Guruship to Arjan Guru
In the Sikh tradition, spiritual succession did not come as a rightful claim to the elder male issue, and it was never sure that it will remain in the family. The succession always went to the most deserving of the disciples, whether in the family or outside of it. Guru Nanak appointed Bhai Lahina (later Guru Angad Dev) his successor ignoring the claims of both of his sons simply because Lahina was the most deserving of them all. Similarly, Guru Angad Dev bypassed his own sons in favor of a deserving disciple, Guru Amar Das.
As the time came Guru Amar Das selected his most deserving disciple who also happened to be his son-in-law, Bhai Jetha who later came to be known as Guru Ram Das. When it was time for Guru Ram Das to appoint his successor, he had three of his sons and innumerable disciples to choose from. In the secular life, it is the eldest son who generally succeeds his father and it is, as goes a very important Indian tradition, also the eldest son who at the time of his father’s death is offered a turban which symbolizes responsibility. However, the spiritual succession in the Sikh tradition did not follow this secular pattern.
The eldest son of Guru Ram Das was no doubt a very wise and intelligent person in worldly affairs and he rendered very useful service to his father Guru in managing diverse kinds of jobs. However, he was not doing all this in a selfless way, rather he had been doing this with an eye on succession. In fact, he always contrived to remain close to the Guru so that he could oversee all the activities going on in the Guru’s durbar and also have access to all the offerings being made to the Guru. However, he meticulously kept up the pretense of one rendering service under the Guru’s command. Having done so much for the Guru and the Sikhs, the office of the Guru, he assured himself, was rightfully his.
He was ignorant of the Sikh teaching that service rendered with a motive gives birth only to ego, and only he who serves in a selfless manner meets the Lord (GGS, V, 286). In another place, the Sikh scripture says that service should be rendered without any deceit or motive in mind because only the service thus rendered brings all joys and comforts (GGS, IV, 861). Prithi Chand who was very jealous of his youngest brother who through his selfless service had become the object of the Guru’s love had also begun to conspire with certain masands and others to manipulate the succession decision in his favor. The Guru, of course, forbade him several times from such activities, but the more he was advised against the more keenly he got involved in such unbecoming acts.
If the eldest of the sons, Prithi Chand, was very intelligent and more given to the affairs of the world, his younger brother, Mahadev, was completely otherworldly by temperament. He had ascetical leanings and had absolutely no interest in the affairs and things of the world. An ideal Sikh must keep close to each other the parallel streams of esoteric and exoteric life. The Guru realized that neither of his elder sons was worthy of leading the Sikh movement initiated by Guru Nanak Dev whereas he found in his youngest son, Arjan Dev, the perfect blend of this worldly and the otherworldly, the potential to keep close to each other the spiritual and secular aspects of life. He was also the only one to pass the test of willing and unquestioned submission to the Guru’s will. He was a divinely inspired poet who also had the moral strength to suffer, with a calm mind, torture, and even death for the sake of righteousness.
It is said that once a cousin of Guru Ram Das came from Lahore and called on the family to extend them an invitation for the marriage of his son, Sanhari Mall, at Lahore. However, Guru Ram Das was so preoccupied with his responsibilities that he could not find time to go and visit the family in Lahore, but since it was a social obligation, he wanted the eldest of his sons to represent the family. But the wily mind of Prithi Chand apprehended that it might not be a ruse to get him out of the way to pass over the succession to one of his younger brothers. So he excused himself from going there.
Guru Ram Das then asked Mahadev to go and attend the marriage, but he was also not interested though for different reasons. When Arjan Dev was asked, he willingly obeyed and got ready to leave. Before his departure, however, the Guru asked him to remain there after the marriage, establish the congregations in and around Lahore and preach the message of the Gurus and also look after the ancestral house and other properties. The command was obvious that he was to stay on in Lahore until called back.
Arjan Dev went to Lahore, attended the wedding ceremonies, and stayed there doing the Guru’s bidding and waiting for a message to return to Amritsar. Days passed into months and months passed into years. He is said to have continued the work of preaching and organizing congregations in Lahore for about three years. This was for the first time that he had been made to stay away from the Guru for such a long time. He felt very anxious to have a glimpse of the Guru but was bound by the Guru’s directive to stay back in Lahore until called back.
He had gone to Lohore in 1636 Bikrami / AD 1579 and remained there till 1638 Bikrami, which came to about three years. As he intensely felt the pangs of separation, he wrote, so says the chronicle, a versified letter to the Guru expressing the pangs of his separation from the Guru and his keenness to have a glimpse of him. As the letter reached home, Prithi Chand received it on the Guru’s behalf. He managed to hide it from the Guru who was never informed of the letter and of the feelings of Arjan Dev.
After a while, he wrote another letter which also met the same fate. This made him further desperate, unable to comprehend the reasons for keeping him away for so long. Now he decided to send another letter through a devoted Sikh with the directive that he should deliver the letter directly to the Guru. As the letter was numbered three, the Guru wanted to know the fate of the previous two letters but Prithi Chand denied having received any though, it is said, the Guru was able to have them traced from Prithi Chand’s residence. All three letters, pregnant with spiritual overtones, gave vent to the pangs of his heart. The Guru realized the feelings of Arjan Dev and immediately sent Baba Buddha to bring him back.
As Arjan Dev reached back to Amritsar, he composed the fourth stanza to supplement the earlier three he had sent in the form of letters to the Guru. This fourth stanza, in joyful praise of the Guru, highly impressed Guru Ram Das with its spiritual idiom. This was the time when Guru Ram Das had made up his mind to bestow the light of Guru Nanak upon Arjan Dev whom he found perfectly suitable for this responsibility. As the Guru felt Arjan Dev fit to inherit the mantle of Guru Nanak, he assembled many of his prominent Sikhs and proclaimed his decision to appoint Arjan Dev as his successor.
As per the tradition, Guru Ram Das placed before him five pice and a coconut and bowed to him and in such a way, Guru Ramdas passed the Gurgaddi to Arjan Guru. Baba Buddha put the ceremonial mark on his forehead as he had done at the time of the previous three successions. The congregation that had gathered on the occasion was also directed to accept now onwards Arjan Dev as the Fifth Nanak. This happened on Bhadon Sudi 1, 1638 Bikrami / 1 September 1581.
Article ‘How Guru Ramdas Passed Gurgaddi…’ As is from Biographical Sketch of Guru Arjan Dev Ji; Book ‘Guru Arjan Dev’ published by Dharam Singh, Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patiala. ISBN 81-302-0076-7