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The Man and His Achievements

The character of Banda Singh, as exhibited in the preceding chapters of his life, foll of everreadiness for the emancipation of his oppressed and persecuted countrymen and an unflinching devotion to the Guru and his religion, appears so interesting for the students of history that we cannot conclude this sketch without allowing it sufficient portion of the canvas available for the picture. Apart from this, so many misunderstandings have gathered round his person as a result of the fruitful imagination of some writers, Giani Gian Singh in particular, that we cannot, in justice to our subject, quietly pass over them leaving our readers to be led astray by prejudiced writers. The accounts given by pro­Islamic prejudice against the non-Muslims, and Banda Singh has been painted by them in the blackest colours. Every act of cruelty, which their fertile imagination could invent, has been ascribed to him. The Sikh writers, on the other hand, have unreservedly condemned him for his introduction of the Feteh Darshan, which he never insisted upon after its rejection by the Khalsa, and other things of which he was never guilty. But he was a far different man from what he has been represented to be.

In personal appearance Banda Singh, according to the Mirat-i-Waridat of Muhammad Shafi Warid, resembled Guru Govind Singh. Thin of physique and of medium stature, he was of light brown complexion. The nobleness of his features, with sharp and shining eyes, impressed his greatness even on the minds of his enemies. Men like ltmad-ud-Daula Muhammad Amin found an opportunity to come close to him, at the time of his cruel death, and praise him for 'so much of acuteness in his features and so much of nobility in his conduct.'1 He may not be said to have been a giant in physique, but he was very active, and would keep at bay far stronger men in the field of battle. He was a good marksman, banduq or Ramjanga, as they called  a matchlock, being a favourite weapon of the Sikhs, but he was excessively fond of his sword and bow. He was a good horseman and would ride on for days without being fatigued. The scantly records of the contemporary Muslim histories-there being literally no contemporary Sikh records available on the subject-give little information as to many qualities that he possessed, 'but he is allowed, on all hands, to have been a man of undoubted valour and bravery, and the coolness, with which he met his death,'2 has elicited praise even from men like Khafi Khan.

It would seem how sagacious Guru Govind Singh was in selecting such a man for carrying on his struggle for the independence of his people. Indeed Banda Singh's conversion from an inert ascetic into 'a Commander of the forces of the Khalsa' was nothing short of the Guru's miracle. NoF did Banda Singh betray the trust reposed in him by his Holy Master. Drinking the baptismal Nectar of the Khalsa, putting on the consecrated steel and adopting the dress and manners of the Sikhs, he had become a full-fledged Singh, and to the last, even under the severest pain of a terrible death, he stuck on to his dedication to the mission of Guru Govind Singh. 'Banda was a fanatic and so resolved was he to fulfil the orders of Govind Singh' for the chastisement of persecutors, writes M'Gregor in his History of the Sikhs, 'that he became the terror of the whole Punjab as well as the districts on this side of the Punjab.' He was not exclusively devoted to the military command of the Khalsa. His zeal for the propagation of Sikhism was second to none's. He offered Ardasa or prayer for all who appealed to him  for assistance or joined his forces, and inculcated the Simaran or Jap of Wahiguru or the repetition of the Sacred Name.3 In spite of all the power that he commanded, he is not recorded to have used force in his missionary work. 'He captivated the hearts of all towards his inclinations,' writes Amin-ud-Daula in his third Ruqqa,4 of June, 1710, 'and whether a Hindu or a Muhammadan, whosoever came in contact with him, he addressed him by the title of Singh [baptized him into the Sikh faith].' Accordingly Dindar Khan, a ruler of the neighbourhood of Sirhind, Mir Nasir-ud-Din, a news-writer of that place, and Chhajju, a Jat of Panjwar near Amritsar, were converted into Dindar Singh, Mir Nasir Singh and Chhajja Singh,5 and a large number of Muhammadans and Hindus adopted the faith and manners of the Sikhs, 'and took solemn oaths and firm pledges to stand by him.' He even offered to forget and forgive and to spare the lives and territories of the worst of his enemies of Sirhind and the Shivaliks, if they conformed to his behests.6

