Battle of Chappar Chiri – 22 May, 1710
(The First War for Indian Independence)
Dr Sukhdial Singh
Right from the invasions of Mahmood of Gazani in the eleventh century to the beginning of eighteenth century there were so many battles fought in Indian history, but in all these battles the people of India were defeated and destroyed. It is the battle of Chappar Chiri, which was fought between the Khalsa and the Mughal forces in May 1710, under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadur and under the banner of Kesari Nishan Sahib, the Mughal forces were defeated and for the first time in Indian history, the Khalsa republic was established on the land of the five rivers. This is the only battle in the long span of seven centuries in which the Indian people were victorious. Therefore, this should be regarded as the first War of Indian Independence.
Chappar-Chiri is the local pronunciation of the word Chhappar- Jhirhi, which means the pond with a cluster of trees (small forest). The area of Chappar-Chiri villages was a jungle with so many ponds. That is why, this area was called as Chhappar Jhirhi in the earlier times. At present, there are two villages named Chappar-Chiri Kalan and Chappar-Chiri Khurd, situated closely to each other on Banur-Kharar road near Landran on the backside of Swaraj Factory. In appearance these villages resemble any small Punjabi village with a few Pucca and beautiful houses devoid of any basic necessities of life. But these small villages have had in their vicinity a great historic battle which paved the way for the first Khalsa republic. The battle-field lies in the vicinity of these villages. The historic and strategic mound (sand dune) from where Banda Singh Bahadur directed and commanded the Khalsa forces has already been levelled by builders and colonisers. Somehow, near about one and half hundred acres of land remains uncultivated to date. This is not only due to lesser availability of water but also because the local people believe that this is the land of the martyrs who had shed blood for the glory of their nation. So due to their fear of the curse of the martyrs nobody tried to use this land. At present, the battle ground is a barren land.
The identification of Chappar-Chiri as the battle-ground was first given by William Irvine in his work The Later Mughals. He writes that the Anonymous Fragment of a Farrukhsiyarnama (fol 15a) states that the battle was fought near Chappar-Chiri villages. These villages are marked on sheet No 48 of the Indian Atlas. They lie about 16 miles (25 km) north-east of Sarhind on the Patiyali Rao and are 10 miles (16 km) north by west of Banur.1
Though the battle fought at this area was a one day battle, yet in actual it was a war which began with the sack of Samana in November, 1709. Right from the victory over Samana upto the victory of Chappar-Chiri, there were so many other battles which were fought by the Khalsa with the Mughals. These were the battles of Samana, Ghuram, Shahbad, Kapuri, Sadhura and Banur. All these battles were in the continuation of the victory of Sarhind. Wazir Khan had made no attempt to recover these posts. He did not even send any helping army to the rulers of these cities. Banda Singh Bahadur’s ultimate aim was to defeat Wazir Khan and to conquer his province, Sarhind. Kaithal, Samana, Sadhaura, Shahbad and Banur were the major military and administrative posts of the government of Sarhind. These military posts were working as the bulwark for Sarhind, the head-quarter of the province. By defeating and destroying the officials of these posts first, Banda Singh Bahadur wanted to break the bulwark of Sarhind and to cripple Wazir Khan. These were the early victories of Banda Singh Bahadur and the message was conveyed to the Sikh masses to prepare for major expeditions. Speaking about these battles, Gokul Chand Narang, the first modern historian on Banda Singh Bahadur, writes that “small as these victories were, they served to encourage the followers of Banda and attracted thousands to his flag by the time he advanced upon Sarhind.”2 Giani Gian Singh states that all these victories infused a new spirit in the minds of the Khalsa and the heavens resounded with their joyous war cries.3 The contemporary Muslim historian Khafi Khan writes, “In two or three months time, four to five thousand horsemen and seven to eight thousand warlike footmen joined Banda Singh. Day by day their number increased and abundant money and material fell into their hands. Soon eighteen to nineteen thousand men-in-arms assembled under the leadership of Banda Singh who raised aloft the standard of plunder and persecution.”4 Khafi Khan goes on to write that numerous villages were laid waste and he appointed his own police officers and collectors of revenue.5 Resultantly, Wazir Khan was totally crippled before the attack and he was spending his time by concealing himself in the fort. The Khalsa under the generalship of Banda Singh Bahadur was advancing towards Sarhind like a flood. The battle of Chappar-Chiri was the culmination of the Khalsa revolution.
The date of the battle is given in the ‘Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla’. It is 22nd of May, 1710 (24th Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1122 Hizri). This date is also supported by William Irvine,6 Rattan Singh Bhangu7, Sohan Singh8 , Gurdev Singh Deol9 and Ganda Singh in his original edition of Banda Singh Bahadur.10 The two armies came face to face in the fields of Chappar-Chiri villages. One was led by Wazir Khan and the other by Banda Singh Bahadur. The Sikhs in large numbers came from Majha and Doaba by defeating the enemy at Kiratpur and Ropar, and joined Banda Singh Bahadur in the fields of the above said villages. There was great rejoicing in the camp of Banda Singh on the arrival of these Sikhs. The entire Khalsa Dal anxiously looked forward to the holy crusade against the condemned city of Sarhind and its Governor.
