Har Rai was born to Baba Gurditta and his wife Mata Nihal Ji (also known as Mata Ananti Ji) on 16 January 1630. Baba Gurditta, the eldest son of Guru Hargobind Ji had been handpicked by Baba Sri Chand, the son of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, to run his yogic sect called the Udasis. Baba Sri Chand died on 13 January 1629. Baba Gurditta took the seat as head of the Udasi sect but, sadly, died in 1638, when Har Rai was only eight years old. Har Rai had an elder brother named Dhir Mal.
From his childhood, Har Rai exhibited a very compassionate disposition; he was concerned about humans and animals alike. On one occasion, when he was just a child, he became very disturbed on having stepped on a plant and destroying it. His sensitivity towards nature grew with age and he got to be known for his passion for preserving the same. He was also intelligent and mature beyond his years. It was these qualities that endeared him to his grandfather Guru Hargobind Ji under whose watch he grew up at Kiratpur Sahib. As had become the practice in the Guru Ghar (Gurus household) Har Rai received martial as well as religious education in equal measure. He became adept in both aspects.
There are differing views about the marriage of Har Rai. The most acceptable is that in 1640, at the age of 10, he was married to Mata Kishan Kaur (also called Mata Sulakhani) the daughter of Daya Ram resident of Anoopshahar, in Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh. Other unsubstantiated chronicles suggest that he married all seven daughters of Daya Ram and yet another story says that he married four Princesses. The alliance culminated with the birth of two sons named Ram Rai (1646) and Har Kishen (1656) and a daughter.
Guru Hargobind Ji found in Har Rai all qualities to become the next master of the Sikhs and chose him over his elder brother Dhir Mal who made a claim to the seat of the Guru with support provided by Emperor Shah Jahan. While Dhir Mal was located at Kartarpur Sahib, Har Rai was anointed Guru on 14, March, 1644 at the age of 14.
Immediately after becoming Guru, Guru Har Rai Ji faced many difficulties. Aligned against him were Dhir Mal who was running a separate seat in Kartarpur and the Minas, who were an offshoot of a sect, created by Prithi Chand, elder brother of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. While Dhir Mal possessed the original copy of the Adi Granth the Minas had control of the holy city of Amritsar which they held for 60 long years from 1635 to 1695. On top of it the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was quite belligerent towards the Sikhs and their true Guru. Due to these factors, the Guru, within one year of taking the seat, was forced to go even further into the interiors of the mountains from Kiratpur. He is said to have spent most of his time (13 years) in a small village near Kasauli.
These alternate sects were playing havoc with the basic principles of the Sikh faith as introduced by the Gurus in concert with the enlightened teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. While the Sikh religion called for elimination of class, caste and all rituals associated with the same, the Minas were resorting to superstition and mythology to gain control over the poor ignorant people.
As in the case of his grandfather and predecessor, Guru Hargobind JI, Guru Har Rai Ji was also called upon to take on the challenge posed by the imposters. His first thought was to protect the Sikh religion by disassociating it from the negative influences and the second was to defend the Sikh nation.
As a first step, Guru Har Rai Ji did not disband the military force created by the sixth master. He, in fact, moved with a contingent of 2200 mounted soldiers. At the same time, he avoided conflict by maintaining a low and secluded profile. There was no military face-off during his time except for one to repulse an attack on his convoy by one Yarbeg Khan, who wished to avenge the death of his father Mukhlis Khan in the hands of Guru Hargobind Ji during the Battle of Amritsar. The Mughals were defeated by the dedicated Sikh soldiers with great courage and the enemy fled after suffering many casualties. The incident sent out a clear message that though the Sikhs, under Guru Har Rai Ji, were not interested in getting into a conflict, they would also not shy away from the same if thrust upon them. They were, in other words, totally prepared and capable of defending themselves and their Guru.
While remaining hidden from the Mughals most of the time in the deep recess of the mountains, the Guru did venture out to meet Sikh followers and preach to them. He avoided going to places like Amritsar, Kartarpur and Lahore where the influence of the Mina’s, his elder brother Dhir Mal and the Mughals prevailed. Instead, he went to the Malwa region and also to Kashmir, following the footsteps of his illustrious Grandfather.
It s well chronicled that Phul, the founder of the Phulkian Misl which counts for most of the Sikh royalty west of the River Sutlej, was a disciple of Guru Har Rai Ji. The story of their association goes back to a place called Nathana in the Malwa region, where Guru Hargobind Ji had fought the Battle of Gurusar against the Mughals. At Nathana, the Guru adjudicated a dispute of two brothers Kala and Karam Chand with people of the Kaura Tribe. In the course of his stay there, Kala presented before him his two nephews, Sandali and Phul, whose father was killed in the Battle of Gurusar. The Guru saw Phul pressing his belly button all the time to which Kala explained that the child was hungry. At that stage Guru Har Rai Ji blessed Phul and said, “He shall become great, famous and wealthy. The steeds of his descendants shall drink water as far as the Jamna River; they shall have sovereignty for many generations and be honoured in proportion as they serve the Guru.” Phul had six sons and from them emerged the principalities of Nabha, Jind and the princely state of Patiala to together form the Phoolkian Misl.
