Namdharis

Doctrines The Namdharis believe in the soteriological efficacy of remembering the divine Name (nam-simaran), and the use of a rosary in this practice. They believe in the unorthodox view of personal Guruship - which did not end with the tenth and traditionally believed to be the last Guru, Gobind Singh. The Tenth Guru is believed to have escaped the assasination attempt on his life and lived in secret to the age of 146 (d.1812); old enough to pass on the guruship to Guru Balak Singh. They therefore believe in the doctrine of an unending Guru lineage; Guru Ram Singh is believed to be the next incarnation of Guru Gobind Singh. They are strict vegetarians who do not drink or smoke. They maintain the Hindu belief that the cow is sacred and should therefore not be killed for human consumption. Though they attach equal importance to the Adi Granth and the Dasam Granth, they do not accept the Adi Granth as the Guru Granth. They believe in certain ritualistic practices like the fire ceremony (havan or hom) which involves the practice of circummambulating the fire during a wedding ceremony (instead of the Adi Granth as in an orthodox wedding). They believe that food not prepared from their own hands should not be eaten. They also believe in the efficacy of mantras/sacred words (that are given to them at initiation), and do not believe in the initiation of Khande di pahul (baptism by a double-edged sword) of the Khalsa, though they emphatically promulgate the Khalsa appearance and their own code of conduct - unlike the Nirankaris (see entry). They do not believe in sacred sites (temples, village spots, shrines etc.) for they believed in the interiorization of faith via the divine Name - which they saw as an antidote to the sinful pleasures of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rule.

History The Namdharis are also known as Kukas 'criers', for their shrieks (kuks) given in ecstatic meditative trance. The Namdharis were founded by Guru Balak Singh (1797-1862) in north-west Panjab. He was a puritan and stressed the importance of the divine Name for salvation and drew most of his followers from the poorer lower castes, namely the Jats - whom naturally opposed the richer Sikhs and the British. However, in Ludhiana their second Guru, Ram Singh (1816-85), had the greatest impact. He was the first reformer to emphasise the Khalsa Singh identity under colonial rule, but did not exclude the Sahajdharis in his addresses. Believing in the interiority of faith in 1866, the Namdharis set about destroying Sanatan Sikh-Hindu tombs, ancestral shrines, certain villages spots and other sacred sites. The British began to fear revolution and in 1863 ordered Ram Singh not to hold religious assemblies and not to leave his village. However the desecration continued and peaked about 1867 and some Namdharis were imprisoned. Ram Singh himself was imprisoned and eventually sent to Rangoon and then to Southern Burma where he remained imprisoned until his death in 1885. The Namdhari's notorious zeal for the protection of the cow brought them into direct conflict with the British government. Four butchers were killed by zealous Namdharis. As a result eight of them were captured and sentenced to death. Such incidents increased and in 1872 forty-nine Namdharis were killed by the British and sixteen more later. Through such protests and campaigns the Namdharis initiated the fight for the collapse of the British government. However before the end of the 19th century the Namdharis discarded their militancy to return to simple piety. They consider themselves the initiators of India's struggle for freedom since they boycotted British education, law courts, railways and post office services.

Symbols All Namdharis are at least Keshdharis (those with uncut hair). They wear only white home-spun clothing. Their turbans have a particular style, being tied horizontally across the forehead, called Sidha Pag (straight turban). Because the British, fearing revolution, banned the right to carry arms, Namdharis carried sticks to symbolise the sword of the Khalsa warrior. Many wore a knotted wolloen cord around their necks which served as a rosary.

Adherents In the 1891 census 706 Hindus and 12,319 Sikhs returned themselves as 'Kuka'. (Census of India, 1891, Vol.XX and Vol.XXI, The Punjab and its Feudatories, by E.D. Maclagan, Part II and III, Calcutta, 1892, pp.826-9 and pp.572-3. (See also the note at the end of the Explanatory Introduction).

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Originally, under Guru Balak Singh, Namdharis were focused in the north-west of Panjab. However the headquarters shifted to Bhaini Sahib in Ludhiana under the second leader Guru Ram Singh.