The Life of Guru Ram Das

Guru Ram Das Painting by Guru Kirin Kaur (Phoenix, AZ).

Guru Ram Das was a “Raj Yogi” (Royal Yogi). He designed Harimandir Sahib (Temple of God), the famous Golden Temple  in  Amritsar,  India.  Sikhs  all  over  the  world  consider  it  the  holiest  of  holy  places.  Open  to  people of all religions, colors, and nationalities, tens of thousands of people visit this sacred shrine daily to be inspired and uplifted by the sound current created by the continuous recitation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Shabd Guru, and to sip and dip in the healing waters surrounding the Temple.

Guru Guru Wahe Guru,  Guru Ram Das Guru

When  we  call  upon  Guru  Ram  Das,  we  are  not  calling  on  a  person.  We  are  invoking  the  enlightened  consciousness that this great being embodied, and bringing to ourselves his special divine qualities.Ram is one of the names of God, and Das means servant. Guru Ram Das was indeed, a beloved servant of God. He was the fourth in the line of Sikh Gurus, having been appointed by Guru Amar Das, his predecessor, who was, by the way, his father-in-law! 

Orphan Boy

Before he became Guru, Ram Das was known as Jetha, which means “first born.” Both his father Haridas and his mother Mata Daya (or Anoop Davi) died when he was only seven years old.

A Marriage Made in Heaven –  or Outside the Window

One day as Guru Amar Das and his wife were discussing the need to find a husband for their daughter, Bibi Bani, the Guru looked out the window and saw Jetha on the street selling grams (beans), which was his usual occupation. Guru Amar Das said, “There, that’s the kind of honest, hardworking, spiritual man who should marry our daughter.” “Well,” said someone, “Why not actually ask him, then?” And it was arranged!

Guru Amar Das had already met Jetha when he first came to Goindwal with a group of traveling Sikhs, and the Guru had taken note of the handsome young man’s hard work, pleasant manner, and the humble attitude of devotion with which he served wherever and whenever needed, even without being asked. 

Jetha: Ambassador to the Mughal Court

Meanwhile, jealous Hindus brought false accusations to the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, against Guru Amar Das for slandering both the Hindu and Muslim religions. Guru Amar Das sent Jetha, who had become a trusted disciple, to the Mughal court as his representative. When Jetha explained the fundamental teachings of the Sikhs to the Emperor, Akbar was so impressed and convinced of the universality of the Sikhs’ faith that he dismissed all the charges.

Three Sons

In  due  course,  Guru  Ram  Das  was  married  to  Bibi  Bani  (as  a  married  woman  she  was  called  Mata Bani), and they had three sons:    Prithi    Chand,    Mahan    Dev,  and  Arjan  Mal  (who  was  destined  to  become  the  Fifth  Guru, Arjan Dev.)Arjan  Mal  was  exceptionally  devoted  to  his  father,  and  served  him  so  humbly  and  consciously  that  he  incurred the jealousy of his oldest brother, Prithi Chand. (see story about Shabad Hazaray in section on Guru Arjan) 

Lord of Miracles

A master of Raj Yoga and famous for his extraordinary gift of healing, Guru Ram Das is known as the “The Lord of Miracles.” He is loved and revered as an embodiment of compassion, humility, integrity, and service. At night, Guru Ram Das used to walk in disguise through the streets of Amritsar and wash the feet of poor weary travelers. They were definitely surprised the next day when they came for an audience with the great Guru, and found him to be the same quiet, humble man who had washed their feet the night before! Guru Ram Das was intimately involved in establishing the site of the Harimandir Sahib, the Golden Temple. The location of the famous “nectar tank” in Amritsar was discovered in a most remarkable way. 

Here’s the story:

Rajini, The Leper, and The Golden Temple

A wealthy kardar (tax-collector) had seven virtuous and beautiful daughters. Rajini was the youngest. Her father provided all of his daughters with graceful luxurious environments, the best teachers to cultivate their talents, and the finest clothing and food. He was very affectionate toward them. He was quite proud of his  ability  to  provide  so  well  for  his  family,  and  he  constantly  reminded  them  of  all  the  things  he  had  given  them.  

This  kardar had  arranged  the marriages of his six eldest daughters to wealthy men of good social standing. Soon, it would be Rajini’s turn.

