A TO Z INDIA
Nānakpanthi Sect, Nānakshahi, Udāsi, Suthra Shahi
The sect do not prohibit the consumption of meat and liquor, but some of them eat only the flesh of animals killed by the Sikh method of Jatka, or cutting off the head by a blow on the back of the neck. Their only form of initiation is the ordinary Hindu practice of drinking the foot-nectar or sugar and water in which the toe of the guru has been dipped, and this is not very common. It is known as the Charan ka pāhul or foot-baptism, as opposed to the Khande ka pāhul or sword-baptism of the Govindi Sikhs. Bāba Nānak himself, Sir E. Maclagan states, is a very favourite object of veneration among Sikhs of all kinds, and the picture of the guru with his long white beard and benevolent countenance is constantly met with in the sacred places of the Punjab.
Nānakpanthis in the Central Provinces:
In 1901 about 13,000 persons returned themselves as Nānakpanthis in the Central Provinces, of whom 7000 were Banjāras and the remainder principally Kunbis, Ahīrs and Telis. The Banjāras generally revere Nānak.
The Udāsis are a class of ascetics of the Nānakpanthi or Sikh faith, whose order was founded by Sri Chand, the younger son of Nānak. They are recruited from all castes and will eat food from any Hindu. They are almost all celibates, and pay special reverence to the Adi-granth of Nānak, but also respect the Granth of Govind Singh and attend the same shrines as the Sikhs generally. Their service consists of a ringing of bells and blare of instruments, and they chant hymns and wave lights before the Adi-granth and the picture of Bāba Nānak. In the Central Provinces members of several orders which have branched off from the main Nānakpanthi community are known as Udāsi. Thus some of them say they do not go to any temples and worship Nirankal or the deity without shape or form, a name given to the supreme God by Nānak. In the Punjab the Nirankaris constitute a separate order from the Udāsis. These Udāsis wear a long rope of sheep’s wool round the neck and iron chains round the wrist and waist. They carry half a coconut shell as a begging-bowl and have the chameta or iron tongs, which can also be closed and used as a poker. Their form of salutation is ‘Matha Tek,’ or ‘I put my head at your feet.’ They never cut their hair and have a long string of wool attached to the choti or scalp-lock, which is coiled up under a little cap. They say that they worship Nirankal without going to temples, and when they sit down to pray they make a little fire and place ghī or sweetmeats upon it as an offering. When begging they say ‘Alakh,’ and they accept any kind of uncooked and cooked food from Brāhmans.
Another mendicant Nānakpanthi order, whose members visit the Central Provinces, is that of the Suthra Shāhis. Here, however, they often drop the special name, and call themselves simply
Nānakshahi. The origin of the order is uncertain, and Sir E. Maclagan gives various accounts. Here they say that their founder was a disciple of Nānak, who visited Mecca and brought back the Seli and Syahi which are their distinctive badges. The Seli is a rope of black wool which they tie round their heads like a turban, and Syāhi the ink with which they draw a black line on their foreheads, though this is in fact usually made with charcoal. They carry a wallet in which these articles are kept, and also the two small ebony sticks which they strike against each other as an accompaniment to their begging-songs. The larger stick is dedicated to Nānak and the smaller to the Goddess Kāli.
A proverb says in allusion to their rapacity:
Kehu mare, Kehu jīye, Suthra gur batāsa piye.