Ignored Sikh Tribes; Vanjaras, Sikligars and Satnamis

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Most Sikhs will be surprised to know that there are more than 12 crores (120 million) of ignored Sikh tribal people in India. The majority of them are from three tribes.

The Vanjaras, the Sikligars and the Satnamis.

The Vanjaras

Numerically the Vanjara tribe is the most important, spread all over South India. Vanjaras are among those Sikhs who irrigated with the blood of whole of their families, the plant of Sikhism. They were so brave that men like Bachitar Singh turned away elephant by hitting his steel covered head with spear; so knowledgeable that after Bhai Gurdas, whatever interpretation of Gurubani has been done, it was by a Vanjara Sikh, Bhai Mani Singh, who got his pores cut for Sikhism.

Numerically the Vanjara tribe is the most important, spread all over South India. The Vanjaras are among those Sikhs whose families blood (comparing Sikhi to a growing plant) irrigated the plant of Sikhism. They were brave men like Bachitar Singh who turned away an elephant by hitting his steel covered head with his spear; so knowledgeable that after Bhai Gurdas, whatever interpretation of Gurubani has been done, it was done by the Vanjara Sikh Bhai Mani Singh who had his body cut to pieces over his love of Sikhi. Vanjaras like Makhan Shah who sacrificed his wealth to search out the Guru and Lakhi Shah who burned his own home to cremate the body of our Ninth Guru.

Guru Nanak came in contact with numerous Vanjaras during the udasis. He composed rhymes addressing Vanjaras. Janamsakhis record Bhai Mansukh as the first Vanjara Sikh who got associated with the Gurughar and inspired the emperor Shivanbh of Sri Lanka to embrace sikhism and thus helped spread Sikhism outside the boundaries of India. There was another Sikh of the Sixth Guru Haridas Vanjara, the daroga of Gwalior fort. During Guru Hargobind’s imprisonment Sikhs like Baba Buddha, Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Ballu, Bhai Parana and Bhai Kirtia would often come to him from Punjab. He would not only inform the Sixth Guru of all the news of the royal court but also provided all facilities. When Guruji was asked of his release from Gwalior, he explained his important role as follows; One day Haridas Daroga come to me and side,” When Emperor Jahangir sleeps in his palace he sees dreadly faces and threatening shrieks resound in his mind asking him to release the ‘Peer of Hind’ whom he has incarcerated in Gwalior fort” (Guru Kiran Sakhian, P. 34) “Wazir Khan gave the Daroga his message to release the prisoners. After watching the massage all those prisoners undergoing were left. I asked the Daroga, “What is written in the letter about remaining prisoners”. He replied with folded hands. Those who could not be released now could escape by holding the robe of the Guru” The Daroga was a Sikh of the Guru. I asked him to get a large sized robe stitched. By morning all the kings got freed holding onto Guru’s robe. (Guru Kian Sakhian, P. 35-36)

Makhan Shah was associated with Sikhism since the Sixth Guru. Bhatt Vahis testify this “ The cavalcade of Bhai Makhan Shah who was the Sikh of Guru, was going to Kashmir. The satguru joined him there. After pilgrimage of Mutton Martand along with Bhai Dasa and Bhai Aru Ram, he reached the place of Bhai Makhan Shah at Mota Tanda. Bhai Dasa, father of Bhai Makhan Shah breathed his last there.”

The Seventh Guru stayed with him in Kashmir, This is mentioned in ‘Guru Kian Sakhian’ and ‘Bhatt Vahi “ Guru Har Rai Jee, the Seventh Guru, Son of Baba Gurditta Jee arrived in Srinagae in the year seventeen hundred seventeen, Krishan pakh, Panchami of Jeth month. Makjhan Shah, son of Bhai Dasa, grandson of Binai, maternal grandson of Beheru, Sub caste Vanjara came to him.’ (Guru Kian Sakhina, P.40) The Guru stayed at the Tanda of Makhan Shah in Kashmir for four months. (Bhatt Vahi Talaunda Pargana Jeend).

