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The Rising in the Majha and the Haidri Flag Crusade

The victory of Sirhind, as we have already seen, had served as a signal for a general Sikh rising throughout the country, and it revived in them a new spirit of independence. They believed to have been providentially elevated to the position of conquerors and rulers, and they refused to acknowledge the authority of their Mughal masters. Added to this were the orders of Banda Singh 'addressed to the Khalsa of the Punjab (to the north of the Sutlej) to devastate the territories on that side'. The Sikhs, on their own part, were only waiting, since the battle of Chamkaur in December 1704, for an opportunity to wipe off the old scores with their persecutors. 'The entire Khalsa from the Majha and other sides, numbering about eight thousand, collected at Amritsar and, having consulted and counselled together, overran the territories of the Punjab'1. There was a sudden eruption and the Sikh volcanic lava flowed with such rapidity and force that it drove before it all who came in its way, Muslim or Hindu, official or non-official.

The parganahs of Lahore and Kasur to the west and south­ west, the former being the capital of the Subbedari and the latter being in the strong hands of the Kheshgi Afghans, were perhaps thought to be too strong to begin with for a small force of not more than a thousand combatants. Therefore they turned their attention at first to the north-east and occupied the parganahs of Batala and Kalanaur, turned out the Government officials and established their own thanas therein. These places were exceptionally rich in those days. Kalanaur is the same place where Akbar the Great was crowned as Emperor of India. It was then the residence of many a rich Imperial nobles. Batala was the market for commodities from Kashmir and Kabul. The conquest of these places added much to the resources of the Sikhs and they retraced their steps and marched towards Lahore. Some of them, the leading among them being the Sikhs of Sitthala and Batala, however, pushed on northwards and went so far as to occupy the town and territory of the parganah of Pathankot.2

Those who went towards Lahore ravaged the country up to the Shalamar Garden and carried their arms to the very walls of the city, The Mullas and other religious fanatics, who were mostly at the bottom of all religious persecution of the non-Muslims and who now suffered most at the hands of the Sikhs, were flying to Lahore. Great consternation prevailed there. The Imperial Governor Sayyed Aslam Khan, a Maulvizada of Kabul, then ruled at Lahore as the deputy of Prince Muazz-ud-Din, the eldest son of Emperor Bahadur Shah. He was seized with terror. He behaved in a most pusil-lanimous manner and dared not leave the city to oppose the Sikhs in an open fight.3

The Mullas now took the lead. They raised a religious cry, appealed to the sentiments of the Muhammadans, planted a green banner, known as the Haidri Flag, near the ldgah Mosque and proclaimed a jehad, a crusade, against the Sikhs. Muhammad Taqi, a relative of the late Sadullah,4 and Musa Beg, son of Khada Wardi Khan Agharkhahi, were the most active workers. They sold off their belongings and household furniture and applied the proceeds to the collection of men, horses and military stores. Many khojas and traders, who were known in the Punjab as Lakhi or millianaires, contributed large funds. Other leading Muhammadans, like Haji Sayyed Ismail, Haji Yar Beg, Shah Inayat and Mulla Pir Muhammad the preacher, though aged and inexperienced, personally joined the movement and assembled at the Idgah with numerous followers, amongst whom were also many Hindu officials. The leading person among the Hindus was a grandson of Todar Mal and son of Paharamal. At last when Sayyed Aslam Khan heard that he was being publicly vilified and defamed as a coward, he deputed Mir Ata Ullah,5 a gentleman from the east, and Muhib Khan Kharal,6 Zamindar of Faridabad, to join the Ghazis with a force of five hundred horse and one thousand foot.7

The Sikhs, on the other hand, divided their force into four jathas or sections. One jatha was detailed for the Majha, the districts of Amritsar and Lahore, another for Riarki and Kandhi, the district of Gurdaspur up to the foot of the hills; the third was to invest the capital city of Lahore and the fourth to remain in reserve as a moving column for emergency purpose. The Lahore section had its base depot in the village of Bharat, on the bank of the Ravi, where Mehta Bhagwant Rai, the Qanungo of the parganah of Neshta Bharti, in which Bharat was situated, had built a small brick fort. This fort, called by historians Qila Bhagwan Rai, had been occupied by the Sikhs and it served them as a rallying centre and a place of defense. On receipt of the news that the Haidri Flag Jehad was being mobilized, the Sikhs hurriedly collected some supplies, threw up entrenchments and put the fort in a state of defense.

