He was born in Goindval, in the Punjab, the youngest son of Bhai Jetha, who later became Guru Ram Das, and Mata Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das. He was the first Guru in Sikhism to be born into a Sikh family. Guru Arjan led Sikhism for a quarter of a century. He completed the construction of Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, after the fourth Sikh Guru founded the town and built a pool. Guru Arjan compiled the hymns of previous Gurus and of other saints into Adi Granth, the first edition of the Sikh scripture, and installed it in the Harimandir Sahib.
Guru Arjan reorganized the Masands system initiated by Guru Ram Das, by suggesting that the Sikhs donate, if possible, one tenth of their income, goods or service to the Sikh organization (dasvand). The Masand not only collected these funds but also taught tenets of Sikhism and settled civil disputes in their region. The dasvand financed the building of gurdwaras and langars (shared communal kitchens).
Guru Arjan was arrested under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and asked to convert to Islam. He refused, was tortured and executed in 1606 CE. Historical records and the Sikh tradition are unclear whether Guru Arjan was executed by drowning or died during torture. His martyrdom is considered a watershed event in the history of Sikhism. It is remembered as Shaheedi Divas of Guru Arjan every year on 16 June, according to the Nanakshahi calendar released by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 2003.
Arjan was born in Goindval to Bibi Bhani and Jetha Sodhi. Bibi Bhani was the daughter of Guru Amar Das, and her husband Jetha Sodhi later came to be known as Guru Ram Das. Arjan's birthplace site is now memorialized as the Gurdwara Chaubara Sahib. He had two brothers: Prithi Chand and Mahadev. Various Sikh chroniclers give his birth year as 1553 or 1563, the latter is accepted by scholarly consensus as the actual year of birth with 15 April as the accepted birth date. Arjan spent the first 11 years of his life in Goindwal, and the next seven years with his father in Ramdaspur. Per Sikh tradition, he had stayed for two years in Lahore during his youth after being sent by his father to attend the wedding of his first cousin Sahari Mal's son as well as to establish a Sikh congregation. He was appointed as the Sikh Guru in 1581 after the death of his father. Ram Das was a Khatri of the Sodhi sub-caste. With Arjan's succession, the Guruship remained in the Sodhi family of Ram Das.
Following Guru Ram Das was the emergence of new hymns claiming to have been composed by Nanak but according to the Sikh faction led by Guru Arjan, these hymns were distorted and fake, with some blaming Prithi Chand and his Sikh faction for having composed and circulated them. The concern and the possibility of wrong propaganda, immoral teachings and inauthentic Gurbani led Guru Arjan to initiate a major effort to collect, study, approve and compile a written official scripture, and this he called Adi Granth, the first edition of the Sikh scripture by 1604.