PAYING OBEISANCE TO SRI GURU AMAR DAS JI: A GREAT LIBERATOR OF WOMEN ON HIS 543rd BIRTH ANNIVERSARY
Sri Guru Amar Das Ji was born on Baisakh Sudi 14, 1636 Bikrami i.e. May 5, 1479 at Basarke Gillan village, which is about 13 kms. southwest from Amritsar, in district Amritsar, Punjab. In his fond memory, in this village at his birth place Gurdwara Sri Janam Asthan Sri Guru Amar Das Ji has been established. His paternal great grandfather Vishan Das Ji belonged to Bhalla Khatri family and was a shopkeeper at village Basarke. His son Harji had a son named Tej Bhan Ji who was blessed with four sons among whom Amar Das Ji was the eldest. Amar Das Ji's mother, Bibi Bakht Kaur Ji was a very religious lady and instilled a religious fervour in him in early childhood. He liked the company of ascetics. At the age of 23 years he was married to Bibi Mansa Devi Ji, daughter of Devi Chand Ji a Bahil Khatri of village Sankhatra, in district Sialkot which now falls in Pakistan. They had two sons Mohari and Mohan and two daughters Bibi Dani Ji and Bibi Bhani Ji. Like his grandfather, he developed Vaisnava faith and became a regular visitor to Haridvar, Uttarakhand. An incident which took place during his twentieth trip to this place became a turning point in his life. When he was returning from Haridvar this time he came in contact with a sadhu with whom he developed a close relationship. This sadhu ridiculed him for not having a Guru (spiritual preceptor) and told him that he was unhappy for having eaten from his hands, because he was without a Guru. This incident instilled in him a yearning to have a Guru. His wish was fulfilled in 1540 when Bibi Amaro Ji, daughter of Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji, the second Sikh Guru, who was Amar Das Ji's cousin's wife agreed to escort him to Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji at Khadur Sahib which falls in the present District of Tarn Taran and which is about 8 kms. north-west from Goindval Sahib which also falls in the same district. Earlier, Amar Das Ji had been listening with keen interest the holy hymns of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji sungby Bibi Amaro Ji. He used to stand outside the house of his cousin to listen to Bibi Amaro Ji singing these hymns early in the morning. Now interested in having a Guru he readily agreed to accompany her to meet her father Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji at Khadur Sahib. On having a darshan (holy glimpse) of Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji, he was deeply impressed and decided to serve the Guru full time and with full devotion for the rest of his life. At that time Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji was 36 years old and he himself was about 61 years old. From then onwards he served Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji for 12 years at Khadur Sahib. Amar Das Ji served Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji day in and day out. He would get up three hours before day break, walk bare footed to fetch water in a pitcher from river Beas for Guru Ji's bath and while carrying the pitcher he would all along sing the holy hymns. After that he would serve in the langar (community kitchen) by way of cooking, fetching water, serving langar, cleaning the utensils and mopping the floor with a broom stick. He would also serve by fanning Sikh sangat using an indigenous fan to save them from heat. In-between these services he would go to the jungle to collect wood for the langar. The most commonly quoted incident about his dedication is that once on a stormy night, ignoring the lashes of rain and lightening, while he was bringing the pitcher of water from river Beas for his Guru, he stumbled against a peg fixed by a weaver family for spinning cloth just outside Khadur Sahib. He fell down, got some injuries also but did not let the water fall from the pitcher, which he was carrying on his head for his Guru's bath. The noise of his falling awakened the wife of the weaver who spontaneously remarked that it could not be any other person except Amaru Nithavan (Amaru, the homeless) who passes through this place every day in the early hours. When someone reported this incident to Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji, he was all praise for him and remarked that he was not homeless, rather he was nithavian da thaav (home of the homeless), nimanian da maan (honour of the unhonoured), nitanian da taan (strength of the weak), niotian di ot (the support of those without support), niasrian da asra (shelter for the unsheltered), nidharian di dhir (the protector of the unprotected), the restorer of what is lost and gai bahor bandi chhor (the emancipator of the captive). Deeply impressed by his devotion Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji decided to make him his successor to guruship ignoring his two sons. Thus on 29 March 1552 before Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji left for his heavenly abode he installed him as his successor and thus he became the third Guru of the Sikhs. After this Sri Guru Amar Das Ji made Goindval Sahib, which falls in the present day district of Tarn Taran, his permanent place of stay. To streamline the work of preaching, he established 22 dioceses i.e. preaching districts to spread the message of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. This helped in integrating and further strengthening the Sikh sangat which Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji had established all over the country through hisextensive travels. Sri Guru Amar Das Ji fixed three occasions - the opening days of two desi months Baisakh and Magh, and Diwali when the Sikhs would gather at Goindval Sahib to seek his blessings and get integrated. Through the establishment of 22 preaching centers, he in a way provided a blue-print to the entire Sikh movement. He commanded to the Sikhs to get up before dawn, contemplate on Gurbani, keep their consciousness under firm control, always speak the truth, not to indulge in slander, be always ready to serve the holy men, not covert another person's wife or wealth, not eat unless hungry and not sleep until tired. He made three main trips to meet the Sikh sangat. First trip was to Haridvar via Pehowa, Kurukshetra, Pipli, Karnal and Panipat. During this preaching tour he visited Kurukshetra on January 14, 1553. His second trip was to Dalla near Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district