One day, all seven sisters had been walking among the lush gardens on the far side of their father’s estate. On their way home, they came across some  saints  in  meditation.  Rajini  was  entranced  by  the  sound  of  these  holy  men  singing  God’s  praises,  and  she  stayed  behind  to  listen.  They  sang the words of Guru Nanak: 

Naanak  junt  upaai  kai  sunmaalay  subhanaah.  Jin  karatai  karanaa  keeaa chintaabhi karanee taah.

“O Nanak, He who created the creatures takes care of them all. The Creator who created the creation, He takes care of it too.”

Rajini was so inspired, she took off all her fine jewelry and gave it to the saints to show her gratitude for this marvelous experience. When she got home, she told her sisters about the wonderful words that had touched her  heart  and  soul.  They  noticed  her  jewelry  was  missing,  and  they  asked  her  where  it  was.  When  her  parents heard she had given it to the saints, her father summoned all his daughters and asked them, “Who is it that has given you your food, clothing, and jewelry? Who looks after you and takes care of you?” Rajini’s six sisters dutifully answered, “It is you, Papaji, who does all this for us.” But Rajini gave a different answer. She said, “It is God who provides and takes care of us, as He does for all of His creatures.” Her father was furious. No matter how he put the question, nor how often, Rajini’s answer remained the same. This made him even angrier, and out of his rage and huge ego he told her, “You are ungrateful, and it is time for you to leave my house. I am going to marry you to the next man that passes in front of our window!” As fate—or destiny—would have it, a leper who had been brought to the village to beg for food came in sight just then. Her father demanded that Rajini be married to him at once.

Obedient young Rajini had no choice. Her father had ordered it, and his word was law. So the marriage took place.  She  had  a  husband  who  was  a  leper,  a  poor  misshapen  man  who  couldn’t  walk,  who  couldn’t  feed  himself, and who had open seeping wounds all over his body. After the wedding, the whole family took this leper, put him in a basket, and put the basket on Rajini’s head and said, “Here’s your dowry, and this is your farewell—never come back to us ever again.” Rajini said, “Can I have ten minutes in our house to say a prayer?” The father said, “No, cut it short and get out. That’s it. You get out of here. I don’t want to see you. I am sick and tired of your telling me that I do nothing for you and that ‘God does everything.’” The painful story is that Rajini did say her prayer quickly, and in her prayer she said, “God Almighty I am very grateful to you. I am very blessed that you have given to me the man I deserve. My love for you is eternal and all I ask is that You help me to carry this responsibility with utmost grace.”

Rajini took the basket with her husband in it, put it back on her head, and walked out of her parents’ home. She walked from village to village, getting some food for herself and her husband.

After walking many miles, Rajini, who was very thirsty, came to a pond where the nectar tank of the Golden Temple of Amritsar is today. At that time it was just a very small pond. Under a Ber (Banyan) tree she put down  the  basket  containing  her  husband,  covered  him,  gave  him  some  water  to  drink,  washed  his  face,  washed his hands and said, “Please be so kind as to stay here. I am going to the nearest village to ask for some food or alms so that we can survive. Be peaceful in this basket.” 

So Rajini left her husband by the bank of the pond and went into town. As her young husband sat in his basket he saw something very unusual. He saw blackbirds come and dive into the pond, and when they flew out, they had turned from black to white, like little angels. He watched this odd scene for a long time, and then he decided to try something. He shook himself out of the basket and rolled himself right into the pond at the place now called Dukh Banjhan Ber. 

That same tree is still there. He dipped himself in the water, and within a few moments he found to his amazement that he was totally healed. His leper’s sores were gone.

But he had kept one finger out of the water. He reasoned, “If she comes and sees me healed she will not recognize me, then I will be able to show her this finger.” When Rajini returned with food she saw this very handsome young man sitting there and she said, “Where is my husband?” He said, “I am your husband.”

She said, “No, no, that’s not true! Have you killed that unfortunate leper just because you want to have me? No way! I am married to him, and I will defend my honor with my life!”

Her husband said, “Calm down, calm down. It really is me. I am the same person. Don’t you recognize my clothes?” She said, “Clothes? You must have stolen his clothes.”

He said, “No. I am healed. I went in the pond. Look at my finger. See? Now watch this.” He dipped that festering finger in the water, and it came out perfect. She said, “No, no, no, that can’t be! I don’t believe it.”

