Portrait Carved on Gold
Gurdwara Lachi Ber, Amritsar
|Other names||The Fifth Master|
15 April 1563|
Goindval, Tarn Taran district, Mughal Empire (Present day India)
|Died||30 May 1606
Lahore, Mughal Empire (Present day Pakistan)
|Resting place||Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Walled City of Lahore|
|Parents||Guru Ram Das and Bibi Bhani|
|Predecessor||Guru Ram Das|
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Guru Arjan ([ɡʊru əɾdʒən]; 15 April 1563 – 30 May 1606) was the first martyr of the Sikh faith and the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus, who compiled the first official edition of the Sikh scripture called the Adi Granth, which later expanded into the Guru Granth Sahib.
He was born in Goindval, in the Punjab, the youngest son of Bhai Jetha, who later became Guru Ram Das, and Mata Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das. He was the first Guru in Sikhism to be born into a Sikh family. Guru Arjan led Sikhism for a quarter of a century. He completed the construction of Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, after the fourth Sikh Guru founded the town and built a pool. Guru Arjan compiled the hymns of previous Gurus and of other saints into Adi Granth, the first edition of the Sikh scripture, and installed it in the Harimandir Sahib.
Guru Arjan reorganized the Masands system initiated by Guru Ram Das, by suggesting that the Sikhs donate, if possible, one tenth of their income, goods or service to the Sikh organization (dasvand). The Masand not only collected these funds but also taught tenets of Sikhism and settled civil disputes in their region. The dasvand financed the building of gurdwaras and langars (shared communal kitchens).
Guru Arjan was arrested under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and asked to convert to Islam. He refused, was tortured and executed in 1606 CE. Historical records and the Sikh tradition are unclear whether Guru Arjan was executed by drowning or died during torture. His martyrdom is considered a watershed event in the history of Sikhism. It is remembered as Shaheedi Divas of Guru Arjan every year on 16 June, according to the Nanakshahi calendar released by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 2003.
Arjan was born in Goindval to Guru Ram Das, who was known as Jetha Sodhi before his appointement as fourth Sikh Guru in 1574, and Bibi Bhani who was the daughter of Guru Amar Das. They also gave birth to Prithi Chand and Mahadev. Various Sikh chroniclers give his birth year as 1553 or 1563, the latter is accepted by scholarly consensus as the actual year of birth with 15 April as the accepted birth date.
Arjan spent the first 11 years of his life in Goindval, and the next seven years with his father in Ramdaspur. Per Sikh tradition, he had stayed for two years in Lahore during his youth after being sent by his father to attend the wedding of his first cousin Sahari Mal's son as well as to establish a Sikh congregation. He was appointed as the Sikh Guru in 1581 after the death of his father. During his time as a Sikh Guru, he established the towns of Tarn Taran, Kartarpur and Sri Hargobindpur in addition to extending trading links across India's northwestern frontier into Afghanistan and beyond.
Arjan had two elder brothers, Prithi Chand and Mahadev. Guru Ram Das chose Arjan, the youngest, to succeed him as the fifth Sikh Guru. Mahadev, the middle brother chose the life of an ascetic. His choice of Arjan as successor, as throughout most of the history of Sikh Guru successions, led to disputes and internal divisions among the Sikhs.
The stories in the Sikh tradition about the succession dispute around Guru Arjan are inconsistent. In one version, Prithi Chand is remembered in the Sikh tradition as vehemently opposing Guru Arjan, creating a faction Sikh community. The Sikhs following Guru Arjan called the Prithi Chand faction as Minas (literally, "scoundrels"), who are alleged to have attempted to assassinate young Hargobind, and befriended Mughal agents. However, the second version, found in alternate competing texts written by the Prithi Chand led Sikh faction contradict this version. They offer a different explanation for the attempt on Hargobind's life, and present the elder son of Guru Ram Das as devoted to his younger brother Guru Arjan. The competing texts do acknowledge disagreement, Prithi Chand leaving Amritsar, and describe him as having become the Sahib Guru after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan and disputing the succession of Guru Hargobind, the grandson of Guru Ram Das.
