Jassa Singh Ramgarhia
Jassa Singh Ramgarhia (1723 - 1803) was a prominent Sikh leader during the period of the Sikh Confederacy. He became the Misldar (Chief/Leader) of the Ramgarhia Army (misl). This period was an interlude, lasting roughly from the time of the death of Banda Singh Bahadur in 1716 to the founding of the Sikh Empire in 1801. The period is also sometimes described as the Age of the Misls.
Jassa Singh Ramgarhia is not to be confused with Jassa Singh Ahluwalia; both were prominent Misldars of separate powerful Sikh army groups, called Misls. Ramgarhia's father was called Giani Bhagwan Singh.
Ramgarhia was born Jassa Singh Thoka at Ichogil village in 1723, near the city of Amritsar into a Tarkhan family.
His grandfather, Baba Hardas Singh was a resident of Sur Singh, a large village in the Lahore district. He took Pahul (the Sikh baptismal oath) from the hands of Guru Gobind Singh, the initiator of the Pahul tradition who bestowed the original Panj Piares.
Giving up his work as a ploughman, he became one of the Guru's personal attendants. Baba Hardas Singh was only five years old when Guru Tegh Bahadur and his three brave companions bravely faced their tortuous executions in defence of the threatened Hindu Pandits of Kashmir, in Chandi Chowk at the order of Aurangzeb.
Baba ji served the Sikh panth under the guidance of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. He was responsible for many Birs (hand written copies of the Holy Granth. He worked with one of the famous Sikh martyr and scholar Bhai Mani Singh. After the death of the Guru, he joined the forces of Banda Bahadur and took part in almost every battle for religious freedom, under the Sikh Jathedar's (commander's) flag, against the Mughal Empire's forces. In 1716 his grandfather, Baba Hardas Singh died in a skirmish.
His only son, Bhagwan Singh then became the head of the family. He was of a still more adventurous disposition. He shifted to village Ichogil which lay about twelve miles east of Lahore. He preached the Sikh faith in the neighbouring villages. He was an intrepid soldier and with two hundred followers entered the Imperial Mughal forces under the Governor of Lahore — Khan Bahadur. Where, owing to his abilities, he became a distinguished officer. He was appointed a Risaldar (a Commander of a Calvary unit) by Khan Bahadur.
Bhagwan Singh had five sons, named Jai Singh, Jassa Singh, Khushal Singh, Mali Singh and Tara Singh. In 1739 during the invasion of Nadir Shah, Bhagwan Singh saved the life of the governor of Lahore at the cost of his own. Khan Bahadur surrendered to the Persian invader's forces and was left in place as Governor. To reward Bhagwan Singh's brave deed the governor gave a village each to all of his five sons. The villages gifted were Valla, Verka, Sultanwind, Tung and Chubhal. All of these are now in the Amritsar district. Of these villages Valla came to the share of Jassa Singh.
On the death of Khan Bahadur in 1746, Jassa Singh, together with his followers, joined their Sikh brethren at Amritsar. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia was one of the closest friends of Jhanda Singh Dhillon.
The Dal Khalsa: the Buddha Dal and the Taruna Dal
In 1733, the Mughal government decided, at the insistence of Zakarya Khan, to stop the persecution of the Sikhs and made an offer of a grant to them. The title of Nawab was conferred upon their leader, with a jagir consisting of the three parganas of Dipalpur, Kanganval and Jhabal.
After some mutual discussion, (five revered Sikhs) - Baba Deep Singh, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Hari Singh Dhillon, Bhai Karam Singh and Bhai Buddh Singh decided to make Kapur Singh the Supreme Leader of the Sikhs. Kapur Singh was thus chosen for the title and became Nawab Kapur Singh.
Word was sent round to Sikhs living in distant jungles and deserts that peace had been made with the government and that they could now return to their homes. Nawab Kapur Singh undertook the task of consolidating the disintegrated fabric of the Sikh Jathas. They were merged into a single central fighting force (The Dal) divided into two sections - The Budha Dal, the army of the veterans, and the Taruna Dal, the army of the young. Hari Singh Dhillon was elected leader of the Taruna Dal. The former was entrusted with the task of looking after the holy places, preaching the word of the Gurus and inducting converts into the Khalsa Panth by holding baptismal ceremonies.
The Taruna Dal was the more active division and its function was to fight in times of emergencies and fighting the Afghan armies of Ahmed Shah Abdali. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia were then youngsters who led regiments under Hari Singh Dhillon in the Taruna Dal, reporting to Nawab Kapur Singh at Diwali and Vaisakhi.
