Search This Blog

Thursday, 4 April 2013

91) Commemorating 150 years of the Kuka Movement: Remembering the sacrifices of Satguru Ram Singh Ji and the other Martyrs:

91) Commemorating 150 years of the Kuka Movement: Remembering the sacrifices of Satguru Ram Singh Ji and the other Martyrs:

The Background which led to the rise of the Namdhari “Kuka” Movement:

After the Anglo-Sikh Wars (first 1845-1846 and second 1848-1849) Punjab had been annexed to the British Empire. The fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom, left the Sikhs demoralised, and several movements for reforming Sikhism started with a view to restoring  their pride once again.

One of the first such Movements was the “Namdhari movement” started by Guru Balak Singh (1797 – 1862) in North – West Punjab. The origin of this movement had its roots in the purification of Sikhism. Its principal objective was to spread the true spirit of Sikhism shorn of tawdry customs and mannerisms.
 Through reminding its followers of their pride born of past military glories and political power, this movement extolled their religious obligation for a pious and simple living, leading to  self-discipline, through which the past glories would once again be attainable.

Guru Balak Singh preached that it was time that  the Sikhs should go back to their spiritual roots and abstain from the deviations which had crept in their way of life, leading to a decline in Sikh values.
He reminded the Sikhs of their spiritual tradition, the principal focus being on  spreading the true spirit of the faith, devoid of empty ritualism. He encouraged them to embrace a life of simplicity and spirituality.

Bhai Ram Singh of Bhaini (Satguru Ram Singh Ji) who had served as a soldier in the Khalsa Armies was attracted to Baba Balak Singh’s philosophy, took the concept forward by organising the Namdharis into a Movement.

The Namdhari Movement was embraced by the commoners primarily and it exhorted its followers to lead a way of life more in keeping with the spiritual traditions of the Sikh community.

The Namdharis were also known as “Kukas” because of their trade-mark style of reciting the “Gurbani” (Sayings/Teachings of the Guru). This style was in a high pitched voice, called “Kook” in Punjabi. Thus, the Namdharis were, also, called “Kukas, Kookas, Kooke, Kooka or Kookeh” or “criers” because of the shrieks (kuks) emitted when they go into ecstatic meditative trances while chanting/reciting their prayers.

Organising the Namdharis into a peaceful Movement of non-cooperation against the British:

Satguru Ram Singh Ji (1816-1885) planned a Freedom Movement in India through peaceful means and declared a “War of Independence” against the British on 12th April 1857.

Some of the peaceful measures adopted by him for the purpose were:

-      He spear-headed a non-cooperation and Swadeshi movement using it as a “weapon” for liberating the country from British rule.

-      He exhorted all Indians to boycott British sponsored Educational institutions, courts, services, postal and transport systems and taught his followers not to wear any foreign made clothes or use any foreign goods.  His basic philosophy was “Be Indian, Buy Indian and Remain Indian”.

-       He promoted the use of Khadi and other Indian made goods. He encouraged cottage industry for the upliftment of the poor.

-      He stood for social reforms. He exhorted the people not to resort to female infanticide and advocated equal rights for women in society and in education. He introduced a system of dowry-less, inter-caste mass marriage in June 1863 among his followers.

-      Thousands of people flocked to his Movement and responded to his Swadeshi call.

-      He established Panchayat Raj for administration, used religious and community halls/places for education, set up his own postal system, developed diplomatic relations with several Indian kingdoms as well as neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Nepal and Russia. He, thus, set up a parallel Government, much to the alarm of the British Authorities in India.

The British India Authorities backlash :

-      By 1863, wary of the growing influence of Satguru Ram Singh Ji, the British India Authorities began to impose restrictions on Satguru Ram Singh Ji’s religious assemblies and on his movements.

-      By 1866, the number of Namdharis had swelled and following the tenets of their faith, they set about destroying Sanatan Sikh-Hindu tombs, ancestral shrines, village spots and other sacred sites.
  By 1867, this activity had picked up tremendously and some Namdharis were detained by the British India authorities on charges of destroying property and indulging in dangerous acts leading to violence.

-      By 1872, fearing that there was an escalating law and order problem on their hands, and that they would lose control within the territories which Satguru Ram Singh Ji had influenced, the British India authorities were on the look-out for an opportunity put down the Movement with an iron hand.

-      Meanwhile, some of the Namdhari Sikhs in keeping with their religious beliefs of not eating beef visited a few butcher houses asking the butchers to stop the practice of slaughtering cows immediately. The ensuing altercation between them and the butchers led to a few butchers being killed.

-      As a result, the initially peaceful Movement of non-cooperation started by Satguru Ram Singh Ji against the British, had now assumed dangerous proportions and had turned violent.

-      The Namdhari Sikhs were declared “terrorists” by the British India authorities and although they put up a strong resistance against the British India authorities, were soon overpowered and defeated and their militancy crushed. 

