Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia
The singing of the Asa Ki Var in the mornings by Jassa Singh was appreciated by all in the Dal Khalsa. He was a handsome young man, always smiling and keeping himself busy in doing sewa (volunteer service). He became very popular with the Sikhs. He learned horseback riding and swordsmanship from expert teachers. Thus, this holy singer also became an excellent soldier. Having lived in Delhi, he used to tie his turban in the Mughal fashion. He often used words of the Delhi dialect which became a favorite topic of discussion among the Sikhs. It provided them with many light moments.
Under the leadership of Jassa Singh, the Dal Khalsa took over Lahore, the capital of Punjab, for the first time, in 1761. They were the masters of the city for a few months and minted their own coins in the name of Guru Nanak. Because of his services to the Khalsa and bringing them this success, Jassa Singh was honored with the title of Sultanul Kaum, the King of the Nation.
Reclaiming the honor of the Golden Temple
Sikhs were under great pressure because of government violence against them. They became enraged when they found that Massa Rangar, the official in charge of the Amritsar region, drank alcohol and smoked in the Golden Temple. Two Sikhs, Sukha Singh and Mehtab Singh, came disguised as revenue collectors and cut off his head. It was a signal to the government that the Sikhs would never tolerate any disrespect to their sacred Harimandar Sahib.
The Governor of Lahore sent military squads to kill the Sikhs. When Jaspat Rai, brother of Lakhpat Rai, the Dewan (premier) of Lahore, faced the Sikhs in a battle, one of the Sikhs held the tail of his elephant and got on his back from behind. With a quick move, he chopped off his head, giving another blow to the government’s image.
Lakhpat Rai, after this incident, committed himself to destroying the Sikhs. In 1746, a new wave of violence was started against them with all of the resources available to the government. The army was sent to destroy the Sikhs. All of the village officials were ordered to cooperate in the expedition. About 15,000 Sikhs including Jassa Singh and other important leaders were camping in riverbeds in the Gurdaspur district (Kahnuwan tract). Local people were forcibly employed to search for the Sikhs to be killed by the army. An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Sikhs were thus murdered. Those Sikhs who were arrested alive were taken to Lahore, tortured and executed near the Horse Market. There now stands a Gurdwara called Shaheed Ganj. Even the Sikhs living in peace in the city were arrested without any reason. They were also butchered. This first massacre of 1746 is known as the Chhota Ghalughara (the small massacre) of the Sikhs.
In 1747, Shah Nawaz took over as Governor of Lahore. To please the Sikhs, Lakhpat was dismissed by the new Governor. Having been removed from office, Lakhpat received severe punishment and was killed by the Sikhs.
The first Sikh Fort, Ram Rauni
In 1747, Salabat Khan became the commander. He placed police around Amritsar and built observation posts to spot and kill Sikhs coming to the Amrit Sarovar for a holy dip. Angered by this, the Sikhs decided to free Amritsar. Even though Sikhs were given a very heavy blow only a year before, Jassa Singh and Nawab Kapoor Singh lead the Sikhs to Amritsar. Salabat Khan was killed by Jassa Singh and his nephew was killed by the arrow of Nawab Ji. After great sacrifices, the Sikhs freed the holy city of Amritsar and celebrated their Diwali gathering there.
By the year 1748, the Khalsa had many brave Jathedars. They decided to reorganize themselves under one command. On the advice of their aging Jathedar, Nawab Kapoor Singh, the Khalsa chose Sardar Jassa Singh as their supreme leader. They also decided to declare that the Punjab belonged to them and they would be the sovereign rulers of their state. It was at this time that Sikhs built their first fort, called Ram Rauni, at Amritsar. Its construction was a clear message to the government that their end had come and Sikh rule over Punjab would soon be a reality.
However, a new wave of state terrorism against the Sikhs was soon started. Adina Beg, the Faujdar (commander and administrator of a tract under a Governor) of Jallandar, sent a message to the Dal Khalsa chief to cooperate with him in the civil administration, and he wanted a meeting to discuss the matter. But in essence, this was only a trick to disarm the Sikhs and keep them under government control. Jassa Singh replied that their meeting place would be the battle ground and the discussion would be carried out by their swords.
Beg attacked the Ram Rauni fort at Amritsar and besieged the Sikhs there. Dewan Kaura Mal [Kaura Mal was called “Mitha Mal” by the Sikhs because of his friendship with them. In Punjabi, “Kaura” means bitter and “Mitha” means sweet.] advised the Governor to lift the siege and prepare the army to protect the state from the invader, Ahmed Shah Abdali. To win the good will of the Sikhs, Kaura Mal got a part of the revenue of Patti area allocated for the improvement and management of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Kaura Mal had to go to Multan to quell a rebellion there. He asked the Sikhs for help and they agreed to join him. After the victory at Multan, Kaura came to pay his respects to the Darbar Sahib, and offered 11,000 rupees. He also spent 3,000,000 rupees to build Gurdwaras at Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev.
