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Quest for Peace

All evidence goes to show that Amar Das had a religious bent of mind from his very childhood. The author of Mehma Prakash has mentioned that even when he was required to attend to his household duties, his involvement was never too deep. Whenever and wherever he could manage to spare time) he devoted himself to the worship of God1:

He would keep sitting and ever engage himself in worship. Even when he had to work, he would keep his mind detached.

He cherished the company of holy men and their service pleased him most. He was a regular temple-goer and worshipper of Salgram.2 He venerated Brahmins and observed fasts without a break to earn religious merit. All these, it may be said, were after all conventional Hindu practices which most of the Hindus followed. But with Amar Das they were much more than formalities because to him what mattered most was the spirit underlying them and not the mechanical observance of a longstanding tradition. Macauliffe3 has described him at that early age as "a zealous believer in the Vaishnav faith". But his faith was not narrowly conceived. It was a thing of the heart and whatever religious activity he indulged in was marked by a spirit of sincerity and dedication. Even marriage made no change in the tenor of his life. He habitually practiced devotion in the midst of his married responsibilities. Mehma Prakash4 even says in this context:

ਗ੍ਰਿਹਸਤ ਜੁਗਤ ਹਰਿ ਭਗਤ ਕਮਾਹਿ ।

While leading married life he practised adoration of God.

This is corroborated by Kesar Singh Chhibbar5:

Worship of God and passionate devotion were accompanied by exertions of married life.

Gian Singh6 goes a step further and mentions that he used to give away one tenth (daswand) of his earnings (dharam kirt) by way of charity.

When he was sufficiently grown up and could undertake long and arduous journeys, he resolved to go on a pilgrimage (tirath yatra). He was particularly keen on taking a dip in the sacred waters of the Ganges (Ganga lshnan). Both tirath yatra and Ganga ishnan were considered acts of great religious merit among Hindus. But as pointed out earlier, Amar Das had no interest in mere formalities. His first experience gave him so much encouragement that he determined to repeat the journey every year. According to Mehma Prakash7, he even did it twice a year sometimes.

Dr Dil8 has tried to explain the undertaking of this programme against the background of Amar Das having no issue for a long time after his marriage. Going on pilgrimages and having sacred baths are termed by him as endeavours to propitiate the divine power and achieve the cherished object of getting offspring. But this contention finds no support from earlier writers. On the other hand, there is historical evidence to believe that he had no such motivation to guide his action. In the words of Mehma Prakash9 his trips to the Ganges were free from any selfish motives (nihkami). Even if it is admitted that he had embarked on the tirath yatra programme because he had no children it still remains a moot point why he continued to follow this practice for many long years even after the birth of his first two children. Then there is also the need to explain why he did not close the programme until he had completed a full score of such trips.

Frequent visits to the pilgrimage centres of Kurukshetra and Hardwar further added to the religious fervour of Amar Das. During the intervening periods he spent a great deal of his time in meditation or worship sitting in solitude in a room specially constructed on the first floor of his house.10 He led a life of austerity and in the manner of a true brahmacharya devoted himself to the worship of the Ganga and Shiva. He also practised charitable works depending upon the quantum of his earnings. A public well was got built in Basarke for the welfare of common people. The well is still extant and is known as 'Guru Amar Das ka Khuh’. Another public project undertaken by him was the construction of a tank in his village. Work on the tank continued for several years. It is said that Amar Das personally lent a helping hand in its excavation. The tank which now exists in a dilapidated condition in village Basarke Gillan and is called after Bibi Amro, Guru Angad Dev's daughter, may perhaps be the same tank as was originally constructed by Guru Amar Das.

However, neither the visits to Hardwar and Kurukshetra nor the charitable works brought real peace to the restless soul 11 of Amar Das. Rather, the more he visited the religious places the keener was his urge for peace. If he felt it necessary to undertake another trip so soon after he had finished one, it may be because the state of constant restlessness within him compelled him to do so. To undertake as many as twenty trips to sacred shrines continuously for years on end, often twice a year, is an extraordinary phenomenon which can only be explained in terms of the extraordinary state of his mind. Many of these trips were performed when he was in his fifties. Thus even his advancing years failed to deter him from undertaking these long and difficult journeys.

