Its dictionary meaning is, a worshipper of Akal i.e. the Timeless God. Originally, the Akalis were the death-squads of the Sikhs, who spearheaded the task of toppling down the ‘Mughals and Pathans’ political hegemony in the North West of India, according to the programme given to Banda Singh Bahadur by Guru Gobind Singh in the year 1708 A. D. Ever Since, these Akalis have been in the vanguard of the Sikh struggle against tyranny and foreign rule and during the Sikh Raj in the Punjab, the Akalis were the custodians of the Seat of Spiritual Sikh Authority, the Akal Takht at Amritsar. These Akalis, the most famous of whom was General Phula Singh, rendered most conspicuous service in establishing Sikh Power up to the Khyber Pass, but they never recognised the political jurisdiction of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the King and always upheld the banner of the supremacy of the mystic Sikh Panth, in all matters, spiritual or political. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was diplomatic enough, not to challenge this legitimate claim of the Akalis, and on one occasion submissively accepted corporal punishment awarded to him at the Akal Takht, Amritsar for a sex- scandal involving breach of the discipline of the Khalsa.
In the year 1922 and afterwards, those who came forward to organize themselves into bands of volunteers to rescue the Sikhs’ Holy shrines from the management of the hereditary priests, who were backed by the British Government, labeled themselves as Akalis and when these well-endowed historical holy shrines passed under the statutory management of elected Sikh representatives, these Akalis captured the management bodies and ever since have maintained their position as the managers of the Sikh Gurdwaras as well as the true spokesmen of Sikh political ideas and aspirations. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee holds sway over the important Sikh Gurdwaras, while the Shiromani Akali Dal which is merely another side of the medal reigns supreme as the political spokesman of the Sikhs.
In current political parlance an Akali is one who holds the view that the management of the Sikh religious institutions must remain outside the control and influence of the Government in power whether in Punjab or at Delhi and who demands that in the North of India there should be a region where the Sikh voice is accorded a special political importance and who further acclaim that politics must not be wholly divorced from the postulates of religion.
Whatever the external dissensions and the fratricidal conflicts amongst these Akali organizations, these three aims and objectives remain as unchanging foundations of the Akali politics and mode of thought.
More appropriately, Guru Granth Sahib, that is the Book of the Gurus, or the sacred Book which has the status of the last and final Sikh Prophet. It is the Sikh scripture containing hymns and revelations of the Sikh Gurus and some others who preceded the Sikh Gurus or were contemporary with them, prefiguring the glad tidings of the Spirit which manifested itself in the form of the Sikh religion. After the passing away of the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the status of the successor in the line of the Sikh prophets was conferred on this Sikh Scripture which now invariably occupies the central place of prominence in all places of Sikh worship
Literally, ‘the keeper and the reader of the Sikh scripture.1 In every Sikh Gurdwara there is a granthi nominated or accepted as such by the local Sikh congrega-tion. His duty is to keep and manage the Gurdwara and to run its religious services, but he is not an ordained priest vested with the exclusive competence of performing or controlling Sikh worship in a Gurdwara. There is no priesthood recognised in Sikhism and the granthi is thus merely a functionary of the Sikh congregation enjoying no special rights or status.
Panth, literally means, The way, the good way of life. In the famous, sub-chapter of Mahabharat, called, Yaksaprasna the question is posed and answered as to what does the term, Panth mean. The answer supplied is, “The Panth is the path which all good men in the past have invariably trodden.”, mahajana yena gatah sah panthah. In the current religious terminology, the word Panth stands for the Sikh religion as well as the invisible mystic body of those who profess it and who thus represent the Will of God on Earth. It is to this Panth that all true Sikhs owe their allegiance and it is in the name of this Panth that a true Sikh is expected to sacrifice his all on this earth. It is in the name of this Panth that the Sikh political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal fights its elections and runs other political campaigns.
