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Motto Khalsa Spirit
Formation 1790s
Official language
Leader Nirankari

Nirankari (Punjabi: ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੀ, Hindi: निरंकारी) is a reformist movement in Sikhism[1] which currently has over 24,000 followers.[2]


Nirankari is a reformist movement in Sikhism originating in Rawalpindi in the northwest of the Punjab. The sect was founded by a Sahajdhari Sikh Baba Dyal Singh (1785-1855) [3] and a bullion merchant.[citation needed].

Baba Dyal's successor, Baba Darbar Singh, wrote on the Baba Dyal's essential teachings and established further centers beyond Rawalpindi. During the leadership of Sahib Rattaji (1870-1909) the population of the Nirankari was estimated to be in the thousands,[3] with some members becoming involved in the Singh Sabha Movement under the fourth leader Baba Gurdit Singh. However, the Singh Sabha Movement was largely based on Guru Nanak Dev's teachings, which were less popular to the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh causing great marginalization of the movement.

Under the British Raj the Nirankari were further sidelined[citation needed]. In 1929 the Sant Nirankari Mission formed itself from the Nirankari. The Mission was defined by its belief in a living Guru after the Guru Granth Sahib. The group later developed its own distinct spiritual movement. At the time of the partition of India in 1947 the Nirankari abandoned their center in Rawalpindi and established themselves on the Indian side of the partition.

Baba Dyal Singh[edit]

Main article: Baba Dyal Singh

Baba Dyal Singh (1783-1855) during a period of Sikh dominance resulting from the victories of the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He felt that the military successes were a distraction of the Sikh duty to remember Akal Purakh through the practice of Naam Japo. Baba Dyal further preached against the assimilation of other religious traditions into Sikhism: he was concerned that the Hindu facet of idolatry was becoming increasingly prevalent in Sikh practice, thus emphasized the formless, or nirankar, quality of Akal Purakh, which gave the movement's its name.

Baba Dyal reportedly experienced enlightenment when he was 18 years old: 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.[4]

The movement was originally confined to the Rawalpindi area. The followers were mainly Sahajdhari Sikhs of Khatri and Arora caste. However, his followers were not expected to surrender their occupations and live a life of renunciation. The Nirankari were typically traders and shopkeepers, and were expected to continue working while they focused their attention on the remembrance of the divine Name.

Baba Dyal left a brief manual of instruction called a hukamnama, although its form and contents are those of a rahitnama, or law code.[3] Its contents emphasize 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 Nirankaris (those who believe in the Formless One), originated in the north west region of Punjab during the latter years of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The sect was founded by Baba Dayal Singh (1783-1855) a Sahajdhari Sikh whose main mission was to bring Sikhs back to the Adi Granth and nam-simaran. His successor Baba Darbara Singh established many centres beyond Rawalpindi and wrote about the essential teachings of Baba Dayal. The sect had grown considerably and the third successor, Sahib Rattaji (1870-1909) kept the Nirankaris in order via strict adherence to their rahit (Khalsa code of conduct). At this time they numbered in the thousands and some had taken interest in the Singh Sabha movements (see entries on Singh Sabhas), under the fourth successor Baba Gurdit Singh. The Nirankaris helped to bring the Anand Marriage Bill in 1908-9 to the attention of the Sikh populace. Their fifth Guru Sahib Hara Singh (1877-1971) started to reorganize the sangat and was succeeded by his eldest son Baba Gurbakh Singh. However because their emphasis was largely upon Guru Nanak's message, and the times were dominated by Singh Sabha Sikhs emphasising Guru Gobind Singh's Khalsa, their voices went unheard. This was exacerbated by the shift from Sahajdhari (shaven) to Keshdhari (unshaven) Sikhs. Finally with their inability to keep in step with the tumultuous social changes of the British Raj they were soon marginalized. Later they were divided into two groups, one the original Nirankari and the other Sant Nirankaris. In 1978 the second group Sant Nirankaris were excommunicated by the orthodox Akal Takht for their belief in a living Guru after the Guru Granth Sahib.


There are no official numbers,14,001 Hindus and 46,610 Sikhs returned themselves as 'Nirankaris'. [5]


In the early 1800s the Nirankaris began to believe that their fellow Sikhs had become lax in their practice of nam-simaran (remembrance of the divine Name), and had fallen back into the ritualistic practices of Hinduism. They revived the focus on inner repetition of the name via the mantra: dhan dhan Nirankar (Glory, glory to the Formless One!) They rejected all gods and goddesses (usually of the Hindu pantheon) and all types of offerings made to them. Similarly they rejected all Brahmanical rites and rituals and pilgrimages. For example they do not bury the dead, as do Muslims, nor do they cremate them in what they consider to be the Hindu manner, they simply throw the bodies of their dead into a river. They believed that the death of one's human form is an event to be rejoiced and not mourned. They do not drink any wine or alcoholic beverages, smoke tobacco or eat any meat. The Nirankaris believed that women are not impure at childbirth, that marriages and other important events should not be arranged according to the predictions of paid astrologers, that dowries should not be publicly displayed, and that no fee should be charged for performing ceremonies (as is the custom for Brahmin priests). They believed and emphasized the formless aspect of the divine: Nirankar, hence their name. However the key belief that questions their orthodoxy is their belief in the continuation of the line of human Gurus after Guru Gobind Singh. They therefore do not believe in the orthodox view of the Adi Granth being the last and only eternal Guru for all Sikhs.


  1. ^ "Nirankari". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  2. ^ (Census of India, 1891, Vol.XX, and vol.XXI, The Punjab and its Feudatories, by Sir Edward Douglas MacLagan, Part II and III, Calcutta, 1892, pp. & 826–9 and pp.& 572–3.)
  3. ^ a b c McLeod, W.H. Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism Manchester University Press ND, 1984
  4. ^ Cole, William Owen; The Sikhs: their religious beliefs and practices Sussex Academic Press, 1995
  5. ^ (Census of India, 1891, Vol.XX, and vol.XXI, The Punjab and its Feudatories, by Sir Edward Douglas MacLagan, Part II and III, Calcutta, 1892, pp. & 826–9 and pp.& 572–3.)