The Life and Times of Guru Angad
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!
Welcome to the Sikh History podcast. This podcast series transports us back into the lives and times of our ancestors and provides a historic context to the evolution of the Sikh religion, our values, our thoughts, our principles and our ethics.
In this series we chronicle the growth of the Sikh religion from the birth of the founder Guru Nanak in 1469 to the death of Guru Gobind in 1708. This period was one of tremendous political and social unrest in India. The Indian society was inherently discriminatory and oppressive towards women, the poor and those who stood in opposition to the ruling classes. The Sikh gurus opposed such policies and sacrificed their lives to uphold the fundamental rights to equality, justice, freedom and religion.
In this episode, we will talk about the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad and his role in consolidating the legacy of Guru Nanak – and in furthering institutions that gave the Sikh religion a firm and solid foundation. Before we do that, let’s revisit the social and political climate of India in the 16th century and the birth of Sikhism under Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak was born in a society deeply divided into Hindus and Muslims. Within each of these religions there were further subdivisions and discrimination that deprived the people of an honorable life. Women were treated as inferior to men and the common man was brutally oppressed by the ruling classes – first by the Lodi dynasty and then by Babur, who established the Mughal empire in India. In this society, Guru Nanak’s Sikhs or disciples rebelled against the established social order and created a whole new identity for themselves. To summarize Guru Nanak’s teachings, nam japna or remembering God in one’s actions, kirt karni, or earning through honest and creative work, and wand chhakna- or sharing earnings with others, became the hallmark of the new Sikh society.
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With this background in mind, lets look at the life and times of Guru Angad. Guru Angad Dev was born on March 31, 1504 and was named Lehna by his parents – his father was Pheru Mal who worked as an accountant for a merchant named Takht Mal, and mother was named Sabhrai – some versions of Sikh history have also recorded her name as Daya Kaur. Lehna was born in the village of Matte-diSarai, in Muktsar – a small village in Muktsar on the Indian side of the Punjab. The village is now renamed as Sarai Naga.
Since childhood, Bhai Lehna was inclined towards spirituality. Every year the family made a trip to the Vaishno Devi shrine and is during one of these trips that Bhai Lehna, having heard of Guru Nanak’s hymns, took a detour to Kartarpur to meet Guru Nanak. He was so captivated and enthralled by Guru Nanak’s philosophy that he never left his company after that. Ultimately Guru Nanak asked him to lead his Sikhs as their second guru – Guru Angad. We will come to that in a moment after we have understood the political and social environment of the time.
When Bhai Lehna was growing up, this was a time when Sikandar Lodhi was the Sultan of Delhi and India and his kinsman Daulat Khan Lodhi was the Governor of Punjab. Sikandar Lodhi was an intolerant ruler and extremely harsh to his Hindu subjects. He also installed Persian as the official language of the Sultanate of Delhi. Sikandar died in 1517AD and left the empire to his son Ibrahim Lodi. Ibrahim was not a particularly strong leader, and sensing an opportunity, Babar, a Central Asian conqueror and a direct descendent of Ghenghis Khan, repeatedly attacked the plains of Northern India. His first attack was in 1520 when he attacked Saidpur, near Islambad. Guru Nanak was a first hand witness to his atrocities and specifically called out Babur as an oppressive and barbaric tyrant.
Around the same time in 1520, Bhai Lehna was married to Khem Bai who was also fondly known as Khivee. She was the daughter of Devi Chand, a rich merchant in Sanghar, in Indian Punjab. In due course they had 4 children – the first was a son named Dasu born in 1524 followed by two daughters – Amro in 1532 and Anokhi in 1535 and another son Datu in 1537. We will talk about Bibi Amro when we discuss Guru Amar Das in the next episode.
Bhai Lehna earned a living as a small merchant and his business made him move out from Matte-di-Sarai to Khadur, about 60 miles north, now on the Indian side of Punjab. In retrospect, this was a fortunate move, because when Babur finally invaded Delhi and killed Ibrahim Lodi in the battle of Panipat in 1526, the village of Matte-di-Sarai was razed to dust. Babur’s army looted everything and killed all non Muslims. Babur himself passed away in 1530 and left his empire to Humayun.
Then, in 1539, Guru Nanak passed away – but before that, he left his Sikhs in the hands of Bhai Lehna – he gave Lehna a new name – Guru Angad – literally meaning a part of Guru Nanak’s body. Guru Nanak bypassed his sons when he decided to install Guru Angad as the next guru – this decision was based on the Guru Angad’s dedication and devotion to the Sikh followers as well as his understanding of the unique philosophy of Guru Nanak – a philosophy of ek onkar – or the monotheistic aspect of God, equality of all humanity and compassion for the poor and neglected. In doing so, Guru Nanak, placed an offering of a coconut and 5 paise before Guru Angad and himself bowed to the spiritual and political authority of Guru Angad. he further advised Guru Angad to relocate to Khadur – about 60 miles south of Kartarpur to avoid any potential conflict with his sons who had been considered unworthy of Guruship.
