Nihang Sikhs: The modern-day warriors-pacifists

  • Baba Avtar Singh is known for his impressive turban, which weighs around 200 pounds. He is revered by many and claims his ability to tie his turban by himself is attributed to the strength he receives from his faith.
  • Jathedar Avtar SIngh Nihang, Anandgarh Sahib Fort and Gurdwara in the village of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab province, India.
  • A Nihang warrior in the village of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab province, India.
  • Modi Singh Nihang, at the Harianvela Gurdwara shrine in Punjab, India.
  • Surjit Singh Nihang, at the Harianvela Gurdwara shrine in Punjab, India.
  • A Nihang warrior at the Harianvela Gurdwara shrine in Punjab, India.
  • A Nihang warrior at the Anandgarh Sahib Fort and Gurdwara, in the village of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab province, India.
  • Baba Bilagan Singh, at the Gurdwara Harian Belan shrine in Punjab province, India.
  • A Nihang warrior at the Anandgarh Sahib Fort and Gurudwara in the village of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab province, India.
  • A Nihang warrior at the Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) in the city of Amritsar, Punjab province, India. 
  • A Nihang warrior at Shaheedhi Bhag in the village of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab province, India.
  • A Nihang warrior in the village of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, India.
  • Surjit Singh Nihang at the Gurdwara Harian Belan shrine in Punjab, India.
  • Nihang warriors at the Gurdwara Harian Belan shrine in Punjab, India.
  • Narang Singh Nihang at the Gurdwara Harian Belan shrine in Punjab, India.
  • A Nihang warrior at the Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab province, India.
  • Jethadar of Tarna Dal, Jathedar Baba Nihal Singh. Baba Nihal became a Nihang as a child and is now known as the living Shaheed, or Martyr. In 1964 Tarna Dal went to liberate the Gurdwara Paonta Sahib from corrupt occupants. While reciting religious scriptures (an Akhand Path) the police opened fire on the Gudwara temple and shot him 15 times. In 1984, Baba Nihal was tortured by the police, but did not give up. He remains the Jethadar of Tarna Dal, living in his village Harianvela (Hoshiarpur). He is a inspiration in the Nihang movement.

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Nihang Sikhs are a particular sect of Sikhism. They are essentially one of the last existing traditions of modern-day warriors. The word Nihang literally means crocodile. They describe themselves as the “Akaali,” which means undying or immortal army. They have dedicated their whole lives to defending their faith.

Known for their martial arts, sword-fighting abilities, military expertise and bold blue attire, their traditions have changed very little over the past 300 years.

They were initially established by the later Sikh Guru prophets to defend the defenseless (during this time huge amounts of Hindus were being decimated by the Mogul invaders), and to guard Sikh Gudwara temples.

Today many Nihangs have jobs such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and artists, among other occupations. Many Nihang Sikhs live with very little material wealth and a possession, living spiritual lives, in prayer, training in martial arts and taking care of themselves and helping their communities. Nihangs are saint soldiers – despite being warriors they are a symbol for world peace.

They exist to spread love and preserve peace.

Photographer Mark Hartman traveled to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, northern India, for the annual Hola Mohalla festival celebrating Holi, a tradition set by the tenth Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh in the 17th century. 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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