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Satpanth is a Sanskrit term used initially by Nizari Ismailis and Ismaili Sufis to identify their faith formed by conversions from Hinduism over 700 years ago by Pir Sadruddin (1290-1367). Though the term today is used mainly by its subgroup formed over 600 years ago in the 15th century by his grandson Pir Imam Shah (1430-1520) which itself consists of various sub-sects, and differs from the mainstream Nizari Khojas in that they reject the Aga Khan as their leader and are known more commonly as Imam-Shahi, and are more likely to outwardly identify themselves as Hindu. Uniquely, the term Satpanth has been historically used by Ismailis that claim to be Muslim, as well as by adherents of subgroups that claim to be Hindu. There are villages in Gujarat which are totally 'Satpanthi' such as Pirana near Ahmedabad where Imam Shah is buried. Satpanthi Dargahs are known to be venerated with a stark contrast in the devotees, with outward Muslims who may wear a hijab, and outward Hindus wearing traditional garb such as the sari.
Satpanth can be described as a synthesis of Hinduism and Ismailism as most who refer to themselves as "Satpanthi" claim they are Hindu and retain their Hindu names and traditions. This has resulted in a unique syncretism in which adherents outwardly use Hindu symbols, especially the Om and Swastika, keep Sanskrit names, and observe all mainstream Hindu religious occasions, while prayers can also include the fusion of Persian and Arabic Duas.
The term "Satpanth" is used historically by mainstream Ismailis who outwardly claim to be Muslim, keep Muslim names, and have given up most if not all connections to their Hindu history, including the use of the term Satpanth itself, which is Sanskrit for "True Path". Meanwhile, its related subgroups including the Imam-Shahis may attempt the opposite, by denying any connections to Ismailism and sufism, and accentuating their Hindu beliefs and use of Hindu symbolism.
The people of the Satpanth consist mostly of high-caste converts of Lohana origin. Others are from Rajput, merchant, and farming castes including the Patidar and Patel communities belonging to Kutch Gujarat. Some are migrants from neighbouring Indian states—including Madhya Pradesh, the Punjab and Rajasthan—who now reside in Gujarat (mainly the Kutch and commercial areas) and Mumbai. Many from the northern Rabari community are also of this faith. Followers of Satpanth are also present in significant numbers in Jalgaon, Nandurbar and Dhule districts of Northern Maharashtra, which are part of Leva Patidar and Gujar communities. Notably, most of the followers of Satpanth are Hindus, making it a unique place where Islam and Hinduism come together.
The current head of the mainstream Satpanth is Sri Nanakdasji Kaka Maharaj, disciple of his precedent Late Sri Karshandasji Kaka, though there are various sects who reject a singular leadership and elect committees.
Beliefs about the leadership
Satpanth followers, called Mureeds, believe that the physical form of the Imam is merely a vessel for the spiritual Imam which is Nūr or eternal light. They also believe that his farmans (proclamations), his shabd (word) and his formless being are the real Imam. These separate concepts of an esoteric Imam and an exoteric Imam are called "Baatini Imam" and "Zahiri Imam".
Satpanth devotees believe in "Nurani Didar," which is the "vision of light" or enlightenment one achieves when one views the True Imam. This, again, has an esoteric and an exoteric meaning.
Pir Sadruddin and his grandson Pir Imam Shah are credited with the conversion of the Khojas from the Hindu caste of the Lohanas located in Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. He laid the foundation of the communal organization, built the first assembly and prayer halls and appointed the community leaders "Mukhis." Khojas live chiefly in lower Sind, Kutch, Gujarat, Bombay and in wide diaspora, particularly in East and South Africa, Arabia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Canada, the United Kingdom, Portugal, U.A.E. and the United States.
Sayed Imam Shah was a prominent dai in India. His name was Imamuddin, surnamed Abdur Rahim. He was born in Uchh Sharif in 834/1430, and was the younger son of Pir Hasan Kabiruddin. The tradition has it that when Pir Hasan Kabiruddin died, his all sons were present at Uchh Sharif with exception of Sayed Imam Shah. The tradition attests that he reached late during the interment of his father's body. Many traditions are recounted for his dissatisfaction, but all are legendary in character. Sayed Imam Shah resided at Uchh Sharif with his sister called Bai Budhai, where he received a letter of Imam Muhammad bin Islam Shah through a certain Khoja Devasi Chandan. Hence, he started his journey for Kahek in 854/1450. Muhammad bin Islam Shah is said to have consigned him the mission for Gujrat. He returned and converted a bulk of Hindus in Gujrat.
He got married to the daughter of Shah Muhammad Bakhri, who gave birth of Sayed Nur Muhammad Shah (d. 940/1534). Sayed Imam Shah died in 926/1520 and was buried in Pirana, situated eighteen miles south-east of Ahmadabad. It is said that he abjured Ismailism because of not succeeding his father, but it is not in conformity with the genuine traditions. Weighing up the extant evidences, it appears that he was ingrained in Ismailism and demonstrated unswerving loyalty to the Imams till his death, and never took any other route of his ambition. According to "The Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam"(Leiden, 1961, p. 167), "As far as it is possible to ascertain, he cannot be regarded as the founder of a new sect, as he remained loyal to the Imam of his time." He wrote many ginans which are recited by the Ismailis. He had four sons, viz. Sayed Alam Shah, Sayed Ali Shah, Sayed Bakir Shah and Sayed Nur Muhammad Shah, and a daughter called Shams Khatoon.
It is customary in each and every Jamaat-khana that a row of community leaders and title holders (male and female) should sit facing the rest of the congregation. There is a row of individuals, sitting with their backs to the side wall, in the male as well as the female section. Both these sections are kept side by side in one large hall. Hence, a row of males would face and prostrate before the females, and vice versa. Looking at individuals of the opposite gender across the hall, and even the passing of objects between genders, is highly discouraged if not forbidden. If an object must be passed such as a utensil, the person must get up and leave it in the middle or end of the hall, where it will eventually picked up by the intended recipient. The reading of Holy Du'a is undertaken while sitting on the floor on one's knees, or while sitting cross-legged as with other sects, with a Misbaha (rosary) being picked up at intervals. Any individual of any age who is fully versed in the Holy Du'a may lead the prayer.
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- Contractor, Narayaji Ramji, Pirana Satpanthni Pol Ane Satyano Prakash -First book revealing the insides of Pirana Satpanth to the outer world.
- Esmail, Aziz. A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics, London: Curzon in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2002, pp. xi + 227. August 2002
- Khan, Dominique-Sila. Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia, London: I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2005, pp. 185. May 2005
- Kassam, Tazim R. Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Isma'ili Muslim Saint, Pir Shams
- Wladimir Ivanow. Collectanea
- Dr Navinchandra A Acharya, Religious Sects of Gujarat, Gujarat State University
- Census of India, 1911 http://realpatidar.com/a/series20
- Method of Pir Sadruddin's Mission of Converting Hindus to Muslims. http://www.ismaili.net/histoire/history07/history712.html
- Khan, Dominique-Sila. Lived Islam in South Asia, Liminality and Legality: A Contemporary Debate among the Imamshahis of Gujarat, Social Science Press, 2004 pp209