Kuka Movement 1872
There has been a doubtful history about the initial days of Kuka Movement. There are two names associated with the start of this movement i.e. Baba Balak Singh and Bhagat Jawar (or Jawahar) Mal.
Balak Singh was born in village Sarvala, in District Attock, in 1799. He started preaching very early in his life and the objective of his preachings was to uphold the religious purity of Sikhism. Some sources say that Balak Singh himself was a disciple of Bhagat Jawar Mal. Bhagat Jawar Mal was also known as Sian Sahib. The important teaching of Bhagat Jawar mal was that his disciples should live a simple teetotaller life and all other rituals except the chanting the name of God should be discarded, this is how the sect was called “Namdhari”. While reciting Sikh Mantras or repeating the name, the Namdharis often developed emotions, screamed and shouted, took turbans in their hands and hair streaming in the air hence called ‘Kukas’ or the shouters. The word Kuka is derived from the Punjabi expression ‘kook’, meaning a cry. The Namdharis can be easily identified by their white attire and a typical turban.
Baba Ram Singh
Bhagat Jawarmal established his main base at Hazro (now in Pakistan). After Bhagat Jawarmal died, Balak Singh carried is legacy. However, it was not the real starting of the Kuka Movement as we know today. The real founder was Baba Ram Singh, who was born in 1815 as a son of a poor carpenter, in small village of Bhaini, around 7 kilometers away from Ludhiana. In 1840s, he served as a soldier in Sikh Army of Prince Naunihal Singh. He left the army on the overturn of the Sikh rule. In around 1838, he came in touch with Baba Balak Singh, though he remained in touch with Bhagat Jawar mal also.
After he left the army, he started preaching against the bad things developed among the Sikhs. We have been told that he wanted his disciples to follow all what Guru Gobind Singh taught in a puritan way, without any influence of other religions.
Foundations of Namdharis
Some sources say that in 1857, Baba Ram Singh founded the Namdhari sect on the day of Baisakhi, at village Bheni. He established 22 preaching centres in different parts of the country, each of them was under a deputy called Suba. These Subas, at various places such as Gwalior, Bananas, Lucknow, Kabul and Hyderabad, started spreading the teachings of Baba Ram Singh. Thus, we see that the Namdhari sect had started taking a political shape by 1860s. The major centre of this sect was parts of today’s Pakistan’s Punjab & Sindh province. The movement started attracting not only Sikhs but also the Hindus. The number of followers went up in Lakhs, many of them being the government services, in business and in trading.
This was followed by such a growth of pomp and splendour of Baba Ram Singh, that he was now considered by many as a successor of Guru Nanak dev, although Baba Ram Singh is said to have condemned it. His admirers have also produced a “Pothi” which was probably written during the times of Guru Gobind Singh, in which it was written that one Ram Singh would appear, who would become a spiritual leader of the Sikhs and establish his rule in the country. This was later condemned by Baba Ram Singh, when he was in exile in Rangoon.
Beliefs and Faiths
The Beliefs and Faiths of the Kuka Sect
- The sect believes that Adi Granthis the only true holy book of their religion.
- Gobind Singh is the only Guru.
- Any person, irrespective of caste or religion, can be admitted as a Namdhari convert.
- Sodhis, Bedis, Mahants, Brahmins and such like are impostors, as none are Gurus except Gobind Singh. It’s worth note that among Sikhs the Sodhis and Bedis had started getting worshipped during those times.
- Devidwaras, Shivdwaras and Mandirs are a means of extortion, to be held in contempt and never visited.
- Idols and idol-worship are insulting to God, and will not be forgiven. The Namdharis were iconoclasts.
- Converts are allowed to read Gobind Singh’s Grantha and no other book.
- Pure vegetarianism. It was against killing of cattle and kine.
- No caste system
- Namdharis are not allowed to drink tap water; water must be drawn from the lake or captured from rain and from well.
- Only white cloths, no any other color allowed.
From the above, we can easily make out that the origin of the Kuka Movement had its roots in religious purification of the Sikhism. In their social beliefs, the Kukas were against child-marriage. They condemned infanticide and dowry system. The Namdharis in fact were religiously denied the right to spend more than Rs. 13 on a marriage. The Kukas gave strictly equal status to women and believed inner-caste marriage between caste Hindus and untouchables. The first such inter-casts marriage was performed among the Kukas on January 4, 1863.
The Non-cooperation / Civil Disobedience by Kukas
Baba Ram Singh considered political freedom a part of religion. The organisation of the Namdharis became very strong. The principles of boycott and non-co-operation, which Mahatma Gandhi introduced in our freedom movement, were expounded by Guru Ram Singh for the Namdharis. The Guru’s Non-co-operation Movement was based on a few things such as boycott of education institutions of British and laws established by them. They were rigid in their clothing and wore only hand-spun white attire. A large number of Kuka followers were in the police as well as army, though they did not reveal their identity. It’s worth note that a special Kuka regiment was raised by the Maharaja of Kashmir was disbanded at the intervention of the British.
Baba Ram Singh had spread his spheres of activity in Nepal, Bhutan, Kashmir and several other States. It is also said that he was in touch with the prominent leaders of Mutiny, including Rani of Jhansi. He had also exchanged letters from Russians, whom he expected to march to India and expel the British from here.
The Kuka Movement / Uprising
In 1871 , the Kukas met in conference at the village Khote in Ferozepur. In this conference, the Kukas divided into two parties and despite Ram Singh’s admonitions, who was present there, they began to quarrel among themselves. Some Kukas got out of control and attacked and murdered many butchers and others suspected of kine slaughter. This was followed by killing of the Butchers in many places. The Kuka followers succeeded in enforcing civil disobedience as well as carrying out extreme actions including murder of butchers against cow slaughter. Many experts have opined that the Kuka attack upon religious places, as they were iconoclasts. This hurt the religious sentiments of followers of other faiths. Further, the religious purity, which was the basis of their foundation, was later lost into oblivion.
The Government arrested many Kukas and either hanged them or imprisoned them. There was a serious outbreak in 1872, when some of the Kukas went out of Ram Singh’s control and decided to attack Malerkotla and occupied it. The government took it seriously and many of the Kuka ring-leaders were blown away from the cannon mounts. Despite of the fact the Ram Singh had informed the government that some wrongdoers used his name, the Government concluded that Ram Singh’s real motive and ambition was to reign and acquire dominions, upon a religious pretext. The result was that he was captured and sent into exile in Burma. He died there later.
After Ram Singh, Guru Hari Singh succeeded. Guru Hari Singh who was not allowed to move out of his house in the village Bheni, for 21 years. He died in 1906 and was succeeded by Pratap Singh. During the World War in 1914, the British Government unsuccessfully tried to appease the Kukas by land grants. In 1920, the Kukas started their paper ‘Satyug’, and in 1922, their daily, ‘Kuka’ was started. When the non-cooperation movement was started by Gandhiji, the Kukas joined hands freely. Gandhiji himself is said to have learnt many points from the Kukas, and modified his campaign to revolutionise the social and political structure of India.