Singh – Lion or Tiger?


Of late I’ve encountered many questions if Guru Gobind Singh Ji used the word Singh to refer to the lion or tiger? Some have even claimed Guru Ji was referring to the tiger and we are making mistake by referring to the lion? Being fascinated as always, I did some some research and used a little bit of guess work and discovered some of the following facts:

1. The word “Singh” comes from the sanskrit word “simha” which exclusively means lion, not “sher” which is tiger. The word “sher” has been broadly used to describe large cats, including the lion, tiger and even leopard.

2. The lion has an unshorn mane, I believe this was an obvious indication from Guru ji as he wanted us Sikhs to keep our hair.

3. Punjab actually had lions in its geographical range, not tigers. Tigers are more confined to the eastern and southern parts of India and towards the north in Nepal, Siberia, SEA and China. Lions were strecthed from Gujrat in India to upward north in parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Pakistan, the Middle East region, Europe and upto North America in the ancient world. Tigers (except the Siberian and Nepalese sub species) live in dense forests in tropical climates while lions live in grasslands and more dry weather, and olden day Punjab had grasslands and the climate is certainly not tropical, suitable for lions, not tigers. In the medieval age areas of Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujrat and perhaps western parts of Haryana, one would likely encounter a lion, not a tiger. With this is mind, I believe majority of the people from the Punjab and neighboring regions would refer to lions as they would be familiar with them, not the tiger as proposed.

4. Many people falsely believe the male lion to be the “lazy” king. Male lions rarely take part in pride hunts because they can be easily noticed by prey due to their appearance, however they do give a helping hand in tackling large or dangerous prey. Lions have a much more violent lifestyle compared to tigers. They tend to have more violent fights and more territorial disputes than tigers – this is possibly one reason (other than gender ornamental display) why lions evolved manes to protect their necks and throats while tigers did not. Lions are chased of from they pride upon puberty and actually spend a few years surviving and hunting on their own until they are ready to fight for a pride and territory. And when an intruding lion does win a fight, he must lead the pride to take down dangerous prey to prove himself before the lionesses allow him to integrate with the pride. It is assumed that the lions in Punjab and the middle east may have lived in pairs or smaller prides compared to the African lions. If it is so, it is possible they would be more capable hunters and fighters.

5. Lions are social animals, they are actually very involved in upbringing of cubs and do get involved with the pride’s matters. When a lion fights, he fights for his pride and cubs, and he has everything to loose. And members of a pride take care of each other. An injured lion or lioness can be nursed back to health by its pride members. On the other hand tigers are less involved in upbringing of cubs and have less family oriented agendas when it comes to disputes. Also a lone tiger will have slim chances of survival during injury. On these grounds, I believe Guru Gobind Singh ji wanted us to be more of a “pride of lions” instead of “a” tiger. I also believe Guru ji wanted us to remove extensions and stop at Singh as our surnames for the same reason.

I am equally fascinated with both tigers and lions, but judging from the facts, I believe Guru ji was referring to the lion, not the tiger. Either way, lions and tigers are practically the same anatomically with very little difference, both are powerful predators and one should be proud to be called a Singh!



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