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The Bhangi Misl is one of the twelve misls of the eighteenth century of the Sikh principalities. It acquired its name from the heavy indulgence of its members of "bhang" (hemp/Canabis sativa) a psychoactive drug which grows wild throughout Asia and is found in the jungles of Punjab, and is particularly abundant along its river banks. Labeled today as an entheogen ("creates god within," en- "in, within," theo- "god, divine," -gen "creates, generates") the drug has long been in use by the Sadhus of India and warriors going into battle. Since Bhang (hemp) is used to make brooms the word also lends its name to the sweeper caste of Hindus (those whose task was to collect 'night soil').
Guru Nanak while held captive by Babar was offered another form of the drug by the soon to be Mughal Emperor of India, the Guru refused preferring the permanent 'Bhang' of the Naam.
When pounded in a mortar with a pestle and sifted through a piece of coarse cloth, a thick liquid of green colour is produced. It is an intoxicating drink that soothes the effect of heat in summer. A particular group of Dal Khalsa liberally indulged in this drink, and profusely entertained others with it. At the time of fighting, it made its users furious and reckless. Because of their heavy ritualistic use of Bhang, this fighting 'tribe' jatha of the Khalsa came to be called the Bhangi Misl. This misl was the largest in size and controled the largest area of the Panjab.
The founder of the jatha, i.e. band of warriors, that later acquired the dimensions of a misl was Chajja Singh of Panjvar village, near Amritsar, who had taken pahul from the hands of Guru Gobind Singh who soon had many Sikhs from the Majha area joining his band.
He was succeeded by Bhuma Singh, a Dhillori Jatt of the village of Hung, near Badhni in present day Moga district, who made a name for himself in his famed skirmishes with Nadir Shah's troops in 1739.
Their nom de plume attracted the sweeper class, the Hindu Bhangi to join them, turning those condemed to a life of collecting human waste into warrior as they too took Pahul. They were freely welcomed by this band of the Khalsa, some were even offered important posts. Although the majority of the soldiers of Bhangi misls were Jats(Hindu low caste), there were substantial numbers of converted Sikhs from other lower Hindu castes.
A list of some pioneer Sardars of the Bhangi Misal
- Chajja Singh: of village Panjwar, 13 kms from Amritsar.
- Bhuma Singh Dhillon: After the death of Chajja singh, Bhuma Singh dhillon of village Hung in Parganah Wadani near Moga succeeded him.
- Hari Singh Dhillon: aka 'Bhangi' He was the first person to be called Bhangi. He was Bhuma singh's nephew. He was also leader of Taruna dal as well as head of Bhangi Misl. He had two songs Jhanda Singh and Ganda singh. They took care of Bhangi Misl after him, later Ranjit singh absorbed this Misl into Sarkar Khalsa, gaining control of Amritsar and the Harmandir Sahib.
The territories of Bhangi Misl were the Cis-Satluj region of Buriya and Jagadhri on the Jamuna (204 villages) and on the Satluk bajidpur, Bhedian, Firozepur, Khai, Muhalim, Naggar, Sahjara, Sataragarh, Singhpura and Wan. Bari Doab Amritsar, Bhairowal, Bulaki (29 villages), Chinna, Chubhal, Haibatpur, Karmala, Kohali, Lahore, Majitha, Morowal, Multan (1772-1780) Naushera, Sainsra, Sirhali, Taran Taran, Vairowal. lots of area in Rachna doab too. This misl was stronger in numbers than the Sukerchakia misl of Ranjit singh.
On Bhuma Singh's death in 1746, his nephew and adopted son, Hari Singh, assumed the leaderhip of the misl. At the formation of the Dal Khalsa in 1748, Hari Singh was acknowledged head of the Bhangi misl as well as leader of the Taruna Dal. He vastly increased the power and influence of the Bharigi misl which began to be ranked as the strongest among its peers. He created an army of 20,000 dashing youths, captured Panjvar in the Tarn Taran parganahand established his headquarters first at Sohal and then at Gilvali, both in Amritsar district.
Hari Singh kept up guerrilla warfare against the invading hosts of Ahmad Shah Durrani. In 1763, he along with the Kanhaiya Misl and the Ramgarhia Misl, sacked the Afghan stronghold of Kasur. In 1764, he ravaged Bahawalpur and Multan. Crossing the River Indus, he realized tribute from the Baluchi chiefs in the districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Isma'il Khan. On his way back home, he reduced Jharig, Chiniot and Sialkot. Hari Singh died in 1765, fighting against Baba Ala Singh of Patiala.
