Life of Dharam Singh Nihang Singh and Genesis of the Sach Khoj Academy
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh is a descendant of the great Sikh martyr Bhai Mani Singh. He was born on 15th February 1936 to Bhagwan Singh and Harnam Kaur in Manupur-Goslan district in the village Kukhon close to Khanna in Panjab, India. He was named Puran Singh. He matriculated from AS High School in Khanna in 1954, and did his Intermediate (10+2) in English medium in 1956 with Hindi as an additional language. His history classes up to tenth grade were in Urdu. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh was a topper in mathematics and science. During school time, he came in contact with Marxist and atheist ideas which he soon was going to abandon.
Since Dharam Singh Nihang Singh’s mother passed away when he was five years old, he was mostly raised by relatives who had a deep affection for the Nihang (spiritual warrior) tradition and Gurbani – spiritual wisdom revealed to 36 enlightened men that was preserved in extraordinarily beautiful poetry in the compositions Adi Granth and Dasam Granth. His father died in 1957. His older fraternal uncle (Taya) Nagahiya Singh was baptised in 1941 and named Gyan Singh Nihang. His first cousin Tara Singh Nihang was baptised in 1946. His younger fraternal uncle (Chacha) Amar Singh Nihang was baptised in 1947, and served as the head (Jathedar) of the oldest Nihang order Buddha Dal in Samrala. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh used to have regular discourses on Gurbani with his relatives, and gradually realized its vast spiritual wisdom.
The order of spiritual warriors Buddha Dal
In 1959, Ajaib Singh, an older neighbor, was about to give a test on Bhagat Kabir’s poetry as he wanted to become a Hindi teacher. Since Dharam Singh Nihang Singh was acquainted with Kabir’s spiritual legacy, he taught him several verses (Shalok) for about two weeks. While teaching, he himself gained new insights on Kabir’s spiritual journey. One day, when he was teaching, Jathedar Amar Singh Nihang passed by and heard the explanations of Dharam Singh Nihang Singh. He was so impressed that he informed the head of Bhuddha Dal Jathedar Chet Singh about the young man. On hearing about it, the Jathedar said that the young man seems to be destined to become a Nihang Singh of the Buddha Dal. After this incident (about which Dharam Singh Nihang Singh was only informed many years later) he was brought in contact with Buddha Dal. There he began reading Akal Ustat and Bachitar Natak from the Dasam Granth which contains the writings of Sarbansdani Gur Gobind Singh. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh was totally overwhelmed. He had tried to understand Jaap Sahib earlier but had not been able to grasp its deeper meaning. The same challenges he faced when dwelling upon Chandi Di Var and Chandi Charitar. Eventually, he started focusing on Kabir’s Gurbani, which enabled him gradually to put together nods in Adi Granth and Dasam Granth he could not connect earlier.
In 1960, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh began to participate in religious gatherings of the Buddha Dal regularly. He soon stood out among the Nihang due to his fearlessness, extraordinary sharp intellect, and captivating qualities as an interpreter of Gurbani and Sikh history. Yet, the young man restrained from becoming a Khalsa (pure one), and did not undergo baptism (Khande Di Pahul) because he had too much of respect for it, and felt he was spiritually not ready. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh also could not imagine himself wearing a Dumala (traditional turban of the Nihang). He was the only one in Buddha Dal who was not wearing the Bana (traditional wardrobe of a Nihang) as ordained by Dasam Patshah Gur Gobind Singh, but trousers.
The gift of baptism
In 1962, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh attended the Hola Mohala celebrations at Anandpur Sahib. He was attentively listening to the recitations of Dasam Granth. When hearing the following key verses (Mukhvak/Hukamnama), Dharam Singh Nihang Singh put his name on the list for those willing to undergo baptism the same day:
ਅਕਾਸ਼ ਬਾਣੀ ਬਾਚਿ ਦੱਤ ਪ੍ਰਤਿ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਹੀਣ ਮੁਕਤ ਨਹੀ ਹੋਤ ਦੱਤ ॥
ਤੁਹਿ ਕਹੋ ਬਾਤ ਸੁਨਿ ਬਿਮਲ ਮੱਤ ॥
Dasam Granth, 1235
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh was ready to become a spiritual Nihang warrior because he had realised that without complete dedication and surrender to spiritual wisdom, he could not attain the gift of Nam, enlightenment. He paid 11 Rupees from his pocket as a fee for baptism. When the other Nihang came to know that he decided to undergo baptism, all in the Buddha Dal were relieved that the very person who was administering the list for baptism but restrained from taking Khande Di Pahul, finally decided to “take the flight” in Nihang terminology (Jahaj Charhna, Nanak Nam Jahaj Hai). He was named Dharam Singh Nihang Singh after baptism.
