Guru Amar Das, the third of the ten gurus of Sikhism, was a religious Vaishanavite who spent most of his life performing ritual pilgrimages and fasts of a devout Hindu. It was not until he met Guru Angad Dev, the second one after Guru Nanak, that he took to Sikhism and be came a Guru at the age of 73 succeeding him.
As large number of Sikhs started gathering in Goindwal to see the new guru, Datu — one of the sons of Guru Angad who proclaimed himself as Guru at Khadur after his father’s death — turned envious and proceeded to Goindwal to confront him. Seeing him seated on a throne surrounded by his followers, Datu said: “You were a mere menial servant of the house until yesterday and how dare you style yourself as the Master?” He even kicked the revered Guru throwing him off his throne. However, Guru Amar Das, in his utter humility started caressing Datu’s foot and said: “I’m old. My bones are hard. You may have been hurt.” As demanded by Datu, Guru Amar Das left Goindwal the same evening and returned to his native village of Basarke.
Here he shut himself in a small house for solitary meditation and attached a notice on the front door saying, “He who opens this door is no Sikh of mine, nor am I his Guru.” A delegation of faithful Sikhs led by Baba Buddha found the house and adhering to the notice outside, cut through the walls to reach the Guru. Baba Buddha said: “The Guru being a supreme yogi, cares for nothing in the world — neither fame, riches nor a following. But we cannot live without his guidance. Guru Angad has tied us to your apron, where should we go now if you are not to show us the way?” Guru Amar Das was so overwhelmed by their devotion that he returned to Goindwal, while Datu having been unable to gather any followers of his own returned to Khadur.
With a view of providing a place where the Sikhs could have a holy dip while visiting Goindwal, Guru Amar Das got a baoli (a deep open water reservoir) dug. As Hindus believed in reincarnation in 84 hundred thousand species, he had the well dug with exactly 84 steps.
To symbolise that God could be reached through his remembrance rather than just a cycle of reincarnations, he declared that who ever would descend the 84 steps for a bath while reciting the Japji Sahib of Guru Nanak at each step would be freed from the cycles of births and deaths.
In 1567, Emperor Akbar on his way to Lahore decided to visit the Guru, whose teachings he had so often heard about. The Guru agreed to see him only if he first sat down and ate in the langer (free communal kitchen open to serve all day and night). Akbar was so impressed that he wanted to give the Guru a parting gift — revenue collected from several villages to support the langer kitchen. However, the Guru refused saying that the langer must be self supporting and depend only on the small offerings of the devout.
Seeing the rapid expansion of Sikhism, Guru Amar Das asked his son-in-law Jetha to oversee the creation of another city. This new township called Ramdaspur, in due time became the present day Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs.
Sensing that his end was near, on September 1, 1574 Guru Amar Das sent for Baba Buddha and other prominent Sikhs, including his two sons Mohan and Mohri. He declared: “According to the tradition established by Guru Nanak, the leadership of the Sikhs must go to the most deserving. I, therefore, bestow this honour on my son-in-law Jetha.” He then renamed Jetha as Ram Das, meaning Servant of God, and as was the custom, Baba Buddha was asked to anoint the forehead of Guru Amar Das with a saffron mark. All those present bowed before Guru Ram Das except Mohan, Guru Amar Das’ eldest son. Shortly thereafter, Guru Amar Das breathed his last on the full moon day of Bhadon in 1574 at the ripe old age of 95.