10 Sikhism Clergy Terms and What They Mean

Traditional Roles of Gurdwara Caretakers and Attendants

Did you know that English words and terms such as priest, preacher, pastor, parson, reverend, minister, cleric, or clergyman, neither adequately, nor accurately, express the proper meaning of Sikh clergy terms, titles, and positions?

Each of the following ten terms commonly used in Sikhism, describes a particular traditional role taken in a Sikh worship service, or secular service, by a religious leader, an attendant, or a gurdwara caretaker, and what it means in terms of qualifications, and duties:

  1. Gianni
  2. Granthi
  3. Jethedar
  4. Kathawak
  5. Kirtani
  6. Masand
  7. Paathee
  8. Panj Pyare
  9. Ragi
  10. Sevadar

In Sikhism there is no hierarchy of clergy. Although training is desirable for certain positions, anyone who is qualified, whether male, or female, regardless of age, or ethnic background, may fill any position available.

01
of 10

Gianni (gi-aan-ee)

Paath at the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib
Paath at the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

The term Gianni refers one who has knowledge acquired through advancement of study, and specialized training, in subjects particular to Sikhism, and who is qualified to teach others. A Gianni may have extensive experience in any, or all, areas of Sikh studies:

  • Gurmukhi script.
  • Gurbani, or Sikh scripture.
  • Raag, the Indian classical musical system.
  • Itihaas, the stories of Sikh history.
  • Political science, politics relating to Sikh interests, and issues.

A Gianni has the necessary requirements to be capable of fulfilling most, if not all, roles of the Sikh clergy.

02
of 10

Granthi (grant-hee)

Granthi Reads Lavan From Guru Granth
Granthi Reads Lavan From Guru Granth. Photo © [S Khalsa]

A Granthi is the attendant of the granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism Siri Guru Granth Sahib. An official Granthi has the skill to read Gurmukhi.

The attendance of Granthi is required during the Sikh worship service, and ceremonial functions wherever, and whenever, Guru Granth Sahib is present:

A Granthi has any or all, duties of:

  • Chaur - Sitting in attendance during a worship service and waving the fly whisk.
  • Hukam - Reading the divine order from the scripture aloud.
  • Paath - Devotional reading of scripture on behalf of others.

The Granthi may hold a full time gurdwara paid position, or voluntarily sit in attendance of the Guru for just a short while, and anything in between. A Granthi position may be filled by a qualified man, women, or child, of any ethnic background.

03
of 10

Jathedar (jat-hey-daar)

Akhand Kirtan Jatha and Jathedar
Jathedar (front row center) of Akhand Kirtan Jatha Northern California. Photo © [Courtesy Simran Kaur]

A Jathedar is the leader of a Jatha, or group. The group may be small and informal like a ragi jatha with just two musicians, or as large, and formal, as the entire Panth of the world wide Sikh Society, and any thing in between. Although a Jethadar may have substantial global influence, he, or she, may also be an entirely humble being.

  • A Jathedar may have a prominent position presiding globally over Sikh spiritual and secular affairs such as the appointed Jathedar of the Akal Takhat, the seat of temporal authority, who is given authority to issue edicts which go into effect all around the world.
  • A Jathedar may preside over an entire global denomination of Sikhism such as the Akhand Kirtan Jathaa (AKJ) , Dam Dami Taksal (DDT), International Institute of Gurmat Studies (IIGS) etc. or be the leader of a local chapter.
  • A Jathedar may be the head of a Sikh political human rights organization such as Sikhs for Justice, and Sikh Coalition, or a humanitarian organization such as United Sikhs, and even the ecology minded Eco Sikhs.
  • A Jathedar may even be some such as Gurpreet Kaur head, and permanent member of the Gurmat Gian Group (GGG), an all women's raga kirtan jathaa.
04
of 10

Kathawak (kat-haa-wak)

Kathaa
Kathaa. Photo © [S Khalsa]
A Kathawak is a person who performs Kathaa and may be a simple story teller, preach sermons, or give expounding on spiritual subjects. A Kathawak generally has a very well developed sense, and understanding, of Gurbani scripture, combined with a knowledge of Sikh history.
05
of 10

Kirtani (keer-tan-ee)

Paath Kirtan
Paath Kirtan. Photo © [S Khalsa]

A Kirtani is one whose love and adoration of kirtan is expressed in playing, and singing, the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib, though they may have no formal training. Kirtanis may congregate together informally in small groups, or be part of a formal organization such as the Akhand Kirtan Jathaa a world wide denomination of Sikhism.

06
of 10

Masand (ma-sand)

Dasvand Collection Box
Dasvand Collection Box. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Historically a Masand is one who held the position of collecting funds for the Guru. In modern times the Masand acts as gurdwara treasurer, collecting dasvand, and donations, and managing funds and banking having to do with monetary aspects, and costs, of gurdwara, and langar, management. During gurdwara services, the Masand presides over a small podium, or collection box, to receive the pledges, and contributions of the Sangat congregation.

07
of 10

Panj Pyare (panj pee-are-ay)

Amritsanchar Panj Pyara
Amritsanchar - Panj Pyara. Photo © [Ravitej Singh Khalsa / Eugene, Oregon / USA]

The Panj Pyare, or five beloved ones are a council of five initiated Sikhs in good standing which are responsible for administering Amrit in the Khalsa initiation ceremony. The Panj Pyare are granted important decision making powers, and play a vital role in the Sikh community.

08
of 10

Paathee (pot-hee)

Reading Akhand Paath
Reading Akhand Paath. Photo © [S Khalsa]

A Paathee is one who reads paath, and is particularity involved in Akhand paath, or Sadharan paath the devotional reading of the entire scripture Guru Granth Sahib. A pathee may be a specially trained Gianee, Granthee, Ragi, or a Premee Pathee, any male, or female, who is simply a loving devotee dedicated to reading scripture.

09
of 10

Ragi (raag-ee)

A Group of Ragis Perform Together on Stage
A Group of Ragis Perform Together on Stage. Photo © [S Khalsa]

A Ragi is a musician who has received training in the classical Indian music system, and is familiar with the raag in which Gurbani is composed. A Ragi is often part of a Ragi jathaa having two, or more, members, with at least one playing the vaja and another the tabla, and whose singing of scripture is the central focus of formal gurdwara worship services.

10
of 10

Sevadar (say-vaa-daar)

Sukhasan Ceremony Arranging Rumala
Sukhasan Ceremony Arranging Rumala. Photo © [S Khalsa]

A sevadar is any man woman or child who performs the seva of voluntary service in the gurdwara and langar, or in the community. The sevadar may be involved with any aspect of seva:

  • Before, during, and after, any aspect of worship service.
  • Help with langar food provision, preparation, service and cleanup.
  • Maintenance of the langar hall, and gurdwara premises.
  • Contributions, donations, and fund raising.
  • Community projects, political, and human rights activities etc.