The Radhasoami movement was started in Agra in 1860 by Swami Shiv Dayal Singh during the period of British occupation in India (Juergensmeyer 3). Shiv Dayal sought a new spiritual identity that was not like the Christianity that was being offered to him by missionaries, but rather something else that linked him to his Hindu culture (Juergensmeyer 18). In order to accomplish this, he drew from many sources, some of them from Sikh culture (Juergensmeyer 19). Shiv Dayal gained a following and began introducing his devotees to a new yogic practice that did not involve breathing exercises (Juergensmeyer 17). Shiv Dayal is regarded as an “exemplar of the Radhasoami vision” by every subgroup of the Radhasoami movement – the only agreed upon matter by some of the subgroups (Juergensmeyer 31).
Shiv Dayal named Rai Saligram his successor while noting their difference in views (Juergensmeyer 35). During his life, Rai Saligram edited Shiv Dayal’s work, Sar Bachan, which is a two-volume work of poetry and sermons (Juergensmeyer 24-25). The prose volume is authoritative throughout the Radhasoami subgroups (Juergensmeyer 25). The subgroups still debate whether Rai Saligram is an incarnation of Swami Shiv Dayal or a loyal disciple (Juergensmeyer 38). Regardless of the true nature of the role he occupied, Rai Saligram managed to continue the Radhasoami movement.
After the death of Saligram, the Radhasoami movement splintered under their disagreements (Juergensmeyer 44). As a result of this, Misra, a Brahman of a merchant-caste community, decided to form the Central Administrative Council in 1902 (Juergensmeyer 45). This council was made up of ten-members, the notable ones being the President, Pratap Singh, the next in command, Misra, and Saligram’s son (Juergensmeyer 45). These three people held the power to induct members and later disperse that authority to leaders of Radhasoami fellowships in regions that were further away (Juergensmeyer 45). Jaimal Singh lead the Beas subgroup, which rejected the formation of the council and continued to separate their group from the rest (Juergensmeyer 45-46). As more and more leaders arose, more and more divisions were formed within the Radhasoami movement; however, all of them still trace their origins back to Swami Shiv Dayal (Juergensmeyer 46-47).
The Radhasoami movement has made its way across the globe through different subgroups (Babb 293). This could be due in part to DuPertuis’s idea that the sect is appealing to Westerners because of the use of English publications and Western ideologies (114). Westerners had found their way to Rai Saligram while he was developing the sect and adapted to his teachings (Juergensmeyer 52). Daualbagh and Beas colonies have records of Westerners settling among them in the 1930s, but the major addition of Westerners in the sect occurred during the 1960s and 1970s when Sawan Singh was leading the Beas subgroup and began touring abroad (Juergensmeyer 52). When Sawan Singh’s grandson, Charan Singh, took over leadership, he pointed out that Radhasoami is universal, as the sacred sound could be found in many religions (Juergensmeyer 52).
The Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, and the Singh Sabha are all movements in Hinduism that occurred around the same time as the Radhasoami movement (Dimitrova 89). As a result, there are similarities between the Arya Samaj and the Radhasoami (Dimitrova 89). Some would say that the Radhasoami are an offshoot of Sikhism; however, this is incorrect despite the similarities between the two religions (Juergensmeyer 7). Another comparison that has been made is that Radhasoami members could be considered Hindu if one was referring to the religious culture, but Radhasoami spiritual teachers reject some rather essential parts of Hinduism, such as image worship (Juergensmeyer 7).
Like Hinduism, the Radhasoamis are trying to discover their true self, or surat, which means “subtle self” (Babb 297-298). They believe that surat used to be a part of the supreme being Radhasoami but, was separated from Radhasoami long ago and has since been wandering around, lost in the “darkness,” suffering through life after life (Babb 298). The surat is believed to be inside humans and therefore one must foster their awareness of their true predicament and find the way to their “true home” through the guidance of a guru (Babb 298). Once surat has been realized and the highest realm of consciousness has been achieved then one is in the realm of Radhasoami (Dimitrova 92).
Radhasoami comes from the word radha which theologically means “the energy centre” and svami which means “master of”” (Dimitrova 92). Energy is important to the Radhasoamis because they see it as the essence of God, who is pure energy (Dimitrova 92). They also believe that this energy is within the guru (Dimitrova 92). The Radhasoamis hold the guru in a high regard since they believe gurus to be the embodiment of God (Dimitrova 92).
The spiritual journey that Radhasoamis must embark on to achieve surat is to be guided by a guru; therefore, the guru is essential to Radhasoami teachings (Dimitrova 93). The guru is believed to have healing powers that source from darsana, or “sacred sight.” As such, sacred sight is longed for by Radhasoami devotees (Dimitrova 93). Due to the importance that the guru holds for Radhasoami followers, there is an encouragement for “loving devotion” to be directed to the guru, making guru bhakti a main concept of Radhasoami (Babb 303; Dimitrova 93).
Babb, Lawrence A. (1983) “The Physiology of Redemption.” History of Religions 22: 293-312.
Dimitrova, Diana (2007) “The Development of Sanātana Dharma in the Twentieth Century: A Rādhāsoamī Guru’s Perspective.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11: 89-98.
DuPertuis, Lucy (1986) “How People Recognize Charisma: The Case of Darshan in Radhasoami and Divine Light Mission.” Sociological Analysis 47: 111-124.
Juergensmeyer, Mark (1991) Radhasoami Reality: The Logic of a Modern Faith. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press.
This article was written by: Desiree Kmiecik (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.