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Sanatan Sikhi Nihangs in History

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by spnadmin, Sep 22, 2009.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    [​IMG]
    Three Nihang warriors

    Nihang is a Persian word meaning crocodile. Nihangs were suicide squads of the Mughal army and wore blue uniforms. The Sikhs took the name and the uniform from theMughals. Nihangs constitute an order of Sikhs who, abandoning the fear of death, are ever ready for martyrdom and remain unsullied by worldly possessions. A Nihang is one who has nothing and is free from anxiety. The order is said to have been founded by Guru Gobind Singh himself as a fighting body of the Khalsa. The Nihangs were also called Akalis (servitors of the Timeless God) which term has now become synonymous with the members of a political party in Punjab. (Most of them wear blue turbans).

    Nihangs can be recognized from a distance as they wear dark blue robes with their legs bare below the knees and high blue and yellow turbans laced with steel discs. They usually carry spears, swords, daggers and shields. They use a charming vocabulary of Braggadocio, which has found its way into the Punjabi language.
    [​IMG]
    Nihang of the Buddha Dal with traditional "Dastar Bunga" turban, mostly worn on occasions such as Hola Mohalla.
    [​IMG]
    Nihang of Taruna Dal with traditional turban known as "Dastar Bunga".
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Nihangs at the Hola Mohalla Celebrations


    [​IMG] Nihangs in battle - One with the quoit and the other with a gun.
    A sketch by a European Artist - from the Illustrated Weekly News, London

    Nihangs in a final procession at the Kesgarh Sahib Gurdwara on the occasion of Hola Mohalla (photo courtesy Raghu Rai - "The Sikhs")[​IMG]
    [​IMG]Shahidi Bagh Camp: Nihangs celebrate Hola Mohalla with a flavour of their own. (Photo courtesy, Raghu Rai-"The Sikhs") A Friend in need! A Nihang whispers words of love in his mare's ear. (Photo-courtesy Raghu Rai)[​IMG] [​IMG]
    Falconry: Nihangs gather to admire a hawk (Symbolic of Guru Gobind Singh) trained to capture small birds. (photo courtesy-Raghu Rai) Nihang Horsemanship: Baba Santa Singh leader of the Buddha Dal, in a display of equestrian prowess. (photo courtesy - Raghu Rai -"The Sikhs")
    [​IMG]
    The following article is by H.A. Rose in his book "Tribes and Castes of Punjab and N.W. Frontier Province" (1892)

    Akali/Nihang
    The sect of the Akalis differs essentially from all other Sikh orders in being a militant organisation, corresponding to the Nagas or Gosains among the Hindus. Their foundation is ascribed to Guru Govind Singh himself, and they steadfastly opposed Banda's attempted innovations. The term 'Akali' is sometimes said to be derived from 'Akal-purusha' - 'worshipper of the Eternal.' But Akal means 'deathless', i.e. 'God', and Akali is simply 'God worshipper.' The Akali wear blue chequered dresses, and bangles or bracelets of steel round their wrists, and quoits of steel in their lofty conical blue turbans, together with miniature daggers, knives, and an iron chain



    In their military capacity the Akalis were called Nihangs or reckless, and played a considerable part in the Sikh history, forming the Shahids or first of the four dehras. At the siege of Multan in 1818 a few Akali fanatics (They were headed by one Jassa Singh, called Mala (rosary) Singh, from his piety. He denied himself the use of bhang, the only intoxicating drug in use among the Akalis.) carried the faussebraye by surprise and precipitated the fall of that fortress.
    [​IMG]
    The career of Phula Singh illustrates both their defects and their qualities. This great Akali first came into notice as the leader of the attack on Metcalfe's escort at Amritsar in 1809. He was then employed by Ranjit Singh, who stood in considerable awe of him, as a leader in the Indus valley, where he was guilty of atrocious cruelty towards the Mohammedan population, and in Kashmir. Finally, Phula Singh and his Akalis contributed to, or rather virtually won for Ranjit Singh, the great Sikh victory over the Yusafzais at Teri in 1823. In this battle Phula Singh met with a heroic death, and his tomb at Naushehra is now an object of pilgrimage to Hindus and Mohammedans alike.

    (see also Akali Phula Singh in 'Warriors' section)
    Under Phula Singh's earlier leadership, and perhaps befor his rise, the Akalis had become a terror to friends and for alike, and the Sikh chiefs, from whom they often levied contribution, dreaded them by force. Ranjit Singh, after 1823, ddid much to reduce their power, and the order lost its importance.
    [​IMG]
    Akali Sikhs on the march

    The Akali headquarters were the Akal Bunga at Amritsar, where they assumed the direction of religious ceremonies and the duty of convoking the 'Gurmatta'; indeed, they laid claim to exercise a general leadership of the Khalsa. Since Ranjit Singh's time Anandpur has been their real headquarters, but their influence has to a large extent passed away, and some of them have degenerated into mere buffoons.