The mainstream Sikh tradition recognised Guru Arjan as the fifth Guru, and Hargobind as the sixth Guru. Arjan, at age 18, became the fifth Guru in 1581 inheriting the title from his father. After his execution by the Muslim officials of the Mughal Empire, his son Hargobind became the sixth Guru in 1606 CE.
Most Mughal historians considered Guru Arjan's execution as a political event, stating that the Sikhs had become formidable as a social group, and Sikh Gurus became actively involved in the Punjabi political conflicts.[note 1] A similar theory floated in early 20th-century, asserts that this was just a politically-motivated single execution. According to this theory, there was an ongoing Mughal dynasty dispute between Jahangir and his son Khusrau suspected of rebellion by Jahangir, wherein Guru Arjan blessed Khusrau and thus the losing side. Jahangir was jealous and outraged, and therefore he ordered the Guru's execution.
The competing view is that of the Sikh tradition which states that the Guru's execution was part of the ongoing persecution of the Sikhs by Islamic authorities in the Mughal Empire, and that the Mughal rulers of Punjab were alarmed at the growth of the Panth. According to Jahangir's autobiography Tuzk-e-Jahangiri (Jahangirnama), too many people were becoming persuaded by Guru Arjan's teachings and if Guru Arjan did not become a Muslim, the Sikh Panth had to be extinguished.[note 1]
In 1606 CE, the Guru was imprisoned in Lahore Fort, where by some accounts he was tortured and executed, and by other accounts the method of his death remains unresolved. Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi cheered the punishment and execution of Guru Arjun, calling the Sikh Guru an infidel.[note 2]
According to the Sikh tradition, before his execution, Guru Arjan instructed his son and successor Hargobind to take up arms, and resist tyranny. His execution led the Sikh Panth to become armed and pursue resistance to persecution under the Islamic rule.
Some scholars state that the evidence is unclear whether his death was due to execution, torture or forced drowning in the Ravi river. J.S. Grewal notes that Sikh sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century contain contradictory reports of Guru Arjan's death. J. F. Richard states that Jahangir was persistently hostile to popularly venerated non-Islamic religious figures, not just Sikhism. Bhai Gurdas was a contemporary of Guru Arjan and is a noted 17th-century Sikh chronicler. His eyewitness account recorded Guru Arjan life, and the order by Emperor Jahangir to torture the Guru to death.
A contemporary Jesuit account, written by Spanish Jesuit missionary Jerome Xavier (1549–1617), who was in Lahore at the time, records that the Sikhs tried to get Jahangir to substitute the torture and death sentence to a heavy fine, but this attempt failed. Dabistan-i Mazahib Mobad states Jahangir tortured Guru Arjan in the hopes of extracting the money and public repudiation of his spiritual convictions, but the Guru refused and was executed. Jerome Xavier, in appreciation of the courage of Guru Arjun, wrote back to Lisbon, that Guru Arjan suffered and was tormented.
Michael Barnes states that the resolve and death of Guru Arjun strengthened the conviction among Sikhs that, "personal piety must have a core of moral strength. A virtuous soul must be a courageous soul. Willingness to suffer trial for one's convictions was a religious imperative".
Historical revisionism, reconstruction and disputes
There are several stories and versions about how, where and why Guru Arjan died. Recent scholarship has questioned many of these, calling them as fictional interpretation, reflecting an agenda, or "exaggerating fragmentary traces of documentary evidence in historical analysis". The alternate versions include stories about the role of Guru Arjan in a conflict between the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his son who Jahangir suspected of trying to organize a patricidal coup, or alternatively a Hindu minister of Jahangir named Chandu Shah, who in one version takes revenge on Guru Arjan for not marrying his son Hargobind to Chandu Shah's daughter, and in another Lahore version where Chandu Shah actually prevents Guru Arjan from suffering torture and death by Muslims by paying 200,000 rupees (100,000 crusados) to Jahangir, but then keeps him and emotionally torments him to death in his house. All these versions and meta-narratives became popular in 19th century British colonial literature, such as those of Max Arthur Macauliffe. Several alternative versions of the story try to absolve Jahangir and the Mughal empire of any responsibility, but have no trace or support in the documentary evidence from early 17th century, such as the records of Jesuit priest Jerome Xavier and the memoirs of Jahangir.
