Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
I find the Sikh Gurus very endearing for their simplicity, humility and the need to serve one and all, irrespective of caste, creed and other dualities and Guru Ram Das (some spell the name as Guru Raam Das), the fourth Guru in the lineage of the ten Gurus, lived a life of such humbleness and gentleness that just reading about this Master can enrich one’s life and put one’s priority into perspective.
Nowadays, most individuals expect a spiritual Master to be mainly in prayer, if not in seclusion, then at least absorbed in mentoring, counselling, predicting, healing and performing miracles, either seated in various arthritic inducing yogi postures or otherwise.
Guru Ram Das through His forty seven years in the physical body was very clear that all kind of work, be it intellectual or even manual labour, done with the intent of serving one’s Master (whether the Master was in the body or otherwise mattered little) was as spiritual as meditation or seclusion. It did not matter what one was occupied in, as long as one lived each moment, chanting The Name and trying to make God, Goddess, Master happy and proud of you.
Thus, through His physical life, Guru Ram Das, worked side by side as a common manual labourer, even after He was appointed the successor to the lineage of the Sikh Gurus. Be it toiling along with His own community and those who considered Him to be the shinning light of Sikhism, making the township of Amritsar, as the fourth Guru, shoulder to shoulder, irrespective of the season or His state of health or earlier, serving His Guru, washing the clothes of Guru Amar Das, sweeping and swapping His Guru’s home and helping in the cooking and preparation of the community meals called langar, nothing mattered to Guru Ram Das, as long as He worked and served His Master and then served to make His Master’s wishes be carried out, long after His Guru had left His physical body.
It is humbling to know that your Guru toils as hard as you, in spite of having so many other duties. It gets life into perspective that spirituality is not about just chakras, the Kundalini, energy work and philosophical ideologies and scriptures and meditation, but when one sees one own Guru, go about life, getting His hands and feet soiled, toiling away, all the while chanting The Name, making even the most humble work, spirituality in motion, prayer through toil….slowly all those around The Guru, begin to realise that each moment they work, even at home, making a meal for the family, if done with calmness, happiness, with The Name on your lips and the sigh of His or Her essence beating in your heart, one is in prayer, irrespective of what may seem to the onlooker….one is in communion with The One, even while cleaning the pot or clearing the sewage or farming or baking or praying or writing or working from morning to night to bring food on the table and just keep body and spirit together.
This is what Guru Ram Das believed in and lived this belief.
His love for His Guru was so profound and humble that till the end of His physical life, He did everything in the name of His Guru. Here He was, the fourth Guru of Sikhism, but He never lived as a Master, He always lived as the slave, dust, disciple and servant of His Guru. Till the end of His physical tenure on mother earth, He never lived as a Master but always as His Master’s voice and extension.
So often He would make it clear to one and all, that He was nobody, He was just a servant, slave, dust of His Master and thus there was no way filth like ego, pride, ownership, anger, one-upmanship ever could near Guru Ram Das, leave aside reside and set the rot within. He believed He was nobody but His Guru’s dust.
This is the true trait of all these Giants. They never forgot Their Roots, never ever left the shadow of Their Source and did all in the name of Their God, Goddess, Guru. They never forget that Their essence and Their be all end all is to serve and spread The Light and to envelope all those who come to Them in the warm embrace of hope, love and most importantly Oneness.
The Giants spread Oneness. The dwarfs spread duality.
In fact, Guru Ram Das was so devoted to His Guru, that He made certain there were no records or history recorded of all that He did for Sikhs and Sikhism. He only wanted to be loved and known as His Guru’s slave and child.
Ok enough of my ramblings.
So who is Guru Ram Das?
Guru Ram Das was born on September 24th, 1534, in Lahore. His parents had waited for twelve years to become parents and
It was September 24,1534. A baby boy was born in a simple Khatri family of Chuna Mandi, in Lahore.
The parents, Hari Das and Anup Devi (known to all as Daya Kaur), were overjoyed. They had waited twelve long years for a child, and now their prayers were finally answered. They named the child Ram Das but with love and fondness called Him Jetha or the first born.