The account of Makhan Shah Vanjara declaring Guru Teg Bahadur Jee the Guru is mentioned thus in Sakhis :

“On the festival of Diwali of 1721, people from far and wide came to seek blessings of the Guru. There was a big spectacle in the village Bakala. Makhan Shah Banjara came with his people to seek blessings of the Guru. His ship was stuck in the whirlwind in the river near Tremu harhour. He pledged 100 coins and came to Bakala town. At first he was led to the house of Dheer Mal by the attendants of this fake. Makhan shah gifted five coins. Dheer Mal saw him off after bestowing siropa on him. Makhan shah came to the court of Guru Teg Bahadur there after and gifted five coins. Guru said,” Makhan Shah! Your wife has brought coins in a red bag with a green string. The bar is with your elder son who is standing behind you.” At this his Chandu Lal bowed his head before him and his son gifted the bag. Makhan Shah came out and shouted thrice,” O mistaken Sangat ! I have found the Guru. “. Guru Jee blessed him to be a true Sikh (Guru Kian Sakhian, P.61-62)

Makhan Shah Banjara remained Guru’s devoted Sikh and his son Kushal Singh attained martyrdom fighting along with the Guru’s forces in Lohgarh fort. More touching is the story of Lakhi Shah Banjara who brought in the body of Guru Teg Bahadur from Nakhas Chowk stealthily and made his own home the cremation pre. Nayak Bhagwant Singh did not care for his title of Panj Hazari given by Auranjzeb and made his house a safe haven for Sikhs.

The number of sacrifices made by this tribe to Preserve Sikhism is unprecedented. Over 100 Vanjaras Sikhs have been listed here as an example, but they number much more. From the list we find three brothers, Bhai Dayala boiled alive in pot(tegh), Bhai Mani Singh was cut limb, Bhai Jagat Singh was skinned alive and Bhai Mani Singhs son Chitar Singh wastied with spokes. Their six other brothers also achieved martydom similarly while preserving Sikhism. Just as their grandfather Ballu sent his own brother Nanu and three sons Nathia, Dassa and Suhela for martyrdom in the battles of Guru Hargobind, Bhai Mani Singh, also sacrificed all his sons Chitar Singh, Bachitar Singh, Udai Singh, Anik Singh, Ajaib Singh, Ajaib Singh, Bhagwan Singh and, Udai Singh, Anik singh, grandsons Keso Singh, Saina Singh, Sangram Singh, Ram Singh, Mehboob singh, Fateh Singh, Albel Singh, Mehar Singh, Bagh Singh, Maha Singh, Seetal Singh, uncles Nathia’s sons Sangat Singh Bangeshwari, Ran Singh, Bhagwant Singh, Kaur Singh, Baj Singh, Sham Singh, Sukha Singh, Lal Singh, Nand Singh etc. Almost whole of the family of Bhai Mani Singh has entered the list of martyrs.

Besides these, martyrdom of 40 other Banjaras at Alowal near Multan on October 11, are recorded in Akbare-e-Darbar-e-Muala, October 11, 1711, 10 Ramzan Hizri 1123, Year Pancham Bahadurshahi. “Sarbrah Khan Kotwal received orders that 40 Sikhs have been brought in the Kotwali from Multan. Ask them to accept lslam, otherwise kill them. The Emperor was told that they did not yield. An order was given that they be killed.”

The Sikligars

If we consider the dedication and commitment to Sikhism, this tribe is among the first. Lacking any help from any quarter and living in penury they still remain in high spirits. Their poverty however, has kept them beyond the attention of so called Sikh Sardars. Neither any Gurdwara Committees has paid any attention to them nor any worth while Sikh organization has tried to help them.

