Origins

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.

Two years before his death, Guru Arjan had completed work on an updated version of the holy Sikh text, which contained his own writings in addition to those of his four predecessors, earlier bards, and non-Sikh poets. The sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), did not compose poetry (nor did his two immediate successors), and instead focused on consolidation of the temporal leadership. He had to contend with an increasingly hostile Mughal state and by the 1630s was forced to relocate to the east of Amritsar.

The last four of the ten Gurus completed their periods as community leaders from this region. The ninth Guru, Teg Bahadur (1621-1675), re-ignited the practice of composition and added his own poetry to the Sikh canon. He travelled more than any other Guru since Guru Nanak, and consolidated support for the Sikh center among the prosperous trading communities in the Gangetic plains. His travels and political activity triggered the ire of the Mughal state and like the fifth Guru, the ninth was arrested and executed by the Mughals. Like the sixth Guru before him, the tenth Guru (Guru Gobind Singh, 1666-1708) organized a military response to his father's execution, and this time that response instigated an all-out revolt that led to the eventual fall of the severely over-extended Mughal Empire.

Study Questions:
1.     How and when was the city of Amritsar founded?
2.     What were some of the problems with the succession of the office of Guru?
3.     When was the first time the Sikh community had a confrontation with the Mughal Empire and what was the result?

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