Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Who are the Nihangs?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nihang cult

Mains level : Not Much

The Patiala incident in which a group of Nihangs attacked a Punjab police officer has put the spotlight on the Nihangs.

This newscard focuses on Nihang cult of Sikhism. Though in news for a different purpose, it is significant for prelims.

Who is a Nihang?

  • Nihang is an order of Sikh warriors, characterized by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears, and decorated turbans surmounted by steel quoits.
  • Etymologically the word Nihang stems more from the Sanskrit word nihshank which means without fear, unblemished, pure, carefree and indifferent to worldly gains and comfort.
  • The word Nihang also occurs in a hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib, where it alludes to a fearless and unrestrained person.

When was the order formed?

  • Formation of Nihang order can be traced back to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

How were Nihangs different from other Sikhs, and other Sikh warriors?

  • As per an account by the East India Company’s Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841), Khalsa Sikhs were divided into two groups.
  • Those who put on blue attire which Guru Gobind Singh used to wear at the time of battle and those who do not follow any restrictions on the colour of their dress.
  • Both of them follow the profession of soldiery and are brave without peer in the art of musketry and chakarbazi, and the use of quoits.
  • Nihangs observe the Khalsa code of conduct in its strictest sense.
  • They do not profess any allegiance to an earthly master. Instead of saffron they hoist a blue Nishan Sahib (flag) atop their shrines.

What is their role in history?

  • Nihangs had a major role in defending the Sikh panth after the fall of the first Sikh rule (1710-15) when Mughal governors were killing Sikhs, and during the onslaught of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani (1748-65).
  • Nihangs also took control of the religious affairs of the Sikhs at Akal Takht in Amritsar.
  • They did not consider themselves subordinate to any Sikh chief and thus maintained their independent existence.
  • At Akal Takht, they held the grand council (Sarbat Khalsa) of Sikhs and pronounced the resolution (Gurmata) passed.
  • During Operation Bluestar in June 1984, some Nihangs, namely Ajit Singh Poohla, collaborated with the Punjab police to eliminate militants.

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