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Controversial The Hijackers Of Sikhi, Part 4 - The Dera Sants

Dr Karminder Singh

Sep 3, 2009
Sikhi as it is practiced today, is no longer the Sikhi that was taught to us by our Gurus. It is a spirituality that stands distorted, corrupted and tainted. Its scripture – Gurbani – has been distorted through vedic and puranic slants in interpretations and translations; its history muddled in unbelievable tales of miracles called Sakhis, and its religious practices consist of those smuggled in from rejected and discarded rituals of pre-1469 faiths. It’s a faith that has been hijacked from its unique path and equally distinct goals. How, when and why did this happen?

Read this FIVE-part series for the story of a spirituality hijacked.

The sants descended into Sikhi beginning 1903.

Throughout the period of the Gurus (1469 till 1708) – NO Sikh was EVER called a sant or referred to with the title of sant.

In the singular sense, Gurbani uses the word “sant” to refer to the Creator and the Guru[1]. In the plural sense, it refers to ordinary Sikhs who are seekers of the Creator. Gurbani further refers to a “group or class” of people who CALL THEMSELVES “sant”. This group is termed fraudulent and of bad intent. The term used for them is ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਕੇ ਠਗ Benares Kay Thugg meaning “conmen posing as spiritual persons.

The history of Sikhs is replete with a wide variety of praiseworthy acts in the name of Sikhi – fighting wars, serving humanity sacrificing themselves, getting themselves and their loved ones cut up limb by limb, and courageously spreading the messages of Sikhi far and wide – but not a SINGLE Sikh was ever referred to as “sant.”

He who accompanied Guru Nanak for almost three decades is called Bhai Mardana. The one in whose hand the first version of the SGGS (Pothi Sahib) was written is called Bhai Gurdas. Sikhs who were boiled alive, sawn alive, burnt alive and cut up limb by limb are similarly called Bhai Dyala, Bhai Matee Daas, Bhai Satee Daas, and Bhai Mani Singh.

Sikhs who had their scalps removed to save their Kesh and were crushed alive on the wheel are called Bhai Taru Singh and Bhai Subeg Singh. All the Panj Pyare are given the title of Bhai.

Then there was Bhai Nand Lal the scholar, Bhai Bachitar Singh the brave, and Bhai Lachman Singh the Shaheed. And scores of other luminary Sikhs who carried the title “Bhai,” to live up to the concept of equality within the brotherhood of Sikhi.

Right up till 1903, one does not find a SINGLE Sikh with the title of “sant.”

Many Sikhs are surprised to know that the practice of conferring the title of “sant” on to ordinary mortals is the invention of the British.


The Sikhs were the last nation to be conquered and colonized by the British. The imperialists occupied the rest of India for 100 years and spent that time preparing to take Punjab and conquer the Sikhs.

The lying in wait for ONE CENTURY was to soften the ground. To prepare the conquest of the lion hearted, united and deeply spiritual Sikhs.

From the British viewpoint, the Sikhs needed to be spiritually DIVIDED and WEAKENED before they could be defeated and conquered.

The colonialists used a multi prong strategy to DIVIDE the Sikhs. Initially, they brought in hundreds of Christian missionaries in an attempt to create a tide of conversion out of Sikhi into Christianity amongst the Sikhs.

The aim was to eventually create a divide amongst Sikhs of the Guru and Sikhs who had converted to Christianity. But given the fervor of Sikhs to hold on to their faith, this method did not work. The British then decided to divide Sikhs amongst different Sikh groups.

They studied the Sri Guru Granth Sahib[3] and financed the creation and compilation of a RIVAL granth – called the Bachittar Natak (wondrous drama) that was subsequently renamed Dasam Granth).

They supported the corruption of the Maryada of the two Takhats OUTSIDE of Punjab connected to the tenth Guru – Patna and Hazoor – so that that the corrupted Maryada could be used to corrupt the rest of Sikhi within Punjab.

They helped create a whole gamut of distorted “Sikh” literature – mostly through financing a plethora of anti-Sikh elements who had similar aims. Such distorted and corrupted literature was sometimes deposited at the coveted London Office to give it stature because of its location at an esteemed place.

Sikh scholars today take pride in referencing this so called literature; propagating the myths found within such concocted literature far and beyond.