When he undertook his last journey to Hardwar, he was already nearly 60 years of age.12 In the course of this trip certain things happened which gave a new dimension to his outlook. When he was on the way back, feeling wearied with travel and mid-day heat he stopped for a few hours with one Pandit Durgo of village Mihra. The pandit belonged to the Sarsut branch of Brahmins. He had built a dharamsala for the convenience of passersby and charged a small commission from those who stayed in that. On reaching this place Amar Das too broke his journey for a while and lay down to sleep. Durgo possessed a measure of knowledge of astrology and palmistry. When Amar Das was lying asleep, Durgo glanced at his feet and was greatly astonished to see the mark of a foot lotus on them (charan padam). He said to himself13: "He is an Avtar (God in human form) or some Chakarvarti Raja (ruler whose writ runs in all the four directions). He is a Kshatri of great integrity. I should take a commitment from him". When Amar Das woke up to resume his journey, he offered the usual commission to the Brahmin. The Brahmin politely declined it and communicated his prophecy to him saying! 'I will not take anything now. Give me your word of honour, that when my prophecy proves true, you will give me what I would wish to demand'. According to Sarup Das Bhalla, A mar Das nodded his consent and resumed his journey. Normally speaking, any prediction promising good or bright future is sure to tickle one's curiosity or fancy. But Amar Das attached little importance to the incident and brushed it aside as something of no immediate concern to him.

A few days after another odd incident took place which shook Amar Das completely and brought him face to, face with the greatest crisis of his life. Continuing his journey, he soon fell in with a brahmacharya, a celibate monk leading a life of austerity. They conversed on several subjects concerning religion and other matters. They became so intimate that they even helped each other in cooking meals. Reaching the end of his journey Amar Das took him to his native village, Basarke. After taking the evening meal, they went up the ladder and lay down on the roof for the night's sleep. The monk, who had been greatly impressed with Amar Das's piety and wisdom, was curious to know about the name of his guru. Amar Das did not mince words and told him plainly that all along he had been in search of one but as yet had found none.14 This was a rude shock to the brahmacharya who felt a wrench in his heart and in great mental agony addressed himself to Amar Das15

"By eating with you all my pilgrimages and fasts have gone waste. You are Guruless. My association with you has proved futile All my austerities have been rendered meaningless.''

Thus ventilating his injured feelings, the brahmachari immediately got up and left. His expression of shock and piercing tongue deeply stirred the sensitive mind of Amar Das. His mental condition at that time has been graphically described by Sikh chroniclers. He was fully lost in thought and a sense of excruciating anxiety overpowered him. Not a wink of sleep could he get and spent the whole night tossing about on his bed. Time hung heavily on him and a single moment looked as if it was a whole kalpa.16 In the words of Sarup Das Bhalla17: ''He prayed to Lord Shiva, the creator of the Ganges: O Lord, help me. For you did I go to worship the Ganga. From your feet has the Ganga sprung. I have spent my lifetime in adoring you... O Ganga, the beloved of Surs and Munis, angels and saints, I have adored you selflessly, a fact which you know well in your wisdom. Now be kind and bless me with a Satgur (True Guru) so that I may reap the fruit of my devotion to you."

When Amar Das was thus self-absorbed, all of a sudden, so writes the chronicler, he heard a sweet female voice from within his household reciting a melodious hymn. It was the voice of his daughter-in-law, Bibi Amro. She was a daughter of Guru Angad Dev and had been married to a nephew of his, probably son of his brother Manak Chand. It was her habit to get up daily at dawn and after a wash recite holy hymns from the bani (compositions) of Guru Nanak and her father Angad Dev while churning milk. When on that particular occasion, Amar Das overheard her; she was, by all accounts, singing the following hymn of Guru Nanak.18 The English translation19 of the hymn runs as follows:

The heart is the paper, conduct the ink; the good and bad are both recorded therewith. Man's life is as his acts constrain him; there is no limit to Thy praises, O God. O Fool, why callest thou not to mind thy Creator. Thy virtues have dissolved away by thy forgetfulness of God.

