After the fall of kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, there were several attempts to raise the old glory of the Khalsa. Several movements to reform the Sikhism were started. First one being Namdhari movement, which was started by Baba Ram Singh Namdhari after Anglo Sikh wars. He was a soldier in Khalsa army.
This reform movement known as the Namdhari, or Kuka, movement also had its origin in the north-west corner of the Sikh kingdom, away from the places of royal pomp and grandeur. It harked back to a way of life more in keeping with the spiritual tradition of the community. Its principal object was to spread the true spirit of Sikhism shorn of tawdry customs and mannerism, which had been growing on it since the beginning of Sikh monarchy. In the midst of national pride born of military glory and political power, this movement extolled the religious obligation for a pious and simple living. They were called “Kukas” because of their peculiar style to recite the Gurbani (Sayings of the Gurus). This style was in a high pitched voice, called Kook in punjabi, and thus Namdhari Khalsa’s were named Kukas.
Baba Ram Singh, born at Bhaini, in Ludhiana district in 1816, was a soldier in the Sikh army. With his regiment he once happened to visit Hazro where he fell under the influence of Bhai Balak Singh. He became his disciple and dedicated himself to his mission. For his religious pursuits he had ample time in the army which, towards the end of Ranjit Singh’s day, was comparatively free from its more arduous tasks. In the 1845 Anglo-Sikh war, Baba Ram Singh fought against the English at Moodki.
He gave up service after the occupation of Lahore and returned to his village, Bhaini, which became another important centre of the Namdhari faith. Upon Baba Balak Singh’s death, in 1862, the chief responsibility passed on to Baba Ram Singh, whose growing influence helped in the extension of the movement in central and eastern Punjab. An elaborate agency for missionary work was set up. The name of the head in a district—Suba, meaning governor— had a significant, though remote, political implication. There were altogether twenty-two such Subas, besides two Jathedars, or group leaders, for each tahsil and a Granthi, Scripture-reader or priest, for each village.
In the government papers of that period, Baba Ram Singh’ s mission is described thus:
He abolishes all distinction of caste among Sikhs;
advocates indiscriminate marriage of all classes;
enjoins the marriage of widows;
enjoins abstinence from liquor and drugs … exhorts
his disciples to be cleanly and truth-telling.
To the points mentioned could be added a few more such as reverence for the cow, simpler wedding ceremonies and abolition of infanticide which received equal emphasis. Baba Ram Singh was never reconciled to the rule of the British. His prediction about its early recession was implicitly believed by his followers, who were forbidden to join government service, to go to courts of law or learn the English language. The movement thus acquired a strong political bias. Its chief inspiration was, in fact, derived from opposition to the foreign rule and everything tending to remind one of it was shunned. English education, mill-made cloth and other imported goods were boycotted. In its advocacy of the use of the Swadeshi, the Kuka movement forestalled, in the sixties of the last century, Mahatma Gandhi adopted this method by reading about them and called himself as the founder of the idea of peace and boycott movement.
Kukas even avoided use of the post of fives established by the British and depended upon their own system of postal communication. Messages from their leader were conveyed with special dispatch and alacrity. A fast-riding follower would carry the letter to the next village where another devotee, setting all other work aside, would at once speed on with it. People left off their meals unfinished to reach forward a message.
A spirit of fanatical national fervor and religious enthusiasm grew among the Kukas and the personality of Baba Ram Singh became the focal point of a close and well-organized order. The prospect was not looked upon with equanimity by the government, who, after the incidents of 1857, had become extra watchful. When, in 1863, Baba Ram Singh wanted to go to Amritsar for Baisakhi celebrations to which he had invited his followers from all over the Punjab, the civil authority became alarmed. The Lieutenant-Governor charged the Deputy Inspector-General of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar to ascertain the real intentions of Baba Ram Singh and his companions. The of officials were not in favor of imposing any restrictions, especially on the occasion of a religious fair. But two months later, when Kukas announced a meeting to be held at Khote, a village in Ferozepore district, prohibitory orders were issued banning all Kuka meetings.
The Kuka organization was subjected to strict secret vigilance, and intelligence officers in the districts sent in alarming reports about its aims and activities. It was bruited about that Baba Ram Singh was raising an army to fight the English. Bhaini and Hazro were kept under continuance surveillance. Baba Ram Singh was sent to Andaman islands under Life imprisonment for treason, he wrote letters to his disciples in Punjab and other places. A selection of letters was published by Dr Ganda Singh a few years ago. The letters reveal Baba Ram Singh’s undying faith, his strength of character and his love for his followers. An occasional note of loneliness appears in these letters, though his spirit of patient fortitude always proved stronger.
Baba Ram Singh passed away on November 29, 1885. But many of his followers did not believe that he was dead. They continued to hope that he would one day come to the Punjab and free India from the shackles of the English.
The Kuka movement marked a significant stage in the development of national consciousness in the country. In the seventies of the last century, when the English were reinstalling themselves in India after the revolt of 1857, it gave them another rude jolt.
Like the Nirankaris, Namdharis also formed themselves into a separate sect. Today, they form a distinctly cohesive group among the Sikhs. Two things immediately mark them off from the latter—the style of their headgear and their adherence to the personality of their leader, Baba Jagjit Singh. Appareled in immaculate, white homespun, they wind round their heads mull or long cloth without any semblance or embellishment and without giving it any sharp, emphatic lines.
While chanting the sacred hymns, they work themselves up to such ecstatic frenzy that they begin dancing and shouting. From these shouts and shrieks—kuk, in Punjabi—some humorously inclined youth in a Ludhiana village called them Kukas, little knowing that they were conferring upon the newly developing order a name which would be widely accepted and which would outlive the more carefully chosen appellations adopted by its authors.
The Kuka outbreak was followed by a secret campaign for the restoration of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh king of the Punjab exiled by the British. The Punjab was in the 1880’s astir with rumor. Anticipation filled the air. Reports were studiously kept in circulation that Duleep Singh would lead a Russian invasion into India and overthrow the British. A network of secret communication was laid out. Duleep Singh’s emissaries kept infiltrating into India in spite of government vigilance. His statements and proclamations – as from “the Sovereign of the Sikh nation and Implacable Foe of the British Government” – were smuggled into the country for distribution. But he could not even get to India and died in a hotel in Paris. Dilip Singh, youngest son of Ranjit Singh had 6 children, 5 daughters and one son. All died issueless.