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The Nirankari movement originated in Rawalpindi, situated northwest of the Punjab, during the later years of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The sect was founded by Baba Dyal Singh (1785-1855), a Sahajdhari Sikh and bullion merchant. His successor, Baba Darbar Singh, established many centers beyond Rawalpindi and wrote about the essential teachings of Baba Dayal. By the time of the third successor, Sahib Rattaji (1870-1909), they numbered in the thousands. Some became involved in the Singh Sabha Movement under the fourth successor Baba Gurdit Singh; however since their emphasis was largely based upon Guru Nanak Dev's message, and Guru Gobind Singh's Khalsa dominated the belief of this time, the movement was marginalized. Under the British Raj, the Nirankaris were further sidelined. In the twentieth century, an offshoot of the group became the Sant Nirankari Mission, which was severed from the main Nirankari movement in 1929 for their belief in a living Guru after the Guru Granth Sahib. They have since developed into a distinct spiritual movement.
At the partition of India in 1947, the Nirankaris abandoned their center in Rawalpindi and established themselves on the Indian side of the border in Chandigarh, from where their activities are administered to the present day.
Baba Dyal Singh
Nirankaris trace their origins to Baba Dyal Singh (1783-1855). Living during a period of Sikh dominance stemming from the victories of the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Baba Dyal preached against the assimilation of other religious traditions, particularly Hinduism, into Sikhism. He felt that the military success of the burgeoning Sikh Empire was distracting Sikhs from their duty to remember Akal Purakh through the practice of Naam Japo. Baba Dyal was particularly vociferous on the subject of idolatry, a facet of Hinduism which was creeping into Sikh practice as a result of the close association of the two cultures. He thus emphasized the formless or nirankar quality of Akal Purakh, which gave rise to the movement's name.
Baba Dyal reportedly experienced enlightenment at the early age of 18, when he entered meditation and heard a voice saying:
Give up this ritualistic practice. You have been commissioned to expel the darkness of ignorance... You are a true Nirankari, as you are a believer of God as spirit, without bodily form
His original movement was confined to the Rawalpindi area, its followers being mainly Khatris and Aroras by caste. Baba Dyal was himself a Sahajdhari Sikh, as were most (though not all) of his followers. This did not mean, though, that his followers were expected to give up their occupations and retreat into a life of renunciation. Nirankaris were typically traders and shopkeepers. These occupations were expected to continue while focusing their attention on remembrance of the divine Name.
Baba Dyal left his Nirankaris with a brief manual of instruction called a hukamnama, although its form and contents are those of a rahitnama or "law code". Its content emphasizes the teachings of Guru Nanak without mentioning the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. The essence of the Nirankari hukamnama is contained in the words which every adherent is commanded to utter again and again: Dhan dhan nirankar "Glory be to Nirankar".
The main practice of the Nirankari movement is the mental repetition of the mantra: dhan dhan Nirankar ("Glory, glory to the Formless One"). They reject idolatry and ritual in favor of personal religious practice. They do not subscribe to the orthodox Sikh view that Adi Granth was the last and only eternal Guru for all Sikhs.
Nirankaris do not bury or cremate their dead, instead they simply throw the bodies into a river. Drinking alcohol is prohibited, as well as smoking.
There are no official numbers, except in the 23747 Sikhs that have declared themselves as 'Nirankaris'. (Census of India, 1891, Vol.XX, and vol.XXI, The Punjab and its FeudatorSDFGIHIIG OISO IUHSHY ies, by E.D. Maclagan, Part II and III, Calcutta, 1892, pp. & 826–9 and pp.& 572–3.)
- McLeod, W.H. Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism Manchester University Press ND, 1984
- Harbans Singh; The Heritage of the Sikhs Manohar, 1983
- Cole, William Owen; The Sikhs: their religious beliefs and practices Sussex Academic Press, 1995
- Sikh Heritage
- Punjab Past & Present, April 1973, Ludhiana Mission report, quoted in Cole, 1995