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Establishment of Khalsa Raj in the Punjab

The Sikhs after Banda Bahadur

Subsequent to the murder of Banda Bahadur, the Sikhs were left leaderless. Abd-us-Samad Khan adopted a tyrannous policy. Therefore the Sikhs were forced to leave Punjab towns and take refuge in the hills. Those of them, who could not face hardships, stopped donning Sikh symbols and reverted back to Hindu social order. For twenty years, the Sikhs underwent the severest of atrocities. As Sikhs of the Guru they showed exemplary forbearance and courage in the face of persecution and did not let a wrinkle appear on their brow. The sacrifices of the Gurus always stood before them as source of inspiration to remain ever ready for the protection and the service of the Panth. Whenever they got a chance, they came down to the plains for pillage and plunder. In 1739 A.D. they got such an opportunity for the first time. That year, Nadir Shah the ruler of Persia invaded India. After defeating the Mughal Emperor he enacted gory scenes of massacre and plunder in the imperial capital of Delhi. Taking advantage of this turmoil, the Sikh youth emerged from their hide-outs in the hills and got engaged in plunder and pillage. Some of them even dared raid Nadir Shah's camp and caravan only to share booty with the victorious troops.

Organisation of Sikh Fighting Bands

The Sikhs got great success in such raiding sorties and they felt emboldened to march in the plains in the form of roving bands, comprising of 20-25 people, called jathas. Wherever they got a chance, they would suddenly pounce upon their target and disappear with whatever money, ornaments, goods or cattle they could lay their hand upon. Each Sikh possessed a swift-footed horse, a sword, a spear and two blankets for cover. They did not fritter away the looted cash but used it for purchasing horses or armaments. As a result of that; many an intrepid youth began to swell their ranks. Each new recruit was given a horse, a sword and two blankets. In this way the number of Sikh bands (jathas) began to increase.

The Secret of the Power of Sikh Fighting Bands

Each jatha had a commander called Jathedar. Every Jathedar used to distribute the booty equally among the soldiers. For this reason, there could be no acrimony among the members of the jatha and each soldier remained glued to the jatha. Moreover, all were the followers of the Guru and each one of them considered the defence of the Panth his primary duty. Similarly, every Jathedar thought it his sacred duty to help his comrades. All these fighting bands (jathas) had a single aim to further the cause of the Panth and to strengthen it for waging the struggle.

Deplorable Condition of the Delhi Empire

These days the Delhi Empire had become very weak. Spoliation had spread to all the four comers of the country. There was no strong power which could stem the rot. The Delhi empire had disintegrated a state which encouraged the Subedars (Provincial governors) to carve out independent principalities. They turned their back towards Delhi and began to strengthen their own position. Asaf Jah Nizam-ul-Mulk established his own independent Sate of Hyderabad in Deccan; Ali Vardi Khan occupied Bengal; and the Nawab Wazir retired towards the territory of Oudh. Later, all of them headed powerful states. Besides the Subedars, the Marathas were also busy in despoiling the Mughal Empire. The Marathas having shed their internal differences became so powerful that the Emperor of Delhi accepted them as independent rulers by issuing a proper-royal edict in 1719 A.D. After that the Marathas became bolder and they pillaged the territories of the king of Delhi, and extended their possessions. Within a period of twenty years the Marathas succeeded in establishing their complete sway over Gujrat, Malwa and Bundhel khand. Not only that; the Maratha Chieftains even plundered the out-skirts of Delhi, during 1736 A.D. Nadir Shah's invasion in 1739 A.D. put an end to whatever was left of the Mughal empire. Nadir's invasion provided unique opportunity to the Sikhs. They did not fail to seize it and built a couple of forts on the banks of river Ravi. Their morale redoubled and they busied themselves to enhance their prestige and power.

The Battle of Eminabad - 1745 A.D.

About 1745 A.D. a large Sikh force assembled near the town of Eminabad (modern Gujranwala district near Lahore). The Subedar of Lahore sent forces under the command of Diwan Jaspat Rai to disperse it. The Sikhs fought with full zeal and fervour forcing the Diwan to get engaged in a pitched battle. An intrepid Sikh youth climbed the Diwan's elephant by catching hold of its tail, beheaded the Diwan with a stroke of his sword, jumped down and fled. Seeing this, the Diwan's army lost ground and fled the field carrying the head of the Diwan. On hearing the killing of Jaspat Rai, his brother Lakhpat Rai's anger who was Diwan of Lahore knew no bounds. He marched against the Sikhs with a massive force. Consequently there was a general massacre of the Sikhs. Many of the fleeing Sikhs were captured and were mercilessly butchered at Lahore. The site where this carnage took place is well-known as Shahidganj (Lahore).

