BAIRĀGĪS, or Vairāgīs, are a sect of Hindu ascetics, eschewing colour or passion and detached from all worldly allurements. Founded by Srī Anand, the 12th spiritual descendant of Rāmānand, the sect comprises a class of nomadic penitents, living a secluded life of extreme poverty, wearing minimum of clothing and living on begging. They cast ashes upon their long hair and rub their bodies over with these, too. The sect is divided into four different orders, viz. Rāmānandī, Viṣṇusvāmī, Nīmānandī and Mādhavachārya, of whom only Rāmānandī and Nīmānandī orders are found in the Punjab. The Rāmānandīs are, like Viṣṇusvāmīs, the devotees of Lord Rāma/ Kṛṣṇa; they celebrate the 8th of Bhādoṅ as the date of incarnation of their deity, study and revere the Bhāgavadgītā as their scripture, and visit Vrindāvan, Dvārkā and Mathurā as places of pilgrimage. They, as a rule, abstain from flesh and drink, but lately some of them have begun to make an exception in the case of hemp. The Rāmānandīs among them have the trident marked, as their insignia, on their foreheads in white the central prong being sometimes in red also, whereas the Niāmānandīs wear all white, a two-pronged fork on their forehead, the shape signifying the figure of Nar Siṅgh, lit. man-lion, believed in Hindu mythology to be the incarnation of God who saved Bhakta Prahlād. They lived, for the most part, in monasteries and were for some time quite a respectable class of faqīrs, a few of them rising quite high in the social set-up as well. Baron Charles Hugel, the famous German traveller who visited northern India during the reign of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, mentions one Tāmū or Tāmū Shāh, who was the wazīr, i. e. minister, of the Rājā of Nandauṇ.
The Sikh texts espouse the householder's life rejecting renunciation, contain passages criticizing the life-style of the Bairāgīs. According to the Sikh point of view, a true Bairāgī is one who cultivates a sense of bairāg, i. e. detachment, towards the material world while still living the life of a common house-holder, adheres to high moral and ethical standards, and attunes himself completely to the Will of God, constantly meditating upon His name. "He who hath his mind fully in control call him alone a bairāgī, " says Gurū Amar Dās, Nānak III (GG, 569).
B. S. Nijjar