Guru Ram Das
Sri Guru Ram Das Ji was the fourth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism. Guru ji was born in the year 1534 in the city of Lahore to parents Bhai Hari Das ji and Mata Anup Devi Ji, with birth name Jetha. After being orphaned at the age of 7, Bhai Jetha grew up living with his maternal grandmother. At the age of 12, Bhai Jetha met the third Guru of Sikhs, Sri Guru Amar Das Ji. From then on, Bhai Jetha served Guru Amar Das ji and the Sikh populace with supreme devotion and humility. He was married to Bibi Bhani ji, the younger daughter of Guru Amar Das Ji. After having subjected Bhai Jetha’s spirit of service and sacrifice to several tests over the years, in the year 1574, Guru Amar Das Ji renamed Bhai Jetha ji as Ram Das (“servant of God”), and appointed him as Sri Guru Ram Das Ji, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Ram Das ji’s bani (spiritual revelations and writings) consists of 638 holy hymns, that Guru ji had composed to 30 different ragas of Indian classical music. These hymns are registered in the sacred scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Through his writings, Guru Ram Das ji shared a common message for the entire humankind, to live a disciplined life full of humility, and to be forever and ever thankful to the True Guru (God). A hymn from page 305 of the Guru Granth Sahib, spoken by Guru Ram Das ji, decries the morning activity of one who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru:
One who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru shall get up early morning and meditate on the God’s Name. Bathe daily in the ambrosial pool and following the Guru’s instructions, chant Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased.
Guru Ram Das Ji remained the Guru of Sikhs for seven years, until he passed away in the year 1581. During his Guruship, Guru Sahib focused especially on organizing the structure of the Sikh society. He created and planned the township of Ramdaspur, which subsequently became the holy city of Sri Amritsar Sahib, the spiritual and political center of the Sikh faith till today. After founding the township, Guru ji invited and helped settle traders and craftsmen from fifty two different professions, leading to its rapid growth, and in due course the town had become the largest commercial center in the northern Indian sub-continent. This was a landmark development in the life of the Sikh community, as Guru Sahib established a central place of the Sikh faith, distinct from the centers of existing faith traditions. In addition, Guru Ram Das Ji also introduced a new and distinct marriage code for the Sikhs, via composition of the four hymns known as Laava, and advised the Sikhs to solemnize the marriages of their children by reciting these hymns. Guru Ram Das ji also instituted the system of Masands, meant to support and spread the message of the Sikh faith throughout the world.
Before Guru Ji passed away, he had nominated his youngest son as the next Guru of the Sikhs – Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji.
Very little is known about the early years of Bhai Jetha who later became the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das. Jetha ji was born at Chuna Mandi Bazaar, Lahore at the site of the present shrine on 24 September 1534 where he spent the first seven years of his life. Soon after birth, he was given the name Jetha, meaning the first born.
Jetha’s simple and God-fearing parents, Hari Das and Anup Devi of Lahore were delighted at this precious gift from Waheguru. As he was growing up and in his teens, he could always be found in the company of religious men. When he was of 7 Years his father died so her maternal grandmother took him to Basarke, near Amritsar.
Company of Guru Amar Das
One day Jetha came across a party of Sikhs who were on their way to Goindwal to pay homage to Guru Amar Das. Jetha decided to join them and also travel to Goindwal. Upon their arrival and meeting, Guru Amar Das at once noticed the young Jetha with his pleasant manner and sense of devotion. While his fellow travelers returned to Lahore, Jetha decided to stay and become a disciple of Guru Amar Das.
Bhai Jehta worked hard in Goindwal in the various construction projects that were taking place. Guru Amar Das was very impressed with the Sewa performed by Bhai Jetha and susequently a marriage was arranged between Bibi Bhani, his daughter Bibi Bhani and his dedicated devotee, Bhai Jehta.
The marriage took place on 18 February 1554. After their marriage, the couple remained in Goindval which was an upcoming Sikh town and carried out voluntary service (Sewa) in the construction of the Baoli Sahib (sacred well), serving the Guru and the congregation (Sangat).
