Guru Arjan Dev

Guru Arjan, right, dictating the Adi Granth to Bhai Gurdas.
Guru Arjun Ji being pronounced fifth guru.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji (Punjabi: ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜੁਨ ਦੇਵ ਜੀ, IPA: [gʊru əɾdʒən dev]) (15 April 1563 – 30 May 1606) was the fifth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism. He was born in Goindval, Punjab, India, the youngest son of Guru Ram Das and Bibi Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das.[1] He became the Guru of the Sikhs on 1 September 1581 after the death of his father Guru Ram Das. Guru Arjan died in Lahore, Punjab, (now in Pakistan). Before his death, he passed the light of Guruship to his son Har Gobind as the next Guru of the Sikhs.

Guru Arjan lived as the Guru of Sikhism for a quarter of a century and accomplished much during his service to humanity. Guru Arjan completed the construction of Amritsar and founded other cities such as Taran Taran and Kartarpur. He constructed a Baoli at Lahore. The most important work of Guru Arjan was the compilation of Adi Granth. He collected all the work of the first four Gurus and dictated it in the form of verses in 1604. It is, perhaps, the only script which still exists in the form first published (a hand-written manuscript) by the Guru. The integrity of the original writings within the Adi Granth is especially noted.[2]

Guru Arjan organised the Masand system, a group of representatives who taught and spread the teachings of the Gurus and also received the Dasvand, partial offering of a Sikh's income (in money, goods or service) that Sikhs paid to support the building of Gurdwara Sahib, the Guru ka Langars (shared communal kitchens) originally intended to share with sense of love, respect and equality, still an important element today in any Gurdwara. The Langars were open to any visitors and were designed from the start to stress the idea of equality and a casteless society. The land that Amritsar is built upon is believed to be a jagir (estates gifted to individuals under the Mughal system which included one or more villages and often a portion of the crops produced on the land) given as a gift by the Emperor Akbar, who was impressed by the practice, after sharing a meal in the Guru's communal kitchen, seated on the floor among commoners.



Guru Arjan ji, like all the Sikh Gurus, clearly embodies the the light of Guru Nanak ji through teachings and acts. Guru Arjan clearly knew how the importance of Guru Nanak's messgae is for every state of life and to every condition of society.[3] Continuing the efforts of Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan established Amritsar as a primary site for all Sikhs, and people on earth, as a center for great spiritual experience. The city became populous and a great place of pilgrimage for Sikhs.

Compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan gave Sikhs an example of religious and moral conduct, as well as a rich body of sacred poetry of high spiritual esteem. His starting of collection of offerings by way of Masand system, in a systematic way, accustomed them to a regular government. He traded in horses, though not extensively, and encouraged his followers to follow his example, to be as zealous in trade as they were in their faith.[3] Guru Arjan ji became famous among his pious devotees and his biographers dwell on the number of Saints and Holy men who were edified by his instructions.[3] He was equally headed by men in high positions. During his time, the teaching and philosophy of Nanak took a firm hold on the minds of his followers.

The economic well-being of the country is closely linked with the monsoon. With a view to alleviating the sufferings of the peasents, Guru Arjan ji helped the villagers in digging six-channel Persian wheel (Chhehrta) wells, which irrigated their fields. Chheharta is a living monument of his efforts in this direction. Guru Arjan was caring and loving, he was also willing to give to the poor.


Beside compiling the works of the previous Gurus and other works by both Hindu and Muslim Sants, Guru Arjan composed many hymns of his also which he included in the Adi Granth. He appointed Baba Budha Ji, who was a companion of Guru Nanak, and an associate of each of the subsequent Guru as the chief priest of the Golden Temple. He placed the Adi Granth on the Gaddi (throne) reserved for him, preferring to sit among his disciples.

As a composer and writer, Guru Arjan is prolific. He composed 2,218 devotional hymns in thirty major ragas of the time.[4]

Translated below is the Sukhmani, one the most recited banis (sacred hymns) revered by the by Sikhs. It was composed by Guru Arjan.

Meditate, meditate, meditate peace is obtained, Worry and anguish is expelled from the body.
Remembering God, you’re not reborn. Remembering God, the fear of death is dispelled.
Remembering God, death is eliminated. Remembering God, your enemies are repelled.
Remembering God, no obstacles are met. Remembering God, night and day you’re fully awake.
Remembering God, fear cannot touch you. Remembering God, you don’t suffer with sorrow.
Remembrance of God, in the Company of Saints. All treasures, O Nanak, are by Lord’s Blessing. ||2||
Guru Granth Sahib ang 262)


Jahangir’s memoirs state that Arjan was handed over to Murtaza Khan in Lahore, so that the official could execute him. Jahangir did so because of Arjan’s support for Khusrau, and does not describe ordering any torture of the Guru.[5] This suggests none was ordered, since Jahangir earlier describes the torture and execution of two other rebels in detail.[6] Nor does it fit with Jahangir’s general policy of religious tolerance, with one contemporary English observer remarking that “here every man has liberty to profess his own religion freely”,[7] and which saw state funding of other religions and numerous non-Muslims favoured by Jahangir.[8]

Set against this was Jahangir’s stated desire to convert Arjan to Islam,[9] though given that he later warned other Muslims about trying to force Islam on people,[10] probably thought in terms of the Guru converting voluntarily. Jahangir was angered by the number of Muslims who converted to Sikhism. Professor J. F. Richard’s view that Jahangir was “persistently hostile to popularly venerated religious figures”[11] is instructive, though it appears that Jahangir only took action against religious figures he saw as threats to the state. This included the Naqshbandi Muslim Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, who Jahangir viewed as an extremist (and who was a noted enemy of Guru Arjan), and so had him imprisoned in Gwalior fort.[12] Nor was Jahangir likely to be personally familiar with the Adi Granth, since he labelled the Guru as a Hindu.

