NIRMAL PAÑCHĀITĪ AKHĀṚĀ is a semināry of the Nirmalā sect of the Sikhs established in 1862 at Paṭiālā. Akhārā, lit. arena, signifies a monastery or seminary with facilities for board, lodging and education of sādhūs of a particular sect or cult. Sannyāsī and Bairāgī sādhūs had their respective akhāṛās, also known as ḍerās at many prominent pilgrim centres. Udāsī Sikhs, too, had established their Pañchāitī akhāṛā in 1779, with headquarters at Prayāg (Allāhābād) and branches at Kāshī and Kankhal. Individual Nirmalā saints had their ḍerās scattered all over Punjab, cis-Sutlej princely states and other parts of the country, but they had no central seat or authority. It was in 1807 that some leading members of the sect first mooted the idea of a pañchāitī akhāṛā of their own, but the proposal had been in contemplation for nearly half a century before it materialized. During the Kumbha fair'-at Haridvār in 1855, a general meeting of the sect unanimously elected Bhāī Mahitāb Siṅgh (1812-71) their Srī Mahant or principal priest. Mahitāb Siṅgh enjoyed the esteem of the rulers of the Phūlkīāṅ states of Paṭiālā, Nābhā and Jīnd. In 1861, the three chiefs, Mahārājā Narinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā, Rājā Bharpūr Siṅgh of Nābhā and Rājā Sarūp Siṅgh of Jīnd, established the Nirmalā akhāṛā at Paṭiālā, where a large house, Chanārthalīāṅ dī Havelī, was placed at its disposal. Formal inauguration took place on 7 August 1862. An elaborate constitution called Dāstur ul-'Amal was drawn up. It was duly approved by the rulers of the three states, who also made cash and land grants for the maintenance of the Akhāṛā. In the text of the constitution the institution is also referred to as Dharam Dhujā Akhāṛā Gurū Gobind Siṅgh Jī. The Dastūr ul-'Amal lays down the strength of the permanent staff. It also requires that all income from whatever sources shall be credited to the accounts of the Akhāṛā and that no priest shall keep any part of the offerings and donations for his own use; assistance given in cash or kind to the needy must be properly recorded; proper accounts must be kept and inspected by the Srī 'Mahant at least once a year; new entrants to the seminary shall be made to swear by the Gurū Granth Sāhib that they offer all their belongings to the institution and that they would always abide by the rules and discipline of the Akhāṛā. The inmates must wear one of their garments in the traditional ochre colour and they must remain celibate. The three state governments by mutual consultation could remove any priest guilty of infringement of the provisions of the Dastūr ul-'Amal.
Mahitāb Siṅgh on his death in 1871 was succeeded as Srī Mahant by Paṇḍit Rām Siṅgh Kuberiā who remained in office until his death in 1896. During his stewardship Nirmal Pañchaitī Akhāṛā expanded considerably. He acquired three large houses at Kankhal near Haridvār in Uttar Pradesh which became run on headquarters of the Nirmalā sect. Besides Kankhal, Haridvār, Paṭiālā and Allāhābād, the Akhāṛā today has branches in the form of preaching centres at Ujjain, Triyambak (Nāsik), Kurukshetra, Paṭnā and some other places.
Giānī Balwant Siṅgh