The Word ‘Nihang’ in Other Sikh-texts
(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)
The word ‘Nihang’ has been used in various Sikh texts in different meanings. It is necessary to understand which meaning the writer adapts when he uses such a word, which has different meanings.
A deep study reveals that the word ‘Nihang’ has not been used as a proper noun in early Sikh texts. Such writers have used this word for ‘warrior’ or ‘brave’. They have used it in another meanings too, but it is never used as a proper noun, as it is used nowadays for a member of a particular sect within the Khalsa Panth.
We have two early writers, who do not use this word at all. The first one is poet Sainapati, who wrote his book ‘Sri Gur Sobha’ in 1711 AD. He was a poet in the holy court of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This book is very famous source of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s history. The ‘Sri Gur Sobha’, along with the ‘Bachitra Natak’, is the main source for later writers, like Kuyer Singh and Bhai Sukha Singh. Such writers even copied a few lines originally written by poet Sainapati.
For example, poet Sainapati writes in ‘Sri Gur Sobha’: –
Taahe Samai Aise Kahyo, Gobind Saran Bichaar.
Aaj Khaas Bhye Khaalsa, Satgur Kai Darbaar.
Kuyer Singh has used these lines like this: –
Peeyo Pyaala Prem Ka, Bhyo Suman Avtaar.
Aaj Khaas Bhyo Khaalsa, Satgur Kai Darbaar.
Thus, the ‘Sri Gur Sobha’ is the source book, which has been used by later writers. This is quite natural since this account was written by a person who was an eyewitness of many incidents, hence it was obvious that his version of events be a valuable resource.
Whilst Sainapati has not used the word ‘Nihang’ in his book ‘Sri Gur Sobha’, when Bhai Kuyer Singh wrote his book ‘Gur Bilaas Paatshaahee 10’ in 1751 AD, he had a copy of ‘Sri Gur Sobha’ with him and makes use of the word ‘Nihang’ in his book. Still it is not a proper noun for Sikh or Khalsa. The word ‘Nihang’ has been used for ‘warrior’ in general.
Bhai Sukha Singh based his famous book ‘Gur Bilaas Paatshaahee 10’ on Bhai Kuyer Singh’s ‘Gur Bilaas’. Bhai Sukha Singh wrote this book in 1797 AD. He was a ‘Granthi’ (priest) of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib Ji in Sri Anandpur Sahib Ji. It is important to note that a ‘Granthi’ of the Takht Sahib does not use the word ‘Nihang’, that too from a late 18th century text.
Ratan Singh Bhangu wrote the ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’ in 1841 AD. This is the book, which uses the word ‘Nihang’ repeatedly as a noun and explicitly for Sikhs.
In the Sri Dasam Granth Ji, the word ‘Nihang’ has been used many times, but another contemporary writer/poet, Sainapati, does not use this word in his work ‘Sri Gur Sobha’.
From this we can conclude that the word ‘Nihang’ was not one which was in vogue amongst the common masses. Guru Gobind Singh Ji was a scholar of Sanskrit, Braj and Persian, so it was natural that he used Persian words on a large scale in his compositions. This is exactly the case with the Persian word ‘Nihang’. Guru Ji has used this word in many compositions, though it was not being used in everyday language in Punjab.
Several innovations have been made in the ‘Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji’ and the use of words from different languages, often combined to form new words, is one such case. In ‘Sri Jaap Sahib Ji’, which is the first composition in the ‘Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji’, Guru Gobind Singh Ji has used Persian/Arabic words, which were not common in Punjabi and Braj. For example, Guru Ji used the word ‘Afvul’, which was not used in ordinary Punjabi and Braj: –
Ke Afvul Gunaah Hain. Ke Shaahan Shaah Hain.
Sainapati was a scholar of Sanskrit, Punjabi and Braj only. He does not use such words, which seem to be strange in daily life language. The word ‘Nihang’ was not common in Braj writers, so he did not use this word. He did not use other Persian and Arabic words either in his text, which can be found in the Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji.
When Bhai Kuyer Singh wrote his book ‘Gur Bilaas’ in 1751 AD, the Persian word ‘Nihang’ had become popular among Sikh scholars, because it was used in Sri Dasam Granth Sahib. Sikh scholars used to read ‘Sri Dasam Granth Sahib’, and so became familiar with this term. In particular ‘Apnee Katha’ (Bachitra Naatak), a composition in the ‘Sri Dasam Granth Sahib’, was very popular amongst Sikh writers. Kuyer Singh has quoted to this composition in his book ‘Gur Bilaas’. The word ‘Nihang’ has been used in this composition of Sri Dasam Granth Sahib. Thus, Kuyer Singh used this word repeatedly in his book. Kuyer Singh does not use this word as proper noun for Sikhs, but in the same manner that it is utilized within Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji.
In general, Sikh texts written in 18th century do not use this word as a proper noun. There was a group of Sikh warriors, which were known as ‘Shaheed’ and later ‘Nihangs’ in Sikh militant groups. In 19th century, this group was being remembered by name of ‘Nihangs’, which became a proper noun for them. That is why we see the word ‘Nihang’ used as a proper noun for a few Sikh warriors in texts written in and after the 19th century.
To make it clearer, we can use an example. The word ‘Khalsa’ has been used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, but it is not a proper noun used for Sikhs: –
Kaho Kabeer Jan Bhye Khaalse, Prem Bhagat Jeh Jaanee.
(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 655)
Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib Ji has used the word ‘Khalsa’ in his ‘Hukumnamas’. He has not used it as a proper noun for his Sikhs. When Guru Gobind Singh Ji inaugurated the Khalsa Panth, use of word ‘Khalsa’ became a proper noun for Sikhs.
Similarly, though the word ‘Nihang’ has been used in ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji’, ‘Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji’ and other Sikh texts written in 18th century, it was not a proper noun. This word has been used for various meanings in Sikh texts. Later, when a group of Punjabi Sikh warriors became known as ‘Nihangs’, this word became a proper noun in the Sikh tradition, and was used for a particular group of Punjabi Sikh warriors.