    [​IMG]
    As an order the Akalsi are celibate. They have , says Trumpp, no regular chief or disciple, yet one hears of their Guru, whose leavings are eaten by their disciples (sewak or chela). They do not eat meat or drink spirits, as other Sikhs do, but consume inordinate quantities of bhang.​
    [​IMG]
    A painting done in 1846 of a Nihang Chieftain
     

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  3. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    From the time I was a very little girl, I was taught probably over-romanticised stories of the Nihangs as great warriors, gentle rescuers, most Noble Sikhs! What our home lacked in pictures of Gurus - Daddy disliked these - it made up for in pictures of Nihangs all over the place.

    From the time I can first remember I pictured my husband with a blue chola, a very long, curved kirpan and an over-sized turban carrying me away to marital bliss on a white horse. The man I married actually came close, except his turban was a normal size and his stallion was black.

    One summer, when I was 7, I ran away from home (in Amritsar, that summer) and met up with a Nihang. It's a pretty good story.

    Rather than sending you to my blog, I'll reproduce it here:

    The Little Girl and the Big Nihang

    Most Sikhs, I think, have a rather romantic, idealised view of Nihangs. I am no exception. In fact, I have a rather special love of them, based on the story I will tell you now.

    I have told the story of how my mother cut my kesh when I was seven. Up until the events of 1984, that was the most traumatic thing that had happened to me. I think to any little girl having her hair forcefully cut would be a horrible and damaging experience. To a little girl in a Sikh family, it was exponentially worse.

    Each summer, we went to India. I know this is insane. What sane person would choose to spend the frigid winters freezing in Montreal and summers sweltering in India? Questions of sanity aside, we were not normal people!.

    Usually part of our summer was spent in the mountains of Kashmir, part on a family farm in Punjab and part in the dirty, humid, noisy, crowded, stinky, insect-infested, holy city of Amritsar. I did not much like Amritsar, although I loved the Harimandir Sahib Ji, the Golden Temple.

    In the summer of 1959, however, India and China were at odds over Kashmir, so we made no trip to Kashmir that year. Instead, we divided our time just between the farm, which was at least livable and the city, which was not. I was in terrible shape. I begged my Dad to let me stay in Montreal with my friend Lilly and her family. They are Jains and would, at least, not stare at my shorn hair. Lilly's mother never really liked me - she thought Sikhs were violent and uncivilised, an opinion she holds to this day - but they were willing for me to spend the summer with them. Dad was not. He wanted me with him. So we were off to India.

    As predicted, the women of the family were appalled my hair. It looked awful. My ponytail had been cut off, leaving it shorter in the back and longer on the sides. I suppose it could have been evened up a bit, but I was unwilling to let anyone near my head with a pair of scissors. One good thing about these summers was that we conveniently forgot that I was supposed to be raised Catholic and I was permitted to be a little Sikh girl.


    And I was the only girl. Because of a genetic problem in my father's family, few girls are born to us, and those few almost always die in infancy. I am the sole exception in my generation; even among my brothers' children, I have only one surviving niece. Being the only girl child among many children, they made over me and spoiled me and treated me rather like a little doll.

    Another girl might have liked all the attention, but I didn't! I was something of a tomboy who would rather be hunting down frogs or rats than being dressed up in fancy clothes. And they kept trying to find some way to comb and tie my hair to make me presentable. If I had been a boy, they could have tied it up in a jura - I think it was long enough for that - and tied a patka on me. But I was a girl and who was interested in something so practical. I finally took to draping a chunni, far too big for me, around my hair, although it was terribly hot.

    One morning, I decided I had had enough of all this and I ran away. Being seven, I didn't plan it too well. I took no clothes except what I was wearing, no food and had no idea where I was going. I just took off through the dirty, stinking, crowded streets of Amritsar.

    I wandered around for a while. After some time, it occurred to me that I was hungry. I had no food and no money. Then I realised that I had no idea where I was. I was scared. Very, very scared. Unable to contain myself. I started crying.

    [​IMG]

    'Little sister, what's the matter?'


    I heard a booming masculine voice above me.








    I looked up and saw the biggest, hugest, most gigantic, fiercest-looking nihang you could imagine, towering above me. His beard was long and black and very bushy. I was small, even for a seven year old, and I hardly came up past his chola. His kirpan was just about at eye-level. Any ordinary little child would have been terrified.





    I was not any ordinary little child, though. I had spent all my life with my Sikh family, and nihangs were highly respected, even loved. I had been taught that in any emergency, if I needed help I should go to a Singh, he would help me. So much better it that Singh were a nihang! And now one had found me! I had my very own Nihang, my knight in shining armour, or at least a blue chola.

    I told him that my mother had cut my hair and that I was ashamed in my family. I unwound the chunni and showed him. He was aghast. Not humouring me. Truly upset.

    'Who would do such a thing to her own child?' He muttered.

    'She's Christian,' I said.

    He scowled. He took my chunni and wound it around my head, turban fashion. 'There. That looks better.'

    I looked at my reflection in a window and was quite pleased with the result.

    But I was still hungry. I looked up at him, beguiling as only a seven year old girl could be , and said, 'Mr. Nihang Ji, I'm hungry. And thirsty. Could you please help me, sir?'

