AMAR DĀS, GURŪ (1479-1574), the third of the ten Gurūs of the Sikh faith, was born into a Bhallā Khatrī family on Baisākh sudī 14, 1536 Bk, corresponding to 5 May 1479, at Bāsarke, a village in present-day Amritsar district of the Punjab. His father's name was Tej Bhān and mother's Bakht Kaur; the latter has also been called by chroniclers variously as Lachchhamī, Bhūp Kaur and Rūp Kaur. He was married on 11 Māgh 1559 Bk to Mansā Devī, daughter of Devī Chand, a Bahil Khatrī, of the village of Sankhatrā, in Siālkoṭ district, and had four children - two sons, Mohrī and Mohan, and two daughters, Dānī and Bhānī.

        Amar Dās had a deeply religious bent of mind. As he grew in years, he was drawn towards the Vaiṣṇava faith and made regular pilgrimages to Haridvār. Chroniclers record twenty such trips. Amar Dās might have continued the series, but for certain happenings in the course of the twentieth journey which radically changed the course of his life. On the return journey this time, he fell in with a sādhū who chided him for not owning a gurū or spiritual preceptor. Amar Dās vowed that he must have one and his pledge was soon redeemed when he was escorted in 1597 Bk/AD 1540 by Bībī Amaro, a daughter-in-law of the family, to the presence of her father, Gurū Aṅgad, at Khaḍūr, not far from his native place. He immediately became a disciple and spent twelve years serving Gurū Aṅgad with single-minded devotion. He rose three hours before daybreak to fetch water from the river for the Gurū's bath. During the day he worked in the community kitchen, helping with cooking and serving meals and with cleansing the utensils. When free from these tasks, he went out to collect firewood from the nearby forest for Gurū kā Laṅgar. His mornings and evenings were spent in prayer and meditation.

        Several anecdotes showing Amar Dās's total dedication to his preceptor have come down the generations. The most crucial one relates how on one stormy night, he, braving fierce wind, rain and lightning, brought water from the River Beās for the Gurū. Passing through a weaver's colony just outside Khaḍūr, he stumbled against a peg and fell down sustaining injuries, but did not let the water pitcher slip from his head. One of the weaver women, disturbed in her sleep, disparagingly called him Amarū Nithāvān' (Amarū the homeless). As the incident was reported to Gurū Aṅgad, he praised Amar Dās's devotion and described him as "the home of the homeless, " adding that he was "the honour of the unhonoured, the strength of the weak, the support of the supportless, the shelter of the unsheltered, the protector of the unprotected, the restorer of what is lost, the emancipator of the captive. " This also decided Gurū Aṅgad's mind on the issue of the selection of a successor. The choice inevitably fell on Amar Dās. Gurū Aṅgad paid obeisance to him by making the customary offerings of a coconut and five pice. He had the revered Bhāī Buḍḍhā apply the tilak or mark of investiture to his forehead, thus installing him as the future Gurū. Soon afterwards, on the fourth day of the light half of the month of Chet in Bikramī year 1609 (29 March 1552), Gurū Aṅgad passed away.

        Gurū Amar Dās made Goindvāl his headquarters. He was one of the builders of the town and had constructed there a house for his family as well. Goindvāl lay on the main road connecting Delhi and Lahore, at the head of one of the most important ferries on the River Beās. From there Gurū Amar Dās continued preaching the word of Gurū Nānak Dev. In his hands the Sikh faith was further consolidated. He created a well-knit ecclesiastical system and set up twenty-two mañjīs (dioceses or preaching districts), covering different parts of India. Each was placed under the charge of a pious Sikh, who, besides disseminating the Gurū's message, looked after the saṅgatwithin his jurisdiction and transmitted the disciples' offerings to Goindvāl. Gurū Amar Dās appointed the opening days of the months of Baisākh and Māgh as well as the Dīvālī for the Sikhs to forgather at Goindvāl where he also had a bāolī well with steps descending to water level, built and which in due course became a pilgrim centre. A new centre was planned for where Amritsar was later founded by his successor, Gurū Rām Dās. He laid down for Sikhs simple ceremonies and rites for birth, marriage and death. The Gurū's advice, according to Sarūp Dās Bhallā, Mahimā Prakāsh, to his Sikhs as to how they must conduct themselves in their daily life was : "He who firmly grasps the Gurū's word is my beloved Sikh. He should rise a watch before dawn, make his ablutions and sit in seclusion. The Gurū's image he should implant in his heart, and contemplate on gurbāṇī. He should keep his mind and consciousness firmly in control. He should never utter a falsehood, nor indulge in slander. He should make an honest living and be prepared always to serve holy men. He must not covet another's woman or wealth. He should not eat unless hungry, nor sleep unless tired. He who breaks this principle falls a victim to sloth. His span is shortened and he lives in suffering. My Sikh should shun those who feign as women to worship the Lord. He should seek instead the company of pious men. Thus will he shed ignorance. Thus will he adhere to holy devotion. "

