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The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History
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Time of origin: early 1800s

As the Sanatan Sikh kingdoms established themselves in the late 18th century, in time some Sikhs felt the sway of materialism was undermining Sanatan Sikhism.

One such person was the great non-Khalsa ‘Sehajdhari’ Sikh, Malhotra Khatri Baba Dyal Ji (1783-1855). Budha Dal Akali Nihang oral tradition, as narrated by Sanatan Sikh Shastar Vidiya Gurdev and ‘Raj Ved’ (Ayurveda master) Nihang Baba Ram Singh states that once Dyal Ji came to Akal Takht and heard Akali Phoola Singh shout aloud "Dhan Nirankar Dhan Nirankar" and give discourse on worship of formless God.

96 Crore Jathedar Akali Nihang Baba Phoola Singh

Head of the Akali Nihang Singh Khalsa and Akal Takht, circa mid 19th century

Inspired by these works, Baba Dyal Singh went back home to the Rawalpindi region, and began to expound the spiritual message of ‘Nirankar’ (formless God). Dr Trilochan Singh writes that Baba Dyal Singh was a disciple of the ‘Sehajdhari’ Seva Panthi holy man, Sant Baba Budhu Shah:

Baba Dyal visited Bhera in order to meet Sant Budhu Shah. He came under his spell and received spiritual instructions from him. Bhai Budhu Shah also arranged his marriage with the daughter of Bhai Charan Das, which was performed strictly according to Sikh rites.’
‘The Turban And Sword Of The Sikhs’, Dr Trilochan Singh, Pa. 398

Baba Dyal Singh’s followers were mainly non-Khalsa ‘Sehajdhari Nanak Panthis’ (Sikh Hindus who followed Akali Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings). The message of Baba Dyal Ji was to contemplate ‘Nirankar’, and none other. Baba Dyal Ji, in tune with the teachings of his Seva Panthi Gurdev, Baba Budhu Shah, taught his followers to turn their backs on all superstitions, tombs, Brahmanical ways, Hindu deities, and people setting themselves up as Gurus to appropriate money from the credulous masses.

Baba Dyal Singh
Founder of the Nirankaris

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, upon hearing fame of Baba Dyal Ji, gave the Nirankaris a grant of land, yet there were many in the Sanatan Sikh world, who did not approve of Baba Dyal Ji’s movement. His actions offended many in the Sanatan Sikh world. According to the Ludhiana Mission Report in 1855, Nirankaris abused cows, and did not either burn or bury their dead - an act to distinguish themselves from Hindus and Muslims. Instead, they consigned the dead to rivers. This offended the orthodox Hindus, and they began a court case against the Nirankaris. Another court case was brought against the Nirankaris in the early years of British Raj. This case was due to the Nirankari act of marrying at times considered inauspicious by certain superstitious Sanatan Sikhs and Hindus, and for organizing a ‘Bhojan’ (dinner) on the day of a devotee’s death.

Dinner laid out during the day of a devotee's death, Hardwar, circa early 20th century

This was contrast to the then Sanatan Hindu belief that all food from the deceased house is polluted for thirteen days. Due to Nirankaris constantly mocking and breaking superstitious taboos of the Sanatan Sikh Hindu world, the local Sanatan Sikh temple banned Nirankaris from Sikh temples. This forced the Nirankaris to build their own temple outside Rawalpindi.

Baba Dyal Ji passed way on 30the January 1855. He always advocated to all that one should earn an honest living, and should believe in no other, except ‘Nirankar’. ‘Dhan Nirankar, Dhan Nirankar’ was the ‘Gurmantra’ of Baba Dyal Ji.

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