For most of the above tactics, they solicited the active support of the Nirmala groups who were at the high point of their control of the Sikh psyche already. The British assisted the Nirmalas in infiltrating Sikh institutions not already subverted.

The British were able to penetrate the management committees of historic and major Gurdwaras – installing their agents – Mahants (Nirmala high priests) to distort, corrupt and divide the Sikh psyche and eventually Sikhs themselves.


Nothing compares to the British strategy of creating and establishing a class of SPIRITUAL DISRUPTORS and infiltrating it onto the Sikh people. This class of people would destroy Sikhi to its core.

They would strip Sikhi of its last remaining shred of Godliness. They would transform Sikhi into a collection of worthless rituals.

Sikhi would never be the same again as a result of this class of people. The British labeled these people as “sant.”

Beginning 1903, the British government started conferring the title of “sant” onto the selected Sikhs from within the British Army. The Army was chosen perhaps because it was an institution which had inculcated adequate loyalty towards the colonial masters.

The British expected the recipients of the award of “sant” to do the bidding of the government of the day – out of their sense of misplaced loyalty to the colonial masters.

The first individual to be given the dubious honor of being declared a “sant” by the political masters was Attar Singh Mastuana (1866 – 1927). Four other Attar Singh’s[4] were given the same title, but other than Attar Singh Reru (1867-1927), none of the others succeeded in obtaining the stature that they sought.

Other individuals to be bestowed “sant-ship” by the colonial powers included Nand Singh Kaleran Wala, Karam Singh Hoti Mardan, and Bishen Singh Kanjhla. They were all assigned to their respective villages as “accomplished preachers of Sikhi”.

All sorts of miraculous stories were created about these “sants” and “affirmed” by the British. One regular lie about Attar Singh Mastuana was that “mysterious forces” signed him in for duty at the barracks every day for the many years that he was physically present in the countryside preaching his brand of Sikhi.

Such fake tales help establish the status of the British “sants” as “godly” people with “godly powers.”

Subsequently other British Army personnel (serving and retired) and sympathizers were awarded the title of sant. These include Bishen Singh Murala. Gurmukh Singh Kaar Sewa, Gurbachan Singh Bhindran, Bishen Singh Kaar Sewa Waala, Isher Singh Kaleran.

Most of them obtained their religious training from Hindu / Nirmala centers at Hardwaar, Rishikesh, Kashi (Benares), Tirveni (Allahabad), Mathura, Ayodhiya, Badrinath, and Rameshwaran Gaya.


With active financial and logistical support of the British colonialists in the form of deras, this artificially created class of people would corrupt the Sikh spirit, weaken the Sikh mind, wean the Sikh away from the spirituality of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, divide the Sikhs on the basis of their individual maryadas, and ritualize Sikh practices.

The dera sants would place a rosary (mala) in the hand of a Sikh. A mala wielding Sikh was a lesser threat to the British than a kirpan wielding one.

The sant class would change the Basanti and deep blue color of vibrancy of the Sikh to white – a color of peace and tranquility as well as death. The British preferred Sikhs who were peaceful and spiritually dead.

The Nirmalas had already smuggled in the Hindu color of saffron into the Sikh psyche during their two century control of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions. Sikhs – with the exception of Nihangs – had forsaken blue already. Hence, adjusting to white was easily achieved.

The sant class would wean the Sikh away from the SGGS and thrust him into meaningless chants of this or that mantras. Sikhi according to the sant Class was to sit for hours in the wee hours of the morning chanting away a word or two.

A Sikh who had tired of chanting in the ambrosial hours was of a lesser threat to the British.

The spiritually elevating Gurbani in the SGGS would be reduced to chanting too. Particular shabds were dished out by the sants to their devotees to be chanted to make the Creator accede to specific temporal requests or take away suffering, pain or ailments.

Of course such could only be achieved either by distorting the real messages of the shabd or by blinding the Sikh towards the Shabd’s messages all together.

The sant class would turn Sikhs into vegetarians. They would teach the Sikh to wait for miracles to happen – rather than making them happen as they were taught by their Gurus.

The sant class would turn Sikhs into believers of dehdharees – Gurus in human form. These sants placed themselves on par with our Gurus. Sikhs would bow to them and believe that they were intermediaries between the Sikh and their Creator.

