When Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth master in the line of Guru Nanak, ascended the spiritual throne, the new faith propounded by his predecessors had achieved immense popularity.
Bhai Gurdas, the contemporary of the masters, makes a mention of this popularity in his poems called in Punjabi as Vaars. According to him, the Gurus preached love and universal brotherhood that Hindus and Muslims were both deeply impressed. He openly declares in the stanza 34 of his first vaar that both Hindus and Muslims became the followers of the Gurus in large number. Says he:
Ghar ghar Baba Pooje-ai Hindu Musalmaan guaa-ee.
Chhape naahe chapaaiaa chariaa Sooraj jag rusnaa-ee
(Baba is worshipped in the house of both Hindus and Muslims.
When the Sun rises it can not be covered and it lightens the whole world.)
Guru Arjan Dev’s outstanding achievements include his secular message to people irrespective of their religion, caste and creed. When he thought of constructing a temple in the midst of Amrit Sarovar, he decided to get the foundation stone laid by a Muslim saint Sain Mian Mir. The guru kept its doors on all the four sides symbolising that Harmandar Sahib was opened to all from all directions.
Next, he thought of compiling the compositions of his predecessors in a single volume. While doing so, he displayed his secular spirit by including compositions of various Hindus and Muslim saints to give the best of spiritual thought available at that time. Compositions of 15 saints, both Hindus and Muslims (belonging to different parts of the country) and that of 11 Bhatts and 4 devotees not only make the holy compilation, unique, in the history of religions of the world. It was a bold step especially in the days when Hindus and Muslims were estranged, and never before had any religious book included the compositions of other religions therein.
His compositions covered a diversity of subjects that the numbers of hymns in the holy book as composed by him is the maximum. His knowledge of music was also reflected and he composed 30 ragas included in the Guru Granth Sahib, bears a testimony to this. The guru was an accomplished musicologist, who is said to have designed a new string instrument, saranda, for use by ragis. He employed professional rababis and ragis (musicians) to perform kirtan. Dhadis, using small hand-drums called dhads and a stringed instrument, sang vaars or ballads. Guru Arjan Dev encouraged lay Sikhs to train as kirtan singers.
The new place of worship made the guru so popular that both Hindus and Muslims started visiting him in large numbers.
Sikhs started calling him Sachha Padshah or the true ruler. Maulvis and pandits felt threatened and instigated emperor Jehangir, who was impatient and narrow-minded, against the guru. It is evident in Tuzak-i Jehangiri that Jehangir was determined to put a stop to the religious preaching of Guruji. Arjan Dev could foresee the anguish of the rulers and other detractors. That is why he instructed Baba Budha ji, to teach his son Hargobind shastar vidiya or knowledge about martial arts. He realized that alongside spiritual knowledge, martial knowledge too was required to defend one’s faith.
A misunderstanding was created between the rulers and the faith led by Guru Arjan Dev by vested interests who wanted to take advantage of Jehangir’s rancour.
Prithichand, Guru Arjan Dev’s brother, was annoyed because Guru Arjan Dev had been anointed as successor. Prithichand became a sworn enemy and enlisted the help of Sulhi Khan, the governor of Lahore and Chandu Shah, a high-ranking officer at Lahore, for taking revenge.
Chandu Shah was interested in getting his daughter married to Guru Arjan Dev’s son, Hargobind. Since he had uttered disparaging words, the Guru declined the offer at the suggestion of the Sikh gathering. The rejection of this proposal by the Guru made Chandu an enemy.
The immediate cause that led to the Guru’s martyrdom is related to the rebellion of emperor Jehangir’s son Khusro. According to Mehima Prakash by Sarup Dass Bhalla, when Khusro met the Guru, the latter showed him hospitality by serving him langar. This gesture on the part of the Guru provided an opportunity to Chandu Shah and other detractors of Sikhism to instigate the emperor by saying that the Guru had supported a rebellion and he should be fined heavily. When the fine was not paid, the Guru was arrested and was sentenced to death.
In Tuzak-i-Jehangiri, it is mentioned that the Emperor ordered: "That he should be brought into my presence, that his property be confiscated, and that he should be put to death with torture."