In a few days the crusaders and the Imperialists arrived and so closely invested the place that the Sikhs could not come out in the open. However, they made a very bold defense and received the besiegers with showers of bullets from the walls and bastions of the fort. Some of the inexperienced soldiers of the enemy approached the foot of the wall, but they were not successful in getting at the gates and were shot down by the Sikhs. There was a great blood-shed on both sides, but none of them slackened in the discharge of their muskets. As an innumerable host of the Ghazis and common people had collected and surrounded the place, it was not possible for the Sikhs to drive them away. Deciding, therefore, to leave the fort, they sallied forth one night and broke through the enemies' lines. In an instant, they were beyond the reach of the besiegers. The crusaders were greatly disappointed at this slipping away of the Sikhs from their grasp. To keep up appearances, however, they returned to Lahore like happy victors. But the shame of returning unsuccessful from a crusade rankled in their hearts, and they had their revenge 'by insulting the Hindus of the city and threatening their own rulers.'

'And since', in the words of Muhammad Qasim's !brat Namah, 'some of the cowards and idiots from 'among these (Muslim crusaders), whose hereditary meanness had not been erased by the nobility of education and who were wild with vanity based upon false pretensions, perpetrated certain abominable misdeeds upon the Hindus of the city and disgraced the Imperial officials. And as in the just Court of the Real Ruler every action has its reward, once more that misguided class (of the Sikhs) collected at Kotla Begam, near Chamiari, a few kos from Lahore, and began their old customary ravages.'8

The crusade was once again proclaimed and a large force like 'ants and locusts' moved out against the Sikhs. The wild and revengeful crusaders signalized their march by an indiscriminate plunder of the villages that fell on their way, and perpetrated every kind of high-handedness upon the poor ryots. Even the leaders of the crusading force were horrified at the excesses committed and had to order the execution of two or three culprits, near the village of Bhilowal, by 'cutting them into twos with the sword'. But this had no effect on the general multitude, who could not be restrained from plunder till they came face to face with the Sikhs at the foot of the fort of Kotla Begam.9

The Sikhs came out of their enclosure to receive the assailants, discharged their muskets, threw many of them off their feet with arrows and put a great number to the sword. 'The sight of the flash of the naked Sikh sword stunned the Muslim crusaders and hastened their steps towards flight.' A desperate battle was fought and there was great loss on both sides. At a time when the result hung in the balance, a bold attack from the Sikhs broke the enemy's lines and turned the scales against them. So much pressure was at this time brought upon the Afghan horsemen that they gave way and, turning their bridle-reins, took to flight. There was now panic and confusion in the ranks of the Ghazis, and after flight of the Afghans, 'the remaining Muhammadans were unable to hold their own.10 They lost all courage. Most of them fell on the field of destruction and gave their lives in a most cowardly manner.' Sayyed Inayat, Muhammad Taqi, and Muhammad Zaman, a Ranghar Rajput, rendered creditable service at this time, but were defeated with great slaughter. High wind and heavy rain came on with the close of the day and, 'as day-light disappeared, the fighting died down, and during the night the Muhammadan force melted away into nothingness.'11

