Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1704 Sikh akālī
Subject: ਨਿਹੰਗ nihang / ਅਕਾਲੀ akālī 'immortal' warrior saint
Culture: Punjabi Sikh
Setting: Sikh empire, Punjab 1704-1846

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Loehlin 1964 p68 
"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/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 deplo
 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 ...."

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Pair of war quoits (1906.64.1)
"One particularly devout group of Sikhs were the Akalis. The Akalis took the prescription by Guru Gobind Singh (d. 1708) that the Sikh community should become warrior-priests very literally. They went into battle armed with up to four swords, a matchlock musket, and six to eight chakra, worn fastened to their turbans. Akali turbans for this military purpose did not resemble the conventional Sikh turban we are all familiar with, but were tall conical hats constructed from cotton, and decorated with chakra, which decreased in size up to the top."


* Richardson/Bennett 2015 p54
"Some members of the Sikh confederation became enthusiastic religious warriors called Akalis (immortals) or Nihangs.  They wore distinctive blue garments, and high turbans (bunga dastar) which carried a number of chakra."

* Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery
"Akalis  Some members of the Sikh confederation became enthusiastic religious warriors called Akalis (immortals).  This anarchic group of religious zealots wore distinctive blue garments, and high turbans (dastar bungga) which carried a variety of chakra."  [....]

* Heath/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."

* 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."


* Wilkinson 1971 p154
"Some weapons do not easily fall into neat categories, and one such is the chakram, which was a weapon of the Sikh.  It was a flat, steel ring with a sharpened edge, and the warrior carried six of these quoits around his arm or around the top of his conical turban.  It was said that, spun around the finger and then released, the revolving ring could strick down an enemy at 80 paces."

* 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."

* Richardson/Bennett 2015 p54
"[The chakra] was a steel throwing quoit which had been used by some Hindu sects since at least the 16th century, but it became associated particularly with the Akalis."

* Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery
"[....]  [Chakra] are a steel throwing quoits [SIC] which had been used by some Hindu sects since at least the 16th century, but became closely associated with the Akalis in the 18th and 19th centuries:
'The quoit is an arm peculiar to this race of people ... they are said to throw it with such accuracy and force as to be able to lop off a limb at sixty or eighty yards distance: but I have several times invited them to show their dexterity without witnessing any proof that could convince me ...  In general the bystanders have been in greater danger than the object aimed at.'
    "W. G. Osborne The court and camp of Ranjit Singh, London, Henry Colburn.  1840: 102-3"

* 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. "

* Fryer 1969 p85
"Chakram  An Indian (Sikh) throwing ring or quoit.  It is a flat steel ring with sharp outer edge and is made in varying sizes up to about 12 inches diameter."

* Byam 1988 p35 caption
"WAR QUOIT  Used mostly by the Sikhs of north west India, the chakram is a flat steel quoit (ring) with a razor-sharp outer edge.  Several quoits were worn around a tall, conical turban and were either whirled around the forefinger before throwing, or held between the thumb and forefinger and and thrown underarm."

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Pair of war quoits (1906.64.1)
"The chakram or war quoit ... is represented by the steel kara bangle, which all adult Sikh men wear. Although not unique to the Sikhs, the chakram was most closely associated with them. In later British colonial times, Sikh regiments often wore epaulette and head badges depicting the chakram.
    "[....]  It is very difficult to differentiate those chakra made for practical use and those for display since the makers and users themselves made no such distinction. Chakra were part of a widespread north-west Indian practice of warriors presenting the most gorgeous visual appearance in the heat of battle. They were constructed from high grade steel, overlaid in gold using the koftgari technique. This involves first engraving the steel, and then beating fine gold wire into the recesses created."




* Fryer 1969 p89
"Tulwar  The Indian curved sword. The hilt usually has a knuckle-bow and has a disc pommel, and is frequently damascened. The blade is single-edged and often of finely watered steel."