The rise of the Misls
The Taruna Dal rapidly grew in strength and soon numbered more than 12,000. To ensure efficient control, Nawab Kapur Singh split it into five parts, each with a separate command. The first group was led by Baba Deep Singh, the second by Karam and Dharam Singh, the third by Kahan singh and Binod Singh of Goindwal, the fourth by Dasaundha Singh of Kot Budha and the fifth by Vir Singh Ranghreta and Jivan Singh Ranghreta. Each group had its own banner and drum, and formed the nucleus of a separate political state. The territories conquered by these groups were entered in their respective papers at the Akal Takht by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. From these misls (documents), the principalities carved out by them came to be known as Misls. Seven more groups were formed subsequently and, towards the close of the century, there were altogether twelve Sikh Misls ruling the Punjab.
The Ramgarhia Misl
In 1716 Ahmed Shah Durrani left Lahore, Adina Beg the Afghan Governor of Punjab was hunting for the heads of the sikhs, they dispersed and scattered in all directions. Jassa Singh and others in the band took refuge in the mud fort of Ram Rauni near Amritsar where they were surrounded and attacked during the ensuing period. In 1758 Adina Beg died and there was a power vacuum in Punjab and those who escaped from the fort of Ram Rauni assumed the name of Ramgarhias and Jassa Singh became its head.The Misal (Confederacy) was called Ramgarhia.
The main concentration of the Misl was in and around the Riarki area of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Batala (in Majha). The Ramgarhia constructed and fortified the mud fortress of Ram Rauni just outside Amritsar. It was named in honour of the founder of the city, the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das. His Misl contained more than 10000 cavalry who were always on the move, helping the Dal Khalsa whenever the Mughals or Afghans attacked. Whilst the Mughal administration controlled the cities, it was the Sikhs who were in control of the villages. Twenty years earlier, Banda Bahadur had wreaked havoc on the Mughal administration by abolishing all taxes and the Zamindari system. Now only a "dasvand" (10% of income) was levied on the Sikhs - as protection tax to pay for the armies.
Mir Mannu becomes the new Subedar of the Punjab
Mir Mannu became the new governor of the Punjab on April 9, 1748. He appointed Kaura Mal as his new Diwan (minister). After taking control of the administration of the provinces, he employed his army to fight the Sikh misls or fighting orders. The Sikhs left the territory and moved to other states. The Sikh Chiefs asked Jassa Singh Ramgarhia to liaise with the subedar (governor) of the Jullundur Doab, Adina Beg Khan. While drawing his salary from the Mughals, Adina Beg Khan joined forces with the Jassa Singh Ramgarhia against the Mughals.
The siege of Ram Rauni
The Sikhs gathered in Amritsar on Diwali,1748. Adina Beg proceeded towards Amritsar and besieged Ram Rauni. Mir Mannu came down from Lahore with an army to assist Beg in the siege.
Jassa Singh used the good offices of Diwan Kaura Mal and had the siege lifted. The fort was strengthened and re-named Ramgarh. Jassa Singh, having been designated the Jathedar of the fort, became popular as Ramgarhia.
Mannu intensified his violence and oppression against the Sikhs. There were only 900 Sikhs when he surrounded the Ramgarh fort again. The Sikhs fought their way out bravely. The army demolished the fort. The hunt for and torture of the Sikhs continued until Mannu died in 1753.
Manu’s death left Punjab without any effective Governor. It was again an opportune period for the Sikhs to organize themselves and gain strength. Jassa Singh rebuilt the fort and took possession of some areas around Amritsar. The Sikhs took upon themselves the task of protecting the people in the villages from the invaders. The money they obtained from the people was called Rakhi (protection charges).
The new Governor, Prince Timur, the son of Ahmed Shah Abdali, despised the Sikhs. In 1757, he again forced the Sikhs to vacate the fort and move to their hiding places. The fort was demolished, the Harimandir was blown up, and the sacred pool was filled with debris. The Governor decided to replace Adina Beg. Beg asked the Sikhs for help and they both got a chance to weaken their common enemy. Adina Beg won the battle. The Sikhs rebuilt Ramgarh and repaired the Harimandir. Beg was well acquainted with the strength of the Sikhs and he feared they would oust him if he allowed them to grow stronger, so he lead a strong army to demolish the fort. After fighting valiantly, the Sikhs decided to leave the fort. Beg died in 1758.
