Guru Angad Dev ji (1504-1552)
Guru Angad invented the present form of the Gurmukhi script. It became the medium of writing the Punjabi language in which the hymns of the Gurus are expressed. This step had a far-reaching purpose and impact. First, it gave the people who spoke this language an identity of their own, enabling them to express their thought directly and without any difficulty or transliteration. The measure had the effect of establishing the independence of the mission and the followers of the Guru. Secondly, it helped the community to dissociate itself from the Sanskrit religious tradition so that the growth and development of the Sikhs could take place unhampered and unprejudiced by the backlog of the earlier religious and social philosophies and practices. This measure, as shown by the subsequent growth of Sikhism, was essential in order to secure its unhindered development and progress as it required an entirely different approach to life.
Dr Gupta feels that this step, to a certain extent, kept the upper classes among Hindus, to which the Guru belonged, away from Sikhism, partly because they were steeped in the old religious and Brahminical tradition and partly because the Sanskrit tradition fed their ego by giving them a superior caste status to that of the other castes. But, the idea of equality of man was fundamental to the Sikh spiritual system. The Guru knew that its association with traditional religious literature would tend to water it down. The matter is extremely important from the point of view of the historical growth and study. Actually, the students of Sikh history know that over the centuries the influence of these old traditions has been very much in evidence. It has sometimes even given a wrong twist to the new thesis and its growth. The educated persons were almost entirely drawn from the upper castes and classes. They had a vested interest, visible also in their writings, in introducing ideas and practices which helped in maintaining their privileges and prejudices of caste superiority, even though such customs were opposed to the fundamentals about the equality of man laid down by the Gurus. For example, the Jat's, who were themselves drawn from classes branded as low by the Brahminical system, started exhibiting caste prejudices vis-a-vis the lower castes drawn from the Hindu fold.
Earlier, the Punjabi language was written in the Landa or Mahajani script This had no vowel sounds, which had to be imagined or construed by the reader in order to decipher the writing. Therefore, there was the need of a script which could faithfully reproduce the hymns of the Gurus so that the true meaning and message of the Gurus could not be misconstrued and misinterpreted by each reader to suit his own purpose and prejudices. The devising of the Gurmukhi script was an essential step in order to maintain the purity of the doctrine and exclude all possibility of misunderstanding and misconstruction by interested persons.
The institution of langar was maintained and developed. The Guru's wife personally worked in the kitchen. She also served food to the members of the community and the visitors. Her devotion to this institution finds mention in Guru Granth Sahib.
The Guru earned his own living by twisting coarse grass into strings used for cots. All offerings went to the common fund. This demonstrates that it is necessary and honourable to do even the meanest productive work. It also emphasises that parasitical living is not in consonance with the mystic and moral path. In line with Guru Nanak's teaching, the Guru also declared that there was no place for passive recluses in the community.
Like Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and the subsequent Gurus selected and appointed their successors by completely satisfying themselves about their mystic fitness and capacity to discharge the responsibilities of the mission.
The son of a prosperous Hindu trader, Bhai Pheru, Guru Angad was an ardent devotee of the Hindu goddess Durga. Lehna, as he was known before becoming Guru was born on March 31, 1504 in the village of Matte-di-Sari but eventually his family moved to Khadur. He was married to Khivi and had two sons, Datu and Dasu, and one daughter Amro. Lehna would annually lead groups of pilgrims to visit the temple of Durga at Jwalamukhi for preying and dancing. Here the flames emitted by the volcano are worshipped by devout Hindus. One day Lehna heard a Sikh named Bhai Jodha reciting the Japji, the early morning prayer composed by Guru Nanak. Finding out about Guru Nanak from Bhai Joda, Lehna decided to visit the Guru and pay his respects. Upon meeting Guru Nanak at the age of 27, Lehna became a devout disciple of Guru Nanak and renounced his former practices.
Guru Nanak instructed Lehna to return to Khadur to instruct people in the ways of Sikhism. Here Lehna spent his time in prayer and serving the people. He distributed food to the poor daily. Longing to be with Guru Nanak he eventually returned to Karthapur where he became totally devoted to the service of Guru Nanak. After undergoing countless tests, Guru Nanak eventually appointed Guru Angad as his successor on July 14, 1539 as described previously. Upon the death of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad returned to Khadur where he went into seclusion and meditation for six months. Eventually a delegation of Sikhs led by Baba Buddha convinced the Guru that they needed him. Guru Angad longed for Guru Nanak, when he said to Baba Buddha;
"He whom you love, die for him. Accursed is the life without the beloved. The head should be sliced that does not bow before the Master. O Nanak! the body should be burnt that suffers not the agony of separation." (Sri Rag) "He who has been blessed by Guru Nanak is lost in the praises of the Lord. What could one teach those, Who have Divine Nanak as their Guru?" (Majh)
Guru Angad was the embodiment of humility as Guru Nanak had been before him. The renowned yogi Daya Nath visited Guru Angad to try to convert him. Daya Nath believed that mental purity could only be obtained through renunciation of the world, observance of rituals, introspection, and yoga. Guru Angad engaged him in discussion saying that only through living a simple truthful life as Guru Nanak had lived can God be realized, by remaining pure amidst impurity. The yogi was eventually won over by the purity and innocence of Guru Angad and asked the Guru if there was anything that he could do for him. The humble Guru Angad replied that he only seeked the learned yogis blessings.
Guru Angad followed the daily routine that Guru Nanak had. He would wake up early at dawn to recite Guru Nanak's Japji (morning prayer) as well as sing Asa di var with his congregation, work during the daytime and then have evening prayers. Guru Angad also maintained langar where people of all religions and casts could gather for a free meal. Guru Angad also took a keen interest in physical fitness, and encouraged his devotees to be involved in sports after their morning prayers.