    He burst out laughing. 'Oh, of course.' Looking at my short little legs, he added, 'I bet you're tired, too.'

    I realised I was. I nodded.

    He picked me up and placed me on his shoulders! There I rode, high above

    [​IMG]



    clouds. He was very tall. We found a street vendor, no difficult task, and got some snacks and a fruit drink. I felt much better.








    'Are your family mistreating you?' he asked me.








    I had to admit that they were not.

    'Then you really need to go home. Your family must be very worried about you. Do you know where you live?'

    A little reluctantly, I told him.

    The whole way home, I rode up there in the sky on his shoulders. We reached the house much too quickly.

    The household was in turmoil. I had been gone for several hours and they were all scared to death, having no idea if I had been kidnapped or just run off or what. Imagine their relief and surprise at seeing me, returning triumphantly, riding a giant nihang!

    My Dad, who was tall, but not a giant, reached over and took me off the nihang's shoulders. Maybe Mr. Nihang Ji wasn't really so huge. He was about the same size as Daddy.

    He deposited me, talked to Daddy for a while and then left. I never saw him again, but I had had an adventure and felt much better about myself.

    I suppose I should have been severely punished; the streets of Amritsar are no place for an innocent, young Canadian girl to be wandering around alone and anything could have happened to me.


    Instead, we bathed and got on clean clothes and went to Harimandir Sahib


    [​IMG]

    to thank Waheguru that I was safe.

    Oh, yeah, I was a spoiled little girl!


    Illustrations:
    Top: Nihang Singh at Sri Harimandir Sahib Ji

    Second from top: A nihang from the perspective of a seven year old girl
    Middle: A street vendor. Notice in background the shop: 'Andeep Singh.' Mandeep? Sandeep? Who knows?

    Bottom: A Nihang Singh at Harimandir Sahib. I chose this picture because he looks a lot like my Dad.
     
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  4. faujasingh

    faujasingh
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    My experience with them has been like they r kind, humble and have a good sense of humour and are wonderful at telling tales. I miss those small conversations with them at Huzoor Sahib. I am probably going there again soon, i am missing it badly now !
     
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  5. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    faujasingh ji

    If you can direct me to any information about the history of Hazoor Sahib I would greatly appreciate -- online information. I have their web sites, etc, and the web sites about travel there. But I am looking for more that is detailed and historical in focus. Links would be great.

    Sat Nam
     
  6. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    I would love information/pictures of female Nihangs. I have heard they exist, but have very little information and no pictures. I shall continue looking...

    :ice:
     
  7. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Mai ji

    I have pictures of this. They can be seen on Flickr.
     
  8. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    Uber cool. Where on flickr? Are you on my contact list under some exotic nom-de-plume? I'm Mai1984, rather typecasting, but Mai was already taken, as was Harinder.
     
  9. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    The link that I found is stubbornly posting itself as a video that is no longer available. As a separate thread the topic would be very interesting. Right now I can't figure how to post the link without problems. To avoid the problem I removed the http://www :) So to get to the site you would have to type it back in.

    flickr.com/photos/chitrakari/336457206/
     
  10. Randip Singh

    Randip Singh
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    this is gold dust.
     
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  11. faujasingh

    faujasingh
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    Whatever is available online is not even a drop of the ocean.Trust me there is not much. Even if I were to write something its only going to be one aspect because there is a lot of faith, history, belief, people, groups, and a lot more there. The best is a visit !
     
  12. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    I had to copy/paste into my notebook, add the and finally...
    WOW!!

    What a gorgeous picture! If we had had a couple of her with is in Delhi...

    I have repeatedly been told that a woman cannot be a warrior and retain her feminity. Aside from the insult to me and all my Khalsa sisters, I had nothing to show them. Now I have a picture.

    But I'm greedy; I want more!
     
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    #11 Mai Harinder Kaur, Sep 23, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2009
  13. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Mai ji

    The face of the woman is a portrait of such depth of character and resolve. She is a beautiful woman and unmistakeably "feminine" but not in the Hollywood/Bollywood way. Her face tells a story and yet the story is known only to her. She shows strength and quiet at the same time. I was also overwhelmed by that image.
     
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  14. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    Beauty and femininity are vastly different things to different people.

    What do I know? I was raised with the image of Mai Bhago as one aspect of the perfect woman, the one woman I most wanted to emulate.

    I find this Lady Nihang (Nihangni?) an ideal in appearance. In her face, I see calm, serene, loving, and I also see the lioness. She sends tingles down my back and back up again. I'd love to see her on horseback as well. And nursing a baby. And in a gatka match. And fighting beside her husband.

    ...
     
  15. harbansj24

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    I do not how many of you know it. Nihangs do not purchase purchase tickets for travel in trains. Although there is no written rule, the railway authorities do not demand tickets from them.

    Nihangs also have a very charming and disarming vocabulary of their own.

    For eg. Tea is Dil Fookni (bellow for the heart)
    Milk is Samundar (sea)
    0ne is sava lakh (one lakh, twenty five thousand)
    Oneself is Fauj (army)

    etc etc
     
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  16. spnadmin

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