Sewa of Guru Amar Dass
Jetha became a trusted disciple of Guru Amar Das ji. He undertook many sewas and also successfully represented Guru Amar Das ji before the Mughal royal court to defend charges by some jealous Hindus who had taken exception to some of the wording of the Sikh teachings, saying that Sikhism maligned both the Hindu and the Muslim religions. The following is a translation of what Jetha said in the Court of Akbar:
“Birth and caste are of no avail before God. It is one’s deeds which make or unmake a man. To exploit ignorant people with superstitions and to call it religion is a sacrilege against God and man. To worship the infinite, formless and absolute God in the form of a totem, an image or an insignificant time-bound object of nature; to lead people to believe that they can wash away their sins, not through compassion and self-surrender, but through ablutions; to insist upon special diets-what to eat and what not to eat; to say that a certain language and dress allows access to God and to condemn masses of human beings, men, women and children, to the status of sub-humans, who are not even allowed to learn to read the scriptures that they are told rule their lives; never allowed to enter a house of worship; who are allowed to do only the lowest degrading work, is to tear man apart from man. This is not religion nor is it religion to deny the world by becoming an ascetic, for it is in the world alone that man can find his spiritual possibilities.”
Impressed by the tenets of Sikhism as explained by Bhai Jetha Emperor Akbar dismissed all of the charges.
Construction of Ramdaspur
Eventually Bhai Jetha was ordained as Guru Amar Das’s successor and named Guru Ram Das ji. (Ram Das means servant of God). Guru Ram Das ji now eagerly continued the building of the city of Ramdaspur (the abode of Ram Das) by the digging of the second sacred pool as he had been instructed by Guru Amar Das ji. Pilgrims came in ever growing numbers to hear the Guru and to help in the excavation work of the tank. The holy tank would be called Amritsar meaning pool of nectar. Today the city of Ramdaspur, which now is the holiest center of Sikhism has come to be know as Amritsar. Guru Ram Das ji urged his Sikhs that one could fulfill one’s life not merely by quiet meditation, but by actively participating in the joys and sorrows of others. This is how one could also rid oneself of the prime malady – Ego, and end their spiritual loneliness.
One of the new entries into the Sikh fold at this time was Bhai Gurdas Bhalla, the son of the younger brother of Guru Amar Das ji. Bhai Gurdas ji was a superb poet and scholar of comparative religion who would later go on to become the scribe of the first edition of the Guru Granth Sahib ji. Guru Amar Das ji was impressed with Bhai Gurdas’s existing knowledge of Hindi and Sanskrit and the Hindu scriptures. Following the tradition of sending out Masands across the country Guru Amar Das ji deputed Bhai Gurdas to Agra to spread the gospel of Sikhism.
Bani of Guru Ram Das
There are 688 Hymns of Guru Ram Dass included in Guru Granth Sahib which have various teachings for sikhs. Guru Sahib’s Bani is also part of Rehras Sahib and Kirtan Sohila which are daily prayers of Sikhs. Page 305 of the Guru Granth Guru Sahib decries the morning activity of one who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru (God):
One who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru shall get up early morning and meditate on the Lord’s Name. Bathe daily in the ambrosial pool and following the Guru’s instructions, chant Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased.
