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Nihang Sikhs: The modern-day warriors-pacifists

03/18/15: Nihang Sikhs are a particular sect of Sikhism. They are essentially one of the last existing traditions of modern-day warriors. The word Nihang literally means crocodile. They describe themselves as the “Akaali,” which means undying or immortal army. They have dedicated their whole lives to defending their faith.

Known for their martial arts, sword-fighting abilities, military expertise and bold blue attire, their traditions have changed very little over the past 300 years.

They were initially established by the later Sikh Guru prophets to defend the defenseless (during this time huge amounts of Hindus were being decimated by the Mogul invaders), and to guard Sikh Gudwara temples.

Today many Nihangs have jobs such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and artists, among other occupations. Many Nihang Sikhs live with very little material wealth and a possession, living spiritual lives, in prayer, training in martial arts and taking care of themselves and helping their communities. Nihangs are saint soldiers – despite being warriors they are a symbol for world peace.

They exist to spread love and preserve peace.

Photographer Mark Hartman traveled to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, northern India, for the annual Hola Mohalla festival celebrating Holi, a tradition set by the tenth Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh in the 17th century.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography


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