Story of a Sikh saint-soldier during Moghal era of intolerance
A Review by Sardar P.P.S. Gill
Book: Along Came A Warrior –Banda’s Dharamyudh & the Sikh theory of Just War
Authors : Rupinder S Brar and Lt Gen Rajinder S Sujlana
Pages : 388; Price Rs 1490
Publishers: Sunbun Publishers, New Delhi
The book under review is the work of two men, who come from diverse professions - one from the discipline of medicine, the other from military. Yet, there is a common denominator between these two sciences (if one may use the word) - ethics and morality. The application of both is equally important during life and death situations arising in these two professions.
As the longish title of the book suggests, the text has focus as much on Banda Singh Bahadur as on Sikh ethics and morality during war and peace. Banda’s life story has been skillfully woven in to the tapestry of Mughal era of religious fanaticism “intolerance”, “tyranny”, “terror” and “inhuman” actions when it came to religious, social, economic and political matters, as also role of the elitist classes at that time. Also, in the backdrop of the story of the saint-soldier, the book gives a glimpse into how the Mughals, the Rajputs, the Hill Rajas and the Marathas, in their respective ways, interpreted and viewed Dharma and Dharamyudh; Martyrdom and Mukti in the context of Christian’s doctrine of - Just War Theory. And taking a cue from this, the authors have elaborated on the Sikh Theory of Just War, including this line in the book’s title itself.
The book is also the story of the betrayals and barbarity of certain individuals as well as the description of the Sikh Gurus, teachings. It also narrates how Guru Gobind Singh conceived and created the Khalsa, the Khalsa warriors and their leader – Banda Bahadur, apparently after his own demise. The book describes his adventures, conquests, commitment to his faith, obligation to the principles of democracy, and protection of the oppressed. It goes on to discuss the Sikh principle of Miri and Piri -temporal and spiritual - aspects, respectively, of the Sikh life and Banda’s faith in the Sikh preaching and teaching. The authors say Banda fought the Mughals not only for their oppression but also for righteousness and moral justice.
A word on Just War concept: In the title of the book are the words: Sikh Theory of Just War. How is it different from the Christian doctrine of Just War? Or are there any similarities?
In Appendix-II, the authors say this concept of Just War Theory “evolved from the writings of the medieval Christian theological scholars. In general, a war in defence of righteousness is considered Just War. The implication is that it must be Jus ad Bellum (justice before the war/right to war).
“The second nuance is that execution of such an act of hostility is authorized by an appropriate authority, who, before ordering so, must analyze and opine whether that contemplated act has a reasonable chance of success. Then, as the act is undertaken in the defence of moral human values, the battle must follow the principles of Jus in Bello (justice during the war/law in war), which governs how the war is conducted. And, post the war, the principle of Jus Post Bellum (justice after the war). The defeated side and the prisoners be taken be justly, humanely treated”.
Thus, one gets to see a new perspective of the Sikh theory of Just War with the authors having juxtaposed it with that of Christian doctrine of Just War and how the other fellow stake holders – the Mughals, the Rajputs, the Hill Rajas and the Marathas - perceived the same in the given scenario then.
In fact, Bhai Harbans Lal says in his ‘Foreword’ to the book that it “draws heavily upon the medieval literature from all over India to depict how that same ancient idea of Dharma is being used to restructure the society in several different ways”. As one plods through the detailed battles that Banda fought against the Mughals, one is left with the a distinct impression of the oppression , tyranny and terror that Mughal rules had let loose on their subjects and how ruthless they were in eliminating their opponents –all in the name of Jihad, religion; or extract revenue from toiling low-caste farm labourers and poor farmers. The narrative is also replete with instances of palace intrigues when it came to succession to the Mughal throne, of deceit, of conniving and cunning, of shifting loyalties, of betrayal. The authors have painted and portrayed a picture of ‘discontent’ of the Age.
At places, it becomes exasperating to keep track of the sequences of Mughal rulers and the names of their Subedars, governors and other operators and commanders, the society elites etc, who had aligned or distanced themselves unless, of course, one happens to be a student of Mughal history. Nevertheless, may it be the Rajputs, the Hill Rajas and the Marathas, all of them seemingly fiercely protecting their own clans, castes, regions and beliefs. Clearly, the society then was in the stranglehold of ‘discriminations’ based on socio-economic strata of the society, as it existed either with heavy preference or prejudice. The fractures in the society caused by strong adherence to castes, classes, creed, culture; religious or regional interests, and a variety of isms and schisms, find repeated mention.
The book mirrors the past history of the Mughals, the Rajputs, the Hill Rajas and the Marathas and their perpetual game-plans and blow-hot, blow-cold inter- and intra- relationships among them as well with the Mughalsand the British. The narrative of the book gives glimpses of and shows vignettes of the Hindustan, as it existed then. The word Hindustan has been put in italics because this is the word authors have used throughout instead of India. In the midst of detailed descriptions of adventures of these four distinct identities in the battle field, the coming of the Sikhs has been intrinsically depicted alongside the role of the Sikh Gurus
Admittedly, one’s information and knowledge about Banda was only vague and one never went into the details or deep into his life and contribution to keep alive the traditions set forth by Guru Gobind Singh for the Khalsa. One also did not fully comprehend or understand or study the past to know what Banda had been ordained to achieve.
At the end of the narrative, which educates, informs, makes one more knowledgeable, makes one think of Sikhs’ rich history, traditions and religious heritage, of what is righteousness, how important it is to be truthful, committed to one’s faith, show compassion, share and care for the fellow humans; besides leading a principled, disciplined life. Banda, in his adventures, followed the principles ordained by the Guru – the Tenth Master.
