Sants and Sikhs

General Characteristics of Sikhism

1.     Sikh” from Pali sikkha, meaning “disciple”

2.     Define selves as believing in one God, accepting the teachings of the first ten guru/leaders of the community, believing in scripture, the Adi Granth.

3.     20 million Sikhs in the world, about 85% live in the Indian state of Punjab [show on atlas]

4.     Sense of identity closely tied to the course of historical events, especially the battles with their enemies the Mughal armies.

5.     Primary emphasis on the consciousness of God

6.     Articulate their faith and practices as things worth fighting and dying for; tradition of martyrs

Cultural-religious context of the emergence of Sikhism: The Sants

1.     Sant Tradition

a.     Growth of devotional movements in Medieval Period (600 CE - 1800 CE) - temples, images, sects, Puranas, outward form of devotion such as pilgrimage, festivals, processions.

b.     General Characteristics: populist, vernacular, poor, low caste, dispossessed and oppressed = linked in their religious attitudes with orthodox, upper class devotees

2.     Nirguna Bhakti

a.     Saguna is worshipping the deity with forms and attributes (Tulsidas and Rama, Surdas and Krishna)

b.     Nirguna = ascribes no forms or attributes to God.

c.     Way to liberation: meditation on the divine name, the expression in this world of the divine reality.

3.     Other Features of Sant tradition:

a.     Emphasis on the saint as guru

b.     Rejection of all the familiar external forms of religious practice (pilgrimage, ritual bathing, use of murtis)

c.     Rejection of caste and all caste restrictions


Kabir (1440-1518)

1.     Late 15th century-early 16th, North India, low caste - Hindus and Muslims revered his poetry, he is taken up into the Sikh tradition, mentioned in their sacred scripture.  Insistence of inward devotion and not outward observances. 

2.     Invocation of God’s name: Utter the name of God: He extinguishes birth and death.  I utter His Name, and whatever I see reminds me of Him; Whatever I do becomes his worship

a.     Ridiculed conventional religious practices of both Hindus and Muslims.  (Embree, p.375, the world is mad)

3.     Sants provided links with Muslim mystics, Sufis - fed each other

4.     India was widely affected by devotional mysticism, expressed in images of love, suffering, and union.