MESSIANISM AND THE SIKHS
Let us raise a last question: apparently neither the Epic/Puranic theme related to Kalki nor the ginanic/Agam Vani prophetic heritage actually led to historical upheavals. The reason why the Hindi figure of the tenth avatar of Vishnu did not inspire local "rebellious prophets" has already been discussed. The ideal mirrored in the Kalki Purana, for example, is the total triumph of the established Brahmanical dharma over oppositional threatening forces represented by the heretical sects, whereas rebellions aim at overthrowing the existing order. In this respect the Islamic heritage is certainly different: in the course of history millennial "extremist" movements have directly resorted to the Mahdi-Qaim concept. This has occurred in Sunni as well as in Shia Islam, albeit the phenomenon is much more in conformity with the latter form of Islam, whenever a religious leader or his followers have declared that he was the expected messiah. The Mahdawi movement of Jaunpur is a well-known example in the sixteenth century context of Eastern India, where "the Mahdawi sect was an outgrowth of the widespread belief that near the turn of the millennium the Mahdi would come" (Hollister, 1978: 119-20). The phenomenon has played a central role in Ismaili history: from the Fatimid Caliph proclaimed to be the Mahdi to the grand Master of Alamut announcing that he was the Qaim of the Resurrection (qiyamat).
However, as far as we know, neither the Khojas and Shams is, representing the main stream of Nizari Ismailism in the Subcontinent, nor the Imamshahi sect, its Gujarati "dissident" offshoot, nor the Gujarati- Rajasthani reHinduized movements on which this study is centered, have been prompted by their eschatological and messianic creeds to develop into movements of a more political, war-like nature. In their texts (both the ginans and the Agam Vanis) the final revolution, which is predicted as a kind of natural phenomenon to be foreseen by astrologers, is to come only at the end of the Kali Yuga. This belief, checking the frustrations of various oppressed -but not necessarily untouchable - social groups, seems to have favoured a passive, peaceful expectation of the final messiah of the Great Resurrection (qiyamat al-qiyama), Nikalank Avatar.
Instead, whenever real messianic rebellions have occurred in India the messiah was not identified with the tenth avatar of Vishnu. However, two cases noted by Fuchs appear to represent exceptions which deserve mentioning at this point
Around 1824, during a period of uprest when the British were making attempts at pacifying the country, a Sikh sadhu claimed to be Kalki himself, "the last of the Hindu Avatars", for the purpose of overturning the reign of foreigners (Wilson, 1858: 114-5). The messiah was however apprehended and, the efforts of the Akalis supporting him being in vain, the agitation subsided ''as there was no further sign of the promised Avatar". The second case reported among others by the newspaper Blitz (1973-1974) is quite recent and still more interesting for us. The Sadhu who claimed to be the messiah was another Sikh named Baghel Singh. He was at the head of a movement referred to as Lal Kurti (lit. "red shirt") and in 1959 he declared himself to be Niskalank Avatar. As we have seen this appellation is not usual in the Hindu tradition for the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, whereas it bears unmistakable imprint of the Nizari "innovative synthesis" of the Subcontinent.
In the former case one could see a reference to the Epic/Puranic Kalki whose task is to fight heretics and mlecchas (barbarians, foreigners) and one might consider that we have merely to do with a nationalist movement directed towards the British power. This would be however an intriguing exception since no nationalist or freedom thinker ever resorted to the Kalki model in this way. On the other hand, if Kalki is to be understood as Nikalank (Niskalank) Avatar, it could be interpreted as a concept drawn from the Nizari sect. But how could one explain that Sikh sadhus resorted to an Ismaili concept, knowing that the tradition spread in the Subcontinent had always been secretive by nature? One must bear in mind the fact that both rebellions represented "margins" of Sikhism rather than its present normative form based on the Tat Khalsa episteme. As such, these events might reveal hitherto unexplored aspects of the Sikh tradition which, as Oberoi (1994) has demonstrated cannot historically be viewed as a monolith.
In his study of the Agam vanis Gohil (Ibid.: 38) alludes to the prophecies of Guru Gobind Singh and to his mention of Kalki in the Dasven Padsah ka Granth. In my book on the lost branches of the Ismailis in Rajasthan (D.S. Khan, 1997) I have raised the following question: how can one account for the numerous similarities which can be observed between certain concepts and terms found in Sikhism and Ismalism? From the ritual called pahul (pava/) to the tithe referred to as dasbandh (dasondh), from the reference to sacha badshah and dasva padshah (both names of the Ismaili Imam, the latter as compared to Vishnu's tenth incarnation) to the sacred nature of the double-edged sword used by Gobind Singh for the new form of baptism (khande ki pahu/) which, according to an oral tradition, was none other than Zul Fiqar, Imam Ali's double-edged sword, many details could be quoted to support the view that Ismailism has had an influence on the Sikh religion through the ages. If such a link could be contemplated and explored - however challenging it may appear at first sight - it would be possible to get a better understanding of the issue studied here and give it a broader dimension. The concept of Nikalank Avatar as a messiah and restorer of justice could be regarded as one of the innumerable "traces" left by the Indian Nizari ideology and philosophy on other religious movements which at present do not admit openly any link with it but may have had some historical connection which still remains to be explored. Let us hope that this modest contribution to the fascinating theme of eschatology and messianism will prompt competent scholars to start fresh investigations and search for new connections.