The sacrifice made by the Guru to defend the independence of ideas and following a religion separate from that of the ruling class, was the first known incident of martyrdom in the history of Sikh religion. He was subjected to extreme physical torture. He was made to sit on red hot iron plates and burning sand was poured upon him.
Mian Mir, his Muslim friend wanted to intercede on his behalf, but the Guru forbade him by saying that whatever was God’s will must be fulfilled. When the Guru was taken to Ravi river for a dip in cold water, it was a torture for his blistered body. However, obeying the God’s will, the Guru remained in meditation and peacefully passed away.
Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom brought a significant change in the cause of Sikh religious history. It showed that moral strength could always prevail upon the wicked forces. In the words of Sri Gokul Chand Narang, the writer of Transformation of Sikhs, "With Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom, the whole Punjab started burning with vengeance."
After his martyrdom, his son Hargobind was appointed as the successor. He was barely 11. Guru Arjan Dev had sent instructions to his son that he should arm himself for the protection of the faith. It was indeed the need of the time that the new religion, which had become an eyesore for many influential and highly placed people including the emperor, must be protected from their ruthless and tyrannous endeavour to destroy the same.
Today, when we celebrate the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, we must remember the spirit and message of the master associated with this sacrifice. One must have considerable patience and faith in the will of God. For the sake of the honour and one’s faith, one must be prepared to sacrifice his life in fight tyranny and oppression. (From Tribune 2006)
The following are two stunning videos from SikhVideo commemorating the 400th Anniversary of Shaheedi Gurpurb last year. A very thankful Veer has loaded these onto YouTube. Enjoy.
The following stunning account of the martyrdom of Shri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, is by a Jesuit,Father Jerome Xavier, in a letter written in Portuguese, from Lahore dated September 25, 1606, to the Provincial Superior of Goa, Father Gasper Fernandes.
When the Prince [Khusrau] came flying from Agra, he passed where a gentile called Guru, who amongst the gentiles is like the Pope amongst us. He was held as a saint and was as such venerated; because of this reputation of his and because of his high dignity the Prince went to see him, desiring, as it seems, some good prophecy. He gave him the good news of his reign and gave him a tikka (otria) on his forehead; although the man (the Guru) was a gentile and the Prince, a Moor; to the pontiff it seemed that it would be good to give this symbol peculiar to gentiles, as a sign of success in his undertaking; as the Prince was the son of a gentile woman and because of the prince's opinion of his saintliness.The King [Jahangir] came to know of this and after having imprisoned the Prince he ordered for the said Guru to be brought. Having him imprisoned, some gentiles interceded for their saint: finally they managed to get him sentenced to a hundred thousand cruzados, a petition of a rich gentile who remained his guarantor. This individual took care that either the King (El-Rei) annul this sentence or the saint have or at least negotiate that money; but in all he got frustrated; and he seized from his poor Pope everything he could find not sparing his clothes nor the clothes of his wife and sons; and seeing that all of this was not enough, as the gentiles don't have loyalty towards neither Pope or father regarding money, each and every day he gave new torments and gave new affronts to the poor saint. He ordered him to be beaten many times with shoes on his face and forbade him to eat, so that he (the Guru) would give him more money, as he was not willing to believe that he did not have it, but he did not have it nor did he find anyone who would give it to him; and thus amongst many trials, pains and torments given by the very ones who adored him, the poor Guru died. The guarantor tried to save himself, but he was imprisoned and killed after they had taken everything they could find.
- This excerpt was from "Sicques, Tigers, or Thieves" by Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh. Stunning book! Highly recommended read of Sikh History.
When daas first heard the following Shabad, the first thought was of Shri Guru Arjan Dev Ji Maharaj!
I would cut my mind and body apart into pieces, and offer them all to You; I would burn myself in fire. 4
Stunning Shabad sung by Bhai Baljeet Singh Ji and Bhai Gurmeet Singh Ji Delhiwale. Enjoy this small excerpt (and please buy their CD).
ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਕਾ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਕੀ ਫਤਹਿ ॥