The Ramgarhia Misl Estate
Jassa Singh Ramgarhia occupied the area to the north of Amritsar between the Ravi and the Beas rivers. He also added the Jalandhar region and Kangra hill areas to his estate. He had his capital in Sri Hargobindpur. The large size of Jassa Singh’s territory aroused the jealousy of the other Sikh Misls.
Intra Misl wars
Although Jai Singh Kanhaiya and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia were once close friends, their rivalries led to a pitched battle between them and their allies. The chiefs of the Bhangi Misls joined the Ramgarhias and their associates. Jai Singh Kanhaiya was joined by Charhat Singh Sukerchakia and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. The Ramgarhia side lost the battle.
Later, Ahluwalia while hunting one day, happened to enter Ramgarhia territory where Jassa Singh’s brother arrested him. Jassa Singh apologized for the misbehavior of his brother, and honorably returned Ahluwalia with gifts. However, their old differences increased further. The other chiefs also took a grim view of this act.
Due to mutual jealousies, fights continued among the Sikh Sardars. In 1776, the Bhangis changed sides and joined Jai Singh to defeat Jassa Singh. His capital at Sri Hargobindpur was taken over and he and his forces were pursued from village to village. Finally he lost all his territory. He choose to cross the river Satluj, going over to Amar Singh, the ruler of Patiala.
Amar Singh welcomed the Ramgarhia sardar in order to make use of his bravery, fighting skill, and ruling experience. He gave him the areas of Hansi and Hissar which Jassa Singh handed over to his son. He himself joined Amar Singh to take control of the villages on the west and north of Delhi, now forming parts of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia entered Delhi in 1783. Shah Alam II, the Mughal emperor, extended him a warm welcome. Ramgarhia left Delhi after receiving gifts from him.
Meanwhile to the north, differences over how to divide the Jammu state revenues, resulted in long time friends and neighbours Maha Singh, Jathedar of the Sukerchakia Misl and Jai Singh, Jathedar of the Kanahya Misl, becoming enemies. This rancor resulted in a war which would change the course of Sikh history.
Maha Singh requested Jassa Singh Ramgarhia's aid. In the ensuing battle, Jai Singh Kanahya lost his son, Gurbaksh Singh in the fighting with the Sukerchakias and the Ramgarhias.
The unification of the Misls
Sada Kaur, the newly widowed daughter-in-law of Jai Singh, proved to be a great statesperson. Though very young she could see the end of Khalsa power if such internescine battles continued, she now worked to unite the waring misls in order to form a united, formidable force. She was able to convince Maha Singh to adopt the path of friendship by offering the hand of her daughter, then only a child, to his son, himself just a young boy, Ranjit Singh the future Maharaja of the Punjab. The balance of power now shifted in favor of this united Misls as other sardars also joined the union. Ranjit Singh was now the leader of the most powerful Sikh Misl ever.
Establishment of the Sikh Kingdom of the Punjab
When the Afghan invader, Shah Zaman, came in 1788, the Sikhs, however, were still divided. The Ramgarhia and Bhangi Misls were not willing to help Ranjit Singh to fight the invader, so the Afghans took over Lahore and looted it. As soon as the Afghans went back, Ranjit Singh occupied Lahore in 1799 but the Ramgarhias and Bhangis did not accept him as the leader of all the Sikhs. They got the support of their friends and marched to Lahore to challenge Ranjit Singh. The forces, who were 12 miles outside the city, were finalizing their plans to attack, when the Bhangi leader died. This discouraged Jassa Singh and he returned to his territory.
Jassa Singh was eighty years old when he died in 1803. His son, Jodh Singh, developed good relations with Ranjit Singh and they never fought again.
Because of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia's Tarkhan roots, Tarkhans who became Sikhs, came to be known as Ramgarhias. Jassa Singh left behind two sons Jodh Ramgarhia and Bir Ramgarhia. His four brothers Mali Singh, Jai Singh, Khushal Singh and Tara Singh.
In the news
Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, one of the greatest Sikh generals, has not been given his due place in the Sikh history. Even the historic fort constructed by this great warrior has lost its very existence, report by Varinder Walia Photos by Rajiv Sharma
Historians, the SGPC and Sikh institutions have not done full justice to Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, one of the greatest Sikh generals.