He was very playful but no matter what happened, He spent time helping His mother with the household chores and father with anything that was required of Him. The family was not well to do but in spite of their financial strife two things were made clear to the young offspring. First of all to earn one’s livelihood without resorting to deceit, gossip and slander. Slander and gossip are no longer even considered non spiritual but for many, disrespecting people behind their backs, spreading rumours, rejoicing at somebody else’s angst, gossiping and slandering, for many Masters are as soul withering as the other top of the chart indulgences that makes Master and God go hopping mad with disgust and ballistic in rage.
The second thing imparted to their young child was to share their limited income and food with those in need. It is said that nobody went away empty handed from their home, which says a lot of a family who themselves were trying their level best to keep head above water.
There seems to be some differences of opinion about Guru Ram Das’ childhood. Some historians claim that His parents expired by the time He reached the age of seven and some claim that only His father passed over while some are clear that both His parents lived till He was an adult. Anyway the fact is Jetha was exceedingly kind, well mannered, playful but very much in love with God and all the holy men who frequented His home town. No matter what took place, during the evening prayer time, He would leave everything and be at home to say His prayers.
As He grew up, He kept asking questions about God and other spiritual stuff to His family and friends and teachers but after a point nobody could truly satisfy His thirst for this knowledge. His need to be in the company of sages of all religions, began to worry His family. God and all was fine but if God and His merry group of spiritual loafers were going to take the boy away from worldly responsibilities then something needed to be done.
It is said that His mother told Him one day, when He was barely sixteen, to take a large packet of roasted grams, go to the market in town and sell the grams. Her son agreed. He loved His family and He did not want to be the cause of concern to them. So off He went and while traversing to the market, He met a group of yogis. He sat down with them and He realised that the yogis had not eaten for a long time and they would in all probability go to sleep on an empty stomach so the young Guru in waiting, fed all the yogis the grams meant for sale. The yogis did what they do best. They blessed the young man profusely and after a while young Ram Das began to make His way back home.
After a while He realised that He was returning home with no grams, no money, and lots of spiritual blah blahs in the form of blessings. He sat by the river and realised He was in a fine pickle.
Then He saw a group of Sikhs walking by and they greeted Him and He returned the greeting and asked them where were they all off to and they replied that they were going to meet the third Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das, and Jetha decided there and there that He too wanted to meet Guru Amar Das and left Lahore for Goindwal, with the group of Sikhs without informing anybody from His family.
He would return to His home town only as the fourth Guru after nearly two decades.
The moment He sat in front of Guru Amar Das and heard the Guru speak, Jetha realised that His search for His Master had come to an end and with that His search for all His answers too, as in the first meeting itself Guru Amar Das had answered all the questions He had been seeking.
From that very moment Jetha began to serve the Guru. He never sat still. He toiled happily through the day, serving the Guru. Taking care of everything that would bring comfort to His Guru and the Guru’s family. The Guru within a short time realised that Jetha was special. The young lad toiled through the day, either at the Guru’s home or at the langar. All work for the young man was seva to His Guru. From sweeping and swapping the floors, to washing His Guru’s clothes, to helping at the community feeding place, to massaging the Guru, to serving the Guru’s family. In a short time, Jetha was treated as a member of the Guru’s family.
Guru Amar Das began to take interest in the spiritual growth of Jetha and after a short while He and His wife, Masa Devi loved the boy so much that they asked Jetha if He would marry Their daughter Bibi Bhani.
The young man touched His Guru’s feet and said only one thing, ‘your wish is my command’.
Now as per the custom the daughter was to go and live at the husband’s home, but Jetha was very clear He would not leave His Guru. Thus, what seemed a very strange arrangement and a cause of lot of sick humour, Jetha began to live at His wife’s home. But Jetha did not care. For Him, His Guru, Amar Das came first, much before all worldly rituals and norms and customs.
Even after marriage, He continued to serve the Guru in the same manner as before. He did all that which He always had done at His Guru’s home and at the community center. He was the butt of many cruel jokes and slander and gossip. He was told by one and all that instead of being treated as a King, He was being treated as a menial labourer and a servant, but Jetha did not care. He loved His Guru so much that there was no way He would let something as trivial as being the son in law of the house, get in the way of His love and devotion.