* Elgood 2004 p184
"Tavernier wrote that the European use of the point in fencing was unknown to the Indians and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was noted that the Indians used a number of cuts unknown in Western sabre practice.  Burton wrote that the Indians never thought to thrust with the point, describing two principal cuts, one to the shoulder, the other to the lower legs, called qalam, which Irvine suggests comes from qalam kardan, the Persian verb to lop or prune.  Not surprisingly, swordsmen were expected to make frequent and athletic leaps into the air.  Colonel Blacker suggested that the Indian cutting stroke was the only one capable of penetrating the layers of cloth in turbans and quilted jacket armour.  'The native practice not only requires a stiff wrist, but a stiff though not a straight elbow, for a cut that shall disable.'  If correct this would explain the popularity of the guantlet sword.
      "Because of the protective value of cloth armour, heavy swords such as the tegha were popular but they required considerable strengthening exercise with dumb-bells (mudgar/moghdhur) and chain bow (lezam).  The latter was a stiff bamboo bow, strung with a chain to which weights were added as required.  This was flexed to the fullest extent using either arm.  Mrs Meer Hassan Ali, resident in Hindustan in the early nineteenth century, described how the young men exercised with the moghdhur and believe this is [sic] greatly beneficial to their sabre practice.  'They go so far as to say that they only use the sword well who have practiced the moghdhur for several years.  At their sword exercise, they practice "the stroke" on the hide of a buffalo, or on a fish called rooey, the scales of which form an excellent coat of mail, each being the size of a crown piece, and the substance sufficient to turn the edge of a good sabre.  The fish is produced alive from the river for this purpose; however revolting as the practice may appear to the European, it does not offend the feelings of the Natives, who consider the fish incapable of feeling after the first stroke; but, as regards the buffalo, I am told the most cruel infliction's [sic] have been made by men who would try their blade and their skill on the staked animal without mercy.'  A miniature in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum, attributed to Nainsukh about 1750, shows a rāja using his sword on a carp."


* Signos y símbolos 2020 p184
"Kirpan  El arma ceremonial o kirpan es símbolo de valor y rectitud, y signo de la disposición de todo sij a defender a los débiles y a los oprimidos.  Se lleva ceñido al cuerpo como recordatorio de la mortalidad humana, y representa la justicia, el orden y la moral."

* Pacella 2008 p118
"Among the five distinctive signs identifying a Sikh is a dagger called a 'kirpan,' which is worn either at the belt or else fixed to the cuff.  Sikhs have never hesitated to use it either."

* Singh Brar 2011 online
"The Kirpan (ceremonial sword) worn by followers of the Sikh religion sometimes raises questions or concerns among people who are unfamiliar with the religion or it's tenants. The Kirpan is an ingrained part of the Sikh religion and is in many ways it's religious symbolism is similar to the Cross in Christianity. Just as a Cross is worn be devout Christians, baptized Sikhs are required to wear the Kirpan. The Kirpan is no more symbolic a weapons than the Christian Cross is symbolic of a torture instrument.
    "[....]  The Kirpan has been an integral part of the Sikh religion since it's early inception and has a very sacred religious symbolism for Sikhs. To suggest that it is a `dagger', or a `weapon' or merely a cultural symbol is both misleading and offensive to Sikhs.
    "To Sikhs the Kirpan is religiously symbolic of their spirituality and the constant struggle of good and morality over the forces of evil and injustice, both on a individual as well as social level. The usage of the Kirpan in this religious context is clearly indicated in the Sikh holy scriptures (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) and wearing it is ment [SIC] to inspire a Sikh in their daily life; 'To forsake pride, emotional attachment, and the sense of `mine and yours', is the path of the double-edged sword.' (Guru Arjan Dev, Devgandhari, pg. 534)
    "[....]  The practice of Sikhs carrying the Kirpan as a religious symbol can be traced back to the lifetime of the sixth Sikh prophet, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644). Guru Hargobind regularly carried two swords, symbolic of a Sikhs spiritual as well as temporal obligations. Guru Hargobind introduced Sikhs to the concept of being a Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier). A Sikh must be a Saint always meditating and remembering God. At the same time a Sikh is also expected to be a soldier, a person taking part in their social responsibilities to their family and community. Following the path of law, order and morality as laid out by the Sikh Gurus.
    "It was Guru Gobind Singh, the final living Sikh prophet who formally instituted the mandatory requirement for all baptized Sikhs to wear the Kirpan at all times. He instituted the current Sikh baptism ceremony in 1699 which is referred to as the `baptism of the sword' (khanda di pahul). During the ceremony sugar crystals and water are stirred in a steel bowl with a Kirpan before the initiate drinks the mixture. During the baptism ceremony the initiate is instructed in the duties and obligations of becoming a Khalsa (one belonging to the Divine). The Khalsa is expected to live by the high moral standards of the Sikh Gurus at all times which includes such things as abstaining from smoking, drinking and other intoxicants, performing daily prayers and always maintaining the distinctive physical symbols of Sikhism on their person. The most noticeable of these being uncut hair and carrying the Kirpan.
    "This injunction appears in the Rehat Maryada (The Official Sikh Code of Conduct); "Have, on your person, all the time, the five K's: The Keshas (unshorn hair), the Kirpan (sheathed sword), the Kachhehra (drawers like garment), the Kanga (comb), the Karha (steel bracelet)." (Rehat Maryada, Ceremony of Baptism or Initiation, Section 6, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, paragraph (p)    ) [SIC]
    "The Rehat Maryada does not specify the length of the Kirpan or how it is to be worn by the devotee. Kirpans can be anywhere from 3 foot swords carried by Sikhs on religious festivals, marriages and parades, to a few inches in length. They can either be worn over ones clothing or under the clothing. The Kirpan is usually kept sheathed except when it is withdrawn from it's casing on such occasions as consecration of the ceremonial sweet pudding distributed during religious ceremonies."


* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson p196 (Frederick Wilkinson, "India and Southeast Asia" p186-203)
"One weapon which appears to be unique to India is the katar or punch dagger which, in some respects, resembles the pata for it is gripped in the same fashion, the blade becoming an extension of the arm.  The hilt consists of two bars or flattened arms which spring from the base of the blade and join with two parallel bars which are gripped by the hand.  The katar of northern India has a blade which is wide at the hilt and tapers fairly quickly to the point. In most cases the blade thickens at the point, giving the extra strength needed to punch through the metal rings of an enemy's coat of mail.  [CONTRA Arts of the Muslim knight 2008 p143.]  Some katars have wide blades engraved with a variety of themes, and some have a central rib, but many are quite plain. ...  A variant form is the scissors katar, which has an outer hollow blade which divides down the centre; this is opened by squeezing together the two central holding bars to expose a third inner blade.  The katar could well be the descendant of the maustika mentioned in the arsenal list of Abdul Fazl."

* Richardson/Bennett 2015 p29
"The katar, with its transverse grips, was unique to India, and was to be found across most of the sub-continent.  It was fitted with a variety of blades, ranging from narrow wavy blades preferred in the south to short, straight and broad blades in the north, multiple blades, as well as novelties such as the 'scissors' katar, in which squeezing the grips together causes an outer set of blades to open like scissors, and even multiple daggers in which one or even two little katar were housed inside the outer dagger."

* Fryer 1969 p86
"Katar  An Indian dagger designed for thrusting.  It consists of tapered blade (the tip often reinforced for piercing chain mail) with a hilt formed of two parallel bars connected by two or more crossbars.  Occasionally a knuckle guard is fitted. Blades are found with 'scissors' action, serrated edges or are even forked."

* Byam 1988 p35 caption
​"THRUSTING DAGGER  ...  The katar, a Hindu dagger, is found only in India.  Made entirely of steel, the weapon has an H-shaped handle that is gripped in the fist and used at close quarters in a punching action."