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The Battle of Chappar Chiri and the Sack of Sirhind

There were great rejoicings in the camp of Banda Singh on the arrival of the Majha and the Doaba Sikhs. Thanksgiving prayers were offered and Karah Parsad was freely distributed. The Sikhs anxiously looked forward to the happy prospect of the holy crusade against the condemned city of Sirhind and its Governor, while the number of plunderers, who followed the Sikhs to prey upon the countless riches that were supposed to have been amassed in the city during many centuries, was steadily increasing. Preparations for an attack of Sirhind were soon made. This infused a new spirit in the minds of the Sikhs and 'the heavens resounded with their joyous war cries'.1

It was at this time that a Hindu officer of Sirhind, who, according to the author of Banda the Brave,2 was a nephew of Sucha Nand, the Peshkaf3 of Nawab Wazir Khan, appeared in the Sikh camp with one thousand men to play the part of a traitor. He represented to Banda Singh that he had deserted the service of the Nawab on account of his 'high-handedness towards himself and his family, [and that] he had now come with his devoted followers to join the Khalsa, with the object of wreaking vengeance.' In fact this was only a ruse. He had been deputed by Nawab Wazir Khan and his own uncle, Sucha Nand, to dupe Banda Singh with the false story of his desertion and to do away with him as soon as an opportunity presented itself. And if he could not succeed in his murderous design before the projected attack upon Sirhind, he was to so act during the battle as to lead to an utter defeat of the Sikhs. Such things were not uncommon in those days. But Banda Singh had been brought up in a different atmosphere. He believed his false story of desertion from Sirhind and allowed him to join the camp.4

It was at Sirhind that two younger sons of Guru Govind Singh had been tortured to death in cold blood. A brief account of this nefarious deed will not be out place here. In the confusion that followed the evacuation of Anandpur by Guru Govind Singh and the attack from behind by the treacherous hill-chiefs and the Imperial forces on the right bank of the Sirsa, and by the Ranghars of Rupar after he had crossed that rivulet, his two younger sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, and his old mother Mata Gujri were separated from him. They were treacherously betrayed by a servant named Gangu, a Brahman of Saheri,5 into the hands of the Muhammadan officials of Morinda,6 who in their turn, passed them on to Nawab Wazir Khan of Sirhind. The bigoted Nawab was very much pleased at the capture of the young children and ordered them to be cruelly tortured. He offered to spare their lives only on the condition of their renouncing the Sikh faith and accepting that of Islam. The brave young sons of Guru Govind Singh resolutely refused the offer and preferred to lay down their lives at the altar of their faith, which, they said, was dearer to them than all the riches and luxuries of life offered by the Nawab. The boys were then subjected to the most inhuman tortures, such as of blowing off their fingers with fire-crackers and of bricking them up in a minor raised for the purpose. By at all this failed to intimidate them and the boys struck of their resolution. The Nawab was much enraged at his failure to convert them to his faith. To make matters worse, the fire of his fury against the young boys was further fanned by his Peshkar Sucha Nand, who said that "to kill a cobra [referring to Guru Govind Singh] and to spare its progeny is not the act of wise men. The off spring of a wolf is always a wolf."7 The Nawab asked Sher Muhammad Khan of Maler Kotla to kill the children in retaliation of the deaths of his brothers and cousins who were killed in the battle of Chamkaur. Sher Muhammad Khan shuddered at the very thought of killing the innocent children in cold blood, and rejected the proposal with horror.8 Wazir Khan, thereupon, ordered the young children to be decapitated,9 and, in an instant, they were butchered to death, in a most barbarous manner, on the 13th Poh, 1761 Bikrami, 27th December, 1704. The old mother fo Guru Govind Singh died of grief. 'Of all instances of cruelty', says James Browne, 'exercised on the propagators of new doctrines, this is the most barbarous and outragious. Defenceless women and children have usually escaped even from religious fury. No wonder then, that the vengeance of the Sikhs was so severe."10

