The Story Behind the Iconic Photo of Nihang Singh Taken in the 1800s

The following vivid report was written by a correspondent of the ‘The South Australian Advertiser’ during his visit to the Calcutta International Exhibition on 19 February 1884:

‘One of the most interesting visitors to the exhibition during the week has been an extraordinary looking Sikh from Amritsar, a frontier district of the Punjaub. From his dress and appearance this man created quite a sensation amongst the natives.

His name is Heera Singh, and he is an Akali Nihang, or follower of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs. He stands about 6 feet 3 inches in height in his slippers, and as he wears a headdress over 2 feet in height his appearance is sufficiently imposing.


This headdress is called a Guja, and is in the form of a conical puggaree, bound round with massive steel and silver chains. From the crown it runs up to a point, the upper portion being ornamented with nine crescents of polished steel, very sharp at the edges, and capable of being used as weapons.

The peak of the headdress terminates in a steel spearhead, so that a charge from one of these gentlemen, a la billy goat, would probably interfere considerably with the digestion of his adversary if delivered well below the belt. Around the top of the hat are carried six quoits, or flat steel rings about 9 inches in diameter, very sharp on the outer edge, which, I am informed, are used by the Sikhs as weapons, being slung from the finger with such force as to take off a man’s head at a considerable distance. Round the neck a still larger quoit is carried.

The other arms carried by Heera Singh were a tulwar or curved sword, a Colt’s revolver, a dagger, and a katar — an extraordinary weapon for thrusting, which has the property of opening two blades after the fashion of a pair of tailor’s shears when the thrust has been delivered. Altogether our Sikh friend would be rather a formidable enemy, and he walks the exhibition with an air of contemptuous superiority which plainly declares that he knows it.

Heera was brought to Calcutta by Mr. E. Nicholl. He has done good service for the British Government in many frontier fights. He carries the Jowaki medal, and is in receipt of a pension of four rupees per day, having served in the 6th Punjaub force for nineteen years.’

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