There was a well or a water tank being made so that the entire town availed of water through the year. Jetha knew that construction of this particular water body was dear to His Guru and thus after serving the Guru, Jetha would work with other labourers through His spare time. Those who came from out of town would find it hard to believe that the young man, wearing soiled clothes, feet bruised and even bleeding, was the son in law of Guru Amar Das but both the Guru and His disciple cared little for what the world thought.
As time passed, Jetha became a father, of two sons and in a little while would be awaiting the arrival of His third son, but He continued being first His Guru’s servant, slave, disciple and child. He never allowed anything to come between this primary role between The Guru and Him.
Around that time certain individuals in the court of Emperor Akbar, began to malign Guru Amar Das, purporting that Guru Amar Das was criticising the Hindu faith. Emperor Akbar was a wise man who propounded the philosophy of Oneness and summoned Guru Amar Das to come and explain Himself in the royal court.
Guru Amar Das beyond all this worldly nonsense told His son in law and most importantly His dearest disciple to go and represent Him in Akbar’s court. Guru Amar Das was well aware that nobody loved Him the way Jetha did and if there was anybody who would with wisdom but mainly love, convince Emperor Akbar that there was no truth in the rumour and that all that which the King had been informed about Guru Amar Das was sheer poppycock, the only person for this task was His favourite Jetha.
And that is exactly what happened. The love Jetha had for His Guru poured through and Emperor Akbar was convinced that Guru Amar Das advocated Oneness and brotherhood of mankind and to take care of the needy and feed the hungry.
In fact after a short while Emperor Akbar visited Goindwal where Guru Amar Das resided. He spent time with the Guru, ate at the langar and was so pleased with the Guru and also by the langar managed by Jetha, that it is said that He wanted to let the State take care of the expenses or provide all food needed for the langar but Guru Amar Das refused, as the purpose of the community meals was to have the community take care of the needs and through that spread community oneness. So Emperor Akbar presented the nearby land as a gift to Guru Amar Das.
The Guru called Jetha and asked His favourite disciple and son in law to go and select a suitable place where a new township could be set up, which would be taken care of by Jetha. The very thought of being remotely separated from His Guru cut through the heart of Jetha but there was no way the young man would ever question His Guru. So He set out, surveyed the land gifted by Emperor Akbar, chose one, which was near a pond, and also, I think, as it was close to His Guru’s township.
So Jetha with His Guru’s blessings began work to build not only this new township but also build a huge water body or tank, for the residents in the new future. But of course Jetha spent most of His time with His Guru. He would keep shuttling between His Guru’s home town and this new town that was being built, which would be eventually called Amritsar, meaning a pond or pool filled with nectar.
Thus, under the guidance of His Guru, Guru Amar Das, the excavation of two tanks of sacred water, called Santokh-sar and Amri- t-sar, began. Thus Guru Ram Das, laid out the foundation site of a township around the latter which would eventually become the Golden Temple of the Harmandir Sahib complex in what is now called. Amritsar.
Jetha toiled like all the labourers and He carried baskets of soil on His head, and the people would directly or indirectly make fun of Him. They kept mocking Him that though He was a son in law of the Guru, in reality He was nothing more than a common labourer. But He never said a word. He would toil harder, as He had learnt that true love for the Guru is the only salvation and true obedience is the only way to show this true love.
One day, people from His own hometown stopped by and when they saw Him work, His clothes soiled by earth, they reproached Him. They told Him that He had cut their nose by doing all this manual work, like an untouchable, in His own father in law’s home and that could He have not a better way to earn His livelihood than ‘ to draw water, scrub daily vessels, and shampoo the Guru”. Jetha calmly replied that for the world Guru Amar Das was His father in law but for Him, Guru Amar Das was God in the physical form and He was serving His God and Master. So those folks went and complained to the Guru about how wrong it was to make His own son in law work like a common labourer. Guru Amar Das shut His eyes, smiled and then said, “I had not made him carry filth on his head, but I have put filth on the heads of his slanderers, and I have caused the umbrella of true sovereignty to wave over him. If he had not been born in your family, you would all have been damned. It is he who hath saved the whole of your tribe.”
