Guru Arjan

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Guru Arjan
Guru Arjan being pronounced fifth guru
Guru Arjan being pronounced as fifth Guru
Born 2 May 1563 (1563-05-02)
Goindval, Tarn Taran, India
Died 30 May 1606 (1606-05-31) (aged 43)
Lahore, Pakistan
Other names The Fifth Master
Years active 1581–1606
Known for Compiled and installed the Adi Granth; built the Harmandir Sahib.
Predecessor Guru Ram Das
Successor Guru Hargobind
Spouse(s) Mata Ganga
Children Guru Hargobind
Parents Guru Ram Das and Mata Bhani

Guru Arjan (Punjabi: ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜਨ [ɡʊru əɾdʒən]; Hindi: गुरु अर्जन ;15 April 1563 – 30 May 1606) was the first Sikh martyr and the fifth of the eleven Sikh Gurus, who compiled writings to create the eleventh, the living Guru, Guru Granth Sahib. He was born in Goindval, Punjab the youngest son of Guru Ram Das and Bibi Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das.[1]

Guru Arjan lived as the Guru of Sikhism for a quarter of a century. Guru Arjan completed the construction of Amritsar and founded other cities, such as Taran Taran and Kartarpur. The greatest contribution he made to the Sikh faith was to compile all of the past Gurus' writings, along with selected writings of other saints from different backgrounds which he considered consistent with the teachings of Sikhism into one book, now the holy scripture: the Guru Granth Sahib. It is, perhaps, the only script which still exists in the form first published (a hand-written manuscript) by the Guru.[2]

Guru Arjan organised the Masand system, a group of representatives who taught and spread the teachings of the Gurus and also received the Dasvand, partial offering of a Sikh's income (in money, goods or service) that Sikhs paid to support the building of Gurdwara Sahib, Langar (shared communal kitchens) originally intended to share with sense of love, respect and equality, still an important element today in any Gurdwara. The Langars were open to any visitors and were designed from the start to stress the idea of equality and a casteless society.


Continuing the efforts of Guru Ramdass, Guru Arjan established Amritsar as a primary Sikh pilgrimage destination. He wrote a voluminous amount of Sikh scripture including the popular Sukhmani Sahib.

Compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan gave Sikhs an example of religious and moral conduct, as well as a rich body of sacred poetry. His starting of collection of offerings by way of Masand system, in a systematic way, accustomed them to a regular government. He traded in horses, though not extensively, and encouraged his followers to follow his example, to be as zealous in trade as they were in their faith.[3] Guru Arjan became famous among his pious devotees and his biographers dwell on the number of Saints and Holy men who were edified by his instructions.[3] He was equally heeded by men in high positions. During his time, the teaching and philosophy of Guru Nanak took a firm hold on the minds of his followers.

The economic well-being of the country is closely linked with the monsoon. With a view to alleviating the sufferings of the peasants, Guru Arjan helped the villagers in digging six-channel Persian wheel (Chhehrta) wells, which irrigated their fields. Chheharta is a living monument of his efforts in this direction.


Guru Arjan included the compositions of both Hindu and Muslim saints which he considered consistent with the teachings of Sikhism. In 1606, the Muslim Emperor Jahangir ordered that he be tortured and sentenced to death after he refused to remove all Islamic and Hindu references from the Holy book.[4] He was made to sit on a burning hot sheet while boiling hot sand was poured over his body. After enduring five days of unrelenting torture Guru Arjan was taken for a bath in the river. As thousands watched he entered the river never to be seen again.[5]

Jahangir was angered by the number of Muslims who converted to Sikhism. Professor J. F. Richard's view that Jahangir was "persistently hostile to popularly venerated religious figures"[6] is instructive, though it appears that Jahangir only took action against religious figures he saw as threats to the state.

Historical turning point[edit]

J.S. Grewal notes that Sikh sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century contain contradictory reports of Guru Arjan's death.[7] the author of the Bichitra Natak, mentions Guru Arjan only once, to record that "when Arjan departed this life for the divine abode, [the Guru] assumed the form of Hargobind."[8]

Bhai Gurdas, a contemporary of Guru Arjan and noted Sikh chronicler, recorded his death.[9] In the 1740s, Chaupa Singh, who was close to Guru Gobind Singh, placed the blame on Chandu Shah, a Hindu official in Lahore, who Chaupa Singh accused of having the Guru arrested and executed after he turned down Chandu Shah's offer of marriage between Chandu's daughter and Hargobind.[10]

