A Perspective on Why Goats Are Sacrificed by Nihung Singhs

An interesting perspective of why goats are slaughtered and or sacrificed by Nihung Singhs by Shabd Singh Khalsa on Facebook.

The event has always caused controversy amongst the Sikh community. Many believe the act is contrary to Sikh teachings and Gurbani while others believe it prepared Singhs for battle during the turbulent times. The tradition is still alive at Takht Sri Hazur Sahib. 

Personally, I am vegetarian. But for those who are shocked by the tradition of jhatka (ceremonial slaughter of a goat), maybe I can help put it in perspective. I have not read much on the origin of jhatka and the community slaughter of goats, but here’s my theory on why it was introduced expressed through a narrative:

Hari Das is a Punjabi farmer in the late 1600s. He lives a life of relative peace and spends time tending to his land and animals. Raised a vegetarian Hindu, he met the Guru as an adolescent and was completely blown away by the majesty, kindness, and universality of the Guru and the message he brought. He bows to the Guru and considers himself a part of this diverse group of people called Sikhs.

One day, Hari Das’s village is razed to the ground in the blink of an eye by powerful forces loyal to the Mughal emperor in Delhi. He was away selling grain in a neighboring village. Everyone he has ever known is dead. He comes home to find his young family gruesomely murdered. Clearly defenseless. His mind, heart, and world are shattered. He is a shadow of himself and nothing makes sense. The month of Vaisakh approaches, but he will not harvest because there are no farm hands left and he fears for his life.

He gathers what food and belongings he can and heads a week’s travel Northeast where he seems to remember that he has distant family. On the long walk, a bard equipped with a rebab and beautiful voice wanders the villages and caravanserai to sing “the news”. The Guru is assembling a gather east in the foothills and asks that all Sikhs attend. Already heading east and dubious as to whether his family is out there, Hari Das goes to meet the Guru.

We know what happens in what comes to be known as Anandpur Sahib and Hari Das is now Hari Singh. He feels at home. His sense of family and belonging is restored. And justice is his new calling. He is initiated as a blue clad Akali Nihung and begins to be trained in the ways of war. But how can anyone be prepared for the absolute savagery of close combat?

Those of us living today in our bastions of comfort and safety can never understand our spiritual and familial ancestors who had to risk all for what they believed. Do you know what it’s like to take the life of another human, with a sword no less? The savagery and total abandon it requires to launch oneself into the meat grinder of war? Neither did Hari Singh. He believed and wanted to fight, but he simply had no way to be prepared for what was to come.

Then there were the goats. Each day they would be pulled bleating at first into a circle made up by Hari Singh and his comrades. One of his Akali brothers would stand to the back-side of the goat and pet it until it was calm. In his right hand, out of view, the Akali held a heavy tegha. A sword with the required weight to slice through layers of flesh and eviscerate bone.

Then in an almost imperceptible flash, the goat’s head was on the floor and bright, deep red blood erupted from the neck. A bowl was quickly placed under the fountain of blood and was quickly filled. The blood was used to bless the warriors’ weapons and the meat of the goat was used to feed these warriors whose resources were often scarce.

In this way, Hari Singh became accustomed to bloodshed. And as his training continued, he was given the task of killing the goat. The vigor and fire it instilled in him to feel the blade pass through the neck was irreplaceable. He’d felt nothing like it in his life. His face was flush and his eyes were wide open. His heart pumped and a strength overwhelmed him. He felt like he could fight ten men. The feeling was heightened by the shouts and battlecries of his brothers.

This was how Hari Das the humble farmer became Hari Singh, the Immortal Crocodile of the Guru. The thorn that protects the rose. The lion – majestic and fierce.

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