He said, “All right then. We cannot agree. I say, ‘I am your husband,’ and you say, ‘I don’t believe you.’ You say, ‘My husband is a leper.’ I say, ‘I am cured. You saw my finger; it got cured. You don’t believe it.’ You are just being paranoid. In this town lives the saint, Guru Ram Das, let us both go to him and let him decide.” So they went to Guru Ram Das. The Guru looked at them and said, “Rajini, this man is your husband. 

For centuries people have been trying to find this particular pond. We have already dug santhok sar, the tank of contentment, and now we will call this place Amritsar, the tank of nectar.” 

Then Guru Ram Das and the entire sangat (congregation) went to the pond where Rajini’s husband had been left in the basket and blessed the couple.

Circumstances  later  compelled  Rajini’s  parents  to  come  there,  and  seeing  the  miracle  that  had  happened,  they offered all their lands to Guru Ram Das. Rajini and her husband lived and ruled there for some time. It was within that area, then called Chak Ram Das, or Ram Das Pur (City of Guru Ram Das), that Guru Ram Das laid the foundation for the Golden Temple. 

Baba Siri Chand and  Guru Ram Das’ Beard

Guru Nanak’s son Baba Siri Chand insisted upon being a recluse and living as a renunciate. So, in spite of the boy’s great spiritual powers, Guru Nanak did not name him as his successor. He advocated marriage for his Sikhs. He did not believe that you had to be a hermit and turn your back on the world in order to live a spiritual life. Baba Siri Chand became the leader of a sect of ascetic yogis called the Udasis. 

By the time Guru Ram Das was installed as the Fourth Guru in 1574, Baba Siri Chand had been the head of the Udasis for many years. He decided to visit the renowned Guru Ram Das, and asked him, “Why do you  keep  such  a  long  beard?”  This  was  quite  rude,  but  Guru  Ram  Das  understood  that  Baba  Siri  Chand  might still harbor resentment for not having been given the Guruship. 

So with true love and compassion, Guru Ram Das replied, “To wipe the dust off the feet of holy men like yourself.” The Guru then leaned over and proceeded to do just that with his beard. Baba Siri Chand was humbled by Guru Ram Das’ response and recognized the divine essence that manifested through him. He reached out and put his arms around the Guru. Baba Siri Chand admitted that he finally understood why his father had not chosen him to be his successor.

Guru Ram Das Outlines  the Daily Practice for All Sikhs

Bhai  Gurdas  Bhalia,  the  son  of  Guru  Amar  Das’  younger  brother,  was  a  superb  poet,  fluent  in  many  languages,  and  an  accomplished  scholar  of  comparative  religion.  Based  on  his  extensive  knowledge,  he  wanted to become a Sikh of the Guru and went to Guru Ram Das to offer his commitment. He received the Guru’s blessing and became an outstanding devotee. Soon Guru Ram Das sent him to Agra (future site of the famous Taj Mahal) to inspire the growing congregation there. Guru Ram Das told him to establish the ideal daily practice for all Sikhs. Here are the guidelines the Guru gave:

One who considers himself to be a Sikh of the True Guru shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on God.

Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar.

Following the Instructions of the Guru, he chants the Name of the Lord. All his misdeeds and negativity shall be erased.

Then,  at  the  rising  of  the  sun,  he  sings  Gurbani,  and  all  through  the  day,  whether  sitting  or  standing,  he  remembers his True Identity.

One who meditates on God with every breath and every morsel of food—that Sikh becomes pleasing to the Guru’s Mind.

The Guru’s Teachings are realized by that person unto whom God is kind and compassionate.

Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that Sikh, who chants the Naam and inspires others to chant it.(Rag Gauri Ki Var: Guru Ram Das)

Sacred Pot Luck: “Dish and Wish”

To celebrate Guru Ram Das’ birthday, the Siri Singh Sahib began a custom in America of “Bring a Dish and Make a Wish.” It’s like a sacred potluck dinner. People prepare food consciously with their own hands and bring it to the Gurdwara along with their personal prayer. Then they place the dish prayerfully before the Guru. All the offerings are later served to everyone as langar. “Dish and a Wish” has now become a popular way to celebrate other auspicious occasions. 

The spirit of Guru Ram Das lives on in the hearts and souls of devotees all over the world. Anyone can call upon Guru Ram Das with love, and experience his blessing. His presence is real and immediate.

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