‘In the time of Satjug in order to humble the Devte (God inclined beings), Akaal Purakh (the Timeless being) created a mighty demon called Brijnath who defeated the Devte and became ruler of the three worlds. Listening to the plea of the Devte, Akaal Purakh came to the earth as Sarbloh Avtar to defeat Brijnath. Sarboh (pure metal) serves as a reminder of this great symbolic event and purifies the mind, body and soul. For this reason its properties and practical application plays an important part of the Khalsa’s traditions .’ (Nihang Sher Singh, Audio Recording June 2009)
An old tradition of the Nihang Singhs is the keeping of Sarbloh Bibek, a strict dietary code which involves eating and drinking only from iron utensils. The Sri Sarbloh Granth is an ancient scripture written by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji which narrates the tale of Sarbloh Avtar, a manifestation of Akaal Purakh (timeless Being) which took the form of Sarbloh (iron). The use of iron utensils within the Nihang Singh community forms an important part of their diet. Sarbloh is symbolic in both its properties and association with Akaal Purakh. All these aspects and the wider understanding of Bibek as applicable to spiritual practise shall be discussed below.
Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth
The Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth is the second main scripture authored by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji and is a primal source of Khalsa tradition, philosophy and practise. The battles between Brijnath and his army of Rakash (demons ) against the devtas who were the Godly inclined beings are described in detail, exemplifying the forever cosmic battle between good and bad or light and darkness. As well as detailing the history of warrior clans who have ruled the world and perished, great praise is levied upon the Khalsa who are stated to posses many qualities of Akaal Purakh. The ideology of a Khalsa warrior, important historical events of the Khalsa, traditions and practises of the Khalsa Panth are noted at various sections within this scripture, particularly the Khalsa Mehima which is commonly recited be Sikhs of all affiliations:
‘Khalsa is my true form. Within the Khalsa, I abide. I am always with the Khalsa. My Khalsa is dear and sincere. My Khalsa is renowned and has fame. Khalsa is my ancestry and my future,. Khalsa brings joy and happiness. Khalsa is my real friend. Khalsa is mother, father and giver of pleasure. Khalsa is my true beauty. Khalsa is an unwavering and close partner. Khalsa is my caste & creed. Because of the Khalsa, I was born. Khalsa is my world treasure. Because of the Khalsa, I have respect. Khalsa is my close family. Khalsa grants me favours. Khalsa is the breath of my life. Honour and glory accompany my Khalsa. Khalsa is my real interest. Khalsa maintains my mission. Khalsa is my body and breath. Khalsa is my dharam and action. Khalsa is my secret ingredient. Khalsa is my body and breath. Khalsa is my dharam and action. Khalsa is my secret ingredient. Khalsa is my complete true Guru. Khalsa is my fearless partner. Khalsa is my wisdom and knowledge. Khalsa is always in my thoughts. Praise to the caste-less Khalsa. They keep to their word. At all times they exercise mental control then they are truly deserving. I have not told you even a little lie. Perfect saint Guru Nanak is my witness, If all my pores could speak, with all, I would sing Khalsa's praise. I have not told you even a little lie. I belong to the Khalsa; the Khalsa belongs to me. In the wild sea, they provide shelter. Khalsa is the army of the Timeless Being and it was created by His Will. So long as the Khalsa remains distinct, I will sacrifice my all for them. When they begin following the ways of other, I will not assist them.’
(Khalsa Mehima, Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth)
One of the greatest services that Jathedar Baba Santa Singh offered the Guru Khalsa Panth was making available the Sri Sarbloh Granth. As well as having steeks (commentaries), Bhag (volumes) and Saroop (complete binding) of Sri Sarbloh Granth printed, Baba Santa Singh spent many years of his life teaching Sri Sarbloh Granth Santhiya (recitation) until the last couple of years of his life. The below picture is of all the students of Baba Santa Singh who received Sri Sarbloh Granth Santhiya, sitting by the sarovar at Sri Damdama Sahib, Guru Ki Kansi:
An image depicting Nihang Singhs who were fortunate to be personally tutored by Jathedar Baba Santa Singh in the recitation of Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth at Guru Ki Kashi Damdama Sahib
Sri Sarbloh Granth Katha by Baba Santa Singh is available here:
“Baba Santa Singh was a great scholar, I remember many years ago listening to their katha once when they came to Raqba and was in amazement. No one in Sangat moved and even the leaves on the trees became still. He did katha from Sri Sarbloh Granth, none of us had ever heard katha of this done before. There are many deep teachings in Sri Sarbloh Granth which are not easily comprehended, let alone explained. The teachings of Sri Sarbloh Granth which Baba Santa Singh gave the Khalsa Panth was his greatest offering as a leader.”