Dispute between Brothers

After the battle of Eminabad a wave of severe persecution was let loose against the Sikhs by the Governor of Lahore. It seemed as if the Sikhs would have to face the same kind of atrocities as they had been subjected to during the regime of Abd-us-Samad Khan. But to their good fortune a dispute arose between Nawab Zakariya Khan's sons, Yahiya Khan and Shah Nawaz Khan over the governorship of the Punjab. At last Shah Nawaz Khan was able to overpower his elder brother, Yahiya Khan and occupy Lahore and Multan after expelling him from the Punjab. Yahya Khan went to Delhi to seek help from the king emperor. At this, Shah Nawaz got terrified and entered into negotiations with Ahmad Shah Abdali, the King of Afghanistan, whom he invited to invade India.

Invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali (1748 A.D. to 1761 A.D.)

Ahmad Shah was the chief of Abdali or Durrani tribe of the Afghans and was holding a respectable rank under Nadir Shah. When in 1746 Nadir Shah was murdered, Ahmad Shah became king of Afghanistan. Ahmad Shah had accompanied Nadir Shah during the latter's invasion of India, and he was well aware of the tottering state of the Mughal empire. He, therefore, cheerfully accepted Shah Nawaz Khan’s invitation and having crossed river Attack at the head of a large army, entered the plains of the Punjab. Meanwhile Shah Nawaz had come to terms with the emperor of Delhi. He therefore, instead of welcoming Abdali, prepared to oppose him. But Ahmad Shah was not to be deterred. A single assault by the Durranis tired out Shah Nawaz's army, and he ran away towards Delhi. On the other hand, the Mughal armies advanced to face the invader Abdali. The two armies clashed at Sirhind. In this battle Mir Mannu, (Muin-ul-Mulk) the son of the imperial prime minister, fought so bravely that even the enemy praised him. Ahmad Shah Abdali was defeated and he had to beat a shameful retreat. The Emperor of Delhi pleased with the courage shown by Mir Mannu appointed him as the governor of Punjab.

Founding of the Dal Khalsa

For the Sikhs the invasion of Ahmad Shah Abdali proved a blessing in disguise. On the one hand they got relief from the atrocities of the Punjab government for some time and on the other hand, they got an opportunity to strengthen their position during the prevailing chaotic conditions. They raised a fort at Amritsar which they called Ram Rauni. During the same period, a great Sikh general, Sardar Jassa Singh Kalal, sought to cobble together different Sikh jathas into a single organisation and knit them into a united fighting force named Dal Khalsa. This was to be the first Sikh army under the command of one general.

Nawab Mir Mannu’s submission before Ahmad Shah Abdali

When Nawab Mir Mannu (Mu'in-ul-Mulk) came to have full control over the Subadari of Punjab, he turned his attention towards the Sikhs. In order to improve the condition of Punjab, he followed a policy of suppression. But fortunately for the Sikhs, Ahmad Shah Abdali again invaded India. This time, Mir Mannu submitted before him; accepted his overlordship and agreed to pay him the entire revenue of the districts of Gujrat, Sialkot and Pasrur, as tribute. At this, Ahmad Shah returned to Afghanistan. Three years hence, Mir Mannu did not pay any tribute. Ahmad Shah, decided to teach Nawab Mu'in-ul-Mulk a lesson for his recalcitrant behaviour and invaded Punjab for the third time. Mir Mannu prepared to face the invader in the battlefield. The Durrani army besieged the city of Lahore for four months. Tired of the prolonged siege and facing shortage of provisions, Mir Mannu, decided to give a fight. Mir Mannu's general, Diwan Kaura Mai was killed in the battle, and one of his other important officers, Adina Beg Khan, deserted him and retired from the field. Seeing this, Mu'in-ul-Mulk surrendered before Ahmad Shah Abdali who admired his valour and allowed him to continue as governor of the Punjab on his behalf. He returned to Kabul after exacting ten million rupees as tribute from Mir Mannu.1

