Satnami Commandments

The Satnami Chamars who were the forerunners of the militarised anti-caste saint soldiers-the Sikhs, have been marginalised in Indian history. They find mention in Manucci's Historia as having rebelled against Auranzeb's rule. The following is taken from Tara Chand's Influence of Islam on Indian Culture,detailing their history and link with Guru Ravidas and their commandments.



A CONTEMPORARY of Dadu was Birbhan, who founded the 
famous sect of the Saddhs or Satnamis. He was born in 1543 
A.D. at Bijesar near Narnaul in the South-eastern Punjab. 
He was affiliated through Udhodas to Raidas (or Ravidas. He was a 
strict monotheist, he called God by the name of Satnam the 
true name. 

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Untouchability - Theories of

Untouchability – Theories of

There are many theories about the origin of untouchability. These theories range from historical, political, cross cultural anthropological, sociological, theological, economic and combination of many of these.  The fact that there are so many diverse explanations may mean that all such explanations lack some core understanding of this pollution taboo. It may be that the truth is a combination of correct aspects of many such theories. Examining some of these theories allow us to look at their strengths and weaknesses. It would be difficult to look at all such theories; nevertheless three broad categories of the most important ones are examined below.

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You say-you drink, but you lick the boots of those who drink. You hate those who eat meat, but you bow down to those  (English) who eat beef. Is it not because they are more powerful than you ? If we become kings today you will stand before us with folded hands. In you religion the one who is powerful is high, the powerless are low. This is your religion.

The old Untouchable to Pandit Liladhar in Premchand's Mantar.

No aspect of the caste system is as fascinating as the study of untouchability problem. This problem is not unique to India, other cultures such as Japanese, Burmese, Nigerian and some of the South American Indian cultures have also displayed similar phenomena. But the Indian system seems to be historically very highly developed and complex. At first glance there does not seem to be any 'rational' reason for the practice of untouchability. However, a closer examination reveals that there are sound underlying 'reasons' for this obnoxious practice. The root cause of all the three above mentioned cultures practicing untouchability is the same as we shall see later on. But it is not well known that the way untouchability is practiced it shows that the system is neither logical nor consistent.

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The Satnami Chamars

The Satnami Chamars


There is a city named Begampura; Where pain and sorrow find no place; There is no fear of tribute or tax; There is no sin, nor dread or death.


The story of the Satnami rebellion of 1672 starts with Guru Ravidas (?1373 ?1475) who dreamed of and sang about  a Utopian city named Begampura, literally a city without sorrow, which had no exploitation or tribute. The movement of the untouchables led by Ravidas did not come to an end on his death. His pupil, Udho Das or Udhav Das, kept the anti caste tradition alive from where it was passed on to, Birbhan (?1543?1658). By this time the followers were known as the Sadhus or the Sadhs. Since belief in one God (whom they called Sat Nam i.e. true name) was one of the fundamental tenet of their faith they were also called Satnamis. The unitarianism or the belief in one God was a central tenent of the followers of Kabir, Nanak and Ravidas and indeed it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the hymns of these three. The sect's supposed founder Birbhan was an inhabitant of Brijhisar near Narnaul in the east Punjab near Delhi. The commandments of their sects are contained in their scripture called the Pothi (book). This pothi, equivalent in stature to the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs is written in the ordinry Brajbhasa language in Devanagari script and contained hymns of many saints who opposed the caste system, for example Kabir and Nanak.

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Dalits and the Emanicipatory Sikh religion


Presented at UPenn Dec 3-5, 2008 Conference Dalit Challenges to Academic Knowledge: The Great Paradoxes


Dalits and the Emancipatory Sikh Religion


Raj Kumar Hans

M. S. University of Baroda


Hinduism has always been hostile to Sikhism, whose Gurus successfully attacked the principle of caste, which is the foundation on which the fabric of Brahminical religion has been reared. The activities of Hinduism have, therefore, been constantly directed to the undermining of Sikhism... Hinduism has strangled Buddhism, once a formidable rival to it, and it made serious inroads on the domains of Sikhism.

A. E. Barstow (1928)[1]

The ‘Dalit history’ approach, a particularly germane form of social history ‘from below’, seeks to bring caste conflict out in the open by making it a central theme in the writing of Sikh history. It thus provides a rather different, potentially stimulating, and realistic lens through which to take a closer look at Sikh history as a whole.

John C. B. Webster[2]


Today’s Untouchables are stronger than they have ever been. The progress they have made over the last century is quite remarkable. Many of the discriminations that once affected them have been seriously attenuated. Yet, and perhaps paradoxically, the great majority remain poor, powerless, and indeed without a voice.

Robert Diliege[3]

Dalits constitute about 30 per cent of Punjab population that happens to be largest propor­tion in the country, when compared with other provinces, but they occupy the lowest share in the ownership of land (2.34 per cent of the cultivated area). Mazhbis and Ramdasias, the two dalit castes among the Sikhs, particularly the Mazhbis, remain the most deprived. Evidence of untouchability against dalit Sikhs is well established. They have been forced to live in separate settlements, contemptuously called ‘thhattis’ or ‘chamarlees’, located on the western side and away from the main body of the villages. All the Sikh organisations from Sikh temples to the political party are under the control of the Jatt Sikhs. The Jatt Sikhs refuse to consider them equals even after death, by disallowing cremation of their dead in the main cremation ground of the village. Over the years such harsh caste attitude has forced the dalits to es­tablish separate gurdwaras, marriage places and cremation grounds.[4] This seems to be the biggest paradox of Sikhism which theoretically and theologically has been characterized as ‘emancipatory’[5] and even sociologically as ‘revolutionary’[6]. In its true egalitarian spirit, Sikhism had succeeded in integrating the lowliest of the low, the former untouchables, the dalits, into its fold. From dalits’ perspective the evolution of Sikhism can be seen in two phases: a) from seventeenth century to Ranjit Singh’s rule, when dalits played remarkable role in Sikh political struggles and religious movements; b) post-Ranjit Singh phase, when Brahmanical values and attitudes resurfaced with caste and untouchability afflicting the Sikh body politic in such a way that there was danger of its re-absorption into Hinduism. Though dominant literary tradition has denied the significance of ‘caste’ and ‘untouchability’ in Sikhism, it has also ignored and neglected the dalit contribution to the flourishing of Sikhism in the first phase. The rise in consciousness in the twentieth century has enabled the Dalits to raise questions on the dominant historigraphical praxis by attempting to recover the lost ground. The paper would first look at the modern moment, the rise in the dalit consciousness as manifest in Dalit creative writings. In seeking an answer to as to what made the powerful Sikh movement drift the paper would look at the ‘brahmanisation’ of Sikhism in the nineteenth century with ominous implications for dalits as well as for Sikhism.


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