The Satnami sect of Hinduism was founded in 1657 in Narnaul (a town in today’s Indian state of Haryana, situated about 100km south-west of Delhi), by a saint names Birbhan. They are considered to be an offshoot of the followers of the great saint Ravidas. The name Satnami reflects the major religious activity of the sect – which is the chanting and meditation of the true name (satnam, names of God), especially the names of Rama and Krishna. Fixing the mind devotedly on divine names, the fluctuations of the consciousness are stabilised, which makes one fit to receive higher intuitive knowledge of the divine. The sect is comprised mostly, but by no means exclusively, of the lower strata of Hindu society – particularly the leather worker, sweeper, carpenters, and goldsmith communities – and they observe no caste distinctions – judging people only be their actions. They were known to have dressed simply like saints, and keep shaved heads (and were hence also called mundiyas), and abstain from intoxicants and animal foods. These tenets are still practised by many today. Today the sect numbers over 15 million, and followers are to be found in Rajisthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra. This huge spread is due to the fact that those who survived the genocide following their rebellion against the Moghuls spread out into small units over vast tracts of land.
The great Satnami revolt occurred in the reign of the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb. Many Hindus resented Aurangzeb’s strict Islamic policies – which included reviving the hated Islamic Jiziya tax (poll tax on non-Muslim subjects), banning music and art, and destroying Hindu temples. The revolt began in 1672 when a Moghul soldier killed a Satnami. Other Satnamis took revenge on the Moghul soldier, and in turn the Moghul soldiers went about repressing the Satnamis. The result was that about 5,000 Satnamis were up in arms. They routed the Moghul troops situated in the town, drove away the Moghul administrators and set up their own administration in its place. The uprising gained the enthusiasm of Hindus in Agra and Ajmer also.
Though totally lacking in weaponry and money, the Satnamis inflicted several defeats on the Moghul forces. The contemporary Moghul chronicler, Saqi Mustaid Khan, expressed amazement as to what came over this
“destitute gang of goldsmiths, carpenters, sweepers and tanners and other… artisan castes that their conceited brains became so overclouded? Rebellious pride having found a place in their brains, their heads became too heavy for their shoulders.”
The resentment of the Satnami’s against the Moghul persecution meant that they exhibited full reciprocal behavious to their oppressors. It was only with great difficulty that any Muslim soldiers could be brought to face the Satnamis, such was the wrath of the Satnamis at the time. It was only when Aurangzeb himself took personal command and sent 10,000 troops with artillery that the Satnamis fell. They put up a brave defense. According to Saqi Mustaid Khan they believed that they were re-enacting scenes from the Mahabharata war. 2,000 Satnamis were slain on the battlefield and many more were slain in pursuit. What followed was an attempt to slay every remaining member of the Satnamis, and destroy all their homes. The remnants of the Satnamis fled in all directions and for a long time were totally disorganized and leaderless.
Jagjivandas, a Kshatriya from Uttar Pradesh, reorganized the remnants of the Satnami sect, probably about 3 decades later in the 1700’s. Dulandas, a disciple of Jagjivandas, also did much work to revive and reorganize the Satnami order. This shows the unity between all sections of Hindu society – even in the worst days of caste discrimination. Today, the headquarters of the Satnamis is in Bhandar, a village in the Raipur district of Madhya Pradesh.
We pay our obeisance to the Satnamis, Great Hindus of the finest caliber, despite being drawn mostly from sections of the society which have at times faced intense discrimination from other Hindus. Despite this they observe religious lifestyles of the highest moral standards, and as we have seen, served Hindu society militarily too. What is particularly unique about their revolt is that it happened right under the very noses of the Moghul capital and traditional stronghold (Delhi and Agra). As such, their achievement gains even more in our eyes.
HINDU RESISTANCE: Hindu civilisaton alone out of all the ancient civilisations of the world has survived in a continuity with its past, againt many determined attempts to exterminate it. This series of articles will focus on contributions of different persons and sections of Hindu society to this phenomenal achievement.