Sects of Sikhism

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Sects of Sikhism are sub-traditions within Sikhism that believe in an alternate lineage of Gurus, or have a different interpretation of the Sikh scriptures, or believe in following a living guru, or other concepts that differ from the orthodox.[1][2] The major historic sects of Sikhism, states Harjot Oberoi, have included Udasi, Nirmala, Nanakpanthi, Khalsa, Sahajdhari, Namdhari Kuka, Nirankari and Sarvaria.[3]

The early Sikh sects were Udasis founded by Sri Chand – the elder son of Guru Nanak, and the Minas Prithi Chand – the elder son of Guru Ram Das respectively, in parallel to the official succession of the Sikh Gurus. Later on Ram Rai – son of Guru Har Rai formed his own sect at Dehradun and his followers are called Ram Raiyass.[4] Many splintered Sikh communities formed during the period between the death of Guru Har Krishan and the coronation of Guru Tegh Bahadur. These sects have had considerable differences. Various other Sikh sects emerged over the Sikh history. Some of these sects were financially and administratively supported by the Mughal Empire in the hopes of gaining a more favorable and compliant citizenry.[2][4]

In the 19th century, Sanatan Sikhs, Namdharis and Nirankaris sects were formed in Sikhism, seeking to reform and return to what each believed was the pure form of Sikhism.[5][6][7] They also accepted the concept of living Gurus such as Guru Baba Dyal Singh. The Nirankari sect though unorthodox was influential in shaping the views of Tat Khalsa and the contemporary era Sikh beliefs and practices.[8][9] Another significant Sikh sect of the 19th century was the Radhasoami movement in Punjab led by Baba Shiv Dyal.[10] Other contemporary era Sikhs sects include the 3HO Sikhism, also referred to as Sikh Dharma Brotherhood formed in 1971.[10][11][12] See also Dera (organization), non-Sikh Deras, for more examples of Sikh sects.

Early Sikh sects[edit]

Ravidassia[edit]

Ravidassia is considered a Sikh sect around the world.Their gurdwara services and beliefs are somewhat similar to mainstream Sikhism, although its followers do not necessarily need to keep uncut hair or Kesh. They also believe that Ravidas is a guru. Until 2009, Ravidassias considered themselves a part of mainstream Sikhism. They decided to split themselves into a separate sect when their religious leader Ramanand Dass was shot dead by extremists in Vienna, Austria.

Udasi[edit]

Udasi has been an early sect based on the teachings of Sri Chand (1494–1643), the son of Guru Nanak, the founder and the first Guru of Sikhism. The Udasis do not reject the Sikh Gurus, but attach greater importance to the line of succession from Guru Nanak through Sri Chand to the Udasi mahants. They interpret the message of Guru Granth Sahib in Vedantic terms. They do not abide by the Khalsa's Rehat Maryada.[13]

Udasis protected many Sikh Gurdwaras in the 18th century, managed them in the 19th century. They built simple shrines far from Punjab. Above: an Udasi shrine in Nepal.

Udasis are known for their Akharas along with the Nirmala sect of Sikhism. They accept asceticism and monastic traveler lifestyle. Udasi is derived from the Sanskrit word "Udasin",[13] it literally means "detached, journey", and that reflects their approach to spiritual and temporal life.[14] They were key in preserving Sikhism from extinction in the 18th century, after the death of Guru Gobind Singh and during the Mughal persecution, particularly in the decades between the martyrdom of Banda Singh Bahadur in 1716 and the rise of Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Empire. The Udasi ascetic akharas managed Gurdwaras, rebuilt them and preserved the Sikh scriptures. They were respected and patronized by Ranjit Singh through land grants and responsibility of temples.[14]

The Udasis were key interpreters of the Sikh philosophy and the custodians of important Sikh shrines until the Singh Sabha movement. They brought a large number of people in the Sikh fold during the 18th and the early 19th centuries.[15] Their religious practices are a syncretism of Sikhism and Hinduism. They accept images and statues of Sikh Gurus inside temples, as well as Hindu iconography. They greet each other with "Om namo Brahmane",[14] and they practice Hatha yoga like the Hindus.[13] When the Singh Sabha movement, dominated by Khalsa Sikhs, redefined the Sikh identity in the early 20th century, the Udasi mahants were expelled from the Sikh shrines.[16] Since then, the Udasis have increasingly regarded themselves as Hindus rather than Sikhs.[17]

