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date: 17 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article surveys, with examples, the phenomenon of spiritual leaders known as sant or baba and their residential bases (deras) and successions. Starting from the fifteenth century, but focusing mainly on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, attention is paid to literary sources, to Muslim and Hindu parallels, and to Sikhs’ mixed reaction to recent and contemporary sants. The involvement in politics of some sants (Sants Fateh Singh, Harchand Singh Longowal, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, for example) is reported. As well as generic features, the distinctive characteristics of Nanaksar-style devotion, of Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere, and of other groupings are presented. Sants are considered in relation to caste (for example two predominantly Ravidassia deras), as well as to gender (the fewness of female spiritual leaders), and the influential role in diaspora Sikh communities is mentioned.

Keywords: sant, baba, dera, Nanaksar, Ravidassia, diaspora, politics, succession, caste, gender

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