Being the most educated in the Buddha Dal during that time, he was appointed as Secretary (Likhari) and managed ledgers and other paper work. Due to his position, he was able to speak with many prominent leaders and politicians, including former Indian president Giani Zail Singh.
Overcoming intellectualism and setting the record straight
In 1965, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh participated in correction conventions (Pothi Mangal, Path Antar Masla) of Gurbani along with other members of Buddha Dal, and came forward with several suggestions, for instance that the commencing symbol ੴ “Ik Oankar” followed by “Satgur Prasad” should principally appear before the mentioning of the Raag/Shabad in all verses in the printed versions of Adi Granth. He was the first Sikh to highlight that the correct pronunciation is “Svai Bhang” and not “Saibhang” as it means that we have been separated from our true self, our original spiritual source (Mool, Sach Khand), and incarnated to the material world in order to return as completely enlightened beings (Sabat Surat, Puran Brahm) with the grace of the One’s wisdom (Gurprasad).
Since this time, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh has been inspired by the following verses:
ਏਨਾ ਅਖਰਾ ਮਹਿ ਜੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਸਿਰਿ ਲੇਖੁ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥੨॥
Adi Granth, M. 1, 432
ਬਾਣੀ ਬਿਰਲਉ ਬੀਚਾਰਸੀ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਇ ॥
Adi Granth, M. 1, 935
The first verse highlights that only a Gurmuk, a spiritual person who surrenders to the wisdom of the One, and continuously discovers the spiritual truth behind the letters of the preserved spiritual wisdom can reach the state of being in complete tune with the Divine Will and transcend virtues and sins. The second verse emphasises that those few who become Gurmukh, are able to listen and surrender to the divine inner voice of the soul (Bani).
Guided by a third verse which inspires to overcome erroneous teachings and follow spiritual wisdom that leads to enlightenment – ਬਿਦਿਆ ਸੋਧੈ ਤਤੁ ਲਹੈ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਇ ॥ (Adi Granth, M. 1, 938) – the young Nihang was keen to understand the difference between fake (Kachi Bani) and truthful (Paki Bani) spirituality. During his decades-long research (Khoj), he realised that Gurbani transcendence all man-made religious boundaries, is self-contained and a metaphorical explanation of the mystery of Oneness and our connection to it. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh began outlining why Gurbani cannot be understood on the basis of worldly dictionaries (like Mahan Kosh) or academic books, and why it is a matter of discovery by an enlightened being (Buje Bujenhar Bibeki). He became aware that all existing interpretations (Tike) and translations of the Adi Granth and Dasam Granth were not the outcome of enlightened Gurmukh of the order of the Khalsa but unanimously written by (Singh Sabha) scholars/intellectuals (Vidvan) and self-proclaimed Sant influenced by Nirmala traditions or by Sikh missionaries. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh understood that they all erroneously or consciously mainly followed a literal, dogmatic, ritualistic, monotheistic and/or materially oriented understanding of the spiritual matter (Nirakar) of Gurbani.
After the demise of Jathedar Chet Singh in 1968, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh did not find a conducive environment anymore in the Buddha Dhal. He left the order and moved to Uttar Pradesh. There he started having discourses with people of various religious traditions in Garh Mukteshwar. Among them were Yogis, Bairagis, Kabirpanthis, Jains, Muslims, Radhaswamis, and Hindu Pundits. These encounters gave him the opportunity to deeply engage with major religious traditions and Dharam Granth (religious scriptures), including the Vedas.
