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Weekly Current Affairs: April week- 3 - Nihangs Shikhs

  • Category
    History
  • Published
    22nd Apr, 2020

Recently, a group of Nihangs Shikhs attacked policeman in Pujab’s Patiala district when they were asked to stop. The incident has brought into focus this order that has been at the forefront of the Sikh martial tradition for more than 300 years.

Context

Recently, a group of Nihangs Shikhs attacked policeman in Pujab’s Patiala district when they were asked to stop. The incident has brought into focus this order that has been at the forefront of the Sikh martial tradition for more than 300 years.

About

  • The Nihangs trace their origins to the founding of the Khalsa Panth by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, around 1699.
  • Many claim the sect to be “guru di laadli fauj” (the guru’s favourite army).
  • The armed sect is believed to have emerged from the Akaal Sena, a band of soldiers of Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru.
  • Later, the Akaal Sena metamorphosed into the ‘Khalsa Fauj’ of the 10th guru.
  • Nihangs played a major role in defending the Sikhs during the repeated attacks of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Abdali in the mid-18th century.
  • They also occupied the prime position in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
  • There are several theories about the origin of the Nihangs, including the one about their having been a part of the Akaal Sena and later Khalsa Fauj.
  • But unlike the Udasi sect and the Nirmalayas who can be clearly traced back to the Sikh gurus, there is no concrete historical evidence of the origin of the Nihangs.
  • They wear long blue robes and leather shoes called jangi moze, with a sharp metal fitting at the toe that can be used as a weapon.
  • The most visible part of the attire is the turban, the size of which is a matter of pride — some Nihangs wear pagdisseveral times bigger than their heads, decorating these with the Khanda Sahib symbol of the Sikh faith.
  • Simply put, 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.

How Nihangs are different?

  • As per an account by the East India Company’s Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841), Khalsa Sikhs were divided into two groups:
    • Those who put on blue attire which Guru Gobind Singh used to wear at the time of battle
    • Those who do not follow any restrictions on the colour of their dress.
  • Though both of them follow the profession of soldiery and are brave without peer in the art of musketry and chakarbazi, and the use of quoits.
  • Nihangs observe the Khalsa code of conduct in its strictest sense.
  • Nihangs use the slogans ‘chhardi kala’ (forever in high spirits) and ‘tiar bar tiar’ (state of ever preparedness) for unforeseen events.

Role in Shikh’s 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.
  • At Akal Takht, they held the grand council (Sarbat Khalsa) of Sikhs and pronounced the resolution (Gurmata) passed.
  • 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.

Today, Nihangs 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.

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