It was the fear of vengeance for these murders that alarmed Wazir Khan the most. He concerted every possible measure, therefore, for the protection of Sirhind and himself. He combined with him four or five noted Faujdars and Zamindars, and, to collect as large a number of men as could possibly be, had he proclaimed Jehad, a religious war, against the Kafirs or infidel Sikhs. Large number of Ghazis or religious warriors from far and near responded to the call, and in a few days an innumerable host, in addition to the regular forces of his own and of his allies, mustered round him. He collected large stores of lead and gun­ powder, and mobilized a long train of artillery and elephants to meet the Sikhs.11

The strength of Banda Singh on the other hand mainly consisted of three classes of men. The first class comprised the true and loyal Sikhs who had sat at the feet of Guru Govind Singh himself and had been touched by the Promethian fire which animated the great pontiff himself. They rallied round Banda Singh in a spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice to carry on the crusade against the enemies of their country and religion. They had no booty, no self- aggrandizement, as their object. On the contrary hundreds sold their belongings, purchased arms and flocked to the new leader, with a fixed determination either to win the fight or to suffer martyrdom.

The second class consisted of paid soldiers recruited and sent to Banda Singh by such chieftains as Ram Singh and Tilok Singh of the Phul family, who could not join the army of Banda Singh but sympathised with his laudable enterprise and desired to render all possible help for its success.

The third class was entirely composed of irregulars who were attracted to Banda Singh by the love of booty and plunder. Most of them were professional robbers and dacoits, men of reckless daring, who hailed the movement as a golden opportunity, offering prospects of plundering cities and towns instead of solitary wayfarers or caravans of merchants.12 Among these irregulars may be counted numbers of persecuted peasants and others who rushed in, at the time of attack, to wreak their vengeance upon their personal enemies. It was this class of people who were mostly responsible for indiscriminate murder and plunder during these expeditions. They were the most dangerous and unreliable allies and were not unoften seen deserting Banda Singh in the thick of battle whenever they feared a defeat.

Banda Singh had no artillery and no elephants, nay, not even the required number of horses for all his men. Only a few of his men possessed matchlocks. Long spears, arrows and swords were the only weapons of war that the Sikhs were equipped with. The indomitable courage and unsurpassable activity of Banda Singh and his devoted Sikhs, however, made up for the scantiness of their resources. He mostly depended, for his success, upon the spirit that, he knew, would be infused in the minds of his men at the very sight of the city associated with the cold-blooded murder of the young sons of their prophet. The exact strength of the Sikh force cannot be ascertained, though, according to Khafi Khan, the number of the Sikhs before the invasion of Sirhind had increased to thirty or forty thousand.13 This number, I am afraid, is very much exaggerated to show that the Muhammadan force was much less in numerical strength than that of the Sikhs.

On receipt of the news of Banda Singh's projected attack on Sirhind, Faujdar Wazir Khan marched out in person, with a large army of about twenty thousand men of all ranks-cavalry, musketeers, archers and artillery-and a train of elephants to give battle to the Sikhs and to check their advance towards Sirhind. Banda Singh, on the other hand, had got warning of Wazir Khan's movements and advanced to meet him. He instructed his leading commanders Baj Singh and Fateh Singh to capture Wazir Khan and not to allow him to escape alive. They were to spare the lives of the Hindus, who showed their choti, the tuft of hair on their heads, and of those Muhammadans who offered an unconditional surrender.14 The two armies came face to face with each other on the plain of Chappar Chiri15 on the 24th Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1122 (22nd May, 1710, N. S.)

Banda Singh entrusted the command of his Malva Sikhs to Bhai Fateh Singh, Karam Singh, Dharam Singh, Ali Singh, Sham Singh, and h himself occupied a place on a mound nearby to watch and direct the movements of the army. As soon as the battle began and the Nawab's artillery opened fire, the robbers and irregulars, who, though several thousand, had no common commandant and whom only the love of booty had brought together, took to flight. It was about these people that Irvin has remarked : 'At the first shock, the Sikhs, after a feeble resistance turned and fled.'16 The next to take flight were the one thousand men of the treacherous nephew of Sucha Nand. This caused a little confusion in the Sikh ranks. Baj Singh galloped back to inform Banda Singh of the shaky condition of the battle.17 Banda Singh now rushed forward to the forefront of his army and boldly led them on to the attack. The Sikhs were very much encouraged by this bold movement of their leader and, with the loud shouts of "Wahiguru ji ki Fateh".18 They fell in a compact body upon the Muhammadans, advanced sword in hand against their line of elephants and brought two of them down. The Muhammadan force was unable to stand the fierce and repeated attacks of the Sikhs and many of them 'found martyrdom.'19 Sher Muhammad Khan and Khwaja Ali of Maler Kotla were also killed.20

