The Emergence of Santic-Panth in Medieval India: A Case Study of Garibdasi-Panth 3.75/5 (4)


Vikas Malik

Research Scholar

Jamia Millia Islamia

Central University

New Delhi

Emergence of Sects

Many scholars have talked about the existence of well organised sects such as Kabirpanth and Dadupanth right from the beginning. But the problem with this theory is that we don’t have enough evidence to prove that non-Brahmanical sects like Kabirpanth and Dadupanth etc. were very well institutionalized from the beginning, because what recent researches have suggested is that even till the end of seventeenth century these sects were not institutionalized. The term ‘Dadupanth’ was used by the followers of Dadu and was also mentioned in Dabistan-i-Mazahib (c.1655 CE) of Mobid.[1] Seventeenth century texts, like Jan Gopal’s Dadu Janma Lila and Jagga’s Bhaktamals, make clear that so many Vairagis, Raidasvamshis, Dhannavamshis, Pipavamshis and Namavamshis were active followers of Dadu. They joined the membership of Danupanth, even though they remained associated with their original sects.[2] In the seventeenth century we do not find any evidence regarding the existence of any organised sant-based panth. It might be possible that the names of sants like Kabir, Raidas, Dhanna, Pipa, etc. were used by their followers in the later period to show their attachment with them. During seventeenth century Dadupanth became a centre of non-Brahmanical santic gatherings. These meetings or gatherings were open to all and we don’t have much evidence to prove that the followers of Dadu subordinated the authority. Jan Gopal, a Dadupanthi, said, ‘it is evident that in all followers of Dadu, Kabir occupied the highest place and Dadu himself represented as an incarnation of Kabir and shows himself as constantly singing Kabir’s verses.[3]

Seventeenth century witnessed the emergence of a large number of followers of Dadu, who sang his verses along with those of Kabir and other leading bhakti sants. It is relevant to mention here that these followers were not organised into any single hierarchical community. Naraina in Rajasthan was a sacred centre of Dadupanthi, but there is no single evidence to prove the existence of ritualized worship of Dadu during most of the seventeenth century.

Deniel Gold, in his work on Dadu-panth in Rajasthan, has suggested that until the mid-seventeenth century image of Dadu was like of a Darvesh (Sufi saint) and was not treated like a mythical figure[4]. Additionally, his shrine at Naraina near Jaipur was treated in the manner of a Sufi shrine. The emergence of Dadupanth as a “distinct sectarian institution”, he brings out, was a late seventeenth century phenomenon.[5] In the late seventeenth century, Jaitram, a charismatic figure, emerged and started exercising authority over Dadu’s followers. During his control over Dadu’s gaddi in the early eighteenth century, he organised Dadu’s followers into a well-knit sect.[6]

The early history of Kabirpanth is not very clear. Some modern historians and Kabirpanthis believe that it was founded by Kabir himself. But there is no evidence to trace the history of Kabirpanth before the end of the seventeenth century. The term ‘Kabirpanth’ or ‘Kabirpanthi’ was hardly used in the pre-eighteenth century sources. It was the sources written in the eighteenth century which talks about Kabirpanth for the first time. We find a detailed account of Kabir in Dabistan-i-Mazahib, a mid-seventeenth century account of compartive religions. Yet even the writer of Dabistan does not give any account or reference to the existence of a sect called Kabirpanth.[7] There is a reference of ‘Kabir Sahib Kau Panth’ in the Bhaktamal of Raghodas, but it was written in the second decade of eighteenth century and not around 1660 AD, as some scholars believe.[8]

Linda Hess, who compiled the Bijak of Kabir, says that the claim that Kabirpanth emerged in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 1600 -1650 is based on “rough guess work”.[9] She argues that most of the manuscripts of Kabir’s Bijak belong to the nineteenth century.[10] Dharamadas, the founder of the Chhatisgarhi branch of Kabirpanth, is believed to have been appointed by Kabir as his successor. However, modern researches have brought out that there is a long gap between the time of Dharmadas and that of Kabir. ‘Guru Dharmadas’ has been mentioned by Raghodas in his Bhaktamal as a disciple like others. But in the Bhaktamal of Raghodas written in the second decade of the eighteenth century, the names of some of Dharmdas’ successors have also been mentioned. So it is quite probable that Dharmadas lived in the second half of seventeenth century.

From the above discussion, it becomes clear that the claim of the earlier histories of Dadupanth and Kabirpanth that the sects were founded by the original sants themselves is unconfirmed. These claims, it seems, were made by the followers in the later period to seek legitimacy for their respective sects, since bringing into line the name of these newly formed sects with the sants themselves would have definitely increased their popularity among the people.

