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At His Capital

From Rai Kot Banda Singh returned to Sirhind. There was none in the whole ilaqa to oppose him and it practically lay prostrate at his feet. The Chaudhris of the neighbouring villages all tendered their submission and no recalcitrant was left to disturb the peaceful administration established under Baj Singh, the new Governor of Sirhind. Small parties carried expeditions into the north, north-west and the south-west of Sirhind, and Banda Singh was, in a few days, the undisputed master of the territory from Sadhaura to Rai Kot, and from Machhiwara and Ludhiana to Kamal.1

With the establishment of his power, Banda Singh assumed regal state. He fixed the fort of Mukhlispur as his capital and a base depot for his future military operations. His choice had originally fallen upon the town of Sirhind, and, apparently, it was with this object in view that he had spared it from complete destruction. But being situated in the plains and on the Grand Trunk Road, it was not safe from the attacks of the Imperial forces who might at any time attempt to regain their lost power. It was, therefore, passed over in favour of Mukhlispur which had been occupied by him with the conquest of Sadhaura.

The fort of Mukhlispur was built by one Mukhlis Khan2 under instructions from Emperor Shah Jahan who accasionally spent his summer there. It was a strong hill-fort about half way between the towns of Sadhaura and Nahan (about nine kos from Sadhaura), within the boundary of the village of Amuwal, among the steeps of the Himalayas on an elevated summit which could be approached only by craggy rocks and ravines. It was surrounded by two rivulets, Pamuwali and Daska-wali Khols or Khuds, which originally formed only one stream, parting into two to embrace the hillock of the fort.3

The fort was in a most neglected condition when Banda Singh occupied it. It was soon repaired and was given the new name of Lohgarh or Iron Fort. All the treasures of Sirhind, the booty of various expeditions and the tribute and revenue from the conquered territories were brought in here, and, for all intents and purposes, it became the capital of the Sikh territories. The Sikhs from all over the country, trans-and cis-Sutlej, now flocked to his standard in much large numbers and swelled the ranks of his volunteer-soldiers, some dedicated to the noble cause of the holy war, while others attracted by the prospect of wealth and position under the rapidly power of their co-religionists.

Banda Singh was now a king all but in name. He had conquered many territories and governed them through his deputies. He commanded a large army of devoted followers and had a capital and palaces to live in. He now struck a coin in the name of his saviours Gurus Nanak-Govind Singh with the Persian inscription:

'Coin Struck in the two worlds by the grace of the True Lord; victory to Gobind Singh, the king of kings; the sword of Nanak is the granter of desires.'

On the reverse were the words:

 

'Coined at the model City, the Refuge of the world, the Ornament of the fortunate Throne.'

These were the titles and epithets used by him for Lohgarh, just as each Imperial city had its appropriate honorific name. He also introduced an official seal for his Hukam Namahs and Farmans or orders and letters patent. It bore the inscription:

'Kettle (symbol of the means to feed the poor), sword (symbol of power to protect the weak and helpless), Victory and Unhesitating Patronage have been obtained from Nanak-Guru Gobind Singh.'

Like the Sann-i-Jalus or the year of accession, of the Mughal Emperors, he introduced his own Sammat or year commencing with his victory at Sirhind. All this was obviously an imitation of the Mughals with the explicit object to infuse in the minds of the Sikhs a spirit of equality with the ruling people and to impress upon them that they were in no way inferior to them. If the Mughals had their capital, coins seal and the Sann-i-Jalus, they too had their own. But the difference between the two was most striking. The Mughal Emperors struck coins and engraved seals and ruled in their own names. Banda Singh, the Sikh ruler, on the other hand, struck his coins, and engraved his seal in the name of Guru Nanak and Govind Singh, whom he claimed to be his guiding angels and from whom he proclaimed to have obtained all his power and prosperity, Tegh and Degh.

In matters religious, the greatest innovation ascribed to him had rather been introduced by some of his over-zealous adherents. 'Banda Singh always declared himself to be Banda or slave of the Guru, but [some of his followers from amongst the] Khalsa took him to be the Guru and followed him as such,'4 says the author of the Risalah-i-Sahib-Numa. There is nothing on record to show that he ever mentioned or described himself as a Guru. In his letters addressed to Sikh Sangats,5 he used the words Sri Sacha Sahib, not for himself but for the Guru in whose name he issued orders and appealed to the Khalsa to join him. There is no denying the fact, however, that he introduced a new war-cry 'Fateh Darshan', and that as it came to be used for and to replace the old Sikh salutation- Wahiguru Ji ka Khalsa, Wahiguru Ji ki Fateh-it was rejected by the Khalsa.

