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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Problematizing the problematic: the Nihangs within the great Sikh court of 19th century India Sandhra, Sharanjit Kaur

Abstract

This thesis is an attempt to look at the nature of a specific Sikh sect during a very specific period in history. While conducting my preliminary research, I realized that very little work has been done on the Nihangs, and what very little work there was, it was scattered, fragmentary, and contradictory. As such, by looking at this unique sect, I realized that although I would not be able to find all the correct answers, I would still be able to dissect the Nihangs within the 19th century period, and connect them to the great Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, and his Sikh court. There is no doubting that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a great ruler who managed to unite the entire Sikh nation, and even thwart off British interests in his land. Yet, despite the obvious immense power Ranjit Singh held, the presence of the Nihangs, thwarted somewhat, and altered such dynamics of power. And thirdly, I argue that the Nihangs were able to alter the balances of power within the Sikh court through their dual presence as players within the Sikh court, and allies of the Maharaja, and then their opposite role as players outside of the Sikh court, and disturbers of such powers. I argue that although on the one hand, the Nihangs were active fighters for and protectors of Ranjit Singh, and were thus even incorporated into the ever famous darbar portraits, there was a dual aspect of this sect which countered theirloyal nature. Thus, I also argue that the Nihangs were able to demonstrate great power within the Sikh court of the 19th century as they also were a continual menacing and disturbing presence, often abusing European visitors, disobeying orders, and even verbally and physically abusing the Maharaja himself. I hope that in reading this thesis, the reader will also come to the conclusion that the Nthangs did have certain privileges and powers within the Sikh court, so much so, that they were also able to dually challenge the powers of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and his court.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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