Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Valiant Ones: A journey into the mesmerizing world of the Sikhs.

The Valiant Ones: A journey into the mesmerizing world of the Sikhs.

Authors: Gurbir Singh & Gagandeep Kaur
Publishers: Kesar Media (P) Ltd Chandigarh &Lahore Books, Ludhiana
Pages: 172; Price: UK £60.00.

Reviewed by Gurinder Singh Mann.
www.gsmann.com







The Nihangs, sometimes referred to as the Akali Nihangs, are the most colourful and truly remarkable people of India. These Sikh warriors have overcome tremendous odds to preserve and protect the true traditions of the Khalsa. However, more understanding is needed of their Bana, including their decorated Turbans, their personification of weapons, and their reverence to Sikh scriptures.

A new book by Gurbir Singh and Gagandeep Kaur meets this need by documenting the traditions, customs, and sometimes unusual practices of the Nihangs. Gurbir Singh has spent several years with the Nihangs. As part of the Sava Lakh Foundation he has been instilling the values of the Gurus into the younger generation by tapping into the knowledge of the Nihangs. Gurbir is an expert photographer and his mastery of the lens has been showcased in several exhibitions. The book attempts to show the many facets of the Nihangs and Gurbir’s pictures bring the reader into this exciting and fascinating world.

The book is divided into several sections and it attempts to describe the concepts of the Khalsa through the day to day practices of the Nihangs. These include Bana, Rehat, Guru Ka Langar, and Guru Granth Guru Panth. The book carefully considers the Dumalla or Turban of the Nihangs and why the weapons are adorned within it. The routine of the Ladli Fauj is shown with elaborate pictures of them reading the Sikh scriptures of Guru Granth Sahib, Sri Dasam Granth and Sri Sarabloh Granth.







The Nihangs are sometimes misunderstood and as a result many commentators have dismissed their practices as being archaic or not in tune with the modern world. The book challenges this idea by showing a timeline of the Khalsa with excellent effect starting from Baba Buddha. Why Baba Buddha? Basically, the idea is that the Akali Nihangs are the vanguard developed by Baba Buddha after Guru Arjun Dev’s martyrdom. The Nihangs under Guru Gobind Singh became valiant in battle and throughout the Ghallughara periods showed their resilience and tremendous courage to fend off the invader. The timeline also correctly shows the importance of Akali Phula Singh, in Sikh tradition seen as well.

Two very interesting parts of the book consider the importance of women and the Bujangi (children) of the Nihangs. Whilst the Nihangs may seem like a masculine occupation the women of the Sikhs are given a much needed assessment. The reader is given a good description of the women who have given strength to the Gurus and the Khalsa. As many Nihangs live in cantonments or chhauni, the children of the Nihangs also follow the Nihang traditions. The book captures the essence of the Bujangi, explaining the definition of them as sons and daughters of a Snake. This terminology dates back to the Tenth Guru and the descriptions given to the Khalsa and their progeny by the Mughals.

The essence and teachings of Guru Gobind Singh can be seen in the Nihangs. The important festivals of the Sikhs like Maghi, Holla Mohalla, Baisakhi, Diwali are the ideal time for the Nihangs to show their prowess and vanguard status. The elaborate displays of tent pegging, Shastarvidyia, and horse riding have been beautifully captured in this book. The role of Shastarvidyia is presented as the all encompassing defence mechanism of the Sikhs; the weapons and the fighting spirit can be seen in the eyes of the Nihangs.

Essentially the book explains that the Nihangs are the Khalsa and attempts to distinguish them as a sect are unjustified. Many modern Sikhs can learn from the Nihangs as they hold dear the traditions of the Khalsa. With the advent of the Internet and the Nihang Dals spreading their message beyond the borders of India, they are no longer just subjects of curiosity. The Nihangs are the Ladli Fauj of the Guru and this book captures the contributions of the Valiant Ones.

Whilst some coffee table books are a hit and miss endeavour, if anybody is considering such a purchase this year it should be The Valiant Ones as it meets the readers expectations on many counts.

The book can be purchased from www.fotovala.com

More pictures of Gurbir Singh’s Photography can be seen at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gurbirsinghbrar/

Also visit: www.savalakh.org

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