About a year and a half back during the Covid-19 lockdown, a group of Nihangs chopped off the hand of an Assistant Subinspector of Punjab Police, when they were asked to stop their car and show their curfew pass. The good officer had to undergo a seven-hour surgery in order to get his hand sutured back. Eleven Nihangs were arrested from their dera. Again in July this year, they set aflame a statue of late ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Two were arrested. Now they are in the news once again, this time for brutally lynching a Dalit Sikh man at the farmer protest site at Singhu. Their videos claiming responsibility for the gruesome crime has gone viral on social media.
So, who are these Nihangs?
Nihangs are an order of Sikh warriors, who trace their roots back to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in response to Mughal aggression. Clad in an attire of super electric blue, they were the fiercest and the most reckless warriors in Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa Army. Their fierceness was what earned them the name of Nihang, meaning alligator in Persian, at the hands of the Mughal historians of the era.
The Nihangs are characterized by their striking blue attire, high turbans with quoits or chakram, and the possession of medieval weapons like swords or spears.
They are strict followers of the Khalsa code of conduct and do not owe allegiance to any earthly master. According to the 19th Century Historian Rattan Singh Bhangu, Nihangs are “unaffected by pain or comfort”, given to meditation, penance, and charity” and “complete warriors”.
The Nihang Dress:
The stunning traditional dress of the Nihangs is called Khalsa Swarupa. It is completely blue, along with bracelets of iron, quoits of iron in their high turbans and the traditional Sikh kirpan. They also carry swords or other such weapons on their person.
There is a story that tells how this became the dress of the Nihangs. According to it, Guru Gobind Singh’s youngest son Fateh Singh once appeared before his father in a similar outfit of dazzling blue. The Guru was so taken by the magnificence of his son’s dress, that he decided it would be the garb of his fiercest soldiers, the Akali.
In the Sikh Khalsa Army, the Nihangs or the Akali were known for their ruthlessness in battle and their capacity to emerge victorious in the face of overwhelming odds. They were instrumental in protecting Sikh tradition in the face of onslaughts by the Mughals and later by the Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Durrani.
They also controlled the religious affairs of the Sikhs from the Akal Takht in Guru Hargobind (The Golden Temple) at Amritsar. Furthermore, they held the Grand Council and passed resolutions for the Sikhs. However, following the annexation of Punjab by the British, and appoint of British regional governors, the power of the Nihangs started waning.
Today, Nihangs are a small community of about a dozen bands, each headed by a leader and not owing allegiance to any government or authority. They mostly remain in their deras and make an annual pilgrimage to Anandpur Sahib, one of Sikhism’s holiest places, where they show off their martial and horse riding skills. Their role is mostly ceremonial, but they are bound by duty to defend the Sikhs and their faith, should the need arise. However, in view of their recent bloody feats, the question arises whether it is safe to have such a band running about in a country governed by laws?