Udasi Defined: Take Leave of Worldy Attachments

Guru Nanak Mission Tours and Renunciate Baba Siri Chand

Guru Nanak and Yogis in
Guru Nanak and Yogis in "Journey With the Gurus". Photo © [Courtesy Inni Kaur and Pardeep Singh]

Definition of Udasi

Udasi is a word which takes its meaning from udas. Udasi has several meanings which all mean in one way or another to take leave, or be detached:

  • The primary meaning of Udasi is to depart, forsake, go away, take leave, or wander.
  • A secondary meaning of Udasi is dejection, low in spirit, sadness, or sorrow.
  • Udasi may also refer to detachment or unattachment, as in the order of holy persons who renounce and retire from the ways of the world.

    In Sikhism, the term Udasi applies to both the mission tours of Guru Nanak Dev and to the sect of renunciates established by his son Baba Siri Chand.

    Udasi - The Journeys of Guru Nanak and Mardana

    At about the age of 30, Nanak Dev disappeared into a river while meditating. After three days he emerged from the river and declared, "There is no Hindu there is no Mussalman". He proclaimed the divine to be beyond the division humankind had created.

    Soon after, Nanak Dev took leave of his wife, sons, his sister Bibi Nanaki and his  parents. Explaining that he wanted to spread the word of truth, Nanak quieted their protests, convincing them that his duty lay in his mission to humanity. Nanak Dev gave away his personal possessions, and set out traveling the country with his spiritual companion Mardana. Roaming through villages and towns, they wandered about the world and communed with people of every faith including:

    • Buddhists
    • Hindus
    • Jains
    • Muslims
    • Sidhs
    • Sufis
    • Yogis

    Nanak Dev sang in praises of the divine accompanied by Mardana playing the rebab.

    The fact that no records of exact dates are in existence gives rise to conflicting historic accounts of their travels. However, there are indications and historical evidence that Guru Nanak and Mardana made as many as five journeys together over 20 – 25 years ranging from around 1499 – 1524 AD.

    They trekked through much of the Middle East including:

    1. 1500 - 1507 Parts of East India, Bangladesh, Pakistan
    2. 1506 - 1513 Regions of Southern India and Sri Lanka
    3. 1514 - 1518 Regions of Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, South China
    4. 1519 - 1521 Regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia including Mecca, and possibly parts of Africa.
    5. 1523 - 1524 Parts of Panjab now in North India and Pakistan

    Guru Nanak and Mardana are known to have trekked on foot the greater part of their journeys covering thousands of miles in their lifetimes. The must have collection of Journey With The Gurus is a three volume series of illustrated storybooks that recount the many parables of Guru Nanak's mission tours.

    Udasi Sect - Founded by Baba Siri Chand (Eldest Son of Guru Nanak)

    Udasi are a celibate order of yogis who claim ties with Sikhism. The Udasi sect originated with Baba Siri Chand the eldest son of Guru Nanak. Siri Chand was very young when his father took leave to wander the world on his mission tours. Sri Chand also renounced the world becoming a renunciate yogi. Although the Udasi maintained relations with the Gurus enjoying their favor, they have never strictly followed Sikh teachings.

    During the years when the Khalsa were set upon by Moghul rulers the Udasi leaders maintained control of gurdwaras. Eventually in the early 1920’s, a clash resulting in bloodshed took place when the orthodox Khalsa attempted to regain control of the gurdwaras from the unorthodox Mahant leaders of the Udasi.

    Spelling and Pronunciation

    Pronunciation: Udasi has three syllables and is pronounced with emphasis on vowels Ou - daa see.

    Alternate Spellings: Udasi may also be spelled phonetically as Udaasee.

    Examples Of Udasi in Guru Granth Sahib Scripture

    The scripture of Guru Granth Sahib has many examples of Udasi in relation to sorrowful longing for the divine, detachment and wandering about in renunciation of worldly involvement.

    • "Oudaasee oudaas raataa ||3||
      The Udaasees detached abide with little. ||3|| SGGS||71
    • "Kee kott ban bhrameh oudaasee ||
      Many millions in the wilderness are wandering renunciates." SGGS||275
    • "Jin toon jaataa so grast oudaasee paravaan ||
      Whoever recognizes thee whether householder or renunciate is approved." SGGS||385
    • "Girhee meh sadaa har jan oudaasee giaan tat beechaaree ||
      Even immersed in family life, ever the Lord's servant remains detached in reflection upon the essence of spiritual wisdom." SGGS|599
    • "Kar apunee daasee mittee oudaasee har mandar thit paaee ||
      He has made me His hand-maiden slave and my sorrow is stilled, in the Lord's temple, I have attained stability." SGGS||782
    • "Jit dar vaseh kavan dar keheeai daraa bheetar dar kavan lehai ||
      Where is that door, where within Thou sittest O Lord? What is it called? Amongst all doors, by whom can that door be seen?
      Jis dar kaaran phiraa oudaasee so dar koee aa-e kehai ||1||
      For sake of that door, I wander sorrowfully detached, if only someone could come tell me about that door. SGGS||877||1||
    • "Koee ann taj bhaiaa oudaasee ||
      Some forsaking food become Udasi renunciates." SGGS||912
    • "Kis kaaran grihu tajiou oudaasee ||
      "Why have you forsaken your home to become a wandering Udaasee? SGGS||939
    • "Vichae grih sadaa rehai oudaasee jio kamal rehai vich paanee hae ||10||
      Within the home one may live ever detached, like the lotus flower lives within water. ||10|| SGGS||1070