RĀM RĀI (1646-1687), the elder son of Gurū Har Rāi, Nānak VII, was born to Mātā Sulakkhaṇī at Kīratpur on 11 March 1646. Brought up under the loving care of his parents amid an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity that reigned over Kīratpur, their resort in the Sivāliks, Rām Rāi grew up into a robust youngman, well versed in the sacred lore and in the use of arms.
During the war of succession fought among the sons of Emperor Shāh Jahān, Prince Dārā Shukoh, defeated in battle and hotly pursued by the victor, Auraṅgzīb, met Gurū Har Rāi at Goindvāl in the last week of June 1658 and sought consolation in his blessing. Reports of the meeting between the Gurū and the fugitive prince were carried to Auraṅgzīb who, after he had established himself securely on the throne, summoned Gurū Har Rāi to meet him. The latter wondered why he had been called to Delhi. To quote Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth, he said, "I rule over no territory, I owe the king no taxes, nor do I want anything from him. Of what avail will this meeting be?" He, therefore, deputed Rām Rāi to represent him, giving him the exhortation : "Answer squarely and without fear any questions the Emperor may ask. Exhibit no hesitation. Read the Granth attentively as you make hales on the way. The Gurū will protect you wherever you might be." Accompanied by Dīwān Dargāh Mall and some other Sikhs, Rām Rāi left Kīratpur for Delhi on 30 March 1661.
Rām Rāi made a very favourable impression on the Emperor by virtue of the many miracles he displayed, but he overreached himself when, to please the Emperor, he deliberately misread one of the verses from the (Gurū) Granth Sāhib and substituted the word beīmān, i.e. faithless, or evil, for Musalmān. The original hymn appearing in Gurū Nānak, Āsā kī Vār, read, "The clay from a Musalmān's grave is kneaded into the potter's lump. It is shaped into vessels and bricks and then burns in the kiln...." The hymn reflects on the essentially conditioned state of man against the mystery and absoluteness of Divine power and on the futility of dividing humanity by rites of cremation or burial (practised by Hindus and Muslims, respectively). Auraṅgzīb and his Muslim advisers, however, equated the burning of a Muslim's remains to eternal damnation of his soul. Hence their objection to the hymn. Bābā Rām Rāi's misquotation satisfied the Emperor but displeased the Sikhs who sent a report to Gurū Har Rāi. The Gurū anathematized Rām Rāi for the sacrilege he had committed in altering what was unalterable and debarred him from his presence. Gurū Har Rāi, before his death on 6 October 1661, chose his younger son, Har Krishan, to be his spiritual successor instead of Rām Rāi.
Rām Rāi continued to enjoy imperial patronage. He was granted a jāgīr in the Gaṛhvāl plateau to which he shifted from Delhi establishing a ḍerā or missionary centre in the dūn (valley), wherefrom the place came to be known as Dehrā Dūn. He preached the gospel of Gurū Nānak, but the Sikhs by and large shunned him and his followers, collectively dubbed as Rāmrāīās. Rāmrāīās still form a dissident sect of the Udāsī Sikhs. Rām Rāi met Gurū Gobind Siṅgh during the latter's stay at Pāoṇṭā (1685-88). He died at his ḍerā on 4 September 1687.
Gurcharan Siṅgh Anand