News & Views




  I S C

  Research Projects

  About Us


Gur Panth Parkash

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



Jaito Morcha and Saka Nankana Sahib - Sant Sipahi and Satyagrahi

Dr Kala Singh

Jaito Morcha was Akali agitation for the restoration of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha, Punjab to his throne who, was forced to abdicate in favour of his minor son, Partap Singh on 9 July 1923. Although the British pronounced his abdication to be voluntary, the Akalis condemned it as an act of highhandedness on the part of the government. Interim committee was set up to have the Maharaja restored to the throne and announced 29 July 1923 to be observed in Punjab as a day of prayer. On August 2, 1923, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee sent a telegram to Lord Reading, the Viceroy of India, challenging the official version, and seeking an independent enquiry. Three days later, it passed a resolution to carry on a peaceful campaign. On August 25, 1923, following a public march, a divan (religious congregation) was held at Jaito, in Nabha, and resolutions were adopted expressing sympathy with the Maharaja and condemning government action. On August 27, 1923, organizers were arrested by Nabha state authorities. The divan was originally scheduled to conclude on August 27, 1923. Arrests made by police provoked the Akalis to continue it indefinitely and to start a series of akhand paths of the Guru Granth Sahib at the divan site. On September14, 1923, police replaced the granthi doing path at akhand path by their own granthi, Atma Singh.This created a great commotion among the Sikhs. On September 29, 1923 the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee condemned this action. It simultaneously declared its determination to have the Sikhs right to free worship reaffirmed. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal were declared as unlawful associations and all the 60 members of the interim committee were arrested on charges of treason against the King. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee started sending a jatha of twenty-five Singhs daily from Amritsar to Jaito from the September 15, 1923. Before the departure of the jatha, the Singhs were asked to take the pledge. "My aim is to restart the interrupted 'Akhand Path' in Gurdwara Gangsar and to keep it going in the Gurdwara independently and collectively in the form of congregation according to Sikh tradition. If in doing so, I have to face hardship and trouble at the hands of the Government official I shall bear all very patiently and without lifting my hand to strike. Akali jathas were stopped on entering Nabha territory, taken into custody and beaten by police. They were then let off in distant deserts without food or water. To intensify the agitation, the Akalis increased the size of the jatha. On February 9, 1924, 500 members of Shahidi Akali jatha marched from the Akal Takht, receiving unprecedented welcome in villages and towns through which they passed.

S. Zimand, a New York Times correspondent, who witnessed the jathas on the march, observed: "The Jatha was moving in perfect order and nonviolence with large crowds of public on its right and left, five Nishan Sahibs in the front and Guru Granth in the middle." On February 20, 1924, the jalha reached Bargari, a village on Nabha Faridkot border, barely 10 kms from Jaito. At Jaito, about 150 metres from Gurdwara Tibbi Sahib, stood the Nabha administrator, Wilson Johnston, with a large force of state constabulary. On February 21, 1924, the jatha marched on towards the Gurdwara, refusing to stop or disperse as demanded by Wilson Johnston. The administrator ordered the army to open fire. In two volleys of fire lasting about five minutes, several Sikh volunteers fell dead. The official estimate of the casualties was 19 dead and 29 injured. The Akali figures were much higher. The firing on the peaceful jatha of Akalis caused widespread resentment throughout the country.

On February 28, 1924, another 500 strong Shahldi jatha left Amritsar for Jaito where it was taken into custody on March 14, 1924. Thirteen more 500 strong jalhas reached Jaito and courted arrest.

Sikh jathas also came from Canada, Hong Kong and Shanghai to join the campaign. The Governor of the Punjab, Sir Malcolm Hailey, tried the policy of creating a schism in the community by having parallel Sikh Sudhar Committees representing moderate and pro-government sections. A 101strong jatha was allowed to perform an akhand path at Jaito. But this did not pacify the general Sikh opinion, nor did it affect the tempo of the agitation.

On the issue of the Akalls being allowed to perform an akhand path at Jaito, the government was prepared to start negotiations with the Akalis through Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Bhai Jodh Singh, but the Akalis were adamant on the restitution of the deposed Maharaja of his throne. In the meantime, the Punjab Government introduced in the Legislative Council the Sikh Gurdwaras Bill which was unanimously passed on July 7, 1925. After the bill was passed, Sir Malcolm Hailey, Governor of the Punjab, announced during his speech in the Punjab Legislative Council that the Administrator of Nabha would permit the bands of pilgrims to proceed for religious worship at Gurdwara Gangsar at Jaito. The announcement was followed by the release of most of the Akali prisoners arrested in the course of the restrictions on the performance of akhand path and the Akalis started a series of 101 such recitations which was concluded on August 6, 1925.

