The Valient Ones
A Review by Gajindar Singh
Authors: Gurbir Singh & Gagandeep Kaur
Publishers: Kesar Media (P) Ltd Chandigarh &Lahore Books, Ludhiana
Pages: 158; Price: US$ 100.00
This plush, attractive coffee-table volume is much more than a collection of exquisite photographs of the Nihangs, the proud tribe of the Sikhs, who have kept the glorious traditions of the Khalsa preserved and alive through a fast changing world where conviction and faith is being rapidly replaced by hesitation, distrust and disbelief, more from lack of the sense of enquiry and purposeful investigation than genuine qualms; the stance is that of negative critique than honest exploration. It is a stupendous effort on the part of the author Gurbir Singh to have studied the matter consistently for over three years by staying in the company of the Nihang Sikhs in their Deras, moving with them at their pace and taking active part in their activities, to experience their ethos, explore the source of their deep devotion, their exuberance in celebrating and enjoying the religious mystique, of being directly in touch with the spirit of the founder-Gurus Nanak-Gobind Singh. The strength of mind as displayed by the Nihangs even after three centuries of the advent of the Khalsa is the true heritage of the Sikh people, where all ifs and buts of the skeptical become irrelevant.
Besides the colourful display of photographs, the details of events as they happened through the historical decades are chronologically mentioned in most illuminating manner. Minute facts have been enumerated in running documentation of occurrences, one after the other, which makes it a unique source book. The irony of rather meager activity in the post-Lahore Durbar period till modern times is too glaring compared to the entries in the 18th till mid-19th Centuries when the Khalsa was at its zenith.
A major contribution in the volume is the vital information on the distinguished women, including the wives of the Gurus, their dates of birth and demise, and the role of the Sikh women in zealously observing the faith and their impetus to Sikhism. It motivates the present generation to keep aflame the same level of loyalty and celebrate the lofty principles of Sikhism. It is apparent from the narration of history that the activism of the Nihangs dwindled after the annexation of the Sikh Raj and their succumbing to caste and gender distinctions in the baptismal procedures weakened their influence in the main-stream Sikhism. However, there is a revival with the growing Nihang contribution to the Sikh education, especially of the women and the youngsters to keep the faith alive.
The volume is a detailed study of the Nihangs, which includes the style of day-to-day living with their families in the modern society. There is also mention of the ‘fake’ Nihangs who consume cannabis on any pretext. But the Nihang Deras clearly understand that they have to move with the times and spruce their thinking, customs and traditions in line with the catholicity of the Sikh faith. It is remarkable that they have sponsored schools, colleges, managed many Gurdwaras with love and devotion and encouraged the wayward youths to return to the Sikh philosophy. They have been guarding the Guru ki Maseet at SriHargobindpur (Punjab) in the absence of local Muslims in the town and they encourage the Muslims from other places to visit and pray there. It is a remarkable evidence of live-and-let-live. Nihangs are an essential and vital part of the main-stream Sikhi and deserve all consideration and respect for their puritan culture. Their life style has been gradually ignored and their welfare neglected by the Sikhs mainly due to misdeeds of a few fake and pseudo Nihangs going round begging alms. This volume fills that gap effectively.
Nihangs have their own liturgy of weapon worship, their euphemism of various terms coined during the difficult period of near extinction of the Sikhs planned and executed by the government of the day, that exhibited their high spirits, chadhdi kla, in utter defiance, which the authors have collected with great effort and gives a glimpse on their attitude of ‘never-say-die.’ The authors have given a pictorial view of their festivals also described in detail. In fact, the volume fulfills the need of a reference book detailing all important dates in the Sikh history.
The volume is printed on art-paper and the photographs are of high quality and very picturesque. The text is relevant and precise, and yet it is exhaustive and detailed. It is worth its price in gold.
It is a collector’s item and its price is reasonable in view of the excellent photographs and the absorbing text. It clears many misconceptions about the Nihang Sikhs and makes one feel being a part of their culture and living. It must be had as a pride possession in all libraries and collections.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All