Guru Sahib on Sadhu People and Pilgrimage Bath
ਮਲਾਰ ਮਹਲਾ ੪ ॥ ਗੰਗਾ ਜਮਨਾ ਗੋਦਾਵਰੀ ਸਰਸਤੀ ਤੇ ਕਰਹਿ ਉਦਮ ਧੂਰਿ ਸਾਧੂ ਕੀ ਤਾਈ ॥ ਕਿਲਵਿਖ ਮੈਲ ਭਰੇ ਪਰੇ ਹਮਰੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਹਮਰੀ ਮੈਲ ਸਾਧੂ ਕੀ ਧੂਰਿ ਗਵਾਈ ॥੧॥
Malaar, Fourth Mehl: The Ganges, the Jamunaa, the Godaavari and the Saraswati – these rivers strive for the dust of the feet of the Holy. Overflowing with their filthy sins, the mortals take cleansing baths in them; the rivers’ pollution is washed away by the dust of the feet of the Holy. ||1||
ਤੀਰਥਿ ਅਠਸਠਿ ਮਜਨ ਨਾਈ ॥ ਸਤਸੰਗਤਿ ਕੀ ਧੂਰਿ ਪਰੀ ਉਡਿ ਨੇਤਰੀ ਸਭ ਦਰਮਤਿ ਮੈਲ ਗਵਾਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Instead of bathing at the sixty-eight sacred shrines of pilgrimage, take your cleansing bath in the Name. When the dust of the feet of the Sat Sangat rises up into the eyes, all filthy evil-mindedness is removed. ||1||Pause||
ਜਾਹਰਨਵੀ ਤਪੈ ਭਾਗੀਰਥਿ ਆਣੀ ਕੇਦਾਰ ਥਾਪਿਓ ਮਹਸਾਈ ॥ ਕਾਂਸੀ ਕਰਿਸਨ ਚਰਾਵਤ ਗਾਊ ਮਿਲਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਨ ਸੋਭਾ ਪਾਈ ॥੨॥
Bhaageerat’h the penitent brought the Ganges down, and Shiva established Kaydaar. Krishna grazed cows in Kaashi; through the humble servant of the Lord, these places became famous. ||2||
ਜਿਤਨੇ ਤੀਰਥ ਦੇਵੀ ਥਾਪੇ ਸਭਿ ਤਿਤਨੇ ਲੋਚਹਿ ਧੂਰਿ ਸਾਧੂ ਕੀ ਤਾਈ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਸੰਤ ਮਿਲੈ ਗਰ ਸਾਧੂ ਲੈ ਤਿਸ ਕੀ ਧੂਰਿ ਮਖਿ ਲਾਈ ॥੩॥
And all the sacred shrines of pilgrimage established by the gods, long for the dust of the feet of the Holy. Meeting with the Lord’s Saint, the Holy Guru, I apply the dust of His feet to my face. ||3||
ਜਿਤਨੀ ਸਰਿਸਟਿ ਤਮਰੀ ਮੇਰੇ ਸਆਮੀ ਸਭ ਤਿਤਨੀ ਲੋਚੈ ਧੂਰਿ ਸਾਧੂ ਕੀ ਤਾਈ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਲਾਟਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਜਿਸ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਤਿਸ ਸਾਧੂ ਧੂਰਿ ਦੇ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਰਿ ਲੰਘਾਈ ॥੪॥੨॥
And all the creatures of Your Universe, O my Lord and Master, long for the dust of the feet of the Holy. O Nanak, one who has such destiny inscribed on his forehead, is blessed with the dust of the feet of the Holy; the Lord carries him across. ||4||2||
The standard Sikh marriage ceremony known as the Anand Karaj is centred around of, a four stanza hymn composed by Guru Ram Das ji. During the marriage ceremony the couple circumscribe the Guru Granth Sahib ji as each stanza of the Lawan is read. The first round is the Divine consent for commencing the householder’s life through marriage. The second round states that the union of the couple has been brought about by God. In the third round the couple is described as the most fortunate as they have sung the praises of the Lord in the company of saints. In the fourth round the feeling of the couple that they have obtained their hearts’ desire and are being congratulated is described.
Guru Ram Das Sahib composed a beautiful bani called Laavan about the meaning of marriage to a Sikh couple – Effectively, the Guru defines a Sikh marriage in these 2 lines: “They are not said to be husband and wife who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.”
Guru Sahib on Jogis
ਹਥਿ ਕਰਿ ਤੰਤ ਵਜਾਵੈ ਜੋਗੀ ਥੋਥਰ ਵਾਜੈ ਬੇਨ ॥ ਗਰਮਤਿ ਹਰਿ ਗਣ ਬੋਲਹ ਜੋਗੀ ਇਹ ਮਨੂਆ ਹਰਿ ਰੰਗਿ ਭੇਨ ॥੧॥
You may pluck the strings with your hand, O Yogi, but your playing of the harp is in vain. Under Guru’s Instruction, chant the Glorious Praises of the Lord, O Yogi, and this mind of yours shall be imbued with the Lord’s Love. ||1||
ਜੋਗੀ ਹਰਿ ਦੇਹ ਮਤੀ ਉਪਦੇਸ ॥ ਜਗ ਜਗ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਝਕੋ ਵਰਤੈ ਤਿਸ ਆਗੈ ਹਮ ਆਦੇਸ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
