MAHANT, originally the superior of a maṭh or any other similar religious establishment. In the Punjab of early Sikhism, its characteristic usage referred to the leaders of Nāth, ḍerās. The term acquired a distinctive Sikh application during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, period during which many Sikh gurdwārās passed into the hands of hereditary controllers. These men, who became virtual owners of their gurdwārās, were known as mahants. Many of them were not initiated Sikhs and as a class they incurred considerable odium as self-seekers who exploited popular devotion for personal gain. They became the prime target of the Gurdwārā Reform movement during the early decades of the twentieth century and were eventually expropriated by the Sikh Gurdwārās Act of 1925. As a result of the misdemeanours of the mahants, the term was sullied beyond redemption in Sikh eyes. The word is still used to designate the superiors of Udāsī akhāṛās, but its expulsion from orthodox Sikh usage seems plainly to be permanent.
W. H. McLeod