SANT, commonly translated as saint though not very exactly, for the English term, used in the adjectival sense `saintly` for a person of great holiness, virtue or benevolence, has a formal connotation in the Western culture, is a modified form of sat meaning lasting, real, wise and venerable. Sat or Satya has been used since the Vedic times for the Ever existent, Unchanging Reality or the Self existent, Universal Spirit, Brahman or God. The term sant came into vogue much later. The word occurs frequently in the ancient Pali literature of Buddhism in the sense of tranquil, true or wise.

From Pali it was resuscitated during the middle ages when Bhakti movement took its birth.The epithet sant was usually added to the names of the VaiSriava bhaktas of Maharashtra belonging to Vitthal or Varkari school such as Jhandev, Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram.According to R.D. Ranade, Mysticism in Maharashtra, “Now `Santa` is almost a technical word in the Vitthal Sampradaya, and means any man who is a follower, of that Sampradaya. Not that followers of other Sampradayas are not `Santas` but the followers of the Varkari Sampradaya are santas par excellence.

” Within the Bhakti movement there is a distinct Sant tradition clearly distinguishable from Soutli Indian Saiva bhakti and the VaiSriava tradition of Northern and Central India. The Santbhaktas were essentially nonsectarian.They were strict monotheists and were opposed to Brahmanical ritualism, idol worship and caste system. Like other bhaktas, they valued love relationship between the individual and the deity, but their deity, although usually given VaiSriava names, is the Absolute Reality, Unborn, Formless, Allpervading, Self existent, nirguna (without attributes) God, who makes Himself manifest in the Name (nam) which may be uttered or meditated upon.

Nirguni bhaktas refute avatarvada or incarnation, but they believe that the sant, through living a life of piety and practising nam, can attain final release. Through Bhakti the term passed into the Sikh tradition.In the Guru Granth Sahib there is frequent mention of the status and significance of the sant, a holy man who represents the salt of the earth and the hope of mankind. Guru Arjan defines a sant thus: “jina sasi girasi na visrai harinaman mani mantu/ dhannu si sei nanaka puranu sol santu They who do not put away from their minds the Name Divine even for the duration of a breath or as they swallow a morsel are indeed blessed, o Nanak! They are the perfect sants” (GG,319).

Guru Arjan in another hymn: All the twenty-four hours of day and night, He knows God to be close to his heart, And to His will he cheerfully submits. Name alone is the sustenance of the sant; A sant considers himself to be the dust of the feet of all.This, brothers, is the sants` way of life, Beyond my power is it to describe its excellence. Name alone is their occupation, In blissful kirtan do they find their peace. Friend and foe are to them alike.

Besides their God they acknowledge not another. Myriad sins can a sant erase, He is the dispeller of sorrow and the be slower of life. Heroes true to their word are the sants, Even poor maya is by them beguiled. The gods themselves long for their company ; To have a sight of them is fulfilling in the extreme, To be able to serve them a blessing. Nanak does with folded hands supplicate: Grant me this favour O Treasure of Merit, that to the service of the sants do I dedicate myself. (C;C;, 392)

References :

1. Sabdarath Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1975
2. Randhir Singh, Bhai, Sant Pad Nirnai. Ludhiana, 1954