Two hundred years ago, during the establishment of the Sikh Empire, hand-to-hand combat was a crucial part of battles, and swords were the primary weapons. The Tenth Guru formed a special group of Sikh commandos known as Nihangs, who fearlessly engaged in these perilous fights. Similar to how Christian Crusaders and Muslim Ghazies fought with strong spiritual motivation, Nihangs showed unwavering determination in their do-or-die battles. Even today, you can spot Nihangs by their vibrant blue attire, steel bangles on their wrists, and steel bands adorning their tall blue turbans. Carrying swords, shields, spears, and iron chains, they maintain their traditional weaponry.

The Nihangs 

The term "Nihang" originates from Persian, meaning 'crocodile,' a name given by Mughal historians who witnessed the bravery of Sikh monks in battle, likening it to the fierce nature of crocodiles. Despite this comparison, Nihangs were not ruthless aggressors like their adversaries; they identified themselves as Akali, embracing the timeless essence of God, and fought for spiritual immortality, guided by the principles of the Sikh Khalsa.

The Nihangs played a vital role in expanding the Sikh empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in northern India. For centuries, the Pashtuns had been powerful and had caused much trouble in India. The Nihangs were the ones who finally brought them under control, earning their leader, Akali Phula Singh, a lot of respect in the Sikh empire. The Maharaja acknowledged that his rule was made possible by the Khalsa, emphasizing its spiritual importance.

From Fearless Fighters to Humble Servants

When Maharaja Ranjit Singh married a Muslim woman, Akali Phula Singh declared that the Maharaja had gone against Sikh principles. He bravely called the Maharaja to answer for his actions. The Maharaja showed humility and accepted his mistake. As punishment, Akali Phula Singh ordered fifty lashes, but the Maharaja, showing true humility, accepted it without hesitation. Recognizing the Maharaja's genuine remorse, Akali Phula Singh recommended forgiving him. This event reflects the Khalsa's character – courageous yet just.

The two men kept working together. When the Maharaja decided to enter the North West Frontier Province, where the Pashtuns lived, it was the first time someone from India who wasn't Muslim had gone into their land.

During the battle, the Maharaja led with Akali Phula Singh by his side. When the Sikh army got close, the Pashtuns on higher ground started shooting at them. Akali Phula Singh acted like they were retreating. The Pashtuns, knowing his reputation, felt victorious, thinking they'd scared the Sikhs away. But when the Pashtuns came down celebrating, Akali Phula Singh turned the Sikhs around and attacked them. There was close fighting, and many Pashtuns and Nihangs (Sikh warriors) died on the battlefield. The Pashtun leader fled with the survivors, and the people of Peshawar left their city upon hearing the Sikhs had come.

A Legacy of Peace and Unity

The Nihangs, a group of Sikhs known for their bravery, held such a strong presence that they peacefully took over Peshawar. Before their arrival, Yar Mohammad Khan, the Pashtun Governor, had fled. However, he returned from the Khyber Pass with gifts, aiming to show his loyalty to the Sikh Maharaja. These gifts were accepted, and peace was established. Yet, when Yar Mohammad Khan later rebelled, Akali Phula Singh’s Nihangs defeated him. In tribute to their remarkable history, the Nihangs continue to wear distinctive electric blue turbans and short pants known as Katchha.

The Spirit Lives On

Today, the Nihangs remain a visible symbol of Sikh heritage, their distinctive attire a reminder of their rich history and unwavering dedication to their faith. Their legacy is one of courage, resilience, and unwavering commitment to justice, serving as an inspiration for generations to come.

*Based on an article by Tejwant Singh, published in SIkh Nugget on 27th May 2010 


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