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Banda Singh Leaves For the Punjab

Tasting the Amrita of Guru Govind Singh, putting on his consecrated steel-his sword dangling by his side, and his iron bracelet on his arm,-and adopting the title of 'Singh', his slumbering energy was resuscitated, and, from an inert ascetic, Banda Singh was truly transformed into a lion, ready to conquer or die in the name of his Master. He did not take long to acquaint himself with the early history of Sikhism, the lofty ideals of Gurus Nanak-Govind Singh and their efforts in raising a nation of saint­ warriors mostly out of the long down-trodden classes of the Punjab. He also heard how Guru Arjan had fallen a prey to the religious fanaticism of Emperor Jahangir,1 and how brutally Guru Teg Bahadur had been executed under the orders of Aurangzeb. He also witnessed the whole-sale persecution of millions of helpless non-Muslim subjects at the hands of the Imperial officials. But, the doleful tale of the cold-blooded murder of the tenth Guru's younger sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, who were bricked up alive in a Minar and were then mercilessly butchered to death for their refusal to abjure their faith and accept Islam, drew tears from his eyes and drove him into a sort of frenzy.

Just in those days Guru Govind Singh was stabbed by a Pathan of Sirhind. Hearing that conciliatory negotiations were in progress between Emperor Bahadur Shah and the Guru, and that the former had presented a dress of honour to the latter in token of his gratitude for assistance in the battle of Jajau, Governor Wazir Khan of Sirhind was very much alarmed. As an active persecutor of the Guru and his Sikhs, and the murderer of his younger sons, he feared that, in the event of the successful termination of these negotiations, he would be the greatest loser. Presumably, therefore, it was Wazir Khan who deputed the Guru's assassins for his own personal safety. The author of the Chatur Jugi tells us that the Pathans visited Mother Sundri, Guru Govind Singh's wife, at Delhi, and obtained from her full particulars of his whereabouts. They seem to have been previously known to him. On their arrival in the camp, therefore, they were not suspected of any treasonable designs. They freely attended the Rahiras meetings, always looking for an opportunity to do their nefarious deed. One evening, after prayer, when the Guru was having a little nap, and his attendant happened to be drowsing, one of the Pathans slowly crept up to him and stabbed him in the left side, a little below the heart. He had aimed at his heart but had missed it. But, before he could deal another blow, the Guru dispatched him, and his flying companion fell under the swords of the Sikhs.2

The news of the treacherous deed maddened Banda Singh to fury. His blood boiled within him. He could now ill-afford to remain inactive. He begged to be allowed to proceed to the Punjab to pull down the tyrannical rulers from their seats of power and accord them condign punishment, and thus make them innocuous.

It will not be out of place to mention here that, but for his physical disability due to the assassin's blow, Guru Govind Singh would most probably have returned to the Punjab. He had written to his people on this point in his letter of the 1st Kartik, 1764 (Mid-October, 1707). Of course he would have gone back from Agra itself, had it not been for his negotiations with Bahadur Shah. He had now, therefore, no other course left open to him than to accede to Banda Singh's request and entrust the military command of his people to his charge.

It is not aways saints and philosophers that one has to deal with in this world. Inthe case of persons spiritually dry, rude and tyrannical, whose conscience has been deadened by repeated acts of injustice and oppression, and whose vision has been blinded by selfishness and religious fanaticism, no persuasion, no philosophy and no messages of peace are of any avail. It is the sword alone that can purge them of their impurities.3 This fitly applies to the ruling people of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and particularly in the case of the Mughal-Sikh relations. Constitutional means and peace­ negotiations, which cost Guru Govind Singh his life, had all proved futile. The sword was now the last resort, and the duty of plying it devolved upon the Khalsa, with Banda Singh at their head, of course, 'not as Guru, but as Commander of the forces of the Khalsa'.4

Before the departure of Banda Singh for the Punjab, the Guru called him to his side, gave him the title of 'Bahadur' and five arrows from his own quiver as 'pledge and token of victory.' A council of five Pyaras,5 consisting of Bhais Binod Singh, Kahan Singh, Baj Singh, Daya Singh and Ram Singh,6 was appointed to assist him, and some twenty other Singhs were told off to accompany him to the theatre of their future war-like activities. A Nishan Sahib and a Nagara, or a flag and a drum, were bestowed upon him as emblems of temporal authority. The secret of his success lay, he was told, in personal purity and chastity, and in the propitiation of the Khalsa, who were to be regarded as his (the Guru's) very self. Thus raised to the position of Jathedar7 or leader of the Khalsa, and strengthened by the Guru's Hukamnamahs, or letters, to the Sikhs all over the country to join in his expeditions, Banda Singh left for the Punjab.8

