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Disturbances in the Jullundur Doab and the Battle of Rahon

Let us next trace the activities of the Sikhs in another direction. The Doaba of Bist Jullundur, comprising the present districts of Jullundur and Hoshiarpur, being on the border of the province of Sirhind, which had been conquered and occupied by Banda Singh, was the first to be electrified with the spirit of rising and independence. Following the footsteps of their brethren in the south, the Sikhs of this ilaqa embarked on a career of conquest. In addition to the Sikhs, who considered it as one of those religious wars of defense that they had fought under the command of Guru Gobind Singh himself, all other malcontents, who had suffered at the hands of local officials, were now up in arms against them. In a few weeks many of the petty officials in the districts of the Jullundur Doab were turned out and Sikh Tehsildars and Thanedars were appointed in their places.1 The main Sikh force, as we know, was at this time occupied in the affairs of Sirhind, the southern Malwa districts and in the incursions in the Gangetic Doab. Only the local Sikhs and a small detachment from the south, sent across the Sutlej to help them, were trying their hands at conquest i n this ilaqa.

Shamas Khan, a Khalafzai Pathan of Kasur, was then the Faujdar of the Jullundur Doab. He was the only son of Peer Khan, whose father Sultan Ahmad Khan Khalafzai had rendered yeoman's service to Prince Muhammad Azam. Of the four sons of Sultan Ahmad Khan, Hussain Khan Bayzid Khan (Qutab-ud-Din Khan), Peer Khan and Ali Khan, the fourth Ali Khan is not much known to history. Hussain Khan was shrewd enough in carving out a principality for himself during the governorship of Abdu-s-Samad Khan of Lahore, but his career was soon cut short in the battle of Chuhnian on the 6th Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 1133 (4th April, 1721), in the second year of Muhammad Shah's reign. Of Bayzid Khan we will have a great deal to say in the following chapters. Peer Khan held high rank under Bahadur Shah and it was in recognition of his meritorious services that, after his death, his son Nur Khan, under the popular title of Shamas Khan (also known as Shamas-ud-Din Khan), obtained the Faujdari of Doaba Bist Jullunder with his capital at Sultanpur.2

Encouraged by their successes, the Sikhs considered themselves strong enough to challenge the Faujdar himself. As usual,3 they addressed a letter to Shamas Khan in the form of a parwana4 calling upon him to submit, to carry out certain reforms and to come out to receive them, bringing with him all the treasury he had. They dispatched this letter to him by two Sikhs. Shamas Khan consulted his nobles and military officials, who all took oaths of fidelity and unity to stand by him till their last breath, and they brought the holy word of the Quran between them to be their witness. To gain time for his warlike preparations, he gave the messengers an evasive reply that he would soon come to meet the Sikhs. He also sent to them a little quantity of lead and powder and wrote to them that he could not send more for want of conveyance which he required for his friends and nobles. The merchants in the Bazaar and the government stores, he said, had heaps of powder, which could be supplied in any quantity provided sufficient arrangements were made for conveyance.5

Shamas Khan was a clever man. He knew that appeal to the sentiments of the Muslims, in the name of Islam, could bring in much larger following to his standard. He, therefore, proclaimed, by beat of drum, a Jehad against the Sikhs.

The call of religion had the desired effect upon the simple­ minded farmers and julahas. 'Gentlemen of every tribe, ryots and artisans, mostly from among the bafindas (julahas or weavers)', says Khafi Khan, 'girded up their loins, with the intention of obtaining martyrdom, and leaving all hopes of life and property and families, they pledged themselves upon the Word of God, the Al-Quran, as allies, and contributed money towards the expenses. More than a hundred thousand men were collected and they marched out from Sultanpur with great display.' In addition to this innumerable host of crusaders, Shamas Khan proceeded against the Sikhs at the head of four to five thousand horse, and about thirty thousand infantry, armed with matchlocks, bows and other weapons, out of his old troops and newly-raised levies which had come in with the Zamindars from all sides.6

