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Seva Panth - Tradition Begun By Bhai Khanaiya


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The Seva Panthis/Addan Shahis

This is another of the great traditional Sikh orders. Udasi Baba Karm Prakash, speaking on behalf of the Seva Panthis at Guriana Mandi (in Punjab) in presence of Sant Baba Jagjir Singh, the Seva Panthi chief caretaker, spoke of the purpose of the Seva Panthis thus:

‘The chief work of the Seva Panthis is this: to serve the living spirit and not to worship stones, to provide food for all beings in free, the the communal kitchen as service, and to make havens for cows, cattle etc. To do all such religious deeds.’ 
(Baba Karm Das, transcript of recording, 06-03-2001)

Seva Panthi order was started by Bhai Kanhaiya. He was born in 1648 in a town called Sohadara now in Pakistan. In time, after searching for a spiritual guide amongst Hindus and Muslims he became a Sikh of the ninth Sikh Guru. Akali Guru Tegh Bahadur instructed Khanaiya to go out and serve humanity. Thus began the life time work of Bhai Khanaiya, ‘Seva’, self-abnegating service to all living things.

Bhai Khanaiya established a Dharmsala (Rest house and temple) in the Northwest frontier in the Attock district of Punjab on a hilly track near the village of Kawa. The Dharmsala was situated on the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Peshawar. There, Khanaiya served all indiscriminately. He preached all Muslims and Hindus to be brothers in the eyes of the one Nirankar God the father of all. In time Akali Guru Tegh Bahadur attained glorious martyrdom and his son Akali Nihang Guru Gobind Singh came to occupy Akali Guru Nanak’s spiritual seat.

Bhai Khanaiya was greatly saddened upon hearing of the martyrdom of his Guru. He in time resolved to see his great successor. The early years of Akali Nihang Guru Gobind Singh were to be the preparation for the oncoming wars with the caste-bound Hindu Rajas and the bigoted imperial Moghal power of Aurangzeb.

Akali Nihang Guru Gobind Singh ordered all his able-bodied Sikhs to wear weapons and learn the arts of war. Bhai Khanaiya also obeyed the Guru's instructions and put on a sword but claimed his sword being a symbol of his Guru was for the use of his enemy. Thus, the Guru exempted Khanaiya and his followers from military duty and told him to carry on performing the duty allotted him by his reverend father Akali Guru Tegh Bahadur of serving all living beings.

In a latter battle in Anandpur Bhai Khanaiya served water indiscriminately to friend and foe alike. For this act, some angry Sikh warriors, the Nihangs accusing him of treason brought him before Guru Gobind Singh Ji. When Guru Ji asked him why he was helping the wounded enemy. Bhai Ji replied:

“I cannot distinguish between friend or foe I only see you the one true Guru Va-eh Guru in all”
The Guru was very pleased, and not only did he order Khanaiya to continue, but also gave him a medicine chest as a gift. He then blessed him saying after him shall be a Sikh order who will serve all mankind indiscriminately. Noor Shah was amongst those Afghan soldiers to whom Bhai Khanaiya had served water and attended. He went onto become a great disciple of Bhai Khanaiya setting up a Dharmsala of his own.

After Bhai Khanaiya his Sikh order came to be known as ‘Seva Panthis’ (The path of servers). This name came through Bhai Khanaiya’s disciple Seva Ram. Seva Panthis are also known as 'Addan Shahia'. This name is derived from another of Bhai Khanaiya’s disciples Addan Shah.

Whereas Akali Nihangs speak of Udasis sometimes going armed to defend themselves as did some Nirmalas like Baba Dargaha Singh, the Seva Panthis were complete pacifists. Though they did not say it was wrong for a person to defend themselves, Seva Panthis themselves desisted from all forms of violence.

Of Bhai Addan Shah it is said he would not even travel on a path which would disturb the birds on the trees. One Seva Panthi leader Bhai Jagta had ponds dug specifically for the wild animals of the jungle so they could drink water. With the aid of the Sikh Maharaja Kharak Singh, Bhai Jagta also arranged a daily allowance of bread to feed the stray dogs and birds.

Bhai Jagta Ji
The great philanthropist Bhai Jagta Ji after whom the headquarters
of the Seva Panthi/Addan Shahi order at Goniana Mandi, Batinda, Punjab is named
A very strong Hindu influence can be found amongst the Udasis and Nirmalas, and to a lesser extent in Akali Nihangs, however, this is not so for the Seva Panthis. The environment in which they lived and interacted with was a predominately Muslim.
They won the hearts of the Muslims through their indiscriminate selfless service.

