Banda Singh in Punjab

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Banda Singh Bahadur, the first Jathedar of the Sikhs was born to a Rajput family of Rajauri in Kashmir. He changed his family given name of Lachhman Bala to Narain Das when he became a Bairagi in 1686, at the shrine of Ram Thamman near Kasur. By 1691 he had taken the name of Madho Das, and was well known as a Jogi who was adept in the 'occult science'. Meeting with Guru Gobind Singh, probably at Nanded, Madhu became a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh by receiving Khanday Kee Pahul. This fact is confirmed by two of the oldest sources including Tavarikh-Iradat Khan (1714) and Panj Sau Sakhi (1734). The Guru gave him the title of Bahadur, that was appended to the name of Banda (slave/servant) which Madho had chosen as a sign of his submission to the Guru. After the assassination attempt, Guru Gobind Singh sent Banda and five of his trusted Singhs to the Punjab.

So that Sikhs would recognize his authority as the Jathedar of the Sikhs, the Guru gave him five of his golden arrows and other shashtars (weapons) and a Hukanama. The Bhatt Vehis mention how Guru Gobind Singh himself gave Baba Banda Singh the five kakaars and tied a keski on his head. And while imparting to him his temporal power the Guru enjoined on him five rules according to which he was to remain strictly celibate and truthful, not to start a new sect or use a cushion in a Sikh temple, or allow himself to be styled Guru, but live in peace with the Singhs. Banda proceeded to wage open and relentless war on all Muhamdans and he was joined by the Singhs. He exacted vengeance for the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur and for the treachery of the Pathans of Damla. Moreover he reduced Sadhaura in spite of its adherence to the Guru and some four months before his death he destroyed Sirhind with merciless slaughter. To its province he appointed a governor and a diwan, organised its administration and the collection of its revenues.

Banda Singh in Punjab

This victory made many join the Khalsa, but it was not followed up atleast by Banda himself. One of his first acts was to chastise the Ram Raias of Pael(in Patiala) and then after exacting contributions from Malerkotla and Raikot, he retreated to Mukhlasgarh in the hills, renamed it Lohgarh, and provided it with immense stores, but he himself retired into the Joharsar Hills for religious meditation Meanwhile the Sikhs met with defeats at Tirauri and Khrar but were joined by Banda at Burail and a victory there enabled them to regain Sirhind, which they had lost. But he failed to take Jalalabad by siege and after defeats at Ladwa and Shahabad in 1709 Sirhind was reoccupied by the Muhammadans and the Sikhs retired to the hills. Banda had apparently again retired to Lohgarh whence lie emerged for another advance on Sirhind and regained all the country lost by the Sikhs. But again his triumph was short lived for he met with a crushing reverse af Saharanpur-Buria at the hands of prince Rafi-us-shan and was driven back to Lohgarh. Thence he escaped in disguise, fleeing into the hills and getting possession of Sirhind again, but only for a short time as in 1711 the emperor's appearance in person made him seek refuge in the hills once more. At Pathankot, he had a successful encounter with the Mughals, killing Shams Khan, a faujdar, and Bazid Khan. The emperor issued an edict that Hindus should shave off their beards and that all Singh should be indiscriminately massacred, a step which led to the slaughter of thousands of Hindus on suspicion.

Bahadur Shah's death in 1712 led to the usual strife amongst his sons for sovereignty and Banda took fall advantage of it to occupy Sirhind again and compel the Rajas of Sirmur, nalagarh and Bilaspur to submit formally to his allegiance. He reduced the Muhammadan jagirdars of Ropar, Bassi, Kiri and Bahlolpur to a similar position, and in 1714 was strong enough to hold a regal darbar at Amritsar, at which he appeared in royal dress with an aigrette on his head. His next step was to take Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Batala, which last named town he gave up to indiscriminate pillage and massacre, beginning with its wealthiest quarter, the muhalla of the Qazis. These events were followed by the reluctant submission of the Kangra chiefs.

In 1713 Farrukhsiar's reign began and he promptly attacked the Sikhs on two sides, calling in a large army from Kashmir and sending picked forces from the east against them at the same time. The Sikhs rallied at Sirhind, but were compelled to fall hack on Lohgarh which was besieged, until Banda sallied forth from his hill fastness and drove back the imperialists, thus bringing the country between Lahore and the Jumna under Sikh control. Farrukhsiar next tried to use the influence of Guru Gobind Singh's widow against Banda, who was excom-municated on eight counts in that he had married, started a new creed, substituted a charan pahul for the Sikh khanda pahul, invented the war-cry of,"Fathe daras" (victory of faith), in lien of the Sikh war-cry, attired himself in royal robes, styled himself the 11th Guru and claimed to rule the Sikhs, his followers being called Bandai instead of the Singhs of the Guru'. Banda's answer to these charges was significant. He said he was merely a Bairagi faqir and not the follower of Guru Gobind Singh: yet that he was merely carrying out his orders for the campaign of vengeance and the protection of the Khalsa.

