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Guru Angad Dev – the creator of Gurumukhi who championed gender equality

Fresco depicting Gurgadi ceremony of Angad Dev being proclaimed as the next guru (Pic. Courtesy wikimedia commons)

Today is a special day not just for Sikhs as Guru Angad Dev, their second Guru was born today in 1504 but also for Punjabi as he is credited with Gurumukhi which is the standard writing script of the language.

Before becoming a Guru, he was known as Bhai Lehna and was born in Matte-di-Sarai village in Sri Muktsar Sahib district. It was Guru Nanak who named him Angad, meaning the “limb of Guru Nanak Dev ji”. Hailing from Khatri caste he was born to Pheru Mal, a small but successful trader and Mata Sabhirai.

Married to Mata Khivi he had two sons, Baba Dasu and Baba Datu and two daughters, Bibi Amro and Bibi Anokhi. Leading a contented life as a trader, Lehna under the influence of his devout Hindu mother was an ardent devotee of Mata Durga and undertook pilgrimage of Jawalamukhi temple every year Yet there was a spiritual vacuum in his life.

It was a chance event that he overheard a Sikh singing a hymn. Then and there he fell in love with the content of the hymn. Enquiring about the writer, he was informed that it was by Guru Nanak Dev of Kartarpur. Lehna, keen on meeting him left for Kartarpur and incidentally on the way he unknowingly asked the Guru himself for directions to his house.

He then went on to spend considerable time with Guru and on returning home decided to move to Kartarpur Sahib to be close to him and thus passed on his shop to his eldest son, Dasu.

Complete faith in Guru

Guru Nanak tested him thoroughly and several times before accepting him. It is said that once he placed dirty weeds on his head and asked him to carry them. Without caring about ruining his new clothes Bhai Lehna did it. Another time Guru asked him to throw out a dead rat, Lehna did it promptly without demure. Lehna had no compulsions in doing tasks which in those days were done by low caste people.

Such was Lehna’s faith in Guru Nanak that once when the latter told some people to shake a bare tree to feed the congregation, it was Lehna only who did it and was rewarded with fruits.

He served the Guru faithfully and did anything without questioning or doubting him. In essence he resigned his ego and desire to be independent to follow Guru’s path.

Walking towards the forest one day, Guru thrashed the people following him with a stick. While others gave up, Lehna continued to go after him saying that Guru Nanak was his only refuge. With this final test, Guru decided that Lehna was his true devotee.

After seven years of intense devotion, Guru Nanak named him Angad on October 6, 1539 in Kartarpur Sahib.

Guru Angad Dev2
Fresco of the second Sikh Guru at Baoli Sahib, Goindval (Pic. Courtesy wikimedia commons)

Sikh identity, the Gurumukhi script

Guru Angad developed the Punjabi alphabet and gave people Gurumukhi script. The Gurmukhi alphabet kept up Gurbani’s purity and ensured that no misunderstanding took place due to change in pronunciations.

Gurumukhi means Guru’s script and it enabled Sikhs to build their own religious identity.

Gurumukhi also helped Sikhism to bring into its fold the underprivileged and downtrodden people. As Sanskrit was taught to high-caste Hindus, Gurmukhi was made accessible to everyone. Guru Angad even started schools to help the underprivileged, teaching them the Gurmukhi personally.

Empowerment of women

Preaching gender equality, Guru Angad Dev encouraged women to join the Sikh Sangat and provided them with religious rights. His wife, Mata Khivi played a major role in the participation of women in Sikhism and she is the one credited with building and sustaining the community kitchen or langar.

He nurtured Sikhism, making it grow by establishing new gurudwaras and sangats and also promoted wrestling pits to keep the flock fit.

Following his Guru Nanak’s precedent, Guru Angad nominated Amar Das as his successor and not his sons. This was in 1552 and on March 29 the same year he passed away leaving a rich legacy for others to follow and emulate.