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Baba Banda Singh Bahadur
– A Supreme Commander –

Gajindar Singh

Guru Gobind Singh, the X Nanak, knowing that his days were numbered and the responsibility of core decisions was to be shouldered in future by the Khalsa, without the guidance of a pontiff took the bold decision to nominate Baba Banda Singh Bahadur as the supreme Commander of the Sikhs at a crucial stage in the Sikh history. He had been nurturing the Khalsa to undertake more and more of independent resolutions and practicing decisions within the framework of the code regulated by him ever since the first baptismal ceremony and by bowing to the Select Five to initiate him into the Khalsa Order, thereby making it obligatory for all hues of Sikhs to come forward and voluntarily to take the Khalsa Oath.

There were plenty of seasoned loyal Sikhs who were veterans of many fierce battles and had pledged their lives to the cause of the Guru and the community. There were such senior stalwarts like Bhai Daya Singh, one of his most trusted men, Bhai Dharam Singh, one of the Five Beloveds of the Guru, the theologian and brave fighter Bhai Mani Singh, whose family contributed maximum number of martyrs, Baba Binod Singh and scores of other dedicated souls. Banda’s appointment was accepted with that steadfast affirmation by the community, which had been the hallmark of the Sikh discipline.

In a bid for complete enquiry, the modern scholar must probe whether there was a hidden, seething resentment under the calm surface which resulted in lack of cooperation as enjoined by the Tenth Master, on the part of Baba Binod Singh and Kahan Singh of the Advisory Council accompanying Banda as they walked out at a crucial time with substantial part of the Sikh forces crippling him, with the full knowledge of the consequences of such a move. With Banda’s reduced capacity to sustain his mission of Sikh independence and on the other hand, the steady mobilization of full resources of the mighty Mughal Empire; his fall was a foregone conclusion.

Or, was it the obstinacy of Banda in steadily ignoring and over-riding the five member advisory body in his style of administration and decision making that cost the Sikh nation dearly in loss of power and thousands of dedicated Sikhs who died in the unequal combat as well as those done to death after their ignominious capture? It is obvious that plum postings were given to Baj Singh and Fateh Singh while Binod Singh and Kahn Singh were almost side-lined. That would obviously sow seeds of discontent which came into the open in due course of time. The roll of the Advisory Committee constituted by the Xth Master was for unanimity on policy matters and not imposition of the strategy by brushing away the opposing view point. The thesis of the “Panch” in Sikhism has been very profound and it is an unfortunate matter of fact that unity and harmony are flouted repeatedly by over-ambition of the zealots and/or self seekers all along in the Sikh history, in spite of Truth as the sole guiding principle enunciated by our prophets.

Similarly, there was mass discontent in the change of the customary salutation to “Fateh Darshan,” as it was beyond the authority granted to him by Guru Gobind Singh as well as the adoption of red colour in stead of the Guru’s preference for blue. It may be a lesson to those who harp on changing set traditions at their behest, ‘to have fresh look’ at the code of Sikh Rehat on false pleas that change for its own sake is inherent in course of time. The Master had warned Banda and others about nurturing any ideas to improvise or revise the set code so that it did not encourage factionalism, something our innumerable Babas and pseudo-intellectuals purposely conjure up to get dubious recognition as separate splinter groups. Banda’s innovations created the short-lived “Bandai” Khalsa. Such liberties are not approved in any religious order and that too within a short period of the appointment of Banda for specific purpose. Another irritant could be Banda’s penchant about vegetarianism to which Banda steadfastly and strictly adhered to, while the Khalsa code specified jhatka and not the kutha meat. The Sikhs were accustomed to partake whatever the common kitchen had to offer and shunned such inhibitions. It was freely resorted to, when animals’ flesh was used in the community kitchen during prolonged sieges by enemy forces. Guru Gobind Singh’s killing the goats, cooking meat and eating at Banda’s erstwhile bairagi dera and that too on a day of solar eclipse, was a direct challenge to shock him out of his rigid Hindu posture. It was the Guru’s way to wean him from giving undue importance to trite issues, which were inconsequential in the Sikh philosophy of God, life and human options.

However, all his innovations eventually lost currency with the Khalsa. In the end, Banda exhibited his total commitment and loyalty to the creed and tenets of Sikhism which he had voluntarily embraced. He chose along with his band of die-hards to face the executioner’s blade with full faith in the dicta of the Master when the moment arrived. Banda and all brave Sikhs, without exception, willingly and heartily preferred the gruesome and painful death rather than capitulate to the lure of respite by abjuring their faith and thus found daily mention in the Sikh prayer ad infinitum as pious and glorious martyrs.