This edict led to the disruption of the Sikhs, the true or Tat Khalsa holding Amritsar, while Banda went to Gurdaspur. His power lay chief-ly along the Jammu border as far as Attock, hut he had adherents also in Ambala whose faujdar they defeated. But all his efforts at reconciliation with the Tat Khalsa failed and in 1711 he was captured at the siege of Gurdapur. He is generally said to have been put to death with great cruelty at Dehli, but another tradition is that by a mental pro-cess he survived his tortures and resuscitated himself. Refusing the offer of some Singhs to place themselves under his leadership he retired to Bhabhar on the Chenab in the Rusi pargama of Jammu where he died in 1741, leaving a son whose descendants still hold charge of his shrine.

Banda's relations to the Tat Khalsa are not very clear. It certain-ly fought against him at his siege of Lahore, but generally refused to do so. It had made terms with the Mughal governors, but was certainly reluctant to join them in repressing Banda. The Imperialist attitude to the Sikhs indeed changed as soon as Banda had been captured, and the Singhs retaliated. In 1725 they proclaimed their intention of holding the Diwali fair at Amritsar, but the Bandai Sikhs, still more numerous than the Singhs, disputed the claim. It was settled by lot and most of the Bandai Sikhs went over to the Tat Khalsa, being initiated by the khanda pahul. Confused, desultory fighting ensued with the Imperialists, but in 1731 a Sikh force surprised their main body at Bhilowal 20 miles from Lahore, and then Farrukhsiar weakly offered them a jagir of Rs. 100,000, with the title of Nawab to cease their depredations. This latter offer the Sikh leaders one and all rejected, but Kapur Singh of Faizullpur then working a hand.pankha was decked in the imperial robe, and proclaimed Nawab. Whatever the truth of this story may be, Kapur Singb became a notable figure among the Sikhs. He had succeeded his father, as leader of the Singhs who subsequently formed the Faizlapuria misl, and in various battles received no less than 43 wounds. It was considered a great honour to be initiated by him and among many others Ala Singh, of Patiala, and many of his relations received the pahul at his hands He paved the way for the Khalsa's rise to power and its transformation into a monarchy. He appears to have designated Jassa Singh Ahluwalia as his successor in the leader-ship of the Khalsa.

The Singhs or their leaders however certainly accepted the Dipalpur, Kanganwal and Jhabal parganas in jagir and abandoning plunder contrived to subsist on its income. but as their numbers increased they divided in 1734 into two dals or armies, one called the Budha or veteran, the other the Tarna or young. The latter had five jatthas, companies or groups, viz; the Shahids, Amritsarias (headed bv Khatris of Amritsar),the Dallewalias (headed by Khatris of Dallewala that of Baba Kahn Singh, and the Ramdasias (headed by Ramdasis or Mazhabi Singhs) These dals fought in union, especially in the submontane tracts along the Jammu border, and the division had no religious significance.

The events of the next few years can only be very briefly touched upon It is however necessary to hark back first for a moment to Banda's relations with the Rajput chiefs of the Kangra hills and the adjoining tracts in the north-west corner of the Punjab plains. As already described the Kangra chiefs had reluctantly submitted to him in 1714, and he had undoubtedly found allies in the hills whence he de-scended in that year to fall upon the country round Batala and Kalanaur, and whither he fled when imperial troops were sent against him. In I 716 however he again emerged from his strongholds, falling upon the two towns just mentioned and sacking them with much slaughter of the Muhammadans, including the famous family of Shaikh-ul-Ahmad. But some of the hill Rajas sided with the Mughal governors, for Abdul Samad DalerJang, governor of Lahore, set out in pursuit of him assisted not only by the hakims of Eminabad, Pasrur, Patti and Kalanaur but also by Raja Bhim Singh of Katoch and Dhru'va Deva of Jasrota.

But Nadir Shah's invasion in 1738-9 appears to have led indirectly ly to a general combination between the Mughal governors and the Hill Rajas to put down the Sikhs, although they had fiercely assailed the invader on his retreat. The Sikhs had seized the opportunity allowed them by the confusion created by the invasion to plunder Muhammadan villages and Nawab Kapur Singh had refused to join Nawab Zakaria Khan, governor of Lahore, in resisting them. A demand for restitution of half the booty wrested from Nadir Shah was rejected by the Sikhs and this exposed them to the enmity of Hindus as well as Muhammadans.