No wonder, when captured, and ultimately executed along with his close companions by Mughals, he is believed to have said in reply to a question as to why a “seemingly noble person” has ended-up on the executioner’s block. He replied: In essence, it was divine justice –for the excesses committed by his men during war. It was the Waheguru’s law that he should pay for it. And, as Brar and Sujlana conclude: Thus, Banda met his end calmly, with contrition on his lips and Waheguru in his heart. His reply was holly consistent with Nanakian philosophy. His was the death of a saint-soldier. It is for that reason perhaps, that Banda should not only be remembered as the ‘Banda, the Brave One’ but perhaps even more appropriately as ‘Banda, the Upright One’.
As the story of Banda and related aspects of the then times unfold, page after page, through 33 chapters in 12 sections, three appendixes and more than 900 notes and citations, it not only shows the efforts put in by the authors, their extensive research, but is also a reflection of the socio-economic-political and caste-ridden contemporary life and history, which seemingly was one of pain, tragedy, turmoil, terror, toil and sweat of the masses; and of luxury for the elite. It was also the period of strife and struggle for survival.
The methodical manner in which a cardiologist and a military strategist have stitched together a plethora of references and drawn up the sketch of Banda, his initiation by the Guru, role of the Sikh Gurus their teachings and relationships with the Mughal rulers, as also the other fighters for righteousness, how the concept of arming the Sikhs with weapons evolved, the sacrifices of the Sikhs Gurus and their disciples have been skillfully woven around and into the life of one man – Banda. The book gives a bird’s eye-view, as also, a worm’s eye-view of those times.
All conquests of Banda, his tactical retreats, offence and defence mechanism, his escapades, his bravado and efforts at social equality and justice inspire the reader and makes him introspect as to how far the society and the Sikhs have come now, as also the role of the Hill Rajas, the Rajputs and the Marathas in facing the Mughals, replete with their inbuilt contradictions, as also how elitists assimilated and eliminated their friends and foes to serve their own selfish purposes and work only for their own selves.
The book describes the coming of age of the Khalsa as a ‘tidal wave’ and have included the works of prophets and ascetics, poets of discontent; recording of the events of the Mughal Darbar or philosophy of the Gurus; insanity of Aurangzeb, of eclipse of Babur; of battles at Chamkaur, Sirhind and other places in the plains and the hills; of sainthood and sacrifice in the ‘age of Darkness’; of Guru’s Zafarnama; of Vedic past and Dharmic future etc.
In this context, the Dharamyudh that the Shiromani Akali Dal leaders flaunted and abandoned without achieving anything during the decade-long period of terror and terrorism in that eclipsed Punjab seems of little significance. The Akali Dal’s political leadership of that time has, in fact, belittled the concept of Dharamyudh. Such an emotive slogan in that period (when Punjab burnt) is an insult to what the Sikh Gurus had ordained and what the Sikh warrior - Banda – had been tasked to achieve.
(Reading the book, one is transported to a place called Chappar Chiri. There is also a chapter in the book with this title. It is located North-east of Sirhind adjacent to Mohali/ Chandigarh. Now a war memorial has been built there in the honour of and in remembrance of Banda Bahadur. One wonders how many readers have visited the place. (I have not). Inspired by the book many of us are likely to visit it and pay our homage to the Sikhs martyrs as also Banda and his five generals, whose statutes adorn the memorial park, which has a light and sound programme as well.
Wikipedia website gives a profile of the war memorial: The place has been developed as a mark of recognition and respect for Banda Singh Bahadur in the form a war memorial. This war memorial is a befitting tribute to the brave Sikh warrior under whose command the Battle of Chappar Chiri was fought between the Sikhs and the forces of Mughal Empire led by Wazir Khan in May 1710. With a decisive victory in this war, Sikh rule was established from Lahore to Delhi.
The memorial is situated on a plot of about 20 acres, now falling in Sector 93, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar (Mohali) in Punjab. The design of this memorial has been prepared by Renu Khanna and Associates of Panchkula.
The architect has recreated the whole landscape of Chappar Chiri with its mounds and sand dunes (tibbas). These mounds are covered with grass and statues are perched atop these. These mounds along with a large water body have been arranged in an organic manner with meandering footpaths all around them. The statues have been sculpted by Prabhat Rai.
The hallmark of the memorial is a victory tower (Fateh Burj). While one walks past the entrance of the memorial and enters the sprawling lawn, one’s gaze is stuck at this towering Fateh Burj in the background. The victory tower stands 328 feet high with three levels of walks making it the tallest victory tower in India. A Sikh dome is placed on top of it with Khanda and a Kalash.)
The book, indeed, is an eye-opener for young and the old alike. It may seem to be a piece of fiction, which it is not. The manner in which it has been penned and story told of a man, his mission, the Sikh Gurus and their message to the community, nay humanity, shows how the basics of ethics and morality played out or did not play out, depending on which side of the battle-lines one is. The book is as much a lesson in understanding the Sikh ethos, principles, concept of Miri and Piri and of the Rehat Maryada, why and for what cause and purpose the Gurus fought wars with Mughals and others but never ever in their thoughts was – revenge; even in the face of grave personal loss of family members.
The message in the Gurbani and the battles the Sikh warriors fought has been enunciated in a manner as to evoke interest in Sikh religion, culture, history, and how service to humanity with compassion is essential for human-dignity, values, freedom of speech and expression. The word of the Guru is the key to life and living with social justice and equity without distinction or discrimination based on schisms and isms that man has created for selfish ends.
In the beginning, I had said the two authors -Brar and Sujlana - come from different and diverse fields –medicine and military. In fact, they also come from two different continents. Brar is in the US and Sujlana is in India. Yet, they have one thing in common - their alma mater - Punjab Public School Nabha. (If permitted to say: I also share this honour with them.)
Their contribution will go a long way to educate and inform the future generations of the Sikhs’ rich heritage and history.