The First Sikh War

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June 1628

Pritpal Singh Bindra

June the Most Volitile Month

The month of June has been the most volatile in the history of Sikh Religion. Guru Arjan Dev, Bhai Mani Singh and Banda Bahadur were martyred during this month. It was the month of June when the Kohi-Noor Diamond was stolen from the Sikh Raj. In contemporary history, the holiest of the holy Sikh shrines, Akal Takht Amritsar, was invaded by the Armed Forces of the Government of India, on a pretext to annihilate the undesirable militants who had taken up there with Bhindranwale being the first person to reside in the Takht since Guru Har Gobind.

And it was the month of June when Guru Hargobind, the Sixth Master, was forced into a war of attrition by the Mughul Rulers. With his sinister motives Mughal Emperor Jehangir invited Guru Hargobind to Delhi. His aim was either to martyr Guruji or to coerce him to convert to Islam, and designate him as ‘the Saint of India’. Guruji went to Delhi on the persuasion of Saint Sikander who had enlightened the Emperor with the celestial and temporal attributes of Guruji. Jehangir attended the sessions of celestial talks of Guruji, Wazir Khan and Saint Sikander. But the talks inculcated the respect and reverence for Guruji in the mind of Jehangir.

The Special Coat of Fifty-two Tails

Chandu Shah, who was instrumental in the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, grew apprehensive of Guruji’s increasing influence upon the Emperor. He cleverly contrived an astrologer, who coerced Jehangir to send Guruji to the Fort of Gwaliar, where he had to remain praying for Jehangir's elimination of his ailments. Amicably and humbly the King led Guruji to the Gwalior Fort where he stayed for a number of years. Jehangir had already conceded to the piety and bravery of Guruji, which was exhibited during a joint hunting venture. Saint Mian Mir of Lahore, a pious Muslim Pir revered by the Emperor and his Queen Noor Jehan, convinced him of his folly and disclosed to him the devious designs and actions of Chandu Shah who had ordered the chief jailer at the fort to poison him. Little did he know that the man was a devotee of the Sikh Guru.

On ordering the release of Guru Hargobind the Emperor was startled to hear that the Guru had refused to leave unless the 52 Hindu Rajas, who had long been imprisoned there, be released as well. Acquiescing to Guruji’s request, the King ordered his men to open the doors to the fort allowing the Guru to take with him only those , who among the Princes could hold on to the Guru's coat. Surprised they were when all 52 came out holding onto a special coat the Guru had made up with 52 long tails onto which each Prince held while walking to their freedom. The Emperor's men were probably as flumoxed as was the darzi who got the order for the coat. Jahangir had ordered Wazir Khan to treat the Guru well and bring him straight to Delhi where the Guru stayed while at a nearby Gurdwara. Later Jahangir, apoligizing for the machinations of Chandu Shah, handed the Hindu banker over to the Guru for befitting punishment.

Punishment for Chandu Shah

It is recorded that Chandu Shah's, reaching the Punjab where his part in the imprisonment of Guru Har Gobind and the death of his father, death was not an easy one. Guru Hargobind retained quite cordial relations with Jehangir until his death in October, 1627; all the Mughal officials held him in high esteem. As soon as Jehangir’s son took over the reign of power, the Islamic bigotry, once again, commenced their strategies against the non-Muslim populace. Along with his spiritual endowments, Guruji considerably enhanced his temporal and martial endeavour to defend against the ensuing atrocities of the Mughal administrators.

His success engendered enviousness among some of his own compatriots as well, who start to indulge in back-biting and instigating Mughal authorities. All the news of Guruji’s rearmament coupled with the conspiratorial efforts of his own kith and kin incited Shah Jehan to call Guruji to Lahore. Without an iota of apprehension, Guruji went there and told him, ‘Neither we make other to subjugate nor we yield to anyone...(our) mission is of love and peace but, however, we must punish the inauspicious officials, thieves...Hindus and Muslims are all the children of Almighty...’ Shah Jehan was very much impressed.

He was overwhelmed with the strength, courage and bravery displayed by Guruji during their hunting expeditions. But internally, Guruji’s fearlessness, increasing celestial and tangible influence, bothered him. Not to aggravate, he did not want to indulge in an open warfare. Before he left for Delhi, he secretly advised his Governor, "Do not trust this Guru. Through some designs try to diminish his power".

During a hunting campaign Guruji went through the meadows of Ram Tirath and Khohali. There his attendants came across an astray, trained white falcon, which they brought to Guruji. Soon the soldiers from the Mughal Army, who were searching for the bird, appeared and demanded its return. Guruji told them that the falcon had come to him seeking sanctuary, therefore, it could not be given back. (Jadunath Sarkar states that the falcon belonged to the Emperor Shah Jehan himself).