Linda Hess observes that the image of Kabir in the eastern Kabirpanthi tradition mentioned in the Bijak, and the Sikh and Dadupanthi traditions of the West are very different in terms of language, attitudes and themes. Kabir in the Western image is very devotional and on the other side Eastern Kabir is more harsh and intellectual.[11]

Followers of these sants travelled from one place to another during the seventeenth century and sang the bani and verses of their religious sants. These followers were not biased in singing verses. They did not even privilege the verses of one particular sant over those of others. As is clear from the Panchvani anthological tradition, Kabir was greatly popular among Dadu’s followers during the seventeenth century and got equal respect like Dadu.[12]

There is considerable evidence pertaining to the emergence of many Kabirpanthi sects during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And when Kabirpanth emerged in late medieval period, it emerged not as a single panth but as many competing organised units in various geographical settings of eastern U.P., western Bihar and north-eastern Madhya Pradesh. Kabirpanth and Dadupanth developed as non-Brahmanical panths but over a period of time they developed their ritual, hierarchical, monastic and mythological apparatus, as a consequence of which sants such as Kabir and Dadu were lost and their santhood came to be seen as divine incarnation.[13]

Emergence of Garibdasi panth

Garibdas was a monotheistic sant of eighteenth century in northern India. Some modern scholars believe that Garibdasi panth is a branch of Kabir panth. But this argument is not very strong because at the time when Garibdas was alive he never associates himself with the Kabirpanthi. Garibdasi panth emerged in a period. It was not all of a sudden that this sect came into existence. First question arise that whether this panth emerged during the life time of Garibdas or it came into existence in the latter period. But here the situation is very confusing because Garibdas never claimed to establish a new panth. But the latter writings on Garibdas and Garibdasi panth claims that the panth was came into existence during the life time of Garibdas. K C Gupta says that Garibdas did not aim at founding a new religion or new panth. He frankly admits that he is only a revivalist of the nirguna movement uphold by Jaideva, Namdeva, Kabir, Nanak, Sheikh Faried, Ramdas, pipa and others.[14]

But on one place there is a reference in the bani of Garibdas and some other writings on Garibdas that “when sant Garibdas was about to bestow his Gaddi on his son Jait Ram, his wife Mohini requested him to give it to Turti Ram, the second number son of Garibdas.”[15] There is an explanation for this change that Garibdas’ wife Mohini probably feared that if it was bestowed on Jait Ram, he might shift the seat of Guruship from Chhudani to Karontha. So she persuaded Jait Ram to abdicate in favour of his brother.[16] And Turti Ram became the guru after Garibdas.

There are some hagiographical stories about the importance of Chhudani, the place where Garibdas lived his whole life. These stories not only show the importance of Garibdas but as well give some reference about the starting of Garibdasi panth. Many stories are showing the importance of Garibdas as equal to Kabir. One story goes that Mansa Ram a disciple of Kabir was performing tapasya in the hills near Almora. He told his disciple, Handi Bhadhanga, that Kabir was born as Garibdas in a small village named Chhudani. Handi came to village to find out the truth about it. He stayed near Garibdas for some days and after many discourses, some of which are recorded by subsequent writers, reached the conclusion that Garibdas was really the avatar of Kabir.[17]

This story not only shows the importance of Garibdas equal to Kabir but as well as the importance of Chhudani village. In a small village like Chhudani this is very hard for anyone to give accommodation on the regular basis and even in the later part of Garibdas life the frequencies increase of guest. So without the proper arrangement it is not possible for accommodate large number of people. Most possibility is that these stories were written in the later period in nineteenth century like which I already discusses in the context of Kabir panth that how some legendry stories which is associated with the Kabir and Kabir panth were written in nineteenth century. But like Kabir Garibdas was not belonged to fifteenth or sixteenth century, he belonged to eighteenth century only. If we suppose that these stories were written in the nineteenth century and this is true in regarding some legendry stories too, but the gap between the Garibdas and these stories are not very long. So we can find some historical fact about the Garibdasi panth through these stories.

There are so many stories which indicate the importance of Chhudani village. So of them are make Chhudani more important from the other religious places. Garibdas did not believe in pilgrimage. But K C Gupta says that there are some historical evidences of his visit to Mathura, Vrindavan, Banaras, Allahabad, Delhi and Saharanpur. He believes that during his visit to Saharanpur he must be visited to Haridwar also. At the invasions of Nadir Shah, he visited Himachal and stayed at a place called Haripur, three mile far away from the Paonta Sahib. There is a temple named Garib Nanth’s Mandir.[18] These missionary journey shows that he visited some places and in the end decided to stay permanently in Chhudani and might be made Chhudani the main centre for his followers, which is popular as Chhudani dham.

