Explained | Who are the Nihangs?

Focus is on group after a man was found murdered near site of farmers’ protest in Singhu

Updated - October 20, 2021 11:22 am IST

Published - October 16, 2021 03:19 pm IST

Nihang Sikhs take out a protest march in support of ongoing farmers in New Delhi. File

Nihang Sikhs take out a protest march in support of ongoing farmers in New Delhi. File

The Nihangs (Sikh warriors) hit the headlines after a man was found murdered, allegedly for desecration of a Sikh holy book, at the Singhu border in Haryana’s Sonipat on October 15.

Why are the Nihangs in the spotlight?

According to the Haryana police, on October 15, they received information that near the protest site (where farmers are protesting the Centre’s farm laws) at the Singhu border, “the Nihangs have hanged and tied a man to a barricade and his hand was chopped off”. By the time the police reached the spot, the victim had died. The deceased, identified as Lakhbir, a resident of Punjab’s Tarn Taran, was tied to the barricade with his left wrist and a foot partially severed. Later in the evening, Sarabjit, a Nihang Sikh, surrendered, taking responsibility for the murder. The matter is still under investigation.

In April 2020, a group of Nihangs allegedly attacked police officials and cut off the hand of one of the officers at a vegetable market in Punjab’s Patiala during the COVID-19 nationwide restrictions. Police later arrested several people in connection with the incident. A huge cache of handheld weapons, such as ‘barchhe,’ ‘kirpans’ and some used cartridges, were seized from the accused, in addition to five bags of poppy husk mixed with ‘sulpha’ and other drugs in commercial quantity.

Who are the Nihangs?

Nihangs or Nihang Singhs, originally known as Akalis or Akali Nihangs, are designated the Guru’s knights or the Guru’s beloved, and their origin is associated with the founding of the ‘Khalsa Panth’ by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh.

They constitute a distinctive order among Sikhs and are readily recognised by their dark blue loose apparel and their ample, peaked turbans festooned with quoits, insignia of the Khalsa and rosaries, all made of steel. They are always armed and are usually seen mounted heavily laden with weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, rifles, shotguns and pistols.

According to professor Sarabjinder Singh, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Religious Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, the term ‘Nihang’ signifies the characteristic qualities of the clan — their freedom from fear of danger or death, readiness for action and non-attachment to worldly possessions.

What’s their current status?

Prof. Singh said the Nihangs are today divided into several groups, each with its own “chhaoni” (cantonment) but are loosely organised into two “dals” (forces) — Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal, names initially given to the two sections into which the ‘Khalsa’ army was divided in 1733. “The Buddha Dal has its headquarters at Talvandi Sabo, in Bathinda district, while the principal cantonment of the Taruna Dal Nihangs is at Baba Bakala in Amritsar district.

“Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khalsa, remains the main centre of Nihang gatherings. They assemble there in the thousands in March every year to celebrate Hola Mahalla, a Sikh festival introduced by Guru Gobind Singh. On that occasion, they hold tournaments of military skills, including mock battles. The most spectacular part of the Hola Mahalla in Anandpur is the magnificent procession of Nihangs on horses and elephants and on foot in their typical costumes, carrying a variety of traditional and modern weapons and demonstrating their skill in using them,” he said.

“Apart from their distinguishable mode of dress, the Nihangs try to preserve the form and content of the Khalsa practice established by Guru Gobind Singh and strictly observed by the early Akalis of the eighteenth century,” Prof. Singh added.

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