The sant class would inculcate a vast variety of rituals and deviant beliefs into the Sikh psyche – sangrand, puranmashee, divali, varieties of paaths – akhand, sampat etc; performance of artees, burning of incense and oil lamps, image worship, endless offerings and prayers.

The sant class created the image of a false god for the Sikh. A god who accepted bribes to do things for the Sikh through rituals ordained by the sant.

The sant class set itself as intermediaries between the Sikh and this false corruptible god. They set themselves as of higher status than the Sikh; on par with or even higher than their Shabd Guru the SGGS.

The dera sant created, inculcated and maintained the loyalty of his follower chelas through their khande di pahul ceremony. Each dera sant had his own set of panj piaras, and own set of maryada (do’s and don’t’s).

This was a clever way of keeping their chelas loyal since Sikhs were made to believe that the panj pyaras represented the tenth Guru. In reality though, the panj pyaras were propagating the divisive agenda of the deras and their colonial masters.

The Sikh masses were encouraged to get into a deal with the sant class. The Sikh earned a living, while the sant took care of the spiritual aspect – for a fee of course.

The fee was necessary because the sant spent his entire day performing spirituality for the Sikh and was thus unable to earn a living for himself.

What was essentially a spirituality of the self, by the self, for the self of the Sikh Gurus was turned into a ‘Spirituality on behalf, spirituality for a fee and spirituality through human intermediaries” by the sant class.

In short the sant class would hollow out Sikhi from the inside out. The spiritually elevated and Creator-connected Sikh would be turned into a ritual conducting, meaningless mantar chanting, and offerings-making slave of the dera sants.

The Sikh of the dera would be one who saw his spirituality in the display of his outward symbols, the color of his turban, the volume of his chants and loyalty to the sant who had become his true guru.

In a short span of about 50 years, the deras would come to represent main-stream Sikhi. Being supported by the British in terms of material and by Nirmalas in terms of spiritual leadership; the deras would grow exponentially in terms of followers, financial clout and influence.

The dera sants would thus serve the objectives and goals of the British in severely undermining a the Sikh spirit that was grounded and rooted in the SGGS – eventually subjugating their soul for purposes of subduing them.

The situation would not repair itself upon the departure of the British from India.

Successive governments of independent India and Punjab – including the Akali Dal and SGPC would continue to use the deras for the purpose of winning elections – this because by now, Sikhs attending deras vastly outnumbered genuine Sikhs.

Support for the deras by the corrupt politicians translated into votes in the system of defective democracy of vote-buying that was the scheme of Punjab’s politics.

During the Gurdwara Reform Movement led by the Singh Sabha of the 1920s a vast majority of historic Sikh Gurdwaras were freed from Nirmala and Mahant control.

The result was that most of the Nirmalas moved into leadership positions of existing deras – thus strengthening them. Some Nirmalas set up new deras. The outcome was that deras became the permanent centers for the Nirmalas. Their Mahants simply transformed themselves into modern day sants.

As a result, the dera and their sants and babas have become the biggest force of spiritual corruption of Sikhi in modern times. They are thus the current and most powerful hijackers of the Sikh faith.


Punjab has approximately 13,000 villages. Historian Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer estimates that there are 15,000 deras in the state. He categorizes them into six broad groups.

Ten are Class A+ deras with an income of several million dollars, 20 are Class A deras earning a few million at least, 100 are Class B+ deras (couple of million) 500 are Class C deras (up to a million) and the rest are Class D (few hundred thousand in income). Collectively they own about 100,000 acres of land in Punjab.

The following is a selective list of the largest and most active deras in Punjab. All of them are active even outside of Punjab and within the Sikh diaspora through agents and clergy whose primary function is to solicit funds and support for their home deras and to promote their sants and deras.

Bhindranwalla Mehta dera. This dera was started by “sri maan 108” sant Sunder Singh Nirmala (1883-1930) of Bhinder Klan Village. The 108 is used to denote that he was schooled at Benares in the 108 Upnishads (Vedic and Puranic texts). Sunder Singh studied under Pandit Jwala Daas Udasi. This dera thus has its origins in not one but TWO Hijacker Traditions – Udasis and Nirmalas.

They cleverly mixed in the practice of khande di pahul and non-stop Akhand Paths to put up a Sikhi front to attract innocent Sikhs. By the 1960s this dera had become a tremendous success and thus split into two in the 1970s. One faction was headed by sant Kartar Singh (1932-1977) who set up his dera at Chownk Mehta and the other by sant Mohan Singh.

