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«AUTHOR’S INTRODUCTION O thou that buttest the high mountain, seeking to dislodge it with thy horns, take pity, not on the mountain but on thy head ...»

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In the Preface to his book on, “Nirgun School of Hindi Poetry’ Dr Barthwal writes: “In this work an attempt has been made at presenting the’ thought of a ‘school of Hindi poets who are generally, though not very aptly called Nirguri Saint-poets and its title therefore needs no apology. Sant School (Sant mat) and Nirgun school are two terms, frequently need to denote the thought of this group of saint-poets. The word Sant may have two probable deri-vations. It may be derived from thewbrd Shanta, as in Pali, meaning a quietest or it may be plural form of Sat used as a singular in Hindi, meaning one who believes in or has realized the only Reality.

In both these senses, it is a term which fittingly applies to these saints poets, though the latter is the generally accepted origin of the word Sant. But besides signifying Reality, Sat also conveys the sense of goodness, and Santa has thus come to acquire too wide a singificance and has become a synonym for a good man or a gentleman as opposed to evil person.

Even In the field of religious life the term would now include the so many avowdly finitist saints (sargun sants) like Surdas and Tulsidas who belong to a different trend of thought 132 from the one to which our saint-poets belong. 11 And this is what Dr P.D. Barthwal has to say about “The Nirgun School of Hindi Poetry”: “The appellation Nirgun school is also not a very happy one. Dogmatism apart, these saints neither who by discard the saguna (finite) aspect of God, nor give ultimacy to His Nirguna (infintite) aspect. For, the essence escapes both and can only be attained when both are transcended. When in later saints of this school the tendency to transcend these aspects comes into great relief and takes rather a grossly dogmatic form, the absurdity of this title becomes more patent. But in the absence of a better term I am obliged to use it, because it has the strength of traditional usage and appears to have been tolerated and perhaps even accepted by Kabir and others. It must, however, be remembered that these saints can he called Nirgunis only as opposed to the gross term of Saguna worship, such as paying homage to idols and avatars.” 12 Dr Barthwal classified the Nirgun Hindi Poets philosophically into three groups (1) Vedantic or Adivaitic (2) Bhedabheda (Sri Chaitanayas School ofVaishnavism), (3) Vishishta advaita (of Ramanuja). He includes in the first group Kabir, Dadu, Sundardas, and Bhikha. To the sec-ond group according to him belong Nanak and other Sikh Gurus. And to the third group, belong Shibadayal Prannath, Dariya and Bulleh Shah. 13 He calls all these by a collective name of Nirgun Panth and concludes the chapter saying, “The Nirgun Panth as devised by Kabir thus fulfils the need of both philosophy and religion of head and heart.”14


1. Dr Barthwal identifies the word ‘Sant’ with the English word Saint.

2. He is not clear about the Nirgun School or Nirgun Panth in which he includes Guru Nanak and Bulleh Shah who are not Hindi Poets in any sense of the word. Guru Nanak wrote some hymns in Prakrit, but all his hymns are in various dialects of Punjabi. Bulleh Shah also has not written a single verse in Hindi 133

3. From reading his book from page 30 to 89 Dr Barthwal leaves no doubt in the mind of any knowl-edgeable person that the whole of his work is based on the Sant-cult views of Radhaswamis, and he frequently refers to those Kabir Panthis and Radhaswami leaders like Lalla Shivdayal Singh, the founder of Radhaswami sect and Rai Bahadur Saligram who was the original organizer of Radhaswami Cult.

4. Guru Nanak’s philosophy is not even remotely associated with Bhedabheda doctrines, as imagined by Dr Barthwal nor that of Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah who was a disciplined Qaidri Saint and whose poetry reflects all the doctrines of Qaidri Sufi mysticism.

5. Tulasi Sahib eldest son of Peshwa Raghunath Rao and brother of Baji Rao II became a Kabir Panthi. When he met the successors of Ram Rai ‘he was upset and at-tacked them for not being true Kabir Panthis. He has recorded discussions with Ram Rai’s disciplies in his Ghata Ramayana. With the arrogance and pompousness peculiar to him Tulasi Sahib attacks Ram Rai deras leader Palakram, thus, “Nanak has asked you to follow the Guru who would lead you to the other and the only side of existence (Wah-Guru), whereas you follow the Guru who would embroil you in this (Yah-Guru). He enjoins extricating (karhana) the soul and joining it to the Lord (Parsadh) but you prepare a painful (karah) of pudding (Parsad). He enjoins bathing in the lake of nectar which the Yogis call Mansarover. He did not mean the tank of Amritsar in the Punjab of which you sing praises. He condemned idol worship, and you worship a bamboo rod (the flag staff)15. (This refers to Jhanda Sahib fair held every year in Ram Rai’ s dera at Dehradun).