The crusaders returned towards Lahore crest-fallen. But their misfortunes had not ended as yet. Another blow, and perhaps the severest of all, was still waiting for them. On their way back they stopped at the village of Bhilowal for a night's rest. The regular soldiers were lodged in the fort and the others lay down to sleep in an open place, unmindful of any fear from the Sikhs. The Sikhs, on the other hand, were cautiously and secretly pursuing them closely with the intention of striking another blow before they could get to Lahore. Early on the following morning, before day-break, they issued forth from the neighbouring bushes and pounced upon the crusaders who were taken unawares. The Muhammadans offered no united front and most of them were cut down before they could be ready for resistance. In the chaos and confusion that prevailed among them on account of this sudden attack, every one shuffled for his life in whatever direction his legs could carry him, and the Sikhs availed themselves of this opportunity to deal so heavy a blow upon their flying and scattered enemy as they could. Seeing the shattered condition of the crusaders in a shelterless plain outside the village, Ataulla got on the top of a house and called out to them to run into the village for safety. But the Sikhs had by now done their work and hardly was there any one outside who escaped without tasting of the Sikh steel. This served as the last straw to break the camel's back. The crusaders now dispersed to their homes and their leaders returned to Lahore 'hiding their faces.'12

The exact losses of the Mohammadans and the Sikhs at Bhilowal cannot be ascertained, but there is no denying the fact that the crusaders lost very heavily in men and horses. Several hundreds of them, including Murtaza Khan and the grandson of Todar Mal, the leader of the Hindu allies, were killed, and horses and property worth several thousand fell into the hands of the Sikhs.

The Sikhs now carried on their conquests more extensively and, except the occupation of Lahore proper, practically the whole of the territory in the Majha and the Rearki tracts lay prostrate at their feet. More than once the Muhammadans appealed to their religious leaders to gird up their loins for revenge, but they dared not take the risk, and simply replied in the words of Poet Hafiz:

The Kings know the secrets of diplomacy; A faqir knows the secrets of seclusion; and you, oh Hafiz! look to your own protection.

Notes and References

  1. Ganesh Das, Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab, 189-190; Muhammad Qasim, Ibrat Namah 22; Irvine, i. 103.

Amritsar is not situated at the distance of about forty miles north of Lahore', as given by Irvine, but it lies 32 miles east of Lahore.

  1. Qasim, Ibrat Namah, 22; Muntakhib-ul-Lubab, ii. 660, Rattan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash, 117.
  2. Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab, 190; Ibrat Namah 22; Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, i. 79.
  3. Emperor Shah Jahan's Chief Vizier, Sadulla Khan Allami.
  4. lnayat Ulla, a Rajput of Tiravri. (Prachin Panth Prakash, 248).
  5. This name has been transcribed differently in different books; in Umdat-ut­Twarikh as 'Muhabbat Khan' (also Later Mughals, i. 103), in Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab as 'Najib Khan', and in Ibrat Namah as 'Maheeb Khan.'
  6. Qasim, Ibrat Namah, 23; Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab, 190; Umdat-ut­ Twarikh, i. 79
  7. Qasim, Ibrat Namah, 23.
  8. Ibrat Namah, 23. Also see Prachin Panth Prakash, 249-55.
  9. Mohammad Qasim, on the authority of some informant, ascribes the flight of the Afghans to treachery on their part, and says that they 'were secretly disaffected owing to governor's exactions, and are said to have come to an understanding with the Sikh leaders, who were their neighbours.' (Ibrat Namah, 23; Later Mughals. i. 104). The fact that Muhammad Qasim throws the responsibility of its truth or falsehood on 'the neck of his informant' throws a doubt on its credibility. Nor can it be easily believed that the Afghans could desert the cause of Islam in a crusade against the 'infidels.' The question of a secret understanding may, therefore, be safely dismissed as incredible. It is in all probability the invention of some fertile brain with a view to suggesting that, but for treachery in their ranks, the forces of Islam could not have been defeated by the Sikhs.
  10. Qasim, Ibrat Namah, 22-24; Chahar Gulshan-i-Punjab 100-2; Umdat-ut­ Tawarikh, i. 79-80. Kanhaya Lal, Tarikh-i-Punjab, Co: Latif, History of the Punjab, 275; Later Mughals. i. 103-4.
  11. Prachin Panth Prakash of Rattan Singh, and the Panth Prakash and the Twarikh of Gyan Singh place the Haidri Flag Crusade long after the death of Banda Singh, but I have here followed the Ibrat Namah of Mahammad Qasim, a contemporary writer, and the Chakar Gulshan-i-Punjab based on original sources.