This political concept of the Panth sharply distinguishes it from the current political convictions that hold that economic activity and considerations are the sole concern and aim of politics. The concept of Panth joins issues with the contemporary political mode of thinking and asserts that the true concern of politics is the ethical and spiritual evolution and life of man in an organized society.
Nihang, literally, is an alligator, who is all supreme in the waters, just as the lion is the supreme king amongst the fauna of the forest. Nihang, in Sikh terminology, is a synonym for an Akali, just equivalent to a staunch Sikh. The Nihangs trace their origin from a son of Guru Gobind Singh whom Guru Gobind Singh robed with a blue battle-dress with his own hands and a Nihang is, therefore, invariably in blue clothes.
These Nihangs, and Akalis were identical till the middle of the 19th century when the Sikh political supremacy was extinguished in the Punjab and ever since two bands of Nihangs have continued to exist under license from the Government of the day with the right to roam about in military formations, in free possession of their customary steel weapons of the 19th century, including the right to possess and retain a few old cannons, which are more symbolic than battle-worthy. These Nihangs have their headquarters at Damdama Sahib, a holy Sikh shrine in the Bhatinda District of the present Punjab and they claim that they are keeping themselves alert and ready for the day when the Khalsa will regain its political power and glory.
During the last 25 years, in a free India an irate bureaucracy have proceeded to annihilate small bands of Nihangs by mowing them down with rifle and machine gun, at the slightest pretexts, presumably to communicate unmistakably to the Sikhs, the omnipotent character of the new power in a free India.
Literally, ‘the congregation of the good people’. In Sikh parlance it means the Sikh congregation composed of such Sikh believers who are known to be poised and steadfast in the Panth. The founder of the Sikh religion had declared the Sadh Sangat and the Sikh Testament as the only twin ‘miracles’ vouchsafed to the Sikh religion by God for revitalizing and transforming the human society and ever since the Sadh Sangat or the congregation of those well-established in the Sikh faith has been treated with a great deal of reverence and invested with much power in relation to matters concerning the Sikhs and their religion.
Sant is the synonym for, ‘the saint’. A saint or sant is a holy man clothed with the power of the numenon. The term sant occurs frequently in the ancient Pali literature of Bud-dhism from where it seems to have been resuscitated during the middle ages in India when the Bhakti Movement took birth. Through the Bhakti Movement, this term has come to be incorporated in the Sikh sacred literature. In the Guru Granth there is frequent mention of the status and significance of a sant, a holy man, who represents the salt of the earth and the hope of mankind. Out of this background has sprung a class of pseudo-sants amongst the Sikhs in recent years that claim holiness in the terms of the Fundamental teachings of Sikhism and thus have acquired much influence in the countryside where Sikh masses predominate.
These Sant are mostly illiterate or uneducated, according to the ancient prejudice that holiness accords ill with worldly learning and scholastic education. As a consequence, this class of the sants amongst the Sikhs is more conspicuous for fraud and chicanery rather than piety and capacity to guide individuals and direct the society towards ethical goals.
Sanskrit, jnani, a term which goes back to the ancient upanishadas and the Bhagwad Glta, where it stands for, a man of gnosis, one who has achieved the supreme realization. He is thus spoken of as ‘one with God1 and it is this term which has been inducted into the Sikh Scripture and the Sikh usage. It stands, originally, for a Sikh who has achieved a mastery over the understanding of the Sikh doctrines and has practiced these doctrines in his life to achieve complete realization of their inner truths. One who can expound the Sikh scripture properly is also referred to as a giani. During the recent years the term has been considerably devalued, both literally as well as on the political level. The Universities in the Punjab confer the academic Degree of Gyani on any person who passes through a cheap examination in Punjabi Language and literature, not necessarily the Sikh scripture, and in the post-Independence era, a Sikh is contemptuously referred to as a giani by the non-Sikhs with the twin object of denigrating him, as well as avoiding the formal courtesy of addressing him as a Sardar–the courtesy-title reminiscent of a period when the Sikhs were the rulers in this part of India.
