AI PANTH, one of the twelve sects of yogis, whose adherents worship Ai Bhavani, a tribal female deity, believed to be an extension of Sakti. Siva in the form of ardhanarisvara is said to have two forms represented by his own halves. His right side is the male whose followers are called daksinacharis, whereas his left portion represents the female known as Sakti, the basic power also called Amba, Durga, Kali or Bhavani. Worshippers of the female aspect of Siva are called vamamargis, known for their peculiar beliefs and customs. They accept no taboos in the matter of food and accord religious sanction to sexual freedom.

They practise austerities; for a living they would go begging from house to house. Their living style (jugat) consists in smearing their bodies with ashes (bibhut), wearing heavy rings (munda or mundra) in their split ears and covering their bodies with a loose shroud (khintha).When they go out begging, they carry a begging bowl in one hand and a club (danda) or firetongs in the other. In course of time, many sects based on this sakti principle appeared throughout the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent.Ai Panth is one of them and the Mahar tribals once found almost exclusively along the River Sutlej, opposite Fazilka, especially in the Montgomery, Multan and Bahawalpur area, worshipped this female spirit and kept her image in their homes.

Guru Nanak during his preaching journeys came across several varieties of yogis at places like Gorakh Hatari, Achal Vatala, Sumer Mountain and Gorakhmata, now known as Nanak Mata.There are extensive references in the Guru Granth Sahib which testify to these meetings. In the Japu (stanza 28) Guru Nanak exhorts an anonymous yogi beloning to the Ai Panth to cultivate control over the mind which was more important than all bodily exercises and discipline. Says Guru Nanak: “Make contentment thy earrings, modesty thy begging bowl and wallet and the Lord`s meditation thy ashes. Let the thought of death be thy patched coat, chastity like that of a virgin`s body thy life`s deportment, and faith in God thy staff.

The realization of brotherhood with all is the real creed of the Ai Panth. “0 Yogi, deem the conquering of the self as the conquest of the world” (GG, 6).


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