Vaisakhi of 1561
Harbans Singh Noor
In March 1561, big and small batches of Sikhs, from several parts of the country were heading towards Goindval to celebrate Vaisakhi in response to hukamnamahs that Guru Amar Das had sent.
Establishment of Goindval as a Sikh center
About eight Kilometers from Khadur Sahib, head quarters of Guru Angad, there was a theh, (a deserted ruin) on the right bank of river Beas. The place had great potential as it lay near a frequently used ferry, on the highway between Delhi and Lahore.
The theh was owned by Goinda, a tappa (ascetic). The place, once well populated, was a pride possession of Goinda’s family –Marwaha Khatris –but it had been destroyed during a wave of political upheavals.
To take advantage of the new and safe road, built by Sher Shah Suri, Goinda was anxious to see his place redeveloped and repopulated. With his own efforts failing, c 1645, he approached Guru Angad for help and blessings.
Guru Angad liked the idea, as Khadur, though being seat of Sikh faith, was being visited by more and more devotees, yet it had no other attractions, or facilities, to encourage people to come and take up their permanent residence there. The location of river, Beas, itself provided not much of an incentive, as it was about seven Kilometers away, at the nearest point. He consulted his devoted disciple, Baba Amar Das, a wise elderly man, nearly 66 years old, and asked him to take up the project and bring it to fruition.
Baba Amar Das devoted himself wholeheartedly. After building a few houses and shops, in 1546, he encouraged several of his own relatives to migrate from his home town, Basarke, to the new place, now called Goindval. Goinda also brought his relatives there. The town expanded rapidly. Later in 1552, when Guru Angad Dev passed away, the main Sikh centre moved from Khadur Sahib to Goindval, house of the new pontiff, Guru Amar Das.
As the followers of the Guru grew in number, so did the town expand and flourish.
Digging of baoli and Appointment of Sikh Bishoprics
There was only one well in Goindval town. To solve the problem of drinking water for the increasing population and constant flow of visitors, Guru Amar Das undertook to build a baoli (step-well). Being close to the river, water table was expected to be not much below the surface. But, it so happened that the selected spot had a thick layer of clay, which prevented the water from rising up to the surface.
As it took more and more days to reach the water, it became an obligatory attraction for Sikhs to come from far and near and pitch in the voluntary service of digging and removing the soil.
Finally, it was decided to break the layer of the clay by creating a crack with hammer and chisel. It was realized that with the crack, water would gush out immediately, and so fast that any one at the level could drown. A devoted Sikh Manak Chand volunteered to do the job. It is said that as expected water rushed up, and Manak Chand was drowned. Every one heaved sighs of relief when Manak Chand was revived back to life.
To consolidate the growing community and to develop it further Guru Amar Das sent preachers, far and near. To have a regular network, he chose 22 of his devout disciples, and advised them to not only impart spiritual instruction and preach Guru Nanak’s message of universal brotherhood, but also to act as a liason, a link, between Sikhs of their area and the Guru.
According to Bhai Kahan Singh, these missionaries were originally known as Mahants; the historians later gave them the name of Manjis. This was so, probably because the dais or the platform built in the gurdwara, for the Guru to sit and address the sangat, was called a Manji. According to Bhai Gurdas also, the Gurus used to sit on the Manji, to address the congregations.
Since most Punjabi women were observing, pardah-- covering face with a veil, to avoid eye contact with men -- Guru Amar Das selected 52 progressive Sikh women disciples to preach among ladies. He wanted women to feel equality with men, and hold their dignity, remembering that Guru Nanak had censured those who degraded womankind. They were to encourage other women to discard the use of the veil, have faith in one and only one deity, the Parmatma, and seek guidance of the Guru, for living a truthful and blissful life. They were also to preach against the evil custom of Satti.
Centers of these 52 women leaders were known as peerhis (low chairs with woven fiber seats, commonly used for sitting in Punjabi homes). These Mahants and those appointed later by Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan were designated as Masands.
From time to time, these missionary leaders used to come to Goindval, by themselves or together some members of their sangats to pay their respects to the Guru, and to seek guidance and his blessings.
Fixing of days for the assembly of Sikhs
One day, Bhai Paro, who was an old devout Sikh since the time of Guru Angad and was very close to Guru Amar Das, suggested to him that it would be better if a day was fixed on which every year all Sikhs may get together. His suggestion was immediately seconded by Bhai Ballu, and supported by other Sikhs present there. They agreed that it would give a chance to the Sikhs from Afghanistan to Bengal and Assam, to know one another, build relations of fellow feeling and amity and thereby strengthen bonds of Sikh community.
According to Piara Singh Padam, Guru Amar Das appointed the opening days of the months of Baisakh and Magh as well as the Divali for the Sikhs to forgather at Goindval, where he also had a baoli, well and which in due course became a pilgrim center.
Guru Amar Das sent hukamnamahs/directives to Sikhs all over, to try to come and celebrate Vaisakhi at Goindval.
Significance of Vaisakhi
Vaisakhi is an age old pastoral festival of Punjab. Coming at the beginning of harvest season, it was a day of bliss, a day of fun and frolic. The day was celebrated in villages and town with festive songs and dances -- vigorous Bhangra by men and jovial Gidha by young girls.
And, to this day of social rejoicing, Guru Nanak had added a much desired spiritual content:
If one considers the Lord not afar, but within, one comes to recognizes His abode. O Nanak, in Vaisakh, one who attains the Lord, his intuitive consciousness and mind absorb and are satiated with the [holy] Word.
First General Assembly of Sikhs on Vaisakhi Day
A social and cultural function became a holy religious day. In response to hukamnamahs that Guru Amar Das had sent, a large number of Sikhs arrived at Goindval, to celebrate Vaisakhi.
According to Giani Gian Singh, Twarikh Guru Khalsa, "In response (to hukamnamahs) congregations assembled at Goindval on the Vaisakhi of sammat 1624/1567 CE. Taking bath in the baoli, and reciting Japji was going on. Huge cauldrons (for cooking lentils and vegetables) and large griddles for baking chappatis were set. Food of various kinds was being prepared and distributed (as before seeing Guru Amar Das, it was compulsory for every visitor to eat the langar, sitting together, without observing any consideration for caste, gender or status). It became a large fair. (Guru) Ram Das was serving the Sangat with affection and zeal, day and night. Key of the store-room was with him. Whatever any body asked, it was given. Guru Sahib (Amar Das) announced that whosoever serves the Sangat perceiving it same as the Guru, would be blessed."
"Sikhs were gently making enquiries about the tenets of Sikhi. They were told that just as an oyster/mussel, after receiving an ambrosial drop, goes and sits peacefully in the riverbed, similarly a Sikh, after receiving the Gurmantar and Guru's guidance, should pacify his mind; devote himself to meditation; give up false pride of body, mind and wealth; consider everything being per God's Will; should not worship or have faith in any one other than the One Immortal Being; should serve selflessly other Sikhs and saintly persons, and not talk about it; should remember God at all times, believing Him to be omnipresent; should earn an honest living. This is the definition of Sikhi. Sikhs listening this started following the Sikh path. Since then the Vaisakhi festival is being held regularly in the Guru's house and was also held at numerous [other] places.
Tradition of celebrating Vaisakhi as a Sikh religious festival at Goindval has not only continued till today, it became customary for sangats to assemble at the seat of the Gurus on Vaisakhi (and Diwali) day.
Mobad Ardastani, the first-ever non-Sikh chronicler of Sikh history writes:
"In the month of Baisakh (April), when the sun is in the Taurus, the Masands assemble at the Court of the Guru. Whoever from among their melis (members of their congregation) wishes, and is able to undertake the journey, comes to Guru with the Masands. At the time of taking leave (from the Guru's presence), the Guru bestows a turban on each of the Masands"
Mobad was a contemporary of Guru Hargobind and Guru Har Rai, and says that Guru Hargobind used to correspond with him. He wrote his chapter on Nanakpanthis (Sikhs), in his Dabistan-i-Mazahib, in 1644/45. He elaborates:
"It should be known that during the rule of Afghan kings the court nobles were addressed in writing as Musannad-e-ali. Subsequently on account of its frequent use, Indians have reduced it to masand. And as the Sikhs consider their Gurus veritable kings (Sachcha- Padshah), they call their agents Masand. They call them Ram-das also. They preached, settled disputes and kept the Sikhs under a regular administrative system. The masands were not paid any salary. They retained a portion of the offerings received by them, with the approval of the Guru. All the offerings were presented every six months by the masands to the Guru on the festival days of Vaisakhi and Diwali.