Thus Dr P. D. Barthwal’s Nirgun School or Nirgun Panth is nothing other than the Kabir Panth as seen by the founder of Radhawami Sant-cult Shivdayal, who was originally a Kabirpanthi. While the Radhaswamis of Uttar Pradesh concentrated on the works of Kabir and Dadu, the leader of the Beasa branch was squeezed out by them 134 because be was a Sikh and he set up his headquarter in Beas.

So-he used the Adi Granth as his basic source of teachings.

Tbe Sant-traclition was the name given to these RadhaswamisKabir-panthismovements of nineteenth cen-tury whose leaders acted as gurus of these cults, Dr Barthwal’s bookand Pamsram Chaturv,edi’s work on kabir and Sant tradition bave been used by scholars of Hindi literature in Uttar Pradesh as source book of this line of thought. Western scholars who have worked on Kabir have followed, them uncritically and have.accepted theirtermi-nology also, without probing into the doctrines and thoughts of these cults.



Parusram chaturvedi gives etymological definitions of the word “Sant’ as found in Sanskrit dictionary and Hindi literature and concludes that he is using it in the same sense as the English word “saint” is commonly used. No special meaning and significance has been given to the word “Sant” as coined by Hew McLeod Kalidas calls “Sant” a bhuddhiman (wise man);

Bhagvata onsiders Sant a pavitar atman a pure soul. Tulsidas author of Ramayana defines Sant as sajjan : a friend; Bhartrihari defines him as paropkari : a benevolent and charitable person.

In Mahabharata he is concludes as Sadachari, a man of good character. He frankly concludes that in Sanskrit and Hindi literature it is used in the same sense as the English word “Saint”.

In his Sant Tradition of North India, P. Chaturvedi discusses a long list of Saints giving their life briefly, but he does not discuss their works except those of Kabir and his successors. He starts with Jayadeya and Namdeva, and comes to Kabir and his immediate ‘Successors. He then discusses all the ten Gurus, Banda and Udasi and Nirmala religious groups.

He then writes apout minor cults like Radhaswamis and similar Sant-cults.He even includes Mahatma Gandhi in his Sant tradition.16 135 Strangely enough, P. Chaturvedi includes in the Hindi Nirgun Sants he discusses in his book, Punjabi Sufi Poets like Sheikh Farid and Bulleh Shah. Like Guru Nanak these Sufi Poets have written only in Punjabi. By no stretch of imagination can they be called Hindi poets. Chaturvedi also includes Ram Tirath who wrote only in English and Urdu, and Mahatma Gandhi, who no doubt was popular as a Hindu politician but not as a. Hindi poet-Sant.17 In his scholarly work “Mysticism of Maharashtra; Prof.

R.D. Ranade, calls all the, Nirgun and Sagun saints of Maharasbtra “Sants” which according to him is equivalent to the word saint” as used by mystical traditions of Christian churches. In the long introductory chapter he gives an illuminating comparative study between Christian mysticism and Indian mysticism. The Sants in his work include Giandeve, Namdeva, Gora, Visoba, Samvata, Chokha, Janabai, Sena, Trilochan, Eknath and his companions Tukaram and his companions, Ramdas (teacher of Shivji).18 In the end he calls the whole Sant tradition, a “Bhakti movementand his concluding chapter is “Bhakti and Rationalism” of tbe atheists and communists. Prof. Ranade writes “The doctrine of Bhakti which these Saints of the Maratha school taught in their spirhual literature has been.held in such high esteem by rationalistic writers like Prof. Patwardhan, that one wonders how these could keep to their rationalism; while applauding the Bhakti doctrine of the Saints. Quoting Patwardhan’.s appreciation of this Sant literature in such words as, “soul consoling kinship of ultimate realities”, “discovery of the un-known in the known”; romance of Light; surrender of soul

to Love, Light and Ultimate Being, Prof. Ranade commends:

“If all rationalism could be so eloquent of the merits of Bhakti, one could by all means be such a rationalist.”19



In all his four or five books, Dr Hew McLeod gives an 136 oddly queer and outlandish theory about Nirgun Sant Tradition of North India, into which he and his Group try to fix Sikh Gurus, just as an anthropologist venturing on grotesque oddities would try to fix the Indian Toda tribe racially and culturally in the Mrican tribes of Ethiopia or Kenya.