O Yogi, give your intellect the Teachings of the Lord. The Lord, the One Lord, is pervading throughout all the ages; I humbly bow down to Him. ||1||Pause||
ਗਾਵਹਿ ਰਾਗ ਭਾਤਿ ਬਹ ਬੋਲਹਿ ਇਹ ਮਨੂਆ ਖੇਲੈ ਖੇਲ ॥ ਜੋਵਹਿ ਕੂਪ ਸਿੰਚਨ ਕਉ ਬਸਧਾ ਉਠਿ ਬੈਲ ਗਝ ਚਰਿ ਬੇਲ ॥੨॥
You sing in so many Ragas and harmonies, and you talk so much, but this mind of yours is only playing a game. You work the well and irrigate the fields, but the oxen have already left to graze in the jungle. ||2||
ਕਾਇਆ ਨਗਰ ਮਹਿ ਕਰਮ ਹਰਿ ਬੋਵਹ ਹਰਿ ਜਾਮੈ ਹਰਿਆ ਖੇਤ ॥ ਮਨੂਆ ਅਸਥਿਰ ਬੈਲ ਮਨ ਜੋਵਹ ਹਰਿ ਸਿੰਚਹ ਗਰਮਤਿ ਜੇਤ ॥੩॥
In the field of the body, plant the Lord’s Name, and the Lord will sprout there, like a lush green field. O mortal, hook up your unstable mind like an ox, and irrigate your fields with the Lord’s Name, through the Guru’s Teachings. ||3||
ਜੋਗੀ ਜੰਗਮ ਸਰਿਸਟਿ ਸਭ ਤਮਰੀ ਜੋ ਦੇਹ ਮਤੀ ਤਿਤ ਚੇਲ ॥ ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਕੇ ਪਰਭ ਅੰਤਰਜਾਮੀ ਹਰਿ ਲਾਵਹ ਮਨੂਆ ਪੇਲ ॥੪॥੯॥੬੧॥
The Yogis, the wandering Jangams, and all the world is Yours, O Lord. According to the wisdom which You give them, so do they follow their ways. O Lord God of servant Nanak, O Inner-knower, Searcher of hearts, please link my mind to You. ||4||9||61||
Guru Ram Dass on Benifits of Reciting God’s Name
ਆਸਾ ਮਹਲਾ ੪ ॥ ਸਤਸੰਗਤਿ ਮਿਲੀਝ ਹਰਿ ਸਾਧੂ ਮਿਲਿ ਸੰਗਤਿ ਹਰਿ ਗਣ ਗਾਇ ॥ ਗਿਆਨ ਰਤਨ ਬਲਿਆ ਘਟਿ ਚਾਨਣ ਅਗਿਆਨ ਅੰਧੇਰਾ ਜਾਇ ॥੧॥
Aasaa, Fourth Mehl: Join the Sat Sangat, the Lord’s True Congregation; joining the Company of the Holy, sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord. With the sparkling jewel of spiritual wisdom, the heart is illumined, and ignorance is dispelled. ||1||
ਹਰਿ ਜਨ ਨਾਚਹ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਧਿਆਇ ॥ ਝਸੇ ਸੰਤ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਮੇਰੇ ਭਾਈ ਹਮ ਜਨ ਕੇ ਧੋਵਹ ਪਾਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
O humble servant of the Lord, let your dancing be meditation on the Lord, Har, Har. If only I cold meet such Saints, O my Siblings of Destiny; I would wash the feet of such servants. ||1||Pause||
ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਹ ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਅਨਦਿਨ ਹਰਿ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਇ ॥ ਜੋ ਇਛਹ ਸੋਈ ਫਲ ਪਾਵਹ ਫਿਰਿ ਭੂਖ ਨ ਲਾਗੈ ਆਇ ॥੨॥
Meditate on the Naam, the Name of the Lord, O my mind; night and day, center your consciousness on the Lord. You shall have the fruits of your desires, and you shall never feel hunger again. ||2||
ਆਪੇ ਹਰਿ ਅਪਰੰਪਰ ਕਰਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਆਪੇ ਬੋਲਿ ਬਲਾਇ ॥ ਸੇਈ ਸੰਤ ਭਲੇ ਤਧ ਭਾਵਹਿ ਜਿਨਹਹ ਕੀ ਪਤਿ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਥਾਇ ॥੩॥
The Infinite Lord Himself is the Creator; the Lord Himself speaks, and causes us to speak. The Saints are good, who are pleasing to Your Will; their honor is approved by You. ||3||
ਨਾਨਕ ਆਖਿ ਨ ਰਾਜੈ ਹਰਿ ਗਣ ਜਿਉ ਆਖੈ ਤਿਉ ਸਖ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਭਗਤਿ ਭੰਡਾਰ ਦੀਝ ਹਰਿ ਅਪਨੇ ਗਣ ਗਾਹਕ ਵਣਜਿ ਲੈ ਜਾਇ ॥੪॥੧੧॥੬੩॥
Nanak is not satisfied by chanting the Lord’s Glorious Praises; the more he chants them, the more he is at peace. The Lord Himself has bestowed the treasure of devotional love; His customers purchase virtues, and carry them home. ||4||11||63||
Meeting with Sri Chand
