When someone is so totally devoted to you, when that someone is fully in tune with your likes and dislikes, when that someone lives and breathes exactly what you know as true and right, what else would you call that someone other than a “Part of my body”.
It was only after this recognition of perfect “in tune-ness”, this witnessing of a continuous demonstration of intense love, and only after the results of passing test after test with flying colors that Guru Nanak renamed his choicest disciple Lehna and gave him the name “Angad” – part of my body.
Epitome of Obedience
About twelve years ago, I was part of an informal seminar on Sikh History and Literature in the Milford Gurdwara (Massachusetts, U.S.A.). A dynamic Sardar from Malaysia, a product of the Malaysian Sikh Naujawan Sabha, gave a talk on the history and life of the ten Gurus.
He emphasized that the life of Bhai Lehna prior to becoming Guru Angad, as well as his tenure as Guru, was significant as it taught the Sikhs the virtue of obedience. He recounted the usual sakhis of Guru Nanak asking his sons to pick up the dirty vessel that had fallen into the gutter and that they refused, but Bhai Lehna, not worrying about drenching his clothes with mud and filth, obeyed the command and brought it out.
Then there was the one about building the mud wall in the middle of a stormy night; the Guru’s sons in their sleepy stupor insisted on fixing it in the morning, but Bhai Lehna obeyed the command at once.
However, the most amazing one that stuck in my mind was the one about the sangat feeling that Guru Nanak had gone mad as he commanded his disciples to eat the body of a corpse. All of the disciples shuddered at such a thought, but Bhai Lehna sat himself in front of the corpse and asked, “O master, from which side should I start eating?”
This is when all norms of discipleship known to man were set aside and the epitome of obedience was displayed to the world.
Guru Angad, during his Guruship as well as before, taught us how to obey. At times, orders and injunctions are burdensome; they end up being obeyed out of fear or totally ignored and discarded. But Guru Angad has clarified:
“What kind of service (obedience) is this? All I see is fear for the Master. Obedience based on fear is not worthy. Nanak reveals this: if the servant were to merge the soul into that of the master’s, if the obeying of a command were to become an effortless action of love, then would be born the true servant; that is the ‘epitome of obedience‘!” [GGS, M2, 475 – Asa ki Vaar]
Baba Lehna Who Became Guru Angad
One of the commonly sung couplets during the ceremonious opening of Guru Granth Sahib for taking a hukam or vaak is as follows:
“hovai siphat khasam dÄ« nÅ«r arsahu kursahu jhatÄ«ai/ tudh dhithe sacche pÄatsÄh mal janam janam d Ä« katÄ«Äi” [GGS:967]
It is in the praise of Guru Angad. Some scholars and historians have called it ‘Tikke di Vaar’ (The Coronation Ode). I call it an awesome expression of an ecstatic experience – the witnessing of the divine light of Nanak flowing into Angad.
Here is a meager attempt to transcreate this shabad and allow the mind to dip into understanding the achievements of Bhai Lehna as presented originally by Satta and Balvand:
A ballad in Ramkali raag – by Rai Balvand and Satta, the minstrels
“When Guru Nanak passed on the baton to Baba Lehna, the glorious reputation of Nanak became that of Baba Lehna. How? Because there existed in both of them that same divine light and that same lifestyle. All that really shifted was the body …
“The divine-royal canopy has been raised above his head, and in the House of Nanak now sits Baba Lehna on the throne. He diligently carries on the divine work now. Just as Nanak commanded he complied, just like tasting the tasteless stone – a daunting task indeed …
“Baba Lehna is in charge of the langar-feast of the GurShabad that is now in full swing. There seems no end and no shortage of this soul-food. Not only does he devour it, all that come to his door are blessed with a hearty meal of divine love …
“The glories and praises of the Timeless Being are being sung in the court of Guru Angad. It is amazing and phenomenal! It is as if from the depths of the divine universe high and above that there is an out pouring of praises. O my True Sovereign Master Guru Angad, your presence alone is enough to cleanse the eons of filth that have enslaved my heart ..
“O Guru Angad, you are the epitome of obedience! You took Guru Nanak‘s wish as your command. There was never a question of questioning. On the other hand, his own sons were left wanting. They showed their backs to the Holy Saint Baba Nanak and listened not to his directives ..
