Context: Recently a group of Nihangs chopped off the hand of an assistant sub-inspector in Patiala when stopped for a curfew pass. Later on weapons and narcotics were seized from them.
- Nihang is an order of Sikh warriors, characterised by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears, and decorated turbans surmounted by steel quoits.
- Etymologically the word nihang in Persian means an alligator, sword and pen.
- However the characteristics of Nihangs seem to stem more from the Sanskrit word nihshank which means without fear, unblemished, pure, carefree and indifferent to worldly gains and comfort.
- Formation: Their origin can be traced back to formation of Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
- The word Nihang is mentioned in a hymn in Guru Granth Sahib (Sacred Book of Sikhs) and refers to a fearless and unrestrained person.
- However some other sources trace it to Guru Gobind Singh’s younger son - Fateh Singh who appeared in front of Guru in a blue chola.
- Any person irrespective of caste, creed or religion can be included provided he has unshorn hair as per the Sikh traditions at the time of entering the sect.
- That person should also remember the five banis, should wake up at 1 am for daily ablutions, should do his prayers in the morning and evening.
- Characteristics: They are quite different from other sikh warriors of khalsa.
- They wear blue dress , same as what Guru Gobind SIngh used to wear for battle.
- They follow the principles of Khalsa in strictest sense
- They didn’t profess allegiance to an earthly master
- Instead of saffron they hoist a blue Nishan Sahib (flag) atop their shrines
- They use the slogans ‘chhardi kala’ (forever in high spirits) and ‘tiar bar tiar’ (state of ever preparedness) for unforeseen events.
- Role in Sikh History: Nihangs had a major role in defending the Sikh panth after the fall of the first Sikh rule (1710-15) when Mughal governors were killing Sikhs, and during the onslaught of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani (1748-65).
- When the Khalsa army was divided into five battalions in 1734, one Nihang or Akali battalion was led by Baba Deep Singh Shahid.
- Nihangs also took control of the religious affairs of the Sikhs at Akal Bunga (now known as Akal Takht) in Amritsar.
- They did not consider themselves subordinate to any Sikh chief and thus maintained their independent existence.
- Their clout came to an end after the fall of Sikh Empire in 1849 when the British authorities of Punjab appointed a manager (sarbrah) for the administration of the Golden Temple in 1859.
- Current Scenario: They today constitute a small community.
- About a dozen bands, each headed by a jathedar (leader), are still carrying on with the traditional order.
- Prominent among these are Budha Dal, Taruna Dal and their factions.
With the advent of modernity, the balance between Bani (Guru Granth Sahib) and Bana (outer form) broke down, resulting in problems and unethical actions. Earlier, Nihangs would never attack an unarmed person.
- Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the late 15th century period and is the 1st Guru and subsequently led by a succession of nine other Gurus.
- Beliefs and Teachings of Guru Nanak:
- Believed in Equality of Mankind and attacked the caste system
- God is one and a formless thing i.e Nirguna Bhakti
- Emphasized on Community Kitchen or Langar coupled with collective recitation
- His idea of liberation was not that of a state of inert bliss but rather the pursuit of active life with a strong sense of social commitment.
- Guru Nanak founded and formalised the 3 pillars of Sikhism:
- Naam Japna - meditation on God through reciting, chanting, singing, and constant remembrance followed by deep study & comprehension of God’s Name and virtues.
- Kirat karni- To honestly earn by one's physical and mental effort while accepting both pains and pleasures as god’s gifts and blessings.
- Vand Chakna- The Sikhs were asked to share their wealth within the community by practising Vand Chakna- “Share and Consume together”.
- The Sikhs call their faith Gurmat (Punjabi: “the Way of the Guru”).
- All 10 human Gurus, Sikhs believe, were inhabited by a single spirit.
- Upon the death of the 10th, Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708), the spirit of the eternal Guru transferred itself to the sacred scripture of Sikhism, Guru Granth Sahib (The Granth as the Guru), also known as the Adi Granth (First Volume), which thereafter was regarded as the sole Guru.
- Sikhism was well established by the time of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru. Guru Arjan completed the establishment of Amritsar as the capital of the Sikh world and compiled the first authorised book of Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth.
- The final living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa order (meaning 'The Pure') soldier-saints.
- Khalsa refers to both a community that considers Sikhism as its faith, as well as a special group of initiated Sikhs.
- Its formation was a key event in the history of Sikhism.
- The founding of Khalsa is celebrated by Sikhs during the festival of Vaisakhi or Baisakhi.
- Guru Gobind Singh (10th Guru) started the Khalsa tradition in 1699 after his father Guru Tegh Bahadur had been beheaded during the Islamic sharia rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
- He created and initiated the Khalsa as a warrior with a duty to protect the innocent from any form of religious persecution.
- The Khalsa redefined the Sikh tradition from the start.
- It formulated an initiation ceremony (amrit pahul, nectar ceremony) and rules of conduct for the Khalsa warriors.
- It created a new institution for the temporal leadership of the Sikhs, replacing the masand system maintained by the earlier Gurus of Sikhism.
- Additionally, the Khalsa provided a political and religious vision for the Sikh community.
- The rules of life included behavioral code (Rahit, such as no tobacco, no alcohol, no adultery, no halal meat), and
- A dress code (Five Ks - Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (a wooden comb for the hair), Kara (an iron bracelet), Kachera (100% cotton tieable undergarment) (not an elastic one) and Kirpan (an iron dagger large enough to defend oneself).
- In contrast to the Khalsa Sikh, a Sahajdhari Sikh is one who reveres the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, but has not undergone the initiation.
- Sahajdhari Sikhs do not accept some or all elements of the dress and behavioral codes of the Khalsa Sikhs.
- The Khalsa has been predominantly a male institution in Sikh history, with Khalsa authority with the male leaders.
- In the contemporary era, it has become open to women but its authority remains with Sikh men.
Image Source: Indian Express