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The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History
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Divaneh Sadh

Time of origin: late 1500s/ early 1600s

The name of this ancient Sikh sect can be translated as ‘mad holy men’. This is due to the fact that this Sikh ‘Panth’ (way) originated with blessing of Akali Guru Arjan Dev’s nephew, Baba Manordas Merhban (1581-1640). The Divaneh Sadh are also known as ‘Merhbanieh’.

Merhban was the son of Akali Guru Arjan Dev’s elder brother Prithia. Akali Guru Ram Das had passed over Prithia and conferred the Guruship to his youngest son, Akali Guru Arjan Dev Ji. For this reason, Prithia was hostile to Guru Arjan Dev and Sikh history (see 'Gurbilas Shemi'), records that on several occasions Prithia tried to unsuccessfully murder Akali Guru Hargobind Sahib when he was an infant.

Akali Guru Arjan Dev Ji Maharaj
Sketch of the fifth Sikh Guru, circa late 19th century

In time Prithia, having earned the derogatory name ‘Mina’ (meaning with evil heart), pinned his hopes on the idea one day his son Merhban would become Sikh Guru. Merhban was a clever, good, spiritually inclined child, who had the misfortune of having such a envious, ambitious and cold hearted father.

In his early childhood, Merhban had studied under the guidance of his ‘Chacha’ (youngest paternal uncle) Akali Guru Arjan Dev. He was taught Sikh scripture, Kirtan (spiritual music) and traditions. Upon Akali Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom, in order to gain support for his son to usurp the Guruship of the child Akali Guru Hargobind, Prithia sent his son Merhban to the region of Malwa and the mountainous regions of the Punjab (around the Kangra hill states) to propagate his cause.

Akali Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji Maharaj
Fresco from the walls of Baba Atal Gurdwara, Amritsar depicting Bhai Bidhi Chand
(center) paying his respects to the sixth Sikh warrior Guru (seated), circa late 19th century

Merhban spread the message of Sikhism and came into the holy company of Udasi Baba Poondar Das Ji. Indeed, this fact has been recorded by Udasi Brahmanand, in a work known as ‘Udasin Matt Darpan’ (circa 1923). Baba Poondar Das Ji’s two disciples, Bava Hari and Bala Udasi became the disciples of Merhban It is from them that the Divaneh Sadh order of Sikhs finds its origin.

Fresco from the walls of a Nirmala Gurdwara at Nurangabad depicting Udasi Sadhus, circa mid 19th century

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