The mission of Banda Singh has been generally misunderstood by historians. He is represented to have been commissioned by Guru Govind Singh to avenge the murder of his sons, just as the Guru himself is said to have been prompted in his early days by the desire to revenge the death of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. There is nothing in the whole history to warrant this conclusion. The Guru never led any offensive expedition against Aurangzeb or any of his local deputies. In all his wars, either against the Rajahs of the Sivaliks or against the Mughal officers, whether at Bhangani, Anandpur, Chamkaur or any other place, we always find him on the defensive, taking to the sword as the last resort, in self-defence and for self-preservation. A person of revengeful spirit cannot be expected to render timely help to his bitterest enemies or to the heir apparent of his father's murderer. He was far above these personal animosities. Those, who are acquainted with the tenets of Sikhism, the writings of the Guru and the various events of his life, cannot believe that he could, ever have thought to ask anyone to avenge the murder of his own sons. Had it been so, Banda Singh's work should have been finished after the defeat and death of Wazir Khan and the sack of Sirhind, and he should have led on expeditions against the rulers of Saharanpur, Nanauta and Jallalabad, the Ram Rayias of Ghudani, and the Faujdars of Batala and Sultanpur. In truth the Guru entrusted to him the noble task of continuing the war against the tyrannies and oppressions of his time. And in the execution of this duty, Banda Singh, of course, punished the wrong-doers for the cold-blooded murders of Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh.

Not long after his departure from Nanded, Banda Singh had to face some financial difficulties. To overcome them, he invoked the aid of the Almighty, and offered an Ardasa or congregational prayer. He was in the neighbourhood of Bharatpur, when by chance a Sikh trader met him with his Daswandh,9 and made an offering of a large sum of money to him. This was a very timely help which enabled him to continue his march without any further embarrassments.

In a few months he arrived at the frontier of the Delhi Province. Here he slackened his speed and moved very leisurely and cautiously, probably to avoid detection by, or collision with, the imperial troops. For want of men, money and ammunition, he was not yet prepared for such an encounter. As he proceeded further, he became very popular for his saintly blessings and princely generosity. Common people knew him only as a deputy of Guru Govind Singh, and they flocked to him for benediction, begging for dudh, put (milk and off-spring). He would not send away any one disappointed. He prayed for the prosperity of all who visited him and enjoined upon them the repetition of the Sacred Name of Wahiguru, and thus won the hearts of all who met him. His generosity knew no bounds. He paid all in gold mohars, of which he always had some piles ready by his side. None would receive less than a mohar, however insignificant the service rendered by. him-whether an oil-man supplying oil for his torches, a potter offering a few cups and pitchers, or a sweeper bringing in some fuel.10

Robberies and thefts were not uncommon in those days, and, as Banda Singh was advertised as a man of wealth, gangs of dacoits hovered round his camp. But they were soon driven away by his companions and he passed on to the Bagar11 territory unmolested. He had so far been quiet and had followed the policy of non-interference in the affairs of others. This, however, he could not continue for long. Bagar in those days was notorious for occasional visitations of professional dacoits. One day he was informed that a gang of dacoits was marching upon the village where he was stationed, and that the residents were deserting their hearths and home to take refuge in the neighbouring jungle. He encouraged them to stand against the marauders.12 But the village Panches13 were too timid to entertain any such idea. Fearing lest the whole population should catch the contagion of their city-fathers, Banda Singh locked them up in a house and marched out the head of a small band of Sikhs to oppose the robbers. His attack was so sudden, bold and severe, that they were thrown into confusion and, without a second thought, they took to their heels, leaving for the victors all the booty of their previous plunders. Their leader was captured. All who came to his rescue were either killed or driven back. Now the villagers too were emboldened to strike a blow in their defence. Banda Singh released the Panches and ordered the pursuit of the robbers who were chased to their very homes in a neighbouring village.14

