Brief Introduction to Sanatan “Sikh” Shastar Vidiya

A Sikh-Hindu collage from a website promoting 'Sanatan Sikhi'.

‘Sanatanism’ (pronounced “Sa-naa-tan”) or ‘Sanatan Sikhi’ is a perspective on the Sikh faith and people which in recent years has been propagated in the UK by Nang (fake imposter ‘Nihung Singh’) Nidar Singh, a martial arts teacher who calls himself a ‘Sanatan Sikh Shastar Vidiya Gurdev’, and his young influenced followers. Sanatan, literally means ‘traditional’. About one hundred years ago, this philosophy was removed from our gurdwaras when Sikhs, led by the Singh Sabha movement, agitated for rights to control their places of worship and remove Brahmins from their seats.

Niddar: A Sanatanist disguised as a Nihang. Picture Credit:

The main theme of the current propagation in the UK is that gatka has moved away from the original Sikh martial art. While Nidar may be correct in that assumption, he seems to have forgotten that even in the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh the traditional way of fighting with sword, spear, and bow and arrow was on the way out. Modern gatka is a good method of learning coordination of movement and control over your body, regardless of weaponry in use. Actual war today occurs with modern weapons, not with traditional Nihang techniques, which is now more appropriate for self-defence and close-combat fighting.

Nidar Singh and the Sanatanists seems to be confused about Sikhi. A few examples will illustrate this. They propagate a traditional pluralistic Sikhi consisting of Udasis, Seva Panthis, Nirmalas and Akali Nihang Singhs. The simple response to this assertion is to ask if Guru Gobind Singh Ji, when creating the Khalsa on Vaisakhi in 1699, create four sects or was it the one Khalsa?

Guru Gobind Singh Ji says:

ਖਾਲਸਾ ਮੇਰੋ ਰੂਪ ਹੈ ਖਾਸ ॥ ਖਾਲਸੇ ਮਹਿ ਹੌ ਕਰੋ ਨਿਵਾਸ ॥
“The Khalsa is my image. Within the Khalsa I reside.”
(Guru Gobind Singh Ji)

There is no mention by Guru Gobind Singh Ji anywhere that he created, ordained or blessed any sects, splinter groups or divisions amongst the Sikhs.

Guru Amar Daas Ji says:

ਇਕਾ ਬਾਣੀ ਇਕੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਇਕੋ ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ॥
“There is One Bani; there is One Guru; there is one Shabad to contemplate.
(Ang 646)

Sikhi is not a narrow doctrinal religion. If you stick to the belief in One God, Guru Panth and Guru Granth, and follow the Rehat Maryada, that will leave you a lot of freedom for your own individual religious experience. But Nidar Singh and his small group of Sanatanist followers want to include people in the panth who do not follow the Guru’s teachings anymore. Udasis fought with Guru Gobind Singh Ji against the Rajas and the Mughals, they looked after Gurdwaras, but they are not Sikhs.

ਸੋ ਸਿਖੁ ਸਖਾ ਬੰਧਪੁ ਹੈ ਭਾਈ ਜਿ ਗੁਰ ਕੇ ਭਾਣੇ ਵਿਚਿ ਆਵੈ ॥
“He alone is a Sikh, a friend, a relative and a sibling, who walks in the Way of the Guru’s Will.”
(Ang 601)

Nidar Singh contrasts this so-called pluralistic Sikhi with that of the ‘British Raj accommodating’ (or Angrez) Sikhs, who later developed into the Singh Sabha movement. In reality things were quite different. When the British Raj treated the Sikhs well, there was peace. At other times, the Sikhs and the British disagreed—like in the time of the Singh Sabha movement, over who should control the historical Gurdwaras—and there was serious conflict.

Nidar Singh, in some aspects, is similar to some western scholars who also deplore that the Sikhs moved away from the pluralistic Hindu tradition under the influence of the Singh Sabha movement which restored the Sikh panth to the unique path created during the human Gurus’ time. He tries to divide the Khalsa in different ranks, based on military skills. Obviously if the Khalsa is doing building work, we will choose builders as our leaders and when we are waging war, we will follow experienced warriors. But our Guru made farmers, tailors and traders into fighters and he did not want to create a caste of fighting men, or of builders for that matter. Do not forget that our war against injustice involves more than physical fighting. The “Sanatan Sikh Shastar Vidiya Ustad” also favours celibacy, another Hindu tendency.

ਬਿੰਦੁ ਰਾਖਿ ਜੌ ਤਰੀਐ ਭਾਈ ॥
ਖੁਸਰੈ ਕਿਉ ਨ ਪਰਮ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਈ ॥੩॥
“If someone could save himself by celibacy, O Siblings of Destiny, why then haven’t eunuchs obtained the state of supreme dignity? ||3||
(Ang 324)

Nidar Singh’s martial arts might be interesting, and we should be in favour of learning other approaches to martial arts and fighting than just the almost ballet type of gatka popular these days, but he does not know or understand much about Gurmat. Martial arts skills alone are not good enough to teach the Sikh youth about fighting skills and martial arts. If someone openly propagates a distorted view of Sikhi, which includes propagating the use of hemp, cannabis, alcohol, eating meat and pre-marital relationships with ‘non-Muslims’ then this is a big concern.

ਮੂਰਖ ਅੰਧਿਆ ਅੰਧੀ ਧਾਤੁ ॥
ਕਹਿ ਕਹਿ ਕਹਣੁ ਕਹਾਇਨਿ ਆਪੁ ॥੧॥
“The blind fool is running around, leading the blind. The more they say, the more they expose themselves. ||1||”
(Ang 1239)

All Guru fearing and loving Sikhs should keep away from such individuals and small time splinter groups. Gurdwaras beware, do not let these people teach their anti-Sikh ideas to the Sikh youth!

ਕਬੀਰ ਸਾਕਤ ਸੰਗੁ ਨ ਕੀਜੀਐ ਦੂਰਹਿ ਜਾਈਐ ਭਾਗਿ ॥
ਬਾਸਨੁ ਕਾਰੋ ਪਰਸੀਐ ਤਉ ਕਛੁ ਲਾਗੈ ਦਾਗੁ ॥੧੩੧॥
“O Kabeer! Do not associate with the faithless cynics; run far away from them. If you touch a vessel stained with soot, some of the soot will stick to you. ||131||”
(Ang 1371)


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