'The Sikhs', says the author of the Ahwal-i-Salatin-Hind, 'came face to face with the Muhammadans, rapidly discharged their muskets and reduced the battle to a hand-to-hand and fist­ to-fist contest. The commander of the Muhammadans [Wazir Khan] and some of his men fought so bravely that heaps of the bodies of the infidels [Sikhs] fell to the ground, piled head upon head and body upon body, and there was noise on all sides of the field of battle like that of Doomsday. At last the whole of the Muhammadan army was destroyed. Wazir Khan then came face to face with Baj Singh shouting "Be careful, you dirty dog!" and rushed upon him with a lance. Baj Singh snatched the lance from Wazir Khan and struck it upon the head of his horse and wounded it. After a while Wazir Khan pulled out an arrow from his quiver and flung it upon the arm of Baj Singh. Then drawing his sword he rushed forward to make an end of him. Fateh Singh, who was standing nearby, drew his sword and so bravely and strongly hit Wazir Khan at his sword-belt that his sword passed through from his shoulder to his waist and the Nawab's head fell to the ground'.21 Confusion arose in the Muhammadan ranks and the Sikhs fiercely rushed upon them. 'Not a man of the army of Islam', says Khafi Khan, 'escaped with more than his life and the clothes he stood in. Horsemen and footmen fell under the swords of the infidels [Sikhs] who pursued them as far as Sirhind.'22

Wazir Khan's army was totally defeated and routed. The victorious Banda Singh and his Sikhs were now masters of the field. They ascribed the victory to. Wahiguru, the Almighty, and their loud and joyous shouts of 'Wahiguru ji ki Feteh'23 rent the air. They now marched upon the city of Sirhind which was about ten miles from the field of battle. Although the city could not offer much resistance to the victors, one of the fort guns maintained steady fire for a considerable time and inflicted a heavy loss upon the Sikhs. Banda Singh ordered his men to silence that piece. A few Sikhs mounted the mound of a brick­ kiln near the choa (stream) and fired a deadly volley which unmanned the enemy's gun and rendered it useless. The fort was then attacked. Five hundred Sikh lives are said to have been lost in the scuffle. A Shahid Ganj now stands on the site where they were cremated.

The city was entered on the 26th Rabi-ul-awwal, 1122 (24th May, 1710, N. S.) and the heartless Muslim population was subject to an indiscriminate plunder. The sentiments of the crusaders had been very much excited by the cold-blooded murder of the young sons of Guru Gobind Singh in this place. And, now, when they entered it after a bloody struggle, the memory, of that ghastly scene naturally inflamed the fire of their fury. Moreover host of the plunderers, who had now rushed in from all sides, could not be restrained, and so the city lost heavily in life and property. The irregulars avenged their personal animosities in a most reckless manner and paid their persecutors in their own coin, and, perhaps, with compound interest.

The eldest son of Wazir Khan, on the first receipt of the news of the death of his father and the defeat of his army, fled to Delhi with all his family, leaving behind him the hordes of wealth accumulated by his father. Many other well-to-do people ran off with all that they could carry away. Everyone who had been left behind was made a prisoner. Only those Muhammadans, who disguised and hid themselves in the houses of the Hindus, escaped injury.24 This punishment was not inflicted upon them because of their being the followers of the prophet Muhammad but because of their political persecution of the innocent and religious intolerance towards their poor and helpless subjects. Even the Hindus who were guilty of these offences were not spared. Sucha Nand, the Hindu Peshkar of Wazir Khan, was 'one of the principal objects of Sikh vengeance'. He suffered an ignominious death and his houses were subjected to a rapacious plunder. 'Particularly the hordes and havelis of Sachidanand', writes Muhammad Qasim, 'had been, as if, amassed and raised for this day......... I have heard it from reliable people of the neighbourhood that during the time of the late [Wazir] Khan there was no zullum [cruelty] that he had not inflicted upon the poor subjects, and that there was no seed, of which he now reaped the fruit, that he had not sown for himself.25 The booty that fell into the hands of Banda Singh is estimated at two crores of rupees in money and goods belonging to Wazir Khan, and some lacs belonging to Sucha Nand and others.26

