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Mazhabi Sikh
Classification Sikh Churas[1][2][3][4][5][6]
Religions Sikhism
Languages Punjabi
Populated States Punjab region, Rajastan, Kashmir

A Mazhabi Sikh (also spelt as Mazbhi, Mazbi, Majhabhi or Majabhi) is a member of the Rangretta clans[7] churas who have embraced the Sikh faith[1][2][8][9][5][10] who are mainly found in the Punjab region, Kashmir and Rajastan. The word "Mazhabi" is derived from the Urdu term "Mazhab" ("sect"), and can be translated as "the religious" or "the faithful"[11] Mazhabis are best known for their history of bravery, strength and self-sacrifice in the Sikh, Khalsa, British Indian army and Indian army. The Mazhabis were designated as a martial race by British officials.[12] "Martial Race" was a designation created by officials of British India to describe "races" (peoples) that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle, and to possess qualities of courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, the ability to work hard for long periods of time, fighting tenacity and military strategy. The British recruited heavily from these Martial Races for service in the British Indian Army. The British recruited heavily from the Mazhabi Sikhs. On the out break of the Indian mutiny in 1857, the British immediately recruited 12,000 Mazhabis to crush the mutiny. After the mutiny, it was only the Mazhabi Sikhs who got recognition as a martial race after they took part in Young husband's mission to Lhasa in 1903.[12]


The Mazhabi Sikhs are originally inhabitants of the old Greater Punjab which today spans into Pakistani Punjab, Its frontier province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and into Indian Punjab, including its former Punjab territories of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana in Northern India including Delhi. Peshawer, Lahore and Amritsar are historical to the Mazhabis and also form the historical center of Sikhism. Accorded a low caste status in the Hindu faith; the Churas were employed as scavengers,[citation needed] sweepers,[5][13] poor farmers,[citation needed] and landless labourers.[citation needed] The Sikh faith had a special appeal for the churas and they rapidly embraced it as it did not differentiate on the basis of caste or creed and held everybody equal. This emboldened the downtrodden to fight against injustice, tyranny and persecution.[14]

When Guru Tegh Bahadur was killed by the Mughals in Delhi,Bhai Jaita ji (Baba Jeevan Singh ji) brought his head back to Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh declared that the Rangrettas (Mazhabis) were his sons, and admitted them to the Sikh faith.

Reputation as soldiers[edit]

Mazhabi Sikhs today. The Sikh Light Infantry march past during the Republic day parade in New Delhi, India

Over the years, the Mazhabi Sikhs have acquired a reputation as fine and formidable soldiers. The British recognised them as "once a redoubtable foe of the English, and now one of the finest soldiers in the British army".[15] The Mazhabis are well known for their fighting qualities[16] and are highly regarded for their determined resolve to complete the assigned tasks against all opposition; and were deployed in various military campaigns in India and abroad. The British were greatly impressed by their superior physique and the martial and religious fervour imparted by Sikhism.[14] The corps of Mazhabi Sikhs became famous[13] for their fighting reputation and discipline. In addition to their soldiering reputation, the Mazhabis were also known for their loyalty and it was noted that during their service with the army, they never once betrayed the trust placed in them.[17] The British noted that during the First World War, the Mazhabi Sikh soldiers reached a "remarkably high standard"[18][19] and that their contribution to the war surpassed that of the Jatt Sikhs.[18] Whilst the Mazhabi Sikhs were an important part of the British Indian Army; British Army Regiments carried attached Mazhabi Sikh platoons. The Welch Regiment carried a Mazhabi Sikh Platoon from 1933.[20] Major-General A.E.Barstow described the Mazhabi Sikhs as "...extremely good soldiers."[21] and goes on to mention that the Sikh Pioneer Regiments, "...have a proud record of service in many campaigns."[21] Historically they have fought battles for Guru Gobind Singh and the Mazhabis formed the majority of Akali Nihang ranks, even throughout the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.[22] Maharaja Ranjit Singh also enlisted them in large numbers for the existing misls, and in the irregular corps.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh had a great admiration for their bravery and enlisted the Mazhabis extensively into the Khalsa Army[23] which he nurtured into an excellent instrument of war. Being afraid, however, to form them into separate corps, Maharaja Ranjit Singh made sure that a Mazhabi Sikh company was attached to every battalion in his khalsa army[24] (misls). The Mazhabi Singhs participated in all of Ranjit Singh's campaigns and battles.[24] During his reign, the Mazhabi Sikhs were generally stationed on the Peshawer border, where constant fighting against invading Islamic Afghan and Pashtun forces gave them the opportunity to show their bravery and endurance.[23]

Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir raised a corps of Mazhabi Sikhs in 1851. The British also recognised the great fighting qualities and prowess of these soldiers in the Anglo-Sikh Wars. The stubborn and sustained resistance offered by them and their ability to maintain themselves frugally amazed them.[25] The British had admiration for the mazhabi as they made capital soldiers.[26] The British raised the first Corps of Mazhbi Sikh Pioneers, the fore bearer of the Sikh Light Infantry, in 1850. During the British Raj, they were initially recruited for a coolie corps meant for road construction. In 1855 there were only 1500 Sikh soldiers, most of them were mazhabis.[27] In 1857, 12,000 Mazhabis were listed for the 23rd, 32nd and 34th Pioneer Regiments.[citation needed] They were deployed at the Siege of Delhi, Siege of Lucknow and Capture of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The raised Pioneers were a splendid Corps and displayed remarkable valour in the field.[28] They earned a high reputation as soldiers, and became a significant component of the British Indian Army. In 1911, there were 10,866 Sikhs in the Indian army, out of which 1,626 were Mazhabis; They had been reduced to 16% of their original enlistment numbers back in 1857.[citation needed]

The first world war would see a rise their enlistment numbers as the Mazhabi Sikh pioneers, 23rd Sikh Pioneers, 32nd Sikh Pioneers and the 34th Sikh Pioneers were developed into three battalions each.[25] The mazhabi Sikh pioneers performed well during the great war. The 1/34th Sikh pioneers won the title of "Royal" during the Great war. The unit armourer and blacksmith made a highly burnished screen, proudly displaying the magnificent achievements of the Mazhabi Sikh Pioneers as epitomised in their Battle Honours. The 34th Royal Sikh Pioneers presented this screen to his majesty King George V of the United Kingdom in 1933.[25] The Mazhabis, along with the Ramdasea Sikhs, were recruited to form the Mazhabi and Ramdasea battalions, that were later merged to form the Sikh Light Infantry in 1941 for the World War II.


Main article: Nihang
A photograph of an Akali Nihang Sikh taken during the 1860s. The Akali is wearing the characteristically recognisable turban. The Mazhabi Sikhs dominated this order throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.[22]

Historically the Akalis were a religious warrior order created by the tenth Guru of the Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh. They fought battles for Guru Gobind Singh and the Mazhabis formed the majority of the Akali Nihang ranks throughout the Guru's period, and even throughout the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.[22] The Akalis were unruly and hard to control and the Sikh Misl chiefs feared them. Throughout the 18th and 19th century they were greatly feared as determined warriors.[29] During the 18th century, when the Mughal and Afghan rulers were hell bent on destroying the Sikhs, the Akali Nihangs were often the most fearless and courageous to challenge them.[30] Under Ranjit Singh's rule, they were renowned both for their intrepid bravery and total lack of discipline except when they were controlled by other Akalis.[29]

The British first came face to face with the Mazhabi Sikh Akalis at the Battle of Ferozeshah during the First Anglo-Sikh War were they earned a notion as "Religious fanatics" among the Sikh army.[31] They kept their swords razor sharp and in battle, at the first opportunity, many of the Sikh foot abandoned their muskets and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with sword and shield. Horrific cutting wounds, severing limbs and heads, were a frightful feature of the Sikh Wars in which neither side gave quarter to the enemy.[31]

Today the Mazhabi Sikhs continue to join the Akali Nihang ranks in large numbers and still numerically dominate the order.[32] However today the Akali Nihangs survive as a relic and are simply a shadow of their former powerful selves during the 18th and 19th centuries. They continue to maintain old historical traditions and can be found all over the Punjab. They gather once a year at an event called Hola Mohalla where Nihangs from all over Punjab contest their martial skills including swordsman-ship and cavalry exercises.

