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Guru Arjan

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Guru Arjan

Guru Arjan
ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜਨ
opaque watercolour on paper
The Government Museum, Chandigarh
Born 15 April 1563 (1563-04-15)
Goindval, Tarn Taaran, India
Died 30 May 1606(1606-05-30) (aged 43)[1]
Other names The Fifth Master
Years active 1581–1606
Known for
Predecessor Guru Ram Das
Successor Guru Hargobind
Spouse(s) Mata Ganga
Children Guru Hargobind
Parent(s) Guru Ram Das and Mata Bhani

Guru Arjan (; 15 April 1563 – 30 May 1606)[1] was the first martyr of Sikh faith and the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus, who compiled writings to create the eleventh, the living Guru, Guru Granth Sahib. He was born in Goindval, Punjab the youngest son of Guru Ram Das and Mata Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das.[2]

Guru Arjan lived as the Guru of Sikhism for a quarter of a century. He completed the construction of Amritsar and founded other cities, such as Taran Taran and Kartarpur. The greatest contribution Guru Arjan made to the Sikh faith was to compile all of the past Gurus' writings, along with selected writings of other saints from different backgrounds which he considered consistent with the teachings of Sikhism into one book, now the holy scripture: the Guru Granth Sahib. It is, perhaps, the only script which still exists in the form first published (a hand-written manuscript) by the Guru.[3]

Guru Arjan introduced the Masands, a group of representatives who taught and spread the teachings of the Gurus and received the Dasvand, a voluntary offering of a Sikh's income in money, goods or service. Sikhs paid the Dasvand to support the building of gurdwaras and langars (shared communal kitchens). Although the introduction of the langar was started by Guru Nanak, Guru Arjan is credited for laying the foundation of the systematic institution of langars as a religious duty, one that has continued ever since.[4]

Guru Arjan was arrested under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and asked to convert to Islam.[5][6] He refused, was tortured and executed in 1606 CE.[5][7] Historical records and the Sikh tradition are unclear whether Guru Arjan was executed by drowning or died during torture.[5][8] His martyrdom is considered a watershed event in the history of Sikhism.[5][9]


Guru Arjan was the son of Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru in Sikhism. Arjan had two elder brothers: Prithi Chand (Prithia) and Mahadev. The eldest brother Prithia wanted to be the fifth Guru, but Guru Arjan was designated as the fifth Guru, by Guru Ram Das. Bhai Gurdas, a noted 17th-century Sikh chronicler, knew all three brothers from childhood.[10] Prithia, stated Bhai Gurdas in his chronicles, attempted several times to falsely claim and assume the title of being the rightful Sikh Guru while Guru Arjan was alive, and after Guru Arjan's death, including by using the pseudonym of Nanak in hymns he composed, but the Sikh tradition has recognised Guru Arjan as the fifth Guru, and Hargobind as the sixth Guru.[10][11][9]

Arjan became the fifth Guru in 1581 CE inheriting the title from his father, and after his execution by the Mughal officials, his son Hargobind became the sixth Guru in 1606 CE.[9]


Guru Arjan being pronounced as fifth Guru.

Continuing the efforts of Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan established Amritsar as a primary Sikh pilgrimage destination. He wrote a voluminous amount of Sikh scripture including the popular Sukhmani Sahib.

Compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan gave Sikhs an example of religious and moral conduct, as well as a rich body of sacred poetry. 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.[12] Guru Arjan became famous among his pious devotees and his biographers dwell on the number of Saints and Holy men who were edified by his instructions.[12] He was equally heeded by men in high positions. During his time, the teaching and philosophy of Guru 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 peasants, Guru Arjan 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.


During the period of Guru Arjan, the Sikh Panth steadily extended its influence in Punjab, notably among the rural population and Jats. The Mughal rulers of Punjab were alarmed at the growth of the Panth. The Mughal emperor Jahangir wrote in his autobiography Tuzk-e-Jahangiri (Jahangirnama) that too many people were becoming persuaded by Guru Arjan's teachings and if Guru Arjan did not become a Muslim the Sikh Panth had to be extinguished. Jahangir believed that Guru Arjan was a Hindu who pretended to be a saint, and that he had thinking of forcing Guru Arjan to convert to Islam or to execute him, for a long time.[5][6]

In 1606 CE, the Guru was imprisoned in Lahore Fort, where he was tortured and executed.[5] Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, after the punishment and execution of Guru Arjun by Shaykh Farid Bukhari (Murtaza Khan) under the orders of Jahagir, as follows,[13]

According to Sikh tradition, before his execution, Guru Arjan instructed his son and successor Hargobind to take up arms. His execution led the Sikh Panth to become armed and pursue resistance to persecution under the Islamic rule.[15]

Some scholars state that the evidence is unclear whether his death was due to execution, torture or forced drowning in the Ravi river.[16][17][18][19] J.S. Grewal notes that Sikh sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth century contain contradictory reports of Guru Arjan's death.[20]

J. F. Richard states that Jahangir was persistently hostile to popularly venerated non-Islamic religious figures, not just Sikhism.[21]

