Bhai Baghel Singh

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Bhai Baghel Singh at the head of a Sikh army, artist unknown

Bhai Baghel Singh (1730 - 1802) was born in village Jhabal Kalan, Amritsar District of Punjab, in to a Dhillon Jatt family around 1730's, he was the descendant of Chaudhary Bhai Langaha Dhillon, the Sikh chief of 84 villages in the Majha, who along with his younger brother Bhai Pero Shah Dhillon the grandfather of the famous Mai Bhago, had converted to Sikhism, during the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, in the 1580s.

From humble beginnings he arose to become a formidable force in the area between River Sutlej and River Yamuna. He aligned himself with Karor Singhia misl led by Sardar Karora Singh. After the early demise of Karora Singh, Bhai Baghel Singh succeeded as a leader of Karora Singhia misl in 1765. He is celebrated in Sikh history as the vanquisher of Mughal Delhi. On the 11th of March 1783, the Sikhs entered the Red Fort in Delhi and occupied the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), where the Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II, made a settlement with them that allowed Baghel Singh to raise Gurdwaras on Sikh historical sites and allowed them to take six annals of each rupee (of all the Octrai duties) and any other taxes collected by the Mughal state (roughly 12.5 %).

Baghel Singh set up camp in the Sabzi Mandi area of Delhi, with 4000 troops, taking charge of the police station in Chandani Chowk. He located seven sites connected with the lives of the Sikh Gurus and had shrines raised on the sites within the space of eight months (April to December 1783). Gurdwara Sis Ganj marked the spot in the main Mughal street of Chandani Chowk where Guru Tegh Bahadur had been executed at the orders of Aurangzeb and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, near the modern day Parliament House, where the Guru's body was cremated. Bangla Sahib and Bala Sahib were dedicated to the memory of the Eight Guru, Guru Har Krishan. Four other Gurdwaras Gurdwara Majnu ka Tilla, Moti Bagh, Telivara and Gurdwara Nanak Piao were also constructed during this period.


Guru Gobind Singh while leaving for Nanded in Southern part of India, divided the Sikhs into 12 misls and broadly allocated their areas of operation. Whereas these [[misl]s operated independently in their own areas under the respective misldars, together they constituted Dal Khalsa under the leadership of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. Sikhs had been making incursions outside Punjab and restricting the influence of the Mughal leaers. It is narrated that the Sikhs had levied ‘Rakhi’ and ‘Kambli’ taxes as far as Saharanpur, Hardwar and beyond.

Karora Singhia misl had 12,000 fighting men according to Syed Ahmad Latif, a Muslim historian. As well as being a good soldier, Baghel Singh was a very good political negotiator and was able to win over many an adversary to his side. The Mughals, the Ruhilas, the Marathas and British sought his friendship. In the wake of decay of Mughal authority in the Punjab owing to Ahmad Shah Durrani's successive invasions during the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Sikhs began extending their influence.

Baghel Singh's KarorSinghia misl fought head on with Ahmad Shah Durrani (also known as Abdali), along with other Dal Khalsa Misls near Kup at Malerkotla, where in one day of battle alone 30-40000 of women, children and old Sikhs were martyred. After Durrani's invasion, Sikhs started consolidating the territories between Yamuna and Indus by incorporating into Misls and misls reporting to Chief of Dal Khalsa, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia about territory won at Akal Takht Amritsar.

Whereas Sukarchakia misal (of Ranjit Singh) won the territory of Gujranwala, and other areas of Ravi and Chenab Doab and Ramgarhia Misal won the areas of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Bhangi around Lahore and Kasur, Karor Singhia misal declared their ownership of territories now including Ambala, Karnal, Hissar, Rohtak, Chandigarh, etc. Baghel Singh took possession of portions of the Jalandhar Doab and established himself at Hariana, near Hoshiarpur. Soon after the Sikh conquest of Sirhind in 1764, he extended his arms beyond Karnal and occupied number of villages including Chhalaudi which he later made his headquarters.

Then Baghel Singh Dhillon turned his attention towards the cis-Yamuna territories. Soon the Sikhs were invading territories beyond Delhi and beyond, including Meerut, Awadh, collecting tribute from the Nawabs of each area.

