AKĀLĪ, a term now appropriated by members of the dominant Sikh political party, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, founded in 1920, and groups splitting from it from time to time, was earlier used for Nihaṅgs (q. v. ), an order of armed religious zealots among the baptized Sikhs. The word Nihaṅg is from the Persian Nihaṅg meaning crocodile, alligator, shark or water dragon, and signifies qualities of ferocity, and fearlessness. The term Akālī is originally from Akāl, the Timeless One. Gurū Nānak (1469-1539) described God as Akāl Mūrati, the Eternal Form. Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644), who adopted a royal style, named his seat at Amritsar Akāl Takht, the Everlasting Throne. It was, however, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh who popularized the term Akāl as an attributive name of God. A set of his hymns is entitled Akāl Ustati (God's Praises). When he instituted, in 1699, the Khālsā, a body of warriors initiated through baptism of the double-edged sword, he gave them the war-cry "Sat Srī Akāl !" (the True, the Radiant, the Timeless One). It was probably from this war-cry that the Siṅghs or initiated Sikhs, variously called Bhujaṅgīs and Nihaṅgs, came also to be known as Akālīs. Although the Nihaṅgs trace their origin from Sāhibzādā Fateh Siṅgh, the youngest son of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh or from Bhāī Mān Siṅgh, a Sikh of the Tenth Gurū, the earliest use of Akālī as a title appears with the name of Naiṇā Siṅgh, an eighteenth- century Nihaṅg warrior and a junior leader in the Shahīd misl. Akālī Naiṇā Siṅgh is credited with introducing the tall pyramidal turban common among the Nihaṅgs to this day. Akālīs became prominent as an organized force under Akālī Phūlā Siṅgh (d. 1823), one time ward and disciple of Naiṇā Siṅgh. Phūlā Siṅgh's Akālīs formed the crack brigade in Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's army as well as the custodians of the nation's conscience and morals. After the occupation of the Punjab by the British in 1849, Akālī regiments were disbanded and, military service being their only career, their numbers dwindled rapidly. In the 1892 census only 1, 376 persons were returned as "Sikh Akālīs or Nihaṅgs, " and in 1901 this number further came down to a bare 431, besides 136 who registered themselves as Akālīs by caste. Of these 457 were males and 110 females. During the Gurdwārā reform movement (1920-25), the term Akālī came to be associated with the reformers who organized themselves into a political body, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. Even the reform movement itself was referred to as the Akālī movement. A rival body set up in mid- 1930's also named itself the Central Akālī Dal. The Nihaṅgs are no longer called Akālīs. The last prominent Nihaṅg known as an Akālī was Akālī Kaur Siṅgh (1886-1953).


  1. Gulati, Kailash Chander, The Akālīs: Past and Present. Delhi, 1974
  2. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  3. Cunningham, J. D. , A History of the Sikhs. London, 1849

Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)