The two-and-a-half century old historic Qila Ram Rauni (Ramgarh), built by Sardar Ramgarhia, has already lost its very existence. This was the fort from which the Ramgarhia Misl got its name. The adjective “Ramgarhia” means “Custodians of the Castle of God”. The chain of forts, including Ram Rauni Fort, Ahluwalia Fort and Gobindgarh Fort, were constructed to protect Harmandar Sahib from any foreign invasion.
Dr Ganda Singh in his book, “Sikh History” and another historian, A.C Arora in “Punjab Da Itihas”, claim that Ramgarh Qila came into being in 1748 AD.
The SGPC, which considers itself as the custodian of the Sikh edifices, has put a big ‘misleading’ board, mentioning the ‘samadh’ (tomb) of Sardar in the Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh complex (Amritsar).
Contesting the claims (of the SGPC), a renowned Sikh historian, Bakshish Singh Adal, in his well-acclaimed monograph, “Maharaja Jassa Singh”, claims that he (Sardar Ramgarhia) breathed his last at historic town Sirihargobindpur (Gurdaspur), and not in Amritsar, as mentioned by the Shiromani Committee on its board.
The tomb of Sardar Ramgarhia on the bank of the Beas was destroyed with heavy currents of the mighty river. No Sikh organisation made any effort to locate the exact place of his death so that appropriate monument could be constructed.
Sardar Ramgarhia was born in 1723 at Ichogil village, near Lahore. His grandfather took Amrit during the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh, and joined him in many battles. Later, he joined the forces of Banda Singh.
One gets perplexed to see a white memorial belonging to Sardar Jodh Singh Ramgarhia, son of Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, in Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh complex, where the SGPC through different signboards has described it (the memorial) as tomb and birthplace as well.
The All India Ramgarhia Federation, headed by Mr Onkar Singh Sandhu, took up the case with the SGPC many times for carrying out the correction, but to no avail. Out of the 12 “samadhs” of the “Ramgarhia Sardars’”, only this (Sardar Jodh Singh’s) tomb has been protected.
Jassa Singh Ramgarhia had two sons, Jodh Singh and Bir Singh. Sardar Jodh Singh succeeded his father after his death. He participated in the Battle of Kasur (siding with Ranjit Singh). After the occupation of Kasur, the Maharaja wooed him by gifting him an elephant. Maharaja Ranjit Singh felt that unless Ramgarhia was befriended, he could not occupy the whole of Punjab. So, he wrote a letter to Jodh Singh, soliciting his friendship and cooperation. Historians say that with the goodwill gesture he always sided with Maharaja in the latter’s expeditions against his adversaries.
Another edifice of Sardar Ramgarhia, which is losing its sheen, is twin minarets in Ramgarhia Bunga in the Harmandar Sahib complex. The rest of the 83 “bungas” were dismantled to widen the “parikarma” in the past. This three-storey building, a marvel of the Sikh school of architecture and built by Sikh warriors in 1794, faces threat to its very existence. Considerable damage has been done to this unique building by managers of kar seva.
The Babas of Kar Sevawale, who are using the “bungas” as their abode these days, have allegedly damaged certain portions of the building within the precincts of Darbar Sahib itself. They have built walls under the arches on the ground floor, and fixed doors to convert verandahs into rooms. The brickwork (the Nanakshahi bricks) has been plastered and painted at many places. Due to hindered ventilation, there is seepage in the basement of the “bunga”, which could render irreparable damage to the building.
The Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia Federation has criticised the SGPC for its attitude towards this monument. It has claimed that the former SGPC secretary, Dr Gurbachan Singh Bachan, had initiated a move to convert the basement of the “bunga” into a war museum. However, some persons having vested interests scuttled the move.
The federation had requisitioned the services of Sikh architects, and with reference to old pictures, the minarets in the “bungas” were got repaired. The federation got the bricks chiselled, carried out restoration work on the north-western wall of the “bunga” facing Darbar Sahib, but abruptly and without any notice by the authorities in the SGPC, withdrew the seva from the federation.
According to Mr Joginder Singh Kalsi, an expert on Sikh heritage, all three storeys of the “bunga”, supported by 44 pillars, parabolic arches for roofs and beams, and decorated by cornices and projections, are in a pitiable condition and need immediate repair.
While constructing the “bunga”, care was taken to provide natural light and ventilation through ventilators, which open in the perambulatory path around the holy tank of Harmandar Sahib on one side and in the well dug on the other side. The basement just below the ground-level accommodates a hall for maharaja where he used to hold his court in “Diwan-e-Khas”, accommodating around 300 courtiers and soldiers. Due care was taken to keep the level of the throne (made of marble and decorated with engravings)at a level lower than that of Akal Takht.
