Last Stand at Gurdas Nangal

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Banda Singh Bahadur's success enraged the mighty Mughal Emperor. He issued strong, imperative orders to the Governor of Lahore. The latter was ordered to take immediate steps to kill or capture the Sikh Chief and his followers. He issued orders also to a number of Mughal and Hindu officials and chiefs. He ordered them to proceed with all their troops to help the armies of Lahore. On receipt of these orders, the Faujdars of Gujrat, Eminabad, Aurangabad, Pasrur, Batala, Patti, and Kalanaur, and the Hindu Rajas of Katauch and Jasrota, assembled their forces at Lahore, ready to proceed against Banda Singh.

Banda Singh was well aware of the preparations being made against him at Lahore. He decided to throw up a mud fortification at Kot-Mirza, a small village between Kalanaur and Batala. But before its defences could be completed, the combined Hindu and Muhammedan forces from Lahore fell upon the Sikhs. Banda Singh stood his ground so well that all were filled with amazement. In the first encounter he fought so heroically that 'he was very near effecting a complete defeat on the Imperial armies'. But he had no place where he could take stand. He was, therefore, obliged to fall back upon Gurdas Nangal.

Gurdas Nangal was the old village, now a heap of ruins, known as Bande-wali-Thehi. It was about six kilometres to the west of Gurdaspur. It had no regular fort. The Sikhs had to take shelter in the ihata or enclosure of Bhai Duni Chand. This enclosure had a strong, massive wall around it. It was spacious enough to accommodate Banda Singh and his men. He made every effrot to strengthen his defences and to collect stores of rations and ammunition. A moat was dug round the enclosure and filled with water. He cut the Imperial Canal and small streams flowing from below the hills. Their water was allowed to spread. It made a quagmire round the place. It would serve to keep off the enemy.

Here the Sikhs made their stand. The besiegers kept 'so watchful a guard that not a blade of grass, not a grain of corn, could find its way in'. Occasionally, thousands of the besiegers attempted to storm the Sikh position. But all their attempts were defeated by a comparatively small handful of Sikhs. A muhammedan writer who was present, writes, 'The brave and the daring deeds of the Sikhs were wonderful. Twice or thrice a day, some forty or fifty of the Sikhs came out of their enclosure to gather grass for their cattle. When the combined Imperial forces, went to oppose them, they ( Sikhs) made an end of the Mughals with arrows, muskets, and small swords. Then they disappeared. Such was the terror of the Sikhs and the Sikh Chief, that the commanders of the besieging armies prayed that God might so ordain things that Banda Singh would seek safety in retreat from the garb or fortress.' On several occasions, the Sikhs fell on the besiegers' camp, and carried away from there whatever they could lay their hands on. Baba Binod Singh would occasionally come out of the enclosure, and carry away eatables from the Bazar of the besiegers' camp. The whole camp was wonder-struck at the boldness of the old Sikh. All efforts to catch him proved futile. The siege and struggle continued for several months.

There was great loss on both sides. The besiegers tightened their ring round the Sikhs' enclosure. Consequently, it became impossible for the Sikhs to bring in anything from outside. Their small stock of provisions was exhausted. Not a grain was left in their storehouse. In the absence of grain, horses, asses, and other animals were converted into food and eaten. As they had no firewood, they ate the flesh raw. Many died of dysentery and starvation. When all grass was gones they gathered leaves from trees. When these were all consumed the Sikhs took off the bark of trees and broke off small shoots. They dried them, ground them, and used them in place of flour. In this way, they managed to keep body and soul together. They also collected the bones of animals, and used them in the same way. Some even cut flesh from their own thighs, roasted it, and ate it. "In spite of all this," writes a Muhammedan writer,"the Sikh Chief and his men withstood, for eight long months, all the military force that the great Mughal Empire could muster against them. None of them would even think or talk of surrender."

But this could not continue forever. After all, they were human beings. Their continued starvation, and eating of uneatable things like grass, raw meat, leaves, bark and dry bones of animals, wrecked their physical system. Hundreds and thousands died on this account. The offensive smell of decomposed bodies of dead and dying men and animals made the place unfit for human habitation. The survivors were reduced to mere skeletons. They were half dead. They became too weak to use their swords, spears or muskets. Their magazines were empty. It became impossible for them to offer any resistance and continue the defence any longer. Still none of them thought of surrender.

At last, on December 17, 1715, the Sikh enclosure at Gurdas Nangal fell into the hands of the besiegers. Banda Singh and his men were made prisoners.