The days are far behind when Guru Hargobind ji wore the swords of Meeri and Peeri to save the masses from the tyranny of Mughals and when he felt the need of arms he remembered these Marwar brothers. These were the same Marwari brother whos chief Rana Partap was inspired by Sri Chand Jee the son of Guru Nanak, to sacrifice his every thing for religion. He fought the Mughals valiantly losing the battle of arms but not of mind. They accepted of vagaries of forests but not the servitude of Mughals. They adopted the profession of manufacture of arms and took upon themselves to supply these to fight the Mughals. On invitation from the Guru, they permanently got attached to the Guru Ghar. They would not only manufacture arms for Gurughar but also fought battles attaining martyrdom. When Gurujee sent Bhai Jetha and Bhai Bidhi Chand to look for artisans, Bhai Kehar Singh Rajput was the first one to offer his services. Men brought by him made weapons that were used by the Sixth and Tenth Gurus in all the battles with Mughals. In between, during the period of non-violence their occupation was affected adversely. Some of them returned to Marwar. The residents of Chittaurgarh did not behave well with their forelon brothers and they returned. Marital relationship was formed within the tribes and tradition of exchange also began due to need of times.

Some Sikligars associated with Guru Teg Bahadur also went with him to Assam and kept supplying weapons for royal armies. Their fate took a turn towards the positive when the Tenth Guru took over. He called upon his followers to bring weapons. Sikligars also contributed their mite. First of all came Bhai Veeru and provided the details of his brethern. The Guru asked him to exhibit weapons. He ordered Bhai Nand Singh and Bhai Chaupa Singh to check exhibited weapons. Guru Sahib too paid a visit to the exhibition.

The weapons were extremely beautiful and shining brilliantly. These were so sharp that they would have severed the heads of elephants. The makers of these weapons themselves were such warriors that they could each fight alone with a lakh and quarter. Observing the shine of their weapons the Guru himself named them ‘Sikligar’ and after observing their valour bestowed them with the title of his favorites. The swords, arrows and other weapons made by them were adopted enthusiastically by the Guru.

The weapon manufacturing activity started in the fort of Lohgarh under the supervision of these Marwari artisans. According to Bhai Santokh Singh, “Marwaris were very active in making weapons.” They prepared four types of weapons (1) Amukat which can be used with hands like swords (2) Mukat, which can be released from hand, and (3) Muktamukat, which can be used both ways. Bhai Ram Singh was responsible for manufacture. He was the first to be baptised in to Sikhism among the Sikligars and became Ram Singh from Ram Chand after baptism at the hands of Tenth Guru. He belonged to Bugiana. Though he could not become one of the Panj Piaras but he was among the Panj Piaras (Guru Kian Sakhian, p 116). He showed his fighting skills in the battle of Chamkaur intimidating the enemy valiantly.

He would clean the weapons with much dedication. Once he was cleaning a Tegh by putting it under his feet. A group of Sikhs chided him, “Why are you touching the sacred weapon with feet?” They went away saying this but all Sikligars kept sitting with the weapons on their heads. When Guruji noticed this he asked Ram Singh the reason for the strange act. As Ram Singh told of the comments passed against them, Guruji laughed and said “Just as a sculptor makes a sculpture pressing it under his feet and making people to worship it, likewise you also clean the weapons with much dedication and honour. So you are excused from the ill effects (Giani Gian Singh Twarikh Khalsa, part 3, p. 931). The account of bravery of Ram Singh in the battle of Chamkaur before he attained martyrdom is described in Suraj Parkash, part 8.

Bhai Badan Singh and Bhai Modan Singh gave company to the Tenth Guru till Nanded. After the Tenth Guru this tribe got divided into small groups and started roaming in towns and villages manufacturing and selling their ware. Some served the royal houses. Later some of them came in the service of Maharaja Ala Singh and contributed a lot in getting thousands of Hindu men and women released from Abdali. When Maharaja of Nahan asked for weapons and weapons makers from Maharaja Ala Singh, the Sikligars Mohan Singh, Madan Singh, and Tehal Singh were sent. During the period of the queen Aas Kaur Misar Naudh revolted. Sikligars Kesar Singh, Mehtab Singh, Khum Singh, Ghulab Singh, Margind Singh, Jawahar Singh showed their mettle and won the battle. This earned them honour in the court but they were put to death treacherously by the Misar.

During Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time they started making guns and rifles also. These rifles were famous with the names of Toredar, Kotli, Pata, Churidar and Sada. These were manufactured on a large scale in the workshops of Lahore. The British period hit them very hard. Ban was ordered against their weapon manufacture and they were declared a criminal tribe. For sustenance, they started roaming on carts and started making small household implements, these did not earn them even their lively hood.

They are scattered in different parts of India now. In Punjab, they are in Ludhiana, Chamkaur Sahib and Baba Bakala (Basnie), Patiala, Sirhind, Gobindgarh, Ferozepur, Moga etc. (Ladnie), and some are still wanderers (Uthnie) around Ablowal, Karnal, Panipat, Bachitar Nagar etc. Outside Punjab they are in large numbers in Maharashtra, Andhara, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

The writer has gone and seen their condition in different areas and found that they are living in utter penury and their profession has lagged behind the machine age. Their pride does not let them to do service. On top of that, they are illiterate. They don’t own land or homes. They do not get proper food and clothes. They eat whatever they earn, sometimes once a day and at the most twice. They don’t have finances to construct Gurdwaras to keep them associated with Gurughar. These Sikligars who partook amrit from the Tenth Guru have remained associated with Sikhism, tying turbans and keeping hair. They also abstain from intoxidants. They follow, to an extent the Sikh norms but now deprivation is taking them away from Sikhism. Many have started shearing their hair. Some have joined other faiths. If these are not attended to in time the Sikhism would lose its big chunk.

The main sources about Sikligars are - ‘Mahan Kosh’ by Bhai Kahn Singh, ‘Sikligar Qabila’ by Sher Singh Sher, ‘Sikligar Parsang’ published by Buddha Dal, Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer’s ‘Guru De Sher’, Kirpal Singh Kazak’s ‘Sikligar Kabile Da Sabhyachar’, Giani Garja Singh’s ‘Shaheed Bilas’ and ‘Guru Kian Sakhian’, the ‘Sikligar Vanjara’ issue of Gurmat Parkash (December 2002), Dr. Dalvinder Singh’s articles on Sikligars in, ‘Sikh Review’, ‘Sachkhand Patra’ and ‘Des Punjab’.

The Satnamis

Very few people know that numbering more over one crore and spread in the areas of Jharkhand, Bengal and Chhatisgarh, Satnamis are those Sikhs who had taken on Emperor Aurangzeb at the behest of Guru Teg Bahadur against his decision to charge jeziya and destruction of temples and teaching centres of Hindus & Sikhs. Rebelling against Auranzeb, for a considerable time, they had in their possession the whole areas of Southern Haryana and North Rajasthan. These Sikhs associated themselves with Sikhism during the visit of Guru Nanak. They recited Satman and have kept themselves associated with Satnam till date.

In 1667, Aurangzeb declared that all Hindus would pay five per cent Jeziya tax. On April 9, 1969 he passed orders that all Hindu temples, and educational institutions be destroyed and their religious activities be banned. This decision was implemented ruthlessly (Masir-e-Jehangiri 1947, p. 51-55, Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb Part 3, p. 265). On hearing these orders, Guru Teg Bahadur started from Assam towards Punjab in December 1671 and reached Delhi in January 1672 (Punjab Past and Present, April 1975, p. 234). In Delhi he gave the call “bhai kau ko det nahi, na bhai manat aan” (Neither I cause fear to anyone nor I accept fear). It were these Satnamis who implemented this call of the Guru.