Nankana Sahib Morcha:Gurdwara Nankana Sahib was managed by Mahant Narayan Das in early 20th century. This Gurdwara had a huge property of over 19000 acres (77 km²) of highly fertile land attached to it which yielded enormous income per year. The Mahant became corrupt. It is alleged that dance girls were brought to the Gurdwara and obscene songs were sung within the holy premises. In 1918, a retired A.A.C. devout Sikh officer paid visit to the Gurdwara with his 13-year-old daughter to offer prayers to the Guru. As the Rehraas was being read in the Gurdwara, a mahant was allegedly raping the minor girl in another room within the Gurdwara premises. When the father lodged a complaint with the Mahant to take action against the rapist, Mahant is said to have ignored his request. In the same year, six young female devotees from Jaranwal village who visited the Gurdawara on Puranmashi to pay their offerings at Gurdwara, they too were similarly raped by the Mahants in that gurdwara. All this sent shock waves across Punjab. In October 1920, a congregation was held at village Dharowal in Sheikhupura for reforms in Gurudwara Nankana Sahib. On January 24, 1921 Shiromani Committee held a general meeting and took decision to hold a Dewan in Nankana Sahib on March 4, 5 and 6 and advise Mahant to mend his ways.

On February 14, 1921 Mahant held a meeting with his associates to chalk out a plan to kill the opposing Sikh leaders. Mahant recruited 400 mercenaries, at a payment of twenty Indian rupees per person per month. With government's help, Mahant also collected arms and ammunition. He also arranged and stored fourteen tins of paraffin and further strengthened the Gurdwara gate and carved out shooting galleries.

The Shiromani Committee extended invitation to Mahant for talks at Gurdwara Khara Sauda to resolve the issue but he did not show up at the given time. Then he was offered to hold talks with the Sikh leaders in Sheikhupura on February 15, 1921, but again he failed to show up. Third time he promised to meet the Shiromani Committee leaders at the residence of Sardar Amar Singh Lyall Gazette on February 16, 1921, but once again he failed to turn up.

The Shiromani Committee decided of its own to meet the Mahant on March 3, 1921 to advise him to hand over the charge to the committee. But the Committee got the information from its own intelligence that Mahant was planning to invite the Sikh leaders at Nanakana Sahib and have them killed from hired gundas. This greatly angered Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabber and others. A meeting of the Sikh leaders was called at Gurdwara Khara Sauda on 16, 1921 to chalk out the future course of action.

It was decided that Sangat would go in Jathas and take charge of the Gurdwara. Sikh leaders learnt that Mahant was going to Lahore on February 20, 1921. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber and Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali decided to take their jathas to Nanakana Sahib on February 20, 1921. They decided to take charge of Gurdwara in his absence as they had come to know of his wicked plan.

On the evening of February 19, 1921, Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali reached Nizam Deva Singhwala with his jatha of 8 Singhs (6 males and two females). At Nizam Deva Singh wala, Jathedar Tehal Singh had already arranged a Jatha of about 150 Singhs.

The combined Jatha took a Hukamnama and started for the Gurdwara at about 10 PM on that night so as to reach there by early morning. On the way, 50 more Sikhs joined the Shaheedi Jatha and total number swelled to about 200. At Chanderkot Jhal, Jathedar Lachhman Singh decided to wait for Kartar Singh Jhabber and his Jatha. They waited for a while in vain and finally JathedarDharowali decided to cancel the plan for further march to Nankana Sahib. At that moment, JathedarTehal Singh came forward and addressed the Shaheedi Jatha that "the prayers (Ardas) having already been said and the action plan having already been decided with Guru's word, it is them imperative for now to move forward. All the members shall keep cool even under extreme provocations".

The Shaheedi Jatha reached the Railway-crossing near Nankana Sahib in the morning with JathedarTehal Singh. Some of the Jatha members raced towards DarshaniDeori to take possession of the Gurdawara, but at this very moment, Chaudhury Paul Singh Lyallpuri showed up with the latest decision of Shiromani Committee advising them to postpone the action for taking possession of the Gurdwara.Once again, JathedarTehal Singh took the initiative and challenged the ShaheediJatha. He said: "Khalsaji, the time is not to stop now, but to act. We have come here to achieve martyrdom under Guru's word. This is very un-Sikh-like to back out from one's commitment at the last moment". Saying this, Jathedar Tehal Singh walked with the Jatha towards the Gurdwara. Bhai Lachhman Singh and others repeatedly requested him to relent, but determined Bhai Tehal Singh stuck to his Ardas. The entire Shaheedi Jatha followed him. By this time, another horseman messenger, Bhai Ram Singh, arrived and tried to persuade JathedarTehal Singh and the Jatha to return. The Jatha soon entered Darshni Deohri of the Gurdwara and shut the main door from inside. While some of the devotees took their seats inside the Prakash Asthan, others sat on the platform and the Barandari. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali sat on Guru's Tabia. Mahant Narayan Das came to know of the situation through the Jaikaras of the Shaheedi Jatha. At first, he was utterly shocked thinking that the game was over but he soon recovered and ordered his mercenaries to kill everyone in the Jatha. They fired bullets at the Sangat in Gurdwara hall. Several bullets pierced through Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The dead and dying Singhs bodies were burned. By the time the police and local Sikhs came on the scene, all the dead bodies had been consumed by the fire. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali who was wounded with a gunshot was tied to a Jand tree and burnt alive. The news spread and Sikhs from all parts of Punjab started their march towards Nankana Sahib. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber reached next day with 2200 Singhs armed with Shastras. Fearing more trouble, Mr King, handed over the keys of Nankana Sahib to Shiromani Committee and arrested Mahant Narayan Das and his Pashtun mercenaries and charged them with murder. But Mahant Narayan Das alone and some of the mercenaries were sentenced to death.