“Those with spiritually-shriveled hearts, and thus defeated wanderers, are made to unnecessarily carry heavy donkey loads on their heads. But us mere mortals, what are we to do? We are mere creatures of habit. Because we live based on our individual outlooks of life, none of us stands to win nor do we stand to lose. It was Guru Nanak who taught obedience, and only he who can instill its wisdom. It was, therefore, only Guru Nanak who inspired Baba Lehna to become the epitome of obedience.”
This vaar contains Satta and Balvand’s account of ascension to guruship of the Gurus upto Guru Arjan Sahib as well. Reading it and interpreting it for ourselves will give an amazing glimpse into the thoughts of the contemporary disciples of our great Gurus, of how they viewed their Masters.
It is imperative that we Sikhs of today start creating (or re-creating, as the case may be) bonds and relationships with our bani and history. Reading these verses from the Guru Granth Sahib is a sure first step.
A Note On Gurpurabs
A few years ago, there was much fanfare in both Punjab and the diaspora in commemoration of the 500th “birth” anniversary of Bhai Lehna. It was being celebrated as a “Gurpurab”. On the other hand, when the gurgaddi divas of Guru Angad occurred in September of that year, I don’t recall any major celebration.
It is interesting to note in the “Gurmat Martand”, Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha writes that a Gurpurab is a day or event that is directly associated with one of the Gurus. According to him, there are 12 Gurpurabs sanctioned by the Panth and they are as follows:
1) Birth anniversary of Guru Nanak
2) The day on which the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Satgurus were inaugurated as Gurus and sat on the “Throne of the House of Nanak”.
3) The birth anniversary and the day of inauguration as Guru of “The Wearer of the Royal Plume”, the Tenth Nanak.
4) The inauguration day of the Khalsa Panth.
Furthermore, the days of passing of the Gurus are not to be called “Gurpurabs”. Some of those days are to be commemorated as “martyrdom days” and others as “days of passing”. Finally, in some footnotes of the section on Gurpurabs, he writes:
“…during gurpurabs, in order to show our gratefulness for the event, we must celebrate with soul-uplifting katha, kirtan, introspection and discourse, amrit prachar, educational events, etc. While writing this I feel ashamed to say that some of our unknowledgeable brothers/sisters celebrate extra-faith festivals with great fanfare, but they don‘t even have a clue as to what is considered a gurpurab. Those communities that don‘t have love for their important historical events are communities that are as good as dead.”
The real purpose of this literary meandering is a little bit of introspection of our current value systems as Sikhs as well as the precedence we are setting as a community for the coming generations. When I look back at our Guru history for inspiration, I cannot but stop and wonder: what have I done so far for providing practical solutions to our present problems just like the Gurus and the Sikhs did in the past? What do I promise to do on these kinds of days other than just celebrate?
It further impels me to learn from the Guru’s life and reinvigorate my commitment to my community. Guru Angad was responsible for some major institutionalization of the Sikh community. The question should be what are we doing to sustain those institutions?
¹ Formalization of GurmukhÄ« script: Let us learn and teach it to our children to develop a direct relationship with the Guru Granth, without whom we are “Master-less”, or more precisely, with ‘sau nÄh’ (a hundred masters).
² Education of children: Let us recognize its importance and empower ourselves and our children if we are to provide any constructive solution to the community’s problems. It will only then be possible for the future generations to be involved in solving our world problems.
³ Setting up Mal AkhÄ rÄs : Let us remember that a balanced and healthy lifestyle breads a balanced and healthy life vision. So why do we not convert our community spaces into a more open, wholesome and inclusive space of learning and development. Let us not undermine their potential with our narrow minded thinking. I always derive great personal strength from our tradition of the Ardaas. As I stand witness to the Divine light in successive Gurus, it re-emphasizes my faith in the miraculous capacity of the Guru to transform humans into divine-beings (‘jin manas te devate kie’), just like Guru Nanak was able to do with Bhai Lehna. Let us celebrate the gurgaddi of (Guru) Angad to the Throne of House of Nanak!
Let us remember Guru Angad in our hearts forever as the one who carried the torch of Guru Nanak’s house forward. In the words of Satta and Balvand, enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib: “Mother Khivi’s husband (Guru Angad) is an amazing being … he carries the weight of the whole world (humanity) …”