"In the time of the Mahals [Gurus] before the fifth Mahal, no Bhet (offering) or tribute was collected from the Sikhs. Whatever was presented by the Sikhs themselves was accepted [and deemed enough].... The Masands do not touch (that is ‘do not misappropriate the offering’). Other than this, whatever they (the Sikhs) bring, during the year for the Masand, for conveying their Bhet to the Court of the Guru, is spent by the Masand for himself, if he has no other means of livelihood. But if he himself is engaged in some business or profession, he never soils himself by (appropriating to himself) the offerings (of the Sikhs). Collecting all (the offerings) he conveys them to the Guru."
The Masands, who were plenipotentiaries, representing the Guru, were originally masters of zealous piety and exemplary character .
For several years the system worked very efficiently, as the early Masands were honest, and devoted Sikhs. But over a period corruption took roots, and the Sikhs lost faith in the Masands, some of whom were not only misappropriating dasvand (ten percent of income, semi-voluntary contribution for charitable causes), good part of which disappeared before it reached the Guru, but were also using coercion to 'extract' dasvandh. In the last decade of the seventeenth century the situation came to a loggerhead. The Sikhs complained to Guru Gobind Singh. He punished some Masands, who were accused of immorality, and had no believable defence. To root out the corruption, he abolished the Masand system altogether.
In 1698, in his hukamnamahs, Guru Gobind Singh advised the Sikhs not to recognize or befriend the Masands, and their deputies. Whatever offerings they wanted to make, they should either send through bankers’ drafts, or to hold and bring those along at the time of the Vaisakhi, harvest festival, in the following year –1699. Sikhs were joyful, at the good riddance of the Masands. Now they could visit the Guru, without the escort of the detested Masands.
NOTES & REFERENCES
1 On the request of Bhai Paro and friends, Guru Amar Das convened the first assembly of the Sikhs on the Vaisakhi of A.D. 1561 (Raghubir Singh Tak, Punjab History Conference: Proceedings, March 1995. p. 51, Patiala: Punjabi University). According to Giani Gian Singh, this was the event of Sammat 1624 BK/1567 CE. But, Gian Singh's timeline is not dependable. He places the event parallel to Akbar's successful breaking the wall of Rajput fort of Chitor, which according to him happened in 1564 (Twarikh Guru Khalsa, p. 359). Actually that was an event of February 1568. He also places the event three years after cracking of thick layer of clay (or stone) by Manak Chand. The baoli was constructed in 1559. (Kahan Singh, Mahan Kosh, p. 644; Teja Singh/Ganda Singh, A Short History of the Sikhs, p. 21 ).
2 Maculiffe, The Sikh Religion II, pp. 95-96.
3 Mahan Kosh, p.750.
4 Manji beh santokhdaa kute rakh shikaar khilayaa (Varan Bhai Gurdas, Var XXVI, pauri 24,4).
5 so kio mandhaa aakheeai jith janmehi raajaan (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 473, M1).
6 paaro julakaa paramehans poorae sathigur kirapaa dhhaaree (Varan Bhai Gurdas, Var XI, pauri 15). Bhai Paro was a Julka Khatri of Dalla. Paramhans/prime-swan was common epithet used for him. Damodari, Daughter of Narain Das, a descendant of Bhai Paro, was married to Guru Hargobind in 1605 (Encylopaedia of Sikhism, III, p. 303).
7 Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Part I, p. 88. Patiala: Punjabi University
8 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1108, M1
9 See end note 1.
10 Giani Gian Singh, Twarikh Guru Khalsa, I, p. 361
11 Mobad Ardastani wrote his chapter on Nanakpanthis in his Dabistan-i-Mazahib, in 1644/45. (Dabistan-i-Mazahib, Tr. Ganda Singh, Punjab Past and Present, April 1967, pp. 66-67). The work has been attributed to Mohsin Fani but this attribution has no justification in the text. The author in his work does not give his name but only the poetic title ‘Mobad’ (Zoroastrian Priest). Internal evidence, comprising a fairly large amount of personal details of the author, indicates that he was brought up in the Sipasi or Yazdani sect of the Parsis, which was founded by Azar Kaiwan at Patna. The author was probably a grandson of Azar Kaiwan himself. (Sikh history from Persian sources, Edited by J.S.Grewal and Irfan Habib, 2001, pp 59-60).
12 Ibid, p. 59
13 Ibid, pp. 58-59
14 Bhai Gurdas tells us that the Masands were real Gursikhs. (Var XI, pauri 22,8) gurmukh vadiaa(n) vadde masandaa