'The Siyar-ul-Mutakherin [and also the Muntakhib-ul­ Lubab] contains terrible details of atrocious deeds of the Sikhs,' writes Thornton, 'but a Muhammadan writer is not to be implicitly trusted upon such a point.'27 Very fruitful imagination, it seems, has been at work to ascribe every kind of cruelty to the Sikhs. With the exception of a solitary instance of digging up the grave-and that too to perform the last religious rites--of Bibi Anup Kaur, a Sikh woman who had been carried away by Sher Muhammad Khan28 and buried in a grave after she had committed suicide to save her honour, there is nothing in the whole history of the Sikh nation to warrant the allegation that the Sikhs ever exhumed the dead, or 'that they tore open the wombs of pregnant women, dashed every living child upon the ground.'29 The allegation about the desecration of mosques is equally unfounded. 'The mausoleum of Ahmad Shah [Shaikh Ahmad Mujadid Alf Sani], the most magnificent of all such buildings' wrote Dr. Narang in 1912, 'still stands as it did before the battle, and is, I think, sufficient evidence of the exaggeration in Latif’s statement, which nevertheless is corroborated by Khafi Khan'.30

The once opulent city of Sirhind lost much of its grandeur owing to this visitation. But it was spared a complete destruction when the local Hindus appealed to Banda Singh for forgiveness, and amnesty was granted to all the inhabitants for a large ransom paid by the people.31 It was, however, finally sacked by the Sikh Sirdars under Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, after the defeat of Zain Khan in 1763, and the alleged prophesy32 of Guru Gobind Singh has, of late, been literally fulfilled, as a railway contractor 'appeared on the scene and carried the mass of old Sirhind as blast on which to lay the iron track'. And even to this day a pious Sikh, when travelling to the north or south of that city, may be seen pulling out a brick or two from its ruins and conveying them to the waters of the Sutlej or the Jamuna.

Banda Singh now took in hand the administration of the conquered territories. Baj Singh, his companion from Nanded, was appointed the Subedar or the Governor of Sirhind, with Ali Singh as his Naib. Bhai Fateh Singh was confirmed in his appointment as Governor of Samana, and Ram Singh, brother of Baj Singh, was appointed Governor of Thanesar jointly with Baba Binod Singh.33 With Sirhind as the base depot, detachments were detailed to occupy the country to the south, the east and the west. Such was the terror excited by the approach of the Sikhs that the Imperial deputies, whether Muhammadans or Hindus, found their safety in acknowledging and subnitting to their authority and, before Jong, all the subordinate parganahs, yielding a revenue of thirty-six lacs rupees a year, fell into the hands of the Sikhs.34

While at Sirhind, instances of Banda Singh's converting the Muhammadans and the Hindus to the faith of Sikhism were very striking. 'The authority of that deluded sect [of the Sikhs] extended to such an extent,' wrote Amin-ud-Daulah, in June 1710, 'that many Hindus and Muhammadans, finding no alternative to obedience and submission adopted their faith and rituals. And their chief [Banda Singh] captivated the hearts of all towards his inclinations, and, whether a Hindu or a Muhammadan whosoever came in contact with him, he [Banda Singh] addressed him by the title of Singh. Accordingly Dindar Khan, a powerful ruler of the neighbourhood, was named Dindar Singh, and Mir Nasir-ud-Din, the news-writer of Sirhind, became Mir Nasir Singh. In the same way, a large number of Muhammadans abandoned Islam and followed the misguided path [of Sikhism], and took solemn oaths and firm pledges to stand by him.35

