All the Sikh and non-Sikh accounts unanimously agree that the institution of Sikh Sangat proved a very powerful instrument in the spread of Sikh education during the period of Sikh Gurus. With the passage of time these Sanga is where instutionlized and were placed under the change on the authorized Masands. This was done with a view to impart formal education to receive the collections for Bhent or Kar Sewa to be remitted to the Guru at the headquarter.

The word Masand is from the Persian word Masand which means an elevated seat or Gaddi. The Masands acted as the representatives of the Gurus and were thus offered higher seats of Gaddis in the Sikh Sangats and were thus called Masands. The Masand system had come to replace the Manjit system of Guru Amar Das. The Masands were also called Ramdasi after the name of the Guru who instituted this order and whom they represented.

The beginning of the institution of Masand therefore can be traced in the Manjit system introduced by Guru Amar Das the third Guru who established 22 Manjit each under the charge of a Masand 19 Drop a gate the Gurus teachings and to accept the collections on behalf of the Guru. In order to further streamline the system the fifth Guru Arjun Dev ordered that in future every Sikh was to set aside Das-wandh or one-tenth of his income for Gurus fund.

The Masands were specially trained Sikh preachers who were fully conversant with the doctrines of the Gurus. They were not merely collectors of the Bhent of the offerings but were teachers and Preachers of the Sikh faith. Tis is evident from the contemporary on-Sikh sources such as the Dabistan-i-Mazahib of Mohsin fani where in its stated a follows: Through the Masand people became Sikhs of the Guru The chief Masand through whom great multitudes became Sikhs of the Guru appointed their own deputies until in every place and district the associates of Masand though his deputy become the Sikhs of the Guru

By the time of Guru Arjun Dev the construction and other welfare activities required huge funds. The Masands were therefore specially instructed to come to Chak Ram Das (the Gurus headquarters) every first of Baisakhi to render accounts and bring with them as many Sikhs as could conveniently accompany them. Many more Sangats were established and trained Masands were appointed there during the period of Guru Hargobind.

The Masand system was thus a far flung and at the same time a closely centralized institution There are many instances on the record o show that during several decades the institution of Masan functioned smoothly. It was the general rule for a Masand not to depend in any way on the offerings made by the Sikhs for his own subsistence. The offering was regarded as poison and dependence on them for subsistence was a tantamount to polluting the body.

That the Masands were special honored by the Gurus is knows from the fact that at the time to taking leave each and every one the Masands received a turban The Gurus thus not only received 2 substantial income through the Masands but the later also proved as powerful instruments of propagating the doctrines of the Sikh Gurus. The Masands taught and organized the Sangats Viceroys of the Gurus. Thus the Sikhs were provided with convenient local educational-cum-religious centers.

Up to the period of the six Gur the well-knit organization of the Sangats and Masands kept the Sikhs together and in touch with their leader. During the period of Guru Hargobind a new duty was assigned to the Masands which consisted of recruitment and training of the Sikhs in the art of warfare for the purpose of supplying the warriors to the Guru. A Hukamnamas was issued to the Masands to the effect that the Gur would be pleased with those (Masands) who brought them the “offerings of arms and horses instead of money. During the same Period the institution of Sangats and Masands was supplemented by several Dhuans (hearths) and Bakshishis (bounties) apart from the Udasis.

By the time of Guru Hargobind the old Masands became largely corrupt and unreliable. The next Guru therefore hit upon another idea for carrying on the work of education of the Sikhs. A new set of devotees was converted to Sikhism and these were assigned the task earlier performed by the Masands.

Guru Hari Rai converted a Bairagi named Bhagat Gir to the Silt faith together with his followers. The new convert was renamed as Bhagat Bhagwan and as appointed to preach Sikhism in the East where he and his followers established about 360 Gaddis. Another disciple of the Guru was appointed to preach Sikhism in the central districts of the Punjab

It was thus during the period of Gura Har Rai that the first two Bakshishis (bounties) or centers Of missionary work were established. At a later stage these proved to be so successful that three others were added by Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.

The political moves of the Masands however came to the surface during the period of Guru Har Krishan when they made attempt to seize the Gunugaddi of Ram Rai and use of the later as tool. The incident is a clear indication of the deterioration in the Masand system which to some extent had begun even during the days of Guru Hargobind. The Masands were no longer pious and honest men whom Gur Aju had appointed. They had been selected initially as torch-bearers the Sikh educational concept unfortunately the office to a Masand soon became hereditary and gradually fell into un-worth hands.

By the period of Guru Teal Bahadur the whole institution o Masand eared a bad reputation Some of the Masands began openly to declare that they could make o unmake the Gurus. Further their corrupt practices brought disrepute to the whole movement. Thu the Masands who had been fore most in spreading the Guru: message became in course of time the greatest counterpoise to his authority. The Sikh sources contain a number of stores as to how Guru Gobind Singh was finally convinced of their influence. These Masands and determined to free his Sikhs from their influence. These stories may or may not be true but the substantial truth be: hind them is testified to by the Guru himself:

“If any one go to the Masands they will tell him to bring all his propend at once and give it to them

If anyone serve the Masands thy will say “Fetch and give us all thy offerings. Go at once and make a present to us of whatever property sin they house

Think of us night and day and mention not to others even by mistake.”

“Thy put oil into their eyes to make people believe that they are shedding tears.

If they see any of their worshipers wealthy they serve up sacred food and feed him with it.

If they see him without wealth they give him nothing though he begs for it. They will not even show him their faces.

Those beasts plunder men and ever sing the praise of the Supreme Being.

Guru Gobind Singh thus did not compromise on half measures like trying to reform the Masands or separating the less corrupt from the thoroughly comp but with one stroke of the pen be pronounced excommunication on the Whole lot of them. Ic was thus a historical situation which once again linked the Guru directly with his Sikhs

A number of Hukum namas issued by Guru Gobind Singh to the Sikh Sangats after 1699 A.D refer to the Gurus instructions the Sikhs to send their offering direct through the authorized persons and not through the Masan or if possible bring them personally to Anandpur. They were further directed not to associate themselves with the Masands and their followers.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 8, 1996