Baba Dyal's successor, Baba Darbar Singh, collected and recorded the Baba Dyal's essential teachings and established Nirankari communities outside of Rawalpindi. During the leadership of Sahib Rattaji (1870-1909), the Nirankari were estimated to number in the thousands. Some members became involved in the Singh Sabha Movement, a Sikhism revivalist 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 its significant marginalization.
Under the British Raj, the Nirankari was further sidelined. In 1929 the Sant Nirankari Mission formed out of 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, which has since then been part of Pakistan, and established themselves on the Indian side of the partition.
Baba Dyal Singh
Baba Dyal Singh (1783-1855) lived during a period of Sikh dominance, resulting from the victories of the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh. However, Baba Dyal 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. Namely, he was concerned that the Hindu practice of idolatry was becoming increasingly prevalent in Sikhism, and thus Baba Dyal emphasized the formless, or ni ran kar, quality of Akal Purakh, which gave the movement its name.
Baba Dyal reportedly experienced enlightenment when he was 18 years old, 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.
Baba Dyal's movement was originally confined to the Rawalpindi area, with followers being mostly Sahajdhari Sikhs of the Khatri and Arora castes. 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 an RA hit Nama, or law code. Its contents emphasize the teachings of Guru Nanak without mentioning the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. The essence of the Nirankari hu kam Nama is contained in the words which every adherent is commanded to utter again and again, Dhan than ni ran kar, meaning "Glory be to Nirankar."
The Nirankaris originated in the northwestern region of Punjab during the latter years of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The sect was founded by Baba Dayal Singh, a Sahajdhari Sikh, who aimed at refocusing Sikhs on the Adi Granth, the religion's central holy text. His successor, Baba Darbara Singh, established several Nirankari hot spots outside of Rawalpindi and wrote about the essential teachings of Baba Dayal. By this time the sect had grown considerably and the third leader of the movement, Sahib Rattaji (1870-1909), began to enforce a strict adherence to their hit, the Khalsa code of conduct. Under their fourth leader, Baba Gurdit Singh, the Nirankari numbered in the thousands and some took an interest in the Singh Sabha movements. The Nirankaris helped to bring the Anand Marriage Act of 1909 to the attention of the Sikh populace. The movement's fifth Guru, Sahib Hara Singh (1877-1971), started to reorganize the movement, and was later succeeded by his eldest son, Baba Gurbax Singh. However, as the Nirankari emphasize the teachings of Guru Nanak and the environment of the time was dominated by Singh Sabha Sikhs who emphasized Guru Gobind Singh's Khalsa, their voices went unheard. This was exacerbated by the shift from Sahajdhari (shaven) to Kesh dhari (unshaven) Sikhs. With their inability to survive among the social changes of the British Raj, the Nirankari were marginalized by society. Later the movement split into two groups, the original Nirankari and the Sant Nirankaris. In 1978, the Sant Nirankaris were excommunicated by the Akal Takht for their belief in a living Guru after the Guru Granth Sahib.
On the 1891 Indian Census,14,001 Hindus and 46,610 Sikhs identified themselves as Nirankaris.
During the early 19th century, Nirankaris began to believe that their fellow Sikhs had become lax in their practice of name-trimaran, or remembrance of the divine Name, and had fallen back into the ritualistic practices of Hinduism. They revived focus on the inner repetition of the name via the mantra, Dhan Nirankar, meaning "Glory, glory to the Formless One!" They reject all gods and goddesses, primarily those of the Hindu pantheon, and all types of offerings made to them. Similarly, they reject all Brahmic rites and rituals, as well as pilgrimages. For example, they do not bury their dead, as Muslims do, nor do they cremate them in what they consider to be a Hindu manner, instead simply throwing the bodies of their dead into a river. They believe 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 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 Brahmin priests do. They believe and emphasize the formless aspect of the divine, Nirankar, hence their name. However, their key, unorthodox belief is that of the continuation of the line of human Gurus after Guru Gobind Singh. They, therefore, do not believe in the orthodox view that the Adi Granth is the last and only eternal Guru of Sikhism.Hi
- "Nirankari". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
- McLeod, W.H. Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism Manchester University Press ND, 1984
- Cole, William Owen; The Sikhs: their religious beliefs and practices Sussex Academic Press, 1995
- (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.)