Little is known of the constitution of the government established by Banda Singh and his deputies. Presumably no regular form was established. There had been no time for it. It was all a military occupation. The only thing introduced by them was the total abolition of the Zamindari System of the Mughals. They knew from their own knowledge that the ryots groaned under this inequitable system, and that the emancipation lay only in its destruction. 'In the time of the Emperors,' says the author of the Sahib-ul-Akhbar, 'any person who had been from of old a proprietor of several pargnahs was designated a Zamindar', who employed or turned out the cultivators at his sweet will and pleasure. These Zamindars, or Land lords, who in most cases were high Government officials, were more than autocratic kings in themselves, practically responsible to no higher authority. The authorities in themselves did not interfere in their internal management as long as they paid in their fixed contribution, no matter how, how much or on what basis they realised their exactions from the actual cultivators of land, who were practically reduced to the position of mere slaves. 'The affairs were mismanaged in all the provinces', continues the same writer, 'and no control was maintained over the Government officials, or the Zamindars. All classes of Governments, officers were addicted to extortion and corruption, and the whole system of regularity and order was subverted. The Sikhs being mostly from the agricultural class knew where the shoe pinched. The tyranny of these land-lords was an ever-standing and never-redressed grievance. The first thing that the Sikhs should have naturally done, and that they practically did, was to strike out this evil, root and branch. The Sikhs deserve the greatest credit for this great reform by which the actual cultivators of the soil became the proprietors of their holdings, and the Zamindari System, a source of never-ending oppression of the poor royts, was once for all eradicated from the Land of the Five Rivers. During the time of the Sikh Misals and the reign of Maharajah Ranjit Singh this reform was carried out to its fullest extent, and it is therefore that, to-day, the Punjab peasant enjoys the fullest possible fruit of his labour and his condition is far better than that of his brother in Bengal and the United Provinces.

With the establishment of their Raj, however small in its extent, there was a tremendous change in the outlook of the Sikhs. They looked up to by the non-Muslim population, as 'defenders of the faith and country.' Every complaint from the oppressed people, therefore, excited them against the local officials and aristocrats. They considered it their religious duty to help their suffering brethren, and as this could only be accomplished by the removal of Mughal deputies, the Sikhs, all over the country, embraked on a career of conquest and set themselves to the task of effecting their designs, of course in their own way. Their religious instinct drove them to those gallant deeds which alone can reverse the centuries old order of things in about two months.

The terror of the very name of the Sikhs was so completely established that even the sight of a single Sikh horseman would unnerve a multitude of the erstwhile unbending officials and their followers. Every Sikh, of whatever station in life, felt to have been providentially raised above every one of his fellow-subjects and destined to be a ruler. "In all the parganahs occupied by the Sikhs," says Irvine, "the reversal of the previous customs was striking and complete. A low scavenger or leather dresser, the lowest of the low in Indian estimation, had only to leave home and join the Guru [referring to Banda Singh], when in a short 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 orders...... Not a soul dared to disobey an order, and men who had often risked themselves in battle-fields, became so cowed down that they were afraid even to remonstrate. Hindus who had not joined the sect were not exempt from these."6

There was at this time a general Sikh rising in the country. Their conquests were not confined to southern districts alone, but were carried on in the north with almost the same, and perhaps greater, zeal. As their incursions into the Jamuna-Ganga Doab were made in the same days as the rising in the Dist Jullundur7 and the Bari Doabs,8 it is not possible to follow a strictly chronological order in the narration of events of this period. We shall, therefore, deal with them one after another.

Notes and References

  1. Yar Mohd, Dastur-ul-Insha, 6 a; Mohd. Harisi, Ibrat Namah 41 b-42 a; Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab 189; Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, i. 78; Karnal Distt. Gazetteer, 19.
  2. Irvine, on the authority of 'Anonymous Fragments', says that 'Islam Khan (Salim Shah) son of Sher Khan Sur, in his days of brief authority, began to build a strong fortress under the name of Pawargarh. It was left unfinished and fell into ruins.-Later Mughals p. 109. But the name Moklespore (mentioned in Rennel's Map of countries between Delhi and Candhaar, 1792), is in itself suggestive of its founder. Iradat Khan calls it Daber. (Jonathan Scot's Translation of the Memoirs of lradat Khan, p.61.)
  3. Karam Singh, Banda Bahadur, 431.
  4. 'Although he declared himself to be a slave of the Guru, yet the Khalsa taking him to be the Guru, entered into his following.'

A parallel of this may be found in the Kooka or Namdhari Sect. Baba Ram Singh, the leader of the movement, originally called himself 'Bhai' or Brother. (Report by Mr. Macnabb, Deputy Commissioner, Sialkot, dated 5th April, 1863). It was in about 1867 that his over-zealous followers described him as a 'Guru'. (Paper relating to the Kooka Sect, 1872, p. 12)

  1. See his letter to the Sarbat Khalsa of Jaunpur dated 12th Poh, 25-26th Dec. 1710.
  2. Irvine, Later Mughals, i. 98-9.
  3. The tract of land lying between the rivers Sutlej and Beas comprising the present districts of Hoshiarpur, Jullundur and the Kapurthala State.
  4. The area between the rivers Beas and Ravi; particularly the districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur.