An Akali is one whose form is covered in blue dress, repeating Gurbar Akal and wearing Steel weapons. With a white Kach, and blue clothes, repeating Jap ji and Jap Sahib, contemplating Akal Ustati and Var Sri Bhagauti ji ki and committing them perfectly to memory. Meditating with each hair on the body and renouncing [mentally] all actions of the body. Who loves the Guru Granth, and runs away from the five thieves. Rahitnamah Bhai Daya Singh.
The Sikh priest who has favoured me with this information, considers this marriage knot superior to the elaborate one of the Hindus. It is cheap, simple, and equally efficacious! Not only in the matter of marriage, but of other ceremonies also, is the Akali still more intelligent than his co-religionists. He does not, by piercing his ears and wearing ear-rings, render himself effeminate, or give a handle of attack to his enemies if ever engaged in close combat. When any of his friends dies, he does not call a Brahmin to read the mortuary service, or heap upon him a large recompense for his idle ministrations. The Akali, instead of this, bestows alms on poor Sikhs, and he collects his friends to read the Granth with him, and pray that the soul of his deceased relation may be speedily relieved from transmigrations.
The strictest of the Akalis have acquired the epithet Bibekis the discriminating, or the conscientious. These have engrafted all the prejudices of Hinduism on the bigotry of the Akalis. With all the irrational asceticism of the Vaishnu sect of Hindus, the Bibekis will not eat flesh or even partake of any article of food or drink which they have not prepared with their own hands. To such au extent is this carried, that they will not even taste food cooked by their wives, eat fruit purchased in the market, or drink water which they have not themselves drawn from the well. They consider it a sin to eat bare-headed, and will pay a fine (tankhah) to the temple if they do so even inadvertently. They do not remove hair from any part of their persons. For the Hindu janeo, or Brahminical thread, they wear a sword. They are very strict in wearing the five articles of Sikh dress, whose names begin with a K. They will not drink water without immersing in it a knife or dagger. And, with an irrational mixture of spiritual pride and spiritual humility, they think themselves equal to the tenth spiritual king, Gobind, while at the same time they acknowledge themselves his disciples.
The asceticism of this class not only extends to these bigoted observances, but also to their ordinary conversation. They add the word ” Singh,” which is peculiar to the Sikh religion, as an affix to all substantives and sometimes to other parts of speech. For instance, instead of saying, ” Put the inkstand on the table,” they say ” Put the inkstand Singh on the table Singh.” Another verbal peculiarity of theirs may be mentioned. It is well known that in Hindustani, as in French and Italian, all substantives are either masculine or feminine. The Bibekis, with pharisaical ostentation, never use a word of the feminine gender. If an object can only be expressed by one word which is feminine, they alter its distinctive termination. Thus the word kanghi, a comb, in such frequent use among the Sikhs who religiously wear long hair, is grammatically feminine ; but when a Bibeki has occasion to use the word, he says Kangha, changing the final feminine into a masculine vowel, thus altering the gender of the word, and religiously and prudently preserving himself “from the contact or presence of even feminine substantives.
Some of the Akalis call themselves Nihangs. It is said, that one day there appeared before the tenth Guru an Akali in a lofty turban to which were attached miniatures of all the weapons of warfare employed at that period. The Guru was pleased and said, that the man looked like a nihang or crocodile. The Guru saw that the turban gave a ferocious appearance to the religious warrior, and forthwith recommended it to his followers. The high-peaked turbans of the Nihanga are said by others to have had their origin in one of the marauding expeditions of Zama’n Shah against the Sikhs. The latter on one occasion were few in number and unable to cope in fair fight with their adversaries. They therefore put on the high-peaked turbans of the Turki soldiers, went armed among them at night, and completely destroyed them. The high turban was therefore permanently adopted as an auspicious article of costume. A third more probable account, however, is that on which the Sikh priests themselves appear to be generally agreed, namely, that the custom of wearing high-peaked turbans was first adopted in the time of Ranjit Singh. Phola Singh, a man of prodigious stature, used to sit daily in the balcony of the Akal Bunga. His gigantic size appeared enhanced by his high-peaked turban ; and his advice and example induced other Akalis to adopt a similar head-gear. It soon became one of the distinctive articles of dress of their order.
