On June 16 annually, members of the Sikh religion remember the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. Guru Arjan Dev Ji who is the fifth Guru and first martyr of the Sikhs died through torture after pursuing his task of preaching about God, solidifying the members and expanding the Sikh faith during its early years. The death of Guru Arjan also resulted to permanent changes in the faith’s tradition which is still practiced today.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji was born on April 15, 1563 and was the son of the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das. Guru Arjan lived during the time of the Mughal Empire when Muslims ruled the Indian subcontinent. After inheriting the role of becoming the Sikh leader, Guru Arjan has accomplished several milestones like the reorganization of the Sangats and Masands. He continued the work of his father and completed the two tanks of Amritsar and Santoksar. He expanded Ramdaspur and laid the foundation of the Golden Temple or the Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar. And perhaps the greatest achievement of the Guru was the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikh’s holy scriptures.
Early in his leadership, Guru Arjan did not have any problem with the reigning Mughal emperor Akbar. Though a Muslim, Akbar is a liberal who grew fond of Guru Arjan’s works and philosophies. Akbar perceived Sikh Gurus as “social reformists” and he also believed in brotherhood of mankind and unity of God across religions. Many have tried to impune Guru Arjan but such false claims were eventually dismissed by the emperor. This made the Guru even more famous and attracted new members including converts from Muslims and Hindus.
When Akbar died, he was replaced by his son Jahangir. Unfortunately for the Sikhs, Emperor Jahangir was inclined towards Orthodox Islam unlike his father. Jahangir was also concerned with the growing influence of Guru Arjan as well as his perceived alliance with his rival son Khusro. Those opposed to Guru Arjan accused him of defaming Islam and Hinduism through the Holy Granth. Emperor Jahangir ordered him to revise the Sikh’s scriptures but the Guru refused.
In May of 1606, he was arrested and sentenced to death through torture. Guru Arjan suffered five days of torturing. The torturing involved the disallowance of food or drinks, having him sit on a pan of boiling water and having scalding hot sand poured on his body. On the fifth and final torture day on June 16, he requested to bath at the Ravi River. But after dipping in the water, he vanished and his body was never found.
Guru Arjan’s death upheld his beliefs and was a tremendous influence on Sikhs afterward. This has been the influence of Guru Arjan throughout the Sikh generations. Guru Arjan believed and preached about love, unity, peace, tolerance, hard work and worship of only one God. Sikhs during his time had nothing to do with weapons, combat and military service. But his death eventually caused his descendants to develop that tradition of martyrdom. As it’s indicated in the Guru Granth “Heroic is he, who dies for the sake of his faith.” In his own words Guru Arjan stressed that “I bear all this torture to set an example to the Teachers of the True Name, that they may not lose patience or rail against God in affliction. The true test of faith is in the hour of misery. Without examples to guide them, ordinary people’s minds would tremble in the midst of suffering.”