Return to Panjab and the start of classes on spiritual and historic matters
In 1992, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh returned to Panjab and came in contact with IqbalSingh of Sikh Missionary College. Their religious discussions led Iqbal Singh to request Dharam Singh Nihang Singh to start Gurmat classes. In 1994 the Nihang Singh began offering regular Gurmat classes in Khanna free of cost. The early morning discourses from 5:30-8:30 were soon known as the Sach Khoj Academy. The number of students gradually rose to 30. Being impressed by the uniqueness and comprehensiveness of Dharam Singh Nihang Singh’s spiritual discourses (Brahm Vichar), Iqbal Singh asked him to write an explanation of Jap Ji Sahib for Parcharak (Interpreters of Gurbani). Dharam Singh Nihang Singh followed the request and published the book “Naad Ved Bhichar” (Japu Viaakhiaa) in 1996. On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa, the second book “Sahj Samadhi vers. Sunn Samadhi” (Sidh Ghost Viaakhiaa) was published in 1999.
Although the books demonstrated the huge inadequacies and errors of all the existing interpretations and translations, including Sahib Singhs influential Darpan (more or less a copy of the Faridkot Tika), which is the base for all Sikh Missionary Colleges, other major publications on Sikhi and widely used translations (such as SikhiToTheMax and Gurbani apps), the Sikh Missionary College in Ludhiana rejected to correct its syllabus (until today). The missionaries explained that they could not sell the existing publications anymore would they publicly admit the inappropriateness of their curriculum. They would not only need to reprint all of their materials but also lose their face. Similar experiences were made with other influential Sikh organisations and interpreters.
Henceforth, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh began explaining in detail in which ways the misinterpretation of Gurbani is the root cause for leading Sikhs not only into confusion but creating severe alienation from Gurmat, divisions and even hatred. He started arguing that the present crisis among Sikhs can only be solved if Gurmat oriented reforms are undertaken in the religious centers (Gurdwara); this would include overcoming the lacking financial transparency, wrong explanations of Gurbani, business-minded ritual practices (as outlined in the so-called Sikh code of conduct), the focus on legends (Janam Sakhian), and the politicization of religion.
Unmasking erroneous and harmful religious understandings
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh attended several conferences and seminars in the following years. In 1998, Harbhajan Singh Yogi, the founder of 3HO, came to a conference at Jawaddi as a key note speaker, and argued that the mind is equivalent to the brain. Dharam Singh Nihang Singh questioned Harbhajan Singh’s talk and showed that his assumption about the brain and mind was wrong and in contradiction to Gurbani. The conference participants saw an angry Harbhajan Singh whose teachings were proven wrong in all aspects. On another occasion, were intellectuals like Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon were present, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh questioned the motto of the conference “Raj Bina Nahi Dharam Chale Hain” (Without the power of governing, religion cannot flourish). He explained that the original verse used to be “Dharam Bina Nahi Raj Chale Hain” (Without the wisdom of religion, good governance is impossible), but that it has been distorted since the time of Banda Bahadur and those fractions (Dharhe) who started misusing religion to strive for worldly power although Gurbani clearly rejects this:
ਜਿਸ ਕੈ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਰਾਜ ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਸੋ ਨਰਕਪਾਤੀ ਹੋਵਤ ਸੁਆਨੁ ॥
Adi Granth, M. 5, 278
“Those who (claim to be religious but) strive for worldly power, live in the state of spiritual ignorance and will be reincarnated in a lower life form.”
In 2001, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh wrote several principle articles in Gurmat Parkash, published by Dharam Parchar Committee, in order to raise awareness about the unique philosophical background of Gurbani and common religious misunderstandings, and to provide convincing answers to the malpreachings of Gurbaksh Singh Kala Afghana and Darshan Singh Ragi and other Sikh Missionaries who made derogatory remarks of Dasam Granth (“Kanjar Granth”) and the baptism ceremony, and tried to undermine their authenticity.
Some devout Sikhs read the articles and came to know about the Gurmat classes of Sach Khoj Academy. They requested Dharam Singh Nihang Singh’s students to record them to ensure that they are preserved for the future and that Sikhs from other places could also benefit from them.
The Academy goes online: Highlighting the Uniqueness of Gurbani
On 16. February 2009, the Sach Khoj Academy marked its entry on the internet for the first time on YouTube. By now, several thousand hours of Gurmat discourses (Vichar) by Dharam Singh Nihang Singh on the basis of Adi Granth and Dasam Granth and oral history (Sine Vasine) have been uploaded by his students.