Banda Singh Bahadur was standing on the high mound of the battlefield. On his right side, Bhai Baj Singh was commanding the Khalsa forces and on the left Bhai Fateh Singh stood like a rock. Dharm Singh, Karam Singh, Aali Singh, Maali Singh and Sham Singh were commanding in the centre. Though the Khalsa Dals had no armoury and ammunition as compared to the Mughal forces, yet they were determined to ruin the enemy. Their will power and determination was their strength. They had come to attack Sarhind and, therefore, there was no sign of hesitation in the columns of the Khalsa Dals. They were eager to attack the enemy at the earliest.
On the other side, Wazir Khan had to come out ultimately to face the Khalsa Dals. He was on the defensive. In fact, the Khalsa Dals tried to encircle Sarhind and Wazir Khan came out with his forces to interrupt the coming together of the two Dals of the Khalsa. Therefore, he rushed towards Chappar-Chiri to stop the Khalsa Dals to join each other. Because there was quickness in the movements of the Khalsa Dal and Banda Singh Bahadur, they thus reached the spot before Wazir Khan’s arrival. So, in defence, he had to come in the field. He had long line of artillery, tremendous dark rows of the elephants, mounted gunners, archers, lancers and swordsmen in the front, to the left and the right, surrounding the innumerable columns of drilled pedestrians. Besides, he had gathered the gazis in large number, all of whom had been solemnly pledged to do or die for the sake of Islam. Wazir Khan himself held the general command and marshalled the whole army. The Nawab of Maler Kotla was on his right and Diwan Sucha Nand was on left. The rulers of Bhatti clan of Boha, Budhladha, Ranian and Raikot were in the centre. Thus, in strength and resourcefulness, Wazir Khan seemed to be entrenched on the strong footing.
The Khalsa began the battle. With the dawn of the day, they attacked the enemy amidst loud cries of ‘Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal.” Immediately the Mughal artillery opened the fire and wrought a tremendous havoc among the Sikhs. The Khalsa rallied forth en masse towards the enemy and inspite of the heaviest loss they sustained in doing so, entered the columns of the Mughal forces. Then began the hand-to-hand fight in which the Khalsa was eventually the most experienced and, in the course of a few hours, there appeared heaps of the dead and dying. It has been written in Ahwal-i-Salatin-i-Hind that ‘the Sikhs came face to face with the Muhammadans, rapidly discharged their muskets and reduced the battle to a hand-to-hand and fist-to-fist contest. The commanders of the Muhammadans and some of his men fought so bravely that heaps of the bodies of the infidels (Sikhs)fell to the ground, piled head upon head and body upon body, and there was noise on all sides of the field of the battle like that of doomsday. At last the whole of the Muhammadan army was destroyed.’11
A contemporary Muslim writer, Muhammad Qasim, who was in the Punjab at that time and who saw the battle with his own eyes, depicts the details of the battle of Chappar-Chiri in these words: “A great battle occurred twelve Kurohs (Kos) from Sarhind. The young man of the army of Islam, showing examplary bravery, tasted martyrdom, after obtaining repute in the field of valour. Especially was heroism displayed in this battle by Sher Muhammad and Khwaja Ali, Afghans of Kotla Maler, who in this Sarkar were masters of a host and commanded trust. After much fighting, they stood firm like the pole star within that very circle and surrendered their lives to the creator, you may say they attained goodness and good name in that field of valour. When the chiefs of the army, by the will of the God, were sent to their deaths, Wazir Khan, despite his old age, weakness of hand and foot, and the decline of the strength of the body, strove to shoot arrows and encourage his companions. But once the boat of hope is destroyed by an accident, it cannot thereafter be set to sail by the strength of the arm of any of the professional captains of the world of stratagem. At last, the wicked infields extended their victorious hand for the plunder of the Mughal army and the seizure of the commander’s elephant. Treating the corpse of that martyred saiyed (Wazir Khan) with every visible indignity they could devise, they had it suspended from a tree.”12 Another contemporary writer Muhammad Hadi Kamwar Khan who was at Lahore at that time, writes about this battle thus: “When Banda Singh Bahadur headed towards Sarhind, Wazir Khan had since long been holding the faujdari of that place; he was descended from Wazir Khan Akbar Shahi. He came for a distance of 8 Kurohs from Sarhind and a fierce battle and heavy slaughter took place and his principal officers were killed.”13
A Sikh writer of nineteenth century Rattan Singh Bhangu gives very interesting account of the battle which almost corroborates the contemporary accounts but with a difference of interpretation. He writes that ‘After getting information about the war camp of Banda Singh’s forces, Wazir Khan’s forces launched an advance attack from the front. His army led by formations equipped with heavy and medium canons, was followed by large contingents of infantry formations. Adopting a military strategy to wage this war against the Sikhs, the camel-loaded guns and light handguns provided cover from one flank. Approaching Banda Singh’s camp they opened such a volley of gunfire, as if a hail storm was let loose on earth from the skies. All canons, light guns and long-muzzle guns opened fire all at once, which formed the total arsenal of Wazir Khan’s Mughal army. There was such a chain-firing of hand-grenades from their side, that it mutilated and tore through the trunks of big trees. Bullets were fired with such ferocity of a lashing rain that one could neither sit, stand nor lie down on earth. So much din and dust was raised by the horses’ hoops, that there was pitch darkness even during the day time. So many sparks flew out from the firing of canons and guns, as if glow-worms were glittering around in the pitch dark night. The whole battle-field was engulfed in a thick pall of smoke, as the guns sent out balls of smoke and fire after explosion.14 Soon the Khalsa Singhs roared and attacked the Mughals as a lion attacks a flock of deer in a dense forest. Those commanders of the Mughal forces who confronted the Khalsa were slaughtered in the battle-field.15