The Governor, who was already in the process of finding some excuse to raid Guruji's forces, resolved to inflict destruction upon the Sikh legion and make them abandon the city of Amritsar. He ordered Mukhlas Khan to plan the raid and prepare the army for a march to the city. It was the month of June in the year 1628. The Sikh adherents inside the Mughal Court got wind of the news and warned Guruji of the ensuing invasion.

Hukam-namas Issued

Hukam-namas, the edicts, were issued to the people of Majha and Malwa. Thousands of Sikhs thronged to Amritsar to defend the faith. The Fort of Lohgarh was reinforced, and hundreds of armaments were secured. On the instance of his mother, Mata Ganga, Guruji had consented to the splendorous marriage of his daughter, Bibi Veero. A large amount of sweetmeats were prepared for the purpose. A group of devotees came from the west after travelling a long distance. On their way they did not have much opportunity for full meals. They arrived at the late hours of the day. The food in the langar, the community kitchen, was scanty at the time and, therefore, Guruji sent word to the inner chamber for sending some viands from the stock kept for the marriage.

But the refusal came that those could not be consumed before the arrival of the guests. Guruji spontaneously pronounced, ‘Well! Then these will be devoured by the malicious ones.’ And immediately after that the news of the Mughal Army’s march towards Amritsar reached Guruji, and that the troops had already passed the village of Attari. Unperturbed Guruji went to the Hari Mandir to seek blessings of his predecessors, supplicated at Akal Bunga, the temporal-seat, and headed towards the place where Putlighar is now situated.

He designated Bhais Bidhi Chand, Jetha, Perra and Painda Khan as his generals and assigned them tasks of besieging the enemy battalions from all sides. He, himself, took his own seat at a place from where he could control and help his fighting forces. Both the armies gave a tough fight. On the one side were the paid soldiers )soldi = money in Italian, so soldier, lit. means paid men) of the Mughal Emperor, and on the other the ardent devotees of the Guru. And Guruji, himself, constantly showered arrows from his observatory.

The Turkish Commander, Rassol Khan, was very brave and could not be subdued easily. By late afternoon, the Sikhs came under unbearable pressure. Miraculously, at that time a large contingent of people from Majhah entered the picture. Their arrival rejuvenated the Sikh forces who pounced upon the enemy with ever inincreasing vigour and vitality. After giving a very tough fight, Commander Rassol Khan was killed by Bhai Bidhi Chand. Seeing this the Mughal forces became demoralized, and they soon started to retreat. The slow retreat soon turned into an all out run for their lives as the Sikh warriors followed them for about five miles, and deprived them of their horses, armaments and carts and wagons of supplies and ammunitions.

The Mukhlas Khan regarded this as a challenge to the Mughal Empire, and putting full army strength behind him, reinvaded Amritsar the next day. Feeling the pulse of the time, Guruji decided to move all his household to a safer place. His family and essential goods were sent to the village Jhabal. The Guru camp was still completing the arrangements, when they heard the Mughal bugles of war. The Sikh forces came forward and gave a tough fight but they had to retreat towards Lohgarh Fort. Soon the Mughals stormed over the city walls and made their way to the Akal Takat and entered Guruji’s household.

Finding nobody there they plundered all the sweetmeats that were kept reserved for the marriage. In the melee, Bibi Veero was left alone in an upper room. She was rescued, through the Mughal troops, by the most devoted Bhais, Sangha and Babak with their clever manoeuvering. The Lohgarh Fort being built of earthen walls, could not stand enemy bombardment. About twenty-five Sikh soldiers, who were fighting hard from inside, came out and laid down their lives after killing a number of enemies.

In the severe skirmishes that followed both sides lost some of their most prominent personnel and commanders. The fighting went on for more than six hours. In the combat, Mukhlas Khan, the Mughal General in command, was killed. The Mughal forces again were disheartened. Even though they outnumbered the Sikh volunteer army considerably, they started to cave in. Guruji went into the field, and, after performing the last rites, went to Jhabal to attend his daughter’s wedding. When the news of the defeat, and the death of Mukhlas Khan reached Shah Jehan, it is said, "he flared up like fire..." and exclaimed, "how could an army of faqirs defeat my mighty Mughal Forces". He immediately called his council to plan retaliatory moves. But Wazir Khan who was "mindful of Guru’s welfare" interceded. His arguments convinced the Emperor who decided that it was not good to engage in further warfare with the priests and faqirs, and it would be well to forget the past.