Arjan, Guru

(A. D. 1563—1606)

Whether Sikhism is a separate reli-gion or a reform movement in Hinduism, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Sikh Gurus saved Hinduism from external as well as internal dangers and exercised a tremendous influence on the contemporary Hindu society.

Sikhism, founded by Guru Nānak (A.D. 1469—1538) and nurtured by a succession of nine more Gurus, had to pass through various critical periods in its chequered history. Guru Arjan, the fifth in the line of succession, appeared on the scene just when a serious crisis, which would threaten its very existence, was developing.

He was born at Goindwal in A.D. 1563. He was the youngest son of Bhāi Jeṭha (later ordained as Guru Rām Dās) and Bībi Bhani (daughter of the third Guru Amar Dās). Guru Amar Dās is said to have remarked that this child would cruise people across the ocean of life.

Guru Rām Dās, in course of time, appointed Arjan as his successor. After his passing away, when Arjan took over as the next Guru, Prīti Cand, his eldest brother, who had not reconciled himself to this supersession, started harassing him to the maximum possible extent. However, being too humble and noble to counter him, Guru Arjan left Goindwal and settled down in a new township. Here he kept himself busy completing the holy tanks of Santokhsar and Amritsar and other works left unfinished by Guru Rām Dās. It was he who got the foundation stone of Harmandir (later known as the Golden Temple) laid by Mian Mīr, a Muslim saint from Lahore. After the construction of the temple and the lake was over, he undertook an extensive tour of Punjab to meet his disciples and consolidate the work.

Guru Arjan, who had no children till then, sent his wife to Bhāi Buddha, a highly respected Sikh saint, to get his blessings. Bhāi Buddha blessed her and foretold that the son she would give birth to, would crush the enemies of Sikhism like crushing an onion. She gave birth to Hargobind, (in A. D. 1595), who later on succeeded Guru Arjan.

Prīti Chand’s machinations to usurp power continued. He organized several attempts to kill the child Hargobind who escaped miraculously. However, when he tried to bring out his own compositions, passing them on to the Sikhs as the compositions of Nānak, Guru Arjan had to act quickly and decisively. He personally went to all the important places connected with the previous Gurus and collected the authentic texts of their Bāṇi (word). This collection subsequently came to be known as the Holy Granth.

Chandu Shāh, a Hindu banker of Delhi who wielded a lot of influence with the Mughal Emperors, was looking for a suitable match for his daughter. When his agents suggested that he marry her to Hargobind, Chandu Shāh pooh-poohed it deriding the Sikh Guru for lack of social or political status. Later on, when he could not get anyone else, and relented, Guru Arjan politely declined the offer. This antagonized the influential banker who succeeded in creating troubles for the Guru at the hands of the Mughal authorities.

Though Akbar himself was well-disposed towards the Guru, Jehāṅgīr, his successor was not. He levied a heavy fine on the Guru who however refused to pay it. This incurred the wrath of the emperor who tortured him in various ways. The Guru however, bore everything with great fortitude. Later (in A. D. 1606) he entered the river Ravi and was carried away by its swirling waters.

Guru Arjan has left a large number of hymns (2218) rich in imagery and lending themselves easily to music. Sukhmaṇi, his magnum opus ranks only next to the Japji of Guru Nānak.