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More About Sanatan Sikhi From The Sikh Encyclopedia


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

Social Institutions and Movements/Traditional Sikh schools

NIRMALA, derived from Sanskrit nirmala meaning spotless, unsullied, pure, bright, etc.. is the name of a sect of Sikhs primarily engaged in religious study and preaching. The members of the sect are called Nirmala Sikhs or simply Nirmalas. The sect arose during the time of Guru Gobind Singh (16661708), though some, on the authority of a line in the first iwofBhai Gurdas (d. 1636), claim, like the Udasis, Guru Nanak (14691539) himself to be the founder. Guru Gobind Singh wanted his followers not only to train in soldierly arts but also to cultivate letters. Especially during his stay at Paonta, on the bank of the River Yamuna, from 1685 to 1688, he had engaged a number of scholars to translate Sanskrit classics into current Braj or Punjabi, in order to bring them within easy reach of the less educated laity. Guru Gobind Singh once asked one of these scholars, Pandit Raghunath, to teach Sikhs Sanskrit. The latter politely excused himself on the plea that Sanskrit was deva bhdsd, language of the gods, and could not be taught to Sudras, i.e. members of the low castes. To even this caste bias Guru Gobind Singh sent five of his Sikhs, namely Karam Singh, Vir Singh, Ganda Singh, Saina Singh and Ram Singh, dressed as upperclass students, to Varanasi, the centre of Hindu learning. These Sikhs worked diligently for several years and returned to Anandpur as accomplished scholars of classical Indian theology and philosophy. In view of their piety and their sophisticated manner, they and their students came to be known as Nirmalas, and were later recognized as a separate sect. After the evacuation of Anandpur in 1705, the Nirmala preachers went to different places outside the Punjab, particularly to Haridvar, Allahabad and Varanasi where they established centres of learning that exist to this dayKankhal, near Haridvar, Pakki Sangat at Allahabad, and Chetan Math and Chhoti Sangat atVaranasi. When, during the second half of the eighteenth century, the Sikhs established their sway over the Punjab, some of the Nirmala saints came back here and founded at different places centres which were liberally endowed by Sikh chiefs. It was customary for Nirmala scholars to attend, along with their disciples, religious fairs at prominent pilgrimage centres such as Haridvar, Allahabad and Gaya, where they, like other sadhus, took out shdhis or processions and held philosophical debates with scholars of other religious denominations as a part of their preaching activity. Sometimes these scholastic exercises led to bitter rivalry and even physical confrontation. During the Haridvar Kumbh in 1855, a general meeting of the Nirmalas held in their principal derdat Kankhal took the first concrete step towards setting up a central body by electing Mahitab Singh of Rishikesh, reputed scholar of the sect, as their Sri Mahant or principal priest. Mahitab Singh attracted attention of the rulers of Patiala, Nabha andJind with whose help a panchditt akhdrd named Dharam Dhuja was established at Patiala in 1861. Its formal inaguguration took place on 7 August 1862. The headquarters of the sect, however, remained at Kankhal. The sect comprises several sampraddyas or subsects each with its own derd and its own following. The Nirmalas believe in the Ten Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. Taking the baptism of the Khalsa is not compulsory nor common among them. As a distinguishing mark of the sect they don at least one of the garment in ochre colour. They generally practise celibacy and are devoted to scriptural and philosophical study, but by tradition they are inclined towards classical Hindu philosophy especially Vedanta. Their contribution towards the preaching of Sikh doctrine and production of philosophical literature in Sanskrit, Braj, Hindi and Punjabi is considerable. Some of the important works that contributed to Sikh learning in general and the elucidation and regeneration of Sikh principles in particular are as follows: Sangam Sdr Chandrikd by Pandit Sadda Singh of Chetan Math, Varanasi, is commentary on a Sanskrit work on Advait philosophy, Advent Siddhi; Pandit Tara Singh Narotam (182291) wrote several books of which Gurmat Nimaya Sdgar (1877) and Guru Girdrath Kosh in two volumes (1889) deal with philosophy of Sikh religion. His Sri Guru Tirath Sangrahi is a pioneer work on historical Sikh shrines in and outside India. Another famous Nirmala scholar Pandit Sadhu Singh wrote ShnMukh VdkyaSidhdntJyotlstnd GuruSikhyd Prabhdkar (1893). Giani Gian Singh (18221921) is known for his contribution to Sikh history. His Panth Prakdsh in verse appeared in 1880 and Twdrikh Guru Khalsa in prose in 1891. 1. Gian Singh, Giani, Sri Guru Panth Prakash. (ed., Giani Kirpal Singh). Amritsar, 1973