The word was out that with entrusting Jetha with the construction of this new township, it was apparent that Guru Amar Das had silently chosen His successor. Many had realised the devotion Jetha had for His Guru and the love the Guru had for Him but no formal announcement was made. Guru Amar Das had two grown sons and according to many, the successor would be one of the two boys.
One day an affluent man came to Guru Amar Das, sought blessings and presented the Guru with a most exquisite pearl necklace. The Guru told the rich man to place the necklace on the one who resembled the Guru most. The rich man I assume must have scratched his amply body and after a while decided that he really had no blasted idea what was going on. All those present were certain one of the Guru’s sons would be chosen, but the Guru called Jetha and placed the necklace around His neck.
Obviously the Guru’s sons were not happy about this decision. But the Guru being the Guru cared a flying whatever and made it clear that it was Jetha who would succeed as the fourth Guru of the Sikhs when the time came.
When Jetha’s third child was about to be born, the Guru asked His daughter, what was it that she wished, as He was in one of those spiritual ecstatic ‘ask and you shall receive’ state of mind. The Guru’s daughter, that is Jetha’s wife, requested her Father to promise her that henceforth, the seat of the Gurus, would be hereditary. It was not a sensible thing to ask for but the Guru had already promised to grant His daughter her wish, so He sighed and said yes, but He forewarned that this beginning of the tradition would create lot of sorrow, grief and heart burn, which true to His words, amongst the following generations.
The only good thing to come about this promise was that when she delivered her third son, Guru Amar Das saw His grandson and was relieved to know that Arjan would be a fine successor to the Seat of Gurus after Jetha, as Jetha’s two elder boys were not fit to become Gurus of the Sikh faith. Thus, Guru Amar Das was relieved that after Jetha there was a true successor to the seat of the Guru.
But true to His word, neither were Guru Amar Das’ sons happy with this decision to appoint Jetha as the fourth Guru, nor the news that Arjan, Jetha’s new born, would eventually succeed Jetha and be appointed as the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, after Guru Ram Das would take samadhi, years later. Jetha’s two elder sons were none too pleased with the news too and did give grief to their youngest sibling for years, later on.
But Jetha was not interested in anything but to serve His Guru, Amar Das. Nothing mattered to Him but to love and take care of His Guru and abide with every word that came from His Guru.
Due to family pressure Guru Amar Das had to also give His other son in law Sriram or Rama, the chance to prove his worth to be the successor. There was a faction of the Sikh community who wanted Sriram or Rama to succeed as the fourth Guru. Jetha according to them was just a labourer, a simple man who lived like the rest of them and toiled like them and not fit to become the fourth Guru of the Sikhs.
So one day Guru Amar Das called forth a few hundred men and decided to prove to all why Jetha was the rightful heir to Him. He called both His son in laws and told them that He wanted a platform to be built near the water tank.
So both the men began to make the platforms. After the work was done Guru Amar Das inspected both the platforms and told both the men that He was not happy with the work and to demolish the platforms and begin a new one.
Both the men began to make a new platform and Guru Amar Das rejected both the platforms. Jetha sought forgiveness from His Guru, for creating something that did not meet His Guru’s approval while Sriram, refused to make the platform the third time saying that Guru Amar Das had grown old and weary and thus He could no longer distinguish between a good piece of work and a defective one.
Jetha built another platform which was demolished. And another one which was again demolished. He built seven platforms and Guru Amar Das rejected all of them. Eventually Jetha prostrated Himself at the feet of His Guru and pleaded that ‘ I am a fool and I have constantly made mistakes and I do not have enough wisdom to give You what You want but You possess all Knowledge and Wisdom, so forgive me my Guru, my Father and tell me how I should go about this task that will make You happy’.
Guru Amar Das smiled and hugged His child, His disciple and said ‘Jetha is a perfect being who has become incarnate and the world following him shall be saved. He has the flame of Guru Nanak flaming within Him and henceforth He shall be known as Guru Ram Das.’