The above hymn gave him a ray of hope of his cherished peace, after a whole restless night. To borrow the picturesque simile of Mehma Prakash,20 he felt just as Lakshman had felt after nectar had been poured into his mouth. His anxiety was now over. It seemed as if auspicious raindrops had quenched the chatrik's thirst. The concluding lines of the hymn in particular afforded him the consolation that the True Guru had the power of changing dross into gold.21

The story goes that on hearing the hymn Amar Das immediately came down from the roof and respectfully addressing his daughter-in-law enquired from her as to wherefrom she had learnt the hymn. When she told him that it was Guru Nanak's and that she had learnt it from her father Guru Angad Dev, he forthwith requested her to lead him into the presence of her great father. After some hesitation, she agreed to do so. Her hesitation, it is said, arose from the fact that she did not want to go back to her parents without their prior consent. This was in keeping with the well-recognized custorn of the time, which was that newly married daughters returned to their parents' house only when somebody on their behalf came to bring them home. The ardour of Amar Das's appeal to Bibi Amro and the impatience with which he awaited the auspicious moment when he would place his head at the feet of the Master showed that he had already made up his mind to adopt Guru Angad Dev as his Guru.

What led to this sudden and dramatic turn in the life of Amar Das? Almost all of our chroniclers have traced it to the incident which happened at the completion of Amar Das's twentieth trip to the Ganges. It is said that it was the taunting of the brahmachari that awakened him to the agonizing consciousness that he had so far been without a Guru and that it was high time that he had one. To heighten the effect the chroniclers have provided the background of a prophecy by the astrologer Pandit Durgo.

The account of the chroniclers carries the implication that before Amar Das heard the sacred hymn from Bibi Amro, he was not familiar with Guru Angad Dev or his teachings. This is an impossible position for some very good reasons. First, it is difficult to believe that prior to this Amar Das was not aware of Guru Angad Dev and his teachings or for that matter of Guru Nanak and his teachings. Neither Guru Nanak nor Angad Dev was an obscure figure and their teachings were widely known if not yet extensively followed. A pious man like Amar Das, fond of the company of religiously minded persons, could hardly be unfamiliar with them. Secondly, there was already a matrimonial a1liance between Amar Das's own family and the family of Guru Angad Dev with the result that the two families had come into close and intimate mutual relationship long before the incident of the recitation of the hymn (shabad) took place. As is usual in such cases, there must have been some negotiations before the engagement was finally clinched. Again, quite some years would have elapsed before the marriage ceremony was performed. In those days when marriages were usually contracted at a very young age, there was invariably another long interval before the wedded wife proceeded to her husband's house. As regards Bibi Amro, she was at this time already a grown-up lady. This means that by then the two families must have known each other intimately for several years. There is thus every possibility that Amar Das had met Guru Angad Dev earlier-perhaps more than once. For instance, it is not unreasonable to think that he might have also· accompanied the marriage party of his nephew to Khadur where the father of the girl, Guru Angad Dev, was residing.

But even accepting that Amar Das had acquired an acquaintance with the teachings of Guru Angad Dev for many past years, it has to be admitted that on account of certain mental constraints his reaction to them, to begin with, was not positive. The bonds of traditional Hinduism had a firm grip on his mind. If he did not accept the Sikh principles, probably it was not because he did not know them but because he was not prepared to do so because of his long commitment to Hindu beliefs and practices. Brahmanical priesthood, varnasharam (caste system), pilgrimage to holy places such as Hardwar, Kurukshetra etc., worship of gods and goddesses, idol worship, adoration of rivers and vegetarianism were important constituent elements of the then popular Hinduism. Amar Das, though far above the general run of his community, was yet a firm believer in almost all of them. On the other hand, Sikhism as preached by Nanak and Angad Dev did not accept anyone of them. It recognized all people, high and low, as equal and denounced all caste differentiations. Nor did it give any primacy or superiority to Brahmins or Brahmanical priesthood. It preached the worship of the one and only one God and admitted no such belief as deified human beings as incarnations or avtars of God. Nor did it enjoin the worship of idols. Again, Sikhism attached no importance to tirath yatra (pilgrimage) or Ganga ishnan (bathing in the holy waters of the Ganga).

