RĀM DĀS, GURŪ(1534-1581), is the fourth Gurū or spiritual mentor of the Sikhs in the line of Gurū Nānak, Gurū Aṅgad and Gurū Amar Dās. "Rām Dās "translates as servant or slave of God (rām = God + dās= slave). Blessed by Gurū Amar Dās with the light of Nānak and appointed Gurū in 1574, Gurū Rām Dās carried the spiritual authority of the Sikh community for seven years, until his death in 1581. He constructed the nectar pool which surrounds Harimandar, the Golden Temple of modern day, and founded Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, around it.
Gurū Rām Dās was simply called Jeṭhā (which means firstborn) at his birth on, 24 September 1534 in Chūnā Maṇḍī in Lahore (now in Pakistan). His father was Hari Dās, a shopkeeper, and his mother was Anūp Devī, also known as Dayā Kaur. They belonged to the Soḍhī family, part of the Khatrī caste. At seven he lost both his parents and was cared for by his grandmother in her village Bāsarke, the ancestral village also of Gurū Amar Dās. He was an only child. To earn his meagre keep, Jeṭhā sold cooked beans in the market-place, yet, as people said, he often gave away his food to hungry people.
At twelve, Jeṭhā travelled to Khaḍūr with some people and thence to Goindvāl, a new habitation founded by (Gurū) Amar Dās the same year under the orders of Gurū Aṅgad (1504-52), and chose to reside at Goindvāl permanently. Gurū Amar Dās, who succeeded to the spiritual seat of Gurū Nānak after the death of Gurū Aṅgad in March 1552, and his wife, Mansā Devī, recognized Jeṭhā's upright character and steadfast service and gave their daughter, Bībī Bhānī, in marriage to him on 18 February 1554. The couple chose to stay in Goindvāl to be near Gurū Amar Dās rather than return to Lahore and follow the traditional practice of residing in the native city of the husband. They had three sons, Prithī Chand (1558), Mahādev (1560), and Arjan Dev (1563. Bhāī Jeṭhā continued to serve the Gurū with devotion and humility. Already called by his proper name Rām Dās, he distinguished himself by his intelligent understanding of the articles of Sikh faith and by constantly attending to the needs of the saṅgat as well as of the Gurū, thus endearing himself to both. Once Gurū Amar Dās despatched him to Lahore to meet with the Mughal emperor Akbar in order to answer objections that Brāhmaṇs had made in the royal court against running a free kitchen by Gurū Amar Dās abandoning the traditional religious and social customs and ignoring distinctions of the four castes. Rim Dās’ simple statement that all are equal in the eyes of God pleased Akbar who dismissed the accusations.
Before Gurū Amar Dās died on 1 September 1574,he had chosen Rām Dās as his successor to carry on the light of Nānak as Gurū. Verses in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (Sad, by Sundar Dās, great-grandson of Gurū Amār Dās (GG, 923-24), record how all the Sikhs, sons, relations and companions fell at the feet of Rām Dās in acknowledgement of his elevation to Gurū.
Before Rām Dās became Gurū, Gurū Amar Dās had instructed him to establish a new town and to construct a pool as the central point. A site was selected 40 km northwest of Goindvāl. There are differing accounts of how the land was acquired. One version, reported in the Amritsar District Gazetteer, states that land, 500 bighās in area, was purchased from the landowners of Tuṅg for 700 Akbarī rupees. Another version says that Emperor Akbar offered the land to Gurū Amar Dās who refused; so the gift was made to Bībī Bhānī who, in turn, donated it to the growing Sikh community. The town was first called Gurū kā Chakk (the Gurū's village), then Ramdāspur (the city of Rām Dās) and finally Amritsar (lit. pool of nectar; amrit = nectar + sar = pool). Merchants and artisans were invited from distant places to come and settle-here. The town grew into a centre of commerce and even more significantly into one of pilgrimage attraction. Gurū Arjan, Nānak V(1563-1606), described Rāmdāspur in a hymn in the Gurū Granth Sāhib as a city par excellence "I have seen all places, but I have seen none other like this..."
