The Life of Guru Amar Das

Amar Das was a Hindu of the Vaishnav faith. He was a sincere seeker of spiritual truth. Every year for twelve years, he bathed in the sacred Ganges River. He also fasted regularly. 

Despite his earnest religious efforts, he still felt empty inside. During his last pilgrimage to the Ganges, he befriended a monk, and they traveled home together.  

After  several  days,  the  monk  asked  him,  “Who  is  your  guru?”  Amar Das had to admit he didn’t have one. The Monk was horrified. He said  that  he  had  committed  a  sin  by  traveling  with  a  man  who  had  no  guru, and therefore he would have to return immediately to the Ganges to purify himself! This astonished Amar Das, and set him to thinking that not having a guru, a teacher or personal spiritual guide, might be the cause of his dissatisfaction. (Amar  Das  lived  near  his  nephew,  who  was  married  to  Guru  Angad’s  daughter,  Bibi  Amro.  One  early  morning a few days after his fruitless pilgrimage to the Ganges, Amar Das heard her reciting Guru Nanak’s epic poem, Japji Sahib. He was absolutely entranced. He thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.

For  several  mornings,  Amar  Das  secretly  listened  to  Bibi  Amro  reciting  Japji  Sahib  and  singing  sloks (stanzas)  from  Asa  di  Var.38  The  divine  words  touched  his  soul  deeply.  In  appreciation  and  reverence,  he  bowed  to  her  and  humbly  asked  who  had  written  them.  Bibi  Amro  told  him  all  about  Guru  Nanak,  and  explained that her father, Guru Angad, was his successor. Amar Das was so excited, he could hardly wait to meet the great soul who had been chosen to carry the divine light of Guru Nanak. Perhaps this might be the guru he was seeking!

The year was 1540 and Amar Das was 61 years old. When he came into Guru Angad’s presence, Amar Das felt such divine bliss filling the emptiness within his soul, that he immediately prostrated himself at the Guru’s feet. From that moment on, he devoted his life to serving the Guru. One of Guru Angad’s disciples was having a township built on the banks of the river Beas as a tribute to him in gratitude for helping settle a legal dispute. Some of the man’s enemies, however, kept undermining the construction by sneaking in at night and destroying the masonry. 

Guru Angad sent Amar Das to personally oversee the work. When Goindwal was finished, it contained a gorgeous mansion intended for Guru Angad. However, the Guru directed Amar Das to live there in his place. This he did, moving his entire family to the new township. Still, early every morning Amar Das continued to get water from the river that was now four miles away, and carry it to Guru Angad for his morning bath. He would stay and serve him all day long, only returning to Goindwal at night.

Six Turbans

Every six months, Guru Angad gave saropas (scarves of honor) to his devotees for outstanding service. Amar Das had been given six such scarves. He put each one on top of the previous ones, wearing them as turbans on his head. He didn’t want to remove any of them, since he felt it would be disrespectful to discard such a gift from his master. Eventually this situation was brought to Guru Angad’s attention. He had Amar Das brought to him, and had the turbans removed, revealing sores and scabs—since his head and hair had not been washed in three years! He bathed Amar Das’ head, healed him, and blessed him for his deep devotion. 

Becoming The Guru

Amar Das’ service, loyalty, and devotion were so outstanding that he was the obvious choice when it came time for Guru Angad to name a successor. As had become the tradition, Bhai Buddha was called and told of the decision, and Amar Das was installed as the Third Guru Nanak at the age of 73.


Dasu and Datu, Guru Angad’s sons, were jealous of Amar Das, and resented that their father had not named either of them as his successor. Datu even went so far as to set himself up as Guru in the town of Khadur, but people pretty much ignored him, and continued to go in great numbers to Goindwal to bow at the feet of Guru  Amar  Das.  Datu  was  so  angry  that he  went  to  confront  Amar  Das. 

He  said,  “How  dare  you  style yourself as Master? You were just a menial servant in my father’s house!” Not content with verbally abusing the Guru, he punctuated his insults with a nasty kick. Guru Amar Das took hold of Datu’s foot and massaged it, saying, “Oh, honored sir, pardon me, my old bones must have hurt your tender foot.” 


