For the first time a serious attempt has been made to understand the social background of the Namdhari Sikhs of Punjab; their demographic and occupational changes and beliefs and practices. The study shows that the Namdhari Sikhs primarily came from the agricultural and artisan classes ever since the inception of the Kuka Movement in the late nineteenth century. Since then the people of other occupational castes have also responded to the Namdhari mission.
The study has identified eighteen occupational castes of the Namdhari Sikhs, the Jats and Ramgarhias forming the majority. The work analyses the variations in the proportionate representation of each occupational caste and its status in the administrative hierarchy of this community during a period of 150 years. It also examines the impact of primary variables, viz., the Partition of Punjab (1947), creation of the Indo-Pakistan border, Green Revolution, industrial development and terrorist movement in Punjab, the process of migration and resettlement of Namdharis, their caste-wise occupational diversification and class differentiation and rise of new classes. In addition to the above, the study examines the Namdhari concepts of embodied-guru, nam-simran, structure of rituals, dowry-free mass marriages, food taboos and dress code. The study highlights that the religious orientation of the Namdhari Sikhs has strengthened them spiritually and morally to withstand those social evils that affect most Punjabis.
Joginder Singh is the former Head of Department of History and presently Head of Namdhari Guru Ram Singh Chair, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. He has to his credit six books, forty articles and has worked on several research projects on socio-religious and political aspects of Sikhs of modern Punjab. He is currently working on a UGC sponsored major project entitled Contemporary Sikh Sants and Babas of the Punjab.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND The Namdhari Sikhs are a small religious community in Punjab (India). They are in very few of them in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. Hundreds of their families have emigrated to Thailand, Australia, USA, Canada, and England. Observing distinct codes of religious practices and ethical values; they perform supplication in the name of the twelfth guru on all socio- religious occasions; and also observe eating taboos and a dress code. Their headquarters, the Gurdwara Shri Bhaini Sahib, are in Ludhiana and comprise the palatial residence of satguru congregational halls, a community kitchen, a holy tank, an administrative block, residential houses, and sheds for livestock. The Namdhari guru is the spiritual and temporal head of his community, guiding its destiny. The Namdhari Sikhs address him reverentially as satguru.
Some 25 subas(governors) look after community affairs in Punjab. In terms of representation of the subas, the Malwa region (14) of Punjab is ahead of Doaba (6) and Majha (3) regions. However, the representation of subas and other local leaders is determined by historical, administrative, and demographic factors. Haryana has six subas for the simple reason that in the post-Independence period, Sri Jiwan Nagar in Sirsa district came into being as its headquarters with modern infrastructure. New Delhi has emerged as another important centre and several Namdhari leaders and functionaries belong to Delhi. Representation has also been given to the Namdhari sangats (congregations) in Jammu (J&K), Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, UP and Madhya Pradesh, where many Namdharis are immigrants from Pakistan. A few subas represent these Namdhari Sikhs. Besides, about twelve subas represent the diasporic Namdhari Sikhs of Thailand Australia, the African countries, Canada and England. The Namdhari guru has recognized their contribution (largely financial) and ha built-up rapport with the local Namdhari Sikhs of these countries. The majority of these Namdhari Sikhs belong to the Khatri, Arora and Ramgarhia castes.
The Namdhari guru is assisted by confidants and administrative personnel. Among the prominent administrative personnel of Bhaini Sahib headquarters are Sant Jagtar Singh, Sant Kashmir Singh Bhinder, Sant Daljit Singh Dhaliwal, Sant Gurdial Singh Raisar and Sant Chanan Singh. Sewak Rachhpal Singh and Sewak Harpal Singh are personal attendants of satguru. Sant Jagtar Singh, Sant Avtar Singh, Sewak Didar Singh, Sant Harvendra Singh Hanspal, and Sant Surinder Singh Namdhari hold special status in the administrative hierarchy of the Namdhari community. Sant Harvendra Singh Hanspal is president of the Namdhari Darbar. He is also the chief editor of Satjug - a weekly Gurmukhi periodical. He is a former member of Rajya Sabha (for two terms) and president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. Sant Surinder Singh is senior vice-president of Namdhari Darbar, vice-chairman of Namdhari Martyrs Memorial Trust, general attorney of Sat guru Jagjit Singh and director of Sat guru Partap Singh Apollo Hospital, Ludhiana. Bibi Sukhjit Kaur, Suba Surinder Kaur Kharal (trustee of Kuka Martyrs Memorial Trust and a writer) and Bibi Kulwant Kaur are the prominent Namdhari activists and functionaries of the Vishav Namdhari Vidyak Jatha. Suba Balwinder Singh is the president of this jatha. Prominent among scholars and writers are Sant Jagdish Singh, editor, Waryam, a monthly Punjabi magazine published from Jalandhar; Tara Singh Anjan, editor, Sat jug; Jaswinder Singh historian, Kirpal Singh Kasel, S.S. Virk and Sawaran Singh Snehi. They have made an important contribution to the study of Namdhari traditions, institutions, literature (Punjabi), and history.
