- Radhasoami Movement
- (est. 1861)The Radhasoami Movement began in Agra, India, in the 1860s with the teachings of Swami Shiv Dayal Singh. He himself reflected a variety of Hindu influences, including devotion to KABIR, SIKHISM, NAT H YOGA, and the Vaishnavite tradi-tion. Each of these emphasized the importance of sacred words and the guidance of a spiritual master in transforming the self.Singh became known as Soamiji Maharaj, because he was believed to be the incarnation of the Supreme Being Radhasoami Dayal (or Merci-ful Radhasoami). In 1861, Shiv Dayal Singh began holding satsangs (gatherings) in Agra, preaching Radhasoami as the true name of God. Although Singh himself was greatly influenced by Guru NANAK, the founding teacher of Sikhism, the Rad-hasoami movement is not to be understood as an offshoot of Sikhism. It is often considered hereti-cal by orthodox Sikhs because it does not adhere to the Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture, as the only guru. Orthodox Hindus treat the movement with suspicion because of its disregard of caste.The Radhasoami tradition blends progres-sive leadership with esoteric beliefs and spiritual practices, a contradiction that gives this move-ment a unique personality. Radhasoamis practice a type of yogic meditation known as surat-shabd (spirit-sound), which they believe is based on scientific principles alone, not faith. The experi-ence of shabd, or sound current, is an internally heard vibration from God that allows for spiritual evolution. The movement accepts a hierarchy of leadership with one major teacher in charge at all times; a Sant Sat Guru is considered to be a human being who has taken birth from the high-est spiritual plane and has reached an exalted state by practice of surat-sabd yoga. A Sadguru is next in this structure, having received understanding from the Sant Sat Guru and practice of surat-sabd yoga. A Satsangi is a follower who learns the practice of surat-sabd yoga under the direction of a Sadguru.Singh’s students were mostly members of the urban merchant caste community, both house-holders and ascetics. After his death in 1878, there were many splits in the movement due to the lack of a clearly established method for selecting a successor. The succeeding masters gave birth to over 20 Radhasoami lineages, most of which have disappeared. Today the most famous branches include Radhasoami Agra, Radhasoami Dayal Bagh, and Radhasoami Beas.Radhasoami Agra occupies the original site at Soami Bagh in Agra, where a memorial shrine for the founder, Soamiji Maharaj, has been in construction since 1904. Soamiji Maharaj’s fourth successor, Babuji Maharaj, died in 1949, leaving the community to await the coming of the sixth Sant Sat Guru. A spacious residential colony and institution are administered by the movement’s Central Administrative Council, which was origi-nally established in 1902 by Maharaj Saheb (sec-ond successor).The Dayal Bagh branch was founded by Kamta Prasad Sinha at Ghazipur in 1907. In 1913 Sinha’s successor, Anand Swarup, moved the organization’s headquarters to Agra, directly across from Soami Bagh. The two communities have remained separate, each maintaining a large residential col-ony, shops, post office, and bank. Satsangs (gath-erings) are held every evening, drawing crowds in the hundreds.The Beas branch was created in 1892 under Baba Jaimal Singh and is located in Punjab. Fur-ther splits in this group have produced the Ruhani Satsang founded by Kirpal SINGH, known as Kirpal Light Satsang; the movement became popular in the United States under the leadership of Kirpal’s successor, Thakar Singh. The colony at Beas is a utopian city unto itself and draws thousands of attendees annually. Satsangs of this group gather near the Beas River and in Delhi and Bombay with thousands of people in attendance.The movement at large claims over 1 million initiates in South Asia and tens of thousands more throughout the rest of the world.See also Sant Mat movement.Further reading: Mark Juergensmeyer, Radhasoami Reality: The Logic of a Modern Faith (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991); Om Prakash Kaushal, The Radha Soami Movement: 1891–1997 (Jalandhar: ABS Publications, n.d.); David Christopher Lane, The Rad-hasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successor-ship (New York: Garland, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.