There are different versions on the number of fatalities in this massacre at varying between 120, 150 or even 200. The government reports placed the death figure at 126.

Mahatma Gandhi visited Nankana Sahib on March 3, 1921. Addressing the gathering, he said: "I have come to share your anguish and grief. It is interesting indeed to note that the Sikhs in this drama remained peaceful and non-violent from the start to the end. This (role of the Sikhs) has greatly added to the glory and prestige of India "All indications point to the fact that the cruel and barbaric action is the second edition of Jallianwala Bagh massacre rather more evil and more invidious than even Jallianwala" .Gandhi further spoke: "the action of these dimensions could not be perpetrated by Mahant alone. The government officers are also involved in this heinous crime. Where had the authorities gone when the Mahant was making preparations for murderous plans?"

Dr. Mohinder Singh writes in The National Herald on October 13, 2019 in his article "Gandhiji inspired Akalis in Punjab in their fight against the control of shrines by hereditary custodians" Mahatma Gandhi exhorted the Akalis to offer non-cooperation in the matter of official enquiry into the Nankana Tragedy and consented to serve as Chair of the non-official Commission of Enquiry set up by the Central Sikh League and he further advised the Akalis to broaden the base of their struggle and reform the 'big gurdwara', i.e. India, by joining the larger movement of non-cooperation launched by him. The Akalis accepted Mahatma Gandhi's advice and formally joined the nationalist struggle by officially adopting non-cooperation in their formal meeting held on May 5, 1921. Gandhi was able to convince his lieutenants in the Congress to support the Akali movement which to him offered a good opportunity to showcase the efficacy of his experiment of passive suffering. Under the new programme, Akali struggle against a foreign government became a synonym for reforming Sikh shrines. Akali agitation over the keys' affair and later their struggle at Guru-ka-Bagh are two important manifestations of the non-violent nature of the Akali movement.

The Question
It is amply clear from both these morchas that British authorities and mahant were prepared to stop morchas at any cost. Sikhs were prepared to attain shahidies for the cause and for that shahidi jathas were sent. The question is "were these shahidi jathas sent as satyagrahies as per philosophy of Mahatama Gandhi or Sikh principle of Sant-sipahi".

In both morchas Sikhs went to attain shahidi, unarmed in a peaceful protest as per Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent satyagrah movement.

Did Sikhs went without their five kakars? Have they not par-taken khande Bate di Pahul? It looks they shunned Sant-sipahi philosophy which says "if all peaceful measures to resolve a situation fail, it is right to take weapons and attain shahidi in the battle field".

In both morchas Sikhs did try to resolve the situations by peaceful means. It is also clear that when Sikhs went armed with Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber, fearing more trouble, Mr King, handed over the keys of Nankana Sahib to Shiromani Committee and arrested Mahant Narayan Das. Had they gone armed with their Shastras as Sant-sipahies in the first place, most of the casualties could have been prevented.The question is "Is it right to say that Sikhs at that time were influenced by Mahatma Gandhi than by Sant-sipahi philosophy?

"So great and unprecedented was the spirit of Sikh sacrifice and patient and peaceful endurance of the Sikh Shaheedi Jathas against the Mahants and British brutalities during these two historical Sikh morchas that the whole Indian nation and the most prominent Indian National leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Madan Mohan Malviya, Jawaharlal Nehru and others were moved to support and endorse the Sikh demand of handing over the control of their religious Sikh shrines to the Sikhs. It was the result of this whole-hearted support of the Indian National leaders as well as the Hindu-Muslim-Christian representatives in the then Punjab Legislative Council that the Bill for the formation of SGPC was moved and passed unanimously. Mahatma Gandhi by calling the Sikh volunteers as Satyagrahis and raising their status to the national freedom fighters was a national acceptance of their spirit of sacrifice and a great tribute to their physical and moral courage."


ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2020, All rights reserved.