Literally, jathedar means, ‘a captain’. In Sikh parlance it means a Chief of a band of Sikh volunteers who have enrolled themselves into a unit for whole time service in the cause of the Panth, or Sikh objectives. This term gained fresh prominence during the Akali movement for gaining control of the Sikh gurdwaras during the twenties of this century when a large number of Sikh bands organized themselves to wrest the control of the Sikh holy shrines from the hereditary priestly classes.
Now, a jathedar remains a local political boss in Sikh politics owing his allegiance to the Shiromani Akali Dal which might be one or more than one organisation, each claiming itself as the true and genuine spokesman for the Sikh causes.
During the third quarter of the 19th century, the Sikhs ultimately came to the bitter conclusion that they cannot oust the British Power from their homeland, the Punjab, since neither the Hindus nor the Muslims would join them in doing so and the Sikhs, therefore, turned their face towards the roots of their religious faith. It was in this background that they invited a Hindu demagogue from Maharashtra, Swami Daya Nand, to preach against idolatry amongst Hindus. Swami Daya Nand, who had failed to strike roots in any other part of India readily accepted this invitation and he was warmly welcomed and aided by the Sikhs to establish Arya Samaj societies in the Punjab with the object of purifying Hindu society of idolatry and other superstitions so that it may regain its pristine spiritual vigor and thus become a natural and ultimate ally of Sikhism. As it happened, however, the Arya Samaj Organisation and Swami Daya Nand, both passed into the hands of an element of Punjabi Hindus whose primary motivation was the hatred and opposition to Sikhism and not reversion to the original roots of Hinduism. In this manner the Arya Samaj movement became primarily a virulently anti-Sikh movement obliging its Sikh founders and office holders to quit it. Thus a positive Sikh religious reform movement came into existence, called the Singh Sabha Movement. The originators and founders of Singh Sabha movement were precisely those Sikhs who had invited Swami Daya Nand to Punjab and who had fostered the Arya Samaj Societies to begin with. In the year 1873, the First Central Singh Sabha organisation was – established at Amritsar under the chairmanship of Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhawalia, with Giani Gian Singh, the famous Sikh scholar as its secretary. In the year 1879, a rival Singh Saba Central Organisation was established at Lahore with Professor Gurmukh Singh of the Oriental College as its secretary and in the year 1880 both these central organisations merged into one. The clarion call of the Singh Sabha Movement was, ‘back to the original purity of Sikhism’ and to achieve this objective, a large number of social and religious reforms were affected. The Singh Sabha Movement remained vigorous for about half a century when under the impact of political upheaval in the rest of the country, the Sikh ethos were transformed into political yearnings. This change in Sikh attitude became reflected in the Akali Movement with the twin object of purifying Sikh practices and of ousting the foreign political power from India Currently, an influential committee has been set up by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to celebrate the Centenary of the Singh Sabha Movement as well as to revive the pristine purity of Sikh practices.
Morcha literally means, a battlefront, and in the current parlance of political struggle, particularly amongst the Sikhs, an issue of confrontation with the Government. Whenever the Sikh people are persuaded that the Government of the day is acting in a manner which is basically hostile to the fundamental Sikh interests, they create or seek for a situation in which the Government has to enforce its statutory laws by penalizing the Sikhs. Thus, a situation develops in which bands of Sikhs come forth to undergo penalties of the law with a view to assert the supremacy of their own meta legal fundamental interests. Such a confrontation is given the name of a morcha.
The term has now traveled even into the non-Sikh circles where similar situations are named as morchas by the parties contending against the Government of the day on a particular issue.