As such, in that frame of mind it was too much for A mar Das, or any man in his position, to come into the radical fold of a creed like Sikhism. Rather than do so he preferred to go his own traditionnl way. A dent into this stronghold of orthodoxy, no doubt, had been caused when the family had decided to enter into matrimonial relationship with Gut u Angad's family. But old and deeply ingrained beliefs die hard and this was equally true of Amar Das. With the passage of years, however, his faith in the popular beliefs and practices of Hinduism began to weaken. His experiences in the course of the twentieth trip to the Ganga, in particular, brought home to him the futility of all such things. Pandit Durgo pretended great piety but his conduct revealed that he was a seeker of mammon more than a seeker of truth. The brahmachari who spent several days with him and admired his goodness and wisdom attached more value to observance of formalities of religion than to the spirit underlying them. It was no Jess than a revelation to him that on the mere technical point that he was still looking for a Guru, the brahmachari lost his balance of mind and felt that the entire merit of all his good actions performed hitherto, such as reading of holy texts, keeping of fasts, ablutions in the Ganga etc., had been lost and forthwith decided to go to the Ganga again for a purificatory bath. It is not mentioned anywhere in so many words but it is possible to believe on the basis of the behavioural pattern generally found in such fadists that his discovery on reaching the native place of Amar Das that he was a married householder might as well have contributed to the bramachari's sense of shock and disillusionment. Anyhow, there seems little doubt that the odd behaviour of the brahmachari gave a big jolt to Amar Das so that he immediately started reassessing himself. It was in this grave and receptive frame of mind that he felt unusually drawn to the hymn of Guru Nanak being recited by his daughter-in-law, Bibi Amro.

But Bibi Amro's role was far greater than it is usually made out to be. What is generally remembered is only the service she rendered to her father-in-law Amar Das by taking him along with her to her father Angad Dev. Actually she did much more than that. She brought to the family of her in-laws the Sikh way of life and through her personal example exercised a powerful influence on everyone who watched her going about her domestic chores. Her intense faith in God and the Guru, her zest for service of others, her recitation of holy hymns of Sikh Gurus and her sweet humility not only carved out a place of great honour for her in the new family but also exposed everyone there to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. The man who was impressed the most by the new way of life brought by her was Amar Das, about 60 years old then. As a result of this, his inhibitions and traditional bonds began to wither away one by one. While he was passing through that phase of mental disillusionment, the vitriolic attack of the brahmachari served as a gust of wind which swept his breast clean of all those prejudices and inhibitions which had so far stood in the way of his imbibing fully the teachings of the Sikh Gurus.

Thus Amar Das was a completely changed man when he set out from Basarke to Khadur Sahib in the company of Bibi Amro. His mind was now determined, as never before, to adopt Guru Angad Dev as his Guru and to enter into the fold of the Sikh faith as preached by him. On reaching Khadur Sahib, Bibi Amro first went in alone and explained to her revered father the purpose of her abrupt visit. Amar Das was soon called in. The Guru stood up as a mark of reverence to him and stepped ahead to take him into his embrace. But before he could do so, Amar Das's head was already at his feet. A new relationship replaced the old one. Under the old relationship they were kurhams (term used for male parents of a married couple). That bond was now converted into one of a Guru and a Sikh, a preceptor and a disciple.22 In the words of Macauliffe,23 Amar Das now "felt as delighted as a poor man would who had obtained the wealth of the world.”

The Guru was deeply impressed to see the tremendous change in Amar Das. The Guru was mighty pleased with the conduct of his new disciple and condescended to oblige him. The Guru said to himself:24

'He is a great man possessed of determination and knowledge. Now all doubts have been removed'.