After the Mughal emperor Babur's death he was succeeded by his son Humayun. He was soon defeated by Sher Shah and on his retreat out of India he stopped at Khadur to seek the Guru's blessings. When Humayan arrived, Guru Angad and the congregation were absorbed in singing religious hymns. After a while Humayan became impatient and angry at being ignored and put his hand on the hilt of his sword to attack the Guru. Guru Angad was unmoved by this and said "When you should have used the sword you did not, rather you ran away from the battlefield like a coward. Here you show off, threatening to attack unarmed devotees engaged in prayer." Humayan was humbled by this and asked the Guru's forgiveness and blessings. Guru Angad blessed him, and as history was to have it he eventually regained his throne.
Guru Angad was very fond of children and took a great interest in their education. He advocated that they should be taught to read and write in their mother tongue, Punjabi. Although the origins of the Gurmukhi script are unclear, it is clear that Guru Angad popularized the use of this simplified script among the Sikhs starting around 1541. Being the successor of Guru Nanak he also got the first authorized biography of Guru Nanak written in 1544, as well as having a number of copies of Guru Nanak's hymns written out in the new Gurmukhi script. Guru Angad further expanded the number of Sikh religious centers.
There lived a very devout Vaishanavite Hindu named Amar Das. He had regularly made pilgrimages to the Ganges river for ritual baths for over 20 years. While returning from his twelfth such pilgrimage he was asked by a monk "Who is your Guru?" Amar Das felt frustrated as he could not answer this question having searched his whole life, but still not achieving the peace of mind that he longed for. One day he heard Bibi Amro the daughter of Guru Angad, who was recently married to his nephew singing the hymns of Guru Nanak. Amar Das started to listen to them every day until he was enchanted by them. Bibi Amro told Amar Das about the mission of Guru Nanak and promised to introduce him to her father Guru Angad.
When the time finally came and they met, Guru Angad got up from his seat on his arrival to embrace Amar Das as he was his relative and also much older than the Guru. Amar Das instead fell to the Guru's feet out of respect and humility, forgetting his age and family status. On this day of their meeting, Guru Angad was eating meat and being a Vaishnav Hindu, Amar Das felt uncomfortable. Guru Angad told Amar Das that the meats one should avoid are envy, greed, ego, slander and usurpation of others rights. He told Amar Das that there is life in everything, whatever is eaten while remembering God is like nectar itself. Amar Das thus became a devoted disciple of Guru Angad.
One of the Guru Angad's wealthy disciple named Gobind decided to build a new township on the river Beas to honour the Guru. Guru Angad sent Amar Das to supervise the construction of this new township which came to be known as Goindwal. When it was completed Guru Angad instructed Amar Das and his family to move there. Amar Das complied. Every morning he would get up early in the morning and carry water from the river to the Guru and remain in his company the entire day before returning to Goindwal in the evenings. Each year Guru Angad would present a turban as a symbol of honour to his devoted followers. Such was the devotion of Amar Das that he would wear one on top of the other, refusing to discard the Guru's gift. People ridiculed Amar Das for his blind faith, but he was never concerned.
As Guru Angad's popularity continued to spread among the people, this caused much jealousy among the Hindu high castes because Guru Angad was gaining popularity with his preaching about a castless society. They conspired to turn the people away from the Guru. During a drought year a Hindu recluse told the villagers "You go to Guru Angad day and night for spiritual guidance, why can't he get rain for your dying crops?" The recluse forecasted that there would only be rain when Guru Angad left the village. When confronted by the desperate farmers Guru Angad replied, "Nature cannot bend to your will merely by human sacrifice to the gods, or by injuring someone's heart. But if your rain god is satisfied by my leaving this village, I shall do so without a moment's hesitation." Leaving the village Guru Angad was refused shelter in neighboring villages and finally settled in a forest south of Khadur. When the rains did not come as promised the villagers grew angry at the Hindu recluse and wanted to kill him. Amar Das was disappointed with the way that the villagers had treated Guru Angad. He suggested that instead of killing the recluse the farmers tie the recluse to a plow and drag him through their fields. The rains finally came. The villagers now emplored the Guru to return to the village. When Guru Angad heard to the punishment the Hindu recluse had received he told Amar Das; "You should have shown endurance, in the face of adversity, like the earth, steadfastness like a mountain and compassion like a river. For the wise and the holy, it is unforgivable if they practice not humility and remain not even-minded in weal or woe." Amar Das asked for and received forgiveness.
Guru Angad did not believe in performing miracles unnecessarily. When Amar Das blessed a devotee of the Guru's with a son, Guru Angad warned him, "Do not go about disbursing your blessings and curses without due deliberation. God is merciful to all men of prayer and good intentions, and one need not exhibit one's spiritual prowess by such showmanship."
A village women once ridiculed Amar Das for his faithful devotion as being that "homeless old man who carries water every day for his Guru daily." When Guru Angad heard this he embraced Amar Das and told his congregation; "Amar Das is not homeless, he is the shelter of the unsheltered. He is the strength of the weak and the emancipation of the slave!" Finding that Amar Das was his most worthy disciple and feeling that his end was near Guru Angad announced that Amar Das would be his successor. Guru Angad's two sons were unhappy with their fathers decision but the Guru told them that the honour would go to Amar Das because he was the most worthy and humble. Guru Angad bowed before Guru Amar Das placing five copper coins and a coconut before him signifying as Guru Nanak had done before him. Guru Angad then had Baba Buddha anoint the forehead of Guru Amar Das with a saffron mark. Shortly thereafter Guru Angad left this world on March 28, 1552.