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Bhai Almast (1553-1643), Sikh preacher and head of a dhuari or branch of the Udasi sect, was born in a Gaur Brahman family of Srinagar (Kashmir) on 26 August 1553. He was the son of Bhai Hardatt and Mai Prabha, and was the elder brother of Balu Hasna, another equally prominent preacher of the sect.
Almast's original name was Alu, later he came to be called Almast (lit. in a state of ecstasy, indifferent, also intoxicated) because of his 'mystical' proclivities and his indifference towards worldly affairs. He was also called Kambalia or Godaria because he would normally be dressed only in a kambal (a ragged blanket) or in a godari, (a light quilt or padded sheet).
Young Alu was hardly past his adolescence when he left home in quest of spiritual knowledge. In 1574, he came to Dera Baba Nanak where he fell under the spell of Baba Sri Chand, the elder son of Guru Nanak and founder of the Udasi sect. He served at the dehura (mausoleum) of Guru Nanak, and for his livelihood tended a flock of goats. It was here that he began to be called Almast. Baba Gurditta (1613-38), the eldest son of Guru Hargobind, who had succeeded Baba Sri Chand as head of the Udasi sect, deputed Bhai Almast to preach the message of Guru Nanak in the eastern provinces.
He first went to Puri in Orissa where he established a shrine to commemorate Guru Nanak's visit to the Jagannath temple. The shrine, known as Gurdwara Mangu Math, is still in existence. In 1633, Bhai Almast went to Nanak Mata, formerly known as Gorakh Mata, where Guru Nanak had a discourse with the Nath yogis under an old pipal tree, and where a shrine dedicated to Guru Nanak had later been established. The place had been re-occupied by the yogis who had razed the Sikh shrine and burnt down the pipal tree.
Almast applied for help to Guru Hargobind who reached Nanak Mata in June 1634, chastised the Nath intruders and restored the Sikh shrine. According to local tradition, he even miraculously rejuvenated the burnt pipal tree. Bhai Almast spent the remaining period of his life at Nanak Mata from where he sent out his eight principal disciples to preach in various districts of eastern India. These disciples established Sikh shrines at places visited by Guru Nanak during his first udasi (lit. travel) or preaching journey.
1. Randhir SINGH. Bhai, Udasi Sikhan di Vithia.. Chandigarh. 1972
2. Pritam Singh, ed., Nirmal Sampradai. AMRITSAR, 1981 P.S.P.