There are many questions needing deep probing. There is good scope for more research on whether Xth Master’s purpose to the travel so deep in the South was to meet Bairagi Madho Das at Nander instead of the usual account of having gone there ostensibly for prolonged negotiations with the Emperor? Also, whether there were series of detailed talks with Banda resulting in his conversion or his instantaneous surrender on seeing the Master? There are indications of Banda having petitioned the Emperor along with a Hindu delegation to protest against the daily dewans held for preaching by the Master, belittling Hindu inhibitions and superstitions, including the solar and lunar eclipses. Was sending Banda ahead of his own planned return to Punjab the scheme of the Guru or he was persuaded by the zeal of Banda to precede him to the north? Did Banda leave after the assassin’s fatal attack or before it?

It was at the height of Banda Singh Bahadur’s wave of systematic destruction of the fiber of the Mughal Imperialism in northern India that his crowning glory of the battle of Chappar Chiri happened, shredding the myth of the invincibility of Mughal power, opening the road wide open for the raiding parties from the Middle-east to repeatedly knock and devour the government establishment at Delhi, beginning with the devastation of the ruthless Nawab Saiyed Vazier Khan, the Subedar of Sirhind, who either underestimated the fervor and frenzy of the Sikh temper or it was desperation and giving up hope to survive, finding little response for material support from the Center and the lackluster mood of his subjects to face the challenge. In either case, the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah later commented that Vazier Khan was ill-advised to face the Sikh wrath without full preparedness. The Sikhs were seething with vengeance in the matter of the execution of two little children of the Guru, coupled with the crime of his assassination which was more than the Mughal martial tackle could face resolutely as the fury and anger of the Khalsa was far more than motivation of jehad of the Imperialists.

The records on which historians have based their accounts of Banda’s crusade and his character as a steadfast and unswerving Sikh are based on reports and rumours spread by Mughal reporters and news writers to justify the crushing rout of government machinery, defence and civil alike, and it is overlooked that he arranged proper burial of Muslim soldiers along with the last rites of the Sikh martyrs for two days before entering Sirhind and preserved mosques and temples, and halted further destruction on appeal of the citizens. The total destruction of the city of Sirhind was carried out by bands of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia much later. Banda had Pathan soldiers in his army who had full liberty to pray according to their religion. He decided each matter in accordance with Guru’s tenets and his justice gave breather to the much maligned commoners from centuries of atrocities of the Mughal aristocracy.

The famous victory at Chhapar Chiri must receive its due recognition in annals of Indian History as a daring saga of valour and the first blow to the mammoth edifice of the invincible and glorious Mughal Empire. It was the combined effort of the entire Sikh nation on the boil. It acted as a catalyst to sustain the Sikh morale in the next forty odd terrible years of near extinction that they were to bear with optimism and overcome all challenges to exterminate them and to carry their flag to hoist on the ramparts of citadels, from Delhi to the plains of West UP and beyond the inhospitable rocks of Jamrud of Pakhtoon lands. In fact, the daring exploits of our ancestors beginning with the decisive battle of Chhapar Chiri are enough to strengthen our resolve today to the ultimate victory of the Panth against all irritants and a pledge of our final triumph.

Baba Banda Singh Bahadur wrecked the economic fabric of the well established Mughal Revenue and Financial system, nurtured studiously by Raja Toddarmal, the erudite Revenue minister of Akbar the Great by one stroke abolition of Mansabdari and zamindari system in Punjab which remained in tatters after he exited the scene, reducing the central power structure and resources for maintenance of effective standing army. It brought down the edifice of Mughal power structure and gave liberty and Sardari to the meanest serf who for the first time shared governance with the high and mighty on equal footing, fulfilling the cherished vision of Nanak-Guru-Gobind Singh.

The battle of Chhappar Chiri deserves to be written with golden ink and to be studied by strategists to appreciate how badly equipped rabble could defeat the well disciplined and highly proficient Mughal army with bare hands. It confirms the old adage that it is not the superiority of equipment but the true spirit of a people that matters more. It is with a sense of pride and sanguinity that we celebrate the decisive victory of the Khalsa in this Number of the Abstracts and ask the community to share this moment of triumph with determination to gather renewed strength and Will to carve ‘Degh Tegh Fateh!’



ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2010, All rights reserved.