Nihang 650x366 1

Indian soldiers who revere bhāṅg: The Nihangs

Nihang 650x366 1
Having travelled overland from England, I arrived in September 1977 at the Attari-Wagah border-crossing between Pakistan and India, in the Punjab. Among the first people I saw in India were bearded soldiers on duty, dressed in distinctive, electric-blue costumes and sporting lofty turbans. They were equipped with long swords and daggers and stood dutifully. I was informed that these soldiers were Sikh soldiers called Nihang. The Nihangs The Nihangs are a sect of Sikh soldiers based in the Indian state of Punjab, who form one of several branches of the Sikh religion. The term ‘nihang’ appears in the Gurū Granth Sāhīb (the holy texts of the Sikhs) and suggests a fearless and unrestrained person. As a political group, the Nihangs are represented as the Akālī Ḍāl (‘immortal branch’). Nihangs are also referred to as Akālīs. Wearing a small, curved knife (kirpān) is traditional for all members of the Sikh religion, as is the wearing of an edged, iron bracelet (kaṛā). These are two of the five symbols (five ‘k’s) worn by all Sikhs, the other three being uncut hair (keś), a comb (kaṅgha) and a cotton undergarment (kachera). Nihangs additionally wear five miniature weapons in their turbans, namely rings of steel (cakrams), a sword, a dagger, the kirpān and an arrow. The turbans are reinforced with metal, for protection, and the rings of steel (quoits) can be used to slice opponents. The instituting of Sikh military forces On March 30th, 1699, the formation of the Sikh khālsā (‘military force’) was formally instituted by the tenth of the Sikh founding gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, who is considered to be the founder of the Sikh nation (Malleson 1885:337–339). This event is celebrated by Sikhs during the festival of vaisākhī/baisākhī, which takes place annually on the 13th or 14th of April. The term…

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