There is also a room that was used as jail for political prisoners. Another room on the other side of the wall facing the throne was the treasury where steel chests were installed for rooms of ‘daffadars’ (security in charge of treasury) and security staff. All these are in a dilapidated condition.
The federation has again offered to carry out the restoration work and to convert the basement into a war museum by providing entry and exit from the ‘parikarma’ of the Golden Temple.
The restoration work of two historical gates, named after Sardar Ramgarhia, has been hanging fire due to the allegedly callous attitude of the SGPC, even though the local Municipal Corporation had given its green signal by passing a unanimous resolution in this regard on January 17, 2003.
The federation believes that this gate was demolished after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A map of the Municipal Committee, Amritsar, published before the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh depicts 12 historical gates, including Darwaza Ramgarhia and Darwaza Ahluwalia. Moreover, history books point out that Chattiwind was named after Jassa Singh Ramgarhia. The federation has also demanded the renaming of Katra Ramgarhia, which was developed in 1760 and was located between the Gilwlali Gate and the Doburji Gate (Sultanwind Gate) and was surrounded by Katra Dal Singh, Katra Mit Singh and Katra Garbha Singh.
The statesmanship and valour of Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia during the siege of Ram Rauni Fort is a great event in the Sikh history. Mir Manu, the Governor of Punjab, felt a threat to his authority and rule, from the rising power of the Sikhs and wanted to crush them. He intensified his violence and oppression against the Sikhs. There were only 900 Sikhs when he surrounded the Ramgarh Fort again. He sent his forces to attack Ram Rauni Fort of the Sikhs at Amritsar in October 1748 AD. This siege, under the command of Adina Beg, the Governor of Jallandhar Doab, continued for four months up to January 1749 AD. Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, along with his army, entered the fortress during the night and took the command of the besieged Sikhs and defended the fortress along with the besieged Sikhs against the repeated attacks of the Mughal Army. The siege was lifted in January 1749 AD and the Sikhs came out victorious.
Sirihargobindpur, one of the ancient towns of the state, founded by the sixth Sikh Guru, was made capital by Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia. Sadly, it is fast turning into ruins — thanks to the “callous” attitude of the successive state governments, the Department of Archives and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee that claim to be working for the preservation of the Sikh heritage.
The ruins of majestic historical buildings and the material used to build this “first capital of the Sikhs” are fine specimens of craftsmanship. Most of these date back to the time of Emperor Shah Jehan — a contemporary of Guru Hargobind — the sixth Guru.
After the sixth Guru, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, too, used the town as the “Capital of Sikhs”.
As many as 40 wells were got sunk by Guru Hargobind in a planned manner, but owing to the indifferent attitude of all concerned, most of these are now filled with earth. Shockingly, the SGPC seems to be unaware of the historical importance of the wells. The border district of Gurdaspur (Hargobindpur is part of it) was part of the vast area covered under the Indus Valley Civilisation. This civilisation developed prior to the Aryan Civilisation in the region.
Sardar versus Maharaja
The Ramgarhia federation says that Sardar Jassa Singh should be called “Maharaja” instead of “Sardar”. It says Ramgarhia conquered the territories of his contemporary Rajas, who started giving him taxes to provide security — all qualities making his ‘kingdom’ sovereign. Sardar Jassa Singh occupied the area to the north of Amritsar between the Ravi and the Beas. He had also added Jalandhar region and Kangra hill areas to his state. He had his capital in Sirihargobindpur, a town founded by the sixth Sikh Guru.
A joint Sikh army known as Dal Khalsa, comprising forces of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Sardar Baghel Singh, attacked the Mughal ruler in Delhi and occupied the Red Fort in 1783. During the brief occupation by the Khalsa army, Sardar Ramgarhia removed the royal throne. He fettered it with chains and ropes and brought it to Amritsar to present it before the Almighty as a war prisoner.
Presently, the seat of the throne measuring six feet in length, four feet in breadth and nine inches in thickness is placed in a tilted position, symbolising its surrender before the Golden Temple in Ramgarhia Bunga (a Persian word for residence), which is situated on the premises of Harmandar Sahib.
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- 3. Khushwant Singli, A Hisl.ofy of the Sikhs, vol.1. Princclon, 1963