The Nanaksar movement was founded by Dhan Dhan Baba Baba Nand Singh (1869/1872-1943). Nanaksar is near Kaleran village, five kilometres from Jagraon in the Panjab. Nand Singh was a celibate who practised severe austerities and prolonged meditations. He had visions of Guru Nanak, Guru Har Krishan and Guru Gobind Singh, when performing his seva (religious service) at Huzur Sahib Gurdwara. These visions drove him to study the meaning of the Guru Granth Sahib. He became a disciple of Sant Wadhawa Singh and Harnam Singh and practised meditation, especially with the latter. In 1912 Guru Nanak came to them in meditation. He asked them to ask for something. Nand Singh replied only that he should be Nanak's own. Nanak, pleased with their devotion, replied "recite and teach others to recite". In 1918 he returned to Kaleran village and continued his austerities and meditations in underground holes (bhores). He did not allow Gurdwaras to be built in his name nor where he meditated but prophesied that there would be a fine Gurdwara built on such a location. And Indeed one was built where he meditated in Kaleran village.
In 1927 Nand Singh was joined by his eventual successor Ishar Singh. It is often said that Ishar Singh served Nand Singh as Guru Angad served Guru Nanak. Ishar Singh also did not marry. In 1950 he began the construction of the prophesied Gurdwara, where one of Guru Arjan's hymns (the Sukhmani 'pearl of peace') is constantly recited. Ishar Singh did not name a successor and the movement has split under several gurus.
A strict belief in vegetarianism (eggs and fish also not allowed), celibacy (both Nand Singh and Ishar Singh were celibates; however, it should be noted that all adult Sikh Gurus were married and fathered children), austerities, asceticism and meditation (using a rosary), and a focus on Guru Nanak push the Nanaksar devotees into Sanatan Sikhi. The gurus of this group also favoured the Nirmala tradition of asceticism, which together with the Udasis movement is the core of Sanatan Sikhism. They believed that deep reverence of the Guru Granth Sahib would lead to the darshan (spiritual vision) of Guru Nanak himself. Thus the Adi Granth is very much the focus of this movement.
They believe that the Sevadars (those who help in the temple precincts) must be celibates or bahingams (literally 'birds') who have no attachment to earthly abodes. This again stresses their Sanatanist nature. Devotees believe that Guru Nanak was an avatar (an incarnation) of Vishnu. (Note: The Hindu doctrine of Avatars has been explicitly rejected by orthodox Tat Khalsa Sikhs). They specialise in extended sessions of kirtan (devotional singing of the praises of the divine) at times of the full moon (purnimasi). Guru Nanak's birthday is celebrated with special vigour on the nearest full moon. It is believed that staying awake (meditating and performing kirtan) all night is more beneficial than staying awake during all the other nights of the year put together. (See also Sikh Panth entries).
The Nanaksar Gurdwaras do not fly the Khalsa flag, the Nishan sahib in keeping with the movement's claim to be non-political, since the emblem on the flag represents the orthodox and much politicised institution of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and its political wing the Akali Dal.
They wear white turbans tied horizontally across their foreheads, a white long shirt (chola) without the usual trousers (pajama) in the manner of Nand Singh who dressed the same way (as seen in paintings and photographs). The Guru Granth Sahib is treated with greater reverence than any other Sikh group; they do not merely give it a small stand but a full-sized bed, and full-size gifted sheets (ramalas) to cover it. Often and uniquely the movement's paintings of Guru Nanak depict a star on the sole of his upturned feet. Such spiritual-cum-prophetic marks (lakshanas) are usual in Hindu and Buddhist iconography, depicting the saintliness of the Guru or Avatar, Bodhisattva or Buddha. Devotees interpret the star depicted on the sole (known as a padam) as a sign that Guru Nanak was, like Rama and Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu who is a Devta (lit. bright/shining one); a demi-god of the Hindu pantheon.
Little research has been conducted concerning this group. There are no official numbers, (see note at the end of the Explanatory Introduction).
The main centre is in Nanaksar itself. Other centres have sprung in Dehra Dun, Kurukshetra, Gurdaspur, Faridkot and bases exist in Coventry (UK), and Vancouver, Canada.