The word ‘Nihang’ stands for one who is free from egotism (Nih means without, Ahan-g means ego). To shun one’s ego or getting rid of egotism is the sole target of a Gursikh. It is possible to get rid of egotism through complete understanding of Gurbani. A Gursikh who has acquired complete understanding of Gurbani is called a Gurmukh, or one having spiritual wisdom. Other names for spiritual wisdom that have been used in the Gurbani are Gyaan Khadag (sword of knowledge) and Sach ki Kaati (knife of truth). Every human being has to conquer his mind by equipping oneself with this formless spiritual sword. Meaning thereby that complete understanding of Gurmat is capable of cutting all the figments originating in the mind. The end of formation of these figments of the material world in one’s mind is an indicator of becoming a self-aware, self-realized person who is indifferent to the material pleasures. That is why the meanings of the word ‘Nihang’ given in the Mahan Kosh are according to the above context.
In their respective doctrines, the worldly-minded people had promoted the spiritual words like Sant, Saadh, Brahm Gyaani, Satguru, Guru, Dev etc after giving them meanings having worldly connotations. Gurbani has emended all these words. Likewise, the meanings of the word ‘Nihang’ had been presumed by the confused intellectuals according to their own doctrine. Gurbani has rejected those meanings as is evident from the following verse:
There are two types of doctrines in the world. One is the doctrine of truth, the God’s own doctrine. This doctrine can convert the human intelligence into spiritual wisdom, which along with making one perceptive of the temporal world, awakens one to the afterlife as well. The other doctrine, while feigns to provide all the achievements of the first doctrine, but due to it being incapable of doing so engulfs the seeker in such a web of illusion that the seeker becomes a blind believer and superstitious of the highest degree. Then anything, whether ethical or unethical could be gotten done through him on the name of so-called religion. That is because the spiritual prowess within him has been destroyed. Consequently, such people are limited to the cleanliness of the body rather than the purity of the mind. Catering to the illusion that peace of the mind can be achieved through external materialistic things, they engage themselves in amassing materialistic possessions. Oblivious to the understanding of their inner spiritual identity, these confused intellectuals and cynics waste their human life entrapped in darkness. Owing to this entrapment, these people consider sacrificing their physical lives to their deities as an extreme act of piety. Such self-immolators used to be called ‘fearless Nihang’. Whereas according to the truthful doctrine of Gurmat, the sacrifice that was needed to be given was that of the mind. Thus, while it was imperative to die in context of one’s mind, but the physical death was taken as a religious or pious act which is nothing but a crime. The above verse of Gurbani hints at this particular aspect.
As far as the meanings of the word ‘Nihang’ taken as sword are concerned, then rather than the physical sword, they stand for the formless ‘sword of knowledge’, ‘spiritual wisdom’, and ‘knife of truth’. This alone is called the ‘Sword of Piri’. Bhagats and Guru Sahibaans used this sword of knowledge during their discourses with the other faiths to cut through the web of illusions of confused intellectuals, and showed the path of salvation to gullible people. Using this very sword of knowledge, Guru Nanak Sahib laid the strong foundation of the domain of the truth. That is, he himself lived according to this true doctrine and so did all the following Gurus up to the tenth. After that, the Khalsa (or Nihang) tradition that possessed this sword of knowledge, that is Gurbani, was established by Guru Gobind Singh. Now the responsibility for propagation and spread of Gurmat lies with the ‘Nihang Singhs’. Not from today, this responsibility was entrusted to the Singhs since the time Satguru ji partook the gift of Amrit from the five Singhs. Although as long as Satguru ji’s physical body was present he used to expound on Gurmat himself, but he never considered himself to be above the Khalsa tradition. That is why he agreed to leave the Chamkaur fortress on the order of Nihang Singhs (the five Singhs). Since then, the control of Khalsa tradition has always remained under the leadership of five chief Singhs. Or to say it differently, in place of Satguru ji, five Singhs used to provide religious leadership.
By the virtue of it being the doctrine of eternal God, Gurmat is an eternal doctrine. It is the inner voice that is present in each one of us. That is why its realization has been, and will always be available from within. ‘Nihang Khalsa’ is the adherent of this doctrine, inheritor to the eternal kingdom, bumblebee of the eternal Sabad Guru, abdicator of worldly kingdoms, and believer in the kingship of God rather than any man. Until today, never has the desire for worldly kingdoms arisen in the adherents of this doctrine. The message in the verse, Rāj na cẖāha▫o mukaṯ na cẖāha▫o man parīṯ cẖaran kamlāre. (Page 534), is like a check on the sentiment of ‘Raj Karega Khalsa’. If this sentiment is used by the Khalsa to achieve eternal kingdom and emancipation of life, then it cannot be in dissension with the Guru. Although the kings of the Misls were also from the same Khalsa tradition, but before becoming a Misldaar, they used to be disrobed off the uniform given by the Guru because then they were considered as second rung Sikhs. That is why the robe of the Nihang Singhs and that of the Sikh Sardaars was different. Even until today, Nihang Singhs have never had a desire to achieve worldly kingdom, although perhaps many among contemporary Nihang Singhs might not know about this key fact because it is natural for many a shortcomings to surface over time. The lack of complete understanding of Gurmat is the biggest reason for this.
‘Nihang Singhs’ consider them to be the army of Akal Puarkh because Dasam Patshah created the Khalsa as the army of Akal Purakh. That is why during the baptizing ceremony, Singhs are asked to chant ‘Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh’. This phrase is repeated several times. This means that from now onwards, Khalsa belongs to the God and the victory of the Khalsa is not possible without the will of the God. The victory achieved through the will of the God must be attributed as the victory of the God or Waheguru. There must be no misconception about it being the victory of a man. If it cultivates the misconception that the victory belongs to himself or his associates, then sorry, such a Khalsa does not remain a Khalsa in the true sense. At odds with the Guru, he would be egotistic, ignorant, materialistic, and extreme blind and deaf.
As long as the question of Khalsa being detached from the material world is concerned, keeping in mind the contemporary materialistic age it can be safely said that there is much blessing of the God on Nihang Singhs even today. There are still many a Singhs among them even today, who are above the web of materialistic pleasures and thus adored by the Guru. In the past, there had been great contended Singhs who understood the illusory web of Ranjit Singh and kept the Guru Khalsa safe from the worship funds (donation chest) in the Gurdwaras. Therefore, when the management of the Gurdwaras went into the hands of the Mahants, then Panth Khalsa used to keep an eye on them. There could not be much fellowship of Khalsa with the Sikh Sangat because the materialistic Sikh Sangat has always considered the Khalsa who solely follows the path of Gurmat as foolish. Sikh leaders, who consider them to be the savior of Sikhs, too have been covertly jealous with the Nihang Singhs. The reason being the Nihang Singhs were quite aware of the hidden motives of the Sikh leaders owing to having similar experience during establishment of the Misls. Nihang Singhs are the flagbearers of Sikhi; but these so-called representatives who got authority (or political control) with the help of the Panth Khalsa, and are damaging Sikhi (Gurmat) itself cannot befool Panth Khalsa from now on in the future. It is reassuring that now even the ordinary Sikh Sangat has also gotten aware of their inner chicanery.