The pioneer followers of the Sikh religion and the Sikh Gurus like Baba Budha Ji and Bhai Gurdas Ji, Bhai Jetha Ji had passed away during the time of Guru Hargobind Ji due to old age, after putting in years of selfless service. In the time of Guru Har Rai Ji another set of dedicated Sikhs came up.
Suthre Shah was abandoned by his parents due to a deformity; he was picked up by Guru Hargobind Ji and brought up in the Guru Ghar. He grew up to become a dedicated preacher of Sikhs at the time of Guru Har Rai Ji.
Another devout Sikh was Bhai Ghonda who was sent by the Guru to Kabul to spread the word. Bhai Ghonda cheerfully accepted the responsibility and even established a Gurdwara in Kabul. It is said that Bhai Ghonda, while in Kabul, went into a meditative trance and clasped the feet of the Guru. Sitting far away in Punjab, the Guru realised the Bhai Ghonda had clasped his feet. He sat in the same position with his feet joined together all through the day and night till Bhai Ghonda got out of his trance. Such was the deep bond between the Guru and his disciple.
Bhagat Bhagwan (Bhagwan Gir) and Bhai Pheru, two more disciples of Guru Har Rai, embraced the Sikh religion and spent their entire life in its propagation.
During his tours that Guru Har Rai Ji realised that the existing Masand system had been corrupted by his brother Dhir Mal and other such forces. The Guru, accordingly, created a system of six missionary centres called Bakshishs. Three main centres were manned by his most loyal Sikh followers.
Bhagat Bhagwan was sent by the Guru to eastern India where he established as many as 360 Gaddis (sub-centres); Bhai Pheru was made responsible for the area between the River Beas and Ravi extending to Rajasthan and Suthre Shah to Delhi. Bhai Aru, Sewa Das, Naik Das and Durga Chand did missionary work in Kashmir and Bhai Jodh went to Multan. Bhai Ghond, as mentiond above, was made responsible for the mission in Afghanistan. Other prominent in-charges of centres were Sahiba, Sangata, Mihan Sahib, and Jeet Mal.
Thus, the reach of the Sikh religion was extended far and wide by Guru Har Rai Ji despite the challenges posed by the imposters and other inimical elements.
The Guru himself spent mornings and evenings listening to Shabads (Hymns) and Gurbani in musical form and through the day he met such followers and disciples who came from far and wide for his Darshan (holy meetings). He paid more attention Shabad Kirtan (singing of hymns) and also initiated the practice of Akhand Kirtan (continuous singing of the scripture) which is today followed in the form of Akhand Path (continuous recital of the Guru Granth Sahib).
At Kiratpur, Guru opened an Ayurvedic Medicine Hospital and Research Centre and a veterinary hospital with a Zoo. Many people with ailments visited the medical centre looking for a cure while the Zoo was home for injured animals mostly brought from the jungle by the Guru himself. Those animals which, after treatment, became capable of survival in the wild were released; those requiring help were retained in the Zoo.
It was the Ayurvedic centre which brought about a much needed thaw in the relationship of the Guru with the Mughals. Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan and also his favourite and heir apparent was poisoned with the whisker of a Tiger by his younger brother, Aurangzeb. The doctors of a very worried; they told the Emperor that the cure lay in a herb called Aralu and a particular Clove that was available in the Ayurvedic centre of Guru Har Rai. In a letter requesting for assistance the Emperor admitted that his forefathers, the Emperor’s Babar, Humayun and Akbar maintained very good relations with the respective Gurus of their times and with the Sikhs and that he had erroneously faltered in this aspect. He took blame and requested for treatment of his son who was without blame.
The Guru responded immediately by preparing the medicines to be sent. When asked by his Sikhs as to why he was helping a sworn enemy he said, ““Behold with one hand man breaks flowers and with one hand offers them, but the flowers perfume both hands alike. The axe cuts the sandal tree, yet the sandal perfumes the axe. The Guru ought, therefore, to return good for evil.”
The life of the Prince was saved and the Emperor, at last, became an ally of the Guru who got more freedom of movement than before after 13 years of being on the seat. Dara Shikoh also became a good friend and disciple of the Guru.
