About Nihangs

Nihangs Singhs have been the standard bearers of the Sikh warrior tradition for over three hundred years. Formed at a time when the Sikh way of life was under attack from the Mogul rulers and their proxies, Nihangs soon gained a formidable reputation for their fighting qualities and indomitable spirit. Heavily armed and dressed in distinctive blue uniform these ascetic and uncompromising warriors fought solely to protect their religion from oppression and tyranny. The fact that it survived at all largely rested upon their fearsome courage, skill at arms and their devotion to the Guru’s word.

The troops of horse backed Nihangs, or Dals as they are called, are the ones I have spent most time photographing. Their itinerant life is tough and uncomplicated, living under canvas or out in the open, preparing and cooking food in the field. Their role in today’s society, as it has been explained to me, and has been for many years now, is to travel from village to village reinforcing the Gurus’ message, reminding the Sikhs of their spiritual heritage and projecting the traditions of the Khalsa.

They generally never spend more than three or four days in any one place but their arrival is a cause for celebration. Their stay is marked by prayers, the recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, devotional songs and the serving of food. They are always invited to an area or village by a family or group of supporters and it is quite common to find that a particular Dal has been visiting the same sites for many years. A Dal’s progress is planned well in advance so that they attend the significant annual events in the Sikh calendar. To see them gathered in large numbers at festivals such as Hola Mohalla is to get just the merest glimpse of what it must have been like to have seen massed columns of these proud, fearless horsemen riding across the plains of the Punjab to close with their enemies. Their lifestyle, often misunderstood and rebuked, is nurtured and maintained in a deliberate way and for a very good reason. As one very senior Nihang once said to me “who are we to change a tradition that goes back generations?”

Photographs of Nihangs

Nishan Singh Nihang
Golden Temple in Amritsar: Punjab
"Patasa"
Nihangs washing horses, Sangrur
Under tree overlooking Godavari
Overlooking the Godavari
Hazoor Sahib
Nanded
Preparing prashad
Grooming Barji
Nihangs by canal near Mudki
"Bankia"
Cow watching elephants pass by
Returning with grass
Nihang camp
Skinning of the goat
Goat slaughter
On a path near Kasail
Tying a turban
Gulalipura: Punjab
Returning at sunset
Nishan Sahibs and horse
Collecting grass
Sahai Tibbi, Punjab
Ardas Anandpur Sahib
Young Nihang
Horse shoe replacement
Shaheedhi Bhag, Anandpur Sahib
Boiling pot at Shaheedhi Bhag
Nihangs on horseback at Hola
Taking Amrit
Amrit ceremony
Nihangs drinking shadai
Exercising horses
Harian Belan
Baba Santa Singh, Anandpur Sahib
Joga
Balbir Singh and horse
Nihangs on horses near Thuri, Punjab
Preparing breakfast
Preparation of evening sermon
Nihangs Chapati making
Grooming a horse
Nihangs making shadai
Balbir Singh reads under tree
Megh Singh
"Maha Akhal"
Crossing river at Hola Mohalla
Preparing sukhar in the mist

Blog Posts about Nihangs

Baba Santa Singh, Anandpur Sahib

Baba Santa Singh: A Memory of a Departed Chief

The announcement of Baba Santa Singh’s death was met with little surprise but greeted with much sadness. With his health ailing for some time now, and since January of this year a long term patient in Patiala hospital, Baba Santa […]

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Nick Fleming Behind the Lens

Milan Bharti making a cup of tea, Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
First light by the Ganges in Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Visit to Shaeedi Bhag, Anandpur Sahib (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Portrait session with young sadhu during the Kumbh Mela in Hardwar (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
In the mountains near Kedarnath (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Resting at Gaumukh, source of the Ganges (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Travelling with the flower man on Nageen Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Nick Fleming photographing a pilgrim on the ghat s at Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Photographing on the bathing ghats at Hardwar during the Kumbh Mela (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
With Nihangs in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)