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Who are the Nihang Sikhs? A brief look at their history and status in the 21st century

Arfa Javaid

A mutilated body of a 35-year-old man at the Singhu border was found on Friday, where the farmers’ have been protesting against three contentious Farm Laws 2020, which has yet again brought the spotlight back on the Nihang Sikhs.

Why Nihang Sikhs are in news again?

In the early hours on Friday, a man was found strung up to a barricade at the Singhu Border protest site. The 35-year-old victim was rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. Identified as Lakhbir Singh, the deceased was a resident of Cheema Kalan village in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district. 

The video footage of the incident showed that the man was tied to a barricade, and his wrist, ankle and leg were severed. It is alleged that the deceased desecrated the holy text. 

The same day in the evening, a Nihang Sikh, Sarabjit, took the responsibility for the assault and surrendered before the police. The matter is still being investigated. 

In July 2021, two Nihang Sikhs set on fire the statue of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi erected in Ludhiana and claimed responsibility for the incident in a video that was uploaded on social media. Both the people were arrested. 

Earlier in April 2020, a group belonging to the Nihang Sikhs chopped off the hand of an Assistant Sub Inspector of Punjab Police in Patiala at the vegetable market after being intercepted to show a curfew pass during Covid-induced lockdown. Several people were arrested in connection with the case and a huge cache of handheld weapons were seized from the accused such as barchhe and kirpans, along with five bags of poppy husk mixed with drugs in commercial quantity. 

Who are the Nihang Sikhs?

Originally the Akalis or Akali Nihangs, the Nihang Sikhs are the Guru’s knights or warriors and their origin dates back to the founding of the Khalsa Panth by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh in 1699. Some people believe that Guru Gobind Singh’s younger son, Fateh Singh, once dressed in a blue chola and turban with a dumala and appeared before his father. Upon seeing the majestic look of his son, the Guru remarked that it will be the uniform of the Nihang Sikhs, the warriors of the Khalsa Panth. 

The Sikh warriors can be readily recognised by their blue robes, antiquated swords and spears, decorated peaked turbans with steel quoits, insignia of the Khalsa and rosaries.

The etymology of the word Nihang in Persian stands for an alligator, sword and pen, but the characteristic qualities of the clan find their roots in the Sanskrit word Nihshank which means without pure, without fear, carefree, and non-attachment to the comfort and materialistic possessions of this world.

Difference between Nihang Sikhs and other Sikh warriors

Khalsa Panth was divided into two groups-- One that wore blue attire and the other who do not follow any colour code. However, irrespective of their colour code, both the groups follow the profession of soldiery and are brave without peers in the art of musketry and chakarbazi, and the use of quoits. 

The Nihangs strictly adhere to the code of conduct of Khalsa Panth and hoist a blue Nishan Sahib on the top of their shrines. They use slogans such as Chhardi Kala and Tiar Bar Tiar. They consume Shardai or Sharbati Degh, a popular drink containing grounded almonds, cardamom seeds, poppy seeds, black pepper, rose petals and melon seeds. Another drink Sukhnidhan or the treasure of comfort is prepared by adding a small amount of Cannabis to the aforementioned ingredients. When consumed with a higher amount of Cannabis, the drink is known as Shaheedi Deg or the sacrament of martyrdom, which is consumed while battling with the enemies. 

Importance of Nihangs in Sikh history

One of the battalions of the Khalsa Army, the Nihang or Akali battalion which was led by Baba Deep Singh Shahid took control over the religious matters of the Sikh community at the Akal Banga in Amritsar, present-day Akal Takht. 

Nihangs defended the Sikh Panth post the fall of the first Sikh rule during 1710-1715 and during the onslaught of the Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani between 1748-1765. 

The Nihangs do not profess any allegiance to an earthly master and have always maintained their independent existence. Their influence and power ended post the fall of the Sikh Empire in the year 1849 when a manager was appointed by the British officials for the administration of the Golden Temple of Amritsar in 1859. 

Nihang Sikhs and their status in the 21st century

In the present era, the Nihangs are divided into several groups with their own cantonments but are loosely divided into two forces-- The Buddha Dal and the Taruna Dal. 

The headquarters of the Buddha Dal is situated at Bhatinda’s Talwandi Sabo while the headquarters of the Taruna Dal is situated at Baba Bakala in Amritsar district. The centre of Nihang gatherings is Anandpur Sahib where they gather in thousands in March each year to celebrate the Hola Mahalla, a festival of Sikhs introduced by Guru Gobind Sikh. 

Also Read | Who is Hari Singh Nalwa? All about the most feared Sikh warrior in Afghan history

Explained: A look at the brief history of Hindu and Sikh communities of Afghanistan

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