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Nihang Singh Flag
Photograph of a Nihang bodyguard serving in the Nizam of Hyderabad's irregular Sikh army, c. 1865
Regions with significant populations
Guru Granth SahibDasam GranthSarbloh Granth
PunjabiKhalsa bole

The Nihang (also spelt as Nihung lit. "Crocodiles") or Akali (lit. "Immortals"), also known as Dal Khalsa, is an armed Sikh warrior order originating in the Indian subcontinent.[1] Nihangs are believed to have originated either from Fateh Singh and the attire he wore[2] or from the "Akal Sena" (lit. 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.


The word Akali/akaali means timeless or immortal.

Literally, one who belongs to Akaal (beyond Time). In other words, an Akaali is that person who is subject of none but God only. Conceptually speaking, the terms Akaali, Khalsa and Sikh are synonymous. The term Akaali was first used during the time of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. It became popular in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

The term came to be associated with “commitment, fearlessness, boldness, struggle, and justice.”[4]

Akalis at the Fatehgarh Sahib Sarovar

The word Nihang may come from the Persian word for a mythical sea creature (Persian: نهنگ).[5] The term owes its origin to Mughal historians, who compared the ferocity of the Akali with that of crocodiles. The meaning of Akali in Sikhism however, is the immortal army of Akal (God).[6]


According to Pashaura Singh and Louis E. Fenech, there exists three main theories regarding the genesis of the Nihangs. These three theories are summarized below:[7]

  • Began with the son of Guru Gobind Singh, Fateh Singh with his blue clothing and turban with the Guru prescribing this uniform for his warriors.
  • Second hypothesis claims that they originate from the disguise of Guru Gobind Singh when he escaped from Chamkaur in 1704 or 1705.
  • Third theory postulates that they can be traced back to the garb of Akali Naina Singh of the Nishanwalia Misl.

Arms and attire

Nihang Abchal Nagar (Nihangs from Hazur Sahib), 1844. Shows turban-wearing Sikh soldiers with chakrams.

Traditional Nihang dress is known as Khalsa Swarupa. This comprises full attire of navy blue selected by Guru Gobind Singh after conflicts with Wazir Khan, the Mughal Governor of Sirhind,[8] several edged bracelets of iron round on each of their wrists (jangi kara) and quoits of steel (chakram) tiered in their lofty conical blue turbans, together with the either a dori kirpan (an open blade kirpan that is worn with a rope attached and was meant to be used as a quick access weapon) or a pesh kabaz - a predecessor to the modern kirpan. When fully armed a Nihang will also bear one or two swords (either the curved talwar or the straight khanda, or another type of sword like saif or sarohi on his right hip), a katar (dagger) on his left hip, a buckler made from buffalo-hide (dhal) 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 (kamaan) or spear (barcha). Armour consisted of sanjo or iron chainmail worn under an iron breastplate (char aina). Nihang war-shoes (jangi mozeh) were constructed of iron at the toe, making their pointed toes capable of inflicting cuts and stab wounds. The firearms carried by nihangs are either a toradar (matchlock) or a musket. In modern times nihangs also carry revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, double-barreled shotguns and bolt-action rifles[9][10] The Nihangs favour the dark blue colour for their clothing, which they adopted to emulate Guru Gobind Singh's attire when he escaped from Chamkaur through the Machhiwara jungle.[11]

A Nihang Singh and a Nihang Singhani

The Nihang were particularly known 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 chand torra or trident called astbhuja 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).

A group of Nihangs from Anandpur Sahib


There are four main factions amongst the Nihangs of the modern-era, them namely being:[12][7]

Budha Dal

Originally created for older members (over 40) by splitting the Dal Khalsa into two.[13] Their headquarters are located in Raqba.

Taruna (or Tarna) Dal

Originally created for younger members (under 40) by splitting the Dal Khalsa into two. The Taruna Dal was further divided in five jathas, each with 1300 to 2000 men and a separate drum and banner.[14]

Bidhi Chand Dal

Descend from lineage of Bidhi Chand, a contemporary warrior and companion of the Sikh Gurus.[15][16]

Ranghreta (or Rangreta) Dal

Prominent amongst Mazhabi Sikhs.

