Sikh Reform Movements


  • Baba Dayal Das (1783-1855) was the founder of this movement of purification and return.
  • In the 1840s, he called for the return of Sikhism to its origin and emphasized the worship of one God and nirankar (formless).
  • Such an approach meant a rejection of idolatry and also prohibition of eating meat, drinking liquor, lying, cheating, etc.
  • It laid emphasis on Guru Nanak and on Sikhism before the establishment of Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur and this separated them from the Namdaris.


  • It was founded by Baba Ram Singh (1816-1885) in 1857, who in 1841 became a disciple of Balak Singh of the Kuka movement.
  • The movement was founded on a set of rituals modeled after Guru Gobind Singh’s founding of the Khalsa with the requirement of wearing the five symbols but instead of the sword the followers were supposed to carry a stick.
  • The movement required the followers to abandon the worship of gods, idols, tombs, trees, snakes, etc. and abstain from drinking, stealing, falsehood, slandering, backbiting, etc.
  • Further the consumption of beef was strictly forbidden as protection of cattle was important.

Singh Sabha

  • To strengthen Sikhism, a small group of prominent Sikhs led by Thakur Singh Sandhawalia and Giani Gian Singh founded the Singh Sabha of Amritsar on October 1, 1873.
  • The objectives of the Sabha were to restore Sikhism to its pristine purity, to publish historical religious books and periodicals, to propagate knowledge, sing Punjabi, to return Sikh apostles to their faith and to involve Englishmen in the educational programme of the Sikhs.
  • Later the Singh Sabha Amritsar was emulated by a new organization, the Lahore Singh Sabha, more democratic in nature.
  • After a while, the Singh Sabhas were overwhelmed by other organisations such as Khalsa Diwani and in 1920, by a struggle for control over Sikh places of worship.

Gurudwara Reform Movements

  • Before 1920, the Sikh Gurudwara were governed by the Udasi Sikh mahants, who treated the Gurdwara offerings and other income of the Gurudwaras as their personal income.
  • The British government supported these mahants as a counterpoise to the rising tide of nationalism among the Sikhs.
  • Matter came to such a pass that the priest of the golden temple issued a hukamnama (injunction) against Ghadarites, declaring them renegades, and then honored General Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwala massacre with a saropa.
  • The Gurdwara Reform Movement launched an agitation for freeing the Gurudwaras from these corrupt mahants and for handing over the Gurudwaras to a representative body of Sikhs.
  • Under the growing pressure of the nationalist and Gurudwara agitators, the Gurudwaras came under the control of an elected committee known as the Shiromani Gurdwara Prablandhalk Committee, in November 1920.
  • The movement for liberation of Gurudwaras soon turned into Alkali movement, which later on got divided into three streams, namely moderate nationalist reformers, pro-government loyalists and political organ of Sikh communalism.