Guru Arjan's father Guru Ram Das founded the town named after him "Ramdaspur", around a large man-made water pool called "Ramdas Sarovar". Guru Arjan continued the infrastructure building effort of his father. The town expanded during the time of Guru Arjan, financed by donations and constructed by voluntary work. The pool area grew into a temple complex with the gurdwara Harmandir Sahib near the pool. Guru Arjan installed the scripture of Sikhism inside the new temple in 1604. The city that emerged is now known as Amritsar, and is the holiest pilgrimage site in Sikhism.
Continuing the efforts of Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan established Amritsar as a primary Sikh pilgrimage destination. He wrote a voluminous amount of Sikh scripture including the popular Sukhmani Sahib. Guru Arjan is credited with completing many other infrastructure projects, such as water reservoirs called Santokhsar (lake of peace) and Gangsar (lake of Ganga), founding the towns of Tarn Taran, Kartarpur and Hargobindpur.
One of the Sikh community disputes following Guru Ram Das was the emergence of new hymns claiming to have been composed by Nanak. According to faction led by Guru Arjan, these hymns were distorted and fake, with some blaming Prithi Chand and his Sikh faction for having composed and circulated them. The concern and the possibility of wrong propaganda, immoral teachings and inauthentic Gurbani led Guru Arjan to initiate a major effort to collect, study, approve and compile a written official scripture, and this he called Adi Granth, the first edition of the Sikh scripture by 1604.
The composition of both Prithi Chand and his followers have been preserved in the Mina texts of Sikhism, while the mainstream and larger Sikh tradition adopted the Guru Granth Sahib scripture that ultimately emerged from the initiative of Guru Arjan.
Guru Arjan was a prolific poet and composed 2,218 hymns, or more than a third and the largest collection of hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. According to Christopher Shackle and Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Guru Arjan's compositions combined spiritual message in an "encyclopedic linguistic sophistication" with "Braj Bhasha forms and learned Sanskrit vocabulary".
After its completion and installation in the Harimandir Sahib, Emperor Akbar was informed of the development with the allegation that it contained teachings hostile to Islam. He ordered a copy be brought to him. Guru Arjan sent him a copy on a thali (plate), with the following message that was later added to the expanded text:
In this thali (dish) you will find three things – truth, peace and contemplation:
in this too the nectar Name which is the support of all humanity.— AG 1429, Translated by William Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi
The Akbarnama by Abu'l-Fazl Allami mentions that Guru Arjan met the Mughal emperor Akbar and his cortege in 1598. According to Louis Fenech, this meeting likely influenced the development of Sikh manuscriptology and the later martial tradition.
- The following is from Jahangir's memoirs:
There was a Hindu named Arjan in Gobindwal on the banks of the Beas River. Pretending to be a spiritual guide, he had won over as devotees many simple-minded Indians and even some ignorant, stupid Muslims by broadcasting his claims to be a saint. They called him guru. Many fools from all around had recourse to him and believed in him implicitly. For three or four generations they had been peddling this same stuff. For a long time I had been thinking that either this false trade should be eliminated or that he should be brought into the embrace of Islam. At length, when Khusraw passed by there, this inconsequential little fellow wished to pay homage to Khusraw. When Khusraw stopped at his residence, [Arjan] came out and had an interview with [Khusraw]. Giving him some elementary spiritual precepts picked up here and there, he made a mark with saffron on his forehead, which is called qashqa in the idiom of the Hindus and which they consider lucky. When this was reported to me, I realized how perfectly false he was and ordered him brought to me. I awarded his houses and dwellings and those of his children to Murtaza Khan, and I ordered his possessions and goods confiscated and him executed. – Emperor Jahangir's Memoirs, Jahangirnama 27b-28a, (Translator: Wheeler M. Thackston)
- This is from records of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, composed after the punishment and execution of Guru Arjun:
These days the accursed infidel of Gobindwal was very fortunately killed. It is a cause of great defeat for the reprobate Hindus. With whatever intention and purpose they are killed – the humiliation of infidels is for Muslims, life itself. Before this Kafir (Infidel) was killed, I had seen in a dream that the Emperor of the day had destroyed the crown of the head of Shirk or infidelity. It is true that this infidel [Guru Arjun] was the chief of the infidels and a leader of the Kafirs. The object of levying Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) on them is to humiliate and insult the Kafirs, and Jihad against them and hostility towards them are the necessities of the Mohammedan faith. – Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, Letter to Murtaza Khan, On the execution of Guru Arjan
- "Arjan, Sikh Guru". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
- Mcleod, Hew (1997). Sikhism. London: Penguin Books. p. 28. ISBN 0-14-025260-6.
