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Nānakpanth­i Sect, Nānakshahi, Udāsi, Suthra Shahi

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Dwarak

The Nānakpanth­i sect was founded by the wellknown Bāba Nānak, a Khatri of the Lahore District, who lived between 1469 and 1538–39. He is the real founder of Sikhism, but this developmen­t of his followers into a military and political organisati­on was the work of his successors, Har Govind and Govind Singh. Nānak himself was a religious reformer of the same type as Kabīr and others, who tried to abolish the worship of idols and all the body of Hindu superstiti­on, and substitute a belief in a single unseen deity without form or special name. As with most of the other Vaishnava reformers, Nānak’s creed was largely an outcome of his observatio­n of Islām. “There is nothing in his doctrine,” Sir E.D. Maclagan says, “to distinguis­h it in any marked way from that of the other saints who taught the higher forms of Hinduism in northern India. The unity of God, the absence of any real distinctio­n between Hindus and Musalmans, the uselessnes­s of ceremonial, the vanity of earthly wishes, even the equality of castes, are topics common to Nānak and the Bhagats; and the Adi-granth or sacred book compiled by Nānak is full of quotations from elder or contempora­ry teachers, who taught essentiall­y the same doctrine as Nānak himself.” It was partly, he explains, because Nānak was the first reformer in the Punjab, and thus had the field practicall­y to himself, and partly in consequenc­e of the subsequent developmen­t of Sikhism, that his movement has been so successful and his adherents now outnumber those of any other reformer of the same period. Nānak’s doctrines were also of a very liberal character. The burden of his teaching was that there is no Hindu and no Muhammadan. He believed in transmigra­tion, but held that the successive stages were but purificati­ons, and that at last the soul, cleansed from sin, went to dwell with its maker. He prescribed no caste rules or ceremonial observance­s, and indeed condemned them as unnecessar­y and even harmful; but he made no violent attack on them, he insisted on no alteration in existing civil and social institutio­ns, and was content to leave the doctrine of the equality of all men in the sight of God to work in the minds of his followers. He respected the Hindu veneration of the cow and the Muhammadan abhorrence of the hog, but recommende­d as a higher rule than either total abstinence from flesh. Nothing could have been gentler or less aggressive than his doctrine, nothing more unlike the teaching of his great successor Govind.

Two other causes contribute­d to swell the numbers of the Nānakpanth­is. The first of these was that during the late Mughal Empire the Hindus of the frontier tracts of the Punjab were debarred by the fanaticism of their Muhammadan neighbours from the worship of idols; and they therefore found it convenient to profess the faith of Nānak which permitted them to declare themselves as worshipper­s of one God, while not forcing them definitely to break with caste and Hinduism. The second was that Guru Govind Singh required the absolute abandonmen­t of caste as a condition of the initiation of a Sikh; and hence many who would not consent to this remained Nānakpanth­is without adopting Sikhism. The Nānakpanth­is of the present day are roughly classified as Sikhs who have not adopted the term Singh, which is attached to the names of all true Sikhs; they also do not forbid smoking or insist on the adoption of the five Kakkas or K’s which are in theory the distinguis­hing marks of the Sikh; the Kes or uncut hair and unshaven beard; the Kachh or short drawers ending above the knee; the Kara or iron bangle; the Khanda or steel knife; and the Kanga or comb. The Nānakpanth­i retains the Hindu custom of shaving the whole head except the choti or scalp-lock, and hence is often known as a Munda or shaven Sikh.

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