In 1752, Kaura was killed in a battle with Abdali and state policy towards the Sikhs quickly changed. Mir Manu, the Governor, started hunting Sikhs again. He arrested many men and women, put them in prison and tortured them. In November 1753, when he went to kill the Sikhs hiding in the fields, they showered him with a hail of bullets. He fell from his horse and the animal dragged him to death. The Sikhs immediately proceeded to Lahore, attacked the prison, and got all the prisoners released and led them to safety in the forests.
There were twelve Misls of the Sikhs and Jassa Singh was the head of the Ahluwalia Misl and the leader of all the Misls, jointly called Dal Khalsa. It was with his guidance and brave handling of the leadership that the Khalsa got nearer to their goal of self-rule in the Punjab.
Khalsa as Rulers
In May 1757, the Afghan General Jahan Khan attacked Amritsar with a huge army. The Sikhs were not prepared to face the army at that time. Therefore, they decided to withdraw to the forests. Their fort, Ram Rauni, was demolished. Harimandar Sahib was blown up, and the army desecrated the Sarovar by filling it with debris and dead animals. Baba Deep Singh Shaheed made history when he attacked Jahan Khan to recover Amritsar from army control. Fatally wounded, Baba Ji cut through the army column to reach the Harimandir Sahib.
Some unexpected developments took place in the state which proved favorable for the Sikhs. Adina Beg did not pay revenues to the government. The Governor dismissed him and appointed a new Faujdar in his place. The army was sent to arrest him and this prompted Adina to request Sikh help. The Sikhs took advantage of the situation and to weaken the government, they fought against the army. One of the commanders was killed by the Sikhs and the other deserted. Later, the Sikhs attacked Jallandar and thus became the rulers of all the tracts between Satlej and Beas rivers, called Doaba. This raised the political status of the Khalsa. Instead of roaming in the forests, now they were ruling the cities.
After this, the Sikhs started bringing more areas under their control and realizing revenue from them. In 1758, joined by the Marhattas, they conquered even Lahore and arrested many Afghan soldiers who were responsible for filling the Amrit Sarovar with debris a few months earlier. They were brought to Amritsar and made to clean the Sarovar. After the cleaning of the Sarovar, the soldiers were allowed to go home with a warning that they should not do that again – which was a novel and humane punishment, all things considered.
Abdali came again in October 1759 to loot Delhi. The Sikhs gave him a good fight and killed more than 2,000 of his soldiers. Instead of getting involved with the Sikhs, he made a rapid advance to Delhi. This meant that the Khalsa were considered a formidable power in the Punjab. They decided to collect revenues from Lahore to prove to the people that the Sikhs were the rulers of the state. The Governor of Lahore knew that he could not face the Sikhs, so he closed the gates of the city and did not come out to fight against them. The Sikhs laid siege to the city. After a week, the Governor agreed to pay 30,000 rupees to the Sikhs.
Khalsa, the Saviors of the Innocent
Abdali returned from Delhi in March 1761 with lots of gold and more than 2,000 beautiful, young girls as prisoners. The Sikhs decided to save these innocent girls. Jassa Singh formulated a strategy. When Abdali was crossing the river Beas, the Sikhs swiftly fell upon them. They freed the women prisoners and escorted them back to their homes. The people felt that the Sikhs deserved to be the rulers of the Punjab. They alone could protect the people and their honor from the invaders.
The Sikhs took over Lahore in September of 1761, after Abdali returned to Kabul. They parceled it up among themselves and minted their coins in the name of Guru Nanak Dev. Sikhs, as rulers of the city, received full cooperation from the people. Jassa Singh was given the title of Sultanul Kaum.
Ahmed Shah Abdali had been very much agitated for having to yield the share of the looted wealth to the Sikhs and for having lost the young women whom he would have sold to the Afghans in Kabul. During the winter of 1762, he brought a big, well equipped army to finish the Sikhs forever. Sikhs left the cities and were near Ludhiana on their way to the forests and dry areas of the south, when Abdali moved from Lahore very quickly and caught the Sikhs totally unprepared. They had their women, children and old people with them. As many as 20,000 to 30,000 Sikhs are said to have been murdered by the army. Jassa Singh himself received about two dozen wounds. The Sikhs call it Wada Ghalughara, or the Great Holocaust.
Abdali, fearing Sikh retaliation, sent messages that he was willing to assign some areas to the Sikhs to be ruled by them. Jassa Singh, the leader of the Khalsa, rejected his offers and told him that Sikhs own the Punjab and they do not recognize his authority at all. Abdali went to Amritsar and blew up the Harimandar Sahib, hoping to destroy the source of “life” of the Sikhs. However, within a few months, the Sikhs attacked Sirhind and moved to Amritsar. Abdali was still in Lahore and was surprised to find the Sikhs so close to him within such a short time of having been dealt the greatest blow of their history. He felt forced to fight them.