Notes and References

  1. Shamsher Khalsa.
  2. Page 76.
  3. A Secretary or a Dewan.
  4. Prachin Panth Prakash, p. 105.
  5. The village of Saberi, about two miles from Morinda, is generally mentioned in the Sikh histories as Kheri or Ukheri, the uprooted, out of contempt.
  6. Situated 14 miles from Sirhind and 16 miles from Rupar on the Sirhind­Rupar Railway line.
  7. Daulat Rai, Guru Govind Singh, Urdu, p.211.
  8. In Browne's, India Tract, ii 7-8, the name of Khizar Khan is erroneously mentioned instead of Sher Muhammad Khan. See Inayat Ali Khan's Description of Kotla Afghans, p. 13-4; Macauliffe V. 194-8.
  9. Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, I. 59; Sukha Singh, Gur Bilas, 393; Prachin Panth Prakash, 69; Suraj Prakash, XIV, 5935-6; Macauliffe, V. 198 : Mahan Kosh, I. 490F1.
  10. India Tract, p. 8, foot-note F.
  11. Khafi Khan, Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, p. II. 653; Elliot, History of India, VII. 414. The strength of Wazir Khan's army is given about 15,000 men of all ranks-'five or six thousand horse and seven or eight thousand musketeers (Barkandaz) and archers, and with these, some artillery and elephants.' Muhammed Harisi, Ibrat Namah, p. 41 a, gives the number as 12,000 and says that they were specially collected for this expedition, while some mention this number as low as seven thousand (Ahwal-i-Mughals, I. 95). These may be safely dismissed as incredible. The regular force of Wazir Khan and his four or five faujdar allies can under no circumstances be less than 15,000 men as given by Khafi Khan, who would be the last person to give even an exact number of the Muslim force against a non-Muslim. To this may be added the number of the Ghazis, 5000 at the least.
  12. Narang, Transformation of Sikhism. 104-5.
  13. Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, 11. 652-3. Ahmed Shah of Batala gives this number 'about 40-50 thousand highwaymen and rebels' Zikri-i-Guruan etc, p.12; and according to Ahwal-i-Salatin-i-Hind p. 34b, the Sikhs numbered 70 thousand. These are undoubtedly the exaggerations of the Muslim writers who are apparently prejudiced against the Sikhs.
  14. Banda Kaun Tha, p. 11-12. According to the Ahwal-i-Salatin-i-Hind, p. 35 a, they were to spare the lives of those who offered an unconditional surrender and became Sikhs.
  15. Mahma Prakash, 6112 b; Prachin Panth Prakash, 108-112. According to the Shamsher Khalsa, the battle began near the villages of Wadali Nanheri (p.12).
  16. Narang- Transformation of Sikhism 106; Prachin Panth Prakash 109-10; Later Mughals, 195.
  17. According to the Prachin Panth Prakash, p. 110, Sham Singh also accompanied Baj Singh. Also compare Panth Prakash, 306, and Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, ll. (Shamsher Khalsa) p. 8.
  18. Khafi Khan, II. 653, gives their war cries as 'Sacha Padshah' and 'Fateh Daras' (also quoted by Elliot, History. VII. 414; Irvine, Later Mughals, 95), but he is mistaken in this. This innovation was introduced by Banda Singh only after the battle of Sirhind, when he established his capital at Lohgarh or Mukhlispur. The war-cry at this time was 'Wahiguru ji ki Fateh' See Ganesh Dass, Risalah-i-Sahib Numa Chahar-Bagh-i-Punjab, p. 189.
  19. Khafi Khan, Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, II. 653; Elliot, History, VII. 414.
  20. Umda-ut-Tawarikh I 77; Irvine, Later Mughals, I. 96; Kamwar Khan, Tazkerat-us-Salatin Chughtaya 150b. According to lnayat Ali Khan's Description of Kotla Afghans, Sher Muhammad Khan died in 1712 (p.14).
  21. Ahwal-i-Salatin-i-Hind, 35 b-36b; Irvine, Later Mughals, I. 96; also ljad, Farrukh Siyar Namah quoted by Karam Singh in Banda Kaun Tha, p. 30. According to Khafi Khan, Wazir Khan was killed by a musket ball (p.11. 6531 Elliot, VII; 414 Irvine, 1, 96). Latif says that he was 'killed by an arrow which pierced his breast' (History of the Punjab, 274), while according to Macauliffe, he fell under the sword of Banda Singh (Sikh Religion, V. 248.) Also compare Brown, India Tract, p. 9; Kalyan Singh, Khulasat-ut­ Tawarikh, p.23 b; Forster's Travels, p. I. 263; Payne, A Short History of the Sikhs, p. 45.