The first thing to be noted is that Hew McLeod’s “North India” is not the north India of history or geogra-phy in which “Sikhism was born, and developed into maturity. His north India and north Indian Sants are all between the post-1947 borders and Bengal. How he goes into blandly fallacious and conjectural construction of his utterly untenable theories, we will examine in detail now in the chapters to follow.

Hew McLeod spells out the details of his Nirgun Sant tradition in the fifth Chapter of his book Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion from Page 151-163 and when he tries to fix his crude, pedestrian, and completely distorted summary of Guru Nanak’s doctrines, tailored to fit into the framework of his imaginary Sant doctrines, he says in his last chapter: “The result must be somewhat disappointing. We can, however, affirm nothing categorically, ….. and assumptions we make must be strictly tentative. It is perhaps reasonable to postulate a growing dissatisfac-tion with traditional religious beliefs and practices and a growing attraction towards Sant ideas acquired from Sadhus with whom he happened to come in contact. In doing so, however, we offer little more than conjecture. That dissatisfaction and attraction of this kind did occur is an obvious assumption but we do not really know when or in what manner this development took place, neither can we trace the procedure whereby he evolved his own interpretation of Sant tradition.

“It must be emphasized that our procedure for this period is based on assumptions and conjecture,” says Dr Hew McLeod not once but repeatedly. 20 Thus, in one concluding page of his first book, he calls these perverted theories, constructed specially to 137 present a distorted and demeaning image of Sikh Gurus and Sikhism, postulates, conjectures and assumptions. To start with, Hew McLeod attributes special meaning and definitions to two key words “Sant” and “Bhakta”21 which are not accepted by any existing Sanskrit or Hindi dictionary, nor are these definitions accepted by any learned scholar, eastern or western of Kabir and his contemporaries or of other eminent medieval Saints. We have already given the views of eminents Indian scholars in the foregoing pages.

Hindi scholars speak of idol worshipper saints as Sant Surdas, Sant Tulsidas and of Sufi saints as Sant Farid and Sant Bulleh Shah. They also speak of Bengali Vaishnava Sants as “Sant Jayadeva, Sant Chandidas, Sant Chaitanya, although Bengali scholars never use the word “Sant” for these saints. Hindi scholars even address Moses and Christ as Sant Musa and Sant Isa.

These incorrect and conveniently manufactured con-jectural definitions, and crude assumptions presented as a factual reality in five of his books is Hew McLeod’s inno-vative postulate for which he and his less than a dozen supporters depend exclusively on his formulations. These interpretations are exclusively based in Hew McLeod’s brainwave and utterly false assumptions, dressed up in historical and academic garb, which can no doubt mis-lead the ignorant and the prejudiced for some time, but they cannot succeed in distorting and perverting the historical and philosophic truth of Sikhism.

Hew McLeod chooses the eminent South Indian Maharashtrian Saint, Namdev (1270-1350), as the first Nirgun Sant of his concept of “North Indian Nirgun Sant tradition”. Namdev’s guru Giandeva had died at the age of nineeteen, after writing his Gita Commentary and Amritanubhava, the greatest mystical work, having a wealth of spiritual wisdom, produced in Marathi language.22 Namdev left the South for missionary journeys to the north and finally settled in Punjab because within two years of his Guru Gyandeva’s death all his companions died, 138 namely Sopana, Muktabai, Nivritti, Changdev, Khecher, Narhari, Siner, Jagmiti Naga, Chokhe Mela, and Janabai.23 Namdeva was destined to live for half a century more.24 The second saint of importance Hew McLeod takes up is Raidas (Ravidas). Linguistically and ideologically, Hew McLeod considers “ Ravidas closer to Namdev than Kabir.

There is no factual truth in this assumption. Any serious study of Ravidas would prove that this is wrong. There is considerable Vaishnava ideological impact on Namdev, which is completely absent in Ravidas. Ravidas’ language; is the pure and simple medieval Hindi which was spoken by the common man in Benaras.Ravidas rarely left Benaras. But ‘Kabir, a, Muslim by birth not only travelled a good deal but mixed freely with sufis and other religious groups. The influence of Punjabi andRajasthani on Kabir is clearly visible. In the Introduction to Kabir Granthavali, edited by Shyam Sunder Das, the learned scholar says that he fouild thirty percent of the words in that manuscript collection were Punjabi words; So the lin-guistic differences between Kabir’s language and that of Ravidas is but natural’. The influence of Punjabi language in Namdev is clearly visible.

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