Narinder Singh Sauch comments:

‘Men make history and history makes men. In these regions in these Muslim areas from place to place sprang pools of Sikhism. From house to house the simple life style, the compassion, the virtue of earning their own living, the charitable deeds, sweet words, humility, day and night done service of these holy men was discussed. The Muslims even worshiped at their mausoleums. They prayed to fulfil their desires. Gave offerings there. For hours on end they stood there with hands clasped. Bowing their heads they did not lift from ground. Their [Seva Panthi] words they respected as of the pure holy Koran. Good words do not have a distinct religion they belong to all.'

( ‘Bhai Jagta Ji', Narinder Singh Sauch, Pa.26-27)

As mentioned before, many Muslims in Punjab looked upon Guru Nanak as a 'faquir' (holy man), and naming him as 'Nanak Shah' (King). Guru Nanak’s constant companion Bhai Mardana was a Muslim. The fifth Sikh Guru’s best friend was also a Muslim holy man Sai Mia Mir.

A photograph of a Muslim Sufi priest
engaged in reading the holy Koran Shareef
Sai Mia Mir had laid the foundation of the Sikh holiest of holy Durbar Sahib in Amritsar. Akali Nihang Guru Gobind Singh Ji had innumerable Muslim associates and followers such as Shah Mira Pikh, Kazi Slarudin, Sayd Beg Khan, Mdar Fakir, Krim Khan, Nihang Khan, Nabee Khan, Gani Khan, Sajedh Ibrahim Shah, etc.

Hence, the Muslim association with Sikhism was a long established one. The Seva Panthis built upon this.

In the past, as consequence of Seva Panthi connections with the Sufis this guaranteed them safety from Moghal atrocities which were being perpetuated on the then Akali Nihang Singh Khalsa Panth. Piara Singh Padam wrote:

‘That time was very frightening because the governments design was the genocide of Sikhs. From 1730 to 1760 all the governors that came be it Jakriya Khan or Shah Nivaj or Mir Manu, all were fanatical enemies of the Sikhs. In these times for Sant Addan Shah with his fellows to move about Lahore without fear was nothing short of a miracle. Reason was that they always kept links with Sufi Fakirs and intellectuals and they in turn respected them. Once it happened he was sitting with a hospitable Pir [Muslim holy man] and there some big officer (Sajed Subedar) came. He, seeing a long haird Sadhu was astonished thinking we have finished of such people. The officer asked,

"Are these Sikhs of the Marelh?"
Then Pir said, "No, he is a Sikh of Baba Nanak Fakir"
Then Bhai Ji roared out and said,
"No I am Marelh Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Sikh."
(from, Sant Ratan Mal, Story 33)

In those days Guru Ji was called Morelha (Muderous or quarrelsome) if some true Sikh linked himself to the Guru he had to suffer death. But Bhai Addan Shah was not worried he fearlessly gave the true answer.’
(‘Sikh Sanpardvali’, by Piara Singh Padam, Pa.78-79)

Like the Udasis, Nirmalas and Akali Nihangs the Seva Panthis had a pluralistic outlook. They saw the underlying Dharm meaning God in all creation.
In their Dhamsalas, sermons were given not only from Sikh scriptures, but also Sufi Muslim holy texts.

It has to be appreciated Seva Panthis, like the other Sanatan Sikhs, also had a good knowledge of ancient Hindu religious texts. Karam Das Udhasi speaking on behalf of Seva Panthis comments:

‘On show is only [Adi] Guru Granth, but, if a person comes of such a thinking and desires a religious [Hindu] text to read and wants to appreciate it’s teachings, then, he won’t be turned away by us [Udhasis and Sevapanthis].’

(Karam Das Udhasi, transcript of a recording, 06-03-2001)

Shriman 108 Mahant Bhai Gulab Singh Ji 'Seva Panthi' (1871-1950)
The founder of Tikana Bhai Jagta Ji Sahib, Goniana Mandi, Batinda, Punjab.

Baba Karam Singh explains how Seva Panthis also visited Hindu religious festivals such as Kumbh Mela (held every 12 years), and other festivals:

‘Seva Pathis then went there [Kumbh] when we [Udhasis] sent them a invitation that:

‘Oh Maharaj we are all to gather at such such a place. There we to inaugurate, plan something etc.’
There they attended all our functions and we attend all there functions.’
(Baba Karam Das, transcript of a recording, 06-03-2001)

Like the Nirmalas and Udasis drawing from Hindu scriptures, the Seva Panthis drew upon the common lessons of human love and compassion found in the holy Koran and Adi Guru Durbar to expound the philosophy of oneness of Nirankar God and all mankind.

Further information can be found on Seva Panthis at Sewapanthi.org - The SewaPanthi Samparda.