The origin of the Nirmalas seems to be somewhat obscure and there are different traditions in connection with it. But it seems to be generally accepted that they came into existence in Guru govind Singh’s time. Defendant Kirpa Singh has himself admitted in his statement: vide p.85, part 1 of the Printed Paper Book, that “Nirmalas” are chelas of Guru Gobind Singh, and hence it is unnecessary to dilate on this point. But although the Nirmalas appear to have been originally followers of Guru Gobind Singh the important point for consideration is whether they are now distinct from the general body of the Sikhs and in particular from the Plaintiffs who are “Akalis.” On this point, the authorities seem to be agreed that the Nirmalas have drifted to a great extent towards the practices of the Hindu religion. The following extract from Sir Edward Maclagan’s Census report for this Province for the year 1891 is very instructive in this connection.
The Nirmalas represent a different aspect of the history of Gobind’s followers; for this order has by degrees rid itself of the main distinguishing marks of the Khalsa faith and is gradually returning to a pure form of orthodox Hinduism. The Nirmalas originated, like the Akalis, in the time of Gobind Singh, but there are two stories regarding the manner of their origin. According to the one, a water carrier was seized by Gobind’s soldiers for supplying water to the enemy during a battle, but the Guru recognized the virtue of his act and embracing him exclaimed, Thou art without stain (Nirmala).
This story, however, has too much resemblance to that regarding Kanhaiya Lal quoted in para. 103 above; and the following appears the more probable account. It is said that Guru Gobind Singh sent three followers named Karm Singh, Harchand and Mihr Rai to Benares to acquire a knowledge of Sanskrit, when the Pandits of that city refused to come themselves to Gobind Singh; and that, on their return, the Guru blessed them as being the only Earned men among the Sikhs and called them “Nirmala.” They were allowed to take the pahul and founded the order of Nirmala Sadhus. This order was at first devoted to the regulations of Gobind Singh, wore white garments, and had considerable influence with his followers. But their taste for Sanskrit literature (which is to this day cultivated by them with considerable care) led them to imbibe the principles of the Vedanta and to re-adopt many of the customs of the Shastras. They gave up the use of meat and spirits. They also began to adopt the ordinary ochre-coloured dress of the Indian faqir, which is strictly prohibited to the true followers of Gobind, and some of them are now only distinguishable from the Udasi followers of Nanak by the wearing; of the kes or uncut hair. They are almost always celibate and almost always in monasteries. They have generally some pretensions to learning, and, unlike most of the religious orders in the Punjab, have a high reputation for morality. They are said to live on offerings voluntarily presented, and to abstain from begging but there are some who say that the ochre-coloured dress has been adopted mainly for its convenience in begging. Their principal AKHARA is at Hardwar, and it is said that their societies throughout the province are periodically visited by a controlling council. They have three considerable monasteries; in the Hoshiarpur District at Munak, Adamwal and Alampur Kotla; and by our returns they appear to be strong in Gurdaspur, where they are mainly returned as Hindus, and in Ambala, Ferozepor and Amritsar, where they are mainly-returned as Sikhs. It is supposed that, they are to be found in some numbers in Patiala, but our tables would intimate that they are as strong in Faridkot They are looked on as unorthodox by most true Sikhs, and it will be observed that more of them are returned in the Census as Hindu than as Sikhs. The Akalis are specially bitter against them and there have been great contentions between the two sects with regard to the right of worship at the great Sikh shrine at Apchalanagar on the Godaveri.
One of the branches of the principal institution of Nirmala Sadhus known as the Panchayati AKHARA situated at Kankhal near Hardwar. There was further evidence showing that in this institution the worship is primarily of a Samadh which is against all tenets of the Sikh religion. Nirmala Sadhus, it appears, as a class worship at Samadhs which goes to show that they can no longer be regarded as people following the Sikh religion. In their beliefs and practices, the Nirmala Sadhus are now quite akin to Udasis, and there is a series of cases which has laid down that members of the Udasi sect are not Sikhs….
Mahant Jawala Singh Chela of Mahant Bishan Singh (dead)-(2011) 1 SCALE 341 : AIR 2011 SC 732 : JT 2011 (2) SC 305 : (2011) 2 SCC 457 : (2011) 2 SCR 69