(Baba Bawa Singh Ji, Damdami Taksal (Boparai))
The preservation of Sri Sarbloh Granth has been one of the greatest achievements of the Budha Dal in recent times. A great deal of recognition must go to the great Brahmgiani Baba Mitt Singh Ji who worked all his life in service of the Khalsa Panth. He paid great attention to the preservation of Sikh scriptures; learning them off by heart so that he could have them scribed. Giani Kirpal Singh (Likhari Budha Dal) scribed many pothi sahibs at the instruction of Baba Mitt Singh Ji, including of Sri Sarbloh Granth. Baba Mitt Singhs taught many Hazoori Singhs and Nihang Singhs Santhiya of Sri Sarbloh Granth while at Mata Sahib Devan Gurdwara. His list of students included Sant Giani Gurbachan Ji Khalsa Bindran vale who would go on to lead the Damdami Taksal, spreading the teachings of the Gurus across India.
Sarbloh Bibek is has historically been an important feature of the Nihang Singh lifestyle. In the article on Dharam Yudh in the Philosophy section, Bibek and its brotherly entity Abibek are discussed as mentioned within Dasam Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. These two might warriors also find mention within Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth. Bibek (knowledge) and abibek (ignorance) were brothers whom upon their creation began warring with one another. Bibek lead an army of virtue and his brother commanded an army of vice. The whole of creation is subdued by this never ending universal war which occurs in all realms of both micro and macrocosmic existence and has both internal and external features. The great Jogi Machidra explained to the King Paras Nath that although he had conquered the world, he had himself been overcome by the warrior Abibek, who had been the downfall of many great warrior, sages and Kings. The path of Bibek is the path which Nihang Singhs believe will lead to honour in both this life and the afterlife. Bibek is the the knowledge that allows one to discriminate between good and bad and act accordingly.
Bibek can be considered the quality of discerning wisdom and practise. Discerning wisdom is considered as one of the greatest virtues by philosophers through the ages from all parts of the world. Bibek is also an important practise spoken frequently of between Nihang Singhs, each individually trying to become a perfect being, Brahmgiani. Nihang Baba Ninder Singh elaborates on the extensive nature of and multifarious layers of Bibek;
‘Bibek is a paramount aspect of the Khalsa warrior. There is bibek of the mind (budhi); to think in a manner discriminating between what is true and what is false, and what is good and what is bad, we must act accordingly to the judgement of this discerning wisdom. There is conduct outlining bibek of the eyes, bibek of the ears, bibek of the tongue, bibek of the hand and of
the sexual organs.’
(Audio interview, June 2009)
Bibek of the sensory organs refers to not taking in or practising externally anything which may be associated with abibek, such as vices or that which may cloud the mind from a righteous and truthful state. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it involves actively seeking to practise truth and realising the divinity of existence through the senses; recognising the Sargun (existing) nature of Akaal Purakh within the realm of Kaal (temporary existence). When any Nihang Singh infringes any aspect of their traditions or conduct, then other Nihang Singhs admininister a bibek (in this case meaning punishment) upon him, usually consisting of considerable spiritual austerities or a service to be done so that the mind stays attuned to Akaal Purakh. Within the Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the importance of bibek, discerning wisdom, is frequently mentioned. A few examples include:
‘True is the Creator, True is the Doer. True is our Lord and Master, and True is His Support. So speak the Truest of the True. Through the True One, an intuitive and discerning (bibek) mind is obtained,’
(Sri Guru Arjan Dev ji, Ang 52)
‘Practise Bibek, Oh Saints, my servant brother of the Lord, and seek and find God within your own hearts.’ (Sri Guru Ram Das Ji, Ang 168)
‘Through practising the path of true knowledge, the Gurmukh is blessed with a discerning intellect (bibek budhi). (Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, Ang 317)
Two Nihang Singhs and perform penance on order of their Jathedar (Battalion leader)
as a Bibek for infringing an aspect of the Rehat. This once common practise is today rare.
The most apparent practise of Bibek is within the diet of Nihang Singhs. Traditionally, the preparation and consumption of food only in Sarbloh (Iron) utensils has been a distinguishing feature of Nihang Singhs. It is believed that Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji themselves practised Sarbloh bibek, strict adherence to the use of iron utensils. Bhai Daya Singh, the leader of the Panj Pyare (five beloved leaders) of the Sikh faith describes the practise of Sarbloh amongst the warriors of the Guru’s army:
‘The Akali (Nihang) wears blue clothes. He chants GurBur Akaal (Almighty timeless Being),
and preserves the tradition of Sarbloh.1. ’
(Bhai Daya Singh Rehatnama)
The purpose of this practise is to forever keep the mind enshrined with the Love of the Lord, without which all rituals and practises do not adhere to the path of the spiritual devotee. The food which an individual eats is believed to have a substantial impact on their state of mind and consciousness. On one level this can be that while cooking food the mind remains forever engrossed in loving devotion so that the consumed food has the effect of gearing the mind towards divine consciousness. In Rehatname, Sikhs are advised not to eat from those who do not have any spiritual discipline as the lax of such a person influences others in the same way as their own mind is inclined. Important, for a warrior it is considered important to only eat certain food so as to avoid poisoning or consequence which may result from lack of hygiene. So for both purity of mind, consciousness and body Sarbloh bibek is kept. One saying of the Nihang Singhs goes as follows:
“As is the food you take, so shall be your mind.”
