Sant or Sadh can be loosely translated as saint though this is not very exact, for the English term, when used in the adjectival sense ‘saintly’ refers to a person of great holiness, virtue or benevolence and has a formal connotation in the Western culture. This is not what the Punjabi word "Sant" conveys to the average person in Punjab. The word is a modified form of the word "Sat" which can simply mean "True" but can also be translated as meaning lasting, real, wise and venerable.
Sat or Satya has commonly been used since the Vedic times for the Ever-existent, Unchanging Reality or the Self-existent, Universal Spirit, Brahman or God. The word "Sant" which can be linked to "Sat" is not generally used in a formal sense and is a subjective word which refers to a person who is considered an able and wise human being. So the common translation of the word "Sant" is a wise, considerate, judicious and knowledgeable person who has a good understanding of Dharam or religion. They incorporate Dharam into their life.
The term sant came into vogue much later. The word occurs frequently in the ancient Pali literature of Buddhism in the sense of tranquil, true or wise. From Pali it was resuscitated during the middle ages when Bhakti movement took its birth. The epithet sant was usually added to the names of the Vaisnava bhaktas of Maharashtra belonging to Vitthal or Varkari school such as Jnandev, Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram. According to R.D. Ranade, Mysticism in Maharashtra, “Now ‘Santa’ is almost a technical word in the Vitthal Sampradaya, and means any man who is a follower of that Sampradaya. Not that followers of other Sampradayas are not ‘Santas’ but the followers of the Varkari Sampradaya are santas par excellence.”
Within the Bhakti movement there is a distinct Sant tradition clearly distinguishable from South Indian Saiva bhakti and the Vaisnava tradition of Northern and Central India. The Sant-bhaktas were essentially non-sectarian. They were strict monotheists and were opposed to Brahmanical ritualism, idol-worship and caste system. Like other bhaktas, they valued love-relationship between the individual and the deity, but their deity, although usually given Vaisnava names, is the Absolute Reality, Unborn, Formless, All-pervading, Self-existent, nirguna (without attributes) God, who makes Himself manifest the Name (naam) which may be uttered or meditated upon. Nirguni bhaktas refute avatarvada or incarnation, but they believe that the sant, through living a life of piety and practising nam, can attain final release.
Through Bhakti the term passed into the Sikh tradition. In the Guru Granth Sahib there is frequent mention of the status and significance of the sant, a holy man who represents the salt of the earth and the hope of mankind. Guru Arjan defines a sant thus: “jina sasi girasi na visrai harinaman mani mantu/ dhannu si sei nanaka puranu soi santu — They who do not put away from their minds the Name Divine even for the duration of a breath or as they swallow a morsel are indeed blessed, o Nanak! They are the perfect sants” (GG, 319). Guru Arjan in another hymn:
|All the twenty-four hours of day and night, |
He knows God to be close to his heart,
|SGGS page 392|
1. Sabdarath Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1975
2. Randhir Singh, Bhai, Sant Pad Nirnai. Ludhiana, 1954
Above adapted from article By W. H. McLeod of Global Sikh Studies
A Sant or Saint is a person who is enlightened by God and has a full understanding of the way to salvation and liberation. This person is spiritually evolved and can give the masses the first-hand knowledge of all the way to obtaining peace and tranquillity in this world and the next.
Quotations from SGGS
- The body-village is filled to overflowing with anger and sexual desire; these were broken into bits when I met with the Holy Saint. By pre-ordained destiny, I have met with the Guru. I have entered into the realm of the Lord’s Love. ||1|| Greet the Holy Saint with your palms pressed together; this is an act of great merit. Bow down before Him; this is a virtuous action indeed. ||1||Pause|| SGGS Page 13
- By great good fortune, the Lord has led me to meet His Saint. The Perfect Guru has placed the Sublime Essence of the Lord into my mouth. The unfortunate ones do not find the True Guru; the self-willed manmukhs continually endure reincarnation through the womb. ||3|| SGGS Page 95