The latter two groups being much less prominent than the former two. Each Dal consists of both a mobile and stationary group. The mobile group of the Budha Dal, for example, is the Dalpanth. There has been incidents of conflict in the past between different groups of Akalis, even within the same faction.[17]

Use of intoxicants

A nihang singh wearing a dastar bunga

Some Nihang groups consume cannabis or shaheedi degh (ਭੰਗ), purportedly to help in meditation.[18] [19][20] Sūkha parshaad (ਸੁੱਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਰਸਾਦ), "Dry-sweet", is the term Nihang use to refer to it. It was traditionally crushed and taken as a liquid, especially during festivals like Hola Mohalla. It is never smoked, as this practice is forbidden in Sikhism.[21]

In 2001, Jathedar (leader) Santa Singh, the leader of Budha Dal, along with 20 chiefs of Nihang sects, refused to accept the ban on consumption of shaheedi degh by the apex Sikh clergy - in order to preserve traditional Sikh practices.[22] According to a recent BBC article, "Traditionally they also drank shaheedi degh, an infusion of cannabis, to become closer with God"[23]

Nishan Sahib

The Nihangs carry the original Nishan Sahib, being navy/electric blue, and (sometimes) bright yellow or basanti with a tegha, dhal (shield) and katar. Yellow in Punjabi culture signifies sacrifice, revolt and honour while blue signifies courage, bravery and patriotism. In Punjab, Blue is the colour of Khalsa, and yellow the colour of Kshatriyas.[citation needed] Due to various passages from the Dasam Granth, the Nihangs see themselves as Kshatriyas, but believe that the varna system is not limited to ones heritage.


The Nihang sect equally reveres the Guru Granth Sahib, Dasam Granth, and Sarbloh Granth.[24] They attribute the later two works to Guru Gobind Singh.[24] They consider the Dasam Granth and the Sarbloh Granth as extensions of the Guru Granth Sahib. As such, they refer to these scriptures as Sri Dasam Guru Granth Sahib, and Sri Sarbloh Guru Granth Sahib.[25] They call the Guru Granth Sahib, Aad Guru Granth Sahib. They also sometimes refer to the scriptures as "Durbar", such as Aad Guru Durbar. The Sarbloh Granth has another name, as Sri Manglacharan Purana. They believe that all three of these scriptures are authentic, written by the Gurus and are one and the same.[25] For this reason, they will often place the Dasam and Aad Granths on the same level and on the same throne (also known as the palki). They also sometimes do this for the Sarbloh Granth as well.


The Nihangs have developed their own coded language, known as Khalsa bole.[26]

Popular culture

In September 2023, a depiction of a Nihang Sikh was painted on the top-right section of an official illustration of the Dallas Cowboys football team as part of the Carpe Omnia ('seize everything') theme for the upcoming sports season.[27][28]

