SANGAT Punjabi form of the Sanskrit term "sangti", means company, fellowship, association. In Sikh vocabulary, the word has a special connotation. It stands for the body of men and women who meet religiously, especially in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. Two other expressions carrying the same connotation and are equally in common use are "Sadh Sangat" (fellowship of the seekers of truth) and "Sat Sangat". "Sat" means "true", so "Sat Sangat" means "True company or True congregation". The word sangat has been in use since the time of Guru Nanak (1469-1539). In his days and those of his nine successors, sangat referred to the Sikh brotherhood established in or belonging to a particular locality.
The term is used in this sense in the Janam Sakhis, i.e. traditional life-stories of Guru Nanak, and in the hukamnamas, i.e. edicts issued by the Gurus to their followers in different parts of the country. In the hukamnamas there are references, for instance, to Sarbatt Sangat Banaras Ki, i.e. the entire Sikh community of Banaras (Varanasi), Patna ki Sangat, i.e. the Sikhs of Patna, Dhaul ki Sangat, the Sikhs of Dhaul. In common current usage, the word signifies an assembly of the devotees. Such a gathering may be in a gurdwara, in a private residence or in any other place, but in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The purpose is religious prayer, instruction or ceremony. The sangat may collectively chant the sacred hymns, or, as it more often happens, there may be a group of musicians to perform kirtan. At sangat there may be recitals of the holy writ with or without exposition, lectures on religious or theological topics, or narration of events from Sikh history. Social and political matters of interest for the community may as well be discussed.
In Sikh faith highest merit is assigned to meeting of the followers in sangat. This is considered essential for the spiritual edification and progress of an individual. It is a means of religious and ethical training. Worship and prayer in sangat count for more than isolated religious practice. The holy fellowship is morally elevating. Here the seeker learns to make himself useful to others by engaging in acts of seva, or self-giving service, so highly prized in Sikhism. The seva can take the form of looking after the assembly's shoes for all must enter the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib barefoot; preparing and serving food in Guru ka Langar; and relieving the rigour of a hot summer day by swinging over the heads of the devotees large hand-fans. It is in the company of pious men that true religious discipline ripens. Those intent on spiritual advantage must seek it.
Though sangat has freedom to discuss secular matters affecting the community, it is its spiritual core which imparts to it the status and authority it commands in the Sikh system. As Guru Nanak says, "satsangat is where the Divine Name alone is cherished" (GG, 72). This is where virtues are learnt. "Satsangat is the Guru's own school where one practises godlike qualities" (GG, 1316). Attendance at sangat wins one nearness to God and release from the circuit of birth and death. "Sitting among sangat one should recite God's praise and thereby swim across the impassable ocean of existence" (GG, 95). As satsangat is obtained through the Guru's grace, the Name blossoms forth in the heart (GG, 67-68). "Amid sangat abides the Lord God" (GG, 94). "God resides in the sangat. He who comprehends the Guru's word realizes this truth (GG, 1314). "Deprived of sangat, one's self remains begrimed" (GG, 96). "Without sangat ego will not be dispelled" (GG, 1098). Says Guru Arjan in Sukhmani, "Highest among all works is joining the sangat and thereby conquering the evil propensities of the mind" (GG, 266). Again, "As one lost in a thick jungle rediscovers one's path, so will one be enlightened in the company of the holy" (GG, 282).