Dalpanth - Battalions of the Khalsa
This section will provide information on some of the main Nihang Dal (battalions) which thrive in the present era.
‘The Nihangs are today divided into several groups or Dals each with its own cantonment and a headman, but are loosely organised into two Dals – Budha Dal and Tarna Dal, names initially given to the two sections into which the Khalsa army was divided into 1733 CE.’ (Surjit Singh Gandhi, History of the Sikh Guru’s Retold, page 1003)
Giani Gian Singh writes that after the death of Deevan Darbara Singh (second Jathedar of the Khalsa) Nawab Kapoor Singh decided to divide the Singhs, who all resided in Amritsar, into two groups around 1734. The younger Singhs set up base around Bibeksar Gurdwara and their group became known as Tarna Dal while the elder Singhs came to be known as Budha Dal. Not even a year had passed when the elder Singhs of the Budha Dal (possessing all decision making authority) decided Tarna Dal should be split into five sub groups or misls each of whom had various senior Singhs amongst their ranks. (Tvarikh Guru Khalsa, Part 2, Page 119-120)
In subsequent years the Tarna Dal further split into a dozen or so battalions each of which was grouped around a key Sikh figure. Of the various groups within Tarna Dal it was the Shaheedi Misl led by Baba Deep Singh Ji which consisted of the most militant Nihang Singh warriors. As the name suggest the Shaheedi Misl would engage in the front lines conflict forever ready to give shaheedi, martyrdom. In honour of the Shaheedi Misl, various factions of the Tarna Dal today adopt “Shaheedi Misl” as part of its name. Many of the original Misls settled once they had taken over various territories and slowly adopted a family orientated religious path as opposed to the militaristic orientation of those who held steadfast the ideals and traditions of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s army.
‘Budha Dal and Tarna Dal have until this day preserved their ancient lineage and traditions which Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj blessed the Khalsa in the form of the Panj Pyarai (five primal members of the Khalsa). The blue Bana and the Bani of the Guru, their old heritage they have maintained well.’ (Sant Lal Singh Nihang, Akaal Purakh Ki Fauj, Page 24)
The Budha Dal was supreme in terms of authority in exercising decision making within the Khalsa. It was also responsible for managing the affairs of Sikh shrines, the Khalsa treasury and political matters. Therefore, the leader of Budha Dal was traditionally considered the head of the entire Sikh community, par with the role Baba Binod Singh was bestowed by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji as the supreme commander of the Khalsa Panth. We see this pattern continuing into the 1800s with the unchallenged authority of Akali Phula Singh and his Nihang warriors. Even in the twentieth Century Baba Teja Singh and Baba Sahib Singh Kaladhari, both Jathedars of Budha Dal, served with their band of warriors at the Akaal Takht from where Sikh leadership has traditionally been exercised. The Nihang Singhs and other Sikh groups who prescribe to more traditional tenants of the Sikh faith still recognise the supreme authority of Budha Dal and its leader. At major festival it is custom for the of Budha Dal to lead the procession of the Khalsa. The leaders of various battalions accompanied by their respective battle standards then traditionally congregate around the leader of Budha Dal recognising his position of Commander in Chief of the Khalsa.
For the formation of any new Dal prior consent is sought from the Budha Dal Jathedar. Upon his acceptance, nishan (battle standards) and nagaray (battle drums) are presented. Each Dal consists of stationary and mobile warrior Nihang Singhs. Those Nihang Singhs who are stationary serve in a Chounni, or cantonment, which sorrounds a Gurdwara Sahib. The group of mobile Singh are called Dalpanth and remain chakarvartee (always on the move) – spending their days on horseback and nights under the naked sky they travel the land spreading the message of the Sikh Gurus across the country celebrating all major festivals.
Within each Dalpanth various posts of responsibility are given. The various posts which need to be filled include, but are not limited to:
Jathedar – supreme leader of the battalion who often stays stationary.
Mit Jathedar – second in charge, often leads the dalpanth.
Mukhtiare-aam – can be thought of like Prime Minister (serves only the Budha Dal)
Likhari – scribe
Khajanchi – treasurer
Head Granthi – responsible for the readers of scriptures who are referred to as a pathi.
Raagi – musicians who perform Asa Di Var on mornings and Sodar Chounkee in evening
Kathavachik – gives discourse on religious sermons from the scriptures
Nagarchi – beats the battle drum
Nishanchi – flag bearers
Garvaee – personal assistant to a senior or elderly Nihang Singh.
Chatkaee – responsible for chatka
Darji – responsible for making clothes
Langeri – in charge of the kitchen
Raghraee – prepares Sukhnidhan at least twice a day – usually 12 am and 12pm
Dhoppea – Twice a day they the light incense and take it round the entire encampment
Often, each position is taken by a permanent member with assigned deputes or replacements in the event of death or injury. Despite the growth in number which they have experienced in recent years, largely the same practises are followed across all Nihang Singh battalions. Nihang Singhs remain optimistic that the prayer written by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji shall be fulfilled and the Khalsa armies will carry on growing. This passage written by the Tenth Guru has been recited by Nihang Singhs for centuries:
‘Nine lakh of war horses we wish to receive, and a lakh small war drums. Sava Lakh elephants we wish to receive, please bless us with these, this is our desire. Always ride in front of us, and bless us with a lakh of nishan sahibs. May Vahiguru always be with the Khalsa, defeating all of the enemies. This desire, from Guru Gobind Singh is for my sevaks, and we recite your praises The Khalsa's victory will be Vahigurus victory, and they will attain Udey Ast Lauh Raaj (empire that throughout the whole world and even to the sky.’ (Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth, Part 2, page 837)