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A Nihang in the 1860s with a characteristically elaborate turban

The Nihang (Punjabi: ਨਿਹੰਗ) are an armed Sikh order.[1] They are also referred to as Akali (lit. "the eternal"). Nihang are believed to have originated either from Sahibzada Fateh Singh and the attire he wore[2] or from the "Akal Sena"(lit. The Army of the Eternal) started by Guru Hargobind.[3] Early Sikh military history was dominated by the Nihang, known for their victories where they were heavily outnumbered. Traditionally known for their bravery and ruthlessness in the battlefield, the Nihang once formed the guerrilla squads of the armed forces of Ranjit Singh.


The primary meaning of Nihang comes from Ni + Ahang i.e "Without Ego".[4] According to Mahankosh,[5] Nihang have following meanings:

  1. Sword
  2. Pen/Writing
  3. Crocodile
  4. Horse
  5. Without Fear
  6. Without delusion
  7. Detatched

It is widely believed that the word Nihang comes from the Persian word for a mythical sea creature (Persian: نهنگ‎).[6] The term owes its origin to Mughal historians, who compared the ferocity of the Akali with that of crocodiles.[7]

Arms and attire[edit]

Traditional Nihang dress is known as Shiva Swarupa meaning "Shiva's appearance". This comprises full attire of superelectric blue,[8] edged bracelets of iron round their wrists (jangi kara) and quoits of steel (chakram) tiered in their lofty conical blue turbans, together with the traditional sword carried by all baptised Sikhs (kirpan).[9] When fully armed a Nihang will also bear one or two swords (either the curved talwar or the straight khanda) on his right hip, a katara (dagger) on his left hip, a buckler made from buffalo-hide (dhala) on his back, a large chakram around his neck, and an iron chain. In times of war, arms worn on the Nihang's person would generally be reserved until the warrior lost the weapon he held, often a bow or spear (barsha). Armour consisted of sanjo or iron chainmail worn under an iron breastplate (char aina). Nihang war-shoes (jangi mojeh) were constructed of iron at the toe, making their pointed toes capable of inflicting cuts and stab wounds.

The Nihang were particularly famous for their high turbans (dastar bunga) and their extensive use of the chakram or war-quoit. Their turbans were often pointed at the top and outfitted with a trishula or trident which could be used for stabbing in close-quarters. Other times, the turbans would be armed with a bagh naka (iron claw) and one or several chakram to slice at an opponent's eyes. These steel-reinforced turbans, it was said, afforded enough protection so that there was no need for any other form of headgear. Today, Nihang still wear miniature versions of five weapons (pancha shastra) in their turbans, namely the chakram, the khanda (sword), the karud (dagger), the kirpan and the tir (arrow).

Nihang today[edit]

A group of Nihang

Today, Nihang are accorded great respect and affection among the Sikh community worldwide. While the order is primarily ceremonial, they are duty-bound to defend their people and faith in times of war. On the festival of Hola Mohalla, Nihang gather in their thousands at Anandpur where they display their martial skills. Their fighting style, although formally called shastara vidiya, is more commonly known as gatka. In 2011, Nidar Singh claimed to be the only living master of pre-gatka shastara vidiya.[10]

Use of intoxicants[edit]

Nihang at Anandpur, India.

Some Nihang groups consume cannabis or bhang (ਭੰਗ) to help in meditation.[11] [12][13] Sukha (ਸੁੱਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਰਸਾਦ), "peace-giver", is the term Nihang use to refer to it. It was traditionally crushed and taken as a liquid, or baked into cookies (ਪਕੌੜਾ) and eaten, especially during festivals like Hola Mohalla. It is never smoked, as this practice is forbidden in Sikhism.[14]

In 2001, Baba Santa Singh, the Jathedar of Budha Dal, along with 20 chiefs of Nihang sects, refused to accept the ban on consumption of bhang by the apex Sikh clergy.[15] Baba Santa Singh was excommunicated for helping the Indian congress government rebuild the Akal Takht in 1984[16][17] he was replaced with Baba Balbir Singh, who shunned the consumption of bhang.[18]

According to a recent BBC article, "Many Nihangs also eat meat and drink alcohol which orthodox Sikhs disagree with. Traditionally they also drank bhang, an infusion of cannabis, to become closer with God"[19]

