The Blue Dress

(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)In Asa ki Var, Guru Nanak Dev Jee made mention of those Hindus of his time who had begun to wear blue clothing during the reign of the �Lodhi� and �Mogul� dynasties. Let us read the original words of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji: –

Neel Vastar Pahir Hovainh Parvaan.
Malechh Dhaan Le Poojainh Puraan.

(Wearing blue robes, they seek the approval {of the Muslim rulers}. Accepting bread from the ‘Malechh’ people, they worship the ‘Puraanas’).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 472).

An individual colour by itself does not have a religion, however one can see that within certain religions, particular colours are given some special status. For instance, the colour saffron has particular significance within certain Hindu religious sects. Likewise, the colour blue was associated with Islam.

During Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s time, the foreigner Muslim rulers, as well as other common Muslims used to wear blue clothing.

History provides many accounts of the treatment meted out to Hindus at the hands of these Muslim rulers, at the same time it also indicates that certain Hindus received significant positions with the Muslim courts.

To be accepted in the eyes of the Muslim court, such Hindus began to adopt blue clothing. They wore the long shirts and tunics of the foreign Muslim classes as a means to please their new rulers. Guru Nanak Dev Ji says:-

Neel Bastar Le Kaprhe Pahire
Turk Pathhaanee Amal Keeyaa.

(People began to wear blue robes and garments; the life-style of Turks and Pathhaans was adopted).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 470).

Although the Hindus working under the Muslim officers would receive their wages in kind (usually by way of food grain), service to the Muslim rulers fast became their only source of income. Despite working under the Muslim regime, these Hindus would still refer to the Muslims as �Malechh� amongst themselves.

In their own homes, they would follow their own religious beliefs and recite Holy Scriptures such as the �Puraanas� and spend money on their religious ceremonies, in which the �Vedas� and �Puraanas� would be recited. This money would of course be obtained from their Muslim employers, who they considered to be �Malechh�.

Money or articles obtained from �Malechh� patronage is termed �Malechh-Dhaan�. In short, this points to the double standards and parsimoniousness of such Hindus, who on one hand refer to the foreign Muslim rulers as �Malechh� and one the other, except their �Malechh Dhaan� for use in their livelihood and for the performance of their religious ceremonies.

It is in this settting that Guru Nanak Dev Ji made these comments: –

Neel Vastar Pahir Hovainh Parvaan.
Malechh Dhaan Le Poojainh Puraan.

(Wearing blue robes, they seek the approval {of the Muslim rulers}. Accepting bread from the ‘Malechh’ people, they worship the ‘Puraanas’).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 472).

Accordingly, we can say that Syad Muhammad Latif was wrong, when he wrote the following about Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Ji in his book ‘History of the Punjab’: –

… he actually wished his followers to adopt a livery of his own invention, (in supersession of the blue dress which Nanak had ordered them to wear)….
(History of the Punjab by Syad Muhammad Latif, page 280).

Whilst it is true that Guru Nanak Dev Ji himself wore blue dress, when he went to ‘Makka’, the sacred city of Muslims. Bhai Gurdas Ji writes: –

Baba Phir Makke Gya, Neel Bastra Dhaare Banvaaree.

(Baba {Guru Nanak} then went to ‘Makka’ wearing blue robes).

However, this was clearly for purposes of disguise for it was not possible for a non-Muslim to enter the city of ‘Makka’, so Guru Ji donned the Muslim outfit. Not only he wore blue robes, he also took ‘Musalla’ (prayer mat) and other Muslim paraphernalia. Bhai Gurdas Ji writes: –

Aasa Hathth Kitaab Kachchh, Kooja Baang Musalla Dhaaree.

(He was carrying a stick in his hand, a book under his armpit; he was with ‘Kooja’ {water pot with handle} and ‘Musalla’ {prayer carpet used by Muslims}.)

From these references, we can see that blue robes were considered to be a Muslim dress. Hindus of the time (and many even to this day) would wear a white �dhoti� and would cover their heads with turbans. It was only Hindus in the employ of the Muslim rulers who would wear blue clothing.

In ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’, we find a reference to a Sikh, who was in the service of the Muslim rulers and would wear blue clothing. Ratan Singh Bhangu writes: –

Kahan Singh Kyee BanDeyon Judaayee.
Lyee Turkan Syon Baat Banaayee.
Rupyo Panj Sai NiT Lain Thhahraayo.
Asvaar Panj Sai Saath Rakhaayo.2.
Neel BasTree, Sir Chakra Sajaavai.
Rahit Bhujangee Reet Rakhaavai.
Parhai Baanee, ArDaaso Karai.
Dangyon Phangyon Nah So Tarai.3.

