Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606), the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs was born on Baisakh Vadi 7, 1620 Bikrimi i.e. April 15, 1563 at Goindwal Sahib, which now falls in the present day Tarn Taran district of Punjab. He was the third and youngest son of Bhai Jetha Ji who later named as Sri Guru Ram Das Ji became the Fourth Guru of the Sikhs and Bibi (Lady) Bhani Ji, daughter of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, the Third Guru of the Sikhs.
From his early childhood he had a religious bent of mind. In view of his spiritual temperament and dedication his father Sri Guru Ram Das Ji before leaving for his heavenly abode on September 1, 1581, chose him as his successor to Guruship. During the 25 years of his Guruship he provided a scriptural, organizational and economic base to the Sikh religion. He was married to (Mata) Ganga Ji and in June ,1595, a son was born who was named Hargobind Sahib.
In Amritsar, for compiling Sikh Holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, chose a lonely place, Ramsar Sahib which is very near to Harimandar Sahib and at that time was surrounded by jand (specigera), banyan, berry, fig and pipal trees.
The first major task that he undertook was the completion of Amritsar sarover (the holy tank). Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, had instructed Bhai Jetha Ji to establish a new town and to construct a sarovar (holy pool). Thus, a site was selected 40 kms north-west of Goindwal Sahib. This new town was first named Guru Ka Chakk (the Guru's village), then Ramdaspur (the city of Ram Das) and finally Amritsar (the pool of nectar). The work of the sarovar at Amritsar had been started by Sri Guru Ram Das Ji in 1577, but was completed by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who also raised the structure of Harimandar Sahib (also known as Golden Temple) in the middle of it. Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji requested Sain Mian Mir, a popular Muslim Sufi Saint, to lay the cornerstone of this building. As stated by Ghulam Muhayy ud-Din, Sain Mian Mir "with his own blessed hands put four bricks, one on each side and another one in the middle of the tank." Contrary to the then existing tradition of entrance of the temples to face the east, Harimandar Sahib had four entrances one in each direction, implying thereby that it was open to people of all religions and castes. In addition to the main building, a community kitchen to serve meals to people from all castes and creeds, and rest houses for pilgrims were also constructed. The completion of Harimandar Sahib was achieved with the installation of the Holy Scripture, the Adi Granth Sahib in the center of the inner sanctuary on August 16, 1604. To strengthen the economic base, markets were developed around the main building to which he invited traders from far and distant regions to settle and open their business.
A very major contribution of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji is the compilation of Adi (Primal) Granth Sahib, a voluminous anthology of the hymns (sacred verses) uttered by the first four Gurus and his own hymns. Later on, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Tenth Guru with Bhai Mani Singh Ji as his amanuensis gave this Holy Book the final form by including the verses of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, the Ninth Guru of the Sikhs and it became the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs now known as Sri Guru Granth Sahib which for the Sikhs is Guru Eternal.
In compiling this holy book Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji announced that as the Panth (community) has been revealed unto the world, so there must be a Granth (holy book), too. As a first step he approached Baba Mohan Ji, son of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji at Goindwal Sahib who had pothis (manuscript collections) of the hymns of the first three Gurus. The pothis were then placed on a palanquin decorated with precious stones. The Sikhs carried the palanquin on their shoulders and Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji walked behind barefooted to cover the 40 km distance from Goindwal Sahib to Amritsar. They broke journey at Khadur Sahib. A few kms short of Amritsar, a large number of Sikhs along with the young son of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji Hargobind Sahib had come to receive them. Hargobind Sahib showered petals in front of the pothis. From then onwards Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Hargobind Sahib, Bhai Gurdas Ji and Bhai Buddha Ji carried the palanquin on their shoulders marching towards Amritsar led by musicians, playing flutes and beating drums.
In Amritsar, for compiling this Holy Book, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, chose a lonely place, Ramsar Sahib which is very near to Harimandar Sahib and at that time was surrounded by jand (specigera), banyan, berry, fig and pipal trees. He himself collected the hymns of Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji. He compiled the hymns of his four predecessor Sikh Gurus to which he added his own hymns and thus compiled the Holy Book i.e. Adi Granth Sahib. The Adi Granth Sahib is unique in the sense that he included the hymns of Hindu and Muslim saints belonging to various castes and creeds including both 'low' castes and 'high' castes. The work of compilation was concluded on August 15, 1604. The sacred volume, thus in addition to the compositions of the first five Gurus included compositions of fifteen Bhaktas and Sufis from different parts of India. It contained 974 leaves i.e. 1948 pages 9¼" x 13¼" in size. He also constructed a sarovar at Ramsar Sahib.
After getting it bound, Adi Granth Sahib was ceremoniously installed in Sri Harimandar Sahib on a decorated dais on August 16, 1604. Thus the 400th Anniversary of the installation of Adi Granth Sahib compiled by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji fell on August 16, 2004. A very major highlight of the year 2004 was that the 400th Anniversary of the installation of the Holy Granth was celebrated on August 16, 2004 by the Sikhs all over the world with a deep religious fervour.