If Jahangir’s memoir was the only contemporary source, the picture would still be relatively clear. We would know why Guru Arjan died and who ordered his death, if not the exact manner of it. However, other contemporary and near-contemporary sources, especially the Sikh accounts, do not support Jahangir’s version of events. Professor J.S. Grewal notes that Sikh sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century contain contradictory reports of Guru Arjan’s death.[13] Guru Gobind Singh’s memoir, the Bichitra Natak, mentions Guru Arjan only once, to record that “when Arjan departed this life for the divine abode, [the Guru] assumed the form of Hargobind.”[14]

In contrast he and other Sikh sources extensively discussed Guru Tegh Bahadur's martyrdom. Bhai Gurdas, a contemporary of Arjan and noted Sikh chronicler, recorded his death, but whether or not his account shows the Guru was tortured rests on the translation of ‘bhir’ (and whether it is translated as ‘distress/hardship’ or ‘torture’).[15] In the 1740s, Chaupa Singh, who was close to Guru Gobind Singh, placed the blame on Chandu Shah, a Hindu official in Lahore, who Chaupa Singh accused of having the Guru arrested and executed after he turned down Chandu Shah’s offer of marriage between Chandu’s daughter and Hargobind.[16]

A contemporary Jesuit account, written in 1606 by Father Jerome Xavier, who was in Lahore at the time, adds weight to aspects to all these accounts.[17] Xavier records that the Sikhs managed to get Jahangir to commute the death sentence to a heavy fine, for which a rich individual, possibly a Sikh, stood as guarantor. When the Guru failed to produce the money for the guarantor, the latter tortured Arjan in the hopes of extracting the money, but the Guru refused to give in and so died. Jahangir burnt him alive and then threw his ashes into the sea. The other near-contemporary non-Sikh source, a 1640s chronicle probably written by a Parsi, supports this view.[18]

External links


  1. ^ Mcleod, Hew (1997). Sikhism. London: Penguin Books. p. 28. ISBN 0-14-025260-6. 
  2. ^ Mahajan, Vidya Dhar. "Ch. 10". Muslim Rule In India (fifth ed.). p. 232. 
  3. ^ a b c Cunningham, J.D. (1853). "Gooroo Arjoon". A History of the Sikhs. John Murray. 
  4. ^ Singh, Pashaura. “Sikhism and Music.” In Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions, edited by Guy L. Beck, 141-167. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006. (page 150)
  5. ^ Jahangir. The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, or, Memoirs of Jahangir. Trans. Alexander Rogers. Ed. Henry Beveridge. 2 Volumes. Delhi, Low Price Publications, 2001, 1, pp. 72-73.
  6. ^ Jahangir, Tuzuk, 1, pp. 68-69.
  7. ^ Purchas, Samuel. Hakluytus Posthumus, or, Purchas his pilgrims. 4 Volumes. London, W. Stansby for H. Fetherstone, 1625, 2, ix, p. 1473.
  8. ^ Sharma, Sri Ram. The Religious policy of the Mughal Emperors. Panco Press: Lahore, 1975, p. 73.
  9. ^ Jahangir, Tuzuk, 1, p. 72.
  10. ^ Jahangir, Tuzuk, 1, p. 206.
  11. ^ Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire, in The New Cambridge History of India. 1, 5. Gen eds. Chris Bayly, Gordon Johnson, John F. Richards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 97.
  12. ^ Jahangir, Tuzuk, 2, pp. 91-93.
  13. ^ J.S. Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab, in The New Cambridge History of India. 2, 3. Gen eds. Chris Bayly, Gordon Johnson, John F. Richards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 63-64.
  14. ^ Bachiatr Natak, 5:11Bachiatr Natak, 5:11
  15. ^ Vir Singh, ed. Varam Bahi Gurdas Satki, 9th edition. New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, 1997), p. 386.
  16. ^ W. H. McLeod, ed. and trans. The Chaupa Singh Rahit-nama. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1987), p. 107.
  17. ^ Father Jerome to Father Gasper Fernandes, (BM add MS 9854, ff. 38-52), 1617, in Sicques, Tigers or Thieves: Eyewitness Accounts of the Sikhs (1606-1809). Eds. Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, p. 7.
  18. ^ Mobad’, Dabistan-i Mazahib, 1645-46, in Sikh history from Persian sources. Eds. J.S. Grewal and Irfan Habib. Indian History Congress: Tulika, 2001. p. 67.


  1. Tuzuk-i-Jahagiri or Memoirs of Jahagir, Translated by Alexander Rogers. Edited by Henry Beveridge Published by Low Price Publication. ISBN 978-81-7536-148-5
  2. History of the Panjab, Syad Muhammad Latif, Published by: Kalyani Publishers, Ludhiana, Punjab, India. ISBN 978-81-7096-245-8
Preceded by:
Guru Ram Das
(24 September 1534 – 1 September 1581)
Guru Arjan Followed by:
Guru Har Gobind
(19 June 1595 – 3 March 1644)

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