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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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Lest We Forget

Prof Kulwant Singh

Punjab Digital Library’s collection and preservation of digitized formats contains some rare books on Punjab / Sikh history, heritage and culture which enables researchers and scholars to visit these books online free of cost.  This write up provides a glimpse into one such rare book written by a British war Veteran of Anglo-Sikh Wars. - Editor

“But where were now their leaders? – The men who had instigated the revolt, and who with dastardly duplicity sought their private interest by simulated friendship with both parties? Where was Tej Singh, the chief commander of the Sikh forces? When the British opened the assault, Tej Singh commanded the entrenchment, but as soon as we had effected breaches in the mound, and the fire from his batteries began to slacken, when his followers were falling thick around him, when the British, led on by their gallant commanders, fought resolutely for every inch of ground, Tej Singh, instead of manfully leading on fresh troops, and animating them by his example, like a base traitor, again deserted his post; he fled at the first brush, and, as at the battle of Ferozeshah, abandoned his troops, and, in their destruction, sought, and effected his own escape; Goolab Singh, who had played his cards so well, was at the side of the Maharannee, counseling the adoption of such measures as would virtually promote his own interests; while the intriguer, Lall Singh, lay with his cavalry higher up the river in a careless, unmilitary position, conscious of being closely watched by the English.

Far different was the conduct and deportment of Sirdar Sham Singh, of Attaree. In accordance with the vow so solemnly made to his men that he would die in the conflict, and thus offer up himself as a propitiatory sacrifice for his country’s weal to appease the wrath of Govind, he clothed himself in a white garment, as one who had devoted himself to death, and calling upon all around to follow him, he unflinchingly led on his rapidly thinning ranks, with the assurance of the Gooroo’s eternal reward to those who should fall in defence of their country; and, at last, covered with wounds, the fine old veteran sunk down a lifeless corpse, amidst the slaughtered bodies of his brave followers.”

These are heart-wrenching comments about the treacherous, wily and most opportunistic Dogra chiefs of Lahore Durbar and Commanders of Sikh army in the post Maharaja Ranjit Singh Sikh period and the highly venerable Sikh General and Martyr S. Sham Singh Attari, at the end of the last Anglo Sikh war at Sabraon on Feb. 10, 1846. These perceptive comments have been made by Captain W.W.W. Humbley Veteran British Cavaly officer in his 616-page book, titled “Journal of a Cavalry officer, including the memorable Sikh Compaign of 1845-46,” published by Longman Brown, Green, and Longman 1854. This rare book digitized by the Punjab Digital Library and preserved in its Digital Archive/Repository gives an eye-witness account of hour by hour and day to day happenings of the four Anglo-Sikh wars fought at Mudkee, Ferozeshah, Aliwal and Sabraon between December 18, 1845 to February 10, 1846 and the four subsequent residual battles fought at Ramnagar, Chillianawala, Goojerat and Mootan till the complete British annexation of Sikh empire. It also narrates the abject surrender and abdication by crown Sikh Prince Maharaja Duleep Singh as well as as his conversion to Christianity. The author of this book being an active partner in these battles as a serving captain in the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers Cavalry Battalion, this account is most authentic and reliable. It also provides a British perspective about the British colonial policy in India as well as towards the Sikhs and Punjab before and after its annexation. The account is encyclopaedic in its range and minutely detailed in its narration of the war-torn ten year (1836-1846) period of Sikh history.

Beginning with the reasons and events leading to the Sikh military compaign against the British and the first Anglo-Sikh war at Mudkee near Ferozepur (Punjab), it gives meticulous details of the military strength, formations deployment of infantry and artillery units of both the combating armies in each battle. It records the forcible British sequest ration of two Punjab Sikh villages near Ludhiana, in 1845, the rumoured British manufacturing of a Pontoon bridge at Bombay for crossing the Sutlej into sikh territory; the indolence, luxurious life style of Post-Maharaja Sikh chiefs and the anger and defiance of “impetuous and rebellions Khalsa troops” against their chiefs as well as their solemn pledges at their daily assembly at the Samadhi of their late Maharaja to defend their country as the main reasons for the Sikh military compaign against the British. Besides being a running commentary on each battle, as if from an observation post, it records the exact number of British and Sikh casualities as well as the loss and gain of artillery guns. While he puts the total British loss of killed and wounded at 10788 and loss of 1899 horses in all the eight battles, he puts the Sikh loss at battle of Sabraon alone between 12000 to 15000. (p. 180) “At noon on the 10th of February (1846) not a living Sikh remained on the left bank of the Sutlej.” Says the author (p. 177).

While he attributes the British victories in these four battles to the dedicated, determined and superior leadership/command of the British governor general Lord Hardinge and Commander-in-chief Sir Hugh Gough and other officers despite the British/Indian Army being somewhat inferior to the Sikh army both in manpower and artillery guns, he squarely blames the “double dealing,” treachery and “artful, wily conduct” of Sikh commanders Lall Singh and Tej Singh for the consecutive defeat of Sikh forces in these four battles despite the extreme bravery, patriotism and motivation of the Sikh soldiers. “It was fortunate the Sikh were ignorant of their own power and resources,” he remarks (p. 81). At one stage during the battle of Mudkee” both the (British) governor-general and the commander-in-chief were, it is said, at one time nearly captured.” (p. 81) The merit of this book for being a rare document on these Anglo-Sikh wars rests on this incisive and objective assessment of its author on the basis of his being active participant and keen observer of the whole scenario.

His recording of the contents of the proceedings of Anglo-Sikh treaty of March 9, 1946 signed between the Sikh chiefs led by Rajah Goolab Singh as nominees of Maharana of Lahore (Ranee Jindan) and Lahore Durbar and the British nominees consisting of British governor-general Lord Hardinge, Sir Henry Lawrence and Sir Fredrick Currie is equally credible and authentic. The most humiliating terms of the treaty consisted of complete surrender of Sikh territory between Sutlej and Beas to the British; payment of one and a half million pound sterling as penalty for war, dismemberment of Sikh army and surrender of all artillery guns, submission of resignation by the crown prince Maharaja Duleep Singh and transfer of all power to British governor-general to fix the toothless Sikh government at Lahore as well as its frontiers. Rajah Goolab Singh of Kashmir being the main negotiator, it was signed partly for keeping the Sham pretence of Sikh face of Lahore Durbar and partly to reward Rajah Goolab Singh to retain his territorial control over Kashmir (Appendix XIV).
 
The book, being very voluminous consisting of eighteen chapters, twenty two Appendixes containing rare documents covering 614 pages, is packed with information about history of India, its religious, culture, regional variations besides a broad outline of Sikh history. But what distinguishes it from the formal histories is its account based on the personal observation and a balanced, critical assessment of a contemporary participant and observer of mid-ninteenth century Punjab and India. His flair for literary expression makes certain passages memorable and endearing. It is these qualities of keen observation and its fluent communication which makes it rare and authentic work of literature and history.

 

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