Miharvans[edit]

The Miharvan sect followed Baba Prithi Chand (1558–1618), the eldest son of Guru Ram Das after the younger brother Guru Arjan was officially made the next Guru.[18][19] They were called Minas by the orthodox Sikhs, a derogatory term meaning of "scoundrels".[19][20] An alternate non-derogatory term for them has been the Miharvan Sikhs, after the son of Prithi Chand. This sect was shunned by orthodox Sikhs, declared by Guru Gobind Singh as one of the five Panj Mel that a Sikh must avoid.[19]

They emerged in a period of religious persecution and inner dispute within the Sikh tradition during the 17th-century on the appropriateness of violence and non-violence in the pursuit of religious freedoms and spiritual matters. According to Hardip Syan and Pritam Singh, Miharvans emphasized more of the non-militant approach of Guru Nanak and earlier Gurus in theological pursuits, while the Guru Hargobind followers pursued the "miri-piri" approach and began militarizing the Sikh tradition to resist the Mughal persecution.[21][22] The Miharvan-Minas controlled Amritsar and Harmandir Sahib built under Guru Arjan for much of the 17th-century.[23] They are now nearly extinct.[23]

Ramraiyas[edit]

Ram Raiyas are a sect of Sikhism who followed Ram Rai, the eldest son of Guru Har Rai. He was sent by his father as an emissary to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in Delhi. Aurangzeb objected to a verse in the Sikh scripture (Asa ki Var) that stated, "the clay from a Musalman's grave is kneaded into potter's lump", considering it an insult to Islam. Ram Rai explained that the text was miscopied and modified it, substituting "Musalman" with "Beiman" (faithless, evil) which Aurangzeb approved.[24][25] The willingness to change a word led Guru Har Rai to bar his son from his presence. Aurangzeb responded by granting Ram Rai a jagir (land grant) in Garhwal region (Uttarakhand). The town later came to be known as Dehradun, after Dehra referring to Ram Rai's shrine.[25] Many Sikhs settled with Ram Rai, they followed Guru Nanak, but orthodox Sikhs have shunned them.[24][26] They were one of the Panj Mel, the five reprobate groups that orthodox Sikhs are expected to shun with contempt. The other four are the Minas, the Masands, the Dhirmalias, the Sir-gums (those Sikhs who accept Amrit baptism but subsequently cut their hair).[27][28]

Nanakpanthi[edit]

A Nanakpanthi is a follower of the teachings of Guru Nanak, the first guru of Sikhism. The community transcends the boundaries of Sikhism and Hinduism, and was also a reference to the early Sikh community.[29] Most Sindhi Hindu people are Nanakpanthi, and during the 1881 and 1891 censuses, the community could not decide whether to self-identify as Hindu or Sikh.[30] In 1911, Shahpur District (Punjab) reported 12,539 Hindus (20% of the total Hindu population) identifying themselves as Nanakpanthi, in addition to 9,016 Sikhs (22% of the total Sikh population).[31] The institutional focus of Nanakpanthi social life was around a dharamsala, playing the same role before the 20th century as the Gurdwara has played thereafter under Khalsa dominated period.[32] The beliefs and practices of the Nanakpanthis overlapped with those of Sahajdhari and Udasi Sikhs in pre-20th century period, as evidenced by documents dated to that period.[33][34] In 1891 Census of British India, which was the first to categorize Sikhs into sects, 579,000 people identified themselves as "Hindu Nanakpanthi" and another 297,000 as "Sikh Nanakpanthi". The other major Sikh categories were Sikh Kesdhari and Gobind Singhi Sikhs in this census.[35]

Contemporary groups[edit]

Namdharis[edit]

Namdhari Sikh singer and musicians.

