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What does the word ਸੰਤ Sant mean in Gurbani?

Dr Karminder Singh

Sep 4, 2009

The word ਸੰਤ sant needs to be understood within the context of Gurbani and Gurmat.

Outside the confines of Gurbani it is used to address a certain group or class of people. The claim is that ਸੰਤ sant is a title for spiritually elevated human beings.

Such a definition and application has NO place in Gurmat and is NOT supported by Gurbani on the following two grounds.

FIRST, no Sikh was ever referred to or addressed as “sant” during the entire Guru period of 1469 till 1708. Even the most prominent of Sikhs such as Mardana ji who accompanied Guru Nanak throughout his life; Gurdas ji – in whose hand the Pothi Sahib was first transcribed; Dyala ji, Sati Das ji and Mati Das ji who were martyred together with ninth Guru Teg Bahadur ji; and all Panj Pyare who took and administered the baptism of Khande Di Pahul from and to Guru Gobind Singh ji – carried the title of BHAI.

Based on this point alone, the word ਸੰਤ sant could NOT have been used by the Guru for a class or group of human beings that were not in existence within Gurmat and not recognised by the Gurus.

SECOND, the use of the word ਸੰਤ sant for a collective group or class of persons is critiqued in Gurbani. Bhagat Kabir says on Page 476 of the SGGS. ਆਸਾ ॥ ਗਜ ਸਾਢੇ ਤੈ ਤੈ ਧੋਤੀਆ ਤਿਹਰੇ ਪਾਇਨਿ ਤਗ ॥ ਗਲੀ ਜਿਨਾ ਜਪਮਾਲੀਆ ਲੋਟੇ ਹਥਿ ਨਿਬਗ ॥ ਓਇ ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਸੰਤ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਕੇ ਠਗ ॥ ੧ ॥ ਐਸੇ ਸੰਤ ਨ ਮੋ ਕਉ ਭਾਵਹਿ ॥ ਡਾਲਾ ਸਿਉ ਪੇਡਾ ਗਟਕਾਵਹਿ ॥ ੧ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ Asa. Gaj Sadhey Tey Tey Dhotian Tehrey Payean Tug. Galin Jina Jup Maliya, Lotey Huth Nibug. Oye Har Kay Sant Na Akheay Banares Kay Thugg. Aisay Sant Na Mo Ko Bhavey. Dala Sio Peyda Gurkavey.

Bhagat ji is describing a group / class of people who have labelled themselves as “sants.” These self-proclaimed “sants” classify themselves by a certain identity of dress (dhotia) and symbols (tug) as well as religious paraphernalia (Jup Malia – rosary- and Nibug Lotey – shining begging bowls).

Readers will note that the object of critique is not the symbols or identity per se, since these symbols and identity may vary as they indeed have amongst the different groups of “sants.” The critique is over the claim that this group of people are of an elevated status purely on the basis of the self-proclaimed title of “sant.”

Kabir critiques them as deceitful people with a self-ordained religiosity (Benares Kay Thugg). He further declares that he does not accept this group. He reasons that they are corrupted self-proclaimed cheats who are so tainted with greed as to “consume not just the fruit, but the seed, branches and the entire tree even.”

Based on this second point too, the word ਸੰਤ sant could NOT have been used by the Guru for a class or group of human beings that were critiqued in Gurbani.

It is worth noting that in line with the above two principles, there is no record of any one SIKH bearing the title ਸੰਤ sant from after the Guru period from 1708 till the early twentieth century. Sikhs who laid down their lives in this post-Guru period – Mani Singh ji, Taru Singh Ji, Shabeg Singh ji, Lachman Singh Ji and countless others were all given the title of BHAI.

The first Sikh to adorn the title of “sant” was one Attar Singh who was a soldier in the British Army in Punjab. He was given the title by the British in 1905 – together with four others. They were sent to various parts of Punjab (Attar Singh went to his village Mastuana) to do their bidding -which was to weaken Sikhs by wilting their faith in the SGGS. This was achieved by the British ordained “sants” by entangling Sikhs in discarded rituals such as endless mantra recitations. He goal was to make Sikhs beholden to these human “sants.” The British bestowed “sant-hood” was propagated through fake accounts of the “abilities” of these “sants’ – accounts that were often verified by their British handlers. One such account relating to Attar Singh of Mastuana was his ability to be on duty at the barracks at the same time as he was “preaching Sikhi” in his village.

In the 100 years since Attar Singh, some 20,000 dera outfits exist in the villages of Punjab and each is owned and run by a self-proclaimed “sant”.

The Gurbani verse of Guru Amardas ji on page 491 of the SGGS: ਹਿਰਦੈ ਜਿਨੑ ਕੈ ਕਪਟੁ ਵਸੈ ਬਾਹਰਹੁ ਸੰਤ ਕਹਾਹਿ ॥ Hirdey Jin Key Kappat Basey Bahron Sant Kahayey. (The desire to be labelled as “sant” based on an external identity signifies a spiritually corrupt mind) is a clear injunction of prohibition of the practise of self-proclamation (Sant Khayey).

As if 20,000 self-proclaimed ‘sants’ are not enough, there is currently a pressure group sort of organization that calls itself SANT SAMAJ (An Organization / Community of “sants”). The notion of being spiritually elevated is so rare that the claim of a “community” of such persons is a clear contradiction of terms.

