Rise of the Akali Immortals
Singh Sabha made the Sikhs conscious of their rights.
Educated began to press for their due in services.
Masses wanted to control their gurdwaras.
There were no rules for the administration of Sikh shrines.
Often Mahants (priests), often Hindus, asserted proprietary rights.
Income of certain Gurdwaras, like Golden temple in Amritsar etc ran into several lakh per year.
Many years Sikh associations carried on civil litigation against the mahants.
But later more vigorous opposition started.
Gurdwara Income and management:
The first Sikh temple, Nanak established at Kartarpur, then a simple dharamsal (place of worship) where disciples gathered to listen him and sing.
Later dharmasal became place for all religious activities (baptism, marriage, etc)
There was a guru-ka-langar and a school for children.
It also became pancayatghar where community disputes are settled.
For maintenance and charitable work large estates were given to Gurdwaras.
But there was no rule to manage them.
During Mugal persecution many Sikh shrines were entrusted to members of Udasi order. They are clean shaven and disclaim identity when life is under thread.
This practice continued even after the Mugal rule.
The post of granthi (scripture reader cum caretaker0 passed from father to son.
When British ruled, documents required to be maintained
Often the lands and properties attached to the gurdwaras were entered against the names of the mahants.
The Udasis, to attract Hindus, installed images of Hindu gods and goddesses in gurdwara premises.
Sometimes there was misuse of sacred precincts.
In December 22, 1859, a nine member managing committee was set up to deal with these issues.
But Singh Sabha wanted drastic measures.
Issues became serious in 1912, in Delhi, building new capital, government demolished the old boundary wall of gurdwara Rikab Ganj.
Radicals questioned the rights of Mahants to alienate gurdwara property.
There was a plan to launch a morca (battle front) . it was postponed because of war.
It was re-agitated in 1918.
People were critical about the government.
Some questioned the monopoly of Singh Sabha
1919 thus the “central Sikh league at Amritsar” was set up.
The league’s meeting at Lahore decided –non cooperation with the British.
To send volunteers to take forcible possession of the land acquired by the government.
The government tried to appease the Sikhs.
Demolished wall was rebuilt
Acquired land restored to a committee of representative Sikhs.
There were other allowances too.
Yet frustration and anger began to mount, because the question of managing shrines was not taken seriously.
In 1920, a committee of 175 “Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee” (central gurdwara management committee) SGPC, was formed to manage all Sikh shrines.
Radicals organized semi-military, corps of volunteers “Akali Dal” (Army of Immortals) to take over from Mahants.
Mahants began to yield control to selected committee.
Agreed to become paid granthis.
Gurdwara at Taran Taran was exceptional
Two Akalis died, dozen wounded
It was only a prelude.
The Nankana Holocaust:
Birth place of Nanak. Udasi Mahant Narain Das, maintained mistress, prostitutes to dance, 400 thugs and police protection.
On February 20, 1921, band of Akalis led by Lachman Singh Dharovalia entered the gurudwara.
Thugs attacked the band.
The dead and the dying Akalis were burned in the logs already collected. Police reached. By then 130 were consumed.
Now Akalis from all parts planned to march.
Then the commissioner of Lahore came to the scene. He handed over the keys to the representatives of the SGPC.
Repression and economic distress quickened the pace of Sikh agitation.
The radicals formed “Babar Akalis” i.e. immortal lions.
The keys affair:
The commissioner of Amritsar took the key of the treasury of the Golden Temple from president of SGPC and gave to his own choice.
It created violence leading to Akalis’ direct confrontation with the government forces.
Similar situation was in Guruka Bagh (the garden of the Guru).
Babar Akali Terrorists:
All Sikhs did not accept nonviolence, which the SGPC had adopted.
Behavior of the police at Guru Ka Bagh made some to organize an underground terrorist movement.
Some terrorists were soldiers on leave. They were persuaded to steal weapons. Their effect was intense. Police apprehended 62, trailed. Six men were hanged.
The attitude of both the government and the Akalis hardened.
Later the SGPC and the Akali Dal were declared illegal.
Intense antagonism of police and government against Akalis created sympathy for them.
Sikh Gurdwaras Act:
It was devised by the government for the regulation of gurdwaras.
The SGPC became a sort of parliament of the Sikhs.
Yet the Akalis automatically took over control and have never relinquished.