This Holy Granth Sahib preaches universality of God, equality of mankind and brotherhood. The hymns aim at dispelling the caste, creed and colour prejudices. The first copy was caligraphed by Bhai Gurdas Ji at Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji's dictation in which the compositions of the first four Gurus, his own compositions and the compositions of fifteen Bhaktas and Sufis were preserved. Adi Granth Sahib thus became an authorized volume. The compilation of Adi Granth Sahib reveals his rare spiritual insight and poetic sense. His own compositions as well as editing of the bani (hymns) of other Gurus, Bhaktas and Sufis reflects his many-sided learning and intellectual in-depth.
To spread Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji's message he travelled through majha territory and constructed a shrine and sarovar at Tarn Taran Sahib which is 24 kms south of Amritsar. While at Tarn Taran Sahib, one day while going for a morning walk he came across a group of 4-5 persons who seemed to be forcing a person to accompany them. The person was wailing with pain. On being asked by Guru Sahib who they were and where they were taking the man, he was told that the man in pain was a choudhary (a rich man) of village Muradpur and was afflicted with leprosy and inspite of many treatments it had not been possible to cure him. As per his wishes he was being taken to river Beas for drowning. Guru Sahib asked these men to take that leper to Tarn Taran Sahib where he himself treated the leper and cured him. He then established a Leper's Home at Tarn Taran Sahib where a large number of lepers started coming for treatment whom he treated.
During his tours he encouraged people to dig wells to alleviate the hardship caused by famine. He also undertook several other activities of public welfare. He raised the town of Kartarpur now in Jallandhar district and in 1587 rebuilt a ruined village Ruhela and renamed it Sri Gobindpur now named as Sri Hargobindpur which falls in District Gurdaspur. His travels motivated several people from Kabul and Central Asia to come into the fold of Sikhism. He appointed masands (local leaders) at far off places to look after the Sikh sangat and collect dasvandh i.e one-tenth of their income for community's sharing. A contemporary Persian source the Dabistan-i-Muzahib states that "during the time of each Mahal (Guru) the Sikhs increased till in the reign of Guru Arjan Mall they became numerous and there were not many cities in the inhabited countries where some Sikhs were not found."
As fate would have it, in 1605 Emperor Jahangir succeeded Akbar on the throne of Delhi. Jahangir depended mostly on the orthodox section of his courtiers. As advised by these courtiers, Jahangir developed a hatred for non-Muslims and felt alarmed at the ever increasing following of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji. As Jahangir has written in his book Tuzk," So many of the simple minded Hindus, nay many foolish Muslims too had been fascinated by the Guru's ways and teachings. For many years the thought had been presenting itself to my mind that either I should put an end to this false traffic, or that he be brought into the fold of Islam." Thus, Jahangir was on the lookout for an occasion to kill Guru Sahib.
Within a few months of Jahangir's succession, his son Khusrau, rebelled against him and, on his way to Lahore, met Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji at Goindwal Sahib to seek his blessings. According to the historical evidence Khusrau partook of the hospitality of Guru ka Langar (community meal) and resumed his journey the following morning. Jahangir decided to use this incident as a pretext to kill Guru Sahib. After the rebellion by Khusrau was suppressed Jahangir decided to take vengeance on the people he suspected of having helped his son. In this context Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji was heavily fined and on his refusal to pay the fine was arrested. To quote again from Jahangir's Memoirs, "I fully knew of his heresies, and I ordered that he should be brought into my presence, that his property be confiscated and that he should be put to death with torture."
Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji was taken to Lahore where he was asked to court Islam or death. Firm in his attitude of not changing his religion and upholding the right of a person to follow the religion of his own choice he refused to get converted to Islam. He was subjected to various types of physical torture. He was made to sit on a red-hot iron sheet with fire burning under it and hot sand was poured on him. Still refusing to change his religion, he was put in a large deg (pot) of boiling water. The place where Guru Sahib was tortured was a platform outside the Fort of Lahore near the river Ravi.
Finally, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji was taken to Ravi river. A dip in the river's water was more than the blistered body could bear. On May 30, 1606 engrossed in meditation he left for his heavenly abode. He became the first Sikh shaheed (martyr). As a contemporary Jesuit-document, a letter written from Lahore on September 25, 1606 by Father Zerome Xavier says, "In that way their good Pope died, overwhelmed by the sufferings, torments, and dishonours." Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji fulfilled the ethical injunctions of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji that willingness to suffer trial for one's conviction was a religious imperative.
In the eighteenth century at the place where Guru Sahib was subjected to various types of tourtures, a shrine named Gurdwara Dehra Sahib was erected. This place now falls in Pakistan. Every year on Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji's martyrdom day thousands of Sikhs from all over the world assemble to pay their homage. This year his Martyrdom day is being observed on June 8.