It is a Persian word which means the elite, or one belonging to the ruling race. The Pathans and Mughals who had become the ruling races in India for several hundred years were referred to as Sardars, when by the dose of the 17th century, the Tenth Sikh Guru founded the Order of the Khalsa and one each member of this Order, he conferred the title of Sardar. During the 18th century, the Sikhs succeeded in wresting the political power from the hands of the Pathans and Mughals in the entire region of the North Western India and thus became de facto Sardars also in addition to de jure Sardars. Ever since, a Sikh has been addressed as a Sardar by way of courtesy during the British period by the Government authorities as well as by his own non-Sikh compatriots and neighbours. After India became free in 1947, a set policy has been adopted to discourage the use of this courtesy title in relation to a Sikh and a Sikh is now invariably referred to as a Shri in official phraseology and as a giani, when not something worse, by his neighbours and co-citizens of a free India.
It is one and primary seat of Sikh Authority out of all Takhts or thrones situated in various parts of India. Akal Takht is situated in front of the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar and it was established by the 6th Guru, Hargobind (1595-1644) in the year 1609 A. D. when the Sikh religion made a formal bid to proclaim its basic commitment to politics and social problems. The other three Takhts are situated at Anandpur Sahib in the Siwalik foothills of Himalayas, at Patna Sahib in Eastern India and at Nanded in Southern India. The building of Akal Takht Comprises of a high throne of an altitude three times as high as was permitted to any authority by the Mughal sovereigns of India and it is higher than the Mughal Throne balcony in the Red Fort at Delhi. Thus, Guru Hargobind, by establishing the Akal Takht and building this high throne openly repudiated the Mughal sovereignty over India and proclaimed the Sikh claim to a co-equal sovereign status. During the 18th and 19th and even 20th centuries the Sikh people have occasionally assembled at the Akal Takht to make national political decisions through consensus which have been deemed as binding on every Sikh. Many of these decisions have been of the nature of an open revolt against the established political authority in the country. The Akal Takht and the other seats of Sikh Authority, are in theory, managed and controlled by a Jathedar or Controller General and during the Sikh Raj even Maharaja Ranjit Singh was obliged to submit himself to its decisions.
Literally, mahant means, the headman, and in Hindu usage a mahant means the manager of a well-established temple. Amongst the Sikhs, a mahant stands or stood for the manager of a Sikh gurdwara since most of the historical Sikh shrines had remained under the management of such Sikh recluses who did not observe the outward symbols of Sikhism and thus remained safe from the Mughal Persecution. With the destruction of the Sikh power in Punjab in the middle of the 19th century, these mahants became arbitrarily powerful as they came to be protected by the civil laws of a non-Sikh power, the British, in their possession as the hereditary controllers of the properties of the Sikh historical shrines. Gradually they lapsed into many Hindu and non-Sikh practices and adopted even anti-Sikh postures, backed as they were by the British bureaucracy. One such mahant was Narain Dass, who in the year 1921 massacred about 150 Sikh pilgrims within the precincts of the Sikh shrine commemorating the birthplace of the founder of Sikhism, Nankana Sahib, and this tragedy triggered off the Sikh upsurge, called the Akali movement which openly defied the mahants of the affluent Sikh shrines as well as the British bureaucracy backing them. After a struggle of about half a dozen years, the Sikhs succeeded in wresting the control of most of these shrines from the hands of these mahants and a statutory management committee called, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee was set up to control these shrines.
As has been explained with reference to the term Singh Sabha many central organisations were set up for the purpose of reviving the pristine purity of the Sikh faith and practices and in the year 1883 when these central organisations had merged into one organisation, the Singh Sabha of Amritsar adopted the name of the Khalsa Diwan for itself. Baba Sir Khem Singh Bedi was the first President of this Khalsa Diwan and Bhai Gurmukh Singh was its Secretary. A few years later, grave differences arose amongst the members of the Khalsa Diwan as to the attitude to be adopted in the appraisal of the original forms of Hinduism, called Sanatan Dharma, but in its primary objective the Khalsa Diwan stuck to the original objective of the Singh Sabha Movement. This Khalsa Diwan ultimately became transformed into the Chief Khalsa Diwan which till a few years ago remained as the Central Organisation of the Sikh feudal chiefs.