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Interpretation of the word Panth
Posted by : Davinder Singh
Date: 7/27/2004 1:24 pm



INTERPRETATION OF THE WORD PANTH IN SIKH SCRIPTURES


The word "Panth" is a Sanskrit word, which has been often used in Upnishads and Mahabharata like the other common words "Panch" or Pank, which continued to be used in Sikh Scriptures in dictionary meaning and also in their newly oriented meanings in the context of Sikh doctrines and ideals. Panth or Path means the road, the path and the way.

During the medieval period the word began to be used mostly for religious orders which had their own distinctive religious organizations like the twelve Panths of the Yogis and the ten Panths of the Sannyasis. These were well-knit ascetic religious orders distinguished by their different ascetic practices, externals and internal forms and practices. Bhai Gurdas refers to them thus :

1. sannyasi das nav dhar jogi barah panth chalaya. Sannyaysis have ten while yogis have instituted twelve panths.

Bhai Gurdas, Var 39, Pauri 16

2. barah panth chalayke barah vati khare duhela

After instituting twelve panths
The yogis stand on twelve different paths of difficult practices of self-mortification


In this sense the word is used in Guru Granth also in a number of places. In his Siddh Gosht, Guru Nanak clearly records the persuasive dialogue and intention of the Yogis to attract young Guru Nanak to one of their twelve Panths. In the Guru Granth it is also recorded that the Nath Panth which had gained prominence was Ayi Panth. Originally it was known as Mai Panth, a yogi order led by a woman, who was addressed as Mother (Mai); and then the letter 'M' was dropped and beg;an to be called "Ayi" which in APabhrams means ''First, Primal, Prominent, Outstanding: a position which it still helds among the Yogis. Guru Nanak refers it to in japji pauri 28.

When Guru Arjun's elder brother Prithi Mal formed a parallel Guruship, and installed himself as the head of a rival Panth, Bhai Gurdas called him and his successors Minas (Highway robbers) and condemned the fake Panth they had organised as Nark-Panth; the religious order doomed to be condemned to hell. IS He compared them to jackels, owls, and hypocrites who promise heaven to their devotees, like a mirage but actually led them to hell. He completely condemns them as a counterfeit coins. Although, with the assistance and patronage of the rulers, they survived for three or four generations, they ended like a stream meandering into a hot desert. But the Sikh Panth of the Gurus was given a distinctive name and its uniqueness, and interior and outer distinctiveness was emphasized. According to Bhai Gurdas it embraced all religions and panths but yet it maintained its uniqueness and distinct identity by its high moral and spiritual character. It was not just called "Panth", but Gursikh Panth, Gurmukh Panth, Nirmal Panth, which is translated as Khalsa Panth.

gurumukh panth agam hai
mar mar Jivai jae pachanai

Unfathomable and profoundly deep is the Gurmukh Panth The devotee dies and relives, he dies and is reborn
Till he achieves realization of God.

Bhai Gurdas, Var 40; 19:4



gurmukh panth vakhaniai
apar na sakai ikat vikhi
sil aluni chatani
tul na lakh amio ras ikhi

Know this to be the Gurmukh Panth:
It cannot be achieved by merely
Taking one step (ikat vikh) towards it; In the beginning it is flavourless
Like tasting a tasteless stone
But its achievements cannot be surpassed By countless flavours of nectar.

Bhai Gurdas, Var 28, Pauri 9

Bhai Gurdas repeatedly calls it Sacha Gurmukh Panth, Gursikh Panth, Uttam Panth, Nirmal Panth. Guru Gobind Singh gave many new Attributive Names to God such as Sarb Loh (All-steel), One whose banner is the Sword, the Infinite Sword. He also gave a new name to the Gurmukh Panth : The Khalsa Panth. The ideal Sikh Gurmukh was the Khalsa and the Khalsa was Gurmukh. The Gurmukh Khalsa carried with it additional responsibilities of the eternal Guru collectively. Just as merely externals or outward piety did not make a person Gurmukh, so also merely externals do not make a person Khalsa. No matter how much confusion is built around these terms by superficial and prejudiced observers and critics, the ideal of the Gurmukh, Brahm Giani, true Sikh, true Khalsa is made clear in hundreds of hymns in Guru Granth and Dasam Granth.