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Nihangs–Warrior Monks of the Sikh religion

Nihang at the Hola Mohalla Festival
Nihang at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.”

Nihangs at the Hola Mohalla Festival
Nihangs at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.

1. Celebrating Holi in Vrindavan 

2. A Holi Moment in India

3. Celebrating New Beginnings Colorfully in India at Holi Festival 

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival

Hola Mohalla

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warriors at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.

Visiting the Golden Temple in Armritsar, India 

A Special Moment in India 

Nihangs

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival

I was interested to learn that women can be Nihang. The Sikhs are known for gender equality.

Female Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Female Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mohalla Festival

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.

Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warrior at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warriors at the Hola Mahalla Festival
Nihang Warriors at the Hola Mohalla Festival

Come back to DesignDestinations.org next week for more about the Hola Mohalla Festival.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

3 Comments
  1. posted by
    Margaret Idema
    Jul 26, 2017 Reply

    Susan, you are a wonderful photographer and ‘sometimes historian’. Love knowing about the Nihangs and all the festivals in India about which you’ve been blogging. You are helping me to put India closer to the top of my wish list of places to revisit…much has changed since my travels there over 30 years ago.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Jul 26, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Margaret, for your lovely comment. I’m so glad you enjoy my blog posts. I do enjoy doing them. I “relive” the experience in a way as I edit photos and do some research on unanswered questions. I love that.

      Only response I’d make to your comment that “much has changed since my travels there over 30 years” is that I suspect that is true in the big cities, but in remote areas like the ones we visited on the Photography Tour, nothing has changed except that we saw lots of cell phones.

  2. posted by
    Hola Mohalla-a Sikh Military Festival | DesignDestinations
    Jul 31, 2017 Reply

    […] their military prowess. Last week’s blog was about this revered Sikh sect, often called the Warrior Monks. They proudly showed off their fencing and martial arts and paraded through town on horses and […]

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