The Sikhs, on the other hand, were rejoicing child-like over the reply of Shamas Khan, whose submission, they thought, would soon be followed by that of all other petty officials resulting in the subjugation of the whole of the remaining ilaqa. But they were soon disillusioned on hearing of the preparations of Shamas Khan for an anti-Sikh crusade. On hearing of these proceedings and of the advance of Shamas Khan with such an army and all the equipment of war, the Sikhs moved with all their force, numbering seventy to eighty thousand7 horse and foot. They had with them the cannon, that they had carried from Sirhind, and much other material like planks and sand-bags for preparing batteries, with cart-loads of lead and powder. In all probability it was at this time they called upon Banda Singh and the Sikhs in the Gangetic Doab to hurry to the Punjab. As they came to the town of Rabon, about seven kos8 from Sultanpur, they occupied the mounds of some old brick-kilns lying to the north-west. They used this brick-debris as a garhi (a fortress) and, throwing lines of entrenchments round their camp, made ready for war. From here, as Khafi Khan tells us, the Sikhs 'sent out patrols in all directions and issued threatening orders to the Chaudhris, the revenue payers, and the Qanungos, the revenue officers, calling upon them to submit.

The allies and followers of Shamas Khan encouraged each other saying : 'in the event of Shamas Khan's defeat and death, lives, property and families of all of us will be lost,' and boldly advanced to attack the Sikhs. As they came within the Sikhs' cannon shot, about three hours after sunrise, the battle began with a discharge from guns and muskets. About ten or twelve thousand balls and stones from slings came all at once rattling like hail upon the forces of Islam. The crusaders were swarming like locusts from all sides and rushing in with the cries of Allah-u­ Akbar. Shamas Khan warned them against haste and ordered a steady advance. After two volleys from the Sikhs, the Muslim regulars, supported by forty to fifty thousand crusaders, charged them. The Sikhs were outnumbered and, therefore, they thought it best to retire upon the fort to Rahon9 which they had previously occupied.

The fort of Rahon was invested for several days. The Sikhs rushed out of it in small parties at night and attacked the besieging forces, inflicting heavy losses upon them in men and horses. But their number was too large to be thinned or affected by these sorties. The Sikhs, therefore, thought of tricking the enemy with tactics peculiar to themselves, and, in the darkness of a night, they slipped away from their entrenchments. Shamas Khan did not risk a pursuit of them beyond a few miles and was quite contented with a gun and some loaded camels and oxen that fell into his hands. Apparently he felt tired and was looking for an opportunity to leave the Sikhs alone, especially when he thought of their being reinforced by the terrible Banda Singh, the conqueror of Sadhaura, Sirhind and Saharanpur. He, therefore, ordered the breaking up of the ?amp and marched away from Rabon before day-break and returned in triumph to Sultanpur. The crusaders were demobilized and sent to their homes.

But the Sikhs had not quitted the neighbourhood of Rahon. They were only lurking in the neighbouring bushes. In the morning, only a few hours after the evacuation, a thousand of them rushed upon and attacked the garrison, placed by Shamas Khan in the thana (fort) of Rahon, drove them out, occupied the fort, and established themselves therein.10

This tactic of war, which is peculiarly a Sikh tactic and has so often been used by them in their wars with the Mughals, the Durrranis and the local officials, has generally been misunderstood and misinterpreted into a defeat. Their trick-flights were many a time mistaken for their actual flights, and under this impression the enemy followed them up, but they were soon disillusioned on finding the Sikhs turning upon their heels, pouncing upon their pursures and cutting them down to the last man. It was after such practical experiences that Qazi Nur Mohammad Gunjabavi, the author of the Jangnamah, warns his co-religionists against this tactic of the Sikhs, and says:

'If defeat befalls their armies, take it not as a defeat, oh youth. Because it is a war-tactic of theirs. Beware beware, of it!

Their tactic is such that in wreaking vengeance, their defeat is changed into victory.

The army that pursues them is cut off from reinforcement.

Then they [the Sikhs] turn upon their heels, and, even if their pursuers be 'water', they set fire to it.

Did you not witness how during the battle they took to flight to deceive [their pursuers]?

And then they drew a cordon round the Khan and caught (enclosed) him in such a manner as if he were taken in a circle.'

The battle of Rahon was fought on the 19th of Shaban, 1122 (11th October, 1710), and the report of Shamas Khan was received by Emperor Bahadur Shah on the 4th of Ramzan, 1122 (25th October, 1710 N. S.), while he was encamped near Sonepat.11

After the occupation of Rahon, the Sikhs moved on to Jullundur. The Pathans of this place were so terrified that they found their safety in flying away from it, and it fell into the hands of the Sikhs without any resistance from the officials and residents. Hoshiarpur followed suit, and, like all others of the neighbourhood, its ruler acknowledged the authority of the conquerors. Thus, before long, practically the whole of the Bist Jullundur Doab came under the sway of the Sikhs. Shamas Khan himself was not allowed to remain at rest at Sultanpur, and according to the Maasir-ul-Umra, twenty-two battles were fought between the Sikhs and himself.