Post-independence (1947–present)[edit]

With India becoming Independent in 1947, The British Indian Army completed its transition into the new Indian Army. The Mazhabi Sikhs, largely recruited into the Sikh Light Infantry regiment continued their service with the newly independent India.[33]

Independent India immediately saw conflict after Independence with the Jammu & Kashmir Operations, the Hyderabad Police Action and the Goa Operations. Conflicts continued during the Chinese aggression in NEFA and Ladakh; and on the Western front in 1965; and on both the Eastern and Western fronts in 1971.[33] The Indian army responded by increasing its recruitment and consequently additional post war Sikh Light Infantry battalions were raised.

Indian Army Mazhabis[edit]

Main article: Sikh Light Infantry

Upon independence in 1947, The Sikh Light Infantry Regiment remained with the Indian Army.[33] In addition to the Second World War raised battalions, additional battalions were raised. These battalions were:

Mazhabi Sikh soldiers of the 9th battalion Sikh Light Infantry on the firing range upon the United States Navy Ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) during joint exercises with the United States
  • 4th Battalion Raised 12th July 1948 at Ferozepore[34]
  • 5th Battalion
  • 6th Battalion Raised 1st October 1963 at Meerut[35] by Lt Col PK Nandgopal (retd), MVC.
  • 7th Battalion
  • 8th Battalion Raised 1st June 1966 at Dhana, Sagar, by Lt Col B B Sharan
  • 9th Battalion
  • 10th Battalion
  • 11th Battalion
  • 12th Battalion
  • 13th Battalion
  • 14th Battalion
  • 15th Battalion
  • 16th Battalion
  • 103 Inf Bn (Territorial Army) Sikh LI
  • 158 Inf Bn (Territorial Army) (H&H) Sikh LI
  • 163 Inf Bn (Territorial Army) (H&H) Sikh LI

Since independence, the Mazhabi Sikhs were transferred to the Indian Army and have established themselves as a permanent and vital part of the newly independent Indian Army. In the post-1947 conflicts India has fought in, Mazhabi Sikhs have served in almost all of them, including the wars with Pakistan in 1947,1965 and 1971, the Hyderabad Police Action of 1948 and also against the Chinese aggression in 1962.[33] Mazhabi Sikh soldiers of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Battalions fought in the Eastern and Western Sectors during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, registering remarkable victories and performing great acts of gallantry.[33] Mazhabi Sikhs have also been deployed in peacekeeping operations around the world with the United Nations Emergency Force[33] The Mazhabis have also served in Sri Lanka conducting operations against the Tamil Tigers. The 1st, 7th, 13th and 14th Battalions of the Sikh Light Infantry Regiment have contributed towards peace-keeping in Sri Lanka.[33]

Social status[edit]

The social status of the Mazbhi Sikhs has varied over time. Unlike several other Dalit groups that still practise Hinduism, the Mazhabi Sikhs have abandoned all ties with Hinduism and its traditional caste roles. During the British raj, the Mazbhis were listed as an agricultural caste on British censuses of caste populations. Historically the Mazhabi Sikhs are generally found throughout the Punjab province, however the Mazhabis are most numerously found in Ferozepore, Lahore, Amritsar and Faridkot.[23] The Mazhabi Sikhs perform much of the agricultural labour in these areas.[23]