In his zeal for emancipation of the persecuted and down­ trodden, he earned the blessings of the poor and the destitute whose cries had not been heard by any one for centuries past. He raised the lowest of the low to the highest positions under his government. The untouchables and the unapproachables, the so­ called sweepers and pariahs, were raised to the position of rulers. 'A low scavenger or leather-dresser, the lowest of the low in Indian estimation,' says Irvine, 'had only to leave home and join the Guru (referring to Banda Singh), when in a short time he would return to his birthplace as its ruler with his order of appointment in his hand. The well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and escort him. Arrived there, they stood before him with joined hands, 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.'7

In matters of Government, he introduced one of the greatest fiscal reforms in the country by abolishing the Zamindari system of the Mughals which had reduced the cultivators to the position of slaves. With the establishment of Banda Singh's Raj, the actual cultivators of the soil became the proprietors of their holdings, and the oppression resulting from the old system was forever eradicated from the Punjab.

In his personal conduct as a Sikh, he was, throughout, a devoted follower of Sikhism, and his faith in the Gurus remained unshaken. At the zenith of his power, the inscription on his seal and his coins is an everlasting monument of his overflowing devotion to Gurus Nanak-Govind Singh whom he proclaimed to be the fountains of his Deg and Tegh, or Plenty and Power. At the last and the most trying moments of his life, under the pain of death, when life was promised to him if he would renounce his faith, 'his constancy was wonderful to look at,' writes a contemporary. With the exception of his innovation of 'Fateh Darshan' and the celebration of his marriage, there is nothing in the whole history of his life to warrant the allegation levelled against him by some of the recent writers, Sikhs and others, who have prejudiced the people against him. He had a spotless morality and led a very pure life, and, true to the Rahit of the Khalsa which he himself inculcated in his hukamnamahs, he enjoined upon his men never to attack 'the honour of women' of the conquered enemy. He had .no doubt married, wherein he is said to have transgressed the parting injunction8 of the Guru, but in this he committed no moral or social sin even according to Sikhism. In issuing this injunction the Guru, probably, meant that he should devote himself exclusively to his new mission of life. He remained pacca in his Rahit throughout. Banda Singh committed none of the four cardinal sins, called the Four Kurahits in the Rahit Namas or the Books of Conduct. He had his Keshas or hair intact, to which the Siyar-ul-Mutakherin bears witness in the words: 'He was a Syc by profession, that is one of those attached to the tenets of Guru Govind [Singh] and who from their birth, or from the moment of their admission, never cut or shave either their beard or whiskers, or any hair whatever of their body.'9 He never used tobacco or the Halal meat, nor was he guilty of immoral intercourse with a woman, not formally and legally married to him, As such, there was nothing in his life which could be taken as his dissidence from the tenets of Sikhism.

It is not intended to claim that he was always beyond criticism. He was not a 'Guru' to be infallible, and to err is the ordinary lot of mortal men. But it is unfair to exaggerate his minor shortcomings and multiply them to such an extent as to overshadow all his virtues. It is true that he introduced a new war-cry, called Fateh Darshan; but it was not intended to replace the ordinary salutation, which was Wahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Wahiguru ji ki Fateh But in practice, slowly and gradually, it came to be used for and replace it. This was condemned by the Khalsa. There is not truth, however, in the other allegations against him. There is nothing in the contemporary or the earliest available records to show that he ever proclaimed himself to be a Guru in succession to Guru Govind Singh or that he ever used a cushion, like the Gurus, in the sacred precincts of the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar. The most conclusive evidence on this point may be found in his own letter dated the 12th Poh Sammat I, about the 26th December, 1710, wherein the personality of the Guru is mentioned quite distinct from his own. He issues the order in the name of the Guru and not in the capacity of a Guru. He clearly enjoins that the Guru, and not himself, is the Saviour of the Khalsa. 'The Guru Shall save the entire Khalsa of Jaunpur. Repeat Guru, Guru......I enjoin that he who lives according to the Rahit of the Khalsa shall be saved by the Guru. '