The local leaders as well as the influential members of the community strive to promote cohesion and harmony and settle civil disputes among the Namdhari families. They also perform social and religious duties assigned to them by the satguru, looking after the community’s institutions and religious places, organizing religious congregations, and making arrangements to transport their brethren to Bhaini Sahib on certain occasions.
Satguru Balak Singh and Satguru Ram Singh developed the Namdhari mission on the basis of Sikh scripture and traditions in the nineteenth century. Namdhari Guru Balak Singh (1785 -1862) established a centre of propagation at Hazro, district Attock (Pakistan), asked his followers to meditate continuously on the name of God at all the times and perform no ritual other than repeating God’s name. He asked his followers to offer prasad (sacred food) of rupee one and four annas(1/16th of rupee) in the name of God. He instructed his followers to bathe twice a day and to keep a small symbol of the sword in their pagri (turban); to earn their livelihoods by their own efforts and hard work and to eat food cooked only by a Namdhari Sikh. They were to be ethical in their day-to-day life and avoid indulgences. Guru Balak Singh prohibited the use of meat, tobacco, and liquor. The founder of the Namdhari mission also started the anand riti (a custom of marriage).
Namdhari Guru Ram Singh extended the scope of Namdhari mission in terms of the revival of Khalsa traditions. He was inspired to found an alternative polity, the Sant Khalsa. On 12 April 1857 at Bhaini Sahib he told a congregation that he had formed the Sant Khalsa on behalf of Guru Gobind Singh. It was, according to him, the real Khalsa. He was convinced that his Sant Khalsa was morally superior to its contemporary in the Lahore kingdom. For him the latter was as corrupt and unscrupulous as the British were. Both were responsible for the destruction of the Khalsa raj. After initiating the Sikhs to the Sant Khalsa, he evolved a code of conduct to inculcate a martial spirit. The Sant Khalsa was to observe five kakkars-kes (uncut hair), kangha (small wooden comb), kachh(a pair of breeches), kara (iron bangle) and kirpan (sword). Since kirpan had been disallowed by the government, a heavy lathi (wooden stick) was to take its place. The Sant Khalsa was required to lead pure and pious lives attuned to the Name of God and develop regular and disciplined habits. For instance, they were to rise at 3.00 a.m., brush their teeth, bathe, and recite the Name of God, especially the Chandi di Var- Guru Gobind Singh’s composition. Recitation of Chandi di Var was intended to inculcate the martial spirit among the members of the Sant Khalsa so that they could fight against tyranny. The Namdhari Guru laid down a specific mode for reciting it in an assembly which lasted for two to three days. Namdhari Guru Ram Singh also made an arrangement for the training of young Sant Khalsa in the use of gadka (a traditional martial art), horse-riding, and weapons. Already distinct in physical appearance, he wished the Sant Khalsa to feel as if they were the chosen ones while others were mlechh (unclean).
Guru Ram Singh also evolved the suba system, a mode of communication, and a traditional strategy of mobilizing his followers. In each district, there was a representative who coordinated the work of the local functionaries. Next to the latter were naib subas (deputy governors), jathedars (heads of a group), granthis (scripture readers) and the local sangat.
Naib Subas and Jathedars were given smaller areas to operate in and were required to organize and supervise the missionary work of their respective places. The local Sangats constituted the base of the Kuka organisation. A Sangat was a society composed of the Kukas (the word Kuka stuck to their names when the Namdhari Sikhs emitted loud shrieks (kook) in a state of frenzy) living in a particular village, which had a dharamsala (temple) of its own and a Granthi (scripture-reciter) to look after it and to teach Gurmukhi letters and Gurbani (Sikh scripture) to the members of the Sangat and their children, organised regular congregations and ran a free kitchen to feed the visitors from outside.