In spite of the Sikhism's egalitarian tenets, many Jat Sikhs continued to look down upon the Mazhabis.[36] In March 1966, the Federation of Mazhabi Sikhs offered to support Arya Samaj and Jan Sangh in an agitation against the formation of the Jat Sikh-majority Punjabi Suba.[37] According to a report published in The Tribune on 16 March 1966, a spokesperson for the organisation stated that "the Sikh Scheduled Castes had been reduced to a position of mere serfs by the Sikh landlords who would literally crush the Mazhabi Sikhs if Punjabi Suba was formed."[37] In 2005, 56 expelled employees of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee abandoned Sikhism, and alleged that they were being discriminated against because they were Mazhabis.[38] Economically poor Mazhabi Sikhs can still face discrimination and violence from Sikhs of upper castes in Punjab's rural areas[39]

The Government of India recognises Mazhabi Sikh as a "Scheduled Caste", as part of their official affirmative action program. The urban Mazbhis have made social and economic progress over the years, and are very active in the Panjab Akali party (Sikh nationalist party). However, poverty and illiteracy is still rampant among the Mazhabi Sikhs living in the rural areas of Punjab.


As of 2001, according to the Indian Census, the Sikh Mazabhi are 9.98% of Punjab population, with Hindu Valmikis forming 3.53% of Punjab population. Together, the parent Chura caste forms 13.52% of the Punjab's population.[40]

Notable Mazhabis[edit]


  • Balwinder Safri, UK Bhangra Legend and lead vocalist to the Safri Boyz. The Safri Boyz are Britain's biggest selling Bhangra artists[41] and are considered to be one of the most popular bands ever seen in the United Kingdom.[42] He has won numerous "best vocalist" awards as a solo artist[43] and has produced the highly acclaimed album "Get Real".[42]
  • Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa, The first[44] Sikh Kirtana to be awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award by the government of India for his outstanding contribution to Kirtan in 2009.[44] He is the Hazoori ragi of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar[45] and has been doing kirtan for over 25 years and is considered to be one of the finest raagis[44] having knowledge of all 31 raagas in the Gurbani of the Guru Granth Sahib.[44] in addition, he also has a notable knowledge of bani in the Dasam Granth which was written by Guru Gobind Singh and he also sings the Dasam Bani in his raags.[44] Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa is one of only a few to get this honour.[44]
  • Hans Raj Hans famous singer, sang in Bollywood film Kachche Dhaage

Personalities and literature[edit]

  • Sant Ram Udasi (20 April 1939 – 11 August 1986), was one of the major Punjabi poets of the 20th century having revolutionary as well as dalit consciousness. Lok Kavi Sant Ram Udasi Memorial Trust (International) was established to do research on the life and works of Sant Ram Udasi.
  • Daya Singh Arif[46] (1894–1946)[46] One of Punjab's most famous poets and writers of the 20th Century. He was learnt in Punjabi,[46] Hindi,[46] Sanskrit,[46] Urdu,[46] Persian[46] and Arabic.[46] He began writing poetry in his teens[46] and published his maiden book Fanah da Makan (Abode of Mortality) in 1914.[46] This was followed by his most popular and famous piece of work Zindagi Bilas (Discourse of life) in 1915.[46] These works were published in many editions bringing him great fame. He also composed historical ballads about the Sikh Gurus, warriors and martyrs called parsangs. The majority of these are lying unpublished with his son.[46] One of his most popular books is Saputtar Bilas which was published in 1921.[46] The Punjab Government held a memorial in his honour at his native birthplace in 1967
  • Giani Ditt Singh[47] An influential Sikh scholar of the 19th century. Leader of the Lahore group and Tat Khalsa.[48] He was a scholar, author and journalist. He wrote more than forty books covering Sikh doctorine, history, martyrology and social reform.[47]
  • Bant Singh, Punjabi Singer and labour activist, fighting against the power of the landowner.[49] Described by Amit Sengupta as "an icon of Dalit resistance"[50] he has been active in organising poor, agricultural workers, activism that continues despite a 2006 attack that cost him both of his lower arms and his left leg."[49]

Government and politics[edit]