-      Several of Satguru Ram Singh Ji’s followers were either killed or captured by the British. 10 of them were hanged and 66 were shot by cannon while hundreds of his followers were drowned in sea-water. Those who were not martyred were imprisoned in jails both in India and abroad. Satguru Ram Singh Ji was himself arrested and exiled in 1872 itself to Rangoon.

-      None of them were given fair trials – a live example of how British India authorities used to treat Indian citizens seeking Independence and self-governance.

The Aftermath of the brutal measures adopted by the British India Authorities:

-      Despite the tyrannical measures adopted by the British India Authorities, the Namdhari Sikhs continued to oppose British Rule.

-      They retained their religious fervour and evolved a distinct identity for themselves over the years.

-      Baba Hari Singh (who was Satguru Ram Singh Ji’s brother) took his place and continued the Movement. He was succeeded upon his passing away in 1906 by Baba Partap Singh, who imparted the Movement great impetus.

-      By the end of the Nineteenth century they discarded their militancy and returned to their peaceful ideology.

-      Upon Baba Partap Singh’s death in 1959, Baba Jagjit Singh became their Guru.

-      They continued to be in the forefront of the Indian Independence Movement for the next 90 years after their Movement was crushed by the British India Authorities, i.e. till 1947, when India gained Independence from the British Rule and the Right to self-governance.

-      Their Headquarters were originally in North West Punjab under Guru Balak Ram, but shifted to Bhaini Sahib in Ludhiana under Satguru Ram Singh Ji. Apart from Bhaini Sahib, Jivan Nagar in Haryana are the two main centres of the Namdharis – present day.

-      Some Authorities consider the Namdhari opposition to the British India Rule as the first “War of Indian Independence”.   
Commemorative coin issued by Reserve Bank of India:

The Reserve Bank of India has issued a five rupee coin in January 2013 to commemorate the occasion of 150 years of the Kuka Movement (1857-2007), for general circulation.
 (The launch of the coin was made on 5th October 2012, in a special ceremony held on the occasion).

The specifications of the coin are:

Shape: Circular; Diameter: 23 mm; Number of Serrations: 100; Metal Composition: Nickel Brass (Copper – 75%; Zinc – 20%; Nickel – 5%).

Reverse of the five rupee coin. On the outer periphery is mentioned “Kuka Aandolan ke 150 Varsh” in Hindi on the left flank and “150 years of the Kuka Movement” in English on the right flank.
At the bottom of the outer periphery is the period of commemoration “1857 – 2007” below which is the “Diamond” mint mark of the Mumbai mint, indicating that this coin has been minted at the India Government Mint, Mumbai. Within a circle, in the centre is a portrait of Satguru Ram Singh Ji.
In the background, on the left side is shown two of Baba Ram Singh Ji’s followers hanged, while on the right side, two of his followers are being shot by a cannon. Around the portrait on the inner periphery is mentioned the inscription “Satguru Ram Singh Ji” in Hindi on the left and in English on the right.

This is, perhaps, the only coin issued by the Reserve Bank of India, where I have seen brutal/stark images of hanged martyrs or being shot by cannon. Perhaps, the coin designers could have portrayed the “armed struggle” of the Kuka Movement in a better representation, instead of these “insensitive?” images, particularly for the descendants/families of the martyrs. Just a thought that I wanted to share!!

Obverse of the five Rupee coin. This face shows the Lion Capital in the centre with the legend “Satyameva Jayate” (Truth will Prevail) inscribed below the legend.
On the left periphery/flank is the word “Bharat”, in Hindi/Devnagri script and on the right hand periphery/flank is mentioned “India”, in English.
On the bottom half of the coin is mentioned the denominational value of the coin with the numeral “5” preceded by the rupee symbol.
Given below are another two images of the obverse and reverse of another coin issued on this occasion, minted at the IGM Mumbai:

It speaks volumes of the “questionable” quality of minting of coins at the Mumbai Mint (and other Mints?), that, the outer shining layer/ coating of this coin has already come off, although, the coin has been in circulation for less than 2 months.  Perhaps, a relook is required at the Reserve Bank of India/ India Government Mints to ensure that minted coins retain their coating/shine at least for a few years, particularly in the case of commemorative coins, which are issued to honour persons, events and institutions etc. who/which have left their mark in shaping Indian History!!

The Principal tenets of the Namdhari doctrine:

-      All Namdharis are “keshdharis” (having long uncut hair). Based on the tenets prescribed by Satguru Ram Singh Ji, they wear only white home-spun clothing.

-      The men wear turbans tied horizontally across the forehead called the “Sidha Pag” (straight turban), tight pants and long “kurtas”.

-      They carry a smaller version of the “kirpan” (dagger) to symbolise the sword of a “Khalsa” warrior. This practice was adopted after the British feared another Namdhari revolt against them and did not permit them to carry full-fledged swords. They also wear a knotted woollen cord around their necks which also serves as a rosary.

