Nirankari movement
(est. 1851)
   The Nirankari movement developed within the larger Sikh community as an effort to revive a faltering SIKHISM. The founder, Baba Dyal (1783–1855), denounced new rites and rituals being introduced into Sikhism at the time, which he said were an indication that Sikhism was being absorbed into the more dominant Hinduism. The movement gained its name from his emphasis on Nirankar, or God the formless one.
   In 1851, Baba Dyal formally organized his small following as the Nirankari Darbar. He was succeeded four years later by his son, Baba Darbara Singh. Among the emphases of the move-ment was abstinence from alcohol.
   The movement remained small but received a boost in the 1930s from Boota Singh (1883–1944), who sought to revitalize it. He began to preach against all regulations based upon external habits and appearances, including all rules about what one wears, eats, or drinks (including the prohibition of alcohol).
   Boota Singh received initiation from the SANT MAT lineage that looks back to Jaimal Singh (1838–1903). He not only passed the lineage to the present leader of the movement but also added the practice of jnana, the giving of knowledge by the GURU (or his representative) to each member of the movement. The giving of knowledge is a confidential aspect of the Nirankari faith, and members agree not to divulge its nature. Members also agree not to discriminate against people in respect to caste, sex, color, religion, or worldly status; not to criticize anyone because of his or her diet or dress; and to make no renunciation of the world.
   Boota died in 1944, and he passed leadership of his small following within the larger Nirankari movement to Avtar Singh (1899–1969). The lat-ter saw the partition of India and the movement of many Hindus from what is now Pakistan back into Indian territory. Operating from Delhi, he began to gather a following especially among the newly migrating Sikhs. In 1947 he formally organized the Nirankari Sant Mission, which held its first annual meeting (Samagam) the next year. The growth was such that Avtar Singh’s following constituted the main body of Nirankaris.
   In 1969, Avtar Singh was succeeded by Gur-bachan Singh (1930–80), who would oversee significant growth of the movement outside India through the British Commonwealth and the United States. A major stimulant for growth was Gurbachan Singh’s world tour the year before he became the head of the movement. Once in his leadership role, he formed a foreign section to stimulate further growth around the world. In 1971, he traveled to North America and organized the work in the United States and Canada. He also authored Avtar Bani, which serves as a holy book for the Nirankaris.
   Gurbachan Singh asserted his belief that Nirankaris were Sikhs, in spite of their separate organization. Many Sikhs disputed these claims; against the tense background of Sikh demands for independence from India, intra-Sikh violence occasionally erupted. In 1980, Gurbachan Singh was assassinated. He was succeeded by Hardev Singh Ji Maharaj (b. 1954), who continues as head of the movement, now known as the Nirankari Sant Samagam of the Nirankari Universal Brother-hood Mission. Assisting Hardev Singh Ji Maharaj are seven men chosen by him and known as the Seven Stars.
   Further reading: J. S. Chugh, Fifty Years of Spiritual Bliss: Commemorative Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee Nirankari Sant Samagam, November 6–10, 1997 (Delhi: Sant Nirankari Mandal, 1997); C. L. Gulotti, A Mis-sion for All (Delhi: Sant Nirankari Mandal, 1997); Krishnan Lal, The Mission and the Missionaries (Delhi: Sant Nirankari Mandal, 1987); Nirankari Baba Hardev Singh, Stream of Thoughts (Delhi: Sant Nirankari Man-dal, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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