Bhai Gurdas

Bhai Gurdas (1551-1637)

Bhai Gurdas was one of the prominent contemporaries of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth Gurus. He was born at Goindwal in 1551, His mother was Jiwani and his father was Tejbhan, the brother of Guru Amar Das. As a child he came in contact with the third Guru. He learnt Gurmukhi and sang the Guru’s hymns. When the fourth Guru started the construction of the new township of Ramdaspur (later called Amritsar), Gurdas moved there to help with the planning and development. He referred to the holy tank in his writings:

“He (Guru Ram Das) dug a perfect tank and kindled the lamp of divine knowledge at Amritsar.
The play of the Lord is contrary to that of the world, the ocean (Guru Amardas),
Flows backwards and is contained in the Ganges (Guru Ram Das)
Guru Ram Das received the reward for what (devotion) he gave;
He who gives nothing receives nothing.

Bhai Gurdas was deputed by Guru Ram Das as a missionary to Agra, where he came into contact with emperor Akbar. He developed his knowledge of Sanskrit and classical music and wrote a lot of poetry. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjan became fond of Gurdas, whom he lovingly called “Mamaji”. He told Gurdas to use the Gurmukhi script for transcribing the compositions of the Gurus. He dictated the hymns of the previous Gurus, his own and those of the medieval Indian saints to Gurdas at a place in Amritsar, where we now find Gurdwara Ramsar. Though Guru Arjan invited him to include his compositions in the Adi Granth, he declined to do so, out of a feeling of humility.

Later when Guru Hargobind became the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, Gurdas was surprised at the change in style of the new Guru. Even so Bhai Gurdas defended the policy of Guru Hargobind because the times had changed. Military training imparted by the Guru to his Sikhs was necessary to resist the injustice and cruelty of the Moghul ruler. The Sixth Guru had to use the sword for self defence and survival of the Sikh community. Bhai Gurdas wrote:

“Just as a fence is necessary to keep away stray cattle from the farm,
Just as the thorny kikar tree guards the orchard
Just as the dog guards the house against strangers”
Therefore, he argued, violence as to be met by violence for the defence of freedom and righteousness.

Bhai Gurdas was a trusted and devoted Sikh of the house of the Gurus. He was sent on several missionary tours to places such as Lahore, Agra, Kabul and Benares. Then after the death of Baba Buddha , he was appointed the Head Granthi of Harmandir Sahib.

Bhai Gurdas composed 40 Vaars and 556 Kabits. He has furnished a brief account of the travels of Guru Nanak and also offered a scholarly interpretation of the teachings of the Gurus. His compositions are regarded as a key to the understanding of the Adi Granth, and are approved for recitation and singing in all Gurdwaras.

Bhai Gurdas remained unmarried until his death in Goindwal in 1531. Guru Hargobind performed his funeral rites.

Dr Gobind Singh Mansukhani
from his book Aspects of Sikhism