The Gurbani verse ਓਇ ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਸੰਤ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਕੇ ਠਗ ॥ Oye Har Kay Sant Na Akhiyeay Banares Kay Thugg (They call themselves “sant” as their self-proclaimed title, but they are crooks within the community of the spiritual) is also clear injunction of prohibition of such behaviour.


The word SANT appears in the following FOUR contexts in the SGGS.

1) For THE CREATOR. When used such, it always appears as singular. It is used, for instance, in the verse of Guru Arjun on page 97 of the SGGS: ਭਾਗੁ ਹੋਆ ਗੁਰਿ ਸੰਤੁ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਇਆ ॥ Bhaag Hoa Gur Sant Milaeya. Prabh Abhinasi Ghar Mein Paya. Meaning I am blessed that my Guru has united me with God (Sant).

2) For THE GURU. When used such, it also appears as singular. It is used, for instance, in the Verse of Guru Ramdas ji on page 667 of the SGGS: ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਸੰਤੁ ਸਤਗੁਰੁ ਸਤ ਪੁਰਖਾ ਜੋ ਬੋਲੈ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਬਾਨੀ ॥ Har Ka Sant Satgur Sat Purkha Jo Boley Har Har Bani. Meaning: The Divine Guru (Har Ka Sant) is Creator Connected (Sat Purkha) and Creator Connecting (Sat Gur) and Discourses Omnipresent Creator Related Bani (Boley Har Har Bani).

Guru Arjun on page 622 of the SGGS has this verse: ਸੰਤ ਕਾ ਮਾਰਗੁ ਧਰਮ ਕੀ ਪਉੜੀ ਕੋ ਵਡਭਾਗੀ ਪਾਏ ॥ Sant Ka Marug Dharam Kee Pauree. Meaning the Path (Marag) of Spirituality (Dharam) is established step by step (Pauree) by the Guru and realized (Paye) through the blessings of the Guru.

In another verse on page 867 of the SGGS, Guru Arjun uses the word SANT in singular as follows: ਸੋਈ ਸੰਤੁ ਜਿ ਭਾਵੈ ਰਾਮ ॥ ਸੰਤ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਕੈ ਏਕੈ ਕਾਮ ॥ 1 ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ Soi Sant Jay Bhavey Raam. Sant Gobind Keiy Ekey Kaam. So SANT in the verse refers to Guru. My Guru (Soi Sant) is blessed (Bhavey) by the Creator (Raam).

In no circumstances can the above verses refer to any human entity other than the CREATOR or the Guru himself. The claim that the word SANT is used in Gurbani for the class / group of people who have proclaimed themselves as such thus falls flat.

On page 280 of the SGGS, Guru Arjun provides what can be described as the most comprehensive explanation of the word SANT. Some 60 verses are composed one after another – all containing the word SANT. Immediately after completing these verses, Guru Arjun states in the clearest of terms: ਮਾਨੁਖ ਕੀ ਟੇਕ ਬ੍ਰਿਥੀ ਸਭ ਜਾਨੁ ॥ ਦੇਵਨ ਕਉ ਏਕੈ ਭਗਵਾਨੁ ॥ Manukh Ki Teik Birthee Sabh Jaan. Devun Kao Ekeiy Bhagwan.

Guru ji is saying that the giver is the One Creator (Sant) and that reliance of such giving from a human (Manukh) is completely in vain (Birthee Sab Jaan). This verse and its placement at the close of a long discourse on the concept of SANT makes it clear that Guru Arjun is using the word SANT for the Creator and things relating to the Creator such as His Command. He makes clear that he is NOT using it for a class or group of the human beings.

3) For GENUINE seekers of the Creator. In this case, the usage is in the plural or as second person. The root of the word SANT is SAT (meaning the Creator who is in existance). So the meaning of Sant is “one seeking to connect with SAT”. In reality therefore SANT in this third context or its equivalent – SANTHO, SANTUN, etc. is in the plural form and refers to us Sikhs. SANT is what our Gurus want us to be – seekers of SAT (the Creator Within).

The following verse of Guru Arjun on page 621 of the SGGS is illustrative: ਸੰਤਹੁ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮਿ ਨਿਸਤਰੀਐ ॥ Santho Raam Naam Nistereriya. (O Seekers of the Creator (Sikhs), the Way to Successful Spirituality Is to Acquire Godly (Raam) Virtues (Naam).

4) For a CRITIQUED class / group of people who either proclaim themselves “sant”, add it to their names, use it as a title, or desire to be called such by others. Gurbani critiques this group of people on the following grounds:

A. It is discriminatory because this class is saying they are higher than the lay people. On the other hand, the accepted honorific of BHAI in Gurmat denotes equality and brotherhood of mankind.

B. It is anti-thesis to control of ego. Calling one’s self higher than others is not spirituality sanctioned.

C. Our Gurus did not support the use of “spiritual” titles that were in vogue then – Sri 108, Chatur Vedi, Duvedi, Trivedi, Sri 111 etc. These titles were meant to denote how many religious books one had read of the 108 Upnishdas, 18 Puranas and 4 Vedas. The mere reading of any kind of spiritual texts (including the SGGS) is of little value in Sikhi as it does no more than feeds one’s ego. The ego relies on the basis that “I have read x number of texts y number of times.” The Gurbani injunction is to understand, accept, believe, inculcate, internalize and become the messages.


Feb 19, 2019
I cannot thank you enough as Your videos and writings is helping me clear my mind and make my mental health better which has definitely been affected by all such fears and extraordinary things created by the baba's.

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