References

1. Sarup Das Bhalla, Mehma Prakash, p. 40.

2. Kesar Singh Chhibbar, Bansavali Nama, p. 30.

3. Macauliffe, op. cit., Vol. IT, p. 30.

4. Sarup Das Bhalla, op. cit., p. 41.

5. Kesar Singh Chhibbar, op. cit., p. 30.

6. Giani Gian Singh, Panth Prakash, p. 84.

7. Sarup Das Bha!Ja, op. cit., p. 41. This programme might not necessarily be continuous in the sense that there were no intervals in between. It is possible that in one year two trips were made while in another there was none. What is more probable is that such trips were undertaken for years on end, with or without breaks, sometimes even twice a year.

8. Dr B.S. Dil, Amar Kavi Guru Amar Das, p. 25.

9. Sarup Das Bhalla, op. cit., p. 41.

10. ibid., p. 42.

ਊਚਾ ਚਉਬਾਰਾ ਗ੍ਰਿਹ ਬਿਖੇ ਅਤ ਇਕੰਤ ਸੁਭ ਥਾਨ ।

ਤਹ ਬੈਠੇ ਹਰ ਹਰ ਜਪੈ ਮਨ ਧਰੇ ਪ੍ਰੀਤ ਸੰਗ ਅਭਿਰਾਮ ।

There was a good lonely room on the upper story of the house.

There he sat absorbed in meditation with heart full of loving devotion.

11. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 84.

ਸੰਤ ਭਗਤ ਪੰਡਤ ਬਹੁ ਸੇਵੇ ।

He attended upon many sants, bhagats and pandits.

12. This is calculated on the basis that immediately after the trip he proceeded to Khadur in company with Bibi Amro and cratered into Guru Angad Dev’s discipleship. From then onwards, according to a universally accepted Sikh tradition, he remained in attendance upon Guru Angad Dev for 12 years. If we accept the view, as we have strong reasons to do, that Amar Das ascended the Gurgaddi at the age of 72 years, his age should be 60 at the time of his last trip to Hardwar.

13. Sarup Das Bhalla, op. cit., P· 43.

14. ibid.

After meal they went up to the roof, the Brahmachari then asked him:

Tell me this, kind-hearted man (Amar Das) . What Guru-tradition thou belongest to?

The kind-hearted man answered him thus: "Until now I have been only searching for a Guru.''

15. ibid., pp. 43-44.

Hearing this the Brahmachari felt pained all over.

(He said), having eaten with thee I have lost the merit of my pilgrimage.

Thereupon he lamented and wailed much;

The company with thee without a Guru has been a sheer waste.

16. ibid., p. 44 (footnote )-a measure of time equal to 432,000,000 years.

17. ibid., pp. 44-45.

18. ibid., p. 47.

19. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. I, p. 70.

20. Mehma Prakash, p. 46.

21. The reference is to the following lines:

ਭਇਆ ਮਨੂਰੁ ਕੰਚਨੁ ਫਿਰਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਜੇ ਗੁਰੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਤਿਨੇਹਾ ॥

ਏਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਓਹੁ ਦੇਵੈ ਤਉ ਨਾਨਕ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਟਸਿ ਦੇਹਾ ॥੪॥੩॥

(The mind hath turned into dross, but it shall again become gold when it meeteth such a Guru as will bestow the ambrosial name of the one God; then Nanak the mind will become fixed).

22. Sarup Das Bhalla, op. cit., p. 49.

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸਿਖ ਕਾ ਤਹਾ ਮਿਲਾਪ ।

ਜਹਾ ਸੁਖ ਦੁਖ ਨਾਹ ਪੁੰਨ ਅਰ ਪਾਪ ।

Where there is union between the True Guru and the Sikh;

There dwells neither pain nor pleasure, neither good nor evil.

23. Macauliffe, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 32.

24. Sarup Das Bhalla, op. cit., p. 50.