Darvesh or darwesh/dervish is an Arabic word meaning holy man or mystic. The Arabic word fakir conveys a similar meaning.

In Persian, the word darvesh refers to an Islamic Sufi fraternity (or tariqah), or more narrowly to a religious mendicant who has chosen the path of material poverty.

A darvesh has his focus on the Universal values of love and service, actively tries to rid himself of ego, and sincerely tries to Unite with God. A darvesh practices dhikr (simran) to attain an ecstatic Union with God.

The whirling darvishes of Turkey move/dance in a cyclical motion to reach religious ecstasy (fanaa). The most famous of these darveshes was the 13th Century mystic Poet Rumi. 

The Gurus and the Bhagats have always maintained that it is the mann which needs to be sculptured and poised upon God. Thus the practices of the whirling dervishes are not approved by Gurbani. In fact, in Asa Ki Vaar, Guru Nanak Dev Ji has a full Slok which describes the futility of moving in circles to Unite with God. If circular motion or dance could result in Union, Guru Ji draws our attention to the oil press, the weaver’s wheel, grinding stones, the potter’s wheel; the countless whirlwinds in deserts; the spinning tops the churning sticks, the threshers; the breathless circular tumblings of the birds; countless men spinning round in the spindles of time; there are countless ones in circular motion.

“Kolu charkha chaki chakk; thal varole bahut anant; lattu madhania angah; pankhi bhaundiyan lehn na sah; suvhe charh bhaviyhe jantt; Nanak bhaundian gannat na antt.” (Ang 465)

It is the Lord who binds us in circular motions; and the karma of our past actions drives us to dance in such circular fashion; they joyfully dance and laugh, but weep as their time comes to go; their spinning around does not help them fly (spiritually), nor does it bring about any (spiritual) perfection.

“Bandhan bandh bhavaye soye; peiyhe kirat nache sabh koye; nach nach hasse chale se roye; udh na jaahi sidh na hoye.” (Ang 465)

Guru Ji concludes.

These dancing and prancing around are fancies of the mind; those who have true fear of God’s Hukam in their minds, a true love for Union with Him develops within.

“Nachan kuddan mann ka chaoo; Nanak jin mann bhou tinna mann bhaao.” (Ang 465)

In Punjabi, the word darvesh connotes humility, a religious inclination, poverty and in general, a Saintly disposition.

In Gurbani the word darvesh is used about 12 times. The word has a Sufic connection, it is found 5 times in the Bani of Bhagat Sheikh Fareed Ji.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s definition of a darvesh is one who is soaked with love for Naam and stands respectfully at God’s Door (Darr). 

Thus, we find at Angg 358 Guru Ji says they are the true darveshes who acutely suffer  the pain of separation (and pine for Union)  in their hearts.  Drenched in Naam, they stand respectfully at His Door.

“Dukhiye dardwand Dar Tere Naam ratte darvesh bhaye.” (Ang 358)

At Angg 53, Raag Sri Raag, we find a Shabad by Guru Nanak Dev Ji which mentions many persons engaged in prayer. The Janamsakhis say Guru Ji addressed this Shabad to the sanggat when the manhath prayers of  Hamzah Ghaus were interrupted. Hamzah was a pir of Sialkot. He claimed that through his prayers a son was born to a merchant of Sialkot. The merchant had promised to hand over the son when the child reached 7 years of age. Upon the merchant’s refusal to hand over the son, the enraged Hamzah had said he would do intense prayers for 40 days and ask that the whole town be punished and swallowed by an earthquake. When Guru Ji reached the town on the 38th day, the entire town was in despair.

Guru Ji sent a messenger to Hamzah to stop such prayer which asked for ruin of the entire town. Hamzah refused. 

Guru Ji sat down in prayer opposite Hamzah’s home. Guru Ji sat near a graveyard and the tree he sat under is still existing.

The next day at about noon, a loud crack was heard and the dome on Hamzah’s house split open. He ran out in fear and his 40 day prayer was broken.

Guru Ji then spoke this Shabad “aakh aakh mann vaavna jio jio jaape vahe.” (Ang 53)

In that Shabad, Guru Ji stresses that God is Pure and He does not act upon prayers done to destroy innocent ones.  He acts Independently and creates and destroys in His Absolute Will, not upon prayers by disgruntled persons. “Puch na saaje puch na dhahe puch na leevhe deh.”

