My Research on Nihangs
(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)
I have been watching Nihangs since my early childhood. A Nihang used to stay at the Gurdwara complex, where my father, the late Bhai Sahib Avtar Singh Ji, was the head ‘Granthi’ (priest). Many a time, I would go to the Nihang and speak with him for lengthy periods.
My father used to take me to the ‘Hola Mahalla’ festival every year in Sri Anandpur Sahib. As I grew older, I continued to take part in ‘Hola Mahalla’ almost every year and also I started to visit the annual festivals at Sri Fatehgarh Sahib and Sri Chamkaur Sahib. The Nihangs would also participate in these festivals in large numbers, allowing me to observe them from up close. I particularly enjoyed the Nihangs dancing their horses during the ‘Mahalla’ processions. I never thought that they were different to us, the “mainstream” Sikhs.
Then, on March 20, 1981, whilst I was in Sri Anandpur Sahib Ji, a saffron flag was hoisted in the city. It was said that it was the flag of a separate country, called ‘Khalistan’. A Nihang fired five rounds in the air to salute the flag. Being only a child of nine years, I was not able to comprehend the politics that surrounded the event.
Then came the year of 1984. ‘Operation Blue Star’ made a blot on secular face of India – my country. I was 12 years old at the time. Jathedar Santa Singh, Chief of the Buddha Dal Nihangs, accepted the then Congress Government’s offer to rebuild the destroyed building of Sri Akal Takht Sahib Ji. Other Sikh groups, including the SGPC, were against his decision. Jathedar Santa Singh, however, did not show concern for popular Sikh sentiments and continued with his desired course of action and as is now commonly known, Sri Akal Takht Sahib Ji excommunicated him as a ‘Tankhaya’ (he was later readmitted into the Panth in 2001 after some 17 years in excommunication). Sikhs later razed the building built under Jathedar Santa Singh’s banner and rebuilt the Sri Akal Takht Sahib by way of ‘Kar Sewa’.
Violence in Punjab increased very swiftly after the ‘Operation Blue Star’ followed by the genocide of Sikhs in Delhi and other places. The scenes at ‘Hola Mahalla’, Fatehgarh Sahib and Chamkaur Sahib were changed. The ‘Budhha Dal’ was divided into two groups. Baba Balbir Singh Akali led the new group resulting in clashes between the two groups. Jathedar Santa Singh group was also facing threats from militant groups. I myself saw the Nihang Chief surrounded by non-Sikh policemen during festivals. The ‘Central Reserve Police Force’ (CRPF) was deployed to protect the chief of ‘Guru Kee Laadlee Fauj’. On many occasions, Jathedar Santa Singh avoided participating in traditional Sikh festivals. Perhaps, the administration advised him to do so.
During this period, a person known to me became a Nihang. Whenever I would go to his shop, he would talk with me on different topics. I was however still a child and remained unaware of the political and other situations developing in Punjab. I always thought that he was a devoted Sikh and did not consider him different from other mainstream Sikhs. Then, a day came, when he was shot dead by militants. It was said that he was a police informer (spy).
Many Sikh young boys were killed in police encounters. No doubt, most of such encounters were faked. A few groups of Nihangs became suspicious in eyes of some people.
I felt it was now high time to know more about these events and people. My father was a very learned ‘Katha-kaar’ and a student of Nihang Tehal Singh Ji and Principal Ganga Singh Ji. I had been studying Gurbani, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji, from him. There were many books in our house and my father inspired me to read more and more. I would listen regularly to my father doing ‘Katha’ of ‘Sri Gur Prataap Sooraj Granth’ daily in the Gurdwara Sahib.
Many years then passed by like a dream. My mother passed away in 1986, shortly followed by my grand father. In 2004, my father went to his heavenly abode leaving me all alone – however, I soon realized that he in fact remained with me through his treasure chest of books.
I have been an avid reader old Sikh texts since my childhood. We have a history that is truly remarkable, however a handful of writers cannot possibly record all of our glorious past. One needs to consider as many books as possible in order to seek out the truth. A single book may be biased. To reach a fair conclusion, a deep study of different books is warranted. This is what I have attempted to do whilst working on this project.