In his discourses, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh systemically shows where and why people who regard themselves as Sikhs have deviated from the path of righteousness (Dharam), and follow man-made beliefs and teachings (Avideya), business oriented ritualistic practices (Karam Kand) and a dogmatic code of conduct (Sikh Rahit Maryada) that is based on compromises after ideological disputes of opposing religious and political denominations, and not on Gurbani and the fundamentals of the Khalsa as outlined by Gur Gobind Singh in 1699.
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh talks in detail about the uniqueness of Gurbani. He explains key philosophical concepts of Gurbani like the non-dualistic nature of spirituality (Anek Hain/Eek Hai, Ik Rangi/Bahu Rangi, Hukam/Apna Bhana) Ved Bani and Sach Dharam (the one truthful religion of spiritual wisdom), the difference between Guru (the One and Only who gifts enlightenment and is never incarnated) and Gur (a man who received the gift of Nam and can therefore explain the process of enlightenment) as well as the divine yet split nature of the soul (Man, Chit).
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh also outlines the difference between timeless spiritual insights versus man-made worldly understandings that need to be adjusted in the course of history. Among others, he highlights the difference between Hukam (Divine Will) and Karam (thinking, imagination), Rahit (being in tune with the Divine Will and nature) and Maryada (ephemeral dogmatic code of conducts), Dehi (eternal spiritual body/soul) and Badehi (ephemeral biological body), Rasna (consciousness) and Jeeb (tongue), Charan (virtues) and Pair (feet), Darshan (spiritual awakening) and Milna (physical encounter), Savarag (state of spiritual awakening/paradise) and Narak (state of spiritual ignorance/hell), the relationship of the masculine and feminine principal and man and woman, and the evolutionary characteristics of a Sikh, Gursikh and Khalsa as well as of spiritual ignorant people (Murakh, Manmuk and Sakat).
Dasam Granth and Varaan
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh has also been putting forward comprehensive arguments to demonstrate that the Dasam Granth was written by Gur Gobind Singh himself. He has shown that words like “Chandi” (most enlightened stage of spiritual evolution) are metaphors and not to be understood literally, and why the Dasam Granth contains spiritual reinterpretations of ancient mythological stories. He has been emphasising that the Dasam Granth can only be understood by a Gursikh after having completely internalised the wisdom of Adi Granth, and that the Dasam Granth was written especially for baptised Sikhs (Khalsa) who are supposed to be role-models, and whose responsibility it is to defend the wisdom of spirituality, and raise awareness among all seekers of truth.
The Nihang Singh is among the first ones to raise awareness about the doubtful authenticity of the Varaan that were written in the name of Bhai Gurdas and deliberately coined as the so-called ‘key opener’ (Kunji) to understand Gurbani. He also explains in which ways other influential writings like Suraj Parkash are the work of authors associated with groups that have been opposed to Gurmat since the time of Gur Nanak (Mine, Masand, Ramraiye, Dhirmalye, Nirmale).
In 2018, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) eventually admitted that all existing interpretations of Gurbani, which they have been promoting, are wrong. Against this background it was also pointed out that the preachings and practices prevalent in Amritsar (so-called Golden Temple and Akal Takhat) need to be overcome and replaced by preachings in line with the Khalsa as outlined by Gur Gobind Singh in Anandpur Sahib.
The students of the Academy
Today, the academy has students all over the world; men and women, senior citizens and youngsters; farmers from the villages as well as principles, teachers, bank managers, human rights advocates, engineers, IT specialists, senior scientists, and a new generation of Nihang. Many of them were attached with SGPC/Akali, Sikh Missionary Colleges, Taksal, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, promoters of the Sikh code of conduct, Sant-Samaj (self-proclaimed Gurus), so called welfare initiatives (Kar-Seva), Khalistani (supporters of the separatist movement), 3HO, Osho, academic institutions or with a specific religious centres or ashram (Dera). But ultimately, the students realised that they did not get convincing answers to their spiritual questions. Instead of getting wisdom that is needed on the way to enlightenment, they ended up being immersed in intellectual, body or mind oriented practices, political and business driven Gurdwara and Dera (Ashram) quarrels, and even in separatist ideologies that misuse religion for political purposes. In some cases they were deluded and exploited, driven into depression or even threatened, or put in jail under false acquisitions after openly criticising the misbehaviour of the heads of the organisation they belonged to. Their spiritual dissatisfaction and search for wisdom ultimately brought them in contact with material published by the Sach Khoj Academy.