Kartar Singh then changed the name of dera Chownk Mehta to Damdami taksaal[7] just prior to his death in 1977. He was succeeded by sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala of Rodey Village.

Damdami Taksaal was thus born in 1977, putting to lie the claim of the present leadership of Harnam Dhumma faction that the taksaal (literally, school) was set up by Bhai Mani Singh or Guru Gobind Singh ji himself.

Other than attempting to falsely justify their positions, the dera leadership is unable to offer any proof that Bhai Mani Singh was ever involved in any dera or taksaal.

The Damdamee taksaal is split into three factions now with three sants as leaders; each actively throwing mud at each other.

The SGGS is installed in this dera, but so is the Bachittar Natak Granth. Katha of the Nirmala text Suraj Parkash, Gur Bilas Patshai 6, Ramayana, Mahabharata is standard fare besides Hindu religious, ritual and social practices.

This dera is perhaps the producer of the largest group of dera-indoctrinated clergy. Vast percentages of gurdwaras in Punjab, India and across the world are staffed by granthis, ragis and parcharaks trained in this dera.

The most recent notorious activity of the Damdamee dera is its complicity in the attempted murder of Sikh Preacher Bhai Ranjit Singh Dhudreanwalla and the broad daylight murder of his parcharak.

Sattowali dera Amritsar. This dera was set up by Amir Singh Amritsar (1870 – 1954). The second head was Kirpal Singh (1918-1933) who went on to serve as Jathedar in Akaal Takhat just prior to the 1984 Indian Army attack on Darbar Sahib and Akaal Takhat. Sant Sucha Singh was part of this dera until he set up his own dera Jawaddi in Ludhiana.

Dera Rara Sahib. Set up by Isher Singh (1905 – 1975), a chela of sant Attar Singh Reru Village, this dera has produced the likes of the infamous Maan Singh Pehowa of Pehowa dera who has numerous rape, criminal misconduct, and blasphemy cases against him.

Kaleran dera (Nanaksar dera). This dera was set up by Nand Singh (1872-1943) who was succeeded by Isher Singh (1916-1963). This is perhaps one dera that has given birth to the most number of other deras. (Famous by products of this dera are EX Jathedar Akal Takhat, ragi and Professor named Darshan Singh, kirtaniyah Harbans Singh Jagadhreevallah, Gurikbal Singh of Kaullan Trust and many others)

Historian Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer has counted 17 such off shoot deras. One Amar Singh Burundi who has stood accused of molest charges in Singapore and has been hauled to courts in the USA over financial fraud cases – has a large following in Malaysia.

A number of Gurdwaras in Malaysia have been taken over by clergy from this Nanaksar dera – Serandah and Batu Pahat being the larger ones.

This dera is perhaps the producer of the second largest group of dera-indoctrinated clergy (after Damdami).

Sunehranwala dera. This was set up by sant Nahar Singh – the grandson of Nand Singh of Nanaksar. [ HQ in Ferozpur and popularly known as Babeke – has higher study Institutions under its care and has abig branch in Johor state Malaysia)

Dodra dera. This dera was set up in 1960 by a former soldier of the British Army in Burma named Jaswant Singh. He called himself Bauji and Khoji as well. The dera was set up in collaboration with a Malaysian lady Charanjeet Kaur.

Large crowds are associated with the deviant practices of this dera which has links with individuals in Malaysia as well.

Hoti Mardan dera was set up by Karam Singh (1826 – 1902). The dera shifted to Maksudpur Kapurthla from Pakistan after the Indian Independence. It is a thriving dera that is well known for its deviant practices and rituals.

Begowal dera. This dera was set up by Prem Singh (1882 -1950) in Pakistan and moved to Begowal in Kapurthla in 1947. [ presently run by Bibi Jagir Kaur , full time Badal Dal Politician and who also managed to become SGPC President as well)

Maksudran dera Ludhiana. The founder of this dera – Balwant Singh – first named it as Tanda dera. Balwant Singh claimed he was a reincarnation of Guru Gobind Singh and dressed like the Guru – complete with a Kalgee.

