The story of the ten Gurus, or spiritual preceptors, of the Sikh faith is spread over a little more than two centuries-from Guru Nanak (1469-1539) to Guru Gobind Singh
(1866-1708). These few decades constitute a long saga of struggle on the part of the Gurus, struggle in pursuit of a new ideology and struggle to create a nation of strong
and self-respecting people out of a divided and etherized society. With this end in view, the Gurus first articulated a distinct metaphysical thought and then established
certain institutions so as to put that precept into practice. Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, only proclaimed in one of hymns that one desirous of treading the path of
truth must be willing to sacrifice his head - jau tau prem khelan ka chau siru dhari tali gali mori au (GGS, 1, 1412). About two centuries later, Guru Gobind Singh,
the tenth and the last of the person Gurus, put this call into practice in the historic assembly which gathered on the Vaisakhi day in AD 1699 as he created the Khalsa:
he addressed the gathered assembly and asked those willing to lay down their lives for the cause of righteousness to come forward to give away their heads.
It can never be an easy task to make people discard the way of life they had been following since centuries even if it were degenerate and decadent, corrupt
and hypocrite. It is ever still more difficult to persuade them to follow a different, new way of life. This implied exhorting human beings to endeavour for their spiritual as
well as social progression, for the transformation of this decadent and corrupt society into Sach Khand or the realm of Truth. This involved a long-drawn and arduous
struggle wherein persecution, suffering and even death had to be willingly and smilingly faced. During the period preceding the Gurus, India was ruled by the Lodhi
dynasty of the Muslims and their reign was marked by injustice and oppression, intolerance and corruption. Welfare of the masses was nowhere on their agenda and
they even failed to protect them against any outside invasions. Although Guru Nanak sees Babar, who invaded India when it was ruled by lbrahim Lodhi, as an unwitting
instrument of the divine will to punish the Lodhi rulers for having violated the laws of God yet he feels equally concerned at the death and devastation caused in the wake
of Babar’s invasion.
The socio-religious life in the medival India when Sikhism originated had reached its lowest ebb. There were then two predominant religions, Hinduism and
Islam, and the followers of both these traditions had become false and hypocrite. The Vedas had become unintelligible to the common man and only those forms and
rituals prevailed which the Brahmins felt beneficial to their class. Similarly, the clergy in Islam had also become corrupt and materialistic. The Hindu society was
hierarchically divided into different varnas and this division had grown more rigid with the passage of time. Consequently, a sizeable section of society was deprived of its
social as well as spiritual rights. Both the faith-communities lived in complete isolation of each other, with almost no meeting point between them. A Hindu was a kafir to
the Muslims, and a Muslim was a malechh to the Hindus. No doubts, the protagonists of the Sufi and the Bhatki movements tried to bring about a change in their
mindset but they met with only partial success. The Gurus were well aware that nothing less than a revolution can work to raise the humans spiritually and socially, to
imbibe a sense of dignity in a gutless society, and to make the etherized people regain their self-respect and dignity. That is why their attempt from the very beginning
was to create a new social structure outside the prevalent Hindu and Muslim social structures.
Sikhism originated with Guru Nanak about five hundred years back in the north-west of the Indian sub-continent. Thus, chronologically, it belongs to the
medieval period in Indian history but an in-depth study of the faith, its beliefs and practices reveals its critical attitude towards the medieval spirit and its responsiveness
to modernity. It is also the youngest of major world religions and being the youngest, it can also be called the latest stage in the evolution of the religious consciousness
of mankind. It originated in India but has since spread throughout the world despite the fact that it is not a missionary faith. No doubt, the Sikh expansion is mainly
because of the Sikh Diaspora, but dissemination of knowledge about the faith has also helped in this expansion, though in a limited way. If the Sikhs today are able to
adjust and adapt to alien cultural and religious situations, it is because their faith has answers to many questions and queries posed by modernity.
The Sikh faith is based primarily on the mystic experiences of its Gurus. The founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, had the revelation around the turn of the fifteenth
century. The revelation that Guru Nanak received has two peculiar traits: one, unlike Islam where Prophet Mohammad received the Divine revelation indirectly through
archangel Gabriel, Guru Nanak received it direct from Nirankar, the Sikh term for the formless God. Second, he did not receive it in piecemeal but had the whole of it in
one single ‘meeting’ (mystrical communion) with God. Whatever he said or did in later years was the outcome of this communion. After having received the revelation,
Guru Nanak went out to share his message, the truth he had received from God with mankind in general. He visited almost every centre of pilgrimage on an otherwise
holy place that fell on his way and met the holy men there notwithstanding their religious affiliations. He shared his message with whomsoever he came in contact, but
never forced anyone to agree to his viewpoint. He held discourses with them, listening to their point of view (kichhu kahiai). Many people were convinced of the
veracity of the truth that Guru Nanak preached and they accepted his beliefs and practices.