The Namdhari guru assigned these subas the task of (a) propagating the Namdhari mission, administering bhajan (mystic word) and amrit (nectar for initiation) and making arrangements for performing paths (recitation of scripture); (b) settling local disputes, (c) collecting daswand (voluntary donations); (d) ensuring peace in their respective areas; and (e) bringing cases of disobedience to the notice of the satguru. Presumably, the subas per formed these duties to their guru’s satisfaction. His charismatic personality attracted thousands of Sikh agriculturists and artisans. ‘His fame had spread rapidly and by 1863 he had been able to recruit as many as 40,000 disciples and by 1866, the number of these disciples multiplied to 60,000. His rank and file swelled as a result of the 1857 resurrection. Even so, only a small section of the old Khalsa, jagirdars (holders of land assignments) and zamindars (landlords/proprietors) supported his movement.
By 1864, Namdhari guru declared his political mission:
I, Guru Govind Singh, will be born in a carpenter’s shop, and will be called Ram Singh. My house will be between the Jamna and Sutlej rivers. I will declare my religion. I will defeat the Faringhis and put the crown on my own head, and blow the sankh. The musicians shall praise me in 1921 (1864). I, the carpenter, will sit on the throne. When I have got one lakh and twenty five thousand Sikhs with me, I will cut off the heads of the Fringhis [sic]. I will never be conquered in battle, and will shout ‘Akal, Akal’. The Christians will desert their wives and fly [sic] from the country when they hear the shout of 11/4 lakhs of Khalsas. A great battle will take place on the banks of the Jamna, and blood will flow like the waters of the Ravi, and no Frunghi [sic] be left alive. Insurrections will take place in the country in 1922 (1865). The Khalsa will reign, and Rajah and ryot will live in peace and comfort, and no one shall molest another.
Day by day Ram Singh’s rule will be enlarged. God has written this. It is no lie, my brethren. In 1865, the whole country will be ruled by Ram Singh. My followers will worship Wahaguru. God says this will happen.
In fact, the sakhi literature resurrected by Sikh veterans and by Namdhari Guru Ram Singh during and after the Uprising of 1857, reflected an old unfulfilled desire of the Khalsa to establish its hegemony over the Gangetic plans. The Namdhari Guru made some efforts to build up political links with the native rulers of neighbouring states. He thought that his followers could be given some military training. He made an attempt to get a Kuka regiment set up in the army of the Maharaja of Kashmir. So some prominent Kukas approached the Maharaja, who promised to do so. For some time, about 200 to 250 persons were enrolled and given training. The Namdhari Guru also sent his confidants to Nepal with gifts for the government of the state. A deputation under Kahn Singh was sent to get help in arms, men, and money. Since the ruler of Nepal did not have good relations with British, the Namdhari Guru thought of taking advantage of that situation. Similarly, centres were established in Gwalior, Peshawar, Kabul, and Bhutan.
Meanwhile, the clash of the Kuka Sikhs with the British government became more or less inevitable after the issue of cow-slaughter arose. The British officials had lifted the ban on cow-slaughter and permitted Muslim butchers to open their slaughter houses. Within a short time, beef and kine-leather were sold in most of the towns of the province. This offended the Hindus and the Sikhs, especially when beef was sold in the streets of the holy city of Amritsar. They protested but officials did not bother to stop the slaughter of acttle. The Kuka Sikhs could no longer restrain their anger as the cow was an object of veneration and protection for them and on the night of 14 June 1871, about eight Namdhari Sikhs attacked some butchers inside a slaughter house in Amritsar. Three butchers were killed on the spot and three were badly wounded. The local police officer arrested and charged twelve Hindu and Sikh inhabitants of the city for these murders. The police tortured them to confess their crime. The accused were committed to the sessions by the deputy commissioner. When the Namdhari Guru came to know that innocent men were going to be punished, he ordered the culprits (Namdhari Sikhs) to present themselves before the magistrate and confess. On their own confession, four Kuka Sikhs were hanged on 15 September 1871 and one more in August 1873.
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