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Guru Amar Das Sahib
Bhai Amar Das ji was born on May 5, 1479 at Basarke, a village in present-day Amritsar district of the Punjab. His father's name was Tej Bhan. At the age of 23, he married Mansa Devi, and had four children—two sons, Mohri and Mohan, and two daughters, Dani and Bhani.
Question 1: How many years older was Guru Nanak Sahib (born April 15, 1469) from Amar Das ji? And how much older was the second Nanak, Guru Angad Dev ji (born March 31, 1504), from Amar Das ji?
Question 2: Chroniclers have recorded Amar Das ji’s mother’s name as:
All of the above
Bhai Amar Das ji had a deeply religious bent of mind. He was a zealous believer in the Vaishnav faith, and use to fast every eleventh day. He made regular pilgrimages to Haridvar, which is one of the major Hindu places of worship. In spite of his religiosity, he always felt that his human life was going in vain.
Question 3: What do you suppose was missing in his life? Does Bhai Amar Das' situation illustrate some fundamental precept of Sikhism? If so, what?
Bhai Amar Das proceeded to consider how he could find a Guru. While searching, he came upon Bibi Amro, Guru Angad’s daughter, who was recently married to Bhai Amar Das’ brother’s son. Bibi Amaro was singing a shabad composed by Guru Angad in Maru measure. Bhai Amar Das became deeply absorbed in devotion. He asked Bibi Amaro to introduce him to the source of her inspiration. Bibi Amro took him to Guru Angad in Khadur. When Amar Das arrived, the Guru desired to embrace him but Amar Das courteously remonstrated and said: “You are God; I am only a worm.” Amar Das on doing homage to the Guru felt as delighted as a poor man would who had obtained the wealth of the world.
Question 4: What do you learn about Bhai Amar Das from the passage above.
One day, Guru Angad had a special dinner prepared, which, however, could not be consumed by a Vaishnav such as Bhai Amar Das. The Guru upon seeing Bhai Amar Das ji’s reluctance, ordered that dal, instead, be served him. Bhai Amar Das then reflected, “The Guru knows that this type of food is forbidden to me, so he has ordered that dal be served to me instead.” Bhai Amar Das instantly arrived at the conclusion that any disciple whose practice differed from that of the Guru, must inevitably fail. He therefore told the cook that if the Guru is kind enough to give him this food to eat, he would partake of it. The Guru, on hearing this, knew that superstition was departing from Amar Das’ heart, and he handed him his own dish. Amar Das consumed it and thus broke the strictest tenet of Vaishnavism.
Question 5: Does Bhai Amar Das’ experience at this point of his life relates to your own? Consider his willingness to change at such an old age. What made him change and what stops us from doing so?
In order to further remove Amar Das’ prejudices, the Guru instructed him: “The foods it is proper to abstain from are these – other’s wealth, other’s wives, slander, envy, covetousness, and pride.”
Bhai Amar Das ji was old now, but a halo of devotion shone around him. His daily duties were as follows: He rose at Goindwal at four in the morning, and proceeded to the river Bias to take water to Khadur for the Guru to bath with. Meanwhile he repeated the Japji and generally finished it halfway between Goindwal and Khadur. After hearing the Asa ki War in Khadur he fetched water for the Guru’s kitchen, scrubbed the cooking utensils, and brought firewood from the forest. Every evening he listened to the Sodar and then shampooed the Guru. After putting him to rest he returned to Goindwal, walking backwards in his supreme reverence for his spiritual master. The halfway spot where he used every morning to finish the Japji is called the Damdama or breathing-place. A Gurdwara was erected on the spot.
Question 6: What Sikh values are reflected in Bhai Amar Das’ life described in the passage above?
Question 7: What makes the majority of us so inactive and Bhai Amar Das so active even at such an old age?
ne night, three hours before day the Guru called out that he wanted water. He called again but no one answered him. The third time he shook one of his sons to awaken, and told him to go and fetch water. When the son showed no inclination to obey his father, Bhai Amar Das ji at once said, “Great King, your slave will fetch you water.” The Guru objected and said Amar Das was now too old for such service. Bhai Amar Das replied that he had grown young upon hearing the Guru’s order. He at once put a pitcher on his head and started for the river. Intoxicated with the wine of devotion, he thought not of his body and fulfilled the Guru’s order. On his return, Amar Das fell after striking his foot against a peg of wood but he managed to save the pitcher of water on his head. The village people made fun of him by saying that it was “That poor homeless Amru whose beard has grown gray and who has taken leave of his senses. Having abandoned his sons and daughters, his house and home, his commerce and his dealings, he is now without occupation and wanders from door to door. Other people go to sleep at night, but he will not rest even then. Single-handed he does the work of twenty men.”
As the aforementioned incident was reported to Guru Angad, he praised Bhai Amar Das’ devotion and described him as “the home of the homeless,” adding that he was “the honor of those without honor, the strength of the weak, the support of those without support, the shelter of the unsheltered, the protector of the unprotected, the restorer of what is lost, the emancipator of the captive.” This also decided Guru Angad’s mind on the issue of the selection of a successor. The choice inevitably fell on Amar Das, who was installed on Guru Nanak’s pontific Throne on March 29, 1552.
Guru ka Langar became still more renowned in Guru Amar Das’ time. The Guru expected every visitor to partake of food in it before seeing him. By this he meant to minimize distinctions of caste or rank. Emperor Akbar, who once vistited him at Goindwal, is said to have eaten in the refectory like any other pilgrim. The food in the langar was ussually of a rich Punjabi variety. Guru Amar Das, however, lived on coarse bread earned by his own labor. Whatever was received in the kitchen during the day was used by night and nothing was saved for the morrow.
Guru Amar Das Sahib, even at such an old age, made a plethora of reforms and gave Sikhism a more concrete shape. In his hands the Sikh Faith was further consolidated. He created a well-knit ecclesiastical system and set up twenty-two manjis (dioceses or preaching districts). Each was placed under the charge of a pious Sikh, who, besides disseminating the Guru’s message, looked after the sangat within his or her jurisdictions. The manjis ran parallel to the twenty-two provinces of Akbar’s empire. By doing so he asserted the sovereignty of the House of Nanak. The primary duties of those who held the manjis were to preach Sikhism, resolve community related problems, to act as a liaison between the Guru and the Sikhs, and to collect daswand from Sikhs to be sent to Goindwal. Three of these manjis were held by women. Along with the manji system, Guru Das ji trained a group of 146 missionaries, of whom 52 were women, to go to various parts of the country and attend to the spiritual needs of the Guru's followers.
Guru Amar Das significantly improved the status of women. He condemned the horrific practice of sati and encouraged the remarriage of widows. He did not allow women to cover their faces with veils.
Question 8: Gurbani often asserts that “Guru is the Emancipator.” In what way did the Guru liberate his disciples? Is “worldly liberation” required for one to achieve ultimate emancipation?
Question 9: The shabad was actually revealed
uru Amar Das Sahib’s son-in-law uttered today’s theme shabad in deep humility. Historians attribute this shabad’s revelation to two different occasions.
When Bhai Jetha ji married Guru Amar Das ji’s daughter. (Max A. Macauliffe and Shabadarth)
When Guru Amar Das Sahib gave Bhai Jetha ji his Gurgaddi. (Giani Harbans Singh )
At the beginning of the workshop:
Think about an incident or number of incidents in your life that prompted you to CHANGE your lifestyle?
Name someone that is or was younger than you that you respect and look up to.
After the workshop:
What lessons do we learn from the life of Guru AmarDas ji.
Write down on a piece of paper something that you will change about yourself. Keep it along with the one thing that you cherish.