No regular schism appears to have come into existence during the life-time of Banda Singh, nor was there any active cleavage caused between those who were inclined to believe in everything he said as all-truth (and who were later on, after his death, called the Bandeis), and the other .Khalsas. A sort of a party-feeling based on honest differences of opinion is not improbable in such cases, but in this case the magnetic personality of the leader kept them all together up to the last moment of their annihilation at Delhi. Only one solitary exception to this was in the case of Baba Binod Singh who left the ihata of Gurdas Nangal, as mentioned before, on account of a difference of opinion in a council of war. The difference of opinion about Fateh Darshan does not appear to have taken any critical tum. It was soon forgiven and forgotten by the Khalsa after its rejection. Had it not been so or had there been any insistence on the part of Banda Singh in respect of his innovation, there would certainly have been some feud on this account between the unbending Khalsa and the innovators. But we do not find the slightest cleavage on this account, and, to the last, it has not been found that even one man deserted his standard. Not only this, there was none even from amongst those who were captured on the way from Lahore to Delhi to desert him. They could say that they were only the followers of Guru Govind Singh and not the adherents and accomplices of Banda Singh, the innovator, who had carried on the struggle against the Mughals in contravention of Mata Sundri's instructions. But no such thing happened. On the other hand, we find the Khallsa cheerfully sacrificing themselves, along with him, to the last at Delhi. The so-called feud that is alleged, by Bhangu Rattan Singh in the Prachin Panth Prakash, to have taken place between the Bandeis and the other Khalsas is said to have occurred at the instigation of Mata Sundri as the result of Emperor Farrukh Siyar's negotiations with her, the genuineness of which we will presently look into.

We have thoroughly searched all available records for Emperor Farrukh Siyar's so-called negotiations with Mata Sundri, but we have not been able to find anything, not even the slightest hint or a cursory allusion, to support the account of the Prachin Panth Prakash. The official Roznamchas, the Tazkirat-us-Salatin of Kamwar Khan, the Farrukh Siyar Namah and the Manavvar­ul-Kalam of Siva Das, the Chahar Gulshan of Rai Chatarman, the Muntakhib-ul-Lubab of Khafi Khan, the Ibrat Namah and the Tarikh-i-Muhammadi of Mirza Muhammad Harisi, the Tazkirat­ul-Muluk of Yahiya Khan, and the other works of the contemporary writers, the biographies of the contemporary Amirs and private persons, the later works like the Siyar-ut-Mutakherin of Ghulam Hussain Khan, the Umdat-ul-tawarikh of Sohan Lal, the   Tqrikh-i-Punjab   of   Bute   Shah,  the   Tarikh-i-Sikhan   of Khushwaqt Rai, the histories of the Punjab and the Sikhs by M'Gregor, Thornton, Kanhiyalal, Muhammad Latif and others and the works of the Sikh writers like the Mahma Prakash of Sarup Das and the Suraj Prakash of Santokh Singh are all silent on this point. It is impossible to believe that so important a subject as the Emperor's negotiations with the wife of Guru Govind Singh, for the subjugation of so formidable a foe as 'Banda' was then considered to be, could have escaped down the notice of one and all writers on the subject, from official diarists and chroniclers to the writers of private histories, personal Tazkirahs and biographical sketches of Amirs and other notable persons. The Tazkirat-us-Salatin gives almost the daily details of news received from the front against Banda Singh and the orders issued and the reinforcements dispatched, but there is no mention therein of these negotiations. On the other hand in those very days when the so-called negotiations are said to have been in progress, a sharp reproof was administered to Abd-us-Samad Khan on the 15th Rabi-us-Awwal, 1127 (20th March, 1715), and at the same time Qamr-ud-Din Khan, son of Muhammad Amin Khan, Afrasyab Khan, the third Bakhshi, Muzaffar Khan, Raja Udet Singh Bundela, Raja Gopal Singh Bhadauryia and some other nobles were sent to reinforce him.10 The Mahma Prakash, the Chahar Gulshan, the Tarikh-i-Muhammadi of Harisi and some other works contain the details of Mata Sundri's life at Delhi, of the activities of her adopted son Ajit Singh, the Mata's disclaimer in respect of him, the murder of a benawa darvesh or a religious mendicant, the arrest and murder of Ajit Singh, the removal of his son Hatthi Singh to Mathura, etc., but there is no trace in them of any negotiations with Farrukh Siyar.  In the absence of  any historical evidence, therefore, these negotiations cannot but be said of Muhammad Aslam Khan's negotiations with the Khalsa and Banda Singh, Aslam Khan having died during the reign of Bahadur Shah. The accounts of these negotiations in the Prachin Panth Prakash of Rattan Singh are apparently based on wrong information.