Death of Mir Mannu

Mir Mannu now began to rule firmly as a deputy of Ahmad Shah Abdali, but he did not live long. Three months later, he fell from his horse and died. His widow tried to take his place. But it was an arduous job for a lady during those critical times. The Emperor of Delhi attempted to recover his lost territories of the Punjab. Peeved at this, Ahmad Shah launched his fourth invasion of India in the beginning of 1755 A.D. He appointed his son, Prince Taimur, as Subedar of Lahore, and himself advanced towards Delhi. Having occupied Sirhind, he reached Delhi and plundered the city to his heart's content. He appointed Najib-ud-Daula Rohela as his attorney in the court at Delhi, and went back.

Sikh Supremacy over Lahore - 1756 A.D. to 1758 A.D.

One significant result of Ahmad Shah Abdali's repeated invasions was that the Mughal administrative organisation in the Punjab broke down. There remained no stable government in Punjab which could restore order. The Sikh jathedars would not let such a rare opportunity slip from their hands. They increased their strength many-fold. Their regular army, Dal Khalsa, had been organised and many well-known generals came to the fore. Prince Taimur proved an ordinary ruler and it was easy for the Sikhs to overpower him. As soon as Taimur attacked the sacred city of the Sikhs (Amritsar), and their fort Ram Rauni, the Sikhs assembled in thousands and, shouting slogans of Akal, Akal, fell upon the enemy. Sikhs were adept in techniques of irregular welfare. They avoided giving a pitched battle in an open field. Their technique was to seize their chance, surprise the enemy, plunder goods and disappear immediately in the forests. Sikh horsemen used to have light equipment; swift steeds and they ran to hiding instantly. They put the enemy in an envious position by repeated raids. Prince Taimur had to face such difficulties, and he left the battlefield in disgust. The Sikhs chased the retreating army of the Prince and created such disorder and confusion in his ranks that Taimur left Lahore and halted only on the bank of the river Chenab. Sardar Jassa Singh Kalal of the Dal Khalsa occupied Lahore and struck coin in his own name. The silver coin bore a couplet in Persian which in translation would read:

Coin struck in the world by the grace of Akal,

Country of Ahmad captured by Jassa Kalal.2

Punjab under the Marathas

Although the Sikhs had occupied Lahore and had even struck coin in their name, yet by this time they were not powerful enough to retain their supremacy over Lahore for long. Taimur returned to Lahore after reinforcements arrived from Kabal. Thereupon the Sikhs withdrew from Lahore. On the other hand, the courtiers at Delhi were conspiring to oust Ahmad Shah Abdali's attorney, Najib-ud-Daulah. The imperial minister Ghazi-ud-Din sought help from the Marathas and invited the Peshwa to Delhi. By then, Marathas had become the strongest power in South (West) India. They were too keen to advance towards north and establish their power in the imperial capital of Delhi. They accepted Gazi-ud- Din’s invitation and Peshwa’s brother, Raghoba advanced towards Delhi with a large army. Najib-ud-Daulah fled for his life. Raghoba occupied Delhi and advanced towards the Punjab. On the way, he drove Abdali's faujdar out of Sirhind and also made Prince Taimur flee beyond the Attock river.

Third Battle of Panipat - 1761 A.D.

How could Ahmad Shah bear this insult? But he knew full well that this time his encounter was not with the weak king of Delhi but with the mighty Maratha confederacy. Therefore he left no stone unturned while preparing for war. He set out towards India with a massive army. The encounter between the two armies took place in the year 1761 Panipat. The Marathas were clearly defeated. They lost two hundred thousand soldiers, killed and wounded. It was a great blow to the rising Maratha power, and it became hard for them to recover from the shock for some time. Delhi lost whatever power it still possessed. The Emperor of Delhi bid farewell to the throne of his ancestors, and found refuge at first in Oudh and then in Bengal.

Ahmad Shah did not stay in Delhi for long. He returned to Afghanistan after appointing. Zain Khan as Faujdar at Sirhind and Khawaja Obaid as nazim (governor) of Lahore.

Sikh Gurmata - 1762 A.D.