A terrible battle was fought between the Sikhs and the invaders on 17 October 1762. Abdali knew that if he lost that battle to the Sikhs, he could not dare to come again to the Punjab. Sikhs were angered not only because of the heavy loss of lives, but also because of the destruction of the Harimandar Sahib. It was the day of the solar eclipse, and the Sikhs fought a fierce battle with the Afghans. Finding the Sikhs taking the upper hand, the Afghans took advantage of the darkness and fled back to Lahore. [The third Ghalughara took place in June 1984 when the Indian army stormed the Harimandar Sahib, Amritsar and murdered about 50,000 Sikhs. The Prime Minister of India was shot dead in October of the same year. It may be noted that anyone who ordered the murder of Sikhs received due punishment from them.]
Army afraid of the Sikhs
The defeat of Abdali at the hands of the Sikhs sent shock waves to Kabul and Delhi. In 1764, the Sikhs punished another commander of the army. Jain Khan was away from Sirhind recovering revenues from different Nawabs, when Sikhs moved in to face him before he could get back into the fort. When encircled by the Sikhs, he tried to slip away leaving his men entangled with the Sikhs. But Jassa Singh had organized the attack very well. When Khan was leaving the battlefield to escape, the watchful Sikhs shot him dead. The regions around Sirhind were divided among the Sikh Misldars and monies recovered from the treasury were used to rebuild the Harimandar Sahib. Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib was built in Sirhind where the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh were murdered. Sikhs took over Lahore again in 1765.
In 1767, when Abdali came again, he sent messages to the Sikhs for their cooperation. He even offered them the governorship of Punjab but none of them accepted it. Instead, the Sikhs continued to harass him with repeated guerilla attacks. They took away his caravan of 300 camels loaded with fruits from Kabul. As soon as he crossed the river Satlej on his way to Delhi, the Sikhs were again in control of the areas between Satlej and Ravi. Jassa Singh had so well prepared his men to fight that Abdali did not dare return to Kabul through Amritsar and Lahore. He took a long circuitous route through Multan. After his departure to Kabul, Sikhs crossed the Satlej and brought Sirhind and other areas right up to Delhi, under their control.
The Emperor of Delhi, Shah Alam II, was staying away in Allahabad; he did not come to Delhi for fear of the Sikhs. Alam ordered his commander Zabita Khan to fight the Sikhs. Zabita, knowing that he could not face the Sikhs, made a truce with them instead. Later, Alam dismissed him from service. Zabita Khan came to the Sikhs’ camp and he was welcomed by them. He became a Sikh, and was given a new name, Dharam Singh.
The high character of the Sikhs and their bravery are documented by an eye-witness and translated below:
Sikhs are great experts in the use of the sword and the art of war. Like lions, they jump on the enemy, like foxes they run away and get out of our reach. Their bodies are rock hard and in physical strength, one Sikh is the equivalent of more than 50 men. If they flee in a battle, don’t assume that they have been defeated. That is just part of their tactics because they suddenly turn back and murder all those who pursue them. Come and see these lions in the battlefield to learn the art of war from them.
They do not kill a woman, a child or a coward running away from the fight. They do not rob any person nor do they take away the ornaments of a woman, be she a queen or a slave girl. They commit no adultery, rather they respect the women of even their enemies. They always shun thieves and adulterers and in generosity, they surpass Hatim.
These comments are from the pen of Qazi Nur Mohammed, who came to Punjab with Abdali. These words are very significant because the Qazi was present during many Sikhs battles and himself was an enemy of the Sikhs.
Peace in Amritsar
Abdali thought that having demolished their fort and desecrated their holy Sarovar, he had made Sikhs unable to face the Afghans. However, within months, the Sikhs, guided by Ahluwalia, were strong enough to make Afghans their prisoners, and made them clean up the Amrit Sarovar. Within a few years, the same Abdali feared the Sikhs so much that he did not dare follow his normal route through Punjab to return to Kabul. He knew that the Sikhs were ready to tell him that they owned the Punjab and not the Afghans.
Jathedar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, honored as Sultanul Kaum (King of the Nation) was a devout Sikh. He was not greedy and did not attempt to add more areas to his Misl. Instead, whenever any wealth or villages came into the hands of the Sikhs, he distributed them among the Jathedars of all the Misls. Having lead the Sikhs through very trying times, Jassa Singh passed his last years in Amritsar. With the resources available to him, he repaired all the buildings, improved the management of the Gurdwaras, and provided better civic facilities to the residents of Amritsar. He was a contented man, having given his life for the cause of the Khalsa Panth. He wanted every Sikh to take Amrit before joining the Dal Khalsa. It were his actions as a true Sikhs that kept the Khalsa united and helped them to become a power in the Punjab.
Jassa Singh died in 1783 and was cremated near Amritsar. There is a city block, Katra Ahluwalia, in Amritsar named after him. This block was assigned to his Misl in honor of his having stayed there and protected the holy city.