My research is based upon the texts written in 18th century. In the list of such texts are included ‘Sri Gur Sobha’ (written in 1711 AD), ‘ Gur Bilaas’ (1751 AD), ‘Bansavalinama’ (1769 AD), ‘Gur Bilas’ by Sukha Singh (1797 AD) etc. I have also referenced written in 19th century, these include ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’, ‘Sri Gur Pratap Sooraj Granth’ and ‘Naveen Panth Prakash’. These are the texts, which cannot be ignored while studying the Nihang tradition or history. (For further details, see: – The Resources of Study).
There is no other way to understand present-day Nihangs other than interaction with them. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to talk with many Nihangs in person and become more acquainted with their ways.
Baba Balbir Singh Akali Ji is the Chief of the Budhha Dal division, which is recognized by the Sri Akal Takht Sahib Ji and the ‘Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee’. Nihang Major Singh Ji, who is famous for his huge ‘Dumaala’, is a member of Baba Balbir Singh Akali’s Budhha Dal. I have met with Baba Balbir Singh Akali. It was a good experience to talk with him in Gurdwara Guru Ka Baag (Sri Anandpur Sahib Ji), where he was present with his Nihang army. I have had chance more recently to talk to him over phone as well and have obtained much information from this group of the Budhha Dal.
Baba Balbir Singh Akali listens carefully. He is always ready to tell the glory of Nihang Singhs and Budhha Dal.
There are also a few small groups of Nihangs, which are almost ignored by press-reporters and other writers. During ‘Hola Mahalla’ festivals, I found such groups of Nihangs and made sure I did not miss the chance to talk with them. (Picture).
A few Nihangs have entangled themselves in court cases. Such Nihangs are fighting a legal battle or so they think. Both types of cases, criminal and civil, are pending in Indian courts. Ordinary people do not know what is happening there, although Press reporters are more aware. In this respect, I have received information from press reporters, to whom I am grateful. Whilst I have not used such information in my articles, it has helped me tremendously to better understand Nihang organizations. (Picture).
In the ‘Sangat’ at Gurdwara Baba Jeevan Singh Ji, Anandpur Sahib.
For various reasons, I have not included some points of my research in this update on www.amritworld.com. These are listed below:
‘Ranghreta’ is a well-known term in Sikh history. There are ‘Ranghreta’ Nihang groups in India. These are small groups, but are getting recognition now. I promised to write about them, but unfortunately could not in this update. In the near future, I shall endeavour to provide an update about them and their important role in Sikh history. (Picture).
Jathedar Bawa Singh Ji is the chief of a group of Ranghreta Nihangs.
Cannabis is called ‘Sukha’ or ‘Sukhnidhaan’ by Nihangs. I have read some books, in which ‘Sukha’ is mentioned. I had also written an article on ‘Sukha’ for another section on www.amritworld.com. Originally, a separate article on ‘Sukha’ was a part of my project on Nihangs, but now I think I would write it later, if needed. (Picture).
The ‘Jhatka’ (to kill an animal in a single blow) is an important point, which I have also had to omit in this update. Various Nihang groups maintain this tradition. Many old texts mention ‘Jhatka’. In my Punjabi work ‘Sri Hazoori Maryada Prabodh – Ik Adhiyain’, I have written an article ‘Khoon Da Tilak’, which is related to this topic.
One may find that I have not written on a few other points also. For example, I have not shared my views on the installation of Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji, installation of Sri Sarabloh Granth, ‘Chakra’ on Dumala, Chand-Torha, the fifth ‘Takht’ etc.
In future, more articles will be added in this section of www.amritworld.com, as and when needed.
I have had to travel to various places for this project, often upon my ‘iron horse’ (motorbike). (Picture). My students (Paramjit Singh Mintu, Gurpreet Singh Ramgarhia, Jatinder Singh JD and others) have joined me on different occasions. I have needed them sometimes because of my health problems and am thankful for their support.
I, along with my students, have taken hundreds of pictures of Nihangs. Jatinder Singh JD is a professional photographer and has been most helpful in this respect.
We have taken some video clips as well, however, these have not been used on www.amritworld.com, but instead a CD was sent abroad. (Picture).
I am grateful to Amardeep Singh Ji (London, UK) for proofreading this section.
Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’