Military personnel[edit]

Religious and historical figures[edit]

  • Bhai Jiwan Singh,[14][59][60][61] Sikh general and Close and famous associate of Guru Gobind Singh. He was martyred at Chamkaur during the withdrawal from Anandpur in 1704[59][62]
  • Baba Sangat Singh,[14][63][64] Younger brother of Baba Jivan Singh.[64] He was the (ham-sakal) look-alike[63] of Guru Gobind Singh. Sangat Singh exchanged attire with Guru Gobind Singh[64] during the Battle of Chamkaur to aid the Guru's escape. Guru Gobind Singh adorned him with his Kalgi[64] in recognition of the sacrifice he was to make.
  • Baba Deep SIngh Sandhu He was the first jathedar(Head) of Damdami Taksal[1] a 300 years old religious school of the Sikhs[2] which was allegedly founded by last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
  • Bhai Mati Das[60] A Mazhabi Sikh Martyr[60] who accompanied Guru Teg Bahadur to Delhi. His body was sawn in half.[60]
  • Bhai Dyala[60] A Mazhabi Sikh Martyr[60] who accompanied Guru Teg Bahadur to Delhi. He was Boiled alive in a cauldron.[65]
  • Bhai Mani Singh[60] A Mazhabi Sikh martyr[60] personality and scholar.
  • Bhai Udai Singh[60] A Mazhabi Sikh warrior and personality[60] He was the son of Bhai Mani Singh.
  • Bhai Gurditta[60] He accompanied Guru Teg Bahadur to Delhi.[60]
  • Bir Singh,[14] Sikh warrior and close associate of Guru Gobind Singh
  • Dhir Singh, Sikh warrior and son of Bir Singh
  • Sardar Ishar Singh of Nishanchian Misal,[66] Mazhabi Sikh chieftain; father of Phula Singh.was seriously wounded in the Great Holocaust in 1762, and died shortly thereafter.
  • Baba Narain Singh, Chieftain of Shahidan Misl.[66] He adopted Phula Singh after Ishar Singh's death.
  • Nabbau Singh[14]
  • Bhai Garja Singh[14]
  • Akali Phula Singh, The most celebrated figure and leader among the Akalis[67] He is perhaps the most influential figure during Ranjit Singh's reign and fought at the conquests of Kasur,[67] Mahmudkot,[67] and Kashmir.[67] He was killed at the Battle of Naushera.[67]
  • Sardar Kala Singh[68] A Mazhabi Sikh Clan Chief & Warlord, who firmly established Sikh rule in the notorious Gandghar mountains.[68] He established himself as administrator of Hasan Abdal and set up his headquarters at Sarai Kali.[68] This was the furthest frontier outpost bordering Afghanistan at the time.[68] Sardar Kala Singh firmly suppressed the fanatical Muslim war chiefs and Pathan tribes in the area and established his own authority.[68]

Mazhabi Surnames[edit]

