. Rang Shah at Moluphota.
In Kangra Hills
9. Sawan mal, Nephew of Guru Amar Das, at Haripur Guler.
10. Name not given, at Dharamsala.
11. Phirya at Mirpur.
Malwa (Area of Patiala, Ludhiana, Bhatinda)
12. Kheira at Firozpur.
13. Mai Das Bairagi in charge of Ludhiana dist.
14. Mai Bhago at village Wayun, tehsil Kharar, dist. Rupar.
15. Mai Sewan at Village Gardnoh in Patiala District.
16. Sachna Shah in charge of Ambala distt.
17. Lalu in chage of some area in Sind.
18 to 22: Unknown
The Piri System was establish by Guru Amar Das to spread the teachings of Guru Nanak among the women of the Punjab and India. Even though Guru Nanak had called for equality among men and women, The women of India whether hindu, muslim or jaina were under the control of men. Women in their menses and even those giving birth were considered ritually unclean and were segregated out of sight.
In each of these religions women were often kept locked behind walls and allowed out only in Purda. Muslin women could/still can be divorced with only a few words or a wife who did not please her husband could die in a ‘so called kitchen fire’. Women were blamed for the death of their husbands (their so called bad karma’s doing) and as hindu’s they were not allowed to marry again. As well they were expected to give up any use of color in their clothing or socialize outside of their co-mothers house where they were often treated as slaves. Guru Nanaki saw this along with the practice of ‘Sutee’ as an abombination.
In many Shia households women were not allowed even to answer a knock on their door if no male member of the family was present. Even now in the lands where the Sikh Gurus set foot, women of all ages die in so called Karo-kari cases, where a husband can accuse his wife or a brother his sister and kill her without any fear of punishment. Such charges are often used as justification to steal a wife’s dowery or her property or simply to just get a younger more desirable or second wife. It was in fact the public flogging (2009) of a young woman in the beautiful Suwat Valley that started the recent (2009) ejection of the forces of the Taliban from what was once one of the most historic and beautiful parts of India. The taliban accused the woman of associating with an improper relative. The villagers said she had refused a forced marriage to one of the talibs.
Because of men’s control of their wives and daughters a families’ honor, then as now, depended on the virtu of their women folk (never being in contact with any males not a part of their immediate family). So to avoid any hint of impropriety Guru Amar Das introduced a system in which woman spiritual leaders would guide women about Sikh doctrines and traditions. Guru Amar Das called this system the Piri system. Piri like the word Manji is a very small wooden cot from which the Piris would guide their charges.
The Piris were ladies whose objective was to light the flame of the Guru’s word and spread the fragrance of Nam among women. Bibi Bhani, Bibi Dani and Bibi Pal were some of the most revered leaders of the different Piris.
Guru Amar Das gave authority and power to 146 of his apostles to go to various parts of the country and unfold the glory of Naam. Out of these 146 persons, 94 were men and 52 were women. They were all glowing with True Name and filled with Divine Spirit.
Joti Jot and Successor
When it came time for the Guru to marry his younger daughter Bibi Bhani, 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. He earned a living selling wheat and would regularly attend the services of Guru Amar Das in his spare time.
Guru Amar Das Sahib did not consider any one of his sons fit for Guruship and instead chose his son-in law (Guru) Ram Das to succeed him. Certainly it was practically a right step not as emotional, because Bibi Bhani and (Guru) Ram Das had true sprit of service and their keen understanding of the Sikh principles deserved this. This practice shows that Guruship could be transferred to any body fit for the Sikh cause and not to the particular person who belonged to the same family or of other. Guru Amar Das Sahib at the ripe age of 95 passed away for heaven on Bhadon Sudi 14th, (1st Assu) Samvat 1631, (September 1, 1574) at Goindwal Sahib near District Amritsar, after giving responsibility of Guruship to the Fourth Nanak, Guru Ram Das.