In its purity Sarbloh Rehat involves eating out of utensils prepared and served in iron utensils, eating only at set times and from the hands of others who hold such a discipline. Traditionally the water used for cooking Bibeki food had to be collected in a garva (iron jug) from a well. Sant Bhagvan Singh explains;
‘During the time of Baba Chet Singh it was very difficult to keep the proper bibek in the Dal. We would travel from morning and in evening when we reached a new encampment, often we would have to travel for many kilometres to find a deep will from which we could draw water.’
(Audio interview, May 2010)
Many Bibeki Singhs would eat only once a day in the evening. The purpose for this was that during there are large amounts of flies and mosquitoes or other insects which carry germs around and into the food which gets made outdoors. Therefore, by cooking during the night the food becomes less susceptible the germs which are spread by insects. Within the Nihang battalions they still have a bibeki langer (kitchen) where the food for the battalion is prepared. One Singh is assigned the duty of being in charge of all iron utensils and preparing the food in the communal kitchen. He may have one or more deputes who all must keep the highest conduct and discipline. For example, if any of them should for any purpose have to leave the Nihang Singh encampment, upon their return they must pray for any lapse in their bibek which may have occurred unknowingly while away. The Bibeki langer is responsible for all affairs relating to food in drink in battalion such is securing fresh water, gathering fire wood, food rations and distributing food to all Nihang Singhs.
Any other Nihang Singh in the battalion or family living Sikh who wishes to become bibeki presents themselves to the bibeki langeri with a bata (iron bowl) and fresh water. The Bibeki langeri performs an ardas (prayer) for the individual asking the Guru to give them the strength to keep bibek. Bibek is only kept by those Singhs which stay in the mobile battalion or Dalpanth, if other Singhs try to keep this type of diet it is called ‘Sodha Da Perha’ which means they preserve some purity in their diet. This begins at not eating out, eating only at home instead to eating only from iron utensils.
Baba Nihal Singh speaks of the many benefits of eating from Sarbloh:
“Eating from Sarbloh vessels has is very beneficial for one’s health particularly if their body has any deficiencies. Nearly any body deficiency can be overcome by eating from Sarbloh – i.e. iron levels increased and blood pressure becomes more controlled. When the Singhs lived in the jungles and were unable to eat butter or drink milk, the received their energy from the Sarbloh vessels in which their food was cooked and eaten in.” (Audio Recording)
Bibeki Langer being served in a Nihang battalion at a busy festival. The head langeri can be seen with his face covered.
Application of Sarbloh in wider Sikh tradition
Although in the Sikh faith today many people do not have knowledge of Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth or of the proper traditions related to the maryada of Sarbloh bibek, Sarbloh continues to play an important role in the Sikh psyche. For example in the Amrit Sanchar which is the initiation ceremony for Sikhs, the bowl and sword used to stir the nectar are always Sarbloh.. The role of Sarbloh can be seen in the first amrit sanchar which occurred in 1699: The vessel which the amrit was prepared, the Khanda (sword) which stirred the amrit), the battay (bowls) from which the baptised Sikhs drink amrit from and in which karah parshad (holy food) is prepared are all made from sarbloh.
The kirpan (small sword) and kara (bangle) which form two of the five articles of faith for Sikhs who have taken amrit are also made of Sarbloh. Giani Thakur Singh explains the significance of wearing Sarbloh:
‘We revere Sarbloh because it is a form which Akaal Purakh took at one point. It is that form which defeated demonic entities and wearing it we too ward of negative entities within and around us.’ (Audio Recording December 2009)
As well as iron, Sarbloh also means all light or all knowledge. Therefore the term is also synonymous with the light form of the Divine being are the source of knowledge which bestows discerning wisdom to human beings. The relationship between the term Sarbloh is made explicit by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji who writes:
‘I have the protection of the Timeless Being. I have the protection of Sarbloh. I have the protection of the all destroying (temporal) Being. I am forever protected by Sarbloh.’ (Akaal Ustat)
As Sarbloh here can mean either weapons, pure light or pure knowledge, there are many ways of understanding the above passage particularly in light of reference to both timeless and temporal realms. An individuals understanding grows he more the study and devote themselves, allowing for the Gurus knowledge to transcend into themselves if they are humble.
This it can be seen that Sarbloh is a physical metal and philosophical concept form an important part of the Nihang Singh psyche. Its philosophical knowledge comes from the Sri Sarbloh Parkash Granth which describes the battles between Bibek and Abibek. As well as being discerning wisdom, bibek is a lifestyle in itself as can be seen by the diet of the Nihang Singhs. Sarbloh is used both in war in the communal kitchen of the Nihang Singhs so it through Sarbloh which Khalsa obtains ‘Degh Tegh Fateh’ – victory in the kitchen in battle.