-      They believe in the efficacy of remembering the Divine name (“Naam – Simaran”) and using the rosary in this practice.

-      They are strict vegetarians and are known for their simple living and rigid code of conduct. They believed that food which is not prepared by their own hands should not be eaten. Protection of cows is a cardinal tenet of their belief.

-      They abstain from falsehood, slander, adultery and consumption of liquor, hemp or opium.

-      Women are freely admitted to the ranks of the brotherhood and participate in all community activities.

-      Female infanticide, enforced widowhood and dowry are forbidden.

-      They do not believe in caste distinctions in Sikhism.

-      They follow a few non-Sikh traditions like “havan” (worshipping the fire) and believe in the efficacy of Mantras which can be considered Hindu customs.

-      They do not believe in sacred sites, for ex. temples, village spots or holy places or shrines) for they believe in the internalisation of faith through chanting the Divine name.

Differences with mainstream Sikhs:

-      The primary difference in the points of view between Namdhari and the mainstream Sikhs is their belief in a living Guru (with Baba Jagjit Singh being their present living Guru), as opposed to the Guru Granth Sahib, which is regarded as the present Guru of the Sikhs.

-      Namdharis, also, give equal importance to both, the “Guru Granth Sahib” (Adi Granth) and the “Dasam Granth” (the holy book written by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh).

-      They believe that the “last” living Guru i.e. Guru Gobind Singh was not the last Guru and because of assassination attempts on him, he lived in secret/seclusion till the age of 146 and passed on the responsibilities of a living Guru i.e. Guru Balak Singh. The present Guru for them is Baba Jagjit Singh.

-      The Namdharis consider themselves as Sikhs, but not the Khalsa.

-      The Namdharis because of these differences are not accepted as Sikhs by the main adherents to the Sikh faith.
  Posted on 16.03.2015:

   A Commemorative Coin issued by the Hyderabad Mint booked in August 2014, has been received by me today from the Mint.

   The cover of the album on which is shown an image of Satguru Ramsinghji. On the top of the album is mentioned “Smarak Sikka” in Hindi and “Commemorative Coin” in English. Also mentioned on this cover is “Kuka Aandolan ke 150 Varsh 1857-2007” (in Hindi) and “150 Years of Kuka Movement 1857-2007” (in English).

  On the second page of the album, inter alia, is a description of the 150 Years of Kuka Movement 1857-2007, which is as follows:

 “The War of Independence

  The Kuka Movement was launched on the Baisakhi day in April 1857 at Bhaini, in Ludhiana District of Punjab by Baba Ramsingh. Sri Satguru Ramsingh was inspired by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s struggle against foreigners and worked for social reforms. He gave a call for a political battle against the British. Sri Satguru Ramsingh was born in a small village in Ludhiana District, Punjab on 3rd February 1816. He was a religious leader, social reformer, a spiritual teacher and national leader who called upon the people to boycott government services, British run educational Institutions and law court, foreign made goods and to defy British laws. He was the originator of the non-violent and civil disobedience movement in Punjab in 1872.”

 The coins commemorating the 150 Years of Kuka Movement were released on 05.10.2012.

 Obverse of the Rupees Five Commemorative coin. In the Centre is the Lion Capitol of Emperor Asoka with the legend “Satyameva Jayate” in Hindi meaning “Truth always Prevails” which is the emblem of the Government of India. On the left periphery is mentioned “Bharat” (in Hindi) and on the right periphery is mentioned “India” (in English). The denomination of the coin “Rs.5” is at the extreme bottom.

  Reverse of the Rupees Five Commemorative coin. In the centre is an image of Satguru Ramsinghji. On the left periphery is mentioned “Kuka Aandolan ke 150 Varsh” in Hindi. On the right periphery is mentioned “150 Years of Kuka Movement” in English. On the bottom of this face is mentioned the commemoration years “1857-2007”.

  Below the commemoration years is the “Star” mint mark of the Hyderabad Mint. 

  The specifications of this coin are:

  Denomination: Rs. Five; Metal Composition: Alloy Ni-Brass; Copper: 75%, Zinc: 20%, Nickel: 5%; Dimensions: Diameter: 23 mm; Weight: 6.00 gms. No. of serrations: 100.
   Postage stamps:

   India Post has issued a Commemorative Stamp in the denomination of Rs.5/- on the Kuka Movement on 24.2.2014: 


(The circulation five-rupee coin has been given for my collection by Krishna Tonpe)


  1. Ramchandra Lalingkar has commented on 04.04.13:
    "Thanks for providing the detailed history of 'Kuka Movement' and remembering the sacrifices made by the 'Namdhari' Sikhs while fighting with the British".

  2. I want sell five rupee coin kuka andolan 150 years.

    1. Hello Shah Alam,
      Please give your contact number & email address so that if any visitor to this blog post is interested he can contact you.