Namdharis are a sect of Sikhism, also known as Kuka Sikhs. They believe that the line of Sikh Gurus did not end with Guru Gobind Singh because he did not die in Nanded, he escaped and lived in secret. [36] This sect claims he nominated Balak Singh to be the 11th Guru, a tradition that was continued through the Namdhari leaders.[37][38]

Their 12th guru was Ram Singh, who moved the sects center to Bhaini Sahib (Ludhiana). They have been strictly vegetarian and a strong opponent of cattle slaughter, and retaliated against Muslims for killing cows in 1872.[39][40] Their leader Ram Singh was arrested by the British and he was exiled to Rangoon Myanmar. Dozens of Namdharis were arrested by the British and executed without trial in Ludhiana and Ambala.[39] They consider Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth as equally important, and compositions from the Chandi di Var are a part of their daily Nitnem. Like Hindus, they circumambulate the fire (havan) during their weddings, but they differ in that the hymns are those from the Adi Granth.[39][40]

The Namdharis wear homespun white turbans, which they wrap around their heads (sidhi pagri).[36][40] They are called Kuka, which means "crier, shouter", for their ecstatic religious practices during devotional singing. They also meditate, using mala (rosary).[40] Some texts refer to them as Jagiasi or Abhiasi.[39]

Nirankari[edit]

The Nirankari movement was founded by Baba Dyal Das, as a Sikh reform movement around the middle of 19th century, in the later part of Ranjit Singh's reign. Nirankari means "without form", and reflects their belief that God cannot be represent in any form and true Sikh faith is based on nam simaran.[41]

Nirankari have opposed any form of ritualism in Sikhism, emphasizing the need to return to the teachings of their founder Guru Nanak. They were the first sect to demand major changes in how Sikh temples are operated, the Sikh ceremonies. They also disagreed with the orthodox Sikhs on only 10 Gurus and the scripture as the living Guru. Nirankaris believe that human guru to interpret the scripture and guide Sikhs is a necessity.[36][41]

The Nirankari sect diverged into two in 1940s, when Sant Nirankaris emerged as a separate group. They believe that scripture is open and therefore added works of their leaders into the Guru Granth Sahib. This led to increasingly conflicts with the orthodox Sikhs. In late 1970s, Jarnail Singh Bhindranvale repeatedly denounced their practices. In 1978, the orthodox Sikhs and Sant Nirankaris had an armed confrontation in Amritsar which resulted in many deaths. In 1980, the leader of Sant Nirankari tradition, Gurbachan Singh, was assassinated.[42][43]

Akhand Kirtani Jatha[edit]

The Akhand Kirtani Jatha emerged in the early 20th century. They interpret Guru Gobind Singh's 5Ks differently than the orthodox Sikhs. They believe the requirement is "keski", not "kes". This means that male and female Sikhs must wear a small turban. The males also wear a full turban on top of it. They also give much importance to devotional singing of kirtans, often organizing all night group singing sessions.[8][11]

Radhasoamis[edit]

The Radhasoami Satsang (lit. "True association of the Lord of the Soul") or Radha Soami movement derives its name from the gopi Radha and Soami which means Lord Krishna's soul, ideas also found in the Vaishnavism tradition. This movement was started by Baba Shiv Dayal in the 19th century, who is also known as Soamiji.[44] The sect has been headquartered in Beas, with branches elsewhere such as Agra. It also believes that living gurus are necessary for a guided spiritual life.[44] They do not install the Guru Granth Sahib or any other scriptures in their sanctum, as they consider it ritualistic. Instead, the guru sits in the sanctum with the satsang (group of Sikh faithfuls) and they listen to preachings from the Adi Granth as well as sing hymns together.[44] They believe in social equality, forbid caste distinctions and have attracted Dalits to their tradition. They are active outside India, and attracted converts to their movement.[44]