Dhaliwal, Gill, Hundal, Sahota, Shergill, Sandhu, Atwal. Traditionally, any surnames used by "Jatt Sikhs" can be adopted by Mazhabi Sikhs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Singh, J. (1985) Perspectives on Sikh studies. Guru Nanak Foundation publishing p73
  2. ^ a b Grewal, J.S. (1998) The Sikhs of the Punjab. Cambridge University Press p116 ISBN 0-521-63764-3
  3. ^ McLeod. W.H (2009) The A to Z of Sikhism. Scarecrow Press p128
  4. ^ Hastings, J. (2003) Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 18. Ed. reprint. Kessinger Publishing p 608 ISBN 0-7661-3695-7
  5. ^ a b c Tan, T.Y (2005) The garrison state: the military, government and society in colonial Punjab 1849–1947. Vol 8. SAGE publishing. p72 ISBN 0-7619-3336-0
  6. ^ Banerjee, I. (1970) Evolution of the Khalsa, Volume 2. 2nd Ed. A. Mukherjee publishing. p121
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ McLeod. W.H (2009) The A to Z of Sikhism. Scarecrow Press p128
  9. ^ Hastings, J. (2003) Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 18. Ed. reprint. Kessinger Publishing p 608 ISBN 0-7661-3695-7
  10. ^ Banerjee, I. (1970) Evolution of the Khalsa, Volume 2. 2nd Ed. A. Mukherjee publishing. p121
  11. ^ "Full text of "The Martial Races of India"". 1 March 1932. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  12. ^ a b Business Standard (27 October 2006). "Force multiplier". Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  13. ^ a b George Devereux Oswell & Sir William Wilson Hunter, (1972) Sketches of rulers of India, Volume 1. Ed. Reprint. Researchco Publications p93
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "IndianVeterans". IndianVeterans. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  15. ^ Anderson. J.D (2011) The Peoples of India. Cambridge University Press p22
  16. ^ Sydney, L and O'Mally, S. (1934) India's Social Heritage. Curzon Press. ISBN 0700700455 p42
  17. ^ Royal Central Asian Society (1936) Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, Volume 23. Royal Central Asian Society p326
  18. ^ a b DeWitt C. Ellinwood, S. D. Pradhan (1978) India and World War I. Manohar Publishers p218
  19. ^ Leigh. M.S (1922) The Punjab and the war. Superintendent, Government Printing, Punjab p49
  20. ^ Cyril Ernest Napier Lomax, John De Courcy (1952) The History of the Welch Regiment, 1919–1951. Western Mail & Echo p29
  21. ^ a b Barstow. A.E (1985) The Sikhs, an ethnology. B.R. Publishing Corporation p97
  22. ^ a b c McQueen. Sir. J.W and Baaghaa. A.S (1994) Unseen faces and untold cases, heroes and villains of Sikh rule, Volume 8 of Series in Sikh history and culture. Bahri Publications p106
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  30. ^ Surjit Singh Gandhi. (2007) History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606–1708 C.E Vol. 2 of History of Sikh Gurus Retold. Atlantic Publishers. p1002 ISBN 8126908580
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  32. ^ a b O'Brien. J. (2006) The construction of Pakistani Christian identity. Issue 96 of Publication (Research Society of Pakistan) Volume 1 of Subaltern studies. p426 ISBN 969-425-096-X
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  36. ^ Ishtiaq Ahmed (7 September 2004). "400 years of Guru Granth Sahib". Daily Times. "Unfortunately Sikhism did not succeed in eliminating caste prejudices. Most Jat Sikhs look down upon the inferior castes and the former untouchable ranks, known as Mazhabi Sikhs. Still the egalitarian message of Sikhism is undeniable." 
  37. ^ a b Martha Crenshaw (1995). Terrorism in context. Penn State Press. p. 377. ISBN 978-0-271-01015-1. 
  38. ^ Vishal Rambani (17 April 2005). "56 Sacked S.G.P.C. Employees Give Up Sikh Religion". Amritsar: The Hindustan Times. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  39. ^ Kurup, Stalin India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart
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  41. ^ Samar (Organization). (1994)SAMAR, Issues 4–6. Samar p37
  42. ^ a b Broughton, S., Ellingham, M., Trillo, R. (1999) World music: the rough guide. Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Volume 1. Rough Guides p89
  43. ^ Broughton, S., Ellingham, M., Trillo, R. (1999) World music: the rough guide. Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Volume 1. Rough Guides p88
  44. ^ a b c d e f "Bhai Nirmal Singh Ji Khalsa to get Padma Shri Award, 2009 in India". SikhNet. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  45. ^ |
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  50. ^ Amit Sengupta, The Dalit sword of Mansa, Himāl Southasian, October 2006. Accessed online 1 October 2010.
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  69. ^ a b McQueen. Sir. J.W and Baaghaa. A.S (1994) Unseen faces and untold cases, heroes and villains of Sikh rule Volume 8 of Series in Sikh history and culture. Bahri Publications p106

External links[edit]