Sikh Reform Movements

Important Sikh Movements of 19th century are discussed briefly below.

The Nirankari Movement

This movement, initially an offshoot of Sikhism, was founded in the 1840s by Baba Dayal Das (1783-1885), who emphasized the worship of God as nirankar (formless God). His approach meant a rejection of idols, rituals associated with idolatry and the Brahman priests who conducted these rituals. Dayal Das’s disciples were to worship the formless God, obey the shabad (preaching) of the Guru, serve their parents, avoid bad habits and earn their livelihood through work. Eating meat, drinking liquor, lying, cheating, etc., were forbidden. The Nirankari movement stressed proper religious practice and issued hukmnamas (injunctions) to define its ideology and precepts. The Nirankaris set up a chain of worship centres staffed by their own priests and thus became a permanent subsect of the Sikh religion.

The Namdhari Movement

The Namdhari movement of the Sikhs was an offshoot of the Kuka movement in Punjab, founded by Balak Singh. Balak Singh’s followers saw in him a reincarnation of Guru Govind Singh.

The Singh Sabha

The Namdhari unrest, the activities of the Sanatan Dharmis, the Arya Samajists and Christian conversions had shaken the foundations of the Sikh religion. To strengthen Sikhism, a small group of prominent Sikhs, led by Thakur Singh Sandhawalia and Giani Gian Singh, founded the Singh Sabha of Amritsar on October 1, 1873. The objectives of the Sabha were to restore Sikhism to its pristine purity, to publish historical religious books and periodicals, to propagate, knowledge using Punjabi, to return Sikh apostates to their faith and to involve Englishmen in the educational programme of the Sikhs.

Gurdwara Reform Movements

Before 1920 the Sikh Gurdwaras were governed by the Udasi Sikh mahants, who treated the gurdwara offerings and other income of the gurdwaras as their personal income. The British Government supported these mahants as a counterpoise to the rising tide of nationalism among the Sikhs. Matters came to such a pass that the priests of the Golden Temple issued a hukamnama (injunction) against the Ghadarites, declaring them renegades, and then honoured General Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwala massacre, with a saropa.

The Gurdwara Reform Movement launched an agitation for freeing the gurdwaras from these corrupt mahants and for handing over the gurdwaras to a representative body of Sikhs. Under the growing pressure of the nationalists and the gurdwara agitators, the gurdwaras came under the control of an elected committee known as the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, in November 1920. The movement for the liberation of the gurdwaras soon turned into the Akali movement, which later on got divided into three streams, namely moderate nationalist reformers, pro-government loyalists and the political organ of Sikh communalism.