by SS Shanti Kaur Khalsa, Espanola, NM
Guru Arjan Dev ji was the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. He built the Harimandir Sahib, complied the Adi Granth and composed heavenly Gurbani that opens our hearts.
Gurdas ji wrote that whatever you say about Guru Arjan Dev ji, it would not be enough. Words will never describe the majesty and magnificence of the whole man.
For me, Guru Arjan Dev stands as a link between my world and the real reality of the realm of Akal Purkh. He was a father and a husband, living life fully every day. At the same time he was the master of the unseen, and was able to effortlessly draw on that strength when the time called for the supreme sacrifice.
Guru Arjan Dev was a brilliant statesman, and through his social and financial reforms he shaped the Sikh community into a strong nation within greater India. The Muslim Emperor Akbar came twice to see Guru Arjan Dev, eating in the Guru’s langar and sharing spiritual discussions with the great Guru.
Guru Arjan and Emperor Jahangir
When Akbar died, he nominated his grandson, Prince Khusro, over his cruel son Jahangir as successor to the throne of India. However, Jahangir would not honor the appointment, and a great family struggle for power ensued. Khusro claimed the Punjab and Afghanistan as his kingdom, and so Jahangir went in military pursuit of him.
The young Prince Khusro was no match for Jahangir, and at the age of thirteen he found himself penniless and on the run, with his father in hot pursuit. As the young prince came through Amritsar, Guru Arjan Dev showed him mercy and hospitality in keeping with the Sikh tradition and in the memory of the young prince’s grandfather.
The local Mughal administration was suspicious of the growing socio-political strength and influence of the Guru and the Sikh community. So when Jahangir went on to take the throne of Delhi, crushing the Sikhs became one of his priorities.
Jahangir hated all the people who were looked upon with tolerance by Akbar, and it was with this vengeance that he summoned Guru Arjan Dev ji to Lahore and levied a fine on him of two lakh rupees.
Guru Arjan Dev refused to pay it. The Sikhs begged the Guru to let them pay the fine themselves but the Guru believed Jahangir’s action to be unjust, and he forbade them to do so. He replied to the Emperor, “Whatever money I have is for the poor, and the friendless travelers. If you ask the Guru for money, I will give you whatever you need; but if you demand it by way of fine, I shall not give you even a penny.”
The Martyrdom of Guru Arjan
Furious that the Guru would deny him, Jahangir imprisoned him in the Fort of Lahore and ordered him tortured to death. He was chained to a post in an open place, exposed to the sun from morning to evening in the hot month of June. He was put on a metal plate, and below his feet a heap of sand was put which burnt like a furnace. Boiling water was poured on his naked body at intervals.
For five days and nights, Guru Arjan Dev was brutally tortured. Even the angels in heaven begged him to stop and return to his heavenly home, but sill Guru Arjan resided patiently in his earthly body. His devotion was like a mountain that could not be moved. On the fifth day, he requested to bathe in the cold waters of the Ravi.
Assisted by his Sikhs, he took slow and painful steps, as there was no part of his body that was not badly burned. His skin was covered with blisters, and when the cold water touched him the shock was so great that his body could not sustain it. The great and luminous Guru Arjan Dev left his body behind.
The Guru accepted death by torture and suffered the first great martyrdom in the Sikh tradition rather than bow to the criminal demands of tyranny. The sacrifice of this blessed life steeled the faith of the Sikh community and lifted the illusionary boundaries of mortal life. Guru Arjan Dev’s son, Guru Hargobind Sahib, deeply integrated this experience into the psyche of the community.
The Saint-Soldier rose under his leadership for the first time. The Guru is a monolith of radiant light that stood against tyranny and reached the pinnacle of human existence in the form of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji. In that Light we, as ministers of Sikh Dharma, have the responsibility to fearlessly take our own stand against tyranny wherever we encounter it.
Listen to Shanti Kaur’s lecture on the birthday of Guru Arjan Dev ji (May 6, 2004)
About the Author
SS Shanti Kaur Khalsa is a wife, mother, and Minister of Sikh Dharma. She is an active Sikh sevadar in the United States and abroad. Involvement with Sikh youth has led to mentoring young people around the world in the Sikh Rahit, both in their personal and professional lives. Shanti spent more than twenty years studying with Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji who inspired her on the path of Sikhism. She is an active kirtani, and has traveled widely giving inspirational kirtan and lecture programs. She hosts an on-line book shop for Sikh history book – www.sikhbookshelf.com.