This noble act of bravery was the beginning of the glorious, through short, career of this hero. It won him great fame in the neighbourhood, and he was occasionally called upon to protect villages from plundering parties. He now publicly proclaimed, by the 'waving of a scarf15, that he undertook to protect the poor and the helpless against all professional robbers and official tyrants, and that he expected no reward from the people in lieu of the service rendered except the simple necessaries of life, such as rations and 'milk and curd.' He further invited people into the fold of the Khalsa Brotherhood and promised them a share in the conquered lands.16 This, however, was very distasteful to the Chaudhris of the illaqa, who were, as a rule, in league with officials on one hand, and bad characters on the other, and, generally, had, as their share, a fixed percentage from the total proceeds of their successful raids. Complaints were, therefore, made by them to the local Amirs. But before they could take any action, Banda Singh moved on into the parganah of Kharkhauda and established himself near the villages of Sehri and Khanda.

From here he dispatched the Guru's letters to the Sikhs of the Malwa, the Doaba and the Majha districts of the Punjab, calling upon them to join with him in the laudable object of uprooting the tyrannous rule of the intolerant Mughals. His companions from Nanded, as well, wrote a large number of letters to the leading Sikhs all over the country, telling them that Banda Singh had been appointed by the Guru himself as Jathedar of the Khalsa and that it behooved every true Sikh to fall in under his banner. To appeal to the sentiments of the people, they reminded them of the cruel death of the two sons of the Guru at Sirhind and exhorted them to join in punishing Faujdar Wazir Khan of Sirhind and his Peshkar Sucha Nand, who had so cruely butchered the young children. This produced a miraculous effect upon the minds of the Sikhs who were already burning with rage against them for these atrocities.

There was a stir among the Sikhs, and they readily responded to the call. They began to pour in from all quarters. The preparations of the Sikhs all over the country to join their new leader alarmed the Mughal officials, particularly the Faujdar of Sirhind, Wazir Khan, who feared them the most. Instructions were at once issued to watch the roads and river lords, and to obstruct the passage of the northern Sikhs into the Malwa districts. There was, however no obstacle in the way of the southern Sikhs and they were, therefore, the first to rally round Banda Singh's standard. Next to the Banjaras, who came in with a train of bullocks laden with rations, joined Bhai Fateh Singh, a descendant of Bhai Bhagtu, Karam Singh and Dharm Singh of Bhai Rup Nigahia Singh and Chuhar Singh, with as many followers as they could collect. Many Jat and Barar Sikhs of the neighbourhood and Bagar territory came in of their own accord. Although Chaudhris Ram Singh and Tilok Singh, the ancestors of the Phulkian Chiefs, could not join in person, they liberally contributed in men and money. A large number of professional robbers and soldiers of fortune, who anticipated a large booty from the condemned city of Sirhind, also joined the holy warriors.

Ali Singh, Mali Singh and a few other Sikhs of Salaudi were in the service of Wazir Khan of Sirhind. One day the Nawab called Ali Singh to his presence and jocularly remarked that another Guru of theirs had now appeared; that he (Ali Singh) should join him and bring him to Sirhind to be despatched after the previous Guru's sons. Guru Govind Singh, he said, had been driven away to die in the Deccan, but Banda Singh's bones would be scattered in Sirhind itself. This cutting remark of the proud Wazir Khan was too insulting to be tolerated by the self-respecting Sikh, and he desired to be paid off. Wazir Khan was not prepared for this replay. He ordered Ali Singh and the other Sikhs to be chained and thrown into prison. But to get out of prison, in those days, was as easy as to be locked up in it. They managed to escape through the instrumentality of their jailor and were out of the Faujdar's reach by the time he was informed that they had forced open the prison and fled.