The Sikhs took full advantage, of the battle of Panipat. They plundered Abdali's camp to thier hearts content during his return journey. After that, all the Khalsa sardars assembled at Darbar Sahib Amritsar along with their jathas. A great council was held in which plans for future expeditions were deliberated upon. Such meetings were held at Amritsar from time to time. The Sikhs called these meetings gurumata in their jargon (Sikh terminology).

The Bloody Battle of Ghallu Ghara - 1762 A.D.

Khwaja Obaid (governor of Lahore) wanted to repulse the Sikhs but was himself defeated. A huge quantity of Khwaja's armament fell into the hands of the Sikhs. Across the Sutlej, a second party of the Sikhs plundered Zain Khan, faujdar of Sirhind, and his supporter, Hangam Khan (Bhikhan Khan) Chief of Malerkotla. When these heart breaking news reached Ahmad Shah, that tireless general set out from Kabal with a resolve to crush the Sikhs. At this time the morale of the Sikh fighting bands was high because of their recent victories. Dal Khalsa had also expanded considerably. Therefore, the Sikhs decided to face Abdali squarely. This was the first battle in which the Sikhs fought with the enemy in line formation at one place in an open field. According to historians' estimate, the Sikh army was approximately forty-thousand in numbers. The two armies clashed at Ghora Ghara (Kup-Rahira), twenty miles from Ludhiana. The Sikhs fought with marvelous courage as religious warriors. They advanced shouting slogans of Akal, and instantly embraced the goddess Death. Although, they were facing death incessantly, yet these lions of the Guru did not think of retreat. During this dreadful battle about fifteen thousand Sikhs were killed. In order to humiliate the Sikhs, Abdali devastated their central shrine; Darbar Sahib, defiled the holy tank with the blood of kine, and to create horror in the minds of the people, the heads of the killed Sikhs were hung at different places in the town.

Occupation of Sirhind by Sikhs - 1763 A.D.

Such a tremendous loss, though, could prove disastrous for this small community, but the Sikhs did not let the idea of defeat pass their minds. They had endured many hardships and it was such endurance that had transformed them from iron into steel. The idiom that "they had grown up under the shadow of the swords" exactly applied to them. As soon as Ahmad Shah turned his back, the Sikhs began to regroup their bands (Jathas) and marched against Zain Khan Abdali’s faujdar at Sirhind. During December 1763 A.D., Zain Khan and his ally, Hangam Khan (Bhikhan Kan), Chief of Malerkotla, died fighting, and the Sikhs occupied Sirhind. Abdali invaded Punjab during the following year but failed in his mission this time. He thought it politic to appoint Baba Ala Singh, a very famous jathedar of the Sikhs, as faujdar of Sirhind, and hastily marched back to subdue a tumult in Afghanistan.

Sikh occupation of Lahore - 1764 A.D.

No sooner had Ahmad Shah returned than the Sikhs launched a combined attack on Lahore. Abdali's governor, Kabuli Mai, fled after a brief encounter, and the Sikhs occupied Lahore. Three commanders of the Dal Khalsa (the Bhangi Sardars), Gujar Singh, Sohba Singh and Lahina Singh, divided Lahore and its surrounding territories amongst themselves. A Coin was struck in the name of the Khalsa with the following couplet inscribed thereon

‘Degh-o-Tegh-o-Fateh-o-Nusrat Bedrang

Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh ’

(The kettle and sword (symbols of charity and power), victory and blessing have been obtained from Guru Nanak - Guru Gobind Singh)

Abdali's Last Invasion - 1767 A.D.

On hearing the news of the fall of Lahore, the Abdali became furious, but he was helpless because of old age and sickness. He, therefore, had to remain silent for two years. During this period the Sikhs lost no chance to strengthen their position. In 1767 A.D., Abdali again descended on Punjab - this being his last invasion. The Sikhs vacated Lahore and fled hither and thither. Ahmad Shah marched forward without resistance. He recognised Raja Amar Singh grandson of Baba Ala Singh as his deputy at Sirhind. As soon as Abdali reached the banks of river Satluj; one of his contingents approximately twelve thousand strong beat the retreat to Kabul without any formal orders. Thus, Ahmad Shah Abdali was obliged to get back in disgust. He had hardly crossed river Attock (Indus) when the Sikhs recaptured Lahore. Moreover, a Sikh jathedar,

Charhat Singh beat away Abdali's officers from the impregnable fort of Rohtas, and occupied it himself.