"The corpse of Wazir Khan was hanged on a tree and exposed as carrion for the wolves, jackals and other nocturnal visitants'-Latif, 275.

'He was dragged behind bullocks and was finally consigned to flames'­ Prachin Panth Prakash, p. 112. Also see Banda Bahadur (Karam Singh), p.72.

  1. Khafi Khan, II. 654; Elliot, History, VII. 415.
  2. Risalah-i-Sahib Numa Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab. p. 189.

  1. Muhammad Qasim, Ibrat Namah, 20-21; Kamwar Khan, Taskirat-us­Salatin Chughtayia, 150 b; Umdat-ut-Tawarikh I. 77; Later Mughals, 1.96.
  2. Ibrat Namah, p.21 Also compare Browne-India Tract:

'Suchanand the Dewan. by whose advice the children of Guru Gobind Singh had been murdered, was tom to pieces, with every circumstance of cruelty which savage revenge could dictate.' (p.9)

  1. Kamwar Khan, Tazkirat-us-Salatin-i-Chughtayia, 150 b.
  2. History of the Punjab (Allen & co. 1846), l. 176.
  3. lnayat Ali Khan, A Description of Kotla Afghans, p. 14.
  4. Khafi Khan, II. 654.

It is unbelievable that the chivalrous Sikhs with such a lofty character, as represented in the following couplets of the Jangnamah of Qazi Nur Muhammad who seldom addresses them by any other name than 'dogs and infidels,' could have stooped so low. Says the Qazi:

  1. Tranformation of the Sikhs, p. 107, footnote.

'The ruins of Sirhind contain the mausoleum of Muijaddid Alf Sani which is a fine building to which the Muhammadans in general and the nobility of Kabul in particular pay visits as a place of pilgrimage.'-Punjab States Gazetteer, vol. XVII. A. Phulkian States, 1904, p. 209.

  1. Prachin Panth Prakash, 113.
  2. 'His Sikhs implored him [Guru Govind Singh] for orders to burn the town. He said that the death of his sons would not be avenged by the destruction of the town which had done no harm, but that for the future every true Sikh who passed that way should pull two bricks and throw them into the river in detestation of the crime committed on the innocent children,' Gordon, The Sikhs, p. 47.

Also see Ross, The Land of the Five Rivers, 228 Archer, Tours in Upper India, I. 184.

  1. Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, I. 78; Prachin Panth Prakash, 113; Muhammad Qasim, Ibrat Namah, 21; Ganesh Dass. Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab, 189; Narang, Transformation of Sikhism, 107.
  2. Later Mughals, I. 97; Prachin Panth Prakash, 113.
  3. Dastur-ul-lnsha, 6 a; Ruqat-i-Nawab Amin-ud-Daula, Rupa No.3

Compare James Browne :

'Neither Hindus nor Mussulmans found any means of safety but in acknowledging and submitting to their authority, and professing to belong to their sect, which disposition, Bunda, who was a man of great art and address, encouraged by every means with a view to increase his force, treating those with the most flattering kindness who came into the sect., II India Tract, p. 10.

Also see Khushwaqt Rai, Tarikh-i-Sikhan, p. 49.

This in itself demolishes the theory advanced by Bhai Parma Nand and some others like him. The history of the world had yet to present an instance of a Christian Padre converting a Muhammadan into a Buddhist. If Banda Singh was not himself a regularly baptized Sikh, his converting Dindar Khan and Mir Nasir-ud-din into Singhs would be unthinkable.