Nihang at Sirhind

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brard, Gurnam (2007). East of Indus: My Memories of Old Punjab. Hemkunt Press. p. 185. ISBN 9788170103608. 
  2. ^ Surjit, Gandhi (2007). History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606-1708 C.E, Volume 2 of History of Sikh Gurus Retold. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 999. ISBN 9788126908585. 
  3. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1999). A History of the Sikhs Volume I:1469-1839. India: Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-19-562643-5. 
  4. ^ Dharam Singh Nihang Singh. "Nihang Singh Sikhi De Jhanda Birdaar Han". Gurmat Parkash (Amritsar: SGPC). 
  5. ^ Nabha, Kahn Singh. "Nihang". Gur Shabad Ratnakar Mahankosh (in Punjabi). Sudarshan Press. ਫ਼ਾ. [نِہنگ] ਸੰਗ੍ਯਾ- ਖੜਗ. ਤਲਵਾਰ. "ਬਾਹਤ ਨਿਹੰਗ। ਉੱਠਤ ਫੁਲਿੰਗ." (ਸਲੋਹ) ਤਲਵਾਰ ਦੇ ਪ੍ਰਹਾਰ ਤੋਂ ਵਿਸ੍‍ਫੁਲਿੰਗ (ਚਿੰਗਾੜੇ) ਨਿਕਲਦੇ ਹਨ। ੨. ਕਲਮ. ਲੇਖਨੀ। ੩. ਘੜਿਆਲ. ਮਗਰਮੱਛ. (मकर मत्स्य) ਨਾਕੂ. Alligator. "ਜਨੁਕ ਲਹਿਰ ਦਰਯਾਵ ਤੇ ਨਿਕਸ੍ਯੋ ਬਡੋ ਨਿਹੰਗ." (ਚਰਿਤ੍ਰ ੨੧੭) ੪. ਡਿੰਗ- ਘੋੜਾ. ਅਸ਼੍ਵ. ਤੁਰੰਗ. "ਬਿਚਰੇ ਨਿਹੰਗ। ਜੈਸੇ ਪਿਲੰਗ." (ਵਿਚਿਤ੍ਰ) ਚਿਤ੍ਰੇ ਵਾਂਙ ਛਾਲਾਂ ਮਾਰਦੇ ਘੋੜੇ ਵਿਚਰੇ। ੫. ਸੰ. निः शङ्क ਨਿਹਸ਼ੰਕ. ਵਿ- ਜਿਸ ਨੂੰ ਮੋਤ ਦੀ ਚਿੰਤਾ ਨਹੀਂ. ਬਹਾਦੁਰ. ਦਿਲੇਰ. "ਨਿਰਭਉ ਹੋਇਓ ਭਇਆ ਨਿਹੰਗਾ." (ਆਸਾ ਮਃ ੫) "ਪਹਿਲਾ ਦਲਾਂ ਮਿਲੰਦਿਆਂ ਭੇੜ ਪਿਆ ਨਿਹੰਗਾ." (ਚੰਡੀ ੩) ੬. ਸੰ. निः सङ्ग- ਨਿਹਸੰਗ. ਨਿਰਲੇਪ. ਆਤਮਗ੍ਯਾਨੀ. ਦੁੰਦ (ਦ੍ਵੰਦ੍ਵ) ਦਾ ਤਿਆਗੀ. "ਨਿਹੰਗ ਕਹਾਵੈ ਸੋ ਪੁਰਖ ਦੁਖ ਸੁਖ ਮੰਨੇ ਨ ਅੰਗ." (ਪ੍ਰਾਪੰਪ੍ਰ) "ਮੁੱਲਾ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣ ਨਾ ਬੁਝੈ ਬੁਝੈ ਫਕਰ ਨਿਹੰਗ." (ਮਗੋ) 
  6. ^ Taba, David (2011). Iranian Character of The Armenian Language. p. 9. 
  7. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1999). A History of the Sikhs Voghzlume I:1469-1839. India: Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-19-562643-5. 
  8. ^ Collins, Larry; Lapierre, Dominique (1997). Freedom at Midnight. India: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. p. 393. ISBN 81-259-0480-8. 
  9. ^ Mayled, Jon (2002). Sikhism. Heinemann. p. 23. ISBN 9780435336271. 
  10. ^ Hegarty, Stephanie (2011-10-29). "BBC News - The only living master of a dying martial art". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  11. ^ Richard Beck, David Worden. Gcse Religious Studies for Aqa. p. 64. ISBN 0-435-30692-8. 
  12. ^ Hola Mohalla: United colours of celebrations,
  13. ^ "Mad About Words". 2004-01-03. Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  14. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  15. ^ Nihangs ‘not to accept’ ban on bhang. The Tribune. March 26, 2001.
  16. ^ Bhargava, Gopal (2006). Land and People of Indian States and Union Territories: In 36 Volumes. Punjab, Volume 22. Gyan Publishing House. p. 405. ISBN 9788178353784. 
  17. ^ Siṅgh, Kirapāla (1999). Giānī Kirpāl Siṅgh's eye-witness account of Operation Blue Star: mighty murderous army attack on the Golden Temple complex. B. Chattar Siṅgh Jīwan Siṅgh. p. 91. ISBN 9788176013185. 
  18. ^ No ‘bhang’ at Hola Mohalla. The Tribune. March 10, 2001.
  19. ^ Hegarty, Stephanie (2011-10-29). "BBC News - The only living master of a dying martial art". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 


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