News now arrived that the Sikhs from the Majha and the Doaba had collected in great numbers in the hills at Kiratpur on the other side of the Sutlej, and that their passage was blocked by the Pathans of Maler Kotla and Rupar. They had to suffer under a great disadvantage on account of the long distance they had to cover, and for the shortage of funds for the expenses of the journey. They had found it very difficult to raise the required money. Many had promised to pay double or triple the amount borrowed, while the others had to mortgage their land and property to the extortionate moneylenders. Their difficulties were further aggravated by the fact that the fords of the Sutlej were guarded against them. Bhais Peshaura Singh and Kishora Singh, merchants of Kiratpur were, however, of great service to them in running a Guru ka Langar, and supplying them with food and money. On receipt of their message, Banda Singh sent word to them to stay on where they were and not to advance out of their safe position until they received instructions from him to that effect.17

Notes and References

  1. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan is generally misunderstood by historians, and is said to be due to his complicity in the rebellion of Prince Khusro against his father Jahangir in 1606. But, that he suffered for his religion at the hands of Jahangir may be seen from the following passage taken from the Emperor's own Memoirs, the Tuzak-i-Jahangiri, p. 35.

So many simple-minded Hindus, nay, many foolish Muslims, too, had been fascinated by his ways and teachings. He was noised about as a great religious and worldly leader. They called him Guru, and from all directions fools and fool-worshippers would come to him and express great devotion to him. The traffic had been carried on for three or four generations. For years the thought had been presenting itself to my mind that either l should put an end to this false traffic, or that he should be brought into the fold of Islam..........When this [the news of Khusro's visit to Goindwal] came to my ears, and I knew his folly very well. I ordered them to produce him, and handed over his houses, dwelling places, and children to Murtaza Khan, and having confiscated his property, ordered that he should be put to death with tortures. [Rogers and Beveridge, Memoirs of Jahangir, 1. 72-3; Prof. Teja Singh, Growth of Responsibility, 35]

  1. Chatur Jugi; Sainapat, Sri Guru Sohba, p. 101-2.
  2. The Mantle of the East, p. 120-1.
  3. C. H. Payne, A Short History of the Sikhs, p. 48.
  4. The term 'Panj Piare' was originally applied to the first five who responded to the call of Guru Govind Singh when he instituted the new baptismal rite and created the Khalsa Later on it was used for the groups of five selected out of the Sikh congregations to initiate others into the Khalsa Brotherhood. The number of Sikhs constituting religious and other advisory councils is generally fixed at five and those selected are called 'Panj Piare'.
  5. Mahma Prakash, 608 a; Rattan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash, p. 92; Macauliffe, Sikh religion. p. V. 239; Gyan Singh, Tawarikh Guru Khalsa; Karam Singh, Banda Bahadur, p. 28. All accounts are unanimous about the first three names, Rattan Singh gives Daya Singh and Ran Singh as the fourth and fifth, whereas Gyan Singh and Bhai Kahan Singh mention Bijai Singh and Ram Singh. [see Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, Urdu (1913), vol. I. p. 221; Mahan Kosh, p. 2676.]
  6. C. H. Payne, A Short History of the Sikhs, p. 43 : "Guru Govind Singh converted him to his own faith and baptized ............and nominated him his successor, not as Guru, but as Commander of the forces of the Khalsa."
  7. Latif, History of the Punjab, 274; Pracl1in Panth Prakash. 90-2; Tawarikh Guru Khalsa.
  8. Every Sikh is enjoined to set apart one-tenth of his income for religious purpose. This is called Daswandh. In the time of the Gurus this was very strictly observed, and the amount was regularly remitted to the Guru's treasury direct or through accredited Masands. The practice is still prevalent an10ng the Sikhs with the difference that it is spent at their individual discretion.
  9. Calcutta Review, Vol. 73, p. 156. Rattan Singh in his Prachin Panth Prakash, p.94
  10. Also pronounced as Bangar. The Bangar tract stretches from the south and south-west of Sirsa along the western border of the Hissar district, through Sirsa. Fatehabad, Hissar and Bhiwani, gradually widening itself towards the south. (Imperial Gazetteer of India, New Edition, 1908, XIII, 149-150.)
  11. Rattan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash, 95-6; Karam Singh. Banda Bahadur, 32-33. The names of the villages are not mentioned.
  12. The members of the village Panchayat or committee. 'Panches' may be translated as 'City Fathers'.
  13. Prachin Panth Prakash, 95-6.
  14. Just as 'the beat of drum' is used to attract the attention of people, a scarf was also waived by a person who went from place to place to announce a proclamation. The 'waiving of a scarf was called 'Pallu Pherna'.
  15. Prachin Panth Prakash, p. 98; Karam Singh, Banda Bahadur.
  16. Prachin Panth Prakash, 98-102.