When Guruji was in Delhi, the leader of Satnamis came to pay obeisance along with his associates and described the details of atrocities leased on Hindus. Guruji understood that the time had come to face the tyranny and that by sitting in fear, Mughals would only be more enthused. This was the main reason he called upon every Sikh to be fearless. It included Jagjivan Das also.

On receiving the call, Satnamis congregated and decided that they being followers of Guru Nanak would not pay anything to anyone else except the Guru. When government officials came to their houses to collect taxes they declined. The soldiers tried to force; but were beaten back. The ruler of the area attacked them, they retaliated. The Mughal forces fled from the area of Narnaul Rumour spread in the area that the Satnamis were blessed hence they cannot be defeated by anyone.

On the other hand, fear spread in the royal circles. The fact that Satnamis could not be defeated would result in rebellion in other parts as well. Situation would go out of control. Aurangzeb lost his sleep over this. He was already worried due to the rebellions in Afghanistan and Peshawar. Afghanistan had already been seceded for long to a rebellion. Rebellion at Narnaul being so near the capital could cause serious repercussions possibly resulting in loss of power also.

The Satnamis were not sitting complacent either. They had fortified themselves under the leadership of Jagjiwan Dass Chandel and were prepared for any eventuality. The entire information was constantly relayed to Aurangzed. He had the task in hand to break the fortification of Satnamis and to break the myth of their being invincible.

Understanding the need of the hour, Aurangzeb decided to tackle this rebellion on a large scale. He prepared a contingent of forces under his general Salar Sayyad Ahmed Khan. He wrote with his own hands the ayats of quran on the thwart any magic. Addressing the forces he said,” The ayats on your flags will keep you safe and nobody will be able to defeat you because you are going to annihilate the Kaafirs (Mahan Kosh, P. 147)

Armed with guns and weaponry these forces reached Narnaul and encircled the few Satnamis. How could these unarmed Satnamis take on the heavily armed enemy for long? None of the Satnamis surrendered. They reached Madhya Pardesh gradually, closely following by the Mughal forces. Along with their families they scattered themselves in the forest of what is now Chhatisgarh. Aurangzeb, army was recalled as they were required else where.

Since then these Satnamis remained in these forests. Worse happened when they were oppressed a lot by the rich and strong sections of local rich population. Satnamis lived in their huts reciting satnam and remained aloof from the rituals of Pandits. Later Ghasi Ram united them, thwarting the oppression of Pandits and spreading education among them. When the Britishers came they converted some of them to Christianity. Former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s family is one of those Satnamis, who become Christians.

Few years back, the house of a Satnami near Dhamtari caught fire. Everything in his house was destroyed except a wooden box which contained a Granth. The news spread far and wide. The Script of the Granth could not be understood by the educated locals. Few Punjabis also lived in the area. Once of them visited the site and found that this was and ancient beer of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The housekeeper informed that his ancestors used to read and worship the Granth (Dainik Bhaskar, Raipur Education, November 8, 2003).

Where people of Dhamatri came to know of this, they expressed a wish to construct a Gudwara there. The housekeeper gifted the land for the Gurdwara and realising there his ancestors were Sikhs, Partook amrit himself. From then on, many of the Satnam Foundation of Raipur assisted by Scottish Sikh Council, alongwith other associations, which continues even now.

The welfare of these three tribes

Few organizations are contributing their mite for the welfare of these three tribes. Besides organization approved by the Panth, these include local organization, as Gurmat Parchar Sanstha Nagpur, Satnam Foundation Raipur, Guru Angad Dev Educational and Welfare Society Ludhiana, Trust for the Welfare of Vanjara and Other Weaker Sections of Society Chandigarh etc. But the monetary part is taken care mainly by foreign organization, prominent amongst them being the Scottish Sikh Council, British Sikh Council etc. These efforts keep them attached with the Gurughar. For this the whole Sikh community needs to made efforts unitedly at global level.

May God give us every strength.