During the month of June, Sikhs of all backgrounds and ages get together in their local communities and hand out drinks to passers-by to remember the sacrifice of the fifth Sikh Guru and express ‘Chardi-Kala’ (‘Ever Rising-Spirits’), the Sikh ethos of remaining optimistic and positive.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606) was the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus. As soon as he became the Guru at the age of eighteen he became a champion for the welfare of the poor, sick and disadvantaged sections of society. He spent nearly eight months in Lahore helping thousands of people who were suffering from malaria and chicken pox. He started a centre at Tarn Taran to help people suffering from leprosy, and would feed and serve the suffering with his own hands. To overcome religious, social and gender inequalities the Guru further promoted Guru Nanak’s teachings by furthering the institution of Langar – the Guru’s holy kitchen where all people sit together and eat a free meal, and building of wells and pools for all sections of society to use.
Testimony to the Guru’s vision was the construction of the world-class city of Amritsar in the Punjab and the establishment of Harmandar Sahib, known as the Golden Temple, as a religious centre. These were key components in the formation of the Sikh nation and of Sikhism as an independent faith. Guru Arjan Dev Ji compiled the first version of the Sikh religion’s holy scripture, which was collection of the authentic revealed sacred hymns of the first five Gurus and a number of holy saints that were born different social and religious backgrounds. The new sacred scripture was installed in the sacred shrine in Amritsar in 1604.
The Guru’s social and spiritual revolutionary activities were deemed a threat to institutionalized religion by the ruler of the land. Refusing to waver from his faith, he was tortured until his body succumbed.
Over the period of five days the Guru was cruelly tortured. He was kept without food or water, exposed to the burning sun and boiled in boiling water. On the last day of the torture he was made to sit on a heated plate placed over a burning fire, with tonnes of burning sand poured over him. His body was then immersed into the nearby river that flowed through the city. Throughout the torture, the Guru calmly repeated “Sweet is Your Will, O Lord…”
Traditionally, Sikhs commemorate the martyrdom by the free distribution of sweetened and chilled drinks to all. Instead of remembering this event through mourning, the Guru taught the Sikhs to accept Gods will as sweet. Therefore, Sikhs changed negativity to positivity by turning an attack upon them into a chance to serve others. Sikhs honour the Guru’s burning by cooling everyone else. This is Chardi-Kala.