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Sants and Sikhs . Jeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D. REL 231 Religions of India and Tibet Berea College Fall 2005. BACKGROUND TO SIKHISM: SANTS AND N ĀTHS. Subsets of Hindu Vai şnava bhākti and Tantric traditions Popular in northern India between 1300s and 1700s S ants (saints):

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sants and sikhs

Sants and Sikhs

Jeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D.

REL 231

Religions of India and Tibet

Berea College

Fall 2005

background to sikhism sants and n ths
  • Subsets of Hindu Vaişnava bhākti and Tantric traditions
  • Popular in northern India between 1300s and 1700s
  • Sants (saints):
  • regard God as nirgun (attributeless), to be known only by Name, not form
  • reject ritual means of salvation
  • prefer vernacular languages to Sanskrit
  • Nāths (masters):
  • abandon external aids to devotion (temples, idols, etc.)
  • reject caste system
  • Rely on Nāths as guides
  • Most famous exponent: Kabīr
kab r 1400s
KABĪR (1400s)
  • Born in Benares (Varanasi) in north central India to Muslim julahā (weaver) family
  • In spite of evident Muslim background, seems more familiar with Vaişnava bhākti and Nāth tantra than with Islam
  • Uses poetry to express concept of God as transcendent of all forms, especially theological orthodoxies
  • Becomes focus of popular devotion in his own right, with the result that his poems are found in Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh collections
n nak 1469 1539
NĀNAK (1469-1539)
  • Born near Lahore (in modern Pakistan) to Hindu vaiśya family
  • According to tradition, at age 29 has near-death experience in bathing pool, the result of which is the insight: “I shall follow God’s path. God is neither Hindu nor Muslim and the path which I follow is God’s.”
  • Attracted sikhs (disciples) with his teachings:
  • God is one (ek) and known only by nām (name), not form
  • Haumai (self-centeredness) and maya (illusion) separate humans from God
  • Only meditation on God’s name will liberate humans from samsāra and facilitate eternal union with God
  • Succeeded by nine gurūs, all later seen as his reincarnations
amar d s 1479 1574
AMAR DĀS (1479-1574)
  • Second successor to Nānak
  • Devout Vaişnava Hindu until old age
  • In spite of Nānak’s rejection of external festivals, pilgrimages (tīrath), and rituals, Amar Dās establishes pilgrimage center at Goindvāl (Puñjāb) with related festivals and rituals
  • Builds bāolī (well) to which 84 steps (corresponding to 8,400,000 types of Hindu rebirth) lead, as ritual focus for anti-ritual performance
  • Begins compilation of Sikh scriptures
arjan 1563 1606
ARJAN (1563-1606)
  • Son of fourth gurū, Ram Dās (1534-1581), and born in Goindval (by now, major Sikh center)
  • Begins construction of Golden Temple in Amritsar (Puñjāb), which eventually replaces Goindval as major Sikh center
  • Compiles Sikh scriptures in Ādi Granth (Original Book), to which writings of his successor also are added, and which eventually functions as gurū in its own right
  • Executed by Mughal authorities, allegedly for promoting Hindu and Muslim heterodoxies
hargobind 1595 1644
HARGOBIND (1595-1644)
  • Son of fifth gurū, Arjan
  • Leader of panth (Sikh community) at time when its growing size emerges as threat to Mughal rule in Puñjāb
  • Responds to Mughal hostility by relocating panth from Puñjāb plains to Śivālik region (Himalayan foothills), center of Hindu Devi (Great Goddess) bhākti, in which śakti (energy) is cultivated by male devotees through devotion to female deity
  • Emphasizes need for Sikhs to defend themselves militarily from Mughal aggression
gobind singh 1666 1708
GOBIND SINGH (1666-1708)
  • Tenth and final gurū
  • Regards Sarab-loh (All-Steel) as God’s true name and uses sword imagery extensively in innovative rituals
  • Credited with establishment of Khālsā (Army of Purity), a military order within panth, members of which are distinguished by:
  • kes (uncut beard and hair)
  • carrying kangha (comb)
  • wearing kara (bangle)
  • bearing kirpan (dagger)
  • wearing kacch (short pants)
  • adopting name Singh (lion) if male, Kaur (princess) if female
  • abstinence from intoxicants
  • daily ritual bathing and meditation
  • avoidance of association with Islam
sikhism after the gur s
  • Ādi Granth, also known as Gurū Granth Sahib (Lord-Master Book)replaces human gurūs
  • Copies become sacred center of Sikh gurdwaras (temples)
  • Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) defeats Mughals and established independent Sikh kingdom, Khalistan (Land of Purity) in what is now Pakistan, which endures until defeat by British in 1849
  • Puñjāb divided by Partition in 1947, forcing over 2 million Sikhs to relocate
  • Dream of Khalistan still animates separatist violence today (e.g., Sikh assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984)