Banda Singh Bahadur flanked by Baj Singh and Fateh Singh came in front of Wazir Khan and seeing him roared like a lion and sprang upon him like a bolt from the blue. ‘O sinner, thou are the enemy of Guru Gobind Singh, Thou hast shown Him no respect, but on the contrary hast put to death His innocent children, and thereby committed a grievous and unpardonable crime, the punishment for which I am now going to deal thee. Thine army and thy country shall be destroyed at my hands.”16 Uttering these words, Banda Singh Bahadur struck off his head with one blow of his sword.17 Sher Mohamad Khan and Khwaja Ali of Maler Kotla were also killed. Immediately after their fall, confusion arose in the Muhammadan ranks and the Mughal army turned its back, leaving the field in favour of the victorious Khalsa who fiercely rushed upon them. Khafi Khan writes that “not a man of the army of Islam escaped with more than his life and the clothes he stood in. Horsemen and footmen fell under the swords of the infidels (Sikhs) who pursued them as far as Sirhind.”18 In the words of William Irvine, “The baggage was plundered, the elephants captured and the body of Wazir Khan dishonoured and hung to a tree.”19 This tree of Jand is standing still in the grounds of Guru Nanak Public School. According to Rattan Singh Bhangu, first, after capturing Wazir Khan, a sharp wooden peg was thrust in his anus and then his dead body was dragged behind the oxen upto Sarhind. Alarm spread through the streets of Sarhind, an old and prosperous town, inhabited by wealthy bankers and traders and many well born Mohammadans of the learned class. Those who could do so, fled. One of the first being Wazir Khan’s eldest son, who, leaving all his father’s hoards behind him, made off to Delhi with all his family.20 After a feeble defence of a few hours, the town was taken. Every one who, for want of carts or other conveyance, had been left behind, was made prisoner. C H Payne writes: “The Sikhs entered Sarhind which was plundered, massacring many of the inhabitants and wreaking a terrible vengeance on the murderers of the sons of Guru Gobind Singh.”21 According to Mohammd Qasim, “Troop after troop of unfeeling sweepers surrounded the city, in the manner of a thorn-bush enclosing a flower garden and laid their insolent hands on people’s possessions and proceeded to dihonour both the small and the big.”22
Next came the turn of Diwan Sucha Nand Khatri who incited the Governor Wazir Khan not to take mercy on the innocent Sahibzadas by saying that these young sons of Guru Gobind Singh were but the young ones of a snake and hence should be done away with before they are capable to strike. The Diwan was captured while collecting his belongings and abscond himself with impunity. But he could not elude the vigilance of the Khalsa who had come with the explicit object of punishing him and his mentor Wazir Khan. The Khalsa put on ring in his nose and passing a rope through it led him like a bear from street to street and house to house begging for a mercy.”23 At every house he was slapped on the face and his head was hit with a shoe. Ultimately, he succumbed to the extreme pains which this process had caused him. His son was also killed with his other family members. It was done only to show to the world that this was the punishment of the person who had abetted the butchering to death of two innocent children while all others wished their release. Muhammad Qasim a contemporary-historian writes in his Ibratnama about the ill-fate of Diwan Sucha Nand that “They (Sikhs) specially plundered the goods and houses of Sucha Nand, chief Clerk (Peshkar) of the late Wazir Khan. You may say, he had gathered and set up these for this day, so that the flower-garden may become the ground for the growth of thorn-bushes and paradise turn into the nursing ground of vile crow…what has been heard from trustworthy persons of that area is that this unjust, noxious raw man (Sucha Nand) in the time of government of the martyred Wazir Khan had withheld no cruelties from being inflicted on the poor and had laid every seed of tumult for his own advantage, so he reaped the fruit of it all.”24
It is said in the report sent to the Emperor Bahadur Shah that ‘some people told that Wazir Khan’s son and son-in-law were also killed and some others said that they were captured alive. Many of the associates of Wazir Khan were killed and wounded and the Sikhs were in occupation of Sarhind. They had emphatically told people not to kill even a bird.25 Banda Singh Bahadur collected the nazrana of Rs. Two crores from the richmen of the city. It was reported in the news of the ‘Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla’ that ‘it was ascertained from the bankers that the tehsil of Doaba yielded no taxes. The Sikhs realised the state share of the produce and took it to Dabar (Mukhlispur), the place of their staying. One day they loaded three hundred wagons and took away the same, none obstructed their way.26 When the emperor came to know about the destruction of the city and Wazir Khan, he remarked that Wazir Khan should not have got involved with the Sikhs if he was not prepared to face them. These remarks of the Emperor were expressed by a mansabdar of great splendour and dignity who went to see the Emperor. It was learnt from him that the emperor said that Wazir Khan died in vain and squandered the state revenue. If he did not find himself in a position to fight against the Guru (Banda Singh), he should not have engaged himself in fighting.27
