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Sikh Institutions

The Sikh Institutions : Sangat

Sangat is a group of persons, men, women and children with similar feelings, ideas and values, to stay for a while in the company of the Guru. Sangat is a holy assembly on account of the belief that the Guru lived and moved among them, and would bestow happiness on them.

The sangat gathers in a dharamsal or gurudwara or at any other place. There they recite or listen to the recitation of Guru’s hymns in praise of God. The Guru’s bani or shabad or hymns are in poetry. They are sung in deep devotion. The poetry, music and spiritual devotion all mingle to create sweet rhythm. The singers and listeners as partners enter into holy communion. As the kirtan proceeds, the participants draw closer and closer to the Guru and God. The atmosphere transcends to higher regions. Mind becomes purer and heart is filled with joy, love and bliss.2 Guru Nanak laid great stress on sangat which he called Sat Sangat or Sadh Sangat. Bhai Gurdas declared that the spiritual goal could be achieved through Sadh Sangat or holy assemblies. In his 40 Vars he dwells on Sadh Sangat frequently. No preference is given in the sangat to an individual, however great. The sangats developed common feelings of brotherhood. As the worship in a Sikh temple consisted only of singing hymns, all the Sikhs felt attracted to be present to enjoy the sweet music, to forget their worldly worries for a time, to share their joys and sorrows with their holy brothers and sisters, and purify their minds. Guru Arjan says

Gun gavat ten utras mail

(Through singing praises your dirt is washed off.]

Guru Nanak nominated a sincerely devoted Sikh to conduct sangats. He was called sangatia. The san gatia officiated in the san gat in place of the Guru and sat on a manji or cot in the manner of Guru Nanak. The manji was analogous to a sangat. The manjis developed in course of time into great centres of Sikhism. The sangatia presided over the sangat during good behaviour and at the most for life. Nanak did not make this office hereditary. Guru Nanak bestowed manjis on a number of persons such as Kauda Rakhash, Sal is Rae, Jhanda carpenter, Gopal Das, Lalo carpenter, Budhan Shah, Mahi, and Devlut.1 The central place was called Bari Sangat and its branches in different localities of the same place or at other villages were known as Chhoti Sangat.

Guru Arjan on completing the Adi Granth instructed the Sikhs to hold kirtan by singing the holy hymns from Pothi Sahib in chorus. He said kirtan would serve as food for soul and would satisfy spiritual hunger. The melody of hymns would delight mind and soul of listeners. To begin with kirtan was regularly started at the Hari Mandar.

Jhim jhim verse Amrit dhara

Man piwe Guru Shabad piara

[Heavenly bliss falls like steady rain, The mind drinks it from the Guru’s sweet hymns.]

Guru Arjan insisted on his sangats to listen to the recitation with attention, devotion and meditation, and not merely for Kan ras or pleasure of ears. The san gat should concentrate on God and the meaning of the hymns. The minds of san gats should be free from worldly affairs. The melody would bring the soul in tune with God. The inner joy would remove affliction and despair.

The first five Gurus sang hymns themselves to the accompaniment of musical instruments. For the devotees it was a celestial scene.

Sikhism is a congregational religion. Every Sikh is expected to attend the sangat in a gurdwara in the morning and evening. All sit together on the floor, anywhere they like. There is no reservation of seats. This implies equality. After prayers everybody must get exactly an equal quantity of karah prasad. It indicates removal of caste distinctions.2

1.Bal a’s Janam Sakhi, 67, 74, 89, 91.

2 Pritam Singh Gill, 165.

One of the significant aspect of Sikhism is its group consciousness and its belief in the presence of the Guru in Sangat. Literally, Sangat means assembly of people who work or assemble together for social, moral or spiritual well being of the community. It is a company of like minded saintly people which purifies and uplifts the devotees.

Bhai Gurdas writes in Var13-Pauri 19 that where there is one, he is called Sikh, where there are two, they are called Sadh Sangat and where there are five, God manifests in them.

ieku is@K duie swD sMgu pMjIN prmysru |
(vwr 13.19)

It is a truthful congregation and companionship where people love God and hold communion with Him.
imlu swDsMgiq Bju kyvl nwm |

Sat Sangat may be defined as an assembly of truthful living persons where God Himself appears manifest. According to Guru Nanak Dev Ji,

“The holy congregation is a meeting where nothing but the Name of One God is uttered.”
sqsMgiq kYsI jwxIEY |
ijQY eyko nwmu vKwxIEY |

It is assembly of holymen in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib where nothing but the Name of One God alone is recited. It is an assembly, where there are discourses of truthful people on the name of God. It is the company of saintly people who have an ennobling influence on the human mind. Whenever persons of truthful living assemble, they constitute Sat Sangat. Remembering of Name in the company of saints is given significant place in Sikhism.

Guru Nanak Dev laid foundation of saintly assemblies when he visited different places to propagate Sikh philosophy.

