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In the early 1800s the Nirankaris began to believe that their fellow Sikhs had become lax in their practice of nam-simaran (remembrance of the divine Name), and had fallen back into the ritualistic practices of Hinduism. They revived the focus on inner repetition of the name via the mantra: dhan dhan Nirankar (Glory, glory to the Formless One!) They rejected all gods and goddesses (usually of the Hindu pantheon) and all types of offerings made to them. Similarly they rejected all Brahmanical rites and rituals and pilgrimages.
For example they do not bury the dead, as do Muslims, nor do they cremate them in what they consider to be the Hindu manner, they simply throw the bodies of their dead into a river. They believed that the death of one's human form is an event to be rejoiced and not mourned. They do not drink any wine or alcoholic beverages, smoke tobacco or eat any meat.
The Nirankaris believed that women are not impure at childbirth, that marriages and other important events should not be arranged according to the predictions of paid astrologers, that dowries should not be publicly displayed, and that no fee should be charged for performing ceremonies (as is the custom for Brahmin priests). They believed and emphasised the formless aspect of the divine: Nirankar, hence their name.
However the key belief that questions their orthodoxy is their belief in the continuation of the line of human Gurus after Guru Gobind Singh. They therefore do not believe in the orthodox view of the Adi Granth being the last and only eternal Guru for all Sikhs.
The Nirankaris (those who believe in the Formless One), originated in the north west region of Panjab during the latter years of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The sect was founded by Baba Dayal Singh (1783-1855) a Sahajdhari Sikh whose main mission was to bring Sikhs back to the Adi Granth and nam-simaran. His successor Baba Darbara Singh established many centres beyond Rawalpindi and wrote about the essential teachings of Baba Dayal. The sect had grown considerably and the third successor, Sahib Rattaji (1870-1909) kept the Nirankaris in order via strict adherence to their rahit (Khalsa code of conduct). At this time they numbered in the thousands and some had taken interest in the Singh Sabha movements (see entries on Singh Sabhas), under the fourth successor Baba Gurdit Singh.
The Nirankaris helped to bring the Anand Marriage Bill in 1908-9 to the attention of the Sikh populace. Their fifth Guru Sahib Hara Singh (1877-1971) started to reorganise the sangat and was succeeded by his eldest son Baba Gurbakh Singh. However because their emphasis was largely upon Guru Nanak's message, and the times were dominated by Singh Sabha Sikhs emphasising Guru Gobind Singh's Khalsa, their voices went unheard. This was exacerbated by the shift from Sahajdhari (shaven) to Keshdhari (unshaven) Sikhs. Finally with their inability to keep in step with the tumultuous social changes of the British Raj they were soon marginalised. Later they were divided into two groups, one the original Nirankari and the other Sant Nirankaris. In 1978 the second group Sant Nirankaris were excommunicated by the orthodox Akal Takht for their belief in a living Guru after the Guru Granth Sahib.
There are no official numbers, except in the 1891 census 14,001 Hindus and 46,610 Sikhs returned themselves as 'Nirankaris'. (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).
Originally Rawalpindi, but after partition in 1947 Nirankaris shifted to Chandigarh, Panjab and Sant Nirankaris to Delhi.
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