The more insolent of the Akalis and those addicted to the use of intoxicating drugs, appear to have appropriated to themselves the designation Nihang. The word is in such bad odour in other parts of the Panjab, that a man is styled a Nihang who has taken to vicious ways and bad livelihood. All European travellers in the Panjab during the Sikh regime have complained of the gross insolence, and in some cases of the foul language or maledictions employed by these Nihanga, or Akalis, to Christians. No such thing has, I believe, ever been witnessed in recent times. Several of the Akalis still have, no doubt, a defiant air, but all of them with whom I have conversed I found uniformly courteous and civil.
‘From this small sketch it may be easily conceived that the Stiles are much less formidable than they are represented. It is true that they all join together when invaded, as was the case when Abdallah passed through their country. But, notwithstanding they had assembled an immense body of cavalry, extremely well mounted, yet they never presumed to make a single charge on the Duranny army, or even on detachments ; and, considering their irregularity and want of discipline and subordmation, it was well for them, I think, they did not. They satisfied themselves in making a kind of hussar war of it, cutting off stragglers, and intercepting provisions. In this they excel. To say the truth, they are indefatigable; mounted on the best horses that India can afford, each carries a matchlock of a large bore, which they handle dexterously enough, and with which they annoy considerably, avoiding at the same time going in large bodies, or approachmg too near. Such is their way of making war, which can only appear dangerous to the wretched Hindustan troops of these quarters, who tremble as much at the name of a Seik as people used to do, net long ago, at the mention of Mahrattas. But what its more to be admired, those Seik sirdars, whose territories border on the king’s, were but lately zemindars of the Jauts, and of their cast or tribe, under which denomination had they remained no one would have thought of them; but, now they have put on the iron bracelet, fifty of them are enough to keep at bay a whole battalion of the king’s forces, such as they are. This shews the force of prejudice, and the value of military reputation. Such are the immediate neighbours of the king.
‘ Five hundred of Nujhaf Khan’s horse dare not encounter fifty Seik horsemen ; and yet the last are as despicable a set of creatures as any that can be imagined. On the whole, was it not for Sombre’s party, and Letafet’s forces, Nujhaf Khan would not be able to stand his ground half an hour; and yet this is the Mighty Chief!’
THE Akalees form one of the five great divisions of religious mendicants among the Sikhs; though they can hardly be considered mendicants in a strictly religious sense, being rather fanatical soldiers, who have become a class, than devotees like the Oodassees, Nanuk Shahees, and others, who affect a strictly religious life accompanied by severe ascetic penances. As represented in the Photograph, the Akalee is always armed to the teeth. His high conical turban, like the rest of his dress of a blue colour, is encircled by rings of sharp steel quoits, in the use of which he is very skilful. The rest of his arms are a sword and shield, a steel bow of the ancient Parthian pattern, with a brace of horse pistols, or a collection of daggers in his waistband. In this equipment the Akalee is a truly grim and formidable looking person; and in most of the fraternity there is a peculiar wildness of expression, partly owing to fanatical spirit, and partly to the habitual use of intoxicating drugs. In the former Sikh army Akalees were a prominent feature. They submitted to no discipline, but joined together in bodies, and often performed reckless feats of valour. In this respect they resemble the military Gosaens of the Hindoo classes, but the Akalees were even more fierce and uncontrollable. Since the British occupation of the Punjab they have been obliged to conform themselves to the laws, and to abandon openly lawless courses; and the practice of strutting about as ” swash bucklers” has been controlled very effectually. It is only in native states, at Hyderabad in the Deccan, for instance, where the Akalees in all their pristine fierceness and defiance of order are to be met with; and their wild figures when in company with bands of their own countrymen who serve as soldiers, are always very remarkable.