2. Hari Singh, Mahant, Nirmal Panth da Sankhep Itihas. Amritsar, 2018 Bk
3. Dyal Singh, Mahant, Nirmal Panth Darshan. Amritsar, 1952

SANT TRADITION comprises those medieval monotheistic and devout personalities belonging to different shades of Indian society who are supposed to have been quiet, tranquil nonsectarian, opposed to Brahmanical ritualism, piously tired of the duplicity of the world but otherwise deeply conscious and critical of the outrageous anamolies professed by certain vested interests among the people around. In general terms these mystical personalities are known as nirgun bhaktas or more commonly sants. The Sanskrit form of the term sant is rooted in sam meaning `appeased* or `pacified`. Sometimes this tradition is directly linked with Vedic and Upanisadic thought but very often it is accepted as influenced by Sahajyana, an offshoot of Buddhism. Commonly the practices of Sant tradition are remembered as Hathayogic, however, with the exception of Sikhism which, sufficiently influenced by this tradition, has repudiated all sorts of mortifications of body through Hathayoga. Very early the term sant had acquired two specific connotations. On the one hand, it served to designate aSchool or rather a particular group ofVaisnavabhaktas devoted to the incarnations ofVisnu and hence called sagunvadins but on the other we find Guru Nanak, Ravidas, Kabir, Dadu, Paitu, etc., who without getting led astray by excessive emotionalism never miss to delineate their last aim of liberal attitude, universal thinking and hence a pure ethical code of conduct. The vast literature of this tradition radiates a specific dynamic energy containing in it a challenge of frankness and fearlessness. It is significant to note that often the term sant is distinguished from bhakta by calling them nirgunvadins and sagunvadins, respectively. In Marathi literature the worshippers of qualified God and the meditators of the unattributed Supreme Being, both are called bhaktas and the latter ones sants. However, there is a sharp difference in their dispositions. We find bhakta literature replete with the warm emotions for the incarnations of God but in nirguna literature the sants contradict this theory. They don`t involve themselves in the riddles of hell and heaven and their worship is realizational and not based on sastras. The sants seem little bothered about the hollow premises and rhetoric. They spread from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries of the Christian era throughout the whole of north India and part of the Deccan. Within the tradition on itself the term sant seems to have been used as a synonym for sadh or sadhu in the sense of one who has "perfected" or "accomplished" the ultimate unitary experience. The sant tradition of medieval India, though predominantly theistic and devotional unlike the Sramana tradition, is however supposed to have carried forward the moral and social ideas and ideals ofnonBrahmanical origin first diffused by the ancient munis and sramanas. In this medieval period the emphasis on a personal God stems from a tendency, in Indian religions, which became prominent in the Upanisads, to find divinity present, immanent in nature and by extension, in the very being of man. We must also note that the personalization of the deity in Vaisnavite religion and in certain sects which worshipped local anthropomorphic forms of the deity was countered by the general pantheistic tendency of the Upanisads with their emphasis on the identity of all with the Divine. Caught between the various sectarian developments and driven towards a personalization of deity on the one hand and accepting the monistic tendency of much of earlier Indian philosophy on the other, the people of India, drew on the earlier tradition of mums and sramanas to establish numerous sects of practitioners of the discipline of yoga and of wandering sants and yogis with differing degrees of spiritual realization and theories about the manner of achieving it. The influence of Mahayana Buddhism, especially of its esoteric variety lingered in India long after the final disappearance of the Buddhist Sangha in its homeland. Further, the institution of the Buddhist monks and several philosophical moral doctrines of Buddhism became incorporated into Hinduism in its reflowering from the eighth century of the Christian era onwards. In this milieu the Sant tradition was essentially a synthesis of four principal dissenting movements, a compound of elements drawn from the Mahayanism of the siddhas, the vaisnava bhakti, the Hathayoga of the Nathyogins and with a marginal contribution from Sufism. The nonvedic strand in the Sant tradition was an important legacy of Buddhism and the numerous terms and concepts of Buddhism of the siddhas found a lasting home in the writings of the sants. In several respects, however, the sants disagreed with traditional Vaisnavabhakti also and some of these differences were fundamental, such as their (sants`) rejection ofavatarvada, accepted by all Vaisnava bhaktas. Their devotion directed to an invisible allpervading Reality to be realized `within` was a novel experience for the people of medieval northern India, for they had been habitually worshipping some sort of `qualified` visible anthropomorphic