Sikhs overrun the villages around Delhi

Baba Baghel Singh occupied Delhi in 1783

In February 1764, Sikhs in a body of 40,000 under the command of Baghel Singh and other leading warriors crossed the Yamuna and captured Saharanpur. They over ran the territory of Najib ud-Daulah, the Ruhila chief, realizing from him a tribute of eleven lakh of rupees. In April 1775, Baghel Singh with two other sardars, Rai Singh Bhangi and Tara Singh Ghaiba, crossed the Yamuna to occupy that country, then ruled by Zabita Khan, son and successor of Najib ud-Daulah. Zabita Khan in desperation offered Baghel Singh large sums of money and proposed an alliance jointly to plunder the crown lands.The combined forces of Sikhs and Ruhilas overun the villages around the present site of New Delhi. In March 1776, they defeated the imperial forces near Muzaffarnagar. The whole of the Yamuna Gangetic Doab was now at their mercy.

A very temporary alliance with Mughal forces laying siege to Patiala

In the autumn of 1779, a large Mughal army under the command of Prince Farkhanda Bakht and Wazir Abdul Ahad Khan led an expedition against the cis-Sutlej Sikhs, Baghel Singh along with Rai Singh of Buna and Bhanga Singh of Thanesar joined hands with the imperial forces at Karnal and encircled Patiala. Raja Amar Singh visited Baghel Singh in his camp at the village of Lahal and made peace with him. During that visit, Sahib Singh, Baghel Singh's son, was initiated into the Khalsa by the Raja. Meanwhile, Amar Singh sought help from the Sutlej Sikhs. Then, with the assistance of his new Sikh allies, Baghel Singh turned his sights on his imperial allies. Prince Farkhanda Bakht and Wazir Abdul Ahad Khan then decided that taking flight was safer than attacking the combined Sikh forces, they suffered heavy losses in their retreat.

In April of 1781, when Mirza Shafi, a close relative of the Mughal prime minister, captured the Sikh military post at Indri, 10 km south of Ladva, Baghel Singh retaliated by attacking Khalil Beg Khan of Shahabad. Beg Khan surrendered his force of 300 horse, 800 foot and 2 pieces of cannon.

Camped in the jungles around Delhi

It is also commonly believed that Baba Baghel Singh with his army had camped in the jungles surrounding Delhi from which they were planning to secretly launch their attack. However, when their presence was soon discovered and the Mughal Emperor was informed that 30 thousand Sikhs were camping in the jungles. The place where the camp was established later came to be known as "Tis Hazari". This is where the present day Delhi High Court is located.

Another story goes that the Mughal Emperor when he came to know that Sikhs were planning to attack Delhi, as sufficient quantity of food and other essential commodities were stocked in the fort he ordered that all gates of the fort be closed so that the Sikhs camping in the jungles would soon run out of rations and go back. The Sikhs also realised that their surprise had been lost and it was impossible to capture the fort with all gates closed and locked. Some of the Sikhs accidentally came across a mason from the neighbourly village who informed them that a particular place the wall of the fort had caved in from inside though the exterior was intact. He also agreed to lead the Sikh and show them this spot. The Sikhs planned to ram the wall with logs to make a hole in the wall to enter the fort through. This place is now called "Mori Gate" and this where the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) in present Delhi is located.

Battle of Ghanaur

In 1778 the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II sent an estimated army of 100,000 soldiers to chastise the Sikhs. The Mughal force was commanded by the wazir Nawab Majad ud Daula under the banner of the crown prince. In addition to being a brave warrior, Baghel Singh was a sharp strategist and statesman. He was able to out-manoeuvre the strong Mughal army in the battle of Ghanaur, near Patiala city. As a result of the victory, the huge Mughal army surrendered before Baghel Singh's forces.

Baba Baghel Singh is credited with establishment of following Gurudwaras or Sikh Temples in Delhi:

Bhai Baghel Singh constructed seven gurdwaras. He maintained good law and order. His horses patrolled the city streets day and night. The citizen saw the kind of peace and order which they had not experienced for decades. The construction of seven gurdwaras was completed in about seven months, as stipulated in the agreement and he retired from the capital in early December 1783. At the time he had sufficient force in the city and was enjoying great prestige and goodwill of the public. He had the necessary force and could have decided to stay on and continue his control of the city. He stood by the agreement and left Delhi at the end of the stipulated period.


Baghel Singh died around 1802, in the town of Hariana, in present day Hoshiarpur district. A Samadh enshrining the memory of one of the more picturesque Misal Sardars still stands in the town.

See also

External links


  • 1. Gian Singh, Giani, Panth Prakash [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
  • 2. Bhahgu, Ratan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash [Reprint], Amritsar, 1962
  • 3. Sital, Sohan Singh, Sikh Mislan. Ludhiana, 1952
  • 4. Gupta, Hari Ram, History of the Sikhs, vol. III. Delhi, 1979
  • 5. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983