The Khalsa Dal, after achieving victory in battlefield of Chappar-Chiri, immediately rushed to the city of Sarhind so that no body could escape with bag and baggage. The version that the Khalsa Dal entered Sarhind after two days of the victory does not carry weight. Within these two days everybody could escape easily leaving the city total empty. What could the Khalsa get from the empty city? Therefore, this argument is not convincing that the victorious Khalsa entered the city on third day. The Khalsa reached the city immediately after the victory in the battle-field and surrounded it from all sides. This fact is reported in the statement of a contemporary writer Muhammad Hadi Kamwar Khan. He writes that “These rebels (Sikhs) who were as numerous as ants and locusts, reached Sarhind in a twinkling of the eye, and collected about rupees two crores in cash and goods from the effects of Suchanad, his (Wazir Khan) Peshkar (Clerk) and other Muslims of this place. They let no stone unturned in inflicting insult and humiliation and burnt that beautiful town and its good buildings.28
Sarhind was a unique city at that time. Geographically, its situation was very strategic. It was situated in the midway of the Delhi-Lahore grand-trunk road. Being a major market centre of diamonds and other jewels in Asia, it had become a veritable repository of riches during the times of the Mughals though its prominence in history dates from the time of Firoze Shah Tuglak. Therefore, during the palmy days of the Mughals, Sarhind had superseded even Lahore and Delhi. The rate of land was higher in Sarhind than that of these two cities. For centuries, it had been prospering its richness. Therefore, very beautiful gardens had been planted there, the strong forts, elegant havelis and lofty palaces had been constructed there. Emperor Jahangir liked this place so much that he selected this city for his residence. He got the construction of air-conditioned palaces in the mid of Aam-khas-Bagh. It was known at that time as Bagh-i-Hafzi. All these buildings were waiting for the foot-steps of Banda Singh Bahadur after the battle of Chappar-Chiri. But the city of Sarhind did not motivate the Sikhs to rule rather it reminded them of tortures/sacrifices of their Guru’s young sons. In view of this grief-stricken memory, Banda Singh could see the beauty of neither the gardens nor the residence of the palaces. The idea of making this city its headquarters was not in the mind of the Khalsa. Instead of this, the Sikhs cut down the gardens, ruined the forts, destroyed the havelis and the palaces. The Sikhs’ anger was not extinguised even after this devastation. They also resolved that they would not leave there even a single old brick which was the symbol of the Mughal establishment. To fulfill this resolution, they took two bricks and struck these against each other. This process continued for a long time even after the victory of Sarhind. Thus, literally, whosoever visited Sarhind, took two bricks in his hands, struck these against each other and threw the same either in the Satluj if he went towards the west or in the Ghaggar if he went towards the east. The Khalsa also ploughed with the donkeys at the ruins of the city. To plough with the donkeys was, and till day, considered dishonour of the place.
S M Latif writes about the destruction of the city, though somewhat in exaggeration, “He commanded it to be fired, and all the inhabitants to be put to death. While the city was in flames, the followers of this fanatic carried on the work of carnage in the most diabolical spirit. They slaughtered the inhabitants indiscriminately without regard to age or sex. They butchered, bayoneted, strangled, hanged, shot down, hacked to pieces, and burnt alive, every Mohamadan in the place. Nor was this all. The dead too were made to contribute their share towards gratifying the rage of these voracious vampires.”29 This statement, without any doubt, is much exaggerated. At Sarhind, all the mosques and tombs stand in the same condition even today, which were there three hundred years before. “The mausoleum of Ahmad Shah,”writes Gokal Chand Narang, “the most magnificent of all such buildings, still stands as it did before the battle and is I think sufficient evidence of the exaggeration in Latif’s statement.”30 The Punjab States Gazetteer also accepts these views by writing that “the ruins of Sarhind contain the mausoleum of Mujjaddid Alif Sani which is a fine building to which the Muhammadans in general and the nobility of Kabul in particular pay visits as a place of pilgrimage.”31 So, the allegations about the desecration of mosques are equally unfounded and the statement of Latif is not to be implicitly trusted upon such a point. It should be noted that whatever the ruler of this city had done with the innocent sons of Guru Gobind Singh, how could that heinous crime be forgotten or avenged? Whatever the Khalsa had done in the city after the victory over its ruler was quite in the fitness of things. The destruction of the Mughal establishment was the only way to justify any action that might have been taken against the two tryants, Wazir Khan and Sucha Nand.
Banda Singh Bahadur did not allow that place to enjoy peace, the ruler of which had maltreated his Guru. Had Banda Singh desired, he could have easily used this beautiful city as a centre of his State, but it appears that he did not want to construct his palaces at the cremation ground of his Guru’s sons.
