Guru Amar Das

Guru Amar Das (5 May 1479 – 1 September 1574), sometimes spelled as Guru Amardas, was the third of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism and became Sikh Guru on 26 March 1552 at age 73.

Before becoming a Sikh, on a pilgrimage after having been prompted to search for a guru, he heard his nephew's wife, Bibi Amro, reciting a hymn by Guru Nanak, and was deeply moved by it. Bibi Amro was the daughter of Guru Angad, the second and then current Guru of the Sikhs. Amar Das persuaded Bibi Amro to introduce him to her father and in 1539, Amar Das, at the age of sixty, met Guru Angad and became a Sikh, devoting himself to the Guru. In 1552, before his death, Guru Angad appointed Amar Das as Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of Sikhism.

Guru Amar Das was an important innovator in Sikhism, who introduced a religious organization called the 'manji system by appointing trained clergy, a system that expanded and survives into the contemporary era. He wrote and compiled hymns into a Pothi (book) that ultimately helped create the Adi Granth. Guru Amar Das helped establish the Sikh rituals relating to baby naming, wedding (Anand Karaj), and funeral, as well as the practice of congregation and celebrations of festivals such as DiwaliMaghi and Vaisakhi. He founded centres of Sikh pilgrimage, and picked the site for the Golden Temple.

He is noted for his division of the Punjab into administrative districts and for encouraging missionary work to spread the faith. He was much revered for his wisdom and piety, and it was said that even the Mughal emperor Akbar sought his advice and ate in the Sikhs’ casteless langar (communal refectory).

Under Amar Das’s direction, the city of Goindwal became a centre of Sikh authority and learning. He strengthened the existing institutions of Sikh scripture, liturgy, and langar, making it a rule that anyone who wished to see him had to eat in the refectory first. He also introduced a religio-administrative structure of 22 manjis (literally “cots,” in function “seats”), which created the possibility of effective governance for the entire increasingly large Sikh community. Appointees to these seats were to provide doctrinal guidance for their constituents, encourage the entry of others into the Sikh community, and serve as links between the local congregations and Goindwal. To further enhance the cohesion between distant congregations and Goindwal, Guru Amar Das instituted pilgrimages that were tied to a newly formed Sikh calendar. By incorporating two preexisting festivals, Vaisakhi (at the time of the spring harvest) and Diwali (at the fall harvest), into the calendar and changing their orientation, he established two major occasions when all Sikhs were encouraged to go to Goindwal and participate in communal celebrations.

 

Guru Amar Das advocated a middle way of life between the extremes of asceticism and sensuous pleasure, and he praised the life of the ordinary family man. Thus, a man could enjoy prosperity and please God also. He purified the Sikh religion of Hindu practices, encouraged intercaste marriage, and allowed widows to remarry. He also strictly enjoined his followers to refrain from the prevailing Hindu practice of sati (self-immolation of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre).