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Incursions in the Jamuna Ganga Doab

With the rising power of the Sikhs, as we have already seen, good many Hindus and Muhammadans drank the Immortal Draught of Guru Govind Singh and were baptised into the Brotherhood of the Khalsa. Many of these converts belonged to the village of Unarsa in the parganah of Deoband. Jalal Khan, the Faujdar of that area, ordered all these new Sikhs to be imprisoned and persecuted. One of them, Kapur Singh of Unarsa, who had been appointed a Sikh missionary in that place, informed Banda Singh of their pitiable condition and appealed to him for help. The tide of religious zeal and victory bore Banda Singh and his warrior Sikhs across the rubicon of Jamuna at Rajghat and they marched upon the town of Saharanpur on their way to Jalalabad. Saharanpur was equally obnoxious to them 'as one of the principal strongholds of bigoted Muhammadanism.' Ali Hamid Khan,1 a Sayyed of Qanauj, was then the Faujdar of this place. The Sikhs addressed to him a letter and called upon him to submit, in which case, they said, he would not be molested. But he was so much terror struck to hear of the Sikh advance to the east of the Jamuna that 'although a number of gentlemen and Afghans gathered round him and urged him to act boldly and put his fortifications in a state of defense, it was of no avail. That very night he marched away from Saharanpur' and 'incontinently fled to Delhi' with all his family and property. The town people and officers were, however, made of sterner stuff and 'were moved by one spirit'. They threw up breast-works all round, put the town in a state of defense and received the Sikhs with showers of arrows and bullets. Although they offered a stout resistance, it was not very effective. The Sikhs were more than a match for them. With one bold attack they rushed upon their opponents and gained possession of a greater part of the town. The offending Muslims were subjected to an indiscriminate plunder and slaughter. The residents fought under the protection of their houses and 'many men of noble and respectable families fell fighting bravely and obtained the honour of martyrdom.'2 A large booty consisting of money, jewels and goods fell into the hands of the Sikhs.

'The whole country, far and near, was in a panic. Those people who were rich enough or lucky enough to obtain means of conveyance carried off their goods and families. The rest taking their wives and children by hand fled on foot. Women who had rarely been outside the courtyard of their own houses, and had never gone one step outside on foot, were forced to walk distance of thirty and forty miles. In this way, half of the Sarkar of Saharanpur fell into the hands of the Sikhs.'3

They now took measures to secure the surrounding country and a party was detached northwards to Behat, a small town north of Saharanpur. Its importance was mainly due to a rich family of Peerzadas who were notorious for their religious fanaticism and the open slaughter of cows in the streets of the town. It was at the request of the aggrieved Hindus, that the Sikhs sacked Behat and put the Peerzadas to the sword', 'none of whom', it is said, 'escaped except one who was providentially absent from the place and had gone to Bulandshaher.' 'These victims', says Mr. G. R. C. Williams, 'were solemnly executed after conviction on the capital charge of cow slaughter, an offence easily proved against them; one which actually became the subject of prohibitory proclamations under our own Government before we knew our strength.'4

On the return of this detachment to Saharanpur, the Sikhs prepared to march southwards to Jalalabad, lying about thirty miles south of Saharanpur and about twenty miles west of Deoband. They addressed severe orders to Jalal Khan, the founder and Faujdar of that place, to release forth with the Sikh prisoners of Unarsa and to tender his submission to the Sikh power. Unlike Ali Hamid Khan of Saharanpur, who had fled to Delhi on receipt of the Sikh message, Jalal Khan was a typical Afghan 'famed for his boldness and valour throughout the country'. When the letter of the Sikhs reached him, he ordered the Sikh messengers to be mounted on asses, paraded them through the street of Jalalabad and turned them out of the town.5

This derision and public insult, to which the Sikh messengers were subjected, served as fuel to the fire. They now rushed towards Jalalabad with all haste. The straight road from Saharanpur to Jalalabad ran through Nanauta, but the Sikhs availed themselves of this opportunity to replenish their treasury from the riches of Ambehta which lay only a few kos from their destination. It was inhabited by rich Pathans and Gujjars. The well-known Muslim Saint Shaikh Abdul Ali Muali, who attracted a large number of followers to Ambehta and added to its wealth, was living, but no resistance was offered by any one to the assailants. The Sikhs had an easy access to the town which yielded sufficient booty to compensate them for their efforts.6

Nanauta was the next place to be reduced before they could approach Jalalabad. Banda Singh and his Sikhs arrived here on the 25th Jamadi-ul-awwal 1122 Hijri, 21st July, 1710, A. D. Here crowds of needy Gujjars, anxious to wipe off old scores with their oppressors, recruited the ranks of the invading Sikhs and gladly embraced the opportunity to throw off the yoke of their Muslim rulers. These Gujjars declared themselves to be the followers of Guru Nanak and styled themselves Nanak-prast, or worshippers of Nanak, like so many of their coreligionists in the present U.P., Behar and Orisa, Bengal, and the C. P., where in many cases, they are called Nanak-Panthis. 'Community of hatred and in some sense of religion,' says Neville, 'made them ready to aid the Sikhs to supplant the existing power, but, perhaps, in rendering this assistance they were as much guided by their hereditary and instinctive love of plunder and a desire to save their own villages as by any other motive.' The Shaikhzadas of Nanauta, noted for their skill in archery, did all they could to offer the invaders a bold front, but their vain resistance only served to exasperate the Sikhs all the more. A sanguinary battle was fought in the streets and havelis, and so terrible was the carnage that, according to the Diary of Mohammed Zafar-ud-din, a contemporary writer, three hundred of the Shaikhzadas fell dead in the courtyard of Shaikh Muhammad Afzal alone. Nanauta was soon a mass of smoking ruins and the day, the 25th of Jamadi-ul-awwal, is, as Mr. Williams tells us, 'celebrated in the local annals, for on it the unfortunate town earned the significant title of Phoota Shahr, which has completely displaced its original name in the popular dialect.'7

Jalal Khan,8 the Faujdar of Jalalabad, had already received the information of the Sikh advance towards his capital. He commenced his preparations to collect men and ammunition and set his fortress and town in a state of defense. In a few days intelligence was brought in that the Sikhs were only three or four kos away and that they had attacked and besieged two of his neighbouring villages, the forts and houses of which were full of property belonging to merchants. Jalal Khan dispatched a strong force of a thousand musketeers and archers and about four hundred Afghan horse-men under the command of his grandson Ghulam Muhammad and his cousin Hazbar Khan to relieve the besieged villages and drive off the assailants. The arrival of the Faujdar's reinforcements greatly encouraged the besieged. Four or five thousand villagers and an innumerable host of peasantry armed with all sorts of weapons, many with only slings and stones, came forward to oppose the Sikhs and engaged them in a fierce battle. The Sikhs 'fought with great courage and daring, and Hizbar Khan, with a great many Musalmans and peasants, was killed.’9

Several conflicts followed between the Sikhs and the Afghans. Although Jalal Khan himself did not move out Jalalabad, his sons, grandsons and many men of his tribe fell upon the Sikh encampments and inflicted heavy losses upon them by their night attacks.10 Jamal Khan and Pir Khan, the nephews of the Faujdat, also attempted to obstruct the progress of the Sikhs but they lost their lives in the contest. It was with the greatest difficulty that Dindar Ali Khan, a son of Jalal Khan, could take possession of the dead bodies of Jamal Khan and Pir Khan11 from the Sikhs and gain admittance into the fort of Jalalabad.12 It was about this time that Jalal Khan reported the invasion of the Sikhs to Emperor Bahadur Shah.

The Sikhs now besieged Jalalabad, but it was not an easy job to reduce it. Rains had set in and the surroundings were flooded with rain water and inundations of the river Krishna which now practically washed the town and fort walls. With two or three hundred morchals (wooden batteries), made of planks and mounted on chart-wheels, the assailants enclosed the town as with a ring. The Afghans courageously opposed their besiegers. The Sikhs advanced their morchals to the foot of the walls close to the gate. With shouts of "Fateh Darshan"13 they stove in a most daring way', with four or five hundred pickaxes and other implements, to undermine the wall, to affix ladders, and to bum the gates but they were not successful. The siege of Jalalabad was continued for about twenty days and nights when the besieged could neither get food nor rest. There was a great loss of life on both sides. At last when the Sikhs saw that there was no prospect of an immediate success and that the calls upon them from the Punjab were more urgent, 'they raised the siege' and 'went off to reduce Sultanpur and the parganahs of Jullundur Doab.'14

Notes and References

  1. Khafi Khan, in the Muntakhib-ul-lubab, ii. 654, gives his name as Ali Muhammad Khan, whereas Williams erroneously gives the name of then Faujdar as Jalal Khan (The Sikhs in the Upper Doab, Calcutta Review, Vol. LX, p. 23,) who was the Faujdar of Jalalabad, and not Saharanpur. Jalal Khan was invested with the Faujdar of Jalalabad, and not Saharanpur only after the flight of Ali Hamid Khan, and after the Sikhs had raised the siege of Jalalabad. (See Muhammad Harisi, Ibrat Namah. 82 a.)
  2. Khafi Khan, Muntakhib-ul-Labab, p. ii. 655; Elliot, History of India, vii.415-16.
  3. Muhammad Harisi, Ibrat Namah 4la-b; Irvine, Later Mughals, i. 101.
  4. Williams, The Sikhs in the Upper Doab, Cal. Rev. LX. 23; Karam Singh, Banda Bahadur, 85-6.
  5. Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, ii. 655; Ellliot, vii. 416; Irvine, i. 101-102; Williams, The Sikhs in the Upper Doab, Cal. Rev. LX. 23.
  6. Karam Singh. Banda Bahadur, 86-7.
  7. Neville, Muzajfarnagar 174; Williams, The Sikhs in the Upper Doab, Cal. Rev. Vol. LX. 23.
  8. Jalal Khan was the son the Hazrat Mir of the Orakzai tribe, who came to India during the reign of Shah Jahan and obtained the Zamindari of certain villages in the Jamuna-Gangetic Doab. After his father's death Jalal Khan succeeded to the Zamindari and obtained, in addition thereto, some more villages in the parganah of Thana Bhawan, near which he built a fortress and founded the town of Jalalabad. (Muhammad Harisi, Ibrat Namah. 80b.)
  9. Khafi Khan; Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, 655-6.
  10. Muhammad Harisi, Ibrat Namah, Sia.
  11. Their pacca tombs stand on the Saharanpur-Delhi Road near Takia of Kale Shah. (Banda Bahadur, 9I).
  12. Karam Singh, Banda Bahadur, 90-1
  13. In the absence of dots, which are not unoften missing in manuscript Persian writings, the words Fateh Darshan have been generally transcribed and transliterated as Fateh Daras, which is incorrect.

'Fateh Darshan', as mentioned before, was a war cry introduced by Banda Singh, but as it was rejected by the Khalsa for fear of its, being used for the old Sikh salutation, it was soon withdrawn by him.

  1. Muntakhib-ul-Lubab 651; Elliot History vii. 417; Irvine, Later Mughals, i, 102. G.R.C. Williams (The Sikhs in the Upper Doab, C. R. vol. LX. p.24), followed by Mr. H. R. Neville (Muzaffarnagar Distt. Gazetteer, 1903, p. 174}, writes that Jalal Khan was overtaken and 'utterly defeated' by Banda Singh and that he 'lost his life together with his two nephew.' This is incorrect. The raising of siege by the Sikhs was rather represented to Emperor Bahadur Shah as victory over the Sikhs for which he was rewarded by the Nazim of Delhi. on the 7th Rajab 1122 (31st August, 1710) with the Faujdari of Saharanpur deserted by Ali Hamid (Muhammad) Khan. He was raised to the rank of two thousand five hundred in the reign of Jahandar Shah, with a further promotion during Farrukh Siyar's time. He died in Zi-ul-Qadah 1130 A.H. (Ibrat Namah, Muhammad Harisi, 82 a), and on about the 22nd Moharram, 1130 according to Kamwar Khan. (Irvine i. 101)