Sikh: Guru Martyr Arjan Dev Inspires Defense Of Rights

Guru Arjan Dev Ji was last seen at the Ravi River in Pakistan, where his body disappearedWEDNESDAY, JUNE 16: Sikhs will gather in Pakistan today to honor the martyrdom of their fifth Guru—Guru Arjan Dev Ji. (Learn about this year’s events in Daily Times, a Pakistani publication.) Since 1606, Sikhs have marked this observance in honor of this first Guru to have died for his faith; before Arjan Dev, no Guru had encountered excessive violence. During the time of Arjan Dev, however, Sikhism was beginning to grow in popularity and ruling officials were becoming anxious. In May of 1606, Guru Arjan Dev was brought to Lahore, Pakistan, where he was tortured over a number of days and eventually was martyred. (Learn more at SikhiWiki.) Today, Lahore is one of three holy sites for Sikhs and many make the pilgrimage to Lahore on the anniversary of this martyrdom. (One Sikh gives an alternate reason for visiting this Pakistani city in The News.)

Besides teaching the ways of Sikhism, Guru Arjan Dev is most noted for compiling the writings of the previous Gurus into one volume, known as Adi Granth. This holy book is now reverently referred to as a “Guru” itself: Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikh tradition has it that Guru Arjan Dev withstood his days of torture calmly, all the while heralding the teachings of Sikhism and telling his followers that he was providing an example for them. On the fifth day, it’s recorded that Guru Arjan Dev asked to bathe in the Ravi River; after entering the river, he was never seen again and his body was never discovered. Of important note, too, is that this Guru’s death changed Sikhism forever; after this brutal martyrdom, Sikhs changed from a passive people to soldiers, ready to fight if attacked. Learning how to defend oneself remains a central part of Sikhism today.

American Sikhs recently defended their rights at the second annual Sikh Summit in Washington, DC. Last month, Sikh representatives met with lawmakers, senators and members of congress to discuss issues currently of interest to Sikhs. Issues included employment discrimination, excessive homeland security checks and the potential of a Sikh undercount in the U.S. Census. Sikhs urged lawmakers to create a separate code for Sikhs on the U.S. Census. Currently, most Sikhs reportedly check “Some other Race” on the Census, and are counted as Asian Indians. (Sikhnet has more on this peaceful, contemporary, political defense of the Sikh community.)

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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