Hinduism Radhasoami Tradition
Mark Juergensmeyer, David Christopher Lane
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0203


The Radhasoami tradition can be traced back to the spiritual master Shiv Dayal Singh (honorifically titled Soamiji Maharaj) who was born on August 24, 1818, in the north Indian city of Agra. He was influenced by the teachings of Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, who taught surat shabd yoga (which is defined by Radhasoami teachers as “union of the soul with the divine, inner sound”); guru bhakti (“devotion to the master”); and high moral living, including a strict lacto-vegetarian diet. The movement does not promote celibacy, however, and most of the masters in its various lineages have been married. The teachings seem to be related to forms of 18th- and 19th-century esoteric mysticism that were circulating at the time in northern India. The founding date of the movement is considered to be 1861 when Shiv Dayal Singh began publicly to give discourses. The word “Radhasoami” is a distinctive way of spelling a term that is often used for the Hindu god, Lord Krishna (the “swami” or master of his consort, “Radha”), but the movement, which abhors an anthropomorphic understanding of God, interprets the term as the “mastery of spiritual energy.” After Shiv Dayal Singh’s death in 1878 he was succeeded by several disciples, including his wife Narayan Dei (“Radhaji”); his brother Partap Singh (“Chachaji”); Sanmukh Das (appointed head of the sadhus); the army soldier Jaimal Singh, Gharib Das of Delhi; and the postmaster general of the Northwest provinces, Rai Salig Ram, each of whom started their own distinct centers. After their deaths, multiple followers were claimed to be the rightful heirs, and this eventually led to a large proliferation of various masters and satsangs (“fellowships”) throughout India that were regarded by their followers to be the true manifestations of Shiv Dayal Singh and his teachings, described as Sant Mat (“the path of the saints”). The largest branch of the movement is the one at Beas, established by one of Shiv Dayal Singh’s disciples, Jaimal Singh, in the North Indian state of Punjab in the 1890s, and which has grown enormously over the decades under the guiding hands of each subsequent successor (from Sawan Singh to Jagat Singh and Charan Singh to the current master, Gurinder Singh). There are estimated to be two million initiates of the Beas masters worldwide. In Agra, the birthplace of the movement, there are three main satsang centers: Soami Bagh, where a large memorial tomb is being built to honor the founder; Peepal Mandi, which was founded by Rai Salig Ram who was then succeeded by his son, grandson, and currently his great-grandson, Agam Prasad Mathur; and the largest of the Agra-based centers, Dayalbagh, which is located across the street from Soami Bagh, and has flourished under the leadership of Kamta Prasad Sinha, Anand Sarup, Gurcharandas Mehta, Dr. M.B. Lal Sahab, and most recently as of this date Professor Prem Saran Satsangi. Other Radhasoami-related groups that have garnered a significant following include Ruhani Satsang in Delhi, founded by Kirpal Singh (b. 1894–d. 1974), a disciple of the Beas master, Sawan Singh; Manavta Mandir, established by Faqir Chand (b. 1886–d. 1981) in 1962 in Hoshiarpur in the Punjab; the Tarn Taran satsang founded by Bagga Singh; and several others scattered through North and South India. The most notorious branch related to Radhasoami is the Sacha Sauda Dera in Hissar, Haryana, whose current master, the motorcycle-riding “guru of bling,” Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was convicted of rape in 2017, leading to riots in the area that caused over thirty deaths. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh traces his spiritual lineage to the previous master at the Dera, Satnam Singh, whose guru Khema Mal (“Mastanaji”) was a disciple of the Beas guru, Sawan Singh. The Radhasoami tradition has also influenced a number of new religious movements in North America, including Paul Twitchell’s Eckankar, Ching Hai’s Quan Yin, John-Roger Hinkins’ Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), and Gary Olsen’s MasterPath.