The Khalsa Raj in Punjab

The Mughal empire had disintegrated. Marathas had been overpowered at Panipat; and in Punjab there was none who could challenge the Sikhs. Therefore, the Sikh jathedars started establishing their hegemony over the Punjab territories without any hinderance. The Khalsa came to hold sway over the entire plain country from river Jehlum to Saharanpur (modern Uttar Pradesh) within a short period. Multan, Kashmir and Sindh remained under the Muslims, and Hindu Rajputs continued to dominate the mountain regions of Jammu and Kangra.

Administration Under the Khalsa Rule

A.  The Principle of Equality

All the members, high or low, of a jatha were considered equal. All of them were Singhs of the Guru and members of the Khalsa Panth. They fought for the protection of the Panth.Whatever booty fell into their hand during battle was distributed equally amongst them in accordance with the principle of equality. If a territory came under occupation of any jatha, its villages and towns were also divided approximately, according to the same principle. Each jatha had one chief whom all the members of the jatha accepted as their leader. Any member of a jatha whenever he so desired, could join another jatha. He enjoyed full freedom to form his own new jatha. There are scores of instances of persons leaving their jathas and organising their respective new jathas.

B. Yearly Programme

Each year at the end of the rainy season, all chiefs assembled with their respective jathas in the holy city of Amritsar on the occasion of Dusehra and held Gurumata or assembly. On this occasion, first of all the temple priest read out of Granth Sahib, then karah parshad (conscreted pudding), was distributed . The Singhs of the Guru met each other with love and affection, considered plans for the progress of the Khalsa Panth, settled mutual disputes and took decisions as to the expeditions for the next year. The decisions of the gurumata were binding on all, because it was thought that the Guru's hidden hand had been present during the deliberations of the council and that all the proceedings of the Gurumata were conducted with spiritual help of the Guru. In a way gur-umata formed the kernel of the Khalsa's democratic tradition which kept the freedom loving Sikhs united. Besides Dusehra, gurumata could be held on other occasions as per the demands of the circumstance. In such an eventuality, the Akali priests of every temple used to inform prominent chiefs and they came to Amritsar along with their jathas.

C.  Civil Administration

Each jathedar’s (or chiefs’) jurisdiction was limited to his own possessions. Every chief tried his best to maintain peace in his territory. The primary aim of every sardar or chief was to guarantee peace so that his subjects could pursue their vocations peacefully. It would be a mistake to expect any form of reforms from them because these people were not yet aware of intricacies of the form and conduct of governance. Therefore they continued with the rules and regulations in force during the Mughal times. Civil and criminal cases were decided through panchayats, or councils of five, of the villages and towns. Land revenue was also collected more or less on the old pattern.

D.  The identity of Smaller Bands

Because all humans are not endowed with equal versatility of intellect and physique, therefore everyone could not naturally become a leader. A person of ordinary intellect has to take the help of the best available brain and has to acknowledge the latter's greatness. Thus smaller jathas combined to form bigger ones under the command of leaders who possessed better qualities of head and heart. But the smaller jathas did not lose their identity altogether. They maintained their colours even after joining the bigger ones. Thus they continued to have an identity of their own and every unit remained keen to exhibit its distinctive role.

E.  Distribution of the Fighting Bands (Jathas)

As the members of a jatha used to divide plunder amongst themselves, now the jathas began to divide territories accordingly. Thus different jathas took possession of different territories. About the year 1764 A.D. twelve prominent jathas of the Sikhs had come into existence, and they had divided among themselves the entire plain country from Jehlum to Saharanpur. A detailed account of these jathas shall be given in the next chapter.

Notes & References

1.       Diwan Amar Nath, in his book Zufar Namah-i-Ranjit Singh, describes the meeting between Mir Mannu and the Abdali King thus:

The Shah asked Mir Mannu, “How should I treat you?” Young Mannu unhesitatingly replied, “If you are a trader, sell me; if you are a butcher, kill me; if you are a king, set me free.” Ahmad Shah then asked, “If I had been a prisoner in your hands, how would you treat me?” The Nawab said. "I am not an independent sovereign. Because of my loyalty to my sovereign and my own constraint, I would have put you in an iron cage and sent you to the Emperor at Delhi." [vide op. cit.. page 113].

2.       No such coin has come to light so far. - Ed.