Similarly the claim of some of the Bandeis that Banda Singh had been nominated by Guru Govind Singh as his successor to Guruship does not stand the test of historical scrutiny. No schism, as we know, came into existence during the life-time of Banda Singh and if at all there was anything hidden in the inmost recesses of his heart, of which history had no knowledge, it perished with him on the 19th of June, 1716. According to all accounts, Guru Govind Singh was the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs, and the vast volume of historical evidence denies the authority of anyone who came after him.11 On his death, the Guru entrusted the Khalsa to the care of God the never-dying, and 'He who wishes to behold the Guru', let him search the Granth; 'there is no difference whatever between the Granth and Guru,' said he. There can be no successor to Guru Govind Singh, as Guru, in the face of his clear commands and historical evidence; so the claim of any one, in this respect, be he Banda Singh or any of his descendants or a descendant of the adopted Ajit Singh, or any one from amongst the Sodhis or Bedis, or from amongst the founders of the more recently sprung up schismatic Sikh sects must be dismissed as opposed to the Sikh tenets and traditions.

Banda Singh was impelled by the purest of motives in consecrating himself for the liberation and independence of his people and was an embodiment of selflessness. He always lived up to the principles; 'Wishing the advancement  of the Panth, walking in the path of dharma, fearing sin, living up to truth,' as enjoined by Guru Govind Singh, who never considered lying, intrigue and treachery as part and parcel of politics.12

His justice was expeditious and he sometimes went to the extent of relentlessness in his punishment of tyrannical officials. The rank and position of the offender never influenced his spirit of justice and his summary method of dealing with criminal cases made him a terror to the tribe of petty functionaries. He used to tell his men, says the author of the Pothi:

"The best worship for a king is to be just,' is written in the Holy Granth. Those who do not administer justice are cast into hell. A king should practice justice. Thus spoke to me the Great Man [Guru Govind Singh]. If you call yourselves the Sikhs of Great Man, do not practice sin, adharma and injustice. Raise up true Sikhs and smite those who do un-Sikh-like acts. Bear the saying of the Great Man in your hearts."13

In the field of battle, he was one of the bravest and the most daring, sometimes to the extent of recklessness. And although he was waging his wars under the gravest of provocations, he never gave himself to any of those excesses which characterized his enemies. He has been painted by Muslim historians as perhaps the cruelest of men, 'but a Muhammadan writer,' says Thornton, 'is not to be implicitly trusted upon such a point.14 He was not an aggressor at all. Rather when we consider the circumstances under which he had taken up the sword, we find him not wantonly cruel but an enemy of the cruel, sent out for the punishment of crimes over which the justice of heaven had seemed to slumber.