Thus, Kahan Singh left Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Ji and joined Muslim rulers. He got Rupees five hundred per day (as wages for him and his men). He had five hundred horsemen with him. He used to wear blue robes and put ‘Chakra’ (a discus) around his head.

The timeframe in consideration here is circa 1714-1715 AD. If it is true that Kahan Singh used to wear blue robes, then this is not something necessarily out of the ordinary. It was said that in ‘Kalyug’, the Atharva Veda would become prominent and people would began to wear blue robes. Guru Nanak Dev Ji says: –

Kal Maih Bed Atharban Hooyaa Naayaun Khudaayee Alhu Bhyaa.
Neel Bastar Le Kaprhe Pahire Turak Pathaanee Amal Keeyaa.

(In the Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Atharva Veda has become prominent; Allah became the Name of God. Blue robes and garments are worn; the life-style of Turks and Pathhaans is adopted).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 470).

Elsewhere in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib , Guru Nanak Dev Ji goes on to say: –

Kooja Baang Nivaaj Musalla Neel Roop Banvaaree.

(The Muslim devotional pots, calls to prayer, prayers and prayer mats are everywhere; the Lord appears in blue robes).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 1191).

Blue clothing was not worn by the majority of Indians in the past, however under the influence of the Islamic regime under the Muslim government, it become popular even amongst non-Muslims. Many Indians embraced Islam whilst others, who did not convert, adopted parts of Islamic culture and lifestyle, one element of this being the blue attire.

In case of Kahan Singh, it was only natural that he would wear blue robes. He was in service of the Muslims, who had also given him a flag and kettledrum. Ratan Singh Bhangu writes in his ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’: –

Dyo Nigaaro Nishaan Ghalaaye.

([The King] sent a kettledrum and a flag [to those Sikhs]).

Obviously a flag sent by the Muslim ruler to Kahan Singh would not be a Sikh flag (Nishaan Sahib). Those Sikhs who had turned against Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and his army, fought under this flag.

Naturally, if the Muslim government provided them with money, a flag and kettledrum, it is also possible that Kahan Singh and the Sikhs who sided with him would have been provided with a particular colour of uniform, as it would have been necessary to differentiate them from the Sikhs fighting under the command of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur.

On other occasions, we see that the blue dress was also used by the Sikhs to disguise themselves. Not only did they wear the blue dress, they once even carried a green ‘Haidari’ flag and recited ‘Allah Hoo Akbar’. Giani Gian Singh writes in his book ‘Panth Prakash’: –

Neelee Bardee Singhan Dhaaree.
Sajyo Ves Turkan Anuhaaree.
Du-Ik Hazaar Singh Tat Raavee.
Jaaye Tinai Eh Byot Banaavee.
Sabz Rang Kar Jhanda Aage.
Akbar Haq Bolne Laage.

(The ‘Singhs’ wore blue dress. They disguised themselves as Muslims. On the bank of river Raavee, there were one or two thousands Singhs. They made this plan. They carried a green (Muslim) flag in front of them and started to say ‘Akbar Haq’).

Thus, these Sikhs attacked the city of Lahore wearing Muslim dresses, which were blue.

It appear that in later times, it became very common to see blue attire amongst select Sikh militant groups. Otherwise, the majority of the Sikhs fighting under the command of the Budhha Dal and the Taruna Dal would only wear a Kachhehra and turban and cover their bodies with blankets. Giani Gian Singh writes in his ‘Panth Prakash’: –

Khat Ras Ka Wah Swaad Na Jaanai.
Kaprha Aur Na Tan Par Thhaanai.
Kamar Jaangheeya, Ik Sir Patka.
Bhoore Giltee Baana Jatka.

(They {Singhs} do not know taste of six flavors. They do not wear any other clothes. There is underwear around their waists and a turban on their heads. They wear blankets, a Jatt dress).

Conclusion

The blue dress has no exceptional significance in Sikh culture and tradition. There are select instances when Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Sikhs disguised themselves in Muslim attire which was blue, however it only became common to see a few Sikh groups dressed in blue much later.

One thought on “The Blue Dress

  1. Inderpreet Sahota

    wonderful article indeed. amrit, i just love the way you write. you take an issue and make every aspect clearer by giving proper references and evidences.

    Inderpreet Sahota
    Jalandhar

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