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Dispelling myths about early Nirmala history


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(please don't cut and paste this)

I was thinking on a bus journey recently about why the Nihangs despire the Nirmalay so dearly. Maybe it was the dhotis and lack of kach, kirpan and karra (according to Gyani Gyan Singh) in the Nirmal Panchayti Akhara code, but it has become standard for a Nihang to spout, 'creation of the British' when asked about them. Since they clearly were not, how did that view take shape and why?

Looking at Nirmala history, there was a diversity, but with some central points of commonality. Arguably this diversity stretches to its upmost with an increased politicisation. By the mid 1800s, we have Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji using all his influence to bring about an uprising against mleccha raaj, and on the other hand you have Mauj Prakash informing on the mutineers.

So from a Nihang perspective, the Nirmalay in the 1860s sided with the traitors of the panth the Phulkian misldars with the institution of the Nirmal Panchayti Akhara. Obviously, such sadhus would argue that if someone wants to serve the saints with land and money then we must let them, and thereby downplay the politics of this patronisation (I think the Dalai Lama was accused of the same a few years back). But no doubt the reality was that they would then never challenge those who supplied monetary support for their work. Clearly then, considering that the Phulkian states had supported the British for their own preservation, the Nirmalay were the religious equivalent of those traitors...but this raises a big question! If the Nirmalay were traitors for accepting money from those who had acted against the Sikh Raj, what does that make of Buddha Dal's argument for taking Congress money after 1984! hehe.

A similarly inaccurate statement was made by W.H. McLeod in his 'The Sikhs' that due to the lack of land grant records prior to the 19th century, it must be presumed that they only came into existence then.

Both positions are inaccurate however. The most obvious for Nihangs is Lt. John Malcolm's 'Sketch of the Sikhs' (1805-12) which describes the 'Nirmalas' in contrast to the Akalis by name. Yet more interesting is a fairly recent paper pulling together different sources, Sulakhan Singh (a scholar who has little sympathy for samprdaas, terming them 'heterodox') sets out the historical evidence on Nirmalay dharmarths or land grants. Until recently it has been assumed that the Nirmalay recieved just as much financial support as the Udasis (who enjoyed a lot more during the 19th century). However, evidence shows they were getting a lot less. Why?

Because as Sulakhan Singh points out, many early Nirmalay are recorded to have refused these offers from Misldars. Names like Lakha Singh Nirmala, Pandit Bhagat Singh Nirmala, Thakur Dyal Singh Nirmala, Pandit Nihal Singh are just a few of those who rejected them. The first two mentioned are recorded to have been given theirs in the 1750s and 60s. Pandit Nihal Singh in the 1800s is said to have been offered land by Maharaj Ranjit Singh, who ripped up the offer in the Maharaj's face. Thakur Dyal Singh Ji did much the same. Of those who did accept them, one records Bibi Pradhan, the daughter of Baba Ala Singh, donating land to Dera Baba Gandha Singh in Barnala in the 1750s. It is important to recognise that the link with the Phulkian misls and particularly the Maharajs of Patiala started as far back as this. Out of the Baba Langar Singh episode at Dera Baba Gandha Singh, Pandit Nikka Singh, Baba Langar Singh's shish then was chosen by Baba Ala Singh as his child's teacher and a house was built for him in Patiala. My own gurdev currently maintains a similar dera next to Qila Mubarak in Patiala where another Nirmala was housed to teach the Maharaj's chidren once upon a time. Another very early example of dharmarth to Nirmalay is to Dera Baba Dargah Singh in Kankhal, which is recorded to have been donated land by Rai Ahmed in the 1720s after Baba ji's helping out in a small battle.

Later on more Nirmalay did accept land grants, which was to cope with the costs of setting up at the Ardh and Maha Kumbh Melas. Nirmalay started attending regularly and independently towards the end of the 1700s. Later at one Kumbh Mela, it was the whole Nirmala congregation who decided to enable greater prachaar by founding a Panchayti Akhara. It was at this point (and not the other way around) that the Phulkian misaldars approached to provide the financial support.

So clearly a) McLeod hasn't done enough research to make such generalisations - no surprise there, as the same can be said of his comments on the Sevapanthis, and B) the Nirmala Nihang issue was more complicated than it seemed. The Nirmalay had already prior to the Lahore darbar, made important links with Baba Ala Singh. It was therefore only inevitable that the Phulkian misldars/maharajas would have maintained a close link with the Nirmalay. Further, the Nirmalay are shown to be uncomfortable about recieving such offers. This, combined with early post 1708 Sikh history explains why it takes the majority of Nirmalay a good 50 years to finally appear in Punjabi land records.

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  • 4 weeks later...

which nirmala texts have you looked at chatanga?

have you met nirmallay?

if I write up something today, does it mean that it is right?

I suggest something in english...try getting bhavrasamrit tika...or even better, get the sateek of japji sahib by gyani gurbachan singh bhindrawalay....then see what texts he references...

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  • 9 years later...

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