Some historians such as Karm Singh and Ganda Singh tried to take off the responsibility of the devastation of the city of Sarhind from Banda Singh Bahadur’s shoulders by providing the excuse that it was done only by a few robbers who had entered his army with the object of loot and plunder. However, this is a wrong inception. In a way, these historians have undermined the leadership of Banda Singh by writing that he had robbers in his army. If Banda Singh was not able to protect the cities, conquered by him, from such robbers then there could not be any meaning as well as the utility of law and order established by him in place of the Mughal administration.
In fact, the Sikhs destroyed the city because the idea of avenging was smouldering in their mind ever since the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh were bricked alive and the Guru’s mother was put to death here by its Governor. The Khalsa had a chance to teach a lesson to the ruler of Sarhind. The lesson was taught by destroying the city, root and branch. The Khalsa hated Wazir Khan to such an extent that it related its hate even to the city of Sarhind. The Khalsa considered Sarhind as the “cursed city”. It means that the city of Sarhind was cursed by Guru Gobind Singh. That was the reason that no Sikh Chief desired to take this city under his administration even when they again conquered it in 1764. This did not relate only to Banda Singh, it related to the other Sikh Chiefs as well who followed Banda Singh in 1764-65. Ultimately, the city of Sarhind was given to Bhai Budha Singh by a resolution passed unanimously in the assembly of the Sarbat Khalsa in 1764. Budha Singh further sold it to Baba Ala Singh of Patiala in lieu of a nominal price. Baba Ala Singh also did not establish here his Headquarters, rather he made Patiala the capital of his State.
Banda Singh Bahadur had complete control over his army and there was no robber in it. He had a well disciplined army under his command. This army was so much devoted to the cause that it saw nothing in the battlefield but a destruction of the enemy. The baptized Khalsa was the backbone of his army. This was the army of saint-soldiers who always repeated the name of the Lord from their lips and always thought of war for righteousness in their hearts. It was in fact, comprised of the true and loyal Sikhs who once had sat at the feet of Guru Gobind Singh Himself and had been touched by the promethean fire which animated the great pontiff himself. They rallied round Banda Singh Bahadur in a spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice as well as carry on the crusade against the enemies of their movement. On the contrary of looting and plundering, hundreds of them sold all that whatever they had with them, purchased arms, and flocked to the new leader with a determination either to win the fight or to suffer martyrdom. Banda Singh Bahadur infused such spirit into the hearts of these Khalsa saint-soldiers that even the most powerful and trained soldiers of the Mughal armies could not stand against them. His personal magnetism, his undaunted courage and extraordinary valour, knit these saint-soldiers close to him. Therefore, it was such a well-knit body of dedicated and devoted soldiers that no robber or opportunist could deceive.
Only the government offices, palaces, forts and havelis of the Turkish nobility and of the Qazis and Ulemas were destroyed and plundered. No other house was touched and no innocent was killed at Sarhind. No mosque was destroyed and no dead body was dug out. The credit goes to the Khalsa to save all these monuments. If the robbers were out of control, then how could these tombs and mosques survive till today? Banda Singh Bahadur’s first priority was to protect the religious places of Muslim society. He destroyed only the political establishment. He carried out even the funeral of those Muslim soldiers who were killed in the war. No Mughal soldier was burnt. Rather they were buried with due respect.
This was the first victory of the Indian peoples over their foreign masters since the Islamic rule had been established in eleventh century. This was the first war of Indian Independence and the victory was achieved under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadur in May, 1710. There were far reaching results of this victory. First, the Mughal rule was ruined in the province of Sarhind which was stretched from the Sutlej to the Jamuna rivers and from the Shivalik hills to the deserts of Rajputana. According to Muhammad Qasim, “All territory from the Sutlej river which is popularly called Ludhiana river, up to Karnal, passed under the government and control of that lying infidel (Banda Singh).”32 In this large area, the peoples rule was established as the Khalsa Republic. Banda Singh Bahadur was the President of this Republic. Bhai Baj Singh was appointed the Governor of Sarhind with Ram Singh and Aali Singh of Salaudhi as his deputies. Rattan Singh Bhangu gives very interesting details of the administration of Sarhind, which was established by Banda Singh Bahadur. According to him, “After defeating the Mughals at Chappar-Chiri the Singhs entered Sarhind. Their contingents were led under the command of Sardar Baj Singh who belonged to the Bal sub-caste of the Jat Sikhs and was a resident of Mirpur Patti village in Amritsar. Banda Singh appointed him as the custodian of Sarhind, and handed over all the captured treasure to him. All the four brothers, including Baj Singh, were the bravest of the brave, while two of them looked after the civil administration of Sarhind province, the other two acted as personal bodyguards of Banda Singh. They were given the charge of the whole province of fifty two parganas and instructed to deal with all the administrative affairs of the state. Aali Singh of Salaudi was appointed as the deputy custodian and given the charge of the revenue collections from the province.33 Bhangu goes on to write that “the Hindus were given various positions in the administration. The Muslims managed to save their lives by hiding themselves. Sardar Baj Singh used to mount his horse by taking his foot on the head of a Turkish official of the old establishment as stepladder. He ordered to eliminate all the Turkish hierarchy from the entire state of fifty two parganas. Thus, he got the entire Sarhind Province liberated in a moment which had a population of thirty-six lakhs.34 This version of Bhangu was also corroborated by a contemporary writer, Muhammad Qasim. According to him, “A Jatt called Baj Singh, one of the wretches from pargana Haibatpur Patti, belonging to the Suba of the Punjab, had the accursed turban-tail of Pseudo-chiefship tied on his head to assume the Subadari of Sarhind, appoint officers over the parganas, and carry out destructive activities. He waited for the coming of warriors from the void.”35
After appointing his own officers in the state, Banda Singh Bahadur consulted the intellectuals to issue Khalsa coins and stamps. After due consultation, it was decided to issue the coins and stamps in the names of the Gurus. Therefore, the coins and seals issued by Banda Singh Bahadur had the following inscriptions:
Sikka zad bar Har do alam tegh-i-Nanak vahib ast.