He had taken to war purely from patriotic motives, springing from a disinterested love of country which was instilled in his mind by Guru Govind Singh. And 'to take up the sword when all other means have failed is lawful', writes the Guru. When war was once declared, he was, of course, not to be left behind but was ever ready to take the offensive when opportunity offered or required-always considering the All-Steel as his last resource. But he never shed human blood unnecessarily or committed himself irrevocably without making sure of his ground. Like a sagacious statesman he would stand out boldly or withdraw as the occasion demanded. The secret of his success lay in his indomitable courage and unsurpassable activity, coupled with the invincible spirit and dogged tenacity of the Sikhs, which made up for the scantiness of his resources. These were, of course, backed by that strength and consistency which religious zeal alone can supply and which purity of motives and disinterested patriotism only can nourish. Even when reduced to greatest extremities, no sorrow and no disappointment could weigh him down, and he was always in Charhdian Kalan (or an exalted spirit) as a Sikh would put it.

If he failed in his temporal achievement of maintaining the principality that he had carved out at the commencement of warlike career it is because the Great Mughal was yet too strong for him with the inexhaustible temporal resources of the then greatest Empire of the world at his disposal. Whether at Sadhaura, or at Gurdas Nangal, it was the overwhelming number and the extremes of hunger, want of food and fodder, that reduced him. About the implements and ammunition of war, the less said the better. Not only this, the Khalsa had to stand the brunt of the struggle singlehanded. Not one prominent man from amongst the Hindus, whose cause the Khalsa had championed, came out to render them any help whatever. On the other hand, their leading chiefs like Raja Chatarsal Bundela, Chauraman Jat, Gopal Singh Bhadauriya, Udet Siingh Bundela, Badan Singh Bundela, Bachan Singh Kachhwahya and Rajahs of the Shivalik Hills and others were all arrayed against them.15 The career of Banda Singh had greater promise in it than what was effected, but it was soon cut short. Externally he may not appear to have succeeded in the emancipation of his people, but the fire of independence ignited by Guru Govind Singh and fanned by Banda Singh was not be extinguished.

Although, after the death of Banda Singh, the Sikhs were subjected to the severest persecution. And a 'royal edict was issued ordering all who professed the religion of Nanac to be taken and put to death wherever found',16 the mission of Guru Govind Singh, desired to be served through Banda Singh's instrumentality cannot be said to have failed. 'But the mission of Govind Singh had not failed,' writes  Payne. 'Scattered and disorganized though they were, without a leader, without a square yard of land they could call their own, the Sikhs were nearer to nationality at this time than had ever been. Hardship and persecution had served only to strengthen their attachment to their faith, and to draw them into yet closer unity. They now regarded them-selves as a distinct people. They believed in their destiny as foretold by Govind Singh and one determination from which they never swerved was to struggle unceasingly for the triumph of the Khalsa.'17 Next to the Guru, Banda Singh was the first person to place before the Sikhs practical demonstration of staunch nationalism, and to teach them to sacrifice themselves smilingly at the altar of the Khalsa. The very thought of the noble example of the great martyr and his companions has contributed to elevate the minds of his people, who have, in tum, supplied the pages of history with still nobler examples. It was through him that the path to conquest was discovered by the Khalsa. He was the first man to deal a severe blow to the intolerant rule of the Mughals in the Punjab and to break the first sod in the conquest of that province by the Sikhs. Although it was forty years after his death that the capital of Lahore was occupied by the Khalsa and a regular Sikh Badshahat was declared, with Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia as Padshah,18 it was Banda Singh Bahadur who laid the foundation of the Sikh Empire in 1710.

It will be seen from what has been said in the foregoing chapters, that all things considered, Banda Singh was one of the most remarkable men that India has produced in the eighteenth century. The curtain has long since been rung down and the actor had passed away from the scene of his activities, never to appear again, but his spirit had again and again shone in the brave deeds of his co-religionists in the cause of the poor and the helpless. Although he who at one time was hailed as a defender of the faith, a friend of the oppressed and their never-failing fountain of hope, is no more, his dust has returned to dust and his spirit has blended with the spirit of his Saviour, Guru Govind Singh, his name shall ever remain 'writ large on the roll of immortality' for his selfless sacrifices in the sacred cause of persecuted humanity and for his martyrdom with unflinching devotion to God and the Guru.

