Baba Ram Singh Namdhari
After the fall of kingdom
of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, there were several attempts to raise the
old glory of the Khalsa. Several movements to reform the Sikhism
were started. First one being Namdhari movement, which was started
by Baba Ram Singh Namdhari after anglo Sikh wars. He was a soldier
in Khalsa army.
Like the Nirankari, this second reform movement
known as the Namdhari, or Kuka, movement also had its origin in
the north-west corner of the Sikh kingdom, away from the places
of royal pomp and grandeur. It harked back to a way of life more
in keeping with the spiritual tradition of the community. Its principal
object was to spread the true spirit of Sikhism shorn of tawdry
customs and mannerism, which had been growing on it since the beginning
of Sikh monarchy. In the midst of national pride born of military
glory and political power, this movement extolled the religious
obligation for a pious and simple living. They were called "Kukas"
because of their peculiar style to recite the Gurbani (Sayings of
the Gurus). This style was in a high pitched voice, called Kook
in punjabi, and thus Namdhari Khalsa's were named Kukas.
The founder, Bhai Balak Singh (1799-1862) of
Hazro, was a holy man whose noble example and sweet persuasive manner
won him a number of followers. The most prominent among them was
Baba Ram Singh who undertook the direction of the movement after
Bhai Balak Singh, giving it a more positive orientation.
Baba Ram Singh, born at Bhaini, in Ludhiana
district in 1816, was a soldier in the Sikh army. With his regiment
he once happened to visit Hazro where he fell under the influence
of Bhai Balak Singh. He became his disciple and dedicated himself
to his mission. For his religious pursuits he had ample time in
the army which, towards the end of Ranjit Singh's day, was comparatively
free from its more arduous tasks. In the 1845 Anglo-Sikh war, Baba
Ram Singh fought against the English at Mudki.
He gave up service after the occupation of Lahore
and returned to his village, Bhaini, which became another important
centre of the Namdhari faith. Upon Baba Balak Singh's death, in
1862, the chief responsibility passed on to Baba Ram Singh, whose
growing influence helped in the extension of the movement in central
and eastern Punjab. An elaborate agency for missionary work was
set up. The name of the head in a districtSuba, meaning governor
had a significant, though remote, political implication. There were
altogether twenty-two such Subas, besides two Jathedars, or group
leaders, for each tahsil and a Granthi, Scripture-reader or priest,
for each village.
In the government papers of that period, Baba
Ram Singh' s mission is described thus:
He abolishes all
distinction of caste among Sikhs;
advocates indiscriminate marriage of all classes;
enjoins the marriage of widows;
enjoins abstinence from liquor
and drugs ... exhorts
his disciples to be cleanly and truth-telling.
To the points mentioned could be added a few
more such as reverence for the cow, simpler wedding ceremonies and
abolition of infanticide which received equal emphasis. Baba Ram
Singh was never reconciled to the rule of the British. His prediction
about its early recession was implicitly believed by his followers,
who were forbidden to join government service, to go to courts of
law or learn the English language. The movement thus acquired a
strong political bias. Its chief inspiration was, in fact, derived
from opposition to the foreign rule and everything tending to remind
one of it was shunned. English education, mill-made cloth and other
imported goods were boycotted. In its advocacy of the use of the
Swadeshi, the Kuka movement forestalled, in the sixties of the last
century, an important feature of the nationalist struggle under
the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.
Kukas even avoided use of the post of fives established by the British
and depended upon their own system of postal communication. Messages
from their leader were conveyed with special despatch and alacrity.
A fast-riding follower would carry the letter to the next village
where another devotee, setting all other work aside, would at once
speed on with it. People left off their meals unfinished to reach
forward a message.
A spirit of fanatical national fervour and religious
enthusiasm grew among the Kukas and the personality of Baba Ram
Singh became the focal point of a close and well-organized order.
The prospect was not looked upon with equanimity by the government,
who, after the incidents of 1857, had become extra watchful. When,
in 1863, Baba Ram Singh wanted to go to Amritsar for Baisakhi celebrations
to which he had invited his followers from all over the Punjab,
the civil authority became alarmed. The Lieutenant-Governor charged
the Deputy Inspector-General of Police and the Deputy Commissioner
of Amritsar to ascertain the real intentions of Baba Ram Singh and
his companions. The officials were not in favour of imposing any
restrictions, especially on the occasion of a religious fair. But
two months later, when Kukas announced a meeting to be held at Khote,
a village in Ferozepore district, prohibitory orders were issued
banning all Kuka meetings.
The Kuka organization was subjected to strict
secret vigilance, and intelligence officers in the districts sent
in alarming reports about its aims and activities. It was bruited
about that Baba Ram Singh was raising an army to fight the English.
Bhaini and Hazro were kept under continuence survaillance. Baba
Ram Singh was sent to Andaman islands under Life imprisonment for
treason, he wrote letters to his disciples in Punjab and other places.
A selection of letters was published by Dr Ganda Singh a few years
ago. The letters reveal Baba Ram Singh's undying faith, his strength
of character and his love for his followers. An occasional note
of loneliness appears in these letters, though his spirit of patient
fortitude always proved stronger.
Baba Ram Singh passed away on November 29, 1885.
But many of his followers did not believe that he was dead. They
continued to hope that he would one day come to the Punjab and free
India from the shackles of the English.
The Kuka movement marked a significant stage
in the development of national consciousness in the country. In
the seventies of the last century, when the English were reinstalling
themselves in India after the revolt of 1857, it gave them another
Like the Nirankaris, Namdharis also formed themselves
into a separate sect. Today, they form a distinctly cohesive group
among the Sikhs. Two things immediately mark them off from the latterthe
style of their headgear and their adherence to the personality of
their leader, Baba Jagjit Singh. Apparelled in immaculate, white
homespun, they wind round their heads mull or longcloth without
any semblance or embellishment and without giving it any sharp,
While chanting the sacred hymns, they work themselves
up to such ecstatic frenzy that they begin dancing and shouting.
From these shouts and shriekskuk, in Punjabisome humorously
inclined youth in a Ludhiana village called them Kukas, little knowing
that they were conferring upon the newly developing order a name
which would be widely accepted and which would outlive the more
carefully chosen appellations adopted by its authors.
The Kuka outbreak was followed by a secret
campaign for the restoration of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last
Sikh king of the Punjab exiled by the British. The Punjab was in
the 1880's astir with rumour. Anticipation filled the air. Reports
were studiously kept in circulation that Duleep Singh would lead
a Russian invasion into India and overthrow the British. A network
of secret communication was laid out. Duleep Singh's emissaries
kept infiltrating into India in spite of government vigilance. His
statements and proclamationsas from "the Sovereign of
the Sikh nation and Implacable Foe of the British Government"were
smuggled into the country for distribution. But he could not even
get to India and died in a hotel in Paris. Duleep Singh, youngest
son of Ranjit Singh had 6 children, 5 daughters and one son. All
being blown from cannons