Subject: ਨਿਹੰਗ nihang / akali 'immortal' warrior saint
Culture: Punjabi Sikh
Setting: Sikh empire, Punjab 1704-1846
Context (Event Photos, Period Sources, Secondary Sources)
* Heath ill. Perry 2005 p33-34
"The Akalis or 'Immortals' (also known as Nihangs) were Sikh fundamentalists, dedicated to defending their faith by force of arms, while at the same time often found acting in the capacity of priests. Most foreign visitors considered them rabid fanatics, one writing that 'their fierce fanaticism borders on insanity'. In 1830 a Sikh official described the typical Akali as a man 'whose body is unaffected by pain or comfort. He is a man of firm faith, sexual restraint, meditation, penance and charity, and a complete warrior. In the presence of worldly authority, he remains full of pride. Where there is a place of battle, having no fear of death, he never steps back'.
"Although they were based at Anandpur and Amritsar, the Akalis led an itinerant lifetyle, travelling alone or in sizeable bands, depending on charity for their sustenance or else simply helping themselves to what they needed. Ranjit Singh often had to deploy troops to prevent them from terrorizing the population in this way, and several minor affrays are recorded. Yet he also gave them lands and precious gifts -- perhaps in an effort to buy their loyalty, since they are reputed to have made several attempts to kill him (they disapproved of his tolerance of the British). They verbally abused him during military parades, and even pelted him with mud when they got the chance. "[...] Although they would not submit to military discipline or training, and insisted on pursuing traditional Sikh tactics rather than the new-fangled European system introduced by Ranjit Singh, the Akalis' extreme bravery rendered them ideal for employment in desperate enterprises .... However, such employment had considerably reduced their numbers by the 1830s, which was doubtless Ranjit's underlying intention ...."
* Loehlin 1964 p68
"Nihangs[:] These stalwarts are easily recognized, as they wear dark blue robes with their legs bare below the knees, high blue and yellow turbans laced with steel discs, and usually carry spears, swords, daggers, and shields. They are not to smoke or drink liquor, but many use bhang (hemp) freely.
"The Nihangs arose as a militant Order in the time of Guru Gobind Singh under the leadership of Bhai Man Singh in 1704-05. Also called Akalis, they form the aggressive, not to say fanatical, core of the Khalsa Brotherhood. They wear dark blue in memory of Guru Gobind Singh's escape from the Muslim army at Macchiwara disguised as 'Uch ka Pir' by wearing the blue garments of a Muslim faqir. "The Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature says that the Nihang-singhs, abandoning the fear of death, are ever ready for martyrdom and remain unsullied by worldly possessions for which reason they are so named. A Nihang is one who has nothing and is free from anxiety." ...
* Heath ill. Perry 2005 p47
"The most distinctive feature of Akali dress was the tall dark blue dastar bunga turban, adorned with up to nine quoits plus knives and other small weapons. More quoits might be carried round the arms and neck. The rest of their dress generally comprised a blue tunic, a cummerbund, white shorts and slippers. They were always festooned with weapons: Henry Steinbach described them as having a sword in each hand, two more in the belt, a matchlock slung at the back, and four quoits round the turban. Masson writes that they were 'always armed in a most profuse manner. Some of them have half a dozen swords stuck about them and their horses, and as many pistols, and other arms'. Although often seen mounted, they seem invariably to have fought on foot."
* Edgerton 1995 p128 (quoting Masson)
"'The Sikh soldiers' writes Captain Mundy, 'dressed (1827) in tunics of quilted cotton or silk with a peculiar shaped red turban and cummerbund of the same colour. Their 'legs were bare below the knee, and they were all armed with a spear or sword and black shields of buffalo hide studded with brass.'"
* Stone 1934 p203-204
"DASTAR BUNGGA. The quoit turban of the Akali Sikhs. It is conical, about twenty inches high, and constructed of indigo blue cloth twisted around a framework of cane. Encircling it are quoits and, usually, a tiger's claw (bagh nakh) and other small steel weapons."
* Brown ed. 1999 p39-40
"Among their arms were khandas or double-edged swords and chakras, remarkable quoit-shaped and sharp edged, metal discs .... They wore these chakras around their characteristic high-turreted turbans. They could wield them like latter-day Vishnus, whirling their weapons with deadly and terrifying effect."
* Stone 1934 p171
"CHAKRAM, CHACRA, CHAKAR, CHAKRA. The steel quoit of the Sikhs, especially the Akalies. It is a flat steel ring from five to twelve inches in diameter and from half an inch to an inch and a half wide, the outer edge is sharp. It is usually plain but sometimes elaborately inlaid. Several of different sizes were often carried on a pointed turban, the dastar bungga.
"Egerton says ... that is whirled around the finger and thrown with great accuracy and force as much as sixty paces. A friend of mine who saw them thrown at the military games at Rawal Pindi gives quite a different description of how it is done. He says that the thrower stands squarely facing his objective, takes the chakram between the thumb and first finger of the right hand, holding it roll down on his left side. He then turns his body so as to bring the right shoulder as far forward as possible and throws underhand with the full swing of his body. He also says that it is thrown with sufficient force and accuracy to cut off a green bamboo three-quarters of an inch in diameter at a distance of thirty yards."
* Edgerton 1995 p128-129
"[T]he arm that is exclusively peculiar to this sect is the quoit. It is made of beautiful thin steel, sometimes inlaid with gold; in using it the warrior twirls it swiftly round the forfinger [sic], and raising his hand over his head, launches it with such deadly aim, as according to their own account to be sure of their man at 80 paces. The quoit is worn only by the Akálís, who are armed to the teeth. They wear, in obedience to their founder, the tenth Guru, Govind, nothing but steel and blue cotton cloth, steel bow, sword, shield, brace of horse pistols or collection of daggers, and sometimes as many as six war quoits round the arm and on the top of their high conical turban."
* Tarassuk & Blair 1979 p115
"chakram (or chacka) A quoit weapon used mainly by Sikhs, and unknown outside India. It consisted of a flat steel ring, from 12-30 cm. (43/4-12 in.) in diameter and 2-4 cm. (3/4-11/2 in.) in width, with a very sharp outer edge and a rounded inner edge, which was used to whirl the weapon around the forefinger before throwing. Another method of whirling consisted of holding the chakram between the thumb and the first finger and throwing it to coincide with the full swing of the body, like a discus. Its effective range was 40-50 m. (42-54 yds.).
"The surface of a chakram was usually quite plain, but some examples of these weapons show elaborately inlaid or line-engraved surfaces."
* Paul 1995 p86
"...[T]he chakra or the war quoit ... is a Sikh weapon and takes the form of a flat steel ring sharpened on the outside edge. Sikh warriors are said to have carried as many as six at a time, on top of their high conical turbans or around the arm. In using it the warrior twirls it swiftly around the fore-finger and raising his hand over his head launches it with such deadly aim as, according to some accounts, to be sure of his man at 80 paces. However, there are reportedly other methods of releasing the chakra, which could have a plain outside edge or a shapr serrated edge."
* Biebuyck & Van den Abbeele 1984 p150
"One or more such steel rings called chakram of different sizes are placed around the pointed turban. The ring can also be used as a missile when it is spun around the forefinger and thrown at a target." [references omitted]
* Elgood 2004 p240
"The Sikhs recognise two forms of chakra -- one plain and one smooth-edged, the chakkar sada, the other with serrated edge, the chakkar katavodar. Later sources state the chakra to have a range of 60-100 yards; Captain Mundy (1827) gives an accurate range of 80 paces. "