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The Guns of the Nihangs

Text & Photos by AMARDEEP SINGH

 

 

 

Nihangs, the guardians of the Sikh martial traditions of yore, roam freely across the Punjab even today.

Their nomadic lifestyle is dedicated to praying to the Almighty and practicing the Sikh martial arts. They maintain these traditions from the time of the Tenth Master.

A description of them from a historical text reflects what we continue to see today.

Where the Khalsa had set camp, the war drums were being beaten and battle standards raised. He arrived at where the Singhs were based. Ahead, he could see where the Singhs were congregating. The musicians sung the Gurus’ hymns while others read the scriptures. Some were grounding sukha (a drink peculiar to the Nihangs, with a cannabis base) and others were preparing mahaparshad (meat). Some Singhs were cleaning and sharpening their weapons. Some trained in archery while other did target practice with their muskets. The Singhs massaged each other while others fanned the congregation. Some set off far to fetch water for the other Singhs to bathe in … Running around, the Singhs served one another”.  [Prachin Panth Prakash]

Each year, during the great Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla, the Nihangs still come together at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, from no matter where they live, no matter how far. It is their time to show the world their continuing dedication to the ancient martial traditions of the Sikhs.

In creating this exhibit, “The Guns of The Nihangs”, I broke the ice with my subjects by first striking a dialogue with them. Having demonstrated my intent and purpose, I was then able to partner with them in making them pose with their guns around their tented habitat.

 

Edited for sikhchic.com

Please CLICK here to see the complete photo exhibit.

May 13, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: H S Vachoa  (USA), May 13, 2013, 11:24 PM.

Just wanted to add a few observations on the topic - relating to the rich tradition of guns and the Khalsa. I am actually quite surprised by the turnout on the recent poll on gun ownership on sSikhchic.com, where more than 67% have voted guns to be taken away from civilians, even when Sikhs have a rich tradition of the right to bear arms, going back way before the American Revolution. Maybe, the poll should also have had an option to vote for citizens' right to defend themselves from tyranny. Let this be known that tyranny blossoms where only rulers have the right to weapons, and subjects no right to defend themselves against tyrants.

2: Bikramjit Singh (London, United Kingdom), May 15, 2013, 8:57 AM.

Equating the Nihangs of today to the Khalsa of the 18th century would be like equating the boy scouts with the Delta Force! These Nihangs might be armed to the hilt but their guns are more likely to see rust rather than see any action. I hope the readers of these articles on Nihangs acquaint themselves with the anti-Panth role the Nihangs and their leadership played in 1984. If anything, the Sikh resistance movement of the 1980s was the true heir of the Khalsa rather than these present-day Nihangs.

3: Amardeep Singh (Singapore), May 15, 2013, 6:06 PM.

Dear Bikramjit: I respect your political opinion expressed above but my brain and eyes are that of an artist, photographer, writer and poet. I have tried to assimilate these creative faculties in the creation of this series. To the artist within me, they offer a wonderful opportunity to capture glimpses of the traditions from the past and hopefully document them for the future generations.

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 16, 2013, 4:13 AM.

Amardeep ji, an excellent set of photographs. What a splendid display of manhood as envisioned by Guru Gobind Singh for his 'Akali Fauj' - each exceeding by leaps and bounds whatever standard there might be for other spindly 'Mr. World's. With or without guns, they would strike the fear of God in the hearts of scoundrels. They also would not subscribe to any earthly rulers ... only Akal Purakh. Maharajah Ranjit Singh made use of them and knew how to handle them with his usual wit. Once Maharajah Ranjit Singh was riding an elephant and Akali Phoola Singh who saw the procession shouted out at him: "Oye kaaneya (one-eyed one), who has given you this buffalo to ride on?" The Maharajah smiled and said in mocking humility and folded his hands: "It was a gift from your honour." Now how do you defeat men like that?

5: Harinder Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), May 16, 2013, 7:15 AM.

Having been the personal physician to the late Nihang Chief, I could probably escape being termed myopic about the issue. I can empathize with the sensitivities of Amardeep and share the cynicism of Bikramjit! No doubt the present generation of nihangs have reduced the 'Akaal Purakh di Fauj' to a vestigial institution but considering the rich heritage, we need more Amardeeps to keep alive the romanticism of this great and integral part of Sikh history. The institution, that is ... not its present flag bearers.

6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 16, 2013, 12:31 PM.

Dr. Harinderpal Singh ji: I do remember when you were the Nihang Chief Santa Singh's personal physician and had some juicy stories to share. The human frailities are always going to be there as long as we remain in the human garb. The institution remains as colourful as ever and a part and parcel of our rich martial history. Mothers still scare their children into submission by threatening to summon an Akali! Thanks Kitty, for adding colour to the rich canvas.

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