Nihangs or Nihang Singhs, are originally known as Akalis or Akali Nihangs. They are designated the Guru’s knights or the Guru’s beloved, and their origin is associated with the founding of the ‘Khalsa Panth’ by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh.
They constitute a distinctive order among Sikhs and are readily recognised by their dark blue loose apparel and their ample, peaked turbans festooned with quoits, insignia of the Khalsa and rosaries, all made of steel. They are always armed and are usually seen mounted heavily laden with weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, rifles, shotguns and pistols.
According to professor Sarabjinder Singh, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Religious Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, the term ‘Nihang’ signifies the characteristic qualities of the clan — their freedom from fear of danger or death, readiness for action and non-attachment to worldly possessions.
Nihang today are accorded great respect and affection by sections of the Sikh community, but they have separate beliefs and certain practices. While the order is primarily ceremonial, they are duty-bound to defend their people and faith in times of war. Nihang gather in their thousands at Anandpur, in the state of Punjab, India. Located near the Sutlej River, the city is one of the most sacred places in Sikhism, where they display their martial skills.