gods or goddesses. The bhakti of sants is generally termed as Vaisnava bhakti but in this bhakti a monistic and strictly nonidolatrous attitude was injected by their chief exponents like Kabir, Ravidas, Rayab, etc. The sants eschewed all forms of idolatry, most clearly seen in those times in the worship of Rama and Krsna. True, the sants were prone to use term nirguna in speaking about God but the term seems related more to a rejection of its antithesis, the saguna concept of divine avatars than an appropriation of the metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta of Sankara. Further, their expression of love for God was through inward meditation and devotion, a method which involved certain disciplines controlling the senses and emotions and not the easy path of traditional bhakti. Traces of the Nath school are also by no means absent during the earlier stages of this movement but they are not prominent, and in some cases they may even represent later additions. It was not until the time of Kabir that nath concepts assume a significant role and the influence of siddhas and naths emerges in much of Kabir`s thought and basic terminology in the form of rejection of all exterior formalities, ceremonies, caste distinctions, sacred languages and scriptures. It further lays strong emphasis on the interior unitive experience which destroys duality, caste distinctions and prejudice for sacred languages and scriptures. The stress is put on the importance of the satguru, the power ofsabda and the related notion of "sumiran," which leads the soul to the mystical experience of paracha through which thejiva is reabsorbed into the unity of Ram, the mysterious state of sahaj. A further indication of siddhanath influence is Kabir`s use of ultabansis, the use of language with often reversal of usual meaning of words. This kind of enigmatical speech with intentional meanings hidden under the cover of obvious meanings was employed extensively by the siddhas like Sarahapad and Krsnapad. However, as characteristically indicative as any in this regard is Kabir`s essentially pragmatic approach to the mystery of human destiny. Like the siddhas and the yogis before him, Kabir seeks to penetrate the mystery rather than to triumph over death. The sants were basically monotheists, but the ultimate Reality (paramatattva) whom they addressed and with whom they sought union was in no sense to be understood in anthropomorphic terms. His manifestation was through His immanence in His creation and, in particular, through His indwelling in the human soul. It was there that He, by grace (prasad), revealed Himself, and man`s appropriate response was love and devotion (namsuiniran) as a means of merging with the Divine. Great importance was attached to the guru who might be a human teacher or who might be understood not as a person but as the inner voice of God. The sants attached little importance to celibacy and asceticism and hence together with the sufis they were commonly laymen or householders rather than monks or ascetics in the formal sense. The spirit of the movement was essentially nonsectarian though many of the sants left their names to the sects which sprang up in their wake, of which certain ones still survive today. Their beliefs the sants expressed not in the classical Sanskrit language, but in a language which was closely related to that of the common people to whom they addressed their teachings. There seems to have evolved a "dialect" which, with minor modifications, was used by the sants all over northern India. The basis of this dialect, which has been called Sadhukari was Khari Boll, mixed with old Rajasthani, Braj, Panjabi and Purvi Boli spoken in what is now eastern Uttar Pradesh. Most of the sants were generally poorly educated or completely illiterate, and hence their compositions were usually oral utterances which came to be written down only after a period of oral circulation. The Sant movement was composed of two principal groups during its period of greatest importance and influence, from the fourteenth to eighteen centuries of the Christian era, the one centred in north India and the other centred in Maharashtra, the latter being the older. It was this sant tradition which provided the basis for Guru Nanak`s thought, an inheritence which he interpreted in the light of his own personality and experience. Before the advent ofSikhism, when the onslaughts of the hordes of invaders were rampantly crushing the people, the Indian mind and body unable to withstand it, started preaching, on the contrary, the doctrine of illusory nature of the world. People were advised to accept the nonexistence of the very world in which they were being cramped. Sikhism asserted itself as the most selfrespecting and fearless religious way of life to accept the challenge and to look into the real cause of the malady of helplessness of men. Sikhs could not remain passive onlookers and thus a very constructive culmination of Sant tradition is obvious in the advent of Sikhism. The thought of Guru Nanak was a reworking of the Sant synthesis, which he received and passed on, which was in some measure amplified, and in considerable measure clarified and integrated. 1. Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji

2. Varma, Ramkumar, Sant Kabir. Allahabad, 1957
3. Machwe, Prabhakar, Naindev: Life and Philosophy. Patiala, 1968
4. Chaturvedi, Parashuram, Sant Kavya. Allahabad, 1967
5. Shikoh, Dara, Majma` ul-Bahrain. Edited and English translation by Mahfuz ul-Haw. Calcutta, 1929

UDASI, an ascetical sect of the Sikhs founded by Sri Chand (14941629), the elder son of Guru Nanak. Udasi is derived from the Sanskrit word udasin, i.e. one who is indifferent to or disregardful of worldly attachments, a stoic, or a mendicant. In Sikh tradition, the term iidasi has also been used for each of the four preaching tours of Guru Nanak ; in this sense, udasi meant a prolonged absence from home. Some scholars, including many Udasis, trace the origin of the sect back to the Puranic age, but, historically speaking, Sri Chand was the founder. The Matra, the sacred incantation or composition, attributed to the Udasi saint, Balu HaSria, records that Sri Chand received enlightenment from Guru Nanak, the perfect Guru, and that, after the passing away of the latter, he started his own sect. Sri Chand was a devoted Sikh and a saintly person. His object in establishing the order of the Udasis was to propagate the mission of his father. Sri Chand kept on amicable terms with the successors of Guru Nanak. According to Kesar Singh Chhibbar, he sent two turbans at the death of Guru Ram Das in AD 1581, one for Prithi Chand, the eldest son of the deceased Guru, and another for Guru Arjan in recognition of his succession to the Guruship. In AD 1629, Sri Chand asked Guru Hargobind to spare one of his sons to join him in his religious preaching. The Guru gave him Baba Gurditta, his eldest son. Baba Gurditta, although married, was disposed to saintly living. Before his death, Baba Sri Chand admitted Baba Gurditta to the Udasi order and appointed him his successor. Baba Gurditta appointed four head preachers Almast, Phul, Goind (or Gonda) and Balu Husria. He gave them his own dress which became the peculiar Udasi garb and smouldering embers from Baba Sri Chand`s dhum (sadhu`s hearth) to be taken to their new monastic seats. These Udasi sadhus set up from those embers a new dhuan each at his seat and thus came into existence tlie four dhunns or hearths which became active centres of Udasi preaching. Each dhuari came to be known after the name of its principal preacher. The Udasis proved zealous preachers of Sikhism and carried its message to the far corners of the country and beyond. They especially rediscovered places which had been visited by the Gurus and which had fallen into obscurity with the passage of time. They established on such spots their deras and sangats and preached Gurbani. Thus the Udasi dhuans popularized the teaching of Guru Nanak not only in the Punjab but also in faroff places. Besides the four dhuans, there emerged another set of Udasi seats called bakhshishan, which flourished during the time of Guru Har Rai, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. A bakhshish (lit. bounty) was a missionary assignment conferred upon an individual by the Guru. There were six prominent bakhshishan, viz. Bhagat Bhagvanie (followers of Bhagat Bhagvan) ; SuthrashahJe ( followers of Suthrashah) ; Sangat Sahibie (followers of Sangat Sahib ) ; Mihan Shahie or Mihan Dasie, so called after Mihan, the title conferred by Guru Tegh Bahadur on Ramdev; Bakht Mallie ( followers of Bakht Mall) ; and Jit Mallie (followers ofJIt Mall). The saints of bakhshishes travelled widely and established their deras, sangats, maths and akharas in distant places throughout India. The Udasis preached the message of Guru Nanak and revered and recited