Notes and References

  1. Ghulam  Hussain  Khan,  Siyar-ul-Mutakherin  403;  Raymond,  1,  91, Briggs, 79-80.
  2. M'Gregor, History of the Sikhs, i. 111.
  3. Prachin Panth Prakash, p. 94, and Banda Singh's Hukamnamas to the Khalsa of Jaunpur quoted on p. 153.
  4. Dastur-ul-Insha, Ruqqat-Amin-ud-Daula,  6 a. For original Persian, see p. 73-4.
  5. Dastur-ul-Insha. 6a; Latif, History of the Punjab, 296; Narang, Transformation of Sikhism, 161. Chhajja Singh afterwards became the head of the Bhangi Misal.
  6. Ahwal-i-Salatin-i-Hind, 35 a; Prachin Panth Prakash. 121-2.
  7. Later Mughals, i. 98-99.
  8. The only parting injunction of Guru Govind Singh which can be traced from the earliest available records in 'Langot-band rahiyo,' i.e., 'Lead the life of Chastity' [Mahma Prakash, p. 608 a; Sura) Prakash, 6225, 11-12], to which Rattan Singh had added 'Live at peace with the Khalsa' [Prachin Panth Prakash]. It is Giani Gian Singh who has, in the nineties of the nineteenth century and later, multiplied these injunctions by his own additions to suit the statements of the Prachin Panth Prakash regarding the Farrukh Siyar--Mata Sundri negotiations and the desertion of  the Khalsa, which cannot stand the test of historical scrutiny.
  9. Raymond, i. 82, Briggs 92-93.
  10. Kamwar Khan, Tazkirat-us-Salatin, 176 b; Irvine, later Mughals i. 312.
  11. Pothi, (An unpublished Gunnukhi Ms. completed in November, 1779, Assuj Sudi I Ith, 1836, Bikrami); Sarup Das, Mahma Prakash, p. 611 b- 612 a; Forster, A Journey from Bengal to England, i. 236; Ahmad, Mirat­ i-Ahwal-i-Jahan Numa, p. 215 a; Muhammad Ali Khan Ansari, Tarikh Bahr ul-Tawarikh. vol. I. p. 64-5; Malcolm, J., Sketch of the Sikhs, p. 76; Thornton, History of the Punjab, p. i. 110' M'Gregor, W. L., History of the Sikhs, i. 104. Cunningham, J. D. C., History of the Sikhs, p. 88; Butterworth, Alan, Substance of Indian Faith, p. 136; Bowering Lewin B., Eastern Experiences p. 320; Trump, E., The Adi Granth, p. xev.
  12. Pothi, p. 290 a. 14.
  13. P. 292 a
  14. History of the Punjab, i. 176. Also consult Mills who says, 'The Muslim historians of these events are filled with horror as well as indignation at the cruelties which he exercised upon the faithful (to them alone, it seems, did they extend) and describe him as of the most sanguinary of monsters, the man whose actions, had infidels been the sufferers and a Mussalman the actor, they might not perhaps, have thought unworthy of applause.' [History of India, vol. II p. 303]
  15. Tazkirat-us-Salatin, 176 b.
  16. Danishwar, Miftah-ul-Tawarikh, 398; Forster, Travels, i. 271; Malcolm, Sketch of the Sikhs, 85; Thornton, History of the Punjab, i. 182-3; M' Gregor, History of the Sikhs, 113; Sayyed Muhammad Latif, History of Lahore, 73.
  17. A Short History of Sikhs, 47.
  18. Khazanah-i-Amra,   114.