Bhai Gurdas was a contemporary of Guru Arjan and is a noted 17th-century Sikh chronicler.[22] His eyewitness account recorded Guru Arjan life, and the order by Emperor Jahangir to torture the Guru to death.[23]

A contemporary Jesuit account, written by Spanish Jesuit missionary Jerome Xavier (1549–1617), who was in Lahore at the time, records that the Sikhs tried to get Jahangir to substitute the torture and death sentence to a heavy fine, but this attempt failed.[24] Dabistan-i Mazahib Mobad states Jahangir tortured Guru Arjan in the hopes of extracting the money and public repudiation of his spiritual convictions, but the Guru refused and was executed.[25] Jerome Xavier, the Jesuit missionary in India in the early 17th century, in appreciation of the courage of Guru Arjun, wrote back to Lisbon, the following[26]

Michael Barnes states that the resolve and death of Guru Arjun strengthened the conviction among Sikhs that, "personal piety must have a core of moral strength. A virtuous soul must be a courageous soul. Willingness to suffer trial for one's convictions was a religious imperative".[26]

Historical revisionism, reconstruction and disputes

There are several stories and versions about how, where and why Guru Arjan died.[27][28][29] Recent scholarship[30][31] has questioned many of these, calling them as fictional interpretation, reflecting an agenda, or "exaggerating fragmentary traces of documentary evidence in historical analysis". The alternate versions include stories about the role of Guru Arjan in a conflict between the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his son who Jahangir suspected of trying to organize a patricidal coup, or alternatively a Hindu minister of Jahangir named Chandu Shah, who in one version takes revenge on Guru Arjan for not marrying his son Hargobind to Chandu Shah's daughter, and in another Lahore version where Chandu Shah actually prevents Guru Arjan from suffering torture and death by Muslims by paying 200,000 rupees (100,000 crusados) to Jahangir, but then keeps him and emotionally torments him to death in his house.[32] All these versions and meta-narratives became popular in 19th century British colonial literature, such as those of Max Arthur Macauliffe.[33] Several alternative versions of the story try to absolve Jahangir and the Mughal empire of any responsibility,[28][34] but have no trace or support in the documentary evidence from early 17th century, such as the records of Jesuit priest Jerome Xavier and the memoirs of Jahangir.[5][7][35]


Some scholars spell Guru Arjan's name as Guru Arjun.[26][36]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ DS Dhillon (1988), Sikhism Origin and Development Atlantic Publishers, pp. 204-207
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Pashaura Singh (2005), Understanding the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, Journal of Philosophical Society, 12(1), pp. 29-62
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b c Wheeler M. Thackston (1999), Translator and Editor, The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195127188, p. 59
  8. ^ Louis E. Fenech, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, Oxford University Press, pp. 118-121
  9. ^ a b c
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ DS Dhillon (1988), Sikhism Origin and Development Atlantic Publishers, pp. 99-110
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ a b Sirhindi, Maktubat-i Imam-i Rabbani, I-iii, letter No. 193, pp. 95-6
  14. ^ Friedman Yohanan (1966), Shaikh Ahmad Sirhandi: An Outline of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity, Ph.D. Thesis, McGill University, pp. 110-112
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Vir Singh, ed. Varam Bahi Gurdas Satki, 9th edition. New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, 1997), p. 386.
  23. ^
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ a b c d
  27. ^ Sajida S. Alvi (1987), “Religion and State during the Reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605-27): Nonjuristical Perspectives,” in Studia Islamica, pp. 113-114
  28. ^ a b
  29. ^
  30. ^ Pashaura Singh (2005), Understanding the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan, Journal of Philosophical Society, 12(1), pp. 38-39
  31. ^ Louis Fenech (2001), Martyrdom and the Execution of Guru Arjan in Early Sikh Sources, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 121(1), pp. 20-31
  32. ^ Kirpal Singh (2000), Perspectives on Sikh Gurus, National Book Shop, pp. 125-127
  33. ^ Max Arthur Macauliffe (1883), The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, ISBN 978-8187526032, Volume 3
  34. ^ Pashaura Singh (2011), Reconsidering the Sacrifice of Guru Arjan, Journal of Punjab Studies, University of California Press, 18(1&2), pp. 295-316
  35. ^ Louis E. Fenech (2010), Martyrdom: W.H. McLeod and his Students, Journal of Punjab studies, University of California Press, 17(1&2), pp. 75-94
  36. ^


  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
  3. Philosophy of 'Charhdi Kala' and Higher State of Mind in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Dr. Harjinder Singh Majhail, 2010, Published by: Deepak Publishers, Jalandhar, Punjab, India. ISBN 81-88852-96-1
  4. SIKH HISTORY IN 10 VOLUMES, Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Published by: The Sikh University Press, Brussels, Belgium. ISBN 2- 930247-41-X

External links

  • DiscoverSikhism - Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji is the fifth of the Ten Sikh Gurus. Read about his life and stories here.
  • Learn more about Guru Arjan
Preceded by
Guru Ram Das
Sikh Guru
1 September 1581 – 25 May 1606
Succeeded by
Guru Har Gobind
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