Fateh Gobind Singh Shah-i-Shahan Fazal-i-Sacha Sahib ast.
It means: “With the power of the sword, which was provided by Guru Nanak is struck the coin in the two worlds. The victory is of Guru Gobind Singh, who is the King of Kings and a true Lord.”
The reverse of the coin had the following words in praise of the city of Amritsar and the great Akal Takhat:
Zarb ba amaan dehar musawarat Shehar.
Zinat-al-Takhat-i-khalsa mubarak bakhat.36
It means: “Struck in the city of peace, illustrating the beauty of civic life and the ornament of the blessed throne of the Khalsa.”
He also introduced an official seal for his state documents and letters patent. It contained the following inscription expressive of his deep sense of devotion and loyalty to his Gurus:
Deg o tegh o fateh o nusrat bedrang.
Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh.
It means: “By the blessings of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh achieved the victory over the enemy and started ever lasting kitchen (Langar) for the poors.”37
This was the tradition which was established by Banda Singh Bahadur and no Sikh ruler, after him, could ignore it. Every Sikh ruler had to adopt these inscriptions inscripted on the coins struck by Banda Singh. It should be remembered that easier is to follow the tradition than establishing it. Banda Singh Bahadur was the leader who established the new traditions in the Sikh history. He taught the Sikhs that the state could be established by their own power of arms.
In the light of these achievements, it can be said safely that Banda Singh Bahadur was the first leader to place before the Sikhs a practical demonstration of Khalsa Nationalism to teach them to sacrifice themselves willingly at the altar of the Nation. The revolution under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadur was in no way a transitory military affair, it was a fullfledged war against the Mughal imperialism for the emancipation of their Fatherland from the shackles of oppressive and tyrannical rule. Though the struggle was, occasionally, indulged in avenging the tyranny of Wazir Khan but it took no time to make itself an open declaration of its design to replace the Mughals as a sovereign power in the Punjab. The active support which Banda Singh received from the downtroddens, the poor peasants, herdsmen and Vanjaras had made the social struggle aspect of the conflict sufficiently articulate.
The Jagirdari system was abolished and the tillers of the cultivating lands were made the masters of the land. This marked a revolutionary change in the social order in the Punjab and led to the emergence of small peasants as a potent force in the political life of the state.38 There were large Jagirs in the area stretched from the Ghaggar river to the Jamuna and the Jagirdars were responsible for the payment of fixed amount of land revenue from the peasants entrusted to them. They extorted from the peasants any amount they liked. The result of this forcible extortion was the reduction of the poor peasants to the position of the slaves. Banda Singh encouraged the peasants to revolt against the landlords and to get their land distributed among themselves. Banda Singh declared, ‘There is no jagirs and jagirdars; there is no mansab and mansabars; zamin belongs to the zamindar who cultivates it. Tiller, only the tiller would own the land. Let us abolish the jagirs and mansabs and protect the cultivators. Therefore, get the jagirdars and mansabdars out of their estates, occupy the land, distribute it among yourselves, cultivate it and protect your republic.’ The people obeyed Banda Singh’s instructions and ejected the jagirdars from their jagirs and thus, became the masters of the land. Resultantly, large estates were distributed into the small holdings in the hands of the peasants. These agrarian changes to a great extent ameliorated the lot of the poor tillers.
These declarations and policies of Banda Singh Bahadur attracted the lower-strata of Indian society. These poor people rushed to join Banda Singh’s crusade. It is better to quote William Irvine’s statement exactly in his own words to show the rising of the lower-strata of the society, “In all the parganas occupied by the Sikhs, the reversal of previous customs was striking and complete. A low scavenger of leather-dresser, the lowest of the low in Indian estimation, had only to leave home and join the Guru (Banda Singh), when in a short space of time he would return to his birth-place as its ruler, with his order of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot within the boundaries, the well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and escort him home. Arrived there, they stood before him with joined palms, awaiting his order.”39
Such an action was the first of its kind even in the history of the world. It happened eighty years before the French Revolution. Thus, Banda Singh’s crusade against the tyrannical rule of the Mughals was, in fact, a revolution which revolutionized the minds of the Punjabis of which historians often fail to take note. The common masses were told to stand against the tyranny and to live and die for their fundamental rights. Banda Singh Bahadur set an example for them and acted as a beacon light in the time to come. The idea of a republic was given to them which became a living aspiration. It went on working in their minds like a divine will. Resultantly, they struggled ruthlessly against the Mughals and the Afghans during the eighteenth century, after him, to achieve this goal and, by defeating their enemies in the long and bloody struggle of six decades, they successfully established their own rule in the land of the five rivers in the seventh decade of the eighteenth century.
