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The Shahid or Nihang Misal

Deep Singh Shahid

Deep Singh Shahid, a Sandhu Jat and resident of the village of Pohuwind of the pargana of Amritsar, was the founder of this Misal.1 He was born in A.D. 1682 (14 magh, 1739 BK), His father Bhai Bhagata ji and mother Jioni ji were devoted Sikhs. Deep Singh remained with Guru Gobind Singh from 1700 to 1706. After the battle of Khidrana Guru Gobind Singh went to Talwandi Sabo, to the south of Bhatinda, and stayed there for some time. After the Guru’s1 death, to commemorate the memory of his stay at Talwandi, a Gurdwara was built there. The name of the place was changed to Demdama which signifies ‘a breathing place.’ The first mahant or priest put in charge of the shrine was Deep Singh. He had the privilege of remaining in the company of the Guru for some time. Deep Singh is said to have been a man of scholarly disposition with a thorough knowledge of Sikh scriptures. Deep Singh got prepared four copies of the Guru Granth Sahib which Guru Gobind Singh had finalised at Damdama. These copies, one each, were sent to Akal Takht, Amritsar, and the Takhts at Patna, Anandpur and Damdama. The volume prepared by Guru Gobind Singh remained with the Guru himself. During the big holocaust of 1762, that volume is said to have been taken away by the Durrani invader to Kabul.2

When Banda Singh came to the Punjab, to wreak vengeance upon Wazir Khan of Sirhind for his most heinous act of bricking alive the younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh, Deep Singh joined him. In most of the operations of Banda Singh in the Punjab and the adjoining areas Deep Singh was mostly with him. He always displayed remarkable feats of bravery and fearlessness.3 His prominent companions included Gurbaksh Singh of village Leel, in the pargana of Khem Karan, Sudh Singh of village Dakoha, in the pargana of Jalandhar and Prem Singh, Sher Singh, Dargaha Singh and Hira Singh.4

When the strength of the Taruna Dal grew to as many as 12,000 men, for efficient administration of the organisation, Kapur Singh split the dal into five sections, one of them being led by Deep Singh.

Deep Singh occupied some territory of Sialkot which was under Muhammad Amin and handed over the same to his companions, Dayal Singh and Natha Singh.

Deep Singh remained with Banda Singh Bahadur from 1708 to 1715. From 1715 to 1757, he remained mostly at Damdama Sahib, all the time preaching Sikhism and teaching scriptures to the Sikhs. He spent about ten years, from 1716 to 1726, in preparing four copies of the holy Guru Granth Sahib referred to above. He kept himself fully posted with the activities of the Sikhs and maintained his deep interest in the Sikh movement for their liberation.

Having lived in the close association of Guru Gobind Singh, Deep Singh attained high proficiency in Punjabi (Gurmuki); Urdu and Persian. He is also said to have learnt Hindi, Marathi and Arabic. Having a beautiful hand-writing he was considered an appropriate person for preparing copies of the Sikh scriptures. In such works he helped Bhai Mani Singh as well.

Since his life was completely dedicated to the cause of the Sikh Panth and imparting of education in Sikh scriptures he could never think of marriage and lived a life of single-blessedness.

On his fourth invasion, Ahmad