The Radhasoamis, states Mark Juergensmeyer, are considered as an offshoot of Sikhism in Punjab.[45] In the context of Dharma, states Juergensmeyer, they can be considered also as a part of Hinduism because they share their cultural outlook, some practices and theological concepts such as Karma, Yoga (Shabd) and Guru. However, they are also different from Hindus and Sikhs because they reject the concept of a sacred scripture, rituals such as karha prasad and pilgrimage gatherings and ceremonies. The Radhasoamis accept saints and living gurus from anywhere, and their history is traceable since about early 1860s.[45] To the Radhsoamis, six elements form the framework of their faith: a living guru (someone as locus of trust and truth), bhajan (remembering Sat Nam, other practices believed to be transformative), satsang (fellowship, community), seva (serve others without expecting anything in return), dera (community organization, shrine) and bhandara (large community gathering).[46]

The Radhasoami are strict vegetarians. They are active in charitable work such as providing free medical services and help to the needy. They do not believe in orthodox Sikh ritual practices such as covering one's head inside the temple or removing shoes, nor do they serve karah prasad (offering) at the end of prayers.[44] According to Pierluigi Zoccatelli, there were an estimated 3 million Radhasoami followers worldwide in 2004, with many subsects based on the Guru. Of these, the Beas headquartered group had 2 million followers.[47] Other subsects and movements influenced by Radhasoami include Divine Life Mission, Eckankar, Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, Science of Spirituality and others.[47]

Sanatan Sikhs[edit]

Sanatan Sikhs emerged as a significant group of conservative Sikhs who opposed the orthodox Sikhs in their interpretation of Sikhism, particularly during the Singh Sabha Movement.[5] They campaigned for an inclusive interpretation that accepted wide range of beliefs drawn from Hinduism and Islam.[5] Sanatan Sikhs affirmed that they are a tradition within Hinduism, that Sikhs and Hindus are indivisible.[48] They founded the Singh Sabha in 1873, led by Khem Singh Bedi – a direct descendant of Guru Nanak, Avtar Singh Vahiria and others.[5][6]

Sanatan Sikhs accept beliefs and practices such as the belief in the teachings of the Vedas and Puranas, Hindu epics and Sufi Pirs.[49][6][50]

3HO[edit]

The 3HO sect is a western group that emerged in 1971, founded by Harbhajan Singh also known as Yogi Bhajan. It requires both men and women to wear turbans, and adopt the surname Khalsa. They also known call themselves the "Sikh Dharma movement" and "Khalsa Dharma movement" and are called "Gora Sikhs" by the mainstream adherents of Sikhism. Their name 3HO, stands for Healthy Happy Holy Organization. This Sikh sect emphasizes meditation and Yoga. The sect started and grew a number of international business brands such as Yogi tea. The orthodox Khalsa does not consider them as Sikhs. The 3HO sect has a strict rahit, the code of conduct expectation.[8][10]

Subtraditions within orthodox Sikhism[edit]

Sikh identities within orthodox Khalsa varies significantly in terms of their practices and beliefs. They are generally classified as:[51]

  • Amritdhari: those Sikhs who have been initiated with amrit ceremony. It is mandatory for them to wear the Five-Ks: Kes (uncut hair), Kangha (comb), Kirpan (sword), Kachha (knee-length pants) and Kara (steel bracelet on the right wrist). They also follow the Khalsa code of discipline such as strict dietary rules such as vegetarianism, saying daily prayers.[52][53][54]
  • Kesdhari: those Sikhs who have not been initiated, may or may not ever get initiated. They keep their hair uncut, wear turban, and generally observe some or all elements of the Khalsa code of discipline. However, they do not follow one of more practices of the Amritdhari, and may observe some codes or practices occasionally.[52][53]
  • Sahajdhari (or Sahijdhari[55]): literally, "slow adopter", they identify themselves as Khalsa Sikhs but they are neither initiated nor follow some or all of the Five-Ks or the Sikh code of conduct. This term is a misnomer because these Sikhs may never intend to slowly become Amritdhari. The Sahajdhari include all non-Kesdhari Sikhs and as well as those born in a Sikh family who may observe some elements of the Sikh dress code or other practices.[52][53]
  • Mona Sikhs: These are Sikhs who cut their hair, do not follow some or all other practices, but identify themselves to be of Sikh culture.[52][53]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b Opinderjit Kaur Takhar (2014). Pashaura Singh and Louis E. Fenech, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 350–359. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  3. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0-226-61592-9.
  4. ^ a b Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 260–261. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1.
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