        From Goindvāl, Gurū Amar Dās made a few short trips in the area around to propagate Gurū Nānak's teaching. According to the Mahimā Prakāsh, "The Gurū went to all the places of pilgrimage and made them holy. He conferred favour on his Sikhs by letting them have a sight of him. He planted the seed of God's love in their hearts. He spread light in the world and ejected darkness. " Liberation of the people was also cited by Gurū Rām Dās, Nānak IV, as the purpose of pilgrimage undertaken by his predecessor. According to his hymns in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, Gurū Amar Dās visited Kurukshetra at the time of abhijit nakṣatra. This, by astronomical calculations made by a modern scholar, fell on 14 January 1553. This is the one date authentically abstracted from the Gurū Granth Sāhib, which otherwise scarcely contains passages alluding to any historical events and this date is also one of the fewest so precisely known about the life of Gurū Amar Dās.

        Gurū kā Laṅgar became still more renowned in Gurū Amar Dās's time. The Gurū expected every visitor to partake of food in it before seeing him. By this he meant to minimize the distinctions of caste and rank. Emperor Akbar, who once visited him at Goindvāl, is said to have eaten in the refectory like any other pilgrim. The food in the laṅgar was usually of a rich Punjabi variety. Gurū Amar Dās himself, however, lived on coarse bread earned by his own labour. Whatever was received in the kitchen during the day was used by night and nothing was saved for the morrow.

        Gurū Amar Dās gave special attention to the amelioration of the position of women. The removal of the disadvantages to which they had been subject became an urgent concern. He assigned women to the responsibility of supervising the communities of disciples in certain sectors. The customs of purdah and sati were discouraged.

        The bāṇī, the Gurū's revealed word, continued to be a precious endowment. Gurū Amar Dās collected the compositions of his predecessors and of some of the bhaktas of that time. When he had recorded these in pothīs--two of them preserved in the descendant families to this day--an important step towards the codification of the canon had been taken.

        Like his predecessors, Gurū Amar Dās wrote verse in Punjabi. His compositions which express deep spiritual experience are preserved in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. They are in number next only to those of Gurū Nānak and Gurū Arjan, Nānak V. Gurū Amar Dās composed poetry in seventeen different musical measures or rāgas, namely Sirī, Mājh, Gauṛī, Āsā, Gūjarī, Vaḍahaṅs, Soraṭh, Dhanāsarī, Sūhī, Bilāval, Rāmkalī, Mārū, Bhairau, Basant, Sāraṅg, Malār, and Prabhātī. In terms of poetic forms, he composedpadās(quartets),chhants(lyrics), aṣṭpadīs (octets), ślokas (couplets) and vārs (ballads). Best known among his compositions is theAnandu. Gurū Amar Dās's poetry is simple in style, free from linguistic or structural intricacies. Metaphors and figures of speech are homely, and images and similes are taken from everyday life or from the popular Puranic tradition. The general tenor is philosophical and didactic.

        Before his death on Bhādoṅsudi15, 1631 Bk/1 September 1574, Gurū Amar Dās chose Bhāī Jeṭhā, his son-in-law, as his spiritual successor. Bhāī Jeṭhā became Gurū Rām Dās, the Fourth Gurū of the Sikhs.


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  5. Jodh Singh, Life of Guru Amar Das. Amritsar, 1949
  6. Ranjit Singh, Guru Amar Das ji. Amritsar, 1980
  7. Fauja Singh and Rattan Singh Jaggi, eds. , Perspectives on Guru Amar Das. Patiala, 1982

Piārā Siṅgh Padam