Historical flag, introduced by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. It is considered the official Akali-Nihung flag.
A Nihang in the 1860s with a characteristically elaborate turban

The Nihang (Punjabi: ਨਿਹੰਗ) are an armed Sikh order.[1] They are also referred to as Akali (lit. "the immortals"). Nihang are believed to have originated either from Fateh Singh and the attire he wore[2] or from the "Akal Sena"(lit. The Army of the Immortal) started by Guru Hargobind.[3] Early Sikh military history was dominated by the Nihang, known for their victories where they were heavily outnumbered. Traditionally known for their bravery and ruthlessness in the battlefield, the Nihang once formed the irregular guerrilla squads of the armed forces of the Sikh Empire, the Sikh Khalsa Army.


Nihang may come from the Persian word for a mythical sea creature (Persian: نهنگ).[4] The term owes its origin to Mughal historians, who compared the ferocity of the Akali with that of crocodiles.[5]

Arms and attire

Traditional Nihang dress is known as Shiva Swarupa meaning "Shiva's appearance". This comprises full attire of superelectric blue in imitation of the blue-skinned deity Shiva,[6] edged bracelets of iron round their wrists (jangi kara) and quoits of steel (chakram) tiered in their lofty conical blue turbans, together with the traditional dagger carried by all Sikhs (kirpan).[7] When fully armed a Nihang will also bear one or two swords (either the curved talwar or the straight khanda) on his right hip, a katar (dagger) on his left hip, a buckler made from buffalo-hide (dhala) on his back, a large chakram around his neck, and an iron chain. In times of war, arms worn on the Nihang's person would generally be reserved until the warrior lost the weapon he held, often a bow or spear (barsha). Armour consisted of sanjo or iron chainmail worn under an iron breastplate (char aina). Nihang war-shoes (jangi mojeh) were constructed of iron at the toe, making their pointed toes capable of inflicting cuts and stab wounds.

The Nihang were particularly famous for their high turbans (dastar bunga) and their extensive use of the chakram or war-quoit. Their turbans were often pointed at the top and outfitted with a trishula or trident which could be used for stabbing in close-quarters. Other times, the turbans would be armed with a bagh naka (iron claw) and one or several chakram to slice at an opponent's eyes. These steel-reinforced turbans, it was said, afforded enough protection so that there was no need for any other form of headgear. Today, Nihang still wear miniature versions of five weapons (pancha shastra) in their turbans, namely the chakram, the khanda (sword), the karud (dagger), the kirpan and the tir (arrow).

Nihang today

A group of Nihang

Nihang today are accorded great respect and affection by sections of the Sikh community, but they have separate beliefs and certain practices. Even though, meat consumption with the jhatka method, is not banned in Sikhism, some individuals use alcohol, too. While the order is primarily ceremonial, they are duty-bound to defend their people and faith in times of war. On the festival of Hola Mohalla, Nihang gather in their thousands at Anandpur where they display their martial skills. Their fighting style, although formally called shastara vidiya, is more commonly known as gatka. In 2011, Nidar Singh claimed to be the only living master of pre-gatka shastara vidiya.[8] This has gained him considerable backlash from the Nihang community,[9] including excommunication from their order.[10]

Use of intoxicants

Nihang at Anandpur, India.

Some Nihang groups consume cannabis or bhang (ਭੰਗ) to help in meditation.[11] [12][13] Sukha parsad (ਸੁੱਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਰਸਾਦ), "peace-giver", is the term Nihang use to refer to it. It was traditionally crushed and taken as a liquid, or "pakora" (ਪਕੌੜਾ) and eaten, especially during festivals like Hola Mohalla. It is never smoked, as this practice is forbidden in Sikhism.[14]

In 2001, Jathedar Santa Singh, the Jathedar of Budha Dal, along with 20 chiefs of Nihang sects, refused to accept the ban on consumption of bhang by the apex Sikh clergy.[15] Baba Santa Singh was excommunicated for helping the Indian congress government rebuild the Akal Takht in 1984 he was replaced with Baba Balbir Singh, who shunned the consumption of bhang.[16]

According to a recent BBC article, "Traditionally they also drank bhang, an infusion of cannabis, to become closer with God"[17]

Nihang at Sirhind

See also


  1. Brard, Gurnam (2007). East of Indus: My Memories of Old Punjab. Hemkunt Press. p. 185. ISBN 9788170103608.
  2. Surjit, Gandhi (2007). History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606-1708 C.E, Volume 2 of History of Sikh Gurus Retold. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 999. ISBN 9788126908585.
  3. Singh, Khushwant (1999). A History of the Sikhs Volume I:1469-1839. India: Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-19-562643-5.
  4. Taba, David (2011). Iranian Character of The Armenian Language. p. 9.
  5. Singh, Khushwant (1999). A History of the Sikhs Voghzlume I:1469-1839. India: Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-19-562643-5.
  6. Collins, Larry; Lapierre, Dominique (1997). Freedom at Midnight. India: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. p. 393. ISBN 81-259-0480-8.
  7. Mayled, Jon (2002). Sikhism. Heinemann. p. 23. ISBN 9780435336271.
  8. Hegarty, Stephanie (2011-10-29). "BBC News - The only living master of a dying martial art". Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  11. Richard Beck, David Worden. Gcse Religious Studies for Aqa. p. 64. ISBN 0-435-30692-8.
  12. Hola Mohalla: United colours of celebrations,
  13. "Mad About Words". 2004-01-03. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  14. "". Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  15. Nihangs ‘not to accept’ ban on bhang. The Tribune. March 26, 2001.
  16. No ‘bhang’ at Hola Mohalla. The Tribune. March 10, 2001.
  17. Hegarty, Stephanie (2011-10-29). "BBC News - The only living master of a dying martial art". Retrieved 2014-01-04.


External links

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