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Sahajdhari a gradualist among Sikhs. Like other Sikhs, the Sahajdharis believe in the Ten Gurus and in the Guru Granth Sahib, though they exempt themselves from the obligation of keeping their hair unshorn. Receiving the rites of Khalsa baptism one day and maintaining long uncut hair and beard remain, nevertheless, the ultimate ideal which they must realize in their lifetime or see it realized by their offspring. Some Sahajdhari parents place themselves under a vow to rear their first-born son as a full Sikh.

Etymology of Sahajdharis

The Sahajdharis, as a rule, are not given the Sikh surname of ‘Singh’. The term sahajdharis is a compound of two words — sahaj and dhari. The word sahaj (in Sanskrit, sahaja) implies poise, unhurriedness and the word dhari stands for adopting or accepting a creed or form. This term came into use after Guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa in 1699 A D., introducing the khande di pahul, i.e. baptism by the double-edged sword. Those who took khande di pahul received the title of the ‘Khalsa’, and those who for one reason or another could not came to be known as Sahajdharis, i.e. Sikhs who would have themselves baptized as Khalsa at some later stage.

It was, in the first instance, not possible to have baptism administered all at once by the rites established by Guru Gobind Singh to Sikhs in far-flung sangats. Another impediment was the conflict which broke out between the Sikhs and the ruling authority soon after. However, Sahajdharis have been part of the larger Sikh body since the time of Guru Gobind Singh. Two of them in his own day — Bhai Nand Lal and Bhai Kanhaiya — enjoyed great esteem. Bhai Nand Lal, a great Persian scholar and poet, maintained at Anandpur a langar or refectory open to visitors all the twenty-four hours. Bhai Kanhaiya won the Guru’s admiration and is remembered in the Sikh tradition to this day for the devotion with which he served the wounded in battle, making no distinction between friend and foe.

Notable Kesadharis of the Past

In the early part of the eighteenth century when Sikhs suffered fierce persecution and when to be a Kesadhari, that is to bear kesh or long hair, was to invite sure death, the Sahajdharis looked after their places of worship and protected the households and the kith and kin of those driven to seek safety in hill and jungle. Some even defied the persecutors and courted martyrdom as did the teenaged Haqiqat Rai, who was beheaded in public for his refusal to disown his Sikh belief and accept Islam.

A leading Sahajdhari Sikh of that time was Kaura Mall, a minister to the Mughal governor of Lahore, Mu’in ul-Mulk (1748-53), who helped the Sikhs in diverse ways in those days of severe trial. He had so endeared himself to them that they called him Mittha (‘sweet’, in Punjabi) Mall instead of Kaura (which, in Punjabi, means ‘bitter’) Mall. Sikh tradition also recalls another Sahajdhari, Des Raj, of this period who was entrusted by the Khalsa with the task of having reconstructed the Harimandar, demolished by the Afghan invader, Ahmad Shah Durrani, in 1762. Dina Nath was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s finance minister. Bhai Vasti Ram, a learned man well versed in Sikh scripture, enjoyed considerable influence at the court.

Kesadhari Participation

Sahajdharis have continued to participate in Sikh life right up to modern times and have associated themselves with Sikh institutions and organizations such as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Chief Khalsa Diwan, Shiromani Akali Dal, and the All-India Sikh Students Federation. The Singh Sabhas used to have seats on their executive committees reserved for the Sahajdharis. Among their own societies, confined prior to the migrations of 1947, mainly to north-western India, were the Sahajdhari Committee of Multan, Guru Nanak Sahajdhari Diwan of Panja Sahib and Sri Guru Nnak Sahajdhari Jatha of Campbellpore. The Sahajdhari Diwan of Panja Sahib attained the status of their central forum. They as well had their annual conference which met for its first session on 13 April 1929 under the chairmanship of Sir Jogendra Singh who passed on the office to the famous Sikh scholar and savant, Bhai Kahn Singh. A Sahajdharis’ meeting formed part of the annual proceedings of the Sikh Educational Conference.

Religious and Social Customs

The Sahajdharis share with the main body of the Sikhs all of their religious and social customs and ceremonies and join their congregations in the gurdwaras. The population in the Punjab of Sahajdhari Sikhs (another name used is Sikh Nanakpanthis) according to 1891 Census was 397,000 (20% of the total Sikh population); according to 1901 Census, 297,000 (13% of the total Sikhs); according to 1911 Census, 451,000 (14.9% of the total Sikhs); according to 1921 Census, 229,000 (7% of the total Sikhs); according to 1931 Census, 282,000 (6.5% of the total Sikhs). Outside of the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province and Sindh had considerable Sahajdhari populations. Consequent upon the partition of India in 1947, Sahajdharis became widely dispersed in the country. Their India-wide forum was the Sarab Hind (All-India) Sahajdharis Conference which rotated from town to town for its annual sessions. Three of its presidents—Mahant Karam Chand, Bhai Sant Ram and Bhai Ram Lal Rahi—eventually took the vows of Khalsa baptism, receiving respectively the names Gur Darshan Singh, Sant Ram Singh and Ram Lal Singh Rahi.

Noteable Sahajdharis of Today

Above adapted from article by Kirpal Singh and Harbans Lal of Global Sikh Studies