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Udasi is a religious, ascetic, monastic, sadhu sect that considers itself partly a denomination of Sikhism focused on the teachings of its founder, Sri Chand (1494-1643), the son of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder and the first Guru of Sikhism.
Although the root of Udasi Sadhus is in Sikhism, they practice the ways of sanathan dharma or the saintly way, follow five Hindu gods known as pancha-devata, namely these are Ganesha, Devi, Shiva, Surya and Vishnu and perform rituals known as panch prakarti puja or natural rituals encompassing the five elements of water, fire, earth, air and sky.
Udasi comes from the root word udas which means detachment or renunciation. Udasi Sadhus are well known for having long matted dreadlocks in emulation of Lord Shiva and in keeping with the philosophy of not cutting one's hair. However during certain cleansing rituals or initiations they are known to shave all hair from their face and head, known as a munda. Udasis are limited to robes of red, white, black or a tobacco like orange color, while others go naga style covered in the ashes of their dhuni, near naked wearing only a red loincloth as their founder Sri Chand was famed for.
During the 17th century, Udasis escaped persecution by the Mughal Empire, as they look different from Khalsa Sikh and Akalis, in whose absence the Udasis continued the daily rituals and readings of the Guru Granth Sahib in the Sikh places of worship, while the Sikhs were away fighting. However, one Udasi story tells that when the Mughals came to Sri Chand's camp in Kashmir for his submission, Sri Chand took a burning log from his fire and slammed it into the ground while incanting a mantra, the log immediately sprouted into a growing tree at which the Mughals left Sri Chand and the Udasis be.
Gurdwara Reform Movement
At one point in history (approximately 1849), there were more than 250 Udasi akharas in India.
During the Gurdwara Reform Movement of the early 1920s, Udasis lost control of all the historical shrines. There are presently far fewer Udasis than there were prior to the Gurudwara Reform Movement.
Traditionally, there were four Udasi centres (akharas or dhuans) with each controlling a certain preaching area; eastern India (main centre, Nanakmatta), western Panjab and Kashmir, Malwa (Punjab) and Doaba. There is an Udasi gurudwara (temple) in Amritsar, near the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple).
Today the Udasi are divided into three major groups:
- Niya (New) Udasi Panchayati Akarda
- Bara (Big) Udasi Panchayati Akarda
- Nirmal Udasi Panachayati Akarda
Where the panch or five in Panchayati originates, the Panchadevas