Bhaniara Piara dera. This dera is most famous for writing his own granth – the Bhav Sagar granth to replace the SGGS ji. This Piara fellow burnt 8 volumes of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji in an attempt to establish the supremacy of his own granth. Piara Singh and seven of his chelas were sentenced to 3 years’ jail in 2013 but walked free on bail out immediately. Sikhs form the largest portion of his followers.

Sidhsar Sihorewala dera. The dera was started by Balwant Singh a chela of sant Attar Singh Mastuana and dera Bhindra Mehta as well. Balwant Singh forcibly took over the dera of an Udasi Mahant Heer Daas in the 1990s and renamed it Sidhsar.

This fraud behaves like a Guru, insisting that a Chaur be waved over him in the presence of the SGGS. He has also set up a parallel dera at Mastuana. Sikhs forms the largest portion of this followers.


This is the name of the “organization” that is comprised of dera sants. It functions as an interest group to collectively use its voice and position to apply appropriate pressure on Sikh institutions such as SGPC and Akal Takhat to accede to their demands.

The sant samaj managed to twist the arm of AT on the issue of forgiving convicted criminal Gumit Ram Rahim. The sant samaj also has a hand in getting Sikhs excommunicated – especially those who are bent on exposing the downside of deras.

The sant samaj has also become vocal and abusive in the condemnation of parcharaks who have resolved to promote authentic Gurbani messages to the Sikh messages at large.

From its humble beginnings as agents of the British colonial masters created to corrupt Sikhi and weaken Sikhs, the sant class has come a long way to become the ultimate hijackers of Sikhi as it stands today.

Next: Part 5: The Current Situation.

  1. ਭਾਗੁ ਹੋਆ ਗੁਰਿ ਸੰਤੁ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਇਆ ॥ Bhag Hoa Gur Sant Milaya Prabh Abinasi Ghar Meh Paiya. SGGS 97

  2. ਓਇ ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਸੰਤ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਕੇ ਠਗ ॥ ੧ ॥ Oye Har Kay Sant Na Akiyeh Benaras Kay Thugg. SGGS 476.

  3. British Administrator Robert Needham Cust suggested to the Court of Directors on 12 August 1857, that British India office should make arrangements for getting the Adi Granth translated into English. He suggested the name of the German Christian Priest cum scholar Dr ErnestTrumpp. Trumpp’s work was sponsored by the British beginning 1870. By 1876 he had translated the Japji Sahib, So Purkh, Sohila, So Darh, Majh, the Ragas (Siri, Gauri and Asa), sloks of Kabir, Shaikh Farid, and Guru Tegh Bahadur, and Savaiyyas of the Bhatts into English. He then translated Puratan and Bala Janamsakhis, the lives of the later Sikh Gurus, including an account of their teachings.

  4. The others were Attar Singh Ghulsan Wala, Attar Singh Attley Wala and Attar Singh Jalalabad Wala.

  5. Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Sikh History Vol 9, page 164.

  6. Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Sikh History Volume 9 Page 177-178.

  7. See Hardeep Singh, Saka Neela Taara To Baad Tabahee Ki Tawarikh pp. 58-60.

  8. The fraudulent claim by the Damdamee Taksaal is that their “Taksaal” began with Surat Singh Nirmala who was a disciple of Bhai Mani Singh ji. Bhai Mani Singh ji sacrifice is 1734. Surat Singh is born in 1733. So he must be Chela at one year old !!! See Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Damdami Taksaal is Nirmala Sect at

    Others in Damdamee have claimed that Surat Singh Nirmala was chela of Baba Deep Singh. On the shaheede day of Baba Deep on 11 Nov 1757. Singh Surat Singh Nirmala was 23 years old and sitting in Kanshee learning his bhramahnical stuff. Also Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Harnam Singh Dhumma & Damdami Taksal’s reality at

    Yet others have claimed that Surat Singh Nirmala got his education at Damdama Sahib at Talwandee Sabo Ki. The official records however sho that Surat Singh Nirma, son Gyani Sant Singh, his son Gurmukh singh, his son Ripduman Singh, and chela Darbara Singh never NEVER did set foot at Damdama Saib. See Harjinder Singh, Dilgeer Damdami Taksal Exposed at

    See Also Threats to Dilgeer by Harnam S Dhumma at

swarn bains

Apr 8, 2012
well written. thank u sir. if we keep advising people about their corrupt practices all the time then only we can get rid of these sants and the deras. thank u sir again
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