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The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History
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Shromani Gurdwara Parbandak Committee (S.G.P.C.) cont'd

As can be concluded, it was no coincidence that like their forefathers before them, the Tat Khalsa Singh Sabhias, the Gurdwara reformers did not choose the term ‘Akali’ by chance. Prem Singh Hoti, a writer of the early 20th century claims to take the credit of reviving the glory of the ‘Akali’ name within Sikhism. In 1914, a text by Prem Singh Hoti was published based on the legendary 6th Jathedar of Budha Dal, Akali Nihang Baba Phoola Singh Ji.

96 Crore Singh Sahib Jathedar Akali Nihang Baba Phoola Singh

Portrait of the 6th 'Jathedar' of the Akali Nihang Singh
Khalsa and Akal Takht by Imam Bakhsh Lahori, circa 1827-1842

This text was written in consultation with the 10th Jathedar of the Budha Dal, Akali Nihang Baba Teja Singh. Prem Singh lamented on the state of the Akali Nihangs of his time, yet he extolled the true Akalis as the custodians and guardians of Sikhism. What is clear from Prem Singh’s work is that he clearly understood the traditional position and role of the Akali Nihangs within Sikhism – a role he personally felt was not being fulfilled by the Akali Nihangs of his time. At the end of his text, he reprimands and pleads with the Akali Nihangs:

‘You beloved ones who call yourselves the ‘Immortals’, and ‘Martyrs’, of Guru’s nation. You are a greatly beloved and respected part of the Sikh nation. No No, you are Guru Gobind Singh’s desireless gardeners, the fence, guardians, you are the life force and strength of the Sikh nation. Your name is ‘Akali’ you not fearing life or death in service of Sikh nation in state of salvation being immortal traveled as great warriors. In service you waste not time or hesitate. For you there is no special time [evening, morning or night], you are at all times at every place of every type of service are lovers of the Immortal God the Akalis. Your name is Akali in the life of the Sikh nation you are dead to the material world and in doing difficult service in life are, ‘Nihang’ (those without desire), without ego your name is, ‘Shahid’ (martyrs), you are living martyrs, you don’t become martyrs at a given time, in fact from the day you put on the Akali dress, from that day you are waiting for the opportunity to stake your body and head and play this game. Yes oh beloved brothers look how your ancestors fully lived their faith how they fearlessly and selflessly up held their traditions, to protect the Sikh temples and religions honour they were always ready. By drinking cannabis out of need of addiction dose not make you, ‘Nihang’, by just wearing dark clothes, chakars, Tora, weapons you don’t become Akalis and by accepting offerings for cauldron of martyrs you will not attain martyrdom, instead all this do the opposite, until you do not desire the difficult task of service, desire to protect the faith, without respect, religious fervour, high pure and unattached spiritual life and love for your brothers dose not gush out of your heart. You use to give strength to the poor, people of poor character you punished and warned the Sikh nation and Sikh leaders fearlessly about their enemies. Your past [your ancestors], were without threat were respected great warriors. Your life was a train track for other Sikhs to follow your deeds were example for the congregation. Even leaders fearing your holy fair censor use to desist from bad ways and evil ways all always remaining alert from them, but oh beloved Shahid brothers at present your state is a insult to your past. Even if this truth is bitter to you but I am certain that the true Akalis who have pride in their hearts for the Sikh nation appreciating the benefit of the Sikh nation will with respect read this. To stay intoxicated day and night in cannabis and to make the holy precincts of temples the dens of cannabis is a obstacle in the life of a Akali. By wearing tall Dmalas and Chakars, Toras and going around begging from shop to shop is not befitting you, your lives have turned such a downward way that people of other faiths make fun of your patriotic form at Holi and Dusehra making jokes but you not having pride in your faith do not colour your life with the colour of the past. If the Sikh nation today is fast asleep, then it’s blame is on your head, if in the Sikh nation the proper conduct is vanishing, then the responsibility for it is on your necks, if in the Sikh nation and temples today bad ways are increasing then you are responsible for this but how can you punish others when you your selves are punishable? Forsaking cannabis intoxicate your mind in the eternal intoxication of Gods name and from Gurdwaras removing the cannabis grinding clubs and mortars be alert. Va-eh Gurus name, scripture, holy music let flow it’s unending flood and walk on the true path of Sikhism, spirit of friendship, spirit of the soul, preach true Sikhism or else Guru Gobind Singh will surely turn away from you. If by reading this plea of mine the Sikh nation revives the holiness of the Akali name then I will consider my minor service successful and worth while.’
‘Akali Phoola Singh’, by Prem Singh Hoti, 1914, Pa.117-119

Akali Nihang Singh Khalsa
Watercolour of Akali Nihangs dressed in full 'Baana' (uniform), circa early 19th century

Prem Singh Hoti was successful in reviving the ‘Akali’ name within Sikhism. In a footnote within his 4th Edition of ‘Akali Phoola Singh’, published in 1926, he wrote with regards to his plea in his 1st Edition:

‘This plea in 1914 when this book was first published, was made to the Sikh nation when no one even had an inkling of the Akali movement in mind, in fact ‘Akali’ name was spoken of in hatred. I am glad this plea was accepted by the Sikh nation and became the instrument of revival.’
‘Akali Phoola Singh’, by Prem Singh Hoti, 1914, Pa.117
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