By now, several hundred students follow the Gurmat discourses on YouTube or through online and phone discussions on a regular basis, and several thousand have subscribed to the YouTube Channel. Also some interpreters of Gurbani follow the YouTube Channel of the Academy, and even contact Dharam Singh Nihang Singh but hesitate to disclose it, and even claim their exegesis is the outcome of their own research.
Statistics of the Sach Khoj Academy YouTube Channel (June 2018)
- Watch time: around 14,961,246 minutes
- Views: around 2,030,000
- Subscribers: around 4400
- Videos in playlists: around 25,000
- Likes: around 39,500
- Comments: around 3000
- Shares: around 24,500
- Top geographies: India, United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Netherlands, France, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Spain, Austria, New Zealand
None of Dharam Singh Nihang Singh’s critics from the Sikh establishment have so far agreed to publicly discuss relevant matters and let independent observers, like retired judges of the Supreme Court or leading representatives from world religions, decide who has put forward more comprehensive and convincing answers to pressing religious and existential questions. On the opposite, some of the critics have taken sentences out of context, created fake social media accounts, and uploaded video clips to distort the actual message and discredit Dharam Singh Nihang Singh and the message of Gurmat.
Going global: Talks on how to overcome the challenges of humankind
In February 2015, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh was the first speaker of the dialogue series “Religion matters – Rethinking the challenges of tomorrow”. In this series organised by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), distinguished individuals were invited to exchange their views on religion and sustainable development. It was the first time in Sikh history, that a Nihang Singh was asked to share the wisdom of Gurmat and the order of the Khalsa in relation to the global challenges humankind is facing.
In 2016, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh served as the key author of the chapter on Gurmat in the book “Voices from Religions on Sustainable Development”, published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The book is the outcome of UN consultations in Summer 2015 in New York on the issue of religion and sustainable development. The original English book has been translated into German and Chinese; Arabic and French translations are under planning.
Inspired by talks with high-level religious and political representatives from all over the world – including Nobel Peace Prize Winner Awakkol Karman, Rabbi Awraham Shalom Soetendorp, Ha Vinh Tho, the Director of the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan, leaders of the Lenape Indians, and wife of former German president Christina Rau – Dharam Singh Nihang Singh has been focusing on creating spiritual awareness beyond existing religious and national boundaries, and bringing together people from all backgrounds with the help of spiritual wisdom. Over the last years, Dharam Singh Nihang Singh has reached out to many people in responsible positions to share the unique wisdom of Gurmat, and strengthen unity beyond man-made boundaries. Among others, he held dialogues with religious representatives like Maulana Ajazur Rahman Shaheen Qazmi (General Secretary of the World Peace Organisation), senior lawyers like Supreme Court advocate Mehmood Pracha who also serves as the President of the South Asian Minorities Lawyer’s Commission, High Court human rights advocate Rajvinder Singh Bains (son of renown justice Ajit Singh Bains), scholars including Prof. Dr. Ronki Ram (Department of Political Science, Panjab University Chandigarh), and activists such as Swami Agnivesh, who served as the chairperson of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, and was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award) 2004.
All recent efforts of the Sach Khoj Academy – including the launch of the initiative “Strengthening Unity, Peace and Justice” in August 2018 – are aimed at strengthening peace, human rights, justice and environmental protection in line with the UN 2030 Agenda (SDGs) – while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Trailer: Launch of the initiative “Strenghteneing Unity, Peace and Justice”
One spiritual warrior against hundreds of thousands
Dharam Singh Nihang Singh has proven in line with Gurmat that neither a single penny and formal institutional arrangement, nor sweet speech is needed to share spiritual wisdom, raise awareness among humble and sincere seekers of truth (Ape Japai Avrah Nam Japavai), and heal mental diseases like depression. What is needed is self-realisation, courage, and one fearless spiritual warrior who lives up to the promise of Gur Gobind Singh: “One (spiritual warrior) will stand up against hundreds of thousands” (Sava Lakh Se Ek Larhaun).
Note: This information was put together based on talks by Dharam Singh Nihang Singh and conversations students (Sikhearthi) had with him over the last decades. In line with Gurbani, the Nihang Singh himself has never been keen in making personal experiences public but always stressed to focus on the message of Gurmat.