Establishing the UK Shiv Akhara

In 1967, Gurdev Nidar Singh Nihang was born to a proud Jat family based in Wolverhampton, UK. He spent a good portion of his early life in Punjab with his grandparents, grandaunt, great-grandmother and his 'massi' (maternal aunt, his mother's childless sister),and her husband, his beloved uncle. At the age of ten or so, he returned to the UK to continue his secondary education.

In 1984, at the age of 17, he returned to India. It would be a chance encounter which would lead him to meet his Gurdev, Akali Nihang Baba Mohinder Singh (1920-1995). Nidar Singh began the study of Shastar Vidiya, and in doing so, he sacrificed his college education, much to the dismay of his parents. Aside from the occasional trip back home to the UK, he remained in India where he spent eleven years under assiduous tutelage. It was shortly thereafter that he inherited a great responsibility. He received the mantel of Gurdev of the Akali Nihang Baba Darbara Singh Sanatan Suraj Bansia Shastar Vidiya Shiv Akhara which had been established in 1661. However, unwittingly, he became the only surviving master of Sanatan Shastar Vidiya.

In India, Gurdev Nidar Singh would see the passing away of his grandparents, grandaunt, great grandmother and his aunt and uncle.� In 1995, he arrived back to the UK along with his wife. The task that lay before Gurdev Nidar Singh was simple: to re-establish Sanatan Shastar Vidiya to ensure it is preserved for posterity. A choice lay before him:

Being a man of Dharma, 'karam' (good actions) and 'sharam' (sense of shame, i.e., being honourable), he chose the third option. As he was a Sikh by faith, he decided initially to establish a Shastar Vidiya Akhara within the Sikh community itself. From inception, Gurdev Nidar Singh fully appreciated the need to separate the discerning and intelligent students from the ignorant and largely paranoid mob. The former would also ensure success in establishing a more stable platform for the art. Introducing the art in its pure 'Sanatan' form would make him a target for anti-Indian and anti-Hindu Sikhs. Given the nature of the Sikh world, few would appreciate the 'Sanatan' elements, as this form of traditional thought today prevails in a minority of families. As strategy dictated, his first shrewd move was to introduce Sanatan Shastar Vidiya as 'Chatka Gatka', which emphasis on 'Chatka'. Chatka itself has a threefold meaning:

The strategy was fruitful, and within a few years, the insecure fanatical Sikhs were segregated. Being of typical uncompromising character, particularly in their staunch fanatical vegetarianism, they accelerated the process. Many moderates amongst their ranks also split away. The purpose of dissociating the Shiv Akhara from such lowly personalities was to ensure that Sanatan Shastar Vidiya's lethal skills did not fall into the hands of such people; they would only utilise it to promote violence, hate, terrorism, and vigilante methodologies. The remaining students were educated, and over time de-radicalised. In doing so, he introduced the art stage by stage; first as 'Chatka Gatka', then as 'Shastar Vidiya', then as 'Sanatan Shastar Vidiya', and finally as in its true form, Sanatan Hindu Sikh Shastar Vidiya. Today, there is a solid base that has been established in the UK.

Gurdev Nidar Singh Nihang always maintains that if one is ignorant, has hatred towards anyone, then that individual does not deserve Sanatan Shastar Vidiya.� Ultimately, the art is exists to guard Dharma, the root of which is love and compassion. It is to be always appreciated that a 'Shashtardhari' (Shastar Vidiya warrior), although being a master of combat, is not a man of 'Hinsa' (violence). Guru Gobind Singh, himself an accomplished warrior, advised:

"Check your wrath, adopt compassion in the mind; forsake violence and evil thinking. With a focused mind, contemplate the warrior within; all Narayan-loving, the Dharma of forgiveness."
(Sarbloh Guru Granth Sahib, 1:1:81)

From the very beginning, the Gurdev had a vision of educating the youth for the betterment of society. In accordance with this objective, there has never been any compulsion for any student to pay a fee for his teaching.� All students who attend his classes, be they in full-time education or unable to contribute monetarily are welcomed free of charge. As the students qualify and obtain employment, if they so wish, they can contribute to the Shiv Akhara accordingly. During the first decade of the Akhara, Gurdev Nidar Singh worked in a factory in order to sustain his family, and taught without fees on the weekends. At the request of increasing numbers of students, he gave up working in the factory, and decided to set up classes across the UK and focus on many literary works. As the Gurdev says:

"Sanatan Shastar Vidiya can never be about making money. We do not want to leave behind a legacy of greed; this will ultimately destroy all that we strived to establish. Money is but 'Guzar' (sustenance); anything more than this is greed; the best things in life are free, Dharma, love, respect, honour, family, friends, etc."
(Gurdev Nidar Singh Nihang)

Once again, from the onset, the Gurdev appreciated the importance of laying a solid long-lasting foundation for Sanatan Shastar Vidiya. In order to ensure the art would not be compromised in any way, he had to contextualise the art while reintroducing it into the Sikh fold. As such, he would reveal the 'Sanatan' (traditional) interpretation of history and ideology. Without providing proper context, the art of Sanatan Shastar Vidiya cannot be fully appreciated or understood; if it cannot be understood, it cannot be learned correctly or preserved.

The major obstacle in revealing the true 'Sanatan' form of Sikh ideology to contemporary Sikhs is that it has, on the whole, been long forgotten. The two worlds are remarkably different, and are essentially at odds with one another on a great deal of points. The Gurdev still maintains:

"For better or for worse, history is what it is; it can never be what we wanted it to be."
(Gurdev Nidar Singh Nihang)

The Gurdev is very confident that in time, as the totality of 'Sanatan Sikhi' (traditional Sikh faith) is revealed, most if not all of the revisionist-informed Sikh detractors will be silenced; they may even be won over. In meeting and conversing with him, many detractors have since been pacified. Some have even begun attending his classes on a regular basis. �No matter what the provocation, the Gurdev advises his students:

"There is absolutely nothing wrong in having a differing opinion. Sensible intelligent people can agree to disagree on certain matters, yet still have no hostility towards each other. They can remain respectful to each other. As for those who are our unfortunate detractors; those who display unwarranted hostility to us; if they physically attack you, by all means defend yourself. However, always remain within the law of the land, but otherwise treat with them thus:

Consider them but 'goo deea makhia' (flies that congregate around faecal excrement), who live in and feed upon the excrement of their own hate. Their very presence poisons the atmosphere; all contact and engagement with them at any level in any way is to be avoided, lest you be contaminated. They are acting according to their vile character; it is their fate, their poor 'karma', to behave in such a manner. They have nothing else to offer the world but hate; let them incur negative karma, and thus damn themselves further. They waste their time with death threats; suggesting and carrying out acts of sabotage against the Shiv Akhara; slandering and vilifying us on the internet. With our good works, pleasing to our ancestors, make a clear and healthy the environment of life. It will ensure these 'goo deea makhia' having no faeces to live in, nowhere to feed and will themselves become extinct."
(Gurdev Nidar Singh Nihang)

The Shiv Akhara represents the 'Khoji' (searchers of the truth), and not 'Baddi' (arguers) - like our insecure detractors. Respecting all, we present to the world a set of admirable skills and knowledge. The great Sikh Bhai Gurdas taught:

"Searchers search, and attain [their goal]; the arguers argue and get lost. Cow's milk they [the stupid arguers] try to milk from elephants (i.e., aside from getting trampled under the elephant's feet, the detractors will attain and achieve nothing)
(Bhai Gurdas, Var 31, Pauri 2)

A Punjabi saying goes:

"The mean tethered dogs remain behind madly barking, whilst the unconcerned free elephants march on in their leisure."
(Punjabi proverb)

Let nothing distract us from our noble path; we are the eagles who soar up high; having nothing but our destination in mind. We are the fish of the world swimming in the ocean of the world; why should we behave like the mindlessly croaking, narrow-minded frogs of the well? They are trapped in their small insignificant dying worlds. In giving respect to all, and gaining respect of all, live long happy productive lives. Let the dogs bark; remain detached from petty concerns; remain resolutely focused on your goal, i.e., preservation of Sanatan Shastar Vidiya and living a long happy life amongst friends and family.

Guru Gobind Singh has commanded:

"Preserve Shastar Vidiya any way you can."
(Rattan Singh Bhangu, Siri Guru Panth Parkash, ed. Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon, 36)