When the aged son of Guru Nanak Dev ji, Baba Sri Chand, who had chosen to become an ascetic (Baba Sri Chand was the founder the ‘Udasis’ sect), came to visit Guru Ram Das ji he asked him why he kept such a long beard? Guru Ram Das ji replied; “To wipe the dust off the feet of holy men like yourself” and then he proceeded to perform this supreme act of humility. Seeing this Sri Chand held his hand and embraced Guru Ram Das ji saying; “It’s enough. This is the kind of character by which you have deprived me of my ancestral heritage. Now, what more is left with me that I could offer you for your piety and goodness of heart?” (Outraged that his father Guru Nanak had chosen to pass the Guruship to Guru Angad Sri Chand had attempted to install himself as the second Guru of the Sikhs and had hoped to alter the direction of Sikhi that Guru Nanak had chartered.)
Prithi Chand’s deception
Guru Ram Das’s first cousin Sahari Mal came to invite the Guru to visit Lahore in connection with the marriage of his son. The Guru being much too busy with his work promised to send one of his sons instead. Guru Ram Das ji asked his eldest son Prithi Chand to attend on his behalf, but he refused. Prithi Chand found a reason to avoid the trip, perhaps, he feared that his father would, in his absence, install his youngest brother, Arjan Dev as the next Guru. Prithi was sure that Arjan was the favorite son of his father. Next the Guru asked his next eldest son Mahadev to attend the wedding, but Mahadev was a recluse and excused himself on the ground that he was not interested in the affairs of the world. The Guru therefore asked his youngest son Arjan Dev to attend, which he agreed to do with such grace and humility, that Guru Ram Das ji was very pleased.
Guru Arjun Dev Letters
Arjan Dev proceeded to Lahore where, his father had asked him to remain until called for and to take charge of the needs and education of the Sikhs in Lahore, his father’s ancestral home. Two years later, feeling intensely homesick, Arjan Dev composed a poem of love and devotion and sent it to Guru Ram Das ji. This poem along with another one, sent a few month’s later were intercepted by his elder brother Prithi Chand who made sure his father never received them. Finally Arjan wrote a third poem marking it with the number 3 and gave strict instructions to the messenger to give it to the Guru personally.
My mind longs for the Blessed Vision of the Guru’s Darshan.
It cries out like the thirsty song-bird.
My thirst is not quenched, and I can find no peace, without the
Blessed Vision of the Beloved Saint. ||1||
I am a sacrifice, my soul is a sacrifice,
To the Blessed Vision of the Beloved Saint Guru.
(SGGS, Raag Maajh, Pannaa 96)
Receiving this poem, Guru Ram Das ji seeing the number 3 sensed that there must have been two earlier letters. Aware of the jealousy of his eldest son he confronted Prithi Chand, asking him if he knew anything about previous letters. At first, Prithi Chand denied everything, but seeing the insistence of the Guru and the consequences of his refusal to obey him, he finally confessed his treachery and produced the two earlier letters. (Another story often told has the Guru sending someone to Prithi Chand’s quarters who finds the letters in Prithi’s clothing.) When Guru Ram Das ji read them, he was moved to tears by the humility and sincerity of his son Arjan’s compositions.
Gaddi to Guru Arjun Dev & Death
Guru Ram Das ji immediately sent for Baba Buddha to journey to Lahore and to bring back his son Arjan Dev with full honours. On his return the Guru declared him his successor. Prithi Chand’s deception had resulted in bringing about his fears, he never accepted his father’s choice and continued to misbehave and abuse Guru Arjan Dev ji. Eventually, Guru Ram Das ji had to publicly condemn his son Prithi Chand for his actions.
Shortly thereafter Guru Ram Das left his physical form on September 16, 1581.