Those present realised the love Jetha had for the Guru and eventually they too accepted the fact that only Jetha was the rightful heir to the seat of the Gurus.
Thus, in 1574, Guru Ram Das became the fourth Guru of the Sikhs. Shortly thereafter, Guru Amar Das, certain that Sikhism and the work started by Babaji Nanak was in safe hands, took samadhi.
Being a Guru did not change Guru Ram Das. He worked just like before, all the more harder, as He each moment, felt the loss of His Guru. Now He had nobody to go to and nobody to look up to. He felt inwardly like an orphan though externally He was the same simple, tender, polite, humble human being He also had been. But now all He wanted to do was to finish the work entrusted by His Guru and take care of the work that was close to His Guru. He truly lived for His Guru.
The story of how the place got the name Amritsar, is rather fascinating. There was this rich man who had five daughters. The youngest had very faith in God and would always tell one and all that God knew best and what God did was for the best of all. The father was not a firm believer of God and one day out of sheer spite, he got his youngest daughter, married to a poor man suffering from leprosy. The girl was so spiritual in nature that she loved her husband and served him with complete devotion.
One day travelling from place to place they arrived at a new township where Guru Ram Das was working hard at building the water tank. The girl told her husband to sit under a tree while she got some food for him to eat. It is said that while she was away her husband saw a pair of crows take a dip in the water and come out as swans. He did not believe His eyes but something within him propelled him towards the water. He was in advanced state of leprosy and he had to virtually crawl to reach the water banks. With great difficult and hardship he managed to take a dip in the water and to his complete amazement when he surfaced out of the water he was cured of the illness.
Just then his wife approached the tree looking for her husband only to see a handsome man run towards her claiming to be her husband. She was shattered. She suspected that the man had done something to her husband and she began to scream at the man as to what harm had he done to her husband. No amount of explanation convinced the girl. Guru Ram Das was working on the other side of the water pool and she ran towards Him to seek justice. He saw the young girl rush towards Him and He smiled and praised God and His Guru as He intuitively was aware as to what had happened. He explained to the girl that the man standing next to her was indeed her husband but she in her state of anger refused to believe the Guru too. The Guru smiled and told her to examine the man as his one finger still had the disease as that was the hand which was partially out of the water when her husband had dipped himself into the pool. She noticed that yes, one finger showed clearly the signs of advanced leprosy. The Guru then told the man to dip his hand in the water and behold, when he brought it out, the finger was cured too. It was only then did the young girl believe that the man standing in front of her was her husband and this is how the name Amritsar came about. The tree under the shade of which she left her husband, which still stands is called Dukhbhanjni Beri.
The most important aspect of Guru Ram Das was that whoever came in contact with him, became a better human being, a more compassionate person and a better spiritual and religious seeker, irrespective of the religion the person professed. The true sign of a Master is not the miracles that are performed or the sermons given, but the change of heart, the softening of the heart, the transformation of darkness into Light. The person goes back a more compassionate person, a more giving person, a more selfless person. That is the hallmark of a Guru. To take one from darkness into Light. Gu-ru, means One who dispels darkness or One who projects Light and that is who Guru Ram Das was.
He taught people to never disrespect any kind of work and take pride in their work and see God and Master in their work and in each being. Work was salvation and to work with The Name on your lips and beating in one’s heart and to work selflessly was spirituality in motion and action. He was of the belief that to be in each moment with The Name on one’s lips and do whatever work, God or destiny had in store, happily, attentively, joyously was spirituality.
The more people came in contact with Him, the more they loved Him and very soon Amritsar became a beehive of activity. Some would come for a day and never return. Some would contribute in kind. Some through work.
One of the most important people who came to meet Guru Ram Das was not a Sikh. His name was Gurdas and the moment both the men met, Gure Ram Das realised that here was somebody truly evolved. Gurdas asked the Guru to convert him into a Sikh and then the Guru told Bhai Gurdas to proceed to Agra and take care of Sikhs in Agra. Both the men became like two bodies one soul. They loved each other to the very end.