Guru Nanak Dev says,

“Even if a man performs lakhs of deeds of wisdom and lives in loving company of lakhs of people yet without the company of saints there would be no satiation and without the Name of God, there would be pain and suffering.”
LK isEwxp jy krI lK isau pRIiq imlwpu |
ibnu sMgiq swD n DRwpIEw ibnu nwvY dUK sMqwpu |

Just as the fire destroys the cold, similarly the company of saints vanishes the sins.

Sat Sangat is considered most important in the Sikh way of life. It is given special status among the Sikhs. Every Sikh is expected to attend Sangat in the Gurdwara where all devotees sit together on the carpeted floor irrespective of their social, political, economical or religious position. This implies equality. They recite or listen to the praises of God. They learn from each other and in good company they shed off their amoral tendencies. It is strongly believed that the Guru is physically present where there is an assembly of five holy persons.

Guru Ram Das says,

“Joining the society of saints, I inquire about the track to God. In the saints congregation, the Lord God abides.”
imil sqsMgiq Koju dsweI ivic sMgiq hir pRBu vsY jIau |

The Sangat consists of minimum five Sikhs in whose lives the Sikh religion is transfigured. It is said that where there is one Sikh, there is one Sikh. Where there are two Sikhs, there is an assembly of saints. Where there are five Sikhs, there is God.

Bhai Gurdas writes in Var13-Pauri 19 that where there is one, he is called Sikh, where there are two, they are called Sadh Sangat and where there are five, God manifests in them.

ieku is@K duie swD sMgu pMjIN prmysru |
(vwr 13.19)

Sangat is the training school where the devotees practice discipline of the Guru and acquire virtuous qualities. ( Var Kanra M-4, 1316 ) In addition to the ripening of the spiritual thought, Sangat creates social and organizational awareness also. Sangat helps in harmonizing the people who live in disunity and have diversity of faith. It serves as a link between common people and the Guru.

The decision of Sangat is considered to be as the decision of the Guru. It is worth mentioning here that the assembly of perverse or evil people is never a Sangat. Assembly of immoral or irreligious people would lead a person to disaster and sinful life. (See Bhai Gurdas)

Since I attended the company of saints, all my illwill for others vanished. No one is my enemy nor any one is stranger to me. Now every body is my friend.
Bisar gai sab tat parai jab te sadh sangat mohi pai; na ko bairi nahi bigana, sagal sang hamko ban aie.
ibsir geI sB qwiq prweI |
jb qy swDsMgiq moih pweI |
nw ko bYrI nhI ibgwnw
sgl sMig hm kau bin EweI |
(1299 )

O’ my friends, hear the glory of the company of saints. The dirt is washed away, millions of sins are banished and the soul becomes pure.
mihmw swDU sMg kIM sunhu myry mIqw |
mYlu KoeI koit EG hry inrml Bey cIqw |

Normally the congregation takes place at Gurdwara ( Sikh Temple ) in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The devotees sing hymns from Guru Granth Sahib, recite Name of God and pray for universal peace and prosperity. The singing of Gurbani is called Kirtan. By listening and devotedly reciting the holy hymns one is inspired to put the precious teachings of Bani into actual practice in life. In the company of such saints, one realizes Truth. His sins are washed away and he wins the grace of God ( 809 ).

Guru Nanak Dev started the concept of Sangat in Sikhism. Wherever he went during his travels, he asked the people to establish Dharmsala or a place of Sikh worship. He nominated devout Sikhs as Sangatias who used to officiate in the Sangat in place of the Guru. This system was followed by Manjis and Masands. The succeeding Gurus followed suit. Hari Ram Gupta writes at page 424 of History of the Sikhs, “Guru Hargobind introduced congregational prayers.” Mohsin Fani writes in his memoirs that when a Sikh desired for something, he would request the Sangat to pray for him. (Dabistan, Persian-239)

How one can get company of Sangat ?

Guru Ram Das says,

Without good fortune the guild of the righteous is not found. Without such an association, one is soiled with the filth of sins.
ibnu Bwgw sqsMgu n lBY ibnu sMgiq mYlu BrIjY jIau |

Merits of good company

Man is known by the company he keeps. Man is the result of environment. Company is a great force and it plays a big role in shaping a person. Those who live in the company of thieves, robbers and evil persons, acquire evil ways of life. Those who keep the company of saintly persons are shaped in the saintly mold.

Guru Arjan Dev says,

“Very fortunate are they who get the society of saints.”
swDsMgu ijn pwieEw syeI vfBwgy |

Bhagat Kabir says,

“By the company one keeps, one gets due reward.”
jo jYsI sMgiq imlY so qYso Plu Kwie |

There may be people who live near good and saintly persons but they are so much over involved in their ego that they do not think of becoming good people.