In the 3rd pada of the Shabad, Guru Ji states various persons who sing His Praises. The darveshes are said to be reciting His Praises at His Door.

Among those who pray are the Pirs, the Prophets, the spiritual teachers, the faithful, the innocents and the martyrs.

Also, the Sheikhs, the mystics, the quazis the mullahs and the darveshes at His Door.

All those who sincerely pray to Him are blessed all the more as they continuously read prayers in Praise of Him.

“Pir Peghambar Salak Sadak Sahude aur Shaheed; Sheikh Mashaek Kaji Mullah Dar Darvesh Raseed; Barkat tin ko aglee parhde rehan darood.” (Ang 53)

One is not a true darvesh if he spends his time begging from door to door for his sustenance. A rare, true Saintly darvesh understands this.

At Angg 550, Guru Amardas Ji says.

“Darveshi ko jaansi virla ko darvesh; je ghar ghar handhe mangda dhig jeevan dhig ves.”

In Raag Assa at Angg 488, Bhagat Sheikh Fareed Ji says the true darvesh has been put to prayer by the Lord Himself. Their coming into this world is blessed and blessed are their mothers who gave birth to such Saintly ones.

“Aap lieye larh laaiye Dar Darvesh se; tin dhan jannedi maao aaye safal se.”

At Angg 1083, Guru Arjun Dev Ji addresses some Muslims. If you live in humility, associate with the fakeers, consider yourself as a traveler in this world, such a disposition fits you to be a Darvesh at His Door.

Hoye peh khaak fakeer musafir eh darvesh kabool Dra.”

In the same Shabad, Guru Ji describes a true Mullah and further tells us that the only Support the Darvesh has is singing the Lord’s Praises.

“So Mullah mauloon nivaare so Darvesh jis Sifat Dhra.”

In their 8 pada Vaar in Raag Ramkali, (966-968), Bhais Satta Ji and Balwand Ji trace the beginnings and foundation of Sikhi by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. They also sing Praises of the succeeding 4 Satgurus.

In pada 3, there is a respectful reference to Guru Angad Dev Ji as a Darvesh. Guru Ji is described as the Darvesh, the Saint at the Door of His Lord and Master. Guru Ji loves the True Name, and Bani gives Him a Saintly  radiance. 

“Dar Darvesh Khasam de Naee Sache Bani laali.”

At Angg 1090, Guru Nanak Dev Ji stresses that the inner purity and love you have makes you a darvesh. Such a darvesh keeps watch over his heart and keeps it pure. After all, Guru Ji says the Creator certainly knows the degree of love and affection you have for Him, and He has all accounts of such love.

“Dil darvani Jo kare darveshi dil raas; ishq mohabbat Nanaka lekha Karte paas.”

In his Sloks from Angg 1377 till Angg 1384, Sheikh Fareed Ji clearly uses the word darvesh to refer to a loving, humble, sincere Saint of the Lord.

In Slok no. 2, Sheikh Fareed Ji says I am so accustomed to the ways of the world; I find it is so difficult to walk in the way of the true Saints. I now find I have tied up and am carrying a bundle (of karmic baggage). Where can I go to throw it away?

“Fareeda Dar Darveshi gakhdi challa dunia bhatt; bann uthayi potli kithe vanja ghatt.”

In Slok no. 60 , Sheikh Fareed Ji speaks of the resilience needed by Saints. One should dispel all doubts and serve the One Master; the darveshes, the true Saints of the Lord, need the patient endurance of trees.

“Fareeda Sahib di kar chakri dil di lahe praandh; darvesha nu lorhiye rukha di jiraandh.”

Slok no. 61, reflects Sheikh Fareeds Ji’s utter humility and tells us how appearances can be deceptive. The color black is symbolic of sinful conduct. 

Fareed, my clothes are black and my appearance is black too; I wander about full of sin, yet people call me a darvesh.

“Fareeda kaale maidhe kaprhe kaala maidha ves; gunhi bharia mai phira lok kahe darvesh.”

Slok no. 118 is in a similar vein. Sheikh Fareed Ji says it is difficult to be a Holy Saint. Most only make an outer show of love; only a rare few follow the Path of the Saints.

“Fareeda darveshi gakhdi chopdi preet; eikan kinne chaliye darvesha di reet.”


Manjeet Singh