Banda Singh Bahadur
– A Shrewd Strategist and Brilliant Tactician –
Lt Gen Kartar Singh
We are fast approaching the 300th Anniversary of Banda Bahadur’s victory over Nawab Wazir Khan, the Governor of Sirhind and the Zalam who had ruthlessly bricked alive the two younger Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This brings back memories of a brave Sikh Bairagi-turned-soldier, who, for seven years from 1709 to 1716, established the rule of the Khalsa, ousting Mughal rule in Punjab.
Who was this valiant Sikh who could dare to defy the might of the Mughals who possessed a well trained standing army of horsemen and foot soldiers equipped with the latest weaponry of that period? Historians depict him as a converted Sikh from a Bairagi militant Sadhu, who was bestowed with strength and motivation by the will of Guru Gobind Singh. Here was a converted Sikh who marched with the Guru’s Mission 1600 miles with 25 companions, not to conquer, but to liberate the peasantry from the crushing rule of Mughal infidels. All that he was armed with were the Guru’s five arrows, a Nishan Sahib (flag) and a Nagara (war drum) – as symbols of authority from the Tenth Guru. In today’s world, this sounds likes a fairy tale difficult to believe! What then made Banda to accept this near impossible task?
To find answers to this riddle we must remember Madho Das’ background. He was born in the hills of Jammu and had a past as a famous ‘Hunter’. In those days, without modern weapons, hunting was an art learnt by intensive practical training and stealthily tracking of wild animals. This required years of hard work, physical and mental alertness and a wily instinct to conquer. Madho Das was a born hunter turned Sadhu due to a shock killing of a pregnant female deer. Guru Gobind Singh Ji recognized these traits, when he inspired this Bairagi to now hunt the cruel Mughals and vanquish them for the sins they were committing on mankind in general, and particularly on the Sikhs of Punjab.
Banda’s Strategy and Tactics
Strategy in simple language is the high level planning prior to a campaign, and tactics it’s implementation. Banda’s strategy was to reach Punjab after avoiding the dangers enroute and mobilizing an army of volunteers, arming and training them in an impossibly short period, and then by the tactics of, what I term, as the “Crumbling Process”, bite into the mighty Mughal administrative centers one by one. This process was the only way to achieve the Guru’s mission of punishing a powerful enemy who was committing crime after crime against his people. Banda must have mentally and theoretically made grandiose plans during his long journey of nearly one year from Nanded to Punjab. Whatever these dreams, this born leader of men executed them to perfection with a masterly application of the crumbling process. One by one the Mughal bastions, Samana, Ghuram, Thaska, Mustafabad and Sadhaura were captured, until he reached the outskirts of Sirhind.
– His main target was to revenge the ruthless torture and killing of the brave and innocent Sahibzadas.
Instinctively Banda Bahadur adopted the vital principles of war – Surprise, Flexibility, Offensive action and Concentration of Force at a point to gain local superiority. He overcame garrison after garrison by brilliantly applying these to perfection. Even Muslim authors of the time such as Qazi Noor Mohammad, Ghulam Hussain Mohammad Qasin Kamwar Khan and Khafi Khan grudgingly praised the Tiger like fighting quality of the Sikh Soldier. In an article of a magazine, it is not possible to trace Banda Bahadur’s entire campaign so as to highlight his brilliant strategy and tactics. Yet it would be worthwhile amplifying this by select examples.
Mobility, Surprise and Economy of Force
Samana was strongly fortified. It had a wall all around, every Haveli was a fortress and the Mughal force was well armed and had deployed guns for the town’s defence. Banda Bahadur’s plan on 26 Nov 1709 was to lie up at a distance the previous day thus lulling the defenders into a feigned lack of will and intent to attack. That night the Sikh force did a brilliant rapid approach from some miles, entered the town from all directions before the gates could be closed and after negligible opposition totally captured and sacked Samana by the next day’s nightfall. Thus the three main principles of war of Surprise, Mobility and Economy of Force (he took least causalities) were applied with brilliance.
The Battle of Chappar Chiri
Sirhind, the Principal Town of SE Punjab was Banda Bahadar’s goal. To all Sikhs, it represented the cruelty of its Governor. Wazir Khan had to render an account for his bestial act. James Brown, the British historian described it as “most barbarous and outrageous”. No wonder then that the Sikhs were thirsting for his blood. Wazir Khan sent a strong force under Sher Mohammed Khan of Malerkotla towards Ropar to prevent a large force of Sikhs from Doaba and Majha joining Banda’s main force moving from Banur. After a very fierce battle, the valiant Sikhs prevailed. It was the bloody hand to hand battle on the battlefield, in which Sikhs dominated, which won the day. Thus Banda succeeded in concentrating his force for the final battle.
It is said that like Napolean, Banda Bahadar observed the battlefield from a high and prominent area. He kept in hand an elite reserve ready to be committed in a lightning strike in the most vulnerable area in order to achieve a breakthrough. At Chappar Chiri, the Mughals were far superior in numbers, weapons and guns. Banda’s soldiers had long spears, arrows, swords and of course indomitable courage. He lost men in the early phase of the battle but broke through by launching himself and his lion like reserves at a vital moment in a weakened salient on the plains of Chappar Chiri’s wide open battlefield. So fierce was this, that as described by Khafi Khan ‘ Horses, elephants fell in the hands of the infidels. Horsemen and footmen in large numbers fell under the swords of the infidels, who pursued them as far as Sirhind. Wazir Khan fell from his horse and was captured alive”. The Mughal army was completely routed but Banda Bahadur lost nearly 5000 soldiers. His men carried out the last rites of the fallen Sikhs at the battle site before entering Sirhind. Wazir khan was killed and his body hung from a prominent tree upside down. This tree still stands as a symbol of the fate that is reserved for tyrants.
Lessons Learnt From this Key Battle
Concentration of Force: Banda Bahadur did not attack Wazir Khan’s Army until he was able to join up with the Khalsa re-enforcements from Majha and Doaba. This he did, in spite of knowing that the enemy was digging in and preparing formidable defences at Chapper Chiri. He hid his forces from effective artillery fire in the thick grove of trees behind small hillocks.
Flexibility: This time Banda knew that surprise had been lost, and this was now a battle between a large well equipped Mughal Army with Guns, which would decimate his force in a frontal attack. He now changed his tactics and ordered commando raids at night to first silence the Artillery which were causing heavy causalities even under cover. Once this was done, his archers and musketeers, who were under cover, caused heavy casualties to the Enemy Cavalry and the Elephants ran riot. In this confusion, his own cavalry must have attacked the flanks and rear, while his valiant marching troops launched early morning frontal attacks. They still took casualities as the Mughal fire power was still effective until hand to hand fighting was joined. Here, Banda timed his master stroke to perfection. Observing the whole scene from a high Tibba, he launched himself and his reserves – a brilliant strike into the Mughal vitals. Sikhs were masters of hand to hand fighting. Once the Mughal lines broke, there was no stopping the offensive force. It was indeed a brilliant victory for a brilliant Commander. He had not violated a single principal of war.
Banda had avenged the bricking alive of the Sahibzadas and their martyrdom was proclaimed. A major part of the Guru’s mission had been accomplished with elan and now we must erect a fitting memorial to this great Sikh General at Chappar Chiri.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2010, All