In spite of his well-earned and authentic position of spiritual leadership, Guru Amar Das left Goindwal and went into seclusion in his ancestral village of Basarke, a small village in the Amritsar district of the Punjab. He barricaded himself in a small room and put up a sign on the door saying, “He who opens this door is no Sikh of mine, nor am I his Guru.” Many days passed, and his Sikhs, determined to see their Guru, couldn’t find him. Wise old Baba Buddha39 suggested they turn Guru Amar Das’ mare loose, and the horse would lead them directly to the Guru. When they got to Guru Amar Das’ hut, they saw the warning note on the door.  Following  Baba  Buddha’s  advice,  they  broke  open  the  back  wall  of  the  hut,  and  entered  that  way, leaving the door untouched. Baba Buddha urged Guru Amar Das to return, saying, “You have tied us to the hem of your garment. Where should we go now if you are not to show us the way?” Guru Amar Das was deeply touched by this speech, and he went back to Goindwal with them. The hut is now a famous place of pilgrimage. Its wall is still broken.


Guru  Amar  Das  said  that  God  rewards  patience  and  the  Guru  helps  those  who  have  endurance.  He  advocated humility, compassion, and serving people of God. He maintained a free kitchen providing bountiful food, while he himself ate only two very simple meals a day. Guru Amar Das insisted that before anyone could get an audience with him, they must first eat in the free kitchen. People of all castes, peasants and royalty, Hindus and Muslims, all sat together, side by side, in the same langar lines.

To carry Guru Nanak’s teachings far and wide, Guru Amar Das trained 146 teachers, including fifty-two women,  thus  adding  practical  emphasis  to  Guru  Nanak’s  respect  and  appreciation  for  women.  These  teachers  traveled  extensively  to  minister  to  the  spiritual  needs  of  the  growing  number  of  the  Guru’s  followers.  Furthering  the  concept  of  community,  Guru  Amar  Das  also  established  twenty-two  centers  (manjis) presided over by devout Sikhs. He taught that the pilgrimages, penances, and Hindu rituals that had been appropriate for the three previous Ages—Sat Yug,  Dwarpar Yug,  and  Treta Yug—were  no  longer  suitable  nor  effective  in  this  Age,  the  Kaliyug. 

The only thing that can earn salvation is meditating on and repeating God’s Name.

Guru  Amar  Das  had  copies  made  of  the  prayers  and  poems  of  Guru  Nanak  and  Guru  Angad,  and  then  added his own verses. All these divine words of wisdom were read at the many manjis he had established all over India.

He denounced purdah, the veiling of a woman’s face in public, and sati, the tradition that expected a widow to burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, a practice that Guru Nanak himself had condemned. Guru Amar Das also appealed to the Sikhs to live a family life, what he called ghrist-mai-udas: “renunciation in the midst of the world.” Or, we might translate it as, “Living in the world but not of it.” An ancient analogy of such non-attachment to the world is the pure lotus flower that floats pristine and pure on the surface of  the  water,  yet  has  its  roots  in  the  mud  below.  Guru  Amar  Das  is  the  author  of  this  ideal  definition  of  marriage: “They are not husband and wife who merely sit together; rather they are husband and wife who have one soul in two bodies.”

Eighty-four Steps at Goindwal

Guru  Amar  Das  decided  to  build  a  baoli,  an  open  well  with  broad  steps  leading  down  to  the  water,  to  provide a “holy dip” to pilgrims visiting Goindwal en route to the towns of Hardwar, Varnasi, and Kasi. 

After offering  prayers,  many  devoted  Sikhs  dug  deep  enough  to  reach  water,  but  a  large  rock  blocked  any further progress. Guru Amar Das could tell that in order to complete the work, they would have to blast the slab of rock out of the way and risk being drowned. 

A young man, Manak Chand of Vairowal, volunteered to do the dangerous task. When the slab cracked, he couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, and  the  force  of  the  water  was  so  powerful,  he  was  drowned.  His  wife  wept  inconsolably  while  his  mother  deeply  mourned  the  loss  of  her  son.  Out  of  pity  and  compassion,  Guru  Amar  Das  called  out  Manak’s name, and it is said that he came back to life.

After  the  remaining  steps  were  completed,  the  Guru  said  that  whoever  recites  Japji on  each  of  the  eighty-four steps would be freed from the cycle of birth and death. (There are 8.4 million possible life form incarnations for all creatures.)

~This information was originally shared in the book Heroes, Saints and Yogis (2012) by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Guruka Singh Khalsa.