Masand System or MASANDS were, in early Sikhism, local community leaders who looked after the ^an^a^in their diocese and linked them to their spiritual mentor, the Guru. They led Sikh, preached the word of the Guru and transmitted to him their offerings, escorting occasionally batches of them to his presence. The first such masands were appointed by Guru Arjan. The word masand is from Persian (Masdat) masnad, meaning a throne or a cushion to recline. As appropriated into the SIKH tradition, it further advanced the concept of manji (cot) on which the preachers sat, reclining against a cushion, as they expounded to the people Guru Nanak`s gospel.
This Manji system had been introduced by the Third Guru, Guru Amar Das(1479 - 1579). The new nomenclature arose from the Sikh custom of designating the Guru as Sacha patshah, the True King, as opposed to the temporal king. The functionaries, who acted on behalf of the Guru in spreading the Sikh teaching aided also in collecting, on his behalf, tithes and offerings from followers, came to be known as masands in imitation of masnadi `all, an imperial title for ranked nobles. Guru Ram Das introduced the institution of Masands (representative of the Gurus at various places). Guru Arjan Dev Ji added to it the principle of a tenth of an individual's income payable for the Guru’s Langar (Common Kitchen) and for other acts of benevolence on behalf of the poor.
The fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan, in order to meet increasing costs of the langar, and the hospice -- providing free accommodation to the visitors -- and also the heavy costs of construction of the Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar) and the Harimandar Sahib (the Divine Temple), in Amritsar, introduced Dasvandh (a semi-mandatory requirement) for Sikhs to contribute voluntarily, ten percent of their income for the charitable causes. Occupants of Manjees were then called Masands, and several more Masands were appointed at places far and near.
The masand system helped in the expansion of the Sikh faith and in knitting together centers established in far flung places. The beginnings of such centres went back to the time of Guru Nanak who had travelled extensively preaching his message, his disciples setting up in different places dharamsalas in which to meet together in Sangat or holy fellowship to recite his hymns to activate the sangatsm different parts, Guru Amar Das had established twenty two (19 Men and 3 Women) manfis with several local groups affiliated to each.
Guru Arjan further consolidated the system by appointing masands who were invested with greater authority and with more varied religious and social functions. Masands were chosen for their piety and devotion. Besides preaching the Sikh tenets in their areas, they visited the Guru at least once every year. They were accompanied on such occasions by groups of Sikhs, from amongst those under their guidance. They carried with them offerings from the disciples for the langar, or community kitchen, the digging of tanks and for other philanthropic works. To help them with their preaching work, masands had their own deputies known as metis.
Masands - the Deceivers
The masands who enjoyed the status of the Guru`s own representatives served to spread the Sikh faith and consolidate the ecclesiastical structure. But as time passed, they became neglectful of their religious office and took to personal aggrandizement. During the time of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the seat of the Master and the disciples, shifted to Kiratpur as Amritsar was already in the hands of masands; now impostors and priests who saw the money to be got by priest-craft at the Hari Mandar. Since the time of Guru Arjun Dev, there had sprung up a kind of civic administration, which collected the offerings of people at large for the upkeep of the Sikh cities, temples and tanks.
Abolishing Masand System
Guru Gobind Singh (1666 - 1708), the last of the Gurus, charged them with corruption and oppression. Those found guilty were punished. Guru Gobind Singh abolished the institution of masands. He, as sang the poet Bhai Gurdas II, converted the sangat into the Khalsa, i.e. directly his own, eliminating the intermediary masands.
For several years the system worked very efficiently, as the early Masands were honest, and devoted Sikhs. But over a period of time, corruption took place, and the Sikhs lost faith in the Masands, some of whom were not only misappropriating the dasvandh, but were also using coercion to “extract” dasvandh.
In the last decade of the seventeenth century the situation came to loggerheads. The Sikhs complained to Guru Gobind Singh. He punished some Masands, who were accused of immorality, and had no believable defense. To root out the corruption, he abolished the Masand system altogether.
In the hukamnamahs of 1698, Guru Gobind Singh advised the Sikhs not to recognize or befriend the Masands, and their deputies. Whatever offerings they wanted to make, they could either send through bankers’ drafts, or hold and bring those along, at the time of the Baisakhi, harvest festival, in the following year –1699. Sikhs were joyful, at the good riddance of the Masands. Now they could visit the Guru, without escort of the detested Masands.
Guru Gobind Singh rightly expected a larger gathering at the Baisakhi of 1699. He needed larger funds for the occasion. He sent a hukamnamah to the Sikh soldiers serving in the army of Prince Azim-ud-Din, Governor of Bengal, asking for a contribution of “a hundred tolahs of gold” (about 1,200 grams) of the value of about 2,000 silver rupees. That was far in excess of his usual suggestions to sangats for contributions of one or two tolahs of gold.
- Macaulif`fe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
- Ganda Singh, "Nanak Panlhis" (translation from Dabistdn-i-Mazdhibby ZulfikarArdistani) in The Punjab Past and Present. Patrala, April 1967
- Fauja Singh, "Development of Sikhism under the Gurus" in Sikhism. PATIALA, 1969
- Banerjee, I.B., Evolution of the Khnlsn, vol. I. Calcutta, 1936 5- Gian Singh, Giani, Pnnth Prakdsh. Delhi, 1880