of Punjab and the third one was to (i) Khem Karan, Distrct Amritsar and (ii) Kasur which now falls in Pakistan. Thus he further consolidated the Sikh religion. He further strengthened the system of Guru Ka Langar (community kitchen), wherein all people sit side by side on the mats spread on the floor irrespective of their religion, caste and social status. He would, himself sit in the pangat (line of those sitting to eat meal) to encourage a casteless society. On finding that some higher caste people hesitated to sit along with those from the lower castes he ordered that before seeing him each visitor be asked to eat in the community kitchen. Emperor Akbar and Raja of Haripur also had to first sit on the floor with others to eat the langar before they could have his darshan. He earned his own livelihood. Following the footsteps of his predecessors, he ensured that whatever offerings were received in the Guru Ka Langar be served the same day. Thus the institution of langar which had been originated by Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru at Kartarpur (now in Pakistan), continued by the second Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji at Khadur Sahib, was firmly established by Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, at Goindval Sahib. The institution of Guru Ka Langar strengthened the ties of brotherhood and promoted a casteless society. This institution was a hard blow to the centuries old caste system which was prevalent at that time. According to the historians, the community kitchen helped the people not only in renouncing their centuries old religious, social, caste and class prejudices but also acted as an economic leveler. The more well-to-do persons were contributing towards the community kitchen and the less well to do were eating the meals. Through his hymns, which are included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, he tried to promote a casteless and classless society. He has emphasized that no one should take pride in one's caste and that only fools take pride in their caste because this pride gives rise to several misdeeds. Talking about the evils of materialism, he has said that a person having wealth becomes not only proud of himself but also insensitive to the sufferings of others.Sri Guru Amar Das Ji gave special attention to the emancipation of women and keenly took steps to remove their exploitation. He worked against purdah (veil) system and satisystem. In India, under the sati system, when the husband died, along with his cremation, the wife was forcibly burnt alive on the same pyre. This social evil had persisted in India since times immemorial. Sri Guru Amar Das Ji put in concerted efforts to end this system. Through his hyms which are included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib he preaches that those women who are burnt alive along with their husbands are not satis. Rather, if they appreciate their husbands, they undergo sufficient pain by their death and if they do not appreciate their husbands why should they be burnt? The women who do not appreciate their husbands feel unconcerned in both cases i.e. whether the husband is alive or dead. In another hymn he has said that those who are burnt alive with their husbands are not satisrather those women are satis who cherish the memory of their husbands in their hearts and die of the pangs of separation. To curb the social evil of sati he gave sanction to widow remarriage. In doing so he fulfilled the declaration of his predecessor Gurus that he would provide equality, shelter and protection to the lowly and down trodden and emancipate the captives. Sri Guru Amar Das Ji himself treated the lepers with his own hands. The oft-quoted incident of curing the lepers is that of Prema whom he later renamed as Murari. He took steps to record the bani (compositions) of his two predecessor Gurus and some of the contemporary bhaktas which he compiled in the form of pothis (books). Two of these pothis are maintained till today by the descendent families. His compositions are preserved in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the quantum of his compositions is next only to Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru and Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Sikh Guru. Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, got constructed a baoli, a well 8 meters across with steps descending to water level at Goindval Sahib. As per the traditional belief a person who recites one Japji Sahib paath on each of these steps every time taking a bath in the holy baolibecomes free from the circle of transmigration. At this place a splendid gurdwara Gurdwara Sri Darbar Sahib and Baoli Sahib has been established. As reported by Iqbal Kaiser in his book Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan, page 246-247, published in Pakistan, in the centre of the village Dhunni, in Tehsil and District Hafizabad, Pakistan there exists Gurdwara Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, in which one shoe of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji was being kept which was 11 inches long and 3.5 inches wide at the toe. Bhai Cheena Mal (Peera Mal) was a devotee and follower of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji and who pleased with him granted him one pair of his shoes. This Gurdwara is built with bricks while the floors are done in black and white glazed tiles. The ceiling is sixteen feet high. The land assigned to this Gurdwara is in thisvillage as well as in some other villages. After the partition of Punjab this Gurdwara was occupied by the refugees from Ambala, Haryana. One of the shoes was kept here while the other one was kept in village Madar of Tehsil and District Nankana Sahib. People suffering from Hajeeran (Cervical Lymphadenopathy) used to visit both the places and touched their neck against the shoes to get rid of the disease. Before leaving for his heavenly abode on September 1, 1574 i.e. at the age of 95 years Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, ignoring his two sons made Bhai Jetha Ji his spiritual successor on the basis of his dedication. Thus, Bhai Jetha Ji renamed as Sri Guru Ram Das Ji became the fourth Guru of the Sikhs. This year i.e. in 2022 the Birth Anniversary of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, a great social reformer and a liberator of women is being celebrated by the Sikhs all over the world with great pomp and show on May 15.