Hari Singh was succeeded by Jhanda Singh, his eldest son, under whom the Bharigi misl reached the zenith of its power. In 1764, Jhanda Singh had invaded Multan and Bahawalpur, but failed to drive out the Durrani satrap Shuja Khan Saddozai. Jhanda Singh marched on Multan again in 1772 forcing the Nawab to flee. Multan was declared Khalsa territory and the city was parcelled out between Jhanda Singh and his commander Lahina Singh.Jhanda Singh next subdued Jharig, Kala Bagh and Mankera. He built a brick fort at Amritsar which he named Qila Bharigiari and laid out fine bazars in the city. He then proceeded to Rasulnagar, where he recovered from the Muhammadan Chattha rulers the famous gun Zamzama which came to be known as Bharigiari di Top.
But Jhanda Singh was soon involved in the internal feuds of the warring misls. He was killed in 1774 in a battle with the Kanhaiyas and the Sukkarchakkias at Jammu whither he had marched to settle a standing succession issue. He was succeeded by his brother Ganda Singh who, dying of illness at the time of a battle with the Kanhaiyas at Dinanagar, was in turn succeeded by his minor son, Desa Singh, under whose weak leadership began the decline of the dynasty. Several Bharigi sarddrs set themselves up as independent chiefs within their territories. Desa Singh was killed in action against Mahan Singh Sukarchakia in 1782.
A leading Bhangi sardar now was Gurbakhsh Singh Rorarivala who had fought hand in hand with Hari Singh Bhangi in several of his battles. After his death, his adopted son, Lahina Singh, and Gujjar Singh, son of his daughter, divided his estates. In 1765, they had joined hands with Sobha Singh Kanhaiya and occupied Lahore. The city was partitioned among the three sardars who, though temporarily driven out in 1767 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, had continued in authority. In January 1797 Ahmad Shah's grandson. Shah Zaman, led out an expedition and seized the city. But soon after the departure of the Durrani Shah for Kabul, Lahina Singh and Sobha Singh (Giqjar Singh had died in 1791), returned and re-established their rule.
The same year, 1797, Lahina Singh died and was succeeded by his son Chet Singh and about the same time, Sobha Singh died and was succeeded by his son Mohar Singh. But the new rulers failed to establish their authority. People groaned under oppressive taxes and extortions and local Muhammadan Chaudharis and mercantile Khatris made a common cause and invited Ranjit Singh and Sada Kaur to come and occupy the city. On 7 July 1799, Ranjit Singh arrived with 5,000 troops at the Shalamar Gardens. The Bhangi sardars left the town hastily and Ranjit Singh became master of the capital of the Punjab, laying the foundation of Sikh monarchy.
Reverting to the main branch of the Bhangi misl, Desa Singh, son of Ganda Singh, was succeeded by his minor son Gulab Singh, who administered the misi through his cousin Karam Singh. Gulab Singh enlarged the city of Amritsar where he resided, and, on attaining years of discretion, overran the whole Pathan colony of Kasur, which he subdued, the Pathan chiefs of Kasur, Nizam udDin and Qutb udDin Khan, brothers, entering the service of the conqueror.
In 1794, however, the brothers, with the aid of their Afghan countrymen, recovered Kasur. Gulab Singh died in 1800 and was succeeded by his son, Gurdit Singh, a 10year old boy who conducted the affairs of the misl through his mother and guardian, MaT Sukkhan. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, after taking possession of Lahore in 1799 set out on a career of rapid conquest with his 'eye' on Amritsar where the Bhangis still held sway.
On the excuse of taking from them the famous Zamzama gun, he marched with a strong force in 1802, Gurdit Singh, along with his mother, Mai Sukkhan, fleeing without resistance. The last Bhangi chief to fall was Sahib Singh of Gujrat who was dismissed with a grant of a few villages. By 1810 all Bhangi territories Lahore, Amritsar, Sialkot, Chiniot, Jhang, Bhera, Rawalpindi, Hasan Abdal, Gujrat had merged with the kingdom of Ranjit Singh. The descendants of Bhangi sarddrs are today concentrated mainly in the Amritsar district of the Punjab.