To summarize the whole situation at this stage, it stood thus: there was a general Sikh rising throughout the eastern and south­eastern Punjab; except the city of Lahore which was held by the Imperial Governor and the leading aristocrats, the whole of the Majha, the Rearki and the Kandhi, as far as Pathankot, lay prostrate at the feet of the Sikhs. Faujdar Shamas Khan of Doab Bist Jullundur was reduced to a nominal ruler; the Jamuna-Ganga plain had been overrun, and to the south of the Sutlej the Sikhs had a complete mastery over the territories of Sirhind, from Machhiwara to Kamal, with Baj Singh as its Governor, assisted by Sikh faujdars and thanedars. They had penetrated into the province of Delhi proper, and, according to lradat Khan, 'there was no nobleman daring enough to march from Delhi against them. Asaf-ud-Daulah Assad Khan, who governed that capital, showing signs of fear, the inhabitants were alarmed, and began to fly with their families and effects towards the eastern provinces, for shelter from the impending storm.' If it had not been for the exertions of one Sardar Khan, a Muhammadan Rajput Zamindar on the side of Karnal, 'there was nothing really to stop their advance against Delhi.' 'And if Bahadur Shah had not quitted the Deccan, which he did in A. D. 1710,' and marched towards the Punjab with all his Imperial forces, 'there is every reason to think', says Malcolm, 'the whole of Hindustan would have been subdued by these .... invaders.'12

Notes and References

  1. Ganesh Das, Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab, p. 189.
  2. Shah Nawaz Khan, Maasir-ul-Umra- 'Hussain Khan,' Vol. I. p. 600-5, 'Qutub-ud-Din Khan (Bayzid Khan) Kheshgi', Vol. III. p. 126-30. According to Danishmand Khan, Shamas Khan Kheshgi was made Shamas­ud-Din Khan and, on joining the Imperial service, was given the rank of 500, horse.-Entry of 24th Zi-ul-Hijj. 1119. 2nd year of Bahadur Shah's reign,- 17/18 March 1708; Irvine. i. 107.
  3. It was a general practice with Banda Singh and the Sikhs to inform their opponents of their intentions, by a letter, calling upon them either to submit to the power of the Khalsa or to be prepared for war. (Khafi Khan, Muntakhib-ul-Lubab)
  4. An official letter from a superior officer to his subordinate.
  5. Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, iii. 657; Elliot, vii. 417; Irvine, i.99.
  6. Maasir-ul-Umra, Vol. iii. 127; Harisi, Ibrat Namah 42; Muntakhib-ul­ Lubab, ii. 658.
  7. The number of the Sikh force here seems, as usual, to have been very much exaggerated by Khafi Khan.
  8. Irvine (Later Mughals. i. 100) gives the distance between Rahon and Sultanpore as fifty miles, which is incorrect.
  9. At this site now stands the Government High School Rahon.
  10. Muntakhib-ul-Lubab; Elliot, History, vii. 418-9; Irvine, i. 100.
  11. Kamwar Khan, Tazkirat-ul-Salatin Chugtayia, -Entry of 4th Ramzan 122.

4th (Ramzan);

It was reported that Sharnas-ud-din Khan Faujdar of Bist Jullundur fought a battle with the condemned on the 19th Shaban killed many and obtained victory. Irvine, in his Later Mughals, i. 101, has mistaken the date of the battle, and that also with a day's difference, with the date of the receipt of the report, and says : The Report of Shamas Khan (entitled Shamas-ud­ din-Khan) was received by the Emperor on the 18th Shaban 1122, 11th October 1710.-Karnwar Khan, Entry of that date.'

Karam Singh in Banda Kaun Tha has followed Irvine. Burgess, Chronology of India. p. 151, places this battle in 1708, which is incorrect.

  1. Muhammad Harisi, Ibrat Namah, 41b-42a; Yar Muhammad, Dastur-ul­ lnsha, 6a; Ganesh Das, Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab, 189; Umdat-ut­ Tawarikh, i. 78; Tarikh-i-Iradat Khan-Scott's Memoirs of Iradat Khan, 58-9; Irvine, Later Mugha/s' i. 98; Malcolm, Sketch of the Sikhs, 79; Karnal District Gazetteer, 19.