A contemporary Jesuit account, written in 1606 by Father Jerome Xavier, who was in Lahore at the time records that the Sikhs managed to get Jahangir to commute the death sentence to a heavy fine, for which a rich individual, possibly a Sikh, stood as guarantor.[11] The Guru however refused to let a fine be paid for him and even refused when a longtime friend of his, Sai Mian Mir, tried interceding on his behalf. Jahangir tortured Guru Arjan in the hopes of extracting the money, but the Guru refused to give in and so attained martyrdom. The other near-contemporary non-Sikh source, a 1640s chronicle probably written by a Parsi, supports this view.[12] The most vivid and comprehensive account of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan has been presented by the renowned historian Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer: "Jahangir had not yet settled in his throne that his son Khusrau rebelled against him; Khusrau had been assured assistance by various military sources but when time really came, he could not get help; as a result he lost a major battle and fled towards Punjab. While proceeding to Lahore, he made a stop-over at Goindwal; here, he went to Guru Arjan and sought his blessings; the Guru treated him like all other visitors and blessed him. From here, he went to Lahore but here too he could not get help nor could he occupy the fort of Lahore; then he decided to flee towards Iran. But, before he could escape to a safer zone he was arrested (on 1 May 1606). By this time Jahangir too had reached the Punjab. At Lahore, Khusrau was presented before him; Jahangir despatched him to prison. Then, he began summoning all those who had helped or even sympathised Khusrau; in this atmosphere of conspiracies, several innocent people too were punished as personal enmities led to false complaints. This situation was exploited by anti-Sikh forces too; they conveyed to Jahangir that Guru Arjan too had blessed Khusrau; so, having received complaints about the Guru's blessings to Khusrau, Jahangir sent summons to Guru Arjan asking him to appear in his court at Lahore. Though this was the immediate cause but, in fact, Jahangir had already been planning to take action against the Guru as he had already received information about the missionary achievement of Guru Arjan. On 23 May 1606, he issued summons to the Guru to appear in his court at Lahore; the Guru received summons on 25 May. He knew that fanatic Muslims and Hindus had poisoned Jahangir so much that he might be executed; so, he immediately installed (Guru) Hargobind as Sixth Guru and left for Lahore. When Guru Arjan appeared in the court of Jahangir, the latter himself issued orders for the execution of the Guru; the task of execution was assigned to Chandu (a courtier of Lahore Darbar). Guru was tied with a rope and taken to the burning sand pits (known as tatti tawi) on the bank of Raavi River and also poured red hot sand on his body. Chandu monitored torturing of the Guru for three days and on 30 May, when Guru's body was badly burnt; it was thrown into the river."[13]

Noted Sikh historian Dr. Harjinder Singh Majhail[14] writes,

"The martyrdom of the fifth Guru is a first turning point in Sikh history. It created circumstances, which gave a militant colour to a spiritually coloured, otherworldly people. The Sikhs for whom their Satguru i.e. True Master was dearer than anything else in the world, were never ready to accept their True master's martyrdom. What pained them more was that their Master was mercilessly tortured to death. The fifth Guru was made to sit on big hot ferrous bread-baking plates and the burning sands from a parcher's furnace were poured on his bare body. After such inhuman tortures, the Guru was taken to the river 'Ravi' for a bath where he was said to have mysteriously disappeared into the 'Ravi'. All this was too much for the Sikhs. The blood-curdling tortures meted out on their beloved Guru made their blood boil. They sat brooding waiting for vengeance".


  1. ^ Mcleod, Hew (1997). Sikhism. London: Penguin Books. p. 28. ISBN 0-14-025260-6. 
  2. ^ Mahajan, Vidya Dhar. "Ch. 10". Muslim Rule In India (fifth ed.). p. 232. 
  3. ^ a b Cunningham, J.D. (1853). "Gooroo Arjoon". A History of the Sikhs. John Murray. 
  4. ^ "Guru Arjan". 26 October 2009. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "Guru Arjan, 1563-1606". 26 October 2009. BBC. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire, in The New Cambridge History of India. 1, 5. Gen eds. Chris Bayly, Gordon Johnson, John F. Richards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 97.
  7. ^ J.S. Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab, in The New Cambridge History of India. 2, 3. Gen eds. Chris Bayly, Gordon Johnson, John F. Richards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 63-64.
  8. ^ Bachiatr Natak, 5:11Bachiatr Natak, 5:11
  9. ^ Vir Singh, ed. Varam Bahi Gurdas Satki, 9th edition. New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, 1997), p. 386.
  10. ^ W. H. McLeod, ed. and trans. The Chaupa Singh Rahit-nama. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1987), p. 107.
  11. ^ Father Jerome to Father Gasper Fernandes, (BM add MS 9854, ff. 38-52), 1617, in Sicques, Tigers or Thieves: Eyewitness Accounts of the Sikhs (1606-1809). Eds. Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, p. 7.
  12. ^ Mobad', Dabistan-i Mazahib, 1645-46, in Sikh history from Persian sources. Eds. J.S. Grewal and Irfan Habib. Indian History Congress: Tulika, 2001. p. 67.
  13. ^ Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, SIKH HISTORY IN 10 VOLUMES, vol 1, pp 248-250.
  14. ^ (2010: pp. 144–146)


  1. Tuzuk-i-Jahagiri or Memoirs of Jahagir, Translated by Alexander Rogers. Edited by Henry Beveridge Published by Low Price Publication. ISBN 978-81-7536-148-5
  2. History of the Panjab, Syad Muhammad Latif, Published by: Kalyani Publishers, Ludhiana, Punjab, India. ISBN 978-81-7096-245-8
  3. Philosophy of 'Charhdi Kala' and Higher State of Mind in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Dr. Harjinder Singh Majhail, 2010, Published by: Deepak Publishers, Jalandhar, Punjab, India. ISBN 81-88852-96-1
  4. SIKH HISTORY IN 10 VOLUMES,Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Published by: The Sikh University Press, Brussels, Belgium. ISBN 2- 930247-41-X

External links[edit]

Preceded by:
Guru Ram Das
(24 September 1534 – 1 September 1581)
Guru Arjan Followed by:
Guru Har Gobind
(5 July 1595 – 19 March 1644)