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Religion Library: Sikhism


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Guru Angad continued Guru Nanak's tradition of composing poetry containing his teachings for the community, and signed his compositions with the pen name "Nanak," a tradition that would continue until the ninth Guru. The locus of the community shifted to Guru Angad's home village, Khadur, after Guru Nanak's death as the successor ran into a succession dispute with Guru Nanak's biological heirs. Guru Angad's wife, Mata Khivi, is remembered for running a thriving communal kitchen at Khadur, where great sweets and delicacies were served to attendees.

Guru Angad's successor, the third Guru, Guru Amardas (1503-1574), moved the community to the thriving town of Goindval when Guru Angad's sons claimed Khadur. As Guru Angad had received Guru Nanak's book of compositions at his succession ceremony, so did Guru Angad pass on the book with his own composition to Guru Amardas. Guru Amardas also contributed many compositions to the growing corpus. Two of the four volumes of the Gurus' sacred teachings that Guru Amardas prepared are still available today, and are known as the "Goindval Pothis."

Guru Amardas oversaw the beginning of a thriving period for the community. The Mughal emperor Akbar's policies of tolerance contributed to early Sikh success. Trade and agriculture also grew under Akbar, and the Sikhs spread out along North Indian trade routes. Scribes, bards, and other professionals sought and received patronage at Guru Amardas's court. Another of Guru Amardas's lasting accomplishments was the building of a well for a communal water supply that can still be found at the Goindval complex.

For the first time, in 1574, a nominee for the office of Guru was chosen from the prior Guru's own family. Guru Ramdas (1534-1581), the fourth Guru, was chosen to succeed the third Guru and was the third's son-in-law. This provided some institutional continuity, as the geographical location that Guru Amardas selected became the community center in Guru Ramdas's reign, and became known as the holy Sikh city of Amritsar. The success of "Ramdaspur" centered on a tank of water, in the middle of which sat a house for worship (gurdwara). The Gurus and Sikhs boasted of its beauty and uniqueness. They reported that it was a place free of administrative meddling, and Sikhs arrived there from all over.

Guru Ramdas went a step further than his father-in-law and predecessor, and chose his own son as successor, thereby eliminating the problem of rival claimants and keeping the community's lands intact. Or so that was the idea. Guru Arjan (1563-1606) was the youngest of three sons, and his older brothers sought their share of spiritual and temporal inheritance. Jealousy amongst Guru Arjan's rivals seems to have led to complaints to Mughal administrators in the Punjab. Guru Arjan wrote about a plot against his life, which he said was foiled with divine grace (Guru Granth Sahib [GG] 1137). However, in the words of one major Sikh historian, with the death of the Akbar-the-tolerant in 1605, the "protective umbrella" had been lifted from over the Sikh community. In the first year of Emperor Jahangir's reign, Guru Arjan was arrested and killed in Mughal custody.