Guru Har Rai - The Apostle of Mercy

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This article needs a reference for the story of the illness of Dara Shikoh
which was ended with the Guru's intervention

Guru Hargobind, the sixth Supreme Master of the Sikh religion, had to bear many family bereavements. One after the other, his wife and three of his sons left for their heavenly abodes. Of the two sons who survived him, Bhai Suraj Mal was fond of worldly pleasures, and (Guru to be) Tegh Bahadur, had retired into solitude. His eldest grandson, Dhir Mal had prooven himself a traitor (his lineage is still outcast from the Sikh folds). His younger grandson, Har Rai, according to some records, was brought up by the grandfather and reared by him for the Guruship. He was consecrated as the Guru as soon as Guru Hargobind divined the approach of the end of his ecclesiastic journey.

Guru Har Rai was born after his father's death. Mai Mihal Kaur gave birth to the future Guru on Saturday, January 26, 1630, shortly after the demise of her husband Baba Gurditta. Guru Har Rai was married to Mata Krishen Kaur the daughter of Baba Daya Ram. The wedding took place on 19 June 1640. A cavalry of 2,300 horses was consigned to Guru Har Rai. He was enjoined to use the cavalry for defence and for hunting only, but not to partake in any offensive armed conflict.

Deathless Shikars

Guru Har Rai was endowed with a very soft and compassionate heart. Once during his childhood, while passing through the garden, the flair of his coat got entangled in a plant and a flower fell down on the ground. His tender heart could not bear the separation of the flower and started to cry. He was, no doubt, very fond of hunting, a habit he acquired from his grandfather. But he never killed any creature. He always captured the beautiful animals alive and established them in a private zoo. This was an important innovative enterprise of his life.

Medical Care

When the Guru took the Seat of Nanak the country was suffering from a severe famine. The arrangements made by the governmental agencies were very scant and riddled with corruption. Adhering to the benevolent tradition of the Sikh Gurudom, Guru Har Rai freely used all his resources directing his Congregationalists to do so, as well, in the service of the needy. At the same time, to better help the sick and poor, he initiated medical care and established a number of medical dispensaries. He was foremost in rendering his assistance whenever there was any epidemic such as cholera, plague or small-pox. Often he would personally distribute food in his langar (the free kitchen). These humane ventures enhanced, for a time, the respectability of the Guru’s domain in the Mughal Court.

Dara Shikoh and Guru Har Rai

Dara Shikoh the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was a favorite of the common people. Educated, he was a lover of art and poetry who was tolerant of the many religions of India. He was a student of Mian Mir (Mian Mir who layed the cornerstone of the Harimandir) and had funded the Vedas' translation to Persian. He had come to believe that the Vedas pointed to the belief in one God as did the Qur'an. He thought that all the Murtis of the various Hindu sects were simply attempts by the many Purohits and Brahmins to keep themselves employed. By keeping the people of the lower varnas uneducated they could all retain their high status. Greately admired by his father Shah Jahan he was favored by his father to next sit on the Moghul throne. His youngest brother Prince Aurangzeb was educated by the fundamentalist Ulema, who saw in their young student a chance to avenge their being ignored by the previous Moghul Emperors. With a rigid view of Islam he plotted to kill his own brother and clear his way to the throne. He engineered a devious plan whereby a few pieces of stiff hair, from the moustache of a lion, were added to Dara's food. Dara fell gravely ill and the Royal Hakims (Doctors) said that only cloves could save Dara's life. The search for cloves in all the Royal Hospitals proved futile. The fame of the Guru Har Rai’s dispensary was known far and wide and so Royal personnel were sent to ask for the Guru's help. In spite of the Mughal's atrocities of the past, the Guru with an ever benevolent perspective made the cloves available and, consequently, Dara’s health was soon restored.

Gurdwaras Flourish

Shah Jahan had ordered all newly built Hindu temples to be demolished, banning the construction of any new ones. This order specifically targeted any temples with murtis (idols) in them. As the Sikh faith does not allow idol-worship the Emperor's orders did not hinder the flourishing of Sikh pursuits and the buildings of new Gurdwaras. Consequently, for four years, Guru Har Rai travelled across the Punjab unhindered, visiting most of the sacred sites. He stayed in Amritsar for about six months. Bhai Kala, a village head and ardent devotee, presented his half-naked orphan nephews, Phool and Sandly, to the Guru. Seeing the children, obviously malnourished, Guru Har Rai bestowed them with a prophecy that their descendants would rule the area between the rivers Satluj and Jamuna. The prophecy came true with the formation of the Phulkian States - Patiala, Nabha, and Jind.

Ulema Jealousy of the Sikhs

Later, when Aurangzeb's forces chased Dara seeking his death before he could rally forces to retake the Mughal throne, Dara Shikoh came to the Punjab and sought the protection and help of Guru Har Rai. The Guru not wanting to defy his grandfather’s tenets would not allow the Sikhs to aid in an armed confrontation. But his tactical manoeuvres delayed the crossing of the river at Goindwal of Aurangzeb’s army, thus enabling Dara to escape. The Guru’s strong cavalry of 2,300 riders had removed all the boats which the Mughal army had needed to cross the river.

The Sikhs aid in Dara’s escape had already developed bitterness in Aurangzeb’s mind against the Sikhs. The humane practices of Guru Har Rai as opposed to the atrocities of the Mughals, had led to many Hindus whether Dalit or Brahmin to turn to Sikhism instead of accepting Islam. Guru Har Rai’s accomplishments were angering the Muslim clergy around Aurangzeb. They incited the Emperor claiming that lines in the Holy Granth Sahib disparaged the Holy Qur'an and Muslim doctrine. They asked him to summon the Guru to Delhi to explain these phrases.

Ram Rai Bends the Words of The Granth Sahib

Guru Har Rai, disillusioned with the intolerant attitude of the Mughal Ruler, resolved never to see his bigoted face. However, to elucidate the piety of the celestial Gurbani of the Granth Sahib, he sent his elder son Ram Rai to the Delhi Darbar. After prolonged discourses Ram Rai did manage to convince the Emperor of the impartiality of the Gurbani. But this could not satisfy the preconceived contemptuous attitude of the Muslim Court Clergy. They incited the King to ask Ram Rai to explain why the earth from the grave of a Muslim was demeaned in such a way, “Miti Musalman ki perre pai ghumiyar...”. Ram Rai, instead of getting involved in further discussions once again, said that there had been an error in writing the hymn, instead of Musalman it should have been “Be-iman, the deceitful”. This no doubt pleased Aurangzeb and he showered Ram Rai with worldly honours.

The Guru, who revered the Bani so much, could not acquiesce to the action of Ram Rai. He disowned his son and debarred him from Guruship. Ram Rai remained in agony throughout his life at Dehradoon. When he met Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master, at a ripe old age, he begged to be pardoned and he was, then, blessed by the Guru with his deliverance.

Once Guru Har Rai, lying on his bed, heard chanting of the Gurbani by a group of his devotees coming toward his household. He was delayed in getting up in reverence. But when he did stand up, he tripped and hurt his leg. He construed this as the punishment for still relaxing on the bed while the Gurbani was enunciated. Therefore, he decided in the future to sit on the floor only during the day time when his followers were coming in and out reciting the Gurbani.

Guru Har Rai, the great apostle of mercy, lived nearly thirty-two years of his life imbued with the Gurbani and its celestial, humane and compassionate teachings. He commenced his journey for his heavenly abode on October 6, 1661, after endowing Guruship to his young son, Guru Harkrishan.


  • By Pritpal Singh Bindra