Garibdas followers celebrate two anniversaries connected with the birth and death date of Garibdas. Garibdas who was against this kind of practice but after his death the followers were started these practises to show their equal stand with the other sant like Kabir and Dadu. But these practises were took place in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After the death of Garibdas the line of his spiritual successors is as follows:


Turti Ram

Dani Ram

Sheelwant Ram

Shiv Dayal

Ram Krishna Das

Ganga Sagar

The head of Garibdasi panth is called the Shri Mahant. The main centre is at Chhudani which is run by a trust. There are so many Deras and Kutias of Garibdasi panth in northern India, many of them is in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Utter Pradesh.

In the conclusion we can say that the emergence of Garibdasi panth was a long process and through the legendry stories and other historical facts shows that it was not started in the life of Garibdas. Like Kabir panth, Garibdasi panth was also came into existence through a long time period. But when it came into existence till then they are trying to show that it was started by the Garibdas but as I said in the starting that Garibdas was not in favour to start a new religion or a new panth. Some modern works also tries to establish that Garibdasi panth was started by the Garibdas. But no historical evidence is support their arguments. So in the end I can say that like other santic-panth Garibdasi-panth was also emerged in a time period, not by started by the Garibdas itself.


Primary Sources

Garibdas Ji Ki Bani, Belvidear Printing Works, Allahabad, reprint 2011.

Hess, Linda and Shukdev Singh, Eng. tr., The Bijak of Kabir, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1986.


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———, ‘Modern Labels on Medieval Sants: The Sant Movement and Limits of Hindu Identity’, Social Science Probings, Vol. 17(2), December 2005, pp. 31–59.

Barthwal, P.D., Traditions of Indian Mysticism Based upon the Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry, Heritage, Delhi, 1978 (org. 1936).

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Chaturvedi, Parashuram. Uttari Bharat Ki Sant Parampara, 3rd edn., Allahabad, 1972 (originally published in 1952).

Gold, Daniel, ‘The Dadu-Panth: A Religious Order in Rajasthan Context’ in Karine Schomer, Joan L. Erdman, Deryck O. Lodrick and Lloyd I. Rudolph, eds, The Idea of Rajasthan: Explorations in Regional Identity, Vol. II, Manohar, Delhi, 1994, pp. 242–64.

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______ ‘Jats of Punjab and Sindh’, in Punjab Past and Present: Essays in honour of Ganda Singh, eds H. Singh and N.G. Barrier, Patiala: Punjabi University, 1976.

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[1] Dadu Dayal (A.D. 1544-1603), who according to Dabistan-i-Mazahib was a cotton carder by profession in the village of Naraina in the district of Marwar, Rajasthan and lived in the period of Emperor Akbar. In Rameswar Prasad Bahuguna, “Conflict and Assimilation in Medieval North India Bhakti: An Alternative Approach. UGC-DRS Research Paper, Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, 2009. P. 9

[2] Ibid, p. 28.

[3] Ibid, p. 29., This is very controversial issue, in some references we get to know that Kabir is the disciple of Dadu.

[4] Daniel Gold, “The Dadu-panth: A Religious Order in its Rajasthan Context,” in Karine Schomer ed., The Idea of Rajasthan, Voll. II, pp. 249-50

[5] Ibid, p. 249

[6] Ibid, p. 250

[7] R P Bahuguna, “Conflict and Assimilation in Medieval North India Bhakti: An Alternative Approach, p. 30.

[8] R P Bahuguna, “Conflict and Assimilation in Medieval North India Bhakti: An Alternative Approach, p. 25

[9] Linda Hess, Preface to English trans. of the Bijak of Kabir.

[10] Ibid., appendix C, p. 165.

[11] Linda Hess, Three Kabir Collections: A Comparative Study in Karine Schomer and W.H. MecLeod ed. “The Sants : Studies In A Devotional Tradition of India”, pp. 111-142

[12] R P Bahuguna, “Conflict and Assimilation in Medieval North India Bhakti: An Alternative Approach, p. 32

[13] Ibid, p. 34

[14] K C Gupta, Sri Garibdas, Haryana’s Saint of Humanity, p. xvi

[15] Ibid, p. 50

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. p. 38

[18] Ibid. p. 38

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