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. ^ thesikhs.org. "All copyrights reserved to thesikhs.org".
  5. ^ Taba, David (2011). Iranian Character of The Armenian Language. p. 9.
  6. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1999). A History of the Sikhs Voghzlume I:1469-1839. India: Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-19-562643-5.
  7. ^ a b Singh, Pashaura; Fenech, Louis E. (March 2014). "Taksals, Akharas, and Nihang Deras". The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford Handbooks, OUP Oxford, 2014. p. 378. ISBN 9780191004117.
  8. ^ Macauliffe, Max Arthur (1909). The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors Volume 5. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-108-05547-5.
  9. ^ "Nihangs: All You Need To Know About This Sikh Sect". outlookindia.com/. 21 October 2021. Retrieved 23 February 2023.
  10. ^ "Weapons of Guru Gobind Singh - SikhiWiki, free Sikh encyclopedia".
  11. ^ Hardgrave, R. L. (1996). An Early Portrayal of the Sikhs: Two 18th Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns. International Journal of Punjab Studies, 3(2), 213-27. Accessed via: https://www.laits.utexas.edu/solvyns-project/sikhs.html
  12. ^ Judge, Paramjit S. (2021-10-20). "Nihang tradition is rich. Don't just view them through Singhu killing lens". ThePrint. Retrieved 2022-09-02. There are four factions among the Nihangs: Budha Dal, Taruna Dal, Ranghreta Dal, and Bidhi Chand Taruna Dal. The last two are less prominent. Not much is talked about the Ranghreta Dal, and it consists of Nihangs exclusively belonging to the Mazhabi caste, whereas the Nihangs identified with Bidhi Chand, a devout follower of the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, are confined to village Sur Singh in Punjab's Tarn Taran district to which he belonged.
  13. ^ Singha, H. S.; Satwant Kaur (1996). Sikh studies. Book 7, Banda Singh Bahadur to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. New Delhi: Hemkunt. ISBN 978-81-7010-258-8. OCLC 426041638.
  14. ^ Narang, K. S.; Gupta, H. R. (1969). History of Punjab: 1500 - 1558. p. 216. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  15. ^ "Home - The Nihang Singhs". www.nihangsinghs.de. Retrieved 2022-09-02.
  16. ^ "Baba Bidhi Chand Dal" (PDF). www.deutsches-informationszentrum-sikhreligion.de (in Punjabi). Retrieved 2022-09-02.
  17. ^ "Budha Dal Factions Clash". panthic.org. Retrieved 2022-09-02.
  18. ^ Richard Beck, David Worden (2002). Gcse Religious Studies for Aqa. p. 64. ISBN 0-435-30692-8.
  19. ^ Hola Mohalla: United colours of celebrations,
  20. ^ "Mad About Words". Telegraphindia.com. 2004-01-03. Archived from the original on February 3, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  21. ^ "UCSM.ac.uk". Philtar.ucsm.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 2010-10-16. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  22. ^ Nihangs ‘not to accept’ ban on shaheedi degh. The Tribune. March 26, 2001.
  23. ^ Hegarty, Stephanie (2011-10-29). "BBC News - The only living master of a dying martial art". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  24. ^ a b Singh, Pashaura; Mandair, Arvind-Pal Singh (2023). The Sikh World. Routledge Worlds. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780429848384. The Nihangs' focus on the traditions of Guru Gobind Singh carry over to his writings as well. They hold the Guru's Dasam Granth in the same regard as Guru Granth Sahib and draw inspiration from its vividly heroic stories. Additionally, Nihangs hold the Sarab Loh Granth in equal esteem. The Sarab Loh Granth is attributed to Guru Gobind Singh and narrates more stories about the conflict between moral gods and evil demons. The drawn-out conflict comes to a head with god taking the incarnate form known as Sarab Loh (all-steel) who was able to overwhelm Brijnad, the demon king, with its martial prowess. The purity of steel, its resolve and durability, all serve as analogies for Akal Purakh's righteousness to which the Nihangs' aspire. Their devotion to the all-steel incarnation is demonstrated via the many steel weapons with which they train and adorn themselves, as well as through their insistence on even their cookware and utensils being made of steel.
  25. ^ a b Singh, Jasjit (July 2014). "The Guru's Way: Exploring Diversity Among British Khalsa Sikhs". Religion Compass. 8 (7): 209–219. doi:10.1111/rec3.12111. ISSN 1749-8171.
  26. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford Handbooks. Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech. OUP Oxford. 2014. p. 380. ISBN 9780191004117.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  27. ^ Monet, Jazz (2023-09-07). "Carpe omnia: Dallas Cowboys intend to 'seize everything' in 2023". Inside The Star. Retrieved 2023-09-08.
  28. ^ Kaur, Kamaljit (2023-09-07). "ਅਮਰੀਕਾ 'ਚ ਨੈਸ਼ਨਲ ਫੁੱਟਬਾਲ ਲੀਗ ਦੀ ਟੀਮ Dallas Cowboys ਨੇ ਜਰਸੀ 'ਤੇ ਲਗਾਈ ਜਰਨੈਲ ਹਰੀ ਸਿੰਘ ਨਲੂਆ ਦੀ ਤਸਵੀਰ" [Dallas Cowboys team of the National Football League in America put the picture of General Hari Singh Nalua on the jersey]. Rozana Spokesman (in Punjabi). Retrieved 2023-09-08.


External links