These astonishing achievements of Banda Singh Bahadur had earned for the Sikhs a prestige and a martial reputation which had never before been associated with them. From the military point of view also, it had an impact on the Mughal might. Banda Singh Bahadur had broken the charisma of the Mughal invincibility. The tillers of the land and the untouchables of the Indian society had fought the born soldiers for their emancipation. Man to man, the saint-soldiers of the Guru had proved their worth.
Consequently, it may be stated with a firm belief that Banda Singh Bahadur was the leader who practised the Sikh principles in his policies as well as in his day-to-day life. What was established and preached by Guru Nanak was practically consolidated by Guru Gobind Singh by creating the Khalsa. It was Banda Singh Bahadur who achieved all those objectives for whose fulfillment he was commissioned by Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru was the spirit and Banda Singh Bahadur the body. When the spirit, by the initation of Amrit, entered the body of Banda Singh Bahadur it resulted in a revolution. When Banda Singh came to Punjab there occurred a revolution and the Khalsa State was established on the ruins of the mighty Mughal Empire in the Punjab. The mission of Banda Singh Bahadur’s crusade ‘was nothing short of liberation of the country from the Mughal rule’ for which he went on fighting continuously for eight years. His struggle ‘had been for a national awakening, which first released the spirit of the people and then stirring them to a political consciousness knit them together to resist tyranny and oppression.’
1. William Irvine, The Later Mughals, vol. I, p.95
2. Transformation of Sikhism, New Delhi, 1998, p. 102.
3. Shamsher Khalsa (Lithograph), Sialkot, 1892.
4. ‘Muntkhab-ul-Lubab’ in Elliot and Dowson, History of India As told by Its Own Historians, Vol. VII, Allahabad, 1964, p. 144.
6. The Later Mughals, Vol. 1, p. 95
7. Sri Gur Panth Parkash (Ed. by Balwant Singh Dhillion), Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 2004 p. 94
8. Life and Exploits of Banda Singh Bahadur (1915), reprinted by Punjabi University, Patiala, 2000, p. 58.
9. Banda Singh Bahadur Ik Jiwni, Punjabi University, Patiala 1989, p.32
10. Life of Banda Singh Bahadur, Khalsa College, Amritsar, 1935, p.63
11. As quoted by Ganda Singh, op.cit., pp. 64-65
12. ‘Ibratnama’ in J.S. Grewal and Irfan Habib (Eds.), Sikh History From Persian Sources, New Delhi, 2007, p. 116.
13. ‘Tazkirat-us-Salatin Chaghata’ in Ibid, p. 143.
14. Sri Gur Panth Prakash, (English Translation by Kulwant Singh), Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 2006, pp. 237-239.
15. Ibid. p. 245
16. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. VI, New Delhi, 1963, p.248.
17. Ibid. See also C.H. Payne, A Short History of the Sikhs, Patiala, 2002 (reprint) p. 34.
18. Elliot and Dowson, p. 415.
19. The Later Mughals, Vol.1. p. 95.
20. William Irvine, p. 96.
21. A Short History of the Sikhs, Patiala, 2000 (reprint), p. 34.
22. ‘Ibratnama’, op.cit. p.115.
23. Macauliffe, op.cit., p. 248.
24. ‘Ibratnama’, op.cit., pp. 116-117.
25. ‘Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mulla’, op.cit. p. 104.
26. Op.cit. pp. 104-105.
27. Ibid., p. 30.
28. ‘Tazkirat-us-Saltain Chaghata’ in J.S. Grewal and Irfan Habib (Eds.), op.cit. p. 143.
29. History of the Panjab, New Delhi, 1964, p. 274-75.
30. Transformation of Sikhism, p. 103 (fn).
31. Vol. XVII, Phulkian States, 1904, p. 209
32. ‘Ibratnama’ op.cit. p. 117.
33. I have used the English translation done by Prof. Kulwant Singh of Chandigarh with little alteration. See Sri Gur Panth Parkash (Eng. Trans. by Kulwant Singh), op.cit. pp. 244. See also Gian Singh’s Sri Gur Panth Parkash, p. 273.
34. Ibid., p. 247
35. ‘Ibratmama’, op.cit. p. 117.
36. See also Surinder Singh, Sikh Coinage : Symbol of Sikh Sovereignty, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 41-42.
37. These inscriptions are given in the ‘Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla.’
38. See also Jagjit Singh, The Sikh Revolution, New Delhi, 1981, p. 239.op.cit. p.52 and in the Farruhshyianamah used by William Irvine, op.cit., pp. 110.