After Ahmad Shah's invasion of 1748 a proclamation issued for their extermination. About 15000 Sikhs had collected in the dense jungle of Kahnuwan which Lakhpat Rai Khatri, chief minister to the governor at Lahore, invested. His blockade lasted three months and when the Sikhs had exhausted their ammunition they tried to Cut their way out towards the hills through Pathankot, only to find the passes all blocked by the Hill rajasd under orders from the Governor of Lahore. Finally they broke through towards the south and directed their course towards the MAlwa. This fight was known as the Chhota Ghalughara. Again in 1756 when Adina Beg, governor of Lahore, fled before Ahmed Shah Abdali's invasion of that year he sought protection under the Hill Rajas.

After Banda's execution the Sikhs waged implacable war against the Muhammadans, but made no attempt to establish an organised government. In 1748, Cunningham states, the dal of the Khalsa, 'the army of the elect, ' was proclaimed by Jassa Siugh Kalal, one of their ablest leaders and head of the Ahluwalia misl and a few years later he struck coins in the Mughal mint at Lahore with the legend: "Coined by the grace of the KhAlsa in the country of Ahmad, conquered by Jassa the Kalal." In 1761 when Ahmed Shah retired from the Punjab after his great victory at Panipat, Jassa Singh attacked him while he was crossing the Bias and released about 22,OOO Hindu captives, male and female. For this feat he was popularly known as Bandichhor or ' the liberator.' He also occupied Lahore. But the Sikhs had to cope with internal dissension, for about this time the rnahant who was Hindal's successor at his shrine in JandiAla, turned against the Singhs and tampered with Nanak's biography. He had destroyed hundreds of innocent Singhs and now called in the aid of the Abdali whose forces in l862 raised the siege of Jandiala, which the Sikhs abandoned, concentrating at the siege of Sirhind which they would probably have taken in that year but for the advance of the Shah's forces, allied to the Muhammadan chiefs of Maler Kotla, Baroch and other places. Their great defeat at the hands of the Abdali near Hatbur-the vada Ghalughara or great defeat-followed in the same year.

Nevertheless in 1763 the Sikhs took Sirhind, sacked and destroyed it. This event virtually decided the fate of the Punjab proper far as the Abdalis were concerned, and the generally received account is that in 1762. Ala Singh of Patiala received the first title of Raja ever bestowed on a Sikh chieftain and, though no coins of his appear to be extant he seems to have minted rupees in 1763 or two years before his death which occurred in 1765. The Sikh policy was radically changed from that time. The Phulkian chiefs became sovereigns in their own states. Tradition indeed describes how after their victory at Sirhind in 1763 ' the Sikhs dispersed as soon as the battle was won, and how riding day and night, each horseman would throw his belt and scabbard, his articles of dress and accoutrement, until he was almost naked, into successive villages, to mark them as his." This description may well have been true of their earlier conquests, but the old Mughal province of Sirhind was partitioned in a much more systematic way.

In 1764 the Sikh chiefs assembled at Amritsar and proclaimed their supremacy and struck the Nanakshahi and Govindshahi rupee, which bore the inscription - Deg wa teg wa fatih nusrat be drang Yaft az Nanak Guru Govind Singh. "Guru Gobind Singh received from Nanak, The Sword, the Bowl and Victory unfailing".

This inscription adhered to in the main by later Sikh chiefs, including Ranjit Singh, though petty chiefs occasionally inserted the emperor's name. It was also retained by Nabha, but never adopted by the other two Phulkian States.

From time to time attempts were made to restore the Sikh theocracy, under representatives of the sacred Khatri families. For instance in 1800 Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Ba'ba Nanak, 'pretended to religious inspiration.' Collected a large force, invested Ludhiana, took Malerkotla and 'called on George Thomas to obey him as the true representative of the Sikh prophet. But the time had gone by for militant religious leaders and the Bedi soon retired north of the Satluj.

1. This is very uncertain, as indeed is the whole question of Banda's relations with Guru Gobind Singh: see Khazan Singh (pages 198-200). There seems some reason to believe that he had been active before the death of Guru Gobind Singh and possibly it was that Guru's death, which caused the leaderless Sikhs to flock to his standard.


1. Gian Singh, Giani, TwarUch Guru Kha/sa. Patiala, 1970

2. Cunningham, Joseph Davey, A History of the Sikhs. London, 1849

3. Ganda Singh, Life of Banda Singh Bahadur. Amritsar, 1935

4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990


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