In order to finance the construction of the tank and to provide for the laṅgar or free kitchen, Gurū Rām Dās organized a network of Sikhs to collect offerings. Called masands, these Sikhs travelled to other cities to carry the Gurū's message. Best remembered from among them is Bhāī Gurdās, who was despatched by Gurū Rām Dās to teach in Āgrā. Gurū Amar Dās had established mañjīs or preaching centres in different parts of the country to knit together the distant communities. The system introduced by Gurū Rām Dās further helped to consolidate the Sikh faith.
Gurū Rām Dās is pictured as having a long beard. According to tradition preserved in old Sikh chronicles, once Bābā Srī Chand (1494-1629), the elder son of Gurū Nānak who established the ascetic Udāsī sect, came to visit him and remarked in banter that he (the Gurū) had grown a long beard. "Yes," replied Gurū Rām Dās, "I have grown a long beard so that I may wipe with it the feet of saintly men like you." Bābā Srī Chand recalled his father, Gurū Nānak, and he told all present that Gurū Rām Dās was deservingly sitting in his father's true place.
Sahārī Mall, Gurū Rām Dās' first cousin, came from Lahore in 1580 to invite the Gurū to his son's wedding. Unable to travel himself because of the work then in progress on the holy tank in Amritsar, Gurū Rām Dās asked each of his three sons to go and represent him. Prithī Chand asked to be excused, as did Mahādev; only Arjan Dev, out of pure devotion to the Gurū, his father, agreed to attend. In addition, Gurū Rām Dās asked Arjan Dev to stay on in Lahore in order to minister to the Sikhs living there until recalled. After some time, Arjan Dev began to feel the pain of separation; so he wrote a poem to his father expressing his longing to return to the Gurū's court. Prithī Chand intercepted the letter and concealed it. He did the same with a second letter. A third letter, however, reached Gurū Rām Dās directly, whereupon Prithī Chand's deception was discovered because the letter had been marked number 3. Arjan Dev was summoned back to Amritsar where he composed a fourth stanza of the poem in joyful praise of the Gurū. Moved by the spiritual idiom of this poem, Gurū Rām Dās decided to bestow the light of Gurū Nānak upon Arjan Dev, who became the Fifth Gurū.
Shortly thereafter, Gurū Rām Dās retired to Goindvāl where he died on 2 Assū 1638/ 1 September 1581. A gurdwārā named Guriāi Asthān Gurū Rām Dās in Goindvāl stands upon the site where he was installed Gurū. In Chūnā Maṇḍī in Lahore, Gurdwārā Janam Asthān marks his birthplace. Gurū Rām Dās dī Nagrī (the City of Gurū Rām Dās), the name of Amritsar in pious terminology, will remain a living monument to the memory of Gurū Rām Dās.
Gurū Rām Dās was a poet of high merit. The Gurū Granth Sāhib contains 638 hymns in 30 different rāgas or musical measures, composed by him on social and spiritual themes. His poetry, divinely inspired, speaks of God's name and praise in rhymed verse. The most often quoted composition of Gurū Rām Dās is an instruction for the daily practice of a Sikh-rising before dawn, bathing, and meditating on God with the coming of the light:
One who considers himself to be a disciple of the Gurū should rise before the coming of the light and contemplate the Divine name. During the early hours of the morning he should rise and bathe, cleansing his soul in a tank of nectar, while he repeats the Name the Gurū has spoken to him. By this procedure he trvely washes away the sins of his soul. Then with the arrival of the dawn he should sing the hymns of praise taught him by the Gurū. He should hold the Name in his heart all through the busy hours of the day. The one who repeats the Name with each breath is a most dear disciple of the Gurū. The disciple who has received the gift of the Lord's Name trvely wins the favour of the supreme Lord. I seek the very dust under the feet of such a one who repeats the Name and inspires others to do so
In this passage, Gurū Rām Dās defines a Sikh by what a Sikh does, rather than by what he is by birth, status or belief.
The best-known among his compositions is Lāvāṅ, comprising four 4-line stanzas, used as a wedding hymn which is sung at the Sikh marriage ceremony, known as anand kāraj, the recitation of each stanza preceding and accompanying successively the four circumambulations (lāvāṅ, in Punjabi) around the Gurū Granth Sāhib performed by the couple being married.