the ban! of the Gurus, but they retained their separate identity. Baba Sri Chand did occasionally visit the Gurus who treated him with respect for being a saintly personage as well as for being a son of Guru Nanak. But they extended no patronage to his sect. However, after Baba Sri Chand had had from Guru Hargobind his eldest son, Baba Gurditta, to admit to his sect, the Udasis began to receive support and guidance from the Gurus. Guru Hargobind`s successors conferred bakhshishes upon Udasi sadhus. Several of the Udasi saints are remembered with esteem in the Sikh tradition. For instance, the famous Bhagat Bhagvan, Bhai Pheru of the Sangat Sahibia order, who had served in the langar or community kitchen in the time of Guru Har Rai, and Ramdev (later known as Mihan Sahib), who was originally a mashki or watercarrier in the service of Guru Tegh Bahadur and who had received from him for his devoted service the title of Mihan (bestower of rain) as well as the dress and marks of an Udasi consisting of selhi (woollen cord), topi" (cap), chola (hermit`s gown) and a nagara (drum). Ramdev established his own order of the Udasis which came to be known as Mihan Dasie or Mihan Shahie. Another notable Udasi sadhu was Mahant Kirpal who took part in the battle ofBhangani (1689) under Guru Gobind Singh. After the abolition of the order of the masands by Guru Gobind Singh, the preaching of Guru Nanak`s word fell to the Udasis who also gradually took control of the Sikh places of worship. When Guru Gobind Singh evacuated the Fort of Anandpur along with his Sikhs, an Udasi monk, Gurbakhsh Das, undertook to look after the local shrines such as Sis Ganj and Kesgarh Sahib. When after the death of Guru Gobind SiTigh, one Gulab Rai, an impostor, proclaimed himself guru at Anandpur and tried to take possession of the shrines, Gurbakhsh Das thwarted his scheme. Gurbakhsh Das` successors continued to look after the Anandpur shrines till their management was taken over in recent times by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. At Nanded where Guru Gobind Singh passed away, Mahant Ishar Das Udasi performed the services at Darbar Guru Gobind Singh (Hazur Sahib) and managed the shrine from 1765 Bk/AD 1708 to 1782 Bk/AD 1725. He was succeeded by his disciple Gopal Das Udasi, who remained in charge of Darbar Hazur Sahib up to 1803 Bk/ AD 1746. Gopal Das was succeeded by his disciple Saran Das Udasi, who served the shrine for a long period of 30 years. After Saran Das the control of the Darbar passed into the hands of the Sikhs who had, by that time, come from the Punjab in considerable numbers and settled at Nanded. In 1768 Bk/AD 1711 an Udasi sadhu, Sant Gopal Das, popularly known as Goddar Faquir, was appointed granthi at the Harimandar at Amritsar by Bhai Mani Singh, sent to Amritsar as custodian of the shrine by Mata Sundari. Gopal Das was later replaced by another Udasi, Bhai Chahchal Singh, a pious and devoted Sikh. Udasis recruit their followers from all castes and professions. In their religious practices they differ from the Sikhs, though they revere Guru Nanak and Guru Granth Sahib like all other Sikhs. In their monasteries, Guru Granth Sahib is the scripture that is read. They do not subscribe to the Sikh rites. Their ardas also varies. Ringing of bells (ghanti or gharial}, blowing instruments (narsingha or singhi) form part of their religious service, They worship icons of Guru Nanak and Baba Sri Chand. Their salutations are Vahguru (Glory of the God), Gajo ji Vahguru (Hail aloud the glorious Lord) or Alakh (Hail the Unknowable). The Udasis believe that after gaining matra one can attain param