MASANDS were, in early Sikhism, local community leaders who looked after the saṅgats in their diocese and linked them to their spiritual mentor, the Gurū. They led Sikhs, preached the word of the Gurū and transmitted to him their offerings, escorting occasionally batches of them to his presence. The first such masands were appointed by Gurū Arjan. The word masand is from Persian masnad, meaning a throne or a cushion to recline. As appropriated into the Sikh tradition, it further advanced the concept of mañjī (cot) on which the preachers sat, reclining against a cushion, as they expounded to the people Gurū Nānak's gospel. This mañjī system had been introduced by the Third Gurū, Gurū Amar Dās (1479-1579). The new nomenclature arose from the Sikh custom of designating the Gurū as sachchā pātshāh, the True King, in contradistinction to the temporal King. The functionaries, who acted on behalf of the Gurū in spreading the Sikh teaching as also in collecting for him tithes and offerings from the followers, came to be known as masands in imitation of masnad-i-ālī, an imperial title for ranked nobles.
The masand structure helped in the expansion of Sikh faith and in knitting together centres established in far-flung places. The beginnings of such centres went back to the time of Gurū Nānak who had travelled extensively preaching his message, his disciples setting up in different places dharamsālas wherein to meet together in saṅgat or holy-fellowship to recite his hymns. To activate the saṅgats in different parts, Gurū Amar Dās had established twenty-two mañjīs with several local groups affiliated to each. Gurū Arjan further consolidated the system by appointing masands who were invested with greater authority and with more varied religious and social functions. Masands were chosen for their piety and devotion. Besides preaching the Sikh tenets in their areas, they visited the Gurū at least once every year. They were accompanied on such occasions by groups of Sikhs, from amongst those under their guidance. They carried with them offerings from the disciples for the laṅgar, or community kitchen, the digging of tanks and for other philanthropic works. To help them with their preaching work, masands had their own deputies known as melīs. The masands who enjoyed the status of the Gurū's own representatives served to spread the Sikh faith and consolidate the ecclesiastical structure. But as time passed, they became neglectful of their religious office and took to personal aggrandizement. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708), the last of the Gurūs, had to charge them with corruption and oppression. Those found guilty were punished. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh abolished the institution of masands. He, as sang the poet Bhāī Gurdās II, converted the saṅgat into Khālsā, i.e. directly his own, eliminating the intermediary masands.