Bhagat Kabir says,

“Do not follow the example of Bamboo which is drowned in its ego. Bamboo dwells near the Sandal tree but it does not become fragrant like the Sandal.”
kbIr b~su bfweI bUifEw ieau mq fUbhu koie |
cMdn kY inkty bsY b~su sugMDu n hoie |

Bhagat Kabir says,

The Sandal tree is virtuous. It is surrounded by Dhak and Plas trees. Those which dwell near the Sandal tree become themselves Chandan (Sandal ) and they spread fragrance.
kbIr cMdn kw ibrvw Blw byiVA Fwk plws |
Aie BI cMdnu hoie rhy bsy ju cMdn pwis |
(1365)( Shalok Kabir )

Guru Arjan Dev says,

O’ my revered Lord of mammon ! he who participates in Sangat (Holy society) is saved.
myry mwDau jI sqsMgiq imly su qirEw |

The filth of ego of many births sticks to me and it is by meeting with the saints society that this filth can be washed off.
jnm jnm kI haumY mlu lwgI imil sMgiq mlu lih jwvYgo |

Guru Arjan Dev says,

“By meeting saints society, acute wisdom is attained.”
swD sMgiq imil buiD ibbyk |

Effects of Bad Company

Guru Nanak Dev says,

“Thieves , adulterers, prostitutes and pimps keep company together, just like the irreligious who eat and drink out of the same bowl. They do not know the worth of God’s praises and Satan ever abides in them.”
corw jwrw rMfIEw kutxIEw dIbwxu |
vydInw kI dosqI vydInw kw Kwxu |
isPqI swr n jwxnI sdw vsY sYqwnu | (790)

“He who associates himself with the evil-doers, is ruined. Being fed on poison, his life goes to waste.”
dustI sBw ivgucIEY ibKu vwqI jIvx bwid |

Bad company effects just as a thorny Ber-tree near a banana tree. The one dangles about and the other is torn. Do not live in the company of bad persons.
kbIr mwrI mrau kusMg kI kyly inkit ju byir |
auh JUlY auh cIrIEY swkq sMgu n hyir |
(1369) ( Salok Kabir )

According to Bible,

“ Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves’.”

Sikhism lays emphasis on leaving the bad company, as it ruins the mortal.

In the company of saintly people, mind becomes pure.
Cwif mn hir ibmuKn ko sMgu |

Guru Arjan Dev says,

All jealousies have vanished in the company of the saints. All are my friends now, there being no enemy or stranger .
Sagal Purkh mein Purkh Pardhan, Sadh sang jaka mitte Abhiman.

Effects of Good company

Bhagat Kabir says,

“Kabir, the divine discourse with the saints, even for a Ghari, half a Ghari, or half of that even; whatever is done, that is the net gain.”
kbIr eyk GVI EwDI GVI EwDI hMU qy EwD |
Bgqn syqI gosty jo kIno so lwB |

According to Kabir,

When the mind becomes pure like the water of Ganges river, the Lord is attracted towards it and follow it.
kbIr mnu inrmlu BieEw jYsw gMgw nIru |
pwCY lwgo hir iPrY khq kbIr kbIr |
(1367 )

In all the Gurdwaras, there is almost daily assembly where people gather, meditate and sing hymns in praise of God. Their sins are washed and they follow the path of truth.

Guru Arjan says,

By continuing in the Society of saints, the filth of mind is removed.
mn kI ktIEY mYlu swD sMig vuiTEw |

The Sikhs present a good example of selfless service and sacrifice in all the Sikh Gurdwaras. They volunteer their time in Community kitchen. They acquire humility, contentment, detachment from the worldly illusions, temperance and true faith in God.

The Sikh Gurus laid great emphasis on attending the holy assembly. The congregation influences the personality and character of the devotees. Sat Sangat produces visual Divine harmony and internal bliss. It helps in the attainment of Truth but it becomes available with the blessing of God. The society of the truthful is not available without good fortune. and His Grace.

Without the society of the saintly persons, man lives in dirt.
(Guru Ram Das- Majh )

Sandal tree has fragrance. It distributes its fragrance to those who are near it, irrespective of their growthThe Simal tree becomes fragrant in the neighborhood of the Sandal tree. A devotee who remains in the company of holy persons and attends Sangat, relishes the fragrance of Gurbani and Kirtan without knowing the change. Guru is present in the company of the holy persons.

Guru is ever present in the holy congregations in Gurdwaras and other private and public assemblies where Guru Granth Sahib is present. Attending the Sadh Sangat is regarded as coming in to the presence of the Guru. According to Bhai Gurdas, a Sikh who remains in the association of the Guru is blessed and benefited.

Awar kaaj tere kite nah kaam, mil sadh sang bhaj kewal naam.”
Evir kwj qyrY ikqY n kwm |
imlu swD sMgiq Bju kyvl nwm |

Light which manifested in the ten Gurus continues to manifest in the Sangat and the Khalsa.

The Society of the good or Sadh Sangat gives birth to modesty, patience, tolerance, service, righteousness, simplicity, conscienceness, truth, love, justice, friendliness, mercy and contentment. Bhai Gurdas declared that the spiritual goal could be achieved through Sangat and Nam simran.


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