Akali Movement

Akali Movement

This article deals with ‘Akali Movement   – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • Started by Sikh reformers to purify their religious places by removal of  evil social practices that had slowly crept into them.
  • During days of Sikh persecutions under Mughals , Sikh Gurudwaras passed into hands of Udasis/Mahants (udasis professed Sikhism but didn’t adhere to outer symbols ie 5Ks and hence escaped persecution) . During those times, Udasis were of high moral character and did service to Sikhism by keeping the Gurudwaras running.
  • Problem started when Maharaja Ranjit Singh and other Sikh chiefs bestowed on Gurudwaras REVENUE FREE JAGIRS.  These Mahants started to convert Gurudwara properties into their personal properties and indulged into various social evils even inside Gurudwara premises. 
  • When Britishers annexed Punjab , they took control of Golden Temple and Akal Takht and appointed a Committee headed by Sarbarah . Britishers were interested in controlling this because they viewed it as important institution to control Sikhs of Punjab (important pillar in British Raj Army) . But Sarbarah did not feel responsible towards the people but was busy pleasing his appointing authority- Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. (Arur Singh, the government-appointed manager of the Amritsar Golden Temple, had even gone to the extent of inviting General Dyer to become a honorary Sikh).
  • Mahants indulged in all sorts of evil practices, such as misappropriation of offerings and other valuables. The sanctity of these places was destroyed. Here brothels were run, pornographic literature sold, and innocent women visiting the temples raped.
  • Reformers were anxious to free these central seats as early as possible from evil influences and official control. The British authorities in Punjab resisted any effort at reform as this would deprive them of the privilege to use these  places to consolidate their power and weaken their political opponents. 

Golden Temple Episode

  • Sikhism doesn’t believe in Caste System but priests of Golden Temple didn’t allow people belonging to low castes (Mazhabi Sikhs) to offer prayers directly. They have to hire person belonging to Higher Caste to offer Prasad.
  • This was contested by Khalsa Biradari of Amritsar (Middle Class Sikh Intelligentsia) . They organised a Diwan in the Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, on the 12th of October, 1920, in which Professor Teja Singh,  Bawa Harkishan Singh and Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar and other prominent leaders of the reform movement participated. In the Diwan the so-called untouchables who had embraced Sikhism were baptized.
  • Then they marched to Golden Temple  but priest on duty Bhai Gurbachan Singh refused to accept Prasad from the so-called low-castes . After heated exchange of arguments the matter was decided by consulting the holy book, the decision went in favour of the party of reform. However, the priests did not accept the change in the status and left the shrine in protest.
  • Since the holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) was left unattended, the reformers took control of the situation and formed a committee for the management of the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht.

Nankana Tragedy (Feb 1921)

  • Nankana Sahib = Birth-place of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
  • Here , Gurdwara Janam Asthan & other shrines were being controlled by hereditary Mahant Narain Dass .
  • He was practising a number of social & religious evils. He kept a mistress, invited dancing girls into the Gurdwara & profane singing in  holy premises
  • To contest this,  Jatha of 130 reformers under the leadership of Bhai Lachhman Singh reached there. Mahant and his mercenaries  attacked these armless, peaceful reformers in which number of marchers were killed and the wounded were tied to the trees and burnt. Barbaric killing of all the 130 members  sent waves of shock and resentment throughout the country. Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders condemned this brutal action of the Mahant. Mahatma Gandhi visited Nankana Sahib on 3rd March
  • On the advice of Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders ,  the Akali reformers decided to broaden their movement. They launched a two pronged attack. It was directed against the corrupt Mahant on the one hand and the Punjab government on the other.

Toshakhana key affairs

  • After taking control of Golden Temple, Khalsa Biradari appointed Committee to run Golden Temple and Akal Takht. They aksed Government appointed Manager to hand over keys of Toshakhana (treasury) but DC of Amritsar took keys from him. This infuriated Sikhs in whole Punjab and they started powerful agitation known as Toshakhana Keys Affair.
  • Since NCM was going on and Akalis were powerful force in Punjab, Gandhi decided to support them .
  • Government in order to isolate Congress decided to return keys . But this victory of the  reformers was seen by the national leaders as a victory of the forces of nationalism.
  • On this occasion Mahatma Gandhi sent the following telegram to Baba Kharak Singh, President of the S.G.P.C.:


  • After the suspension of the Non Cooperation Movement , Punjab government thought of teaching a ‘lesson’ to the Akali reformers.

Guru Ka Bagh Morcha

  • Officials of Punjab government wanted to get back their lost prestige & teach Akalis a lesson
  • Akali worker who was cutting dry kikkar was arrested on charge that they were committing theft from private property of mahant . To assert their right to cut timber, Akali jatha started to march towards Guru ka Bagh Gurudwara
  • After arresting 5,000 there was no space in jails . Police started to beat them mercilessly till they become unconscious but Akalis didn’t picked up hand against this . This peaceful suffering won them wide sympathy & support & even Christian missionary like CF Andrews was moved and showed sympathy by visiting the scene
  • After wide criticism, Governor of Punjab ordered police to stop this. All prisoners of Guru ka Bagh Morcha were released & volunteers were allowed to carry the timber from garden of Guru ka Bagh Gurudwara 

Akali Agitation  of Nabha + Gurudwara Bill,1925

  • Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha was removed from his throne because he supported Akalis. Akali leadership decided to take up the cause of Ripudaman Singh  & demanded for his restoration  to his throne 
  • Akalis had emerged as powerful nationalist expression in province, Congress decided to support their cause . JL Nehru came to Nabha to access situation but he was arrested & put behind bars
  • During their agitation, they faced toughest opposition from administration of Nabha & Maharaja of Patiala. There was firing over Shahidi Jatha at Jaito in February 1924   . 
  • Britishers were fearful  that this will affect Sikh soldiers in British army &  Congress ideology was reaching to peasants of Punjab . All these factors led Britishers to settle Akali issue once for all by passing a bill ie Gurudwara Bill, 1925 which gave following rights
    • Sikh community was given legal right to manage Gurudwaras & put the hereditary control of Mahants over gurudwaras to end . It introduced democratic control in Gurudwara management
    • According to this Act, a Sikh irrespective of his caste can be elected to any position including president of SGPC
    • Sikh women also got right to vote on par with men & they could perform all religious & social duties in Sikh shrines

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