After a while Guru Ram Das went to Lahore to His ancestral home and stayed there for a while and then converted His home into a community guest house. He realised that if He wanted the dream of His Guru, Amar Das to be realised He needed skillful labourers. He appointed a group of men called masands, who were to go all over the country, representing Him, to collect funds to build Amritsar and also to have funds for langar and the other humanitarian activities. Guru Ram Das had underestimated the power of His love and name and fame. People from all walks of life, and all financial backgrounds contributed generously. People sold their personal belongings with the hope that though they would not be physically present building Amritsar, their humble contributions would help. By the time the Masands returned, the funds they had accumulated was far more than anybody could have hoped or expected.
With the funds professional labourers were hired and the work took off with greater intensity and professionalism. But Guru Ram Das remained the same. He worked day and night in the memory of His Guru and His love and humility won Him devotion from all parts of the country and from people of various faiths and religions.
Guru Ram Das penned five thousand eight hundred and seventy six lines of inspirational verses which became part of the scripture in the Guru Granth Sahib. These include the four Laav and other wedding hymns (according to many these wedding hymns also can be related to the spiritual union of disciple and God and Master). He wrote verses detailing the practice and spiritual routine of a Sikh.
It was His love, humility and need to serve, that prompted Guru Nanak’s eldest son Baba Sri Chand or Baba Srichand, who had become a recluse to come forth to meet Guru Ram Das. Baba Sri Chand, had wanted to succeed His Father, Babaji Nanak, but Guru Nanak had appointed Guru Angad as His successor. This had angered Baba Sri Chand and he had become a recluse and also he had started his own sect called Udasis.
When Baba Sri Chand arrived he was met by Guru Ram Das, who had learnt of Baba Sri Chand’s visit. Baba Sri Chand asked the Guru why He kept His beard so long. It was said in a sarcastic manner or could be out of humour but the Guru, in His own humble way replied, ‘to wipe the dust from the holy feet of the saints like you’. And the Guru bent to actually wipe Baba Sri Chand’s feet. It was then that Baba Sri Chand realised the greatness of Guru Ram Das and the vision of his own Father, Guru Nanak, for not appointing him, but appointing Guru Angad as the successor and as the second Guru of Sikhs. Humility is one of the pillars of spirituality. It is also unfortunately the most underrated qualities sought after by most spiritual seekers. Baba Sri Chand then embraced the Guru and told Him, ‘Your this sweet humility is the magic that makes you so great and makes me feel so small and now I have realised how wise my father, Guru Nanak was to not appoint me as His successor’.
Baba Sri Chand then promised Guru Ram Das co-operation not only from his side but from all his followers of the Udasis clan. Years and years later, when the Mughal rulers waged a war against the Sikhs, the Udasis followers fought shoulder to shoulder with the Sikhs to keep the flame of Sikhism and the Gurus and all that They stood for, bright and flaming. This is the power of pure love and humility.
The Guru all through His young life toiled hard in promoting the love and values of His Guru and the Gurus before Him.
His eldest son tried to create many issues so that Guru Ram Das, not appoint His youngest son, Arjan, as the sixth Guru, but Guru Ram Das was clear of His decision and no matter what happened, He made sure that at the age of forty seven, He appointed His youngest son, Arjan, as His successor.
Guru Ram Das had a premonition that His physical time was nearing an end. According to Him, He had failed His Guru, as the pool and the new township was still under construction. He felt He had let His Guru down. Even during His final days, all He thought about was His Guru and not letting the orders of His Guru down.
On September 1st, in the year 1581, the humble Guru, Guru Ram Das called the Sikhs near Him. He blessed one and all. His love and humility had endeared Him to all the Sikhs. He looked around Him, saw His son, now Guru Arjan Singh, who was loved by His Guru too, Guru Amar Das, and then with The Name of His lips, love for His Guru in His heart, Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru in the linage of the Sikh Gurus, disciple and dust of Guru Amar Das, exhaled His last breath, which I am sure merged with His Master.
All His life He had lived and worked and made it clear to one and all that He was first and foremost His Master’s disciple, servant, slave and son and then, way-way afterwards a Guru. He had lived always as His Master’s dust and remained the epitome of devotion and humility till the final exhale.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha