by Kristen Meiser — March 25, 2021
“When one does the service of the Guru, the mind becomes pure and finds refuge in the true Home” - Guru Amar Das
Guru Amar Das was the third Sikh Guru. He furthered many of the social justice causes the previous two Gurus (Guru Nanak and Guru Angad) had emphasized, especially dismantling the caste system, empowering women, and serving anyone in need. He also exemplified humility throughout his life, setting a precedent for future Sikh generations. He is remembered for writing the Anand Sahib prayer, which is one of the five Banis (daily hymns) recited by Sikhs.
Before he became a Guru, Guru Amar Das was a faithful follower of Guru Angad. He was known for his willingness to take the most humbling of tasks. His humility often led others to overlook him. When Guru Angad chose Guru Amar Das to succeed him, Guru Amar Das’ son, Datu, was appalled. Out of jealousy, he kicked his father to the ground and called him a “menial servant.” In response, Guru Amar Das picked himself up and carefully caressed Datu’s foot, and said “I am old and my bones have grown very hard, I fear they have hurt your tender foot.”
While humble at all times, Guru Amar Das was not weak. He fought against the caste system and expanded the revolutionary idea of Guru Nanak that all people are equal regardless of race, religion, gender, or the family into which they were born. Guru Amar Das especially saw a need to empower women and challenge those in higher castes to humble themselves and recognize everyone as equal. He knew that a society that devalued women and disparaged the poor could never embrace equality and the oneness Sikhi teaches.
Guru Amar Das was appalled by the treatment women received. The majority of his work was spent raising women up and denouncing the atrocities society had normalized. Specifically, Guru Amar Das spoke out against the ritual of “Sati” often referred to as “widow burning.” This awful practice forced women to be burned to death on their husband’s funeral pyre. Instead, he encouraged widows to remarry, which was unheard of at the time.
Guru Amar Das also fought the devaluation women faced in society by ensuring that any role within Sikhi was available to men and women equally. When he established the Piri System, he initiated 146 apostles to spread the words of Guru Nanak around Punjab and India. 52 of the original group initiated were women. He also forbade Sikh women from wearing the Pardah (veil) which hid their faces. These actions were revolutionary at the time and continued Guru Nanak’s movement towards equality in India.
Guru Amar Das knew that equality was also hampered by the pride of those in higher castes. He leaned on the practice of langar, or community kitchen and food bank, to teach the important lesson that everyone is equal. Over the course of his guruship, both Emperor Akbar and the Raja (King) of Hairpur came to visit Guru Amar Das and were required to partake in langar before they could meet with him.
Guru Amar Das lived a long, inspiring life and chose his son-in-law, Guru Ram Das, to succeed him.