Sant Mat

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Sant Mat (sanskrit: Guru) was a loosely associated group of teachers that became prominent in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent from about the 13th century. Theologically, their teachings are distinguished by an inward, loving devotion to a divine principle, and socially by an egalitarianism opposed to the qualitative distinctions of the Hindu caste system, and to those between Hindus and Muslims. [1]

The sant lineage can be divided into two main groups: The northern group of Sants from the provinces of the Punjab, (Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), who expressed themselves mainly in vernacular Hindi, and the southern group, whose language is archaic Marathi, represented by Namdev and other Sants of Maharashtra.[1]Poets such as Kabir belonged to the northern group.


The expression Sant Mat cannot be adequately translated into English, but literally means the 'point of view of the Sants.' The term Sant is derived from the Sanskrit sat (सद) and has overlapping usages (truth, real, reality, honest, right.) Its root meaning is "one who knows the truth" or "one who has experienced Ultimate Reality."

Often mistranslated as "Saint," (false cognate) the term Sant has taken on the more general meaning of "a good person", but is properly assigned to the poet-sants of medieval India. [2]

The Sants

The Sant Mat movement was not homogeneous, and consisted mostly of the Sants' own socio-religious attitudes which were based on bhakti (devotion) as described a thousand years earlier in the Bhagavad Gita.[3] Sharing as few conventions with each other as with the followers of the traditions they challenged, the Sants appear more as a diverse collection of spiritual personalities than a specific religious tradition, although they acknowledged a common spiritual root.[4]

The boundaries of the movement were likely not sectarian and were devoid of Brahmin concepts of caste and liturgy. The poet-sants expressed their teaching in vernacular verse, addressing themselves to the common folk in oral style in Hindi and other dialects such as Marathi. They referred to the "Divine Name" as having saving power, and dismissed the religious rituals as having no value. They presented the idea that true religion was a matter of surrendering to God "who dwells in the heart"[3].

The first generation of north Indian sants, (which included Kabir and Raidas), appeared in the region of Benares in the mid 15th century. Preceding them were two notable 13th and 14th century figures, Namdev and Ramananda. The latter, according to tradition, was a Vaishnava ascetic who initiated Kabir, Raidas, and other sants. Ramanand's story is told differently by his lineage of "Ramanandi" monks, by other Sants preceding him, and later by the Sikhs. What is known is that Ramananda accepted students of all castes, a fact that was contested by the orthodox Hindus of that time, and that his students formed the first generation of Sants.[5]

Some of these Sants came from low castes, some of them were women, and some even untouchables (Atishudras). Some of the more notable Sants include Namdev (d.1350), Kabir (d.1518), Nanak (d.1539), Mirabai (d.1545), Surdas (d.1573), Tulsidas (d.1623), and Tukaram (d. 1650).

The 'tradition of the Sants' (sant parampara) remained non-sectarian, though a number of Sant poets have been considered as the founders of sects. Some of these may bear the Sant's name, but were developed after them by later followers such as Kabir Panth, Dadu Panth, Dariya Panth, Advait Mat, and Radhasoami.[6] Nanak, one of the most notable Sant-poets, is the first of the ten Gurus of the Sikhs, and considered the founder of the Sikh religion.[1].

Only a small minority of religious Hindus have formally followed Sant Mat, but the tradition has considerably influenced Hindus across sects and castes. Bhajans (devotional songs) attributed to past Sants such as Mirabai are widely listened to in India and in Hindu communities around the world. The Sant tradition is the only one in medieval and modern India which has successfully crossed some barriers between Hindu and Muslim blocks.[3]

Related movements

Medieval Sufi poets such as Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, as well as Sindhi people|Sindhi poets, are considered to have many similarities with the poet-sants of Sant Mat.[7]

The Radhasoami movement in North India regards itself as the main repository of the tradition of the Sants and their teachings, as well as their approach to religious endeavors, and presents itself as the living incarnation of the Sant tradition. According to Mark Juergensmeyer, that claim is also made by the Kabir-panthis, the Sikhs and other movements that continue to find the insights from the Sant tradition valid today.[8]

According to Gordon Melton, the Divine Light Mission was derived from Sant Mat.[9] The 20th century religious movement Eckankar is also considered by David Lane to be an offshoot of the Sant Mat tradition.[10] James R. Lewis refers to these movements as "expressions of an older faith in a new context."[11]

Sant Poetry

Poem by Kabir
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
you will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but
When you really look for me, you will see me
instantly —
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.[12]
Poem by Nanak
If you bestow your glance of grace, through grace we find the Guide [Satguru]
This soul first passes many births, at last the Guide is heard
No giver is greater that the Guide, all people make this well
The Guide once more imparts the Truth, to those who kill the Self
The Guide who makes us grasp reality.
Asa ki Var M1 4. AG456[1]
Poem by Mirabai
I am true to my Lord,
O my companions, there is nothing to be ashamed of now
Since I have been seen dancing openly.
In the day I have no hunger
At night I am restless and cannot sleep.
Leaving these troubles behind, I go to the other side;
A hidden knowledge has taken hold of me.
My relations surround me like bees.
But Mira is the servant of her beloved Giridhar,[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Woodhead, Linda & Fletcher, Paul. Religion in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations (2001) pp.71-2. Routledge (UK) ISBN 0-415-21784-9"
  2. Schomer, Karine, The Sant Tradition in Perspective, in Sant Mat:Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W.H. (Eds.)ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lipner, Julius J. Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (1994). Routledge (United Kingdom), pp. 120-1 . ISBN 0-415-05181-9
  4. Gold, Daniel, Clan and Lineage amongst the Sants: Seed, Substance, Service, in Sant Mat:Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W.H. (Eds.). pp.305, ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
  5. Hees, Peter, Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience, (2002) p359. NYU Press, ISBN 0-8147-3650-5
  6. Vaudeville, Charlotte. Sant Mat: Santism as the Universal Path to Sanctity in Sant Mat:Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W.H. (Eds.) ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
  7. Alsani, Ali. Sindhi Literary Culture, in Pollock, Sheldon I (Ed.) Literary Culture in History (2003), p.637-8, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-22821-9
  8. Juergensmeyer, Mark. The Radhasoami Revival pp.329-55 in Sant Mat:Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod (Eds.) W.H. ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
  9. Gordon, Melton, J., Encyclopedia of American Religions
  10. Lane, David C., "The Making of a Spiritual Movement", el Mar Press; Rev. edition (December 1, 1993), ISBN 0-9611124-6-8
  11. Lewis, James R. The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements p.23, Oxford University Press (2003), ISBN 0-19-514986-6
  12. Mitchell, Stephen A. The Enlightened Heart (1993) p.72. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-092053-X
  13. Taru, Susie. Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present, V : 600 B.C. to the Early Twentieth Century (1992). The Feminist Press at CUNY. ISBN 1-55861-027-8