tattva (the highest truth) and achieve mukti (release). The term matra, lit. a measure or quantity, stands in prosody and grammar for the length of time required to pronounce a short vowel. But the term has acquired an extended meaning in the Udasi tradition, sigiiifying an incantation or sacred text. An Udasi matra is the sacred formula addressed to the disciples. as counsel and advice. There are a considerable number of these matras attributed to Guru Nanak, Baba Sri Chand, Baba Gurditta, Almast and Balu HaSria. But the matras attributed to Sri Chand have special significance for the Udasis and are highly cherished by them. Some of the Udasis wear white while others prefer gerua (ochre) or redcoloured garments. Those belonging to the Nanga sect remain naked, wearing nothing except a brass chain around their waist. Some wear matted hair and apply ashes over their body. Some wear cord worn around the head, neck and waist. They abstain from alcohol, but not infrequently use bhang (hemp), charas and opium. They practise celibacy. Besides disseminating the word of Guru Nanak, Udasi centres serve as seminaries of Sikh learning. Chelas, i.e. disciples, gather around the head of the monastery who instructs them in Sikh and old classical texts. The heads of these centres travelled with their pupils to places of pilgrimage and participated in debate and discourse. The Udasi bungas or rest houses around the Harimandar were among the prominent centres of learning. Udasi cloister at Amritsar, Brahm Buta Akhara, ran a Gurmukhi school which attracted a considerable number of pupils. Some Udasi centres also imparted training in Indian system of medicine and physiology. One such seat was the bunga of Pandit Sarup Das Udasi who was a great scholar as well as an authority on Charaka Samhita, the famous treatise on Ayurvecia. In the troubled years of the eighteenth century when Sikhs suffered severe persecution, the Udasi sadhus took charge of their places of worship. Their control of the holy shrines lasted until the opening decades of the twentieth century when Sikhs through an enactment of the Punjab Legislative Council had the management centralized in the hands of a democratically elected board. The Udasis, however, have their own deras and monasteries spread all over the country. The most important of their centres in the North are Brahm Buta Akhara and Sangalanvala Akhara at Amritsar, Niranjania Akhara at Patiala and the Panchaiti Akhara at Haridvar.

1. Randhir Singh, Bhai, Udasi Siklian di Vithiya. Amritsar, 1959
2. Nara, Ishar Singh, ItihasBaba Sri ChandJI Sahib ate Udasin Sampardai. Amritsar, 1975
3. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion : Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors. Oxford, 1909

The web site reference is,com_alphacontent/Itemid,1/category,40/lang,en/limitstart,10/section,6/


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
faujasingh ji

They are actually 3 articles but I linked them together to make it easier to have the information all in one spot. The Sikh Encyclopedia link seems to have gone missing as the reference. I will put it in.

In compiling the information I was very impressed by the quality of the articles in the Sikh Encylopedia.
Aug 18, 2009
thats nice to hear, good to know that we have better websites rather than just rubbing salt on the past

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Ang 690 - Har Jeeo Kirapaa Karae Thaa Naam Dhhiaaeeai Jeeo | ਹਰਿ ਜੀਉ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਤਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਈਐ ਜੀਉ

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