20 October, 2020

The Dera Sultanates

Grandiose, customised and, at times, ­havens from mainstream religion

Photograph by PTI
The Dera Sultanates

When social scientist M. Rajivlochan, who teac­hes history at Panjab University, visited the deras of Punjab to research this unique phenomenon, he was stunned to find the dera bosses mimicking the style of Mughal courts. Whilst it is common knowledge that Dera Sacha Sauda boss Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim fashioned himself to resemble the Sikh’s tenth guru Govind Singh, his cultivated likeness with the Mughal court is less noted.

For Rajivlochan the latter phenomenon, not just limited to Ram Rahim, has to do with the dera gurus asserting their “secular power” before followers. “Like dacoits imitate the ranks followed in the police and the military, the deras are organised under the sole authority of a kinglike figure and his coterie,” he says. “The king he apes is much like Shah Jehan—or as the Mughal might exist in the popular imagination.”

This is not very different from what happened with the iconography of Sikh Gurus themselves. Guru Gobind Singh, now pictured as a tall, gleaming figure atop a...



To read this piece, and more such stories in India's most exciting and exacting magazine, plus get access to our 25-year archives goldmine, please subscribe.

Latest Magazine

October 26, 2020

other articles from the issue

articles from the previous issue

Other magazine section