ĀĪ PANTH, one of the twelve sects of yogīs, whose adherents worship Āī Bhavānī, a tribal female deity, believed to be an extension of Śakti. Śiva in the form of ardhanārīśvara is said to have two forms represented by his own halves. His right side is the male whose followers are called dakṣināchārīs, whereas his left portion represents the female known as Śakti, the basic power also called Ambā, Durgā, Kālī or Bhavānī. Worshippers of the female aspect of Śiva are called vāmamārgīs, known for their peculiar beliefs and customs. They accept no taboos in the matter of food and accord religious sanction to sexual freedom. They practise austerities; for a living they would go begging from house to house. Their living style (jugat) consists in smearing their bodies with ashes (bibhūt), wearing heavy rings (mundā or mundrā) in their split ears and covering their bodies with a loose shroud (khinthā). When they go out begging, they carry a begging bowl in one hand and a club (ḍaṇḍā) or fire-tongs in the other.
In course of time, many sects based on this śakti principle appeared throughout the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. Āī Panth is one of them and the Mahar tribals once found almost exclusively along the River Sutlej, opposite Fāzilkā, especially in the Montgomery, Multān and Bahāwalpur area, worshipped this female spirit and kept her image in their homes. Gurū Nānak during his preaching journeys came across several varieties of yogīs at places like Gorakh Haṭaṛī, Achal Vaṭālā, Sumer Mountain and Gorakhmatā, now known as Nānak Matā. There are extensive references in the Gurū Granth Sāhib which testify to these meetings. In the Japu (stanza 28) Gurū Nānak exhorts an anonymous yogī belonging to the Āī Panth to cultivate control over the mind which was more important than all bodily exercises and discipline. Says Gurū Nānak: "Make contentment thy earrings, modesty thy begging bowl and wallet and the Lord's meditation thy ashes. Let the thought of death be thy patched coat, chastity like that of a virgin's body thy life's deportment, and faith in God thy staff. The realization of brotherhood with all is the real creed of the Āī Panth. "O Yogī, deem the conquering of the self as the conquest of the world" (GG, 6).