“O Master! Thou hast that abundance of Love for thy disciples which the mother has for the child. As waters are to the fish, we thy disciples are to thee! Thou feelest the relish of the bread thy people eat and the taste of the water they drink! As the cow finds her soul in the calf, as a bride finds it in her bridegroom, so dost thou find thy joy in thy disciple”.
As the legend goes, Guru Amardasji, the third Guru, started the ‘Temple of Bread’ where the daily collection of grain was milled and baked into bread which was distributed free each day, not reserving any for the next morning. If men were few and bread more, Guruji fed it to the animals of the town and if still there was surplus, his disciples took it to the river and fed it to the fish. However, he always ate coarse bread himself. Once Bhai Budha asked him, “Why should we, your Sikhs, be so well fed when you eat this coarse bread?”. The Master replied Bhai Budha, there is no difference between me and my people. I eat with their mouths, whatever you give them that is my sustenance and not this coarse bread only.” Jetha, who was standing by was extremely moved by these words and burst into the song of praise mentioned above.
Guru Amardas spent most of his life as a devout Hindu, chanting ‘mantras’ and making pilgrimages to holy places like Haridwar. On one such journey, he met a sage who made him realize the necessity of having a ‘Guru’. On his return, he heard his nephew’s wife, Bibi Amro, daughter of the second Guru, singing the shabad (hymn):
“Actions are paper, and mind is ink; good and bad are both recorded on it. As their past actions drive them, so are mortals driven. There is no end to your glorious virtues Lord.” This ‘Shabad’ influenced Amardas greatly and he requested Bibi Amro to tell him about its writer. Bibi told him it was written by Guru Nanak. He requested her to lead him to Khadur Sahib to meet Guru Angad Devji, who was the successor of Nanak Devji, to become his disciple. Although Guru Amardas was 72 years old at this time, and Guru Angad was much younger than him, the former moved to Khadur Sahib to do the ‘Seva’ of the second Nanak. He ate from ‘langar’, cleaned utensils, served water to the ‘Pangat’ (people eating Langar), and at ‘Amritvela’ (early morning) used to get water from the river so that his Guru could bathe. This ‘seva’ was his daily ritual for 12 years till he was nominated the third Guru in 1552 A.D. He then moved the Sikhi headquarters to Goindwal Sahib on orders of his predecessor. Guru Amardas faced severe opposition from Bhai Datu, Guru Angad’s son, who kicked the third Guru in anger. As always, Guruji remained calm and unruffled as he massaged Bhai Datu’s foot saying, “My flesh is old and hard. It must have hurt your foot”, and he left for Basarke, his hometown. Guru Amardas was subsequently persuaded by Baba Budha and other disciplines to return to Goindwal to resume his Guruship.
There are many ‘Sakhis’ about the third Nanak and his dedication towards his Guru, Angad Devji. According to one such ‘sakhi’; Guru Angad presented ‘Saropas’ (scarves of honor) to his devotees every six months, for outstanding service. Amardas had received six ‘saropas’ which he wore as turbans on his head. He did not wish to remove any of them as he deemed it disrespectful. Eventually, Guru Angad got to know about this and he called upon Amardas and removed the turbans himself revealing sores and scabs on Amardas’s head as it had not been washed for three years! Guruji healed his disciples’ heads and blessed him for his deep devotion.
While Guru Amardas led forward the concept of ‘Langar’, he was also instrumental in the construction of the first ‘Sarovar’ (step well with holy water) at Goindwal to meet the increasing demand for drinkable water due to the influx of devotees. He was famous for saying, “pehle pangat phir sangat”, indicating that everyone was equal in the eyes of God so only after eating ‘langar’ could devotees get his ‘darshan’. It is said that Mughal Emperor Akbar was also treated the same way, being impressed with Gurujis values, the emperor offered him land as a gift but Angad Devji refused and asked him to remove ‘Jazia’ (religious tax) on non-Muslims crossing Ganga and Yamuna rivers instead.
Guru Sahib composed a new ‘Bani’ called ‘Anand Sahib’ which ended the importance of Vedic hymns for Sikhs giving them their own sacred literature. Apart from this, he asked his followers to do away with useless customs and traditions like weeping over death. He advised people to meditate in such situations rather than performing elaborate rites. He also introduced ‘Anand Karaj’ (meaning “blissful event”) as the Sikh ceremony for marriages.
Building on Guru Nanak Devji and Guru Angad’s efforts to promote Sikhism, Guru Amardas started the Manji system, dividing the Sikh ‘sangat’ into 22 communities called ‘Manjis’ and appointed a leader for each one (both men and women), Guru Sahib and other Sikh leaders traveled to these ‘Manjis’ to spread Waheguru’s message.
Guru Amardas was staunchly dedicated to the upliftment of women. He opposed ‘sati’ strongly saying,
“Women are not Satis, who burn themselves with their husband’s corpse.
Rather they are Satis who die by a mere shock of separation from their husband.
And, they too, ought to be considered as Satis, who abide in modesty and contentment,
Who wait upon their Lord and rising in the morn ever remember him.”
– Guru Amardas, ‘Varsuhi’ of Guru Granth Sahib (Page 787).
He also vehemently opposed the ‘purdah system’ and is famously said to have reprimanded the Raja of Haripur and his queens when they followed the same around him saying, “If thou art not pleased with the Guru’s face why hath thou come hither.”
Guru Angad Devji’s Jyoti Jot was on October 1st, 1574 at Goindwal Sahib. He was 105 years old at that time whereas he held the ‘Gurgaddi’ for more than 21 years. Even after 400 years, the lessons that Guru Amardasjji taught need to be practiced. “We all are equal in nature” and everybody should eat like a commoner at ‘Guru ka Langar’. He fought against female infanticide and encouraged widow marriage. Even today there is much to do in this sphere. Guruji believed and practiced humility as a gateway to God and showed us by his actions that it is never too late to walk the spiritual path as he became Guru at the age of 72. He left us with the precious ‘Anand Sahib’, a precious song of bliss that awakens hearts and uplifts souls. All these values and teachings can be and should be inculcated in one life in present times.