Radhaswami Movement

Shiv Dayal Singh Ji, also called ‘Soami Ji Maharaj‘, founded the Radhaswami Movement in 1861 on Basant Panchami Day in Agra, India. The followers of the Radhaswami Movement believe in one supreme being, the supremacy of the Guru, simple social life, and Satsang (a company of pious people). They consider that there is no need to renounce worldly life for spiritual attainments. The Radhaswamis believe all religions to be true. The sect has no belief in temples and sacred places.


The Radhaswami tradition, also known as the Radha Soami movement, was a spiritual movement traced back to the Indian spiritual leader ‘Seth Shiv Dayal Singh Ji‘, who was born in the northern Indian city of Agra on 25 August 1818. His parents were followers of Guru Nanak of Sikhism and a spiritual guru Tulsi Saheb from Hathras.

After completing his education, Shiv Dayal Saheb gained employment as a Persian language translator, but he left that role and joined his father’s moneylending business. He began spending his time on religious pursuits. He got influenced by the teachings of Tulsi Saheb, who taught ‘Surat Shabd Yoga‘ (which is defined by the Radhaswami teachers as the “union of the soul with divine, inner sound”), Guru bhakti (“devotion to the master”), and high moral living, including a strict Lacto-vegetarian diet. The teachings seem to be related to forms of 18th and 19th-century esoteric mysticism that were circulating at the time in northern India.

After the death of Sant Tulsi Saheb in 1843, Shiv Dayal Singh practised ‘Surat Shabd Yoga’ for 17 years. The foundation of the Radhaswami movement was to be laid in 1861 when Shiv Dayal Singh began publicly giving discourses based on the scriptures of Sikhism and writings of Tulsi Saheb of Hathras.

In 1861, he revealed himself as the Sant Satguru (true teacher of spirituality) and began instructing a group of followers. He started holding Satsang (spiritual discourse) publicly in 1861 on Basant Panchami (a spring festival) and continued for 17 years. His ‘bani‘ (poetical compositions) and sayings from Satsang were published in two books after he died. Both were titled “Sar Bachan” (meaning ‘conclusive utterances’):

  • Sar Vachan Varik (Sar Bachan in prose)
  • Sar Vachan Chhand Band (Sir Banhan in verse)

As per some subtraditions, the movement derived its name from the word “Radha Soami“, which means Lord of the Soul. “Radha Soami” is used to indicate Shiv Dayal Singh Ji. The followers of Shiv Dayal Saheb used to consider him the ‘Living Guru’ and the embodiment of God.

However, Shiv Dayal Singh himself never used the term ‘Radhasoami’. His writings ‘Sar Bachan’ used the word “Sat Nam” rather than Radhasoami. He initially referred to the ‘Supreme Being’ with the names “Sat Nam” (True Name) and “Anami” (Nameless).

After the death of Shiv Dayal Saheb, Salig Ram and his followers started the Radha Soami Movement. The term ‘Radha Soami’ came after Salig Ram became a disciple. According to Salig Ram, the word “Radha Soami” means “master of energy”, derived from the Vaishnava understanding of “Radha as the power of the energy of God”.

The gurus and the tradition that followed Shiv Dayal Saheb used the term ‘Radhasoami’ during the initiation rites, meditation practices, and mutual gatherings, which led to the fellowship being commonly called Radha Soami.

Beliefs and practices

To the Radhaswamis, the six elements form the framework of their faith:

  • a Living Guru (someone as the locus of trust and truth),
  • Bhajan (remembering Sat Nam, other practices believed to be transformative),
  • Satsang (fellowship, community),
  • Seva (serve others without expecting anything in return),
  • Kendra (community organisation, sanctum),
  • Bhandara (large community gathering).

The Radhaswami Satsang believes that Living Gurus are necessary for a guided spiritual life. They do not install the Guru Granth Sahib or any other scriptures in their shrine, as they consider it ritualistic. Instead, the Guru sits in the sanctum with the Satsang (group of faithfully), and they listen to preachings of the Adi Granth and sing hymns together. They also believed that inner liberation is possible during one’s lifetime with the guidance of the Living Guru.

The Radhaswamis believe in social equality. They forbid caste distinctions and have attracted Dalits to their traditions. They are also active outside India. They are engaged in charitable work, such as providing free medical services and help to the needy.

The Radhasoamis do not believe in orthodox ritual practices, such as covering one’s head inside the temple or removing shoes, nor do they serve offerings at the end of prayers.

The followers of the Radhaswami Movement are strict vegetarians. The movement does not promote celibacy, and most of the gurus in its various lineage have been married. Their Basic practices include ‘Surat Shabd Yoga’ (meditation or inner light and sound), initiation of the disciple into the part by a Living Guru, obedience to the Guru, and a moral life defined by abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and meat. However, some of these practices vary depending on the branches of the Radhaswami faith.

Successors and Branches

After the death of Shiv Dayal Singh in 1878, he was succeeded by several disciples, including his wife Narayan Devi (“Radhaji”), his brother Partap SinghSanmukh Das (appointed head of Sadhus), the army sergeant Baba Jaimal SinghGharib Das of Delhi, and Rai Salig Ram (the Postmaster General of Northwest Provinces); each of them started their own distinct centres. According to some scholars, Shiv Dayal Saheb passed leadership to Salig Ram.

The most famous branches include Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Radhasoami Satsang Soami Bagh Agra, Radha Soami Satsang Dayalbagh, and Ruhani Satsang. In Agra, the birthplace of the Radhaswami movement, there are three main Satsang centres.

The largest branch is the Radha Soami Satsang Beas, with its headquarters in Beas city, established in 1891 in the North Indian State of Punjab by Baba Jaimal Singh (disciple of Shiv Dayal Saheb), who practised ‘Surat Shabd Yoga’ on the bank of Beas river.

The Ruhani Satsang in Delhi, founded by Kirpal Singh in 1951, became popular in the United States under the leadership of Thakar Singh.

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