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The Real Guru
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At the formal level, within Sanatan Sikhism, ‘Shabad’ is recognized as ‘Ist Dev’ (Guru’s Guru). Amongst the Nirmalas and Udasis, at an individual personal level, ‘Dehdhari’ Gurus in the context of ‘Ustads’ (teachers) are also recognized.

Nirmala Sikhs seen here standing during 'Ardas' in the holy city of Ujjain

These 'Gurus' are adopted by either accepting a particular ‘Mantra’ (invocation) given by the one being adopted as Guru, or through institution of ‘Charna Phul’ (traditional Sikh initiation given by making neophyte drink the water touched by toe of individual adopted as Guru). Note - the Charna Phul institution is considered defunct by modern Sikhs from the time Akali Nihang Guru Gobind Singh Ji initiated the Singh Khalsa in 1699(?). This is a false idea propagated by Tat Khalsa Singh Sabhia Sikhs. Dr. John Campbell Oman commented on Udasi initiation rites early last century:

‘The initiatory ceremony is brought to a conclusion by the ‘chela’ [initiate] drinking the water with which his guru’s feet have been washed. He is then taught certain portions of a hymn known as the ‘jap-ji’, and dismissed with this final admonition– “ Charan sadh ke dho dho peyo
Urap sadh ko apna jeyo.”
(Drink the water with which the sadhu has washed his feet, and give up your soul and body to the sadhu, i.e. the guru)
‘The Mystics, Ascetics And Saints Of India’, by John Campbell Oman, 1903, Pa.195-196

Udasis at Sadhubela Akhara in Mumbai singing 'Aarti' in praise of Baba Sri Chand Ji Maharaj, the founder of the Udasi order

Giani Gurdev Singh of Samparda Bhindra, most prominent of Sikh Gianis taught by Baba Gurbachan Singh Khalsa ‘Bhindranwaley’, comments:

‘Nirmalas [like Udasis] were also great intellectuals, they were very great intellectuals. They do extra worship of their Guru who is their ‘Ustad’. Nirmalas do with extra ways, and adopt a Guru. Who they learn of, they stay within his say and serve him.’
Giani Gurdev Singh, transcript of on October 2003

During the nineteenth century, the descendants of Akali Guru Nanak, the Bedis, such as Sahib Singh Bedi enjoyed phenomenal status as ‘Guru’ to many Sikhs. Even Maharaja Ranjit Singh worshiped Sahib Singh Bedi as Guru during his reign.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh
A painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his 'Sirdars' (commanders), Imam Bakhsh Lahori (circa 1830)

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