Nihang or Nihang Singhs(Punjabi: ਨਿਹੰਗ) are an armed Sikh order. Also known as Akali (lit. "the eternal"), they were part of the Akal Sena started by Guru Hargobind, the Khalsa being an expansion of the Akal Sena. Early Sikh military history is dominated by Nihang, known especially for their victories in cases where they were heavily outnumbered. Traditionally known for their bravery and ruthlessness in the battlefield, the Nihang once formed the guerilla squads of the armed forces of Ranjit Sukkarchak.
The word Nihang comes from the Persian word for a mythical sea creature (Persian: نهنگ). The term owes its origin to Mughal historians, who compared the ferocity of the Sikh warrior-mendicants with that of crocodiles.
Arms and attire
The Nihang wear full attire of superelectric blue, 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). 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 dagger (katara) 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 (barcha).
The Nihang were particularly famous for their high turbans 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 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. 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.
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 shastar vidiya, is more commonly known as gatka. In 2011, Nidar Singh claimed to be the only living master of pre-gatka shaster vidiya.
Use of Hemp
Some Nihang groups consume cannabis or bhang (ਭੰਗ) to help in meditation.  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.
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. Baba Santa Singh was excommunicated for helping the Indian congress government rebuild the Akal Takht in 1984 he was replaced with Baba Balbir Singh, who shunned the consumption of bhang.
According to a recent BBC article, "Many Nihangs also eat meat and drink alcohol which orthodox Sikhs disagree with."
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- No ‘bhang’ at Hola Mohalla. The Tribune. March 10, 2001.
- Dasam Granth ,The Dasam Granth website
- Book review of the Nihang book The Beloved Forces of the Guru
- "Tribes and Castes of Punjab and N.W. Frontier Province" by H.A. Rose (1892)
- Bhai Sahib Amrit Pal Singh 'Amrit' has presented well-researched articles on Nihangs on his website
- Sikh Photography Images of Nihangs by photographer Charles Meacham
- Nihang SGPC
- Photography of the daily lives of the Nihang Singhs of Punjab by photographer Nick Fleming