The Mughal war of succession started when Emperor Shah Jahan became ill in 1657. Even though he had declared his eldest son, Dara Shikoh as his heir, the younger sons revolted for succession. The biggest fight was between the combined forces of Auranzeb and Murad against Dara Shikoh. Dara Shikoh lost the first battle and came towards Punjab to build up his strength in Lahore. En-route to Lahore he met Guru Har Rai Ji; it is not known whether he sought assistance from the Guru in any manner or whether it was provided. The probability is that the Guru merely met him and gave his blessings. A short while later Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb, taken to Delhi and executed after great humiliation. Aurangzeb thus became the sixth Emperor of the Mughal dynasty.
In 1660 Guru Har Rai Ji embarked on a tour of Kashmir where the Sikh faith had taken firm roots. While in Kashmir he was accompanied by a trader Makhan Shah Lubana and a Kashmir Pandit Aru Ram. Both later played a big role in Sikh history. Makhan Shah Lubana correctly acknowledged Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji as the ninth Guru in accordance with directive given by the Eighth master, Guru Har Kishen Ji, before his passing away. Pandit Aru Ram was the father of Pandit Kirpa Ram Datt who led a procession of Kashmiri Pandits to Guru Tegh Bahadur to request him to save them from conversion by Emperor Aurangzeb. It was this request that led to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji going to Delhi and being martyred.
In 1661, Emperor Aurangzeb called upon Guru Har Rai to come to his court and explain why he had assisted Dara Shikoh. The Guru sent his elder son, Ram Rai, who was then in his early teens, to represent him. He instructed his son to not say anything that was false or derogatory to the Sikhs and their religion. In order to stay in the god books of the Emperor, the young Ram Rai is said to have performed some miracles which is against the tenets of the Sikh religion. In another instance, the Qazis of the Emperor called upon Ram Rai to give an interpretation of the holy Grant on a particular Shlok (verse) that they felt was derogatory to their religion. The Shlok was as follows:-
‘Mitti Musalman Ki Peirei Paee Kumiar;
(The ashes of the Mohammadan fall into the potter’s clod)
Ghar Bhandei Itan Kia, Jaldi Karei Pukar.’
(Vessels and bricks are fashioned from them and they cry out as they burn)
(Asa Mohalla 1, p-466, of Guru Granth Sahib Ji)
Ram Rai could have given the actual interpretation but instead he chose to refute the fact by saying the second word of the first line in the Shlok was Beimaan (unscrupulous man) and not Musalman.
Thus, Ram Rai was able to impress the Emperor who also though it would be best to keep the next Guru of the Sikhs under his watch and influence. He bade Ram Rai to stay at his court as a royal favourite.
While the Emperor accepted this situation Guru Har Rai, quite naturally, was very upset by it. The Guru was also upset by the series of miracles performed by Ram Rai in the Mughal court to win over the Emperor. The aforementioned two reasons led to Guru Har Rai Ji excommunicating his elder son.
Emperor Aurangzeb saw in the development an opportunity to create a rift in the Sikh community. He therefore encouraged Ram Rai to continue with his pretentions of being a Guru and established him in the Doon Valley. When the Dera (commune) of Ram Rai came up in the Doon Valley, the place got to be known as “Dehradun.” It is today the capital city of the state of Uttrakhand. Ram Rai continues to have a considerable following who call themselves “Ram Raias.” His temple called “Darbar Sahib Guru Ram Rai Maharaj” is situated in Dehradun city and is looked after by a family of Mahants since the he had no off-springs.
Guru Har Rai Ji very quietly and unobtrusively consolidated the Sikh religion and carried its reach far and wide, including to other nations like Afghanistan, Multan etc. He did not add to the Gurbani contained in Guru Granth Sahib but paid a lot of attention to the spiritual well being of his community. He gave a new melodious reflection to reading of the holy book. It can be said that as Guru, he encouraged a deeper understanding and interpretation of the teachings of the holy Granth and thus laid the foundation of Sikh theological thought. Despite being Guru he led a very frugal and simple life, he joined the prayers every morning and evening and also worked to earn enough for his personal needs. It is said that he preached as well as followed the dictum of “sleep less, eat less and talk less.” That he was totally against the show of supernatural powers, deceit and dishonesty is reflected by the manner in which he excommunicated his elder son, Ram Rai and did not change his decision despite ministrations and family pressure. He was very attentive to his Sikhs and followers and demonstrated as much love for them as he got from them. To the Sikh philosophy of loving all human beings he added a love o for all living beings through his personal love and compassion towards animals.
When Guru Har Rai Ji realised that his time in the physical form was coming to an end, he called a meeting of his Sikhs and in the congregation he declared his five year old son, Har Kishen, as the next Guru. Since Baba Budha Ji was no longer alive, the ceremony was performed by Guru Har Rai Ji personally. He placed a coconut and five paise before the new Guru, put a Tilak on his forehead and circumnutated him thrice. Thus, at a tender age of five years Guru Har Kishen Ji became the eighth Nanak, while Guru Har Rai Ji left his physical form on 20 October 1661 at a relatively young age of 31 years.