- William Owen Cole; Piara Singh Sambhi (1995). The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Sussex Academic Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-898723-13-4., Quote: "He was the first Guru to have been born a Sikh".
- Christopher Shackle; Arvind Mandair (2013). Teachings of the Sikh Gurus: Selections from the Sikh Scriptures. Routledge. pp. xv–xvi. ISBN 978-1-136-45101-0.
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- DS Dhillon (1988), Sikhism Origin and Development Atlantic Publishers, pp. 213-215, 204-207
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- Jahangir, Emperor of Hindustan (1999). The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India. Translated by Thackston, Wheeler M. Oxford University Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-19-512718-8.
- Louis E. Fenech, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, Oxford University Press, pp. 118-121
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- Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1.
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- DS Dhillon (1988), Sikhism Origin and Development Atlantic Publishers, pp. 99-110
- Pashaura Singh (2005), Understanding the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, Journal of Philosophical Society, 12(1), page 29, Quote: "The most controversial issue in Sikh history is related to Guru Arjan’s execution in Mughal custody. A number of interpretations of this event have emerged in scholarly and quasi-scholarly writings."
- W.H. McLeod (2009). The A to Z of Sikhism. Scarecrow Press. p. 20 (Arjan's Death). ISBN 9780810863446.
The Mughal rulers of the Punjab were evidently concerned with the growth of the Panth, and in 1605 the Emperor Jahangir made an entry in his memoirs, the Tuzuk-i-Jahāṅgīrī, concerning Guru Arjan's support for his rebellious son Khusrau Mirza. Too many people, he wrote, were being persuaded by his teachings, and if the Guru would not become a Muslim the Panth had to be extinguished. Jahangir believed that Guru Arjan was a Hindu who pretended to be a saint, and that he had been thinking of forcing Guru Arjan to convert to Islam or his false trade should be eliminated, for a long time. Mughal authorities seem plainly to have been responsible for Arjan's death in custody in Lahore, and this may be accepted as an established fact. Whether death was by execution, the result of torture, or drowning in the Ravi River remains unresolved. For Sikhs, Arjan is the first martyr Guru.
- Pashaura Singh (2005), Understanding the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, Journal of Philosophical Society, 12(1), page 29, Quote: Similarly, in the early decades of twentieth century Beni Prasad treated this whole affair as “a single execution due primarily to political reasons.”
- Pashaura Singh (2005), Understanding the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, Journal of Philosophical Society, 12(1), pages 32-33
- Gandhi, R. Punjab:A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten. Aleph Book Company. p. 34. ISBN 9789383064410.
Quote: Jahangir, Akbar's son and successor, had ordered the execution. We know from Jahangir's own handwriting that he was jealous of Guru Arjan Dev's popularity and that a gesture from the Guru towards Khusrau, a son rebelling against Jahangir, had outraged him.
- Pashaura Singh (2005), Understanding the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, Journal of Philosophical Society, 12(1), page 29, Quote: "In contrast to this viewpoint, however, most of the Sikh scholars have vehemently presented this event as the first of the long series of religious persecutions that Sikhs suffered at the hands of Mughal authorities."
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In that way, their good Pope died, overwhelmed by the sufferings, torments and dishonours. – Jerome Xavier, Letter to Gasper Fernandes in Lisbon, On the execution of Guru Arjan
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Guru Ram Das
1 September 1581 – 25 May 1606
Guru Har Gobind