39. The Later Mughals, pp. 98-99.
Appendix – 1
Mohammad Qasim’s account of the battle of Chappar-Chiri in ‘Ibratnama’:
“When the news reached His Highness Wazir Khan, Faujdar of Chakla Sahrind, he rode out with the troops he had with him, to punish this evil rebel force. A great battle occurred twelve kurohs from Sahrind. The young men of the army of Islam, showing exemplary bravery, tasted martyrdom, after obtaining repute in the field of valour. Especially was heroism displayed in this battle by Sher Muhammad and Khwaja ‘Ali, Afghans of Kotla Maler, who in this sarkar were masters of a host and commanded trust. After much fighting, they stood firm like the Pole Star within that very circle and surrendered their lives to the Creator. You may say, they attained goodness and good name in that field of valour. When the chiefs of the army, by the will of God, were sent to their death, Wazir Khan, despite his old age, weakness of hand and foot, and the decline of the strength of the body, strove to shoot arrows and encourage his companions. But once the boat of hope is destroyed by an accident, it cannot thereafter be set to sail by the strength of the arm of any of the professional captains of the world of stratagem. At last, the wicked Infidels extended their victorious hand for the plunder of the (Mughal) army and (the seizure) of the commander’s elephant. Treating the corpse of that martyred Saiyid (Wazir Khan) with every visible indignity they could devise, they had it suspended from a tree.
With such malevolence they marched on the city of Sahrind. When the news of this calamity reached the city, all alertness and action deserted the luckless officials and the helpless citizens (ri’aya). Wazir Khan’s own eldest son did not bother about (his father’s) treasure and hoard, but, taking the young and old of his household with him, took the road to Shahjahanabad (Delhi). Everyone who, within that short time, abandoned goods and property, and took to exile, with every humiliation and dishonour, at least saved his own life. Any one who got involved in thoughts of gathering his goods, or searching for mounts for carriages), or (other) various designs, fell prisoners to the cruel hands of those wicked Infidels. Troop after troop of unfeeling sweepers surrounded the city, in the manner of a thorn-bush enclosing a flower garden, and laid their insolent hands on people’s possessions and proceeded to dishonour both the small and the big.
They specially plundered the goods and houses of Suchadanand (Sucha Nand), Chief Clerk (Peshkar) of the late Wazir Khan. You may say, he had gathered and set up these for this day, so that the flower-garden may become the ground for the growth of thornbushes and Paradise turn into the nursing ground of the vile crow! Praise be to God, in the court of the Divine Avenger, a helpless ant can be the cause of the death of the man-killing snake, and an impotent and powerless gnat can bring about the destruction of a bloodthirsty elephant. What has been heard from trustworthy persons of that area is that this unjust, noxious raw man in the time of government of the martyred Wazir Khan had withheld no cruelties from being inflicted on the poor and had laid every seed of tumult for his own advantage; so he reaped the fruit of it all. Otherwise, persons who were guarded by God’s protection, scorned their own large treasures and fled with their honour intact. Some, by changing their clothing, remained concealed in that city and stayed safe from the oppressive hand of that tyrannical crew. The harm that came to persons and places and honour and dignity, without precedent, a feeling of sadness and civility does not permit one to record; it is well known to contemporaries and eyewitnesses. In short, that flood, which overthrew the foundations of the honour of a whole world, left nothing undone in destroying that city and the inhabited places of that neighbourhood. So far as possible, they did not let any one else retain arms, horses, other goods and chattel of chiefship. They called upon most people to adopt their own disreputable faith; some willingly, and others under compulsion, obeyed. A Jatt called Baz Singh, one of the wretches from pargana Haibatpur, belonging to the suba of the Panjab, had the accursed turban-tail of pseudo-chiefship tied on his head to assume the subadari of Sahrind, appoint officers over the parganas, and carry out destructive activities. He waited for the coming of warriors from the void”.*
* Translated by Irfan Habib in J S Grewal and Irfan Habib (Eds), Sikh History From Persian Sources, New Delhi, 2007, pp 116-117.
Appendix – 2
Details of the battle of Chappar-Chiri as written by Muhammad Hadi Kamwar Khan in his ‘Tazkirat-us-Salatin Chaghata’:
“A large number of persons belonging to the class of sweepers and tanners, and the community of banjaras and others of base and lowly castes, assembled around him (Banda Singh) and became his disciples. The person (Banda Singh) gave himself the title of “Fath Shah” (Patshah). First, he ravaged the township of Sadhaura and after that he destroyed and burnt a large number of villages and towns and having killed the Muslim inhabitants and their families, he headed towards Sarhind. Wazir Khan had since long been holding the faujdari of that place; he was descended from Wazir Khan Akbar Shahi. He (Wazir Khan) came out for a distance of 8 Kurohs from Sarhind and a fierce battle and heavy slaughter took place, and his (Wazir Khan’s) principal officers were killed. He too was driven by his sense of pride to engage these faithless heretics (Sikhs) and he so tasted the drink of martyrdom. His son, relatives and friends and the pirzadas (men of mystic families) of Sarhind, along with their families, fled towards the capital (Delhi). These rebels who were as numerous as ants and locusts, reached Sarhind in a twinkling of the eye, and collected about rupees two crores in cash and goods from the effects of Suchanand, Wazir Khan’s Peshkar (Clerk) and other Muslims of this place. They (Sikhs) left no stone unturned in inflicting insult and humiliation and burnt that beautiful town and its good buildings. They strengthened its fort and turned their attention to other towns and villages”.*
* Translated by S Ali Nadeem Rezavi in J S Grewal and Irfan Habib (Eds), Sikh History From Persian Sources, New Delhi, 2007, p 143
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