The Guru knit together such followers into various congregations asking them to meet daily or at regular intervals and sing praises of the Lord – God. The
meeting – place of such sangats or congregations came to be called dharamsala which later on developed into the modern-day gurdwara. Sikhism makes
no distinction between individual/private and communal/public prayer; neither of them is considered better or more effective then 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 inequality and
untouchability so deep rooted in contemporary Indian society. After completing his preaching odysseys, Guru Nanak settled down at Kartarpur (now in Pakistan) where
he worked in his fields to earn his living, gathered around him a congregation which would sing eulogies of God and also work in the fields for their living. This was a
typical example of an ideal Sikh way of life- nam-japna (remembering Name Divine), kirat karna (doing honest labour with one’s own hands) and wand chhakna
(sharing with others whatever one earns through one’s honest labours). Guru Nanak, having felt the need to provide a consistency and stamina to the movement he had
initiated, appointed a successor to his mission. The successor was Bhai Lahina, renamed Angad (angad in Punjabi means of one’s own ang or limb of one’s body).
Thus, (Guru) Angad became the second Nanak; ‘Guru Nanak imparted his light to Lahina by changing his form,” says Bhai Gurdas. This succession, illustrated with the
help of the image of a candle being lit with another one, continued nine times, until Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Arjan Dev, whose personality and vision form the contents
of the following pages of the book, was the fifth in the line of succession.
The following pages have been an humble attempt at sketching out a brief but comprehensive portrait of the personality and vision of Guru arjan. The opening
chapter begins with an overview of the historical context and cultural milieu of the north-west of India, setting of stage for the arrival of Guru Arjan on the scene. It touches
upon the socio-political and religious situation in India of those days. It also refers briefly to the chains of invasions by the Arabs, Turks and Afghans in succession and
the encounter between Islam and Hinduism. Both these religions represented two mutually exclusive and in several ways contradictory culture – forms thus causing a lot
of distrust and disharmony in social relations.
The second chapter on the concept and meaning of the Guru aims at defining the concept and role of the Guru in Sikh faith and tradition. The concept of Guru
is central to the Sikh thought: the word Sikh implies a disciple which calls for the presence of the Guru. The Sikhs are thus deeply attached to their Gurus, from Guru
Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, and the Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikh tradition believes the Guru to have become incarnate in Word, and this makes the latter the centre of
focus in Sikhism. This is something unlike the Christian belief wherein Word becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus, thus making him the focus of the Christian faith.
The Sikh tradition also believes in the spiritual oneness of the Gurus; they were all one in spirit though different to body. Guru in Sikhism does not take man to a position
of higher spirituality as if by miracle or on a crutch; he simply guides and shows seekers the path, but the seeker has to tread the path himself. An effort has also been
made to explain the inter-relationship between God (source of revelation), Guru (the medium through which revelation is communicated to mankind) and Word (the
message, the revelation).
The third chapter is the biography of Guru Arjan, beginning with his ancestry and childhood and going on to narrate the challenges faced by the Guru during his
lifetime both before and after his spiritual succession. Though not much authentic information about the Guru’s life is available yet we have tried to construct a viable
biographical sketch of the Guru. Since the Guru’s life can only be constructed on the basis of information coming from some early Sikh chronicles, there have been
dates and issues connected with the Guru’s life where there is no consensus among scholars. We have here tried to present the different views without prejudging them.
Herein we have also touched upon briefly the major projects undertaken and completed by the Guru including the founding of certain towns, erection of the Harimander,
compilation of the scripture, digging of wells and pools, etc.
Guru Arjan Dev was a poet of great merit, musicologist with deep understanding of ragas, meticulous editor with a eye for perfection and a philosopher and
mystic. The fourth chapter deals with the poetic output of the Guru and the world-view that emerges from it. This details the major compositions of the Guru, especially
the more important longer ones wherein we have tried to appreciate their poetic grandeur and highlight their metaphysical importance. No doubt, all the original doctrines
and concepts of the Sikh faith were articulated by the founder of the faith, but this in no way belittles the contribution of the following Gurus who contributed a lot in
providing an exposition and explanation of these concepts and doctrines. The contribution of Guru Arjan in this regard is immense.
The Sikh movement has been a revolution aimed at transforming the society by eradicating falsehood and hypocrisy, inequality and injustice, oppression and
exploitation. It endeavored at erecting a social order wherein prevailed the values of equality and love, compassion and philanthropy, truth and righteousness. The task
was enviable but fraught with challenges. Guru Arjan took up the challenge, struggled and strived and became the first martyr in the history of Indian religions. The fifth
chapter deals with the concept of martyrdom in Sikhism as well as the circumstances leading to the Guru’s martyrdom. The latter had a deep impact on the course of
Sikh history which thereafter developed a long tradition of martyrdom. It proved to be a turning point in the transformation of the Indian community from a subdued and
humiliated nation into an independent and self-respecting people. The sparrows became capable of killing the hawks, as tradition holds, by the time of Guru Gobind
A very significant issue in the history of religions has always been the manner in which a spiritual preceptor articulates a new religious vision and is in turn
shaped over the years by pre-existing mythic ideals which are embedded in the prevailing religious culture. The present booklet is also an attempt to study the
emergence of the Sikh faith in an otherwise oppressed and etherized Indian society and discuss the circumstances in which Guru Arjan appeared on the scene, analyse
the challenges he had to face during his lifetime, highlight his contribution in the transformation of society, and the suffering he had to undergo and the ultimate sacrifice
he had to make. In the process, the book refers briefly to the contemporary historical milieu, the flaws the Guru found in the prevailing socio-religious situation, his vision
at rectifying or removing these flaws so as to transform this world into Sach Khand or the realm of truth, and the price he had to pay for this.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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