In this way, Guru Angad set up a new center for the Sikhs and conducted his affairs from the village of Khadur. The city of Khadur Sahib now stands near Taran Taran in Punjab, India. In his own quiet way, Guru Angad consolidated the Sikh followers and strengthened the pillars of the Sikh faith. In terms of his daily activities, Guru Angad practiced a strict regimen – he woke up in the morning before dawn, and engaged in meditation, introspection and singing of hymns – particularly the Japji and Asa di Vaar, both composed by Guru Nanak. Guru Angad would hold court and initiate new followers into the fold of Sikhi. Guru Angad continued the practice of langar – a free community kitchen that fed everyone irrespective of caste, creed, gender or religion. The evening was again dedicated to singing of hymns – and Sodar was the evening prayer. Under Guru Angad’s patronage, the village of Khadur transformed itself into a hub of activity and a dominant center for Sikh teachings.
In 1540, shortly after Guru Angad assumed the role of the 2nd guru, Humayun, the Mughal emperor, was defeated by one of his own generals, Sher Shah Suri, and driven out of India. As Humayun retreated, he paid a visit to Guru Angad and seek his blessings. A legend states that Guru Angad was meditating and refused to meet with Humayun when he arrived – this angered Humayun who drew his sword towards Guru Angad. The Guru then reminded him that a sword should be raised only to fight injustice and advised him to keep his anger in check. Humayun realized his mistake and subsequently retreated back to Persia or modern day Iran.
Sher Shah Suri briefly succeeded in ruling over India – his greatest contribution that still remains is the Grand Trunk Road connecting Lahore, now in Pakistan to the Gangetic plains of the East near present day Calcutta in India. Through all of these turmoils, the Punjab remained relatively peaceful. Sher Shah died in battle in 1545 and this gave Humayun the opportunity to come back to India and establish his rule again.
Guru Angad remained a guru for 13 years – from 1539 to 1542. He completely identified himself with the ideology of Guru Nanak and had the hard task to prevent any dilution in the message. He steered Sikhs clear from renouncing their families in search of God and preached Guru Nanak’s message in a down to earth manner. The spiritual aspects were emphasized during the daily regimen. In addition, he also introduced physical well being of the community by building a wrestling ground which was subsequently used for all kinds of sport activities. He ordered his followers to take part in drill and competitive games after the morning service. He successfully started a tradition which made it easy for his successors to raise troops of able bodied men from amongst his disciples.
According to Prof. Teja Singh, Guru Angad preached vigorously and at his behest as many as 131 sangats or centers of Sikh learning were established. As the expenses for langar and upkeep of these community centers went up, Guru Angad organized a regular system of collecting offerings to meet their expenses. Guru Angad composed numerous hymns as well and 62 of these are included in the Guru Granth Sahib. In addition, he also made copies of 972 of Guru Nanak’s hymns and supplied them to each community center that he established. These copies were made in the Gurmukhi script and the Guru greatly propagated the use of the Gurmukhi script. He gave a definite structure and form to the Gurmukhi script and took all the 35 letters of the script from Guru Nanak’s writings. This step had far reaching results. Khushwant Singh, the famous Sikh author states that Guru Angad’s writings became the nucleus of the sacred writings of the Sikhs. It gave the Sikhs a written language different from the written language of that of the Hindus and the Muslims and hence fostered a sense of them being a distinct people.
Guru Angad passed away peacefully on April 16, 1552 in the village of Khadur, by the river Beas, at a young age of only 48. However, in his lifespan, he ensured that the foundation of Sikhism as laid down by Guru Nanak was stronger than ever. Before passing away, he appointed Guru Amardas as a successor to carry on his work, sidestepping his sons whom he considered unworthy of carrying the tradition of Guruship. We will talk more about it in the next episode of our Sikh History podcasts.
So, in this episode we have talked about the life and times of Guru Angad. He took over Guru Nanak’s mantle, collected his teachings, and combined them together. Guru Angad standardized the Gurmukhi script and gave the Sikhs their own written language which was distinct from all other prevalent languages. This strengthened the sense of community amongst the Sikhs. Guru Angad also established a number of Sikh community centers and placed special emphasis on physical fitness. His greatest contribution remains the collection of all works of Guru Nanak and ensuring that his message of equality, hard work, justice and right to an honorable living was put into practice at all of the community centers that he established cross the Punjab.
Even though the political power swung back and forth between the Mughals and Sher Shah Suri, Guru Angad was able to steer the Sikhs away from the politics and strengthen a community of people who had much more in common amongst themselves than they had with the communites that they previously belonged to. In a deeply divided and discriminatory society, Guru Angad’s Sikhs or disciples continued to rebel against the established social order and created a whole new identity for themselves. Some of the significant values that the Sikhs took to their heart were: a belief in one God; a rejection of an ascetic lifestyle, the importance of hard work, a casteless society that guarantees equality for all humanity and working towards the betterment of all.
In the next episode, we will talk about Bhai Amar Das, who went on to become Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru, at the age of 72. We will talk about his role in consolidating the legacy of Guru Nanak – and in furthering institutions that gave the Sikh religion a firm and solid foundation.
So keep listening and follow us on facebook at facebook.com/ahistoryofsikhs or on our twitter handle – @ahistoryofsikhs. Keep listening! Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.
1. History of the Sikhs, Khushwant Singh
2. The Sikhs in History, Sangat Singh
3. Sri Asht Gur Chamatkar, Bhai Vir Singh
4. History of the Sikhs, J.D. Cunningham
5. The Sikh Religion, M.A. Macauliffe