The Akalees are followers of the tenth Gooroo, Govind, under whom the Sikhs became a military fraternity and nation. They were his especial body guard, and, in the beginning of Sikh fanaticism, were the most devoted of the Gooroo’s followers. It is the object of the sect to keep up the tradition of this exclusive character, both general and individual; and it must be allowed that the result hitherto has been sufficiently remarkable. Akalees ma)’– eat all animal food but beef. They cannot smoke, but they drink bhang; the intoxicating quality of which produces a fierce excitement, ending in stupefaction. They do not marry. Their chief religious exercise is telling their beads and repeating the word ” Akhal,” or eternal, from whence their sect take its name; the greater number of repetitions the greater the supposed merit. The sect of Akalees is not so numerous as it used to be, and will probably gradually die out. From the native armies of the Punjab it received many additions in men too desperate and lawless to submit even to the lax discipline of the Sikh forces, and in the turbulent masses which composed them they often proved a dangerous and uncontrollable element. The power of the Akalees culminated after the death of Runjeet Singh, and on the bloody fields of Feroze Sheher and Soobraon the warlike fury, as it were, of the sect was spent and broken, most likely for ever. In its religious element, however, it is still strong. The order of priests which forms an influential portion of it are the possessors of the sacred shrine of Amritsur, where the holy books of the Sikh faith are deposited, and directors of the council which assembles there. The history of the Sikhs gives the result of the religious and fanatical enthusiasm by which these councils used to be guided, in the frequent foreign wars and internal dissensions of the Sikh element. Runjeet Singh was the only mind which could hold this spirit in check, and the respect of the Akalees for him was rarely violated during his long and eventful reign. It was after his death that the Akalee council became uncontrollable ; the result of which was a wild desire for the conquest of India, which led to the Sikh advance into British territory, and by a series of events to the annexation of the Punjab to British India. In Ward’s work upon the Hindoo religion an interesting account of the Akalee council at Amritsur is given, a summary of which may not be out of place here, being, indeed, a quotation from Sir John Malcolm’s sketch of the Sikhs.
When a Gooroo Muta or great national council is called (as it always is, or ought to be, when any imminent danger threatens the country, or any large expedition is to be undertaken), all the Sikh chiefs assemble at Amritsur. The assembly which is called Gooroo Muta, is convened by the Akalees; and when the chiefs meet upon this solemn occasion, it is concluded that all private animosities cease, and that every man sacrifices his personal feelings at the shrine of the general good. When the chiefs and principal leaders are seated, the Adee Grunth and Dushmee Padshahee Grunth are placed before them. They all bend thenheads before these scriptures, and exclaim, “Wah! Gooroojee ka khalsa! wah! Gooroojee ke futteh!” A great quantity of cakes, made of wheat, butter, and sugar, are then placed before the volumes of their sacred writings, and covered with a cloth. These holy cakes, which are in commemoration of Nanuk’s injunction, to eat and give others to eat, next receive the salutation of the assembly, who then
rise; the Akalees pray aloud, while the musicians play. The Akalees, when their prayers are finished, desire the council to be seated. After the cakes have been eaten in token of complete union in one cause, prayers are again said by the Akalees; after which the chiefs close together, and invoke the sacred Grunth to guide their deliberations. This moment of religious fervour and ardent patriotism is taken to reconcile all animosities. They then proceed to consider the danger with which they are threatened, to settle the best plans for averting it, and to choose the generals who are to lead their armies against the common enemy. The first Gooroo Muta was assembled by Gooroo Govind, and the last occurred in that memorable and stormy period, in which the Sikh army was hurled against the British power, and shattered in the conflict.
The Akalees of Amritsur are proud of their sacred office; and, in contrast with what they used to be, are now courteous and very hospitable, welcoming English travellers and visitors with evident respect and good-will. Among them may, however, still be seen specimens of old grim brethren, who, covered with offensive and defensive weapons, look on modern usages with contempt, and pass their existence in a condition of semi-stupefaction, under the influence of bhang.