The poetry of Gurū Rām Dās expresses both the profound humility and the joyful exaltation of a person meeting God. His words speak sweetly to the inner voice of the listener:
Inside, I thirst for God. The Gurū's word enters my heart like an arrow. Only I can know the pain of my heart. Who else can feel my sorrow? Oh God, the Gurū fascinates me. I am in wonder and ecstasy seeing the Gurū. I wander abroad, searching, because I am intent on seeing Him. I surrender my body and soul to the Gurū who has shown me the pathway to God. If anyone comes with a call from the Lord, the sound is sweet to my mind, heart, and soul. I cut off my head and put it at the feet of the one who has met God and can make me meet Him, too
His poems are rich with feeling of devotion; he speaks of being a slave, worthy only of the dust from the feet of those who are conscious of God. His words express a deep longing for union with the Lord. He writes that if he were slandered and driven away, still he would meditate on the One who can carry his soul safely home. The Gurū reveals God's Name and elevates the human being to the highest state of peaceful poise and majestic dominion. The Gurū is the word of God, and the word of God is the Gurū — here in lies the essence of nectar. In meditating on the sacred Name of God, the mortal becomes one with God. There is no greater pleasure than to speak the Name of God. This comes from the blessing of the Gurū.
The endearing sound of God's name is reflected in the language of Gurū Rām Dās; his poems have a soft, mellifluous sound:
The Name of God fills my heart with joy. My great fortune is to meditate on God's name. The miracle of God's name is attained through the perfect Gurū, but only a rare soul walks in the light of the Gurū's wisdom. I have tied the provision of God's name to my garment. It is the companion of my breath and always comes with me. The perfect Gurū puts the never ending wealth of God in my lap. God is my friend, my beloved, my king. Let some one come and take me to meet God, the life of my breath. I cannot live without seeing my beloved. My soul flows out in tears. The Gurū helped me as a child and is my friend. Oh my mother, I cannot live without it. Oh God, my soul, have mercy and unite me with the Gurū. Nānak has the wealth of God in the sachet of his soul
In the act of reciting Gurū Rām Dās' poems the reader speaks the name of God many times over-matching the message of the poetry.
Gurū Rām Dās is full of praise for the saints who remember God's name in their hearts, but he is equally direct in his criticism of those who have forgotten God and gone astray in illusion and pride.
O man! The poison of pride is killing you, blinding you to God. Your body, the colour of gold, has been scarred and discoloured by selfishness. Illusions of grandeur turn black, but the ego-maniac is attached to them. Humble Nānak is saved by the Gurū, because the Gurū's song releases him from ego
The spiritual sovereignty of Gurū Rām Dās is attested by Bhaṭṭs or musical poets who composed songs of praise in the court of Gurū Arjan. The inclusion of these compositions in the Gurū Granth Sāhib confirms their authenticity and standing in the Sikh tradition. They portray the stature of Gurū Rām Dās, as he was viewed by his contemporaries. These eulogies occur towards the end of the Holy Book in section of poems called Savaiyyās.
Gurū Rām Dās was invested with the regal dignity of rāj jog (king of yoga), writes the bard named Nal (GG, 1398). Gurū Rām Dās was given the glory of God's Name by the true Gurū who established the permanent throne of Gurū Rām Dās, says Dās the bard (GG, 1404). The powerful Gurū placed his hand on the head of Gurū Rām Dās and he was blessed with God's truth (GG, 1400). Gurū Rām Dās received the fruit of his service to God by being blessed with the enduring treasure of God's Name (GG, 1401). Kīrat, the minstrel, prays to be under his protection (GG, I406). Perhaps, the greatest tribute is sung by the bards Balvaṇḍ and Sattā who composed an ode of praise singing, "You are Nānak, and Lahiṇā (Aṅgad), you are Amar Dās, too. The miracle is complete, the Creator adores you. Blessed, blessed is Gurū Rām Dās" (GG,968).
G. S. Mansukhānī