General Overviews

The literature on Radhasoami falls into two main categories: writings from the movement itself, including sermons and essays of the masters, but also including historical reviews and reports of their organizations; and writings about the movement by scholars and other outsiders. Perhaps the most comprehensive scholarly study of the Radhasoami movement from a scholarly perspective is Juergensmeyer 1991. Lane 1992 presents a critical history of guru succession, focusing on the various schisms that have occurred since the death of Shiv Dayal Singh. Gold 1987 also discusses succession, exploring ways in which the concept of “guru” is viewed in different sangats; Gold also provides a historical overview of how the concept evolved over time. The anthropologist L.A. Babb includes in a major section of Babb 1987 the Radhasoami tradition. From a historical perspective, the most useful books from inside the tradition are Mathur 1973, Maheshwari 1954, and Kaushal 1998. The Dayalbagh-sponsored publication celebrating the first one hundred years of the Radhasoami faith, Souvenir in Commemoration of the First Centenary of the Radhasoami Satsang, provides a detailed outline of its history with reference to other branches of the movement.

  • Babb, L.A. Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

    Part one contains a detailed analysis of Radhasoami succession, their notions of identity, and comparisons to the Brahma Kumaris.

  • General Editors. Souvenir in Commemoration of the First Centenary of the Radhasoami Satsang. Agra, India: Radhasoami Satsang Dayalbagh, 1962.

    Official publication commissioned by the Radhasoami satsang at Dayalbagh, which gives a comprehensive history of the Radhasoami movement from its beginnings in the neighborhood of Panni Gali, in the city of Agra. Although it mostly discusses the lineage that is related to Dayalbagh, the book details the general historical development of Radhasoami in the first and middle part of the 20th century. Available online.

  • Gold, Daniel. The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in North Indian Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

    Compares the idea of guru from both the Sant and Radhasoami traditions. Discusses the dynamic interplay between the guru and his disciples and how both have evolved over time. Includes a discussion of varying branches of the Radhasoami tradition and includes gurus seldom discussed elsewhere, including the late Faqir Chand of Manavta Mandir.

  • Juergensmeyer, Mark. Radhasoami Reality: The Logic of a New Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

    Provides a historical and sociological overview of the Radhasoami faith from its inception in the mid-1850s as a small guru sect founded by Shiv Dayal Singh to its emergence as a transnational religion with numerous branches and millions of followers worldwide. Shows how the social and spiritual aspects mesh together to present an alternative view of reality to its several groups of followers, including middle-class merchants and administrators, lower-class villagers, and foreign seekers from Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.

  • Kaushal, Om Parkash. The Radha Soami Movement, 1891–1997. New Delhi: ABS Publications, 1998.

    Provides information on a number of lesser-known gurus and satsangs that branched off from the Beas branch of the movement led by Jaimal Singh and Sawan Singh, respectively. Kaushal provides illuminating detail on the founding of Tarn Taran satsang by Baba Bagga Singh and the subsequent disputes concerning succession within that lineage. He provides material that has not been published anywhere else.

  • Lane, David Christopher. The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship. New York: Garland, 1992.

    Although it is prefaced by a survey of early guru succession controversies in Radhasoami, the main focus of this book is on the different rhetorical strategies employed by competing successors after the death of their guru. This study centers mostly on the succession narratives after Sawan Singh’s death in 1948 and the death of Kirpal Singh in 1974.

  • Maheshwari, Sant Das. Radhasoami Faith: History and Tenets. Agra, India: Radhasoami Satsang, 1954.

    This study presents the early history of Radhasoami as seen through the lineage of gurus at Soami Bagh, particularly the last acknowledged master at that location, Madhav Prasad Sinha. Although often polemical, Maheshwari’s narrative is rich in details about the life and work of Shiv Dayal Singh, Rai Salig Ram, and Brahm Sankar Misra. The first in a series of works by the author.

  • Mathur, Agam Prasad. Radhasoami Faith: A Historical Study. New Delhi: Vikas, 1973.

    First appearing as a doctoral dissertation, this historical study written by Agam Prasad Mathur, is one of the first widely distributed books to cover varying branches of the Radhasoami tradition. The book favors his own Peepal Mandi branch but nevertheless provides insightful commentaries on why Radhasoami emerged as it did and why the Central Administrative Council failed to unify the differing branches of Radhasoami.

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