KUKAS or NAMDHARIS, the name given to the members of a sectarian group that arose among the Sikhs towards the close of the nineteenth century. Kuk, in Punjabi, means a scream or shout. While chanting the sacred hymns at their religious congregations, the adherents of the new order broke into ecstatic cries which led to their being called Kukas. The other term Namdharis, also used for them, means devotees of nam, i.e. those attached to God`s Name. The sect had its origin it the movement of reform intimations of which first became audible in the northwest corner of the Sikh kingdom of Lahore.

It harked back to a way of life more in keeping with the spiritual tradition of the Sikhs. Its principal concern was to spread the true spirit of the faith shorn of empty ritualism which had grown on it since the beginning of Sikh monarchy. These ideas were preached by Baba Balak Singh (1797-1862), a pious and saintly man, who collected around him at Hazro, in Atlock district in the northwest frontier region, a small following. He was visited one day by a young man, Ram Singh (1816-85), then serving in the Sikh army.

Ram Singh was deeply impressed by Baba Balak Singh`s concern about the decline of Sikh values in the wake of political power and his appeal for a life of simplicity and spirituality.He resigned from the army and dedicated himself to his precept. Before he died, Baba Balak Singh named him his successor. Baba Ram Singh who made Bhaim in Ludhiana district his headquarters, imparted to the movement vigour as well as form. He attached special importance to the administration of the rites of amril or pahul, the vows of the Khalsa introduced by Guru Gobind Singh.

Those admitted to the discipline were distinguished by their peculiarly simple style of tying their turbans and by their woollen rosary and white dress. A strict code of conduct was enjoined upon the members. They were to adore the One Formless Being and to acknowledge but one Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib.They were forbidden to worship at tombs and graves and to venerate scions of Sodhi and Bed! families, then claiming religious popularity. The importance of leading a life of regular prayer and meditation and of abstinence from falsehood, slander, adultery, and from eating flesh and use of liquor, hemp or opium was reiterated.

Protection to the cow was made a cardinal principle of the Kukas` social ethics. Beggary and parasitism were condemned as evil, and industry and charity were applauded. Regard for personal hygiene, likewise, formed an essential ingredient of the Kuka code. No caste distinctions were recognized.Women were freely admitted to the ranks of the brotherhood and were allowed to participate in all community activity. Female infanticide, enforced widowhood and dowry were forbidden. Simple and inexpensive marrige custom, following Sikh injunctions, was introduced.

Baba Ram Singh asked his followers to breed horses, learn horsemanship and carry clubs in their hands; also, to recite daily Guru Gobind Singh`s martial poem, Chanat a1 Var. An hierarchical structure comprising subds (governors), naib subas (deputy governors) and jathedars operated within their jursidictions and maintained with the centre at BhainT Sahib, as also amongst themselves, regular communication by means of their own private postal service.Special emphasis was laid on the use of swadeshi, homespun cloth, as against the imported mill made cloth. Education through the medium of English introduced by the British was to be shunned.

The Kuka activity made the government wary and in April 1863 Baba Ram Singh and his followers were interrogated by officials at the time of their visit to Amritsar. This was resented by the Kukas who had among their ranks some old soldiers of the Sikh army and who were generally critical of Christian proselytization as well as of the opening of slaughterhouses by the foreign rulers. Their divans were now marked by added fervour.The news that ihe head man of a village in Firozpur district had turned a Kukas, burning away in his new zeal his plough, bullock cart, a bedstead and the spinning wheel, alarmed the district authorities who saw in such accretions the signs of the growing influence of the movement.

More than 40 Kukas trying to convene a meeting at Tharajvala, in Firozpur district, were arrested and seven of them were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment by the deputy commissioner. The government found further grounds for suspicion in some of the Kukas`joining the armies of the Indian princes.It was feared that the object of such recruits was to get military training and then return to the Punjab to raise a tumuli against the British. Since the Kukas were averse to seeking service under the English, some of them had visited Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Kashmir in 1869 and offered to join the slate forces.

The Maharaja agreed to recruit a new regiment and enlisted about 150 Kukas under the command of Suba Hira Singh of Sadhaura, but the force was disbanded two years later under pressure from the British government. In the early seventies of the 19th century, events moved at a catastrophic pace bringing the career of the Kuka revolution to a dramatic climax.In their real for protecting the cow, some Kukas attacked a slaughterhouse in the sacred city of Amritsar on the night of 15 June 1871. Four butchers were killed and three seriously wounded.

Seven of the Kukas were apprehended out of whom four paid the extreme penalty of the law. Exactly a month later, a similar incident took place a Raikot, in Ludhiana district, where three butchers were killed. Five Kukas including GianT Raian Singh, esteemed as a scholar, were awarded death penalty. Returning from the Maghi fair at Bhaini Sahib at the beginning of ;872, a group of Kukas planned to plundc; u.c armoury at Malerkotia, the capital of a princely state.On the way. they attacked the house of the Sikh chief of Malaud to rob it of arms and horses which they needed for their assault on Malerkotia.

At Malerkotia, the Kukas, more than a hundred strong, were challenged by police as they scaled the city wall on the morning of 15 January 1872 to enter the treasury. In the fracas that followed eight policemen and seven Kukas lost their lives. Sixty-eight of the Kukas, including two women, were captured by Mir Nia/ `AIT, an officer of the Patiala slate, at Rar, a nearby village to which they had retired.Under orders of the British deputy commissioner of Ludhiana, all of them, cxcepi the women prisoners who were made over to Patiala authorities, were executed 49 blown off by cannon and one put to tlie sword on 17 January and the remaining 16 again killed at gunmouth.

Baba Ram Singh was exiled from the Punjab along with ten of his Subas, and taken to Allahabad from where he was transferred to Rangoon and detained under the Bengal Act of 1818. The Subas were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. A police post was stationed at Bhaini Sahib, the Kuka headquarters, and the entire setup placed under strict surveillance.Village functionaries, zaildars and nambardars, were ordered to report under penalty of deprivation of office or other punishment the movements of Kukas within their respective areas. The assembly of more than five Kukas was forbidden throughout the Punjab as also the carrying in public of axes, ironknobbed sticks and other weapons.

Despite these repressive measures, the movement was sustained by the mystique that grew around Baba Ram Singh. His followers continued to believe that lie would one day reappear among them and lead them to freedom from British rule. A few even made tlie ha/.ardous journey to Rangoon to sec him, circumventing the guards, and bring messages from him.In the Punjab, Baba Ram Singh`s brother, Budh Singh, who now assumed the name of Hari Singh, took his plarc. One of the Subas, Gurcharan Singh an o. after him Bishan Singh, made secret trips across the borders to make con tact with the Russians.

Prophecies, in the name of Guru Gobind Singh, were circulated predicting that Russia would invade the Punjab and drive away the Britisli. The Kukas were also active in campaign for the restoration of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh sovereign of the Punjab, who had been dethroned after the second AngloSikh war. With the turn of the century, the excitement had ebbed away. The Kukas retained their religious fervour and evolved over the years a distinct identity.The process received great stimulus from the personality of Baba Partap Singh who succeeded Baba Hari Singh upon his death in 1906.

Klikas emerged, under his leadcrshp, as a cohesive social and religious group. Their numbers increased and they flourished in their chosen trades such as animal husbandry, agriculture and small industry. Baba Partap Singh died in 1959 and was succeeded by Baba Jagjit Singh. Bhaini Sahib, in Ludhiana district in the Punjab, and Jivan Nagar, in Hissar district in Haryana, are today the two principal centres of the Namdharis, term which is now more commonly used.

The Namdharis generally go to their own Gurudwaras. They instal the Guru Granth Sahib in their Gurudwaras, but believe in living Gurus, Baba Jagjit Singh being their present pontiff. The Namdharis are known for their simple living and rigid code of conduct. They wear white homespun and wind round their heads mull or long cloth without any semblance of embellishment. They are strict vegetarians. Marriages are performed inexpensively usually in groups on special occasion such as Hola Mahalla.

References :

1. Ganda Singh, Kukidii. di Vithid. Amritsar, 1944
2. Vahiini, Taran Singh, ass Jivan. Rainpur (Hi.ssar), 1971
3. Fauja Singh, Kukii Movement. Delhi, 1965
4. Jaswinder Singh, Kuka Movement: Freedom Simple in Punjab. Delhi, 1985
5. Ahlnwalia, M.M., Knkas : The Freedom Fighter`, of the Panjab. Bombay, 1965
6. Jolly, Snrjit Kaur, Sikh [ieviralist Movements. Delhi, 1988
7. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. 11. Princelon, 1966
8. Hal-bans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983 F.S.