Martyrdom of Guru Arjan
Hari Mandir
Hari Mandir

Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606 CE) was the fifth Sikh Guru. He was responsible for the building of Hari Mandir (‘temple of God’, also known as the Golden Temple) at Amritsar, and for the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib. This anthology composed of the experience and knowledge of the previous gurus also included contributions from Hindu and Muslim sages. Unfortunately the Mughal Emperor Jehangir was not as broadminded and inclusive as Arjan Dev. Describing the mission of the Sikh gurus as a “propogation of lies”, the Emperor demanded that Arjan be tortured and executed.

Anticipating his fate, Guru Arjan declared his son Hargobind to be his successor when he received the summons to Lahore. When he refused to make any alterations to the Guru Granth Sahib, the authorities subjected him to torture. With laudable equanimity and resolve Arjan endured five days of unrelenting torment before his executioners carried him to the banks of the river Ravi. There he chanted the Japji* before peacefully passing away.

The site chosen for the Golden Temple—a small lake in the midst of a forest—had been a meditation retreat for millenia for wandering mendicants and sages. Two thousand years after the Buddha spent time there, Guru Nanak came to live in Amritsar.** The lake was enlarged during the leadership of the fourth guru (Guru Ram Dass, 1574-1581), and it was during Guru Arjan’s time that the Hari Mandir was built. Drawing on both Hindu and Muslim architectural styles, it is nonetheless unique. The temple has four entrances signifying the acceptance of individuals from every caste and from all four directions.

The gurpurb (ceremony) held in remembrance of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan includes an akhand path, a complete recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib over the course of 48 hours—a fitting tribute to the man who gave his life to ensure the book’s integrity.

*The Japji consists of the Mool Mantra, (seed prayer) a set of 38 hymns and a conclusion known as Salok. It appears at the very beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib and is regarded as the most important Bani—set of verses. The word Jap means to recite or to chant, and Ji is a word that is used to show respect. It is recited every morning by devoted Sikhs.
**Originally the name of the lake, then the temple complex, and still later the surrounding city, Amritsar means “pool of ambrosial nectar.”