I must admit, I am fascinated with the “Blue Guys.” Not the famous Chicago-based Blue Man Group, but a group of Sikhs who typically wear blue, carry swords, wear turbans and have as their mission, “Defending our religion.”
Yikes, what is this all about?
I had the opportunity to photograph this group, officially called the Nihangs in Punjab, India in March. It totally surprised me how fascinating I thought they were.
I went on the trip (Jim Cline Three Festivals Photo tour) because I wanted to attend an authentic version of the Holi Festival. My husband had been to India several times and didn’t want to go. He suggested that maybe this would be a good time for me to find a photo tour to join since I seemed to be hell bent experiencing this festival first hand.
I did and the Holi part of the Jim Cline tour was perfect. We had several fabulous opportunities to share in the festivities and wield our cameras. The two additional festivals were simply bonuses to me.
I’ve done three blog posts about the Holi Festival. Here are links.
It was at the second of the three festivals on the tour called Hola Mohalla that we encountered the Nihangs in the town of Anandpur Sahib way north in India near the Pakistani border.
What a wonderful time it was to capture their joyous celebration and demonstration of military prowess on camera. It’s going to take me more than one blog post to convey the experience so I’ll start here with what I learned about the Nihangs.
Called the “Warrior Monks” they give up their family life, form groups and travel from village to village with their spiritual and political leader—sort of a priest/mayor. They care for their horses, practice their military skills, demonstrate these skills to the folks in the village and pitch in to help when needed.
For example, if a village is building a temple, they’ll show up ready to work. Their arrival in a village is cause for celebration.
The Nihang way of life has changed little since the formation of the sect over three hundred years ago when the Sikh way of life was under attack by the Moguls. I wondered if they knew about the Internet, Gluten free diets or that crazy man with his finger close to the nuclear button in North Korea.
They practice and defend the Sikh religion which I have already written about and will do more. Here are links to two blogs about the Sikhs.
The Nihangs typically wear electric blue loose apparel called a chola. But we saw Nihangs in yellow, saffron and gray.
I was fascinated with the ample peaked turbans, wrapped high and decoratively. They are often adorned with Khanda, the symbol of Sikhism and and rosaries, all made of steel. The combination of the dashing blue with the glint of the steel and iron decoration and a huge sword and you have super hero look.
They are always armed with swords, daggers and spears. I read where they also carry rifles, shotguns and pistols but I didn’t see that.
I was interested to learn that women can be Nihang. The Sikhs are known for gender equality.
The word Nihang can be traced to the Persian language meaning alligator or to Sanskrit niskhanka meaning fearless or carefree.
Whatever the origin, my research revealed that the word Nihang now signifies a group with freedom from fear of danger or death, a readiness for action and non-attachment to worldly possession.
I’ve seen them referred to as the Boy Scouts of the Sikhs. They exist to spread love and to preserve peace. Some of the photos show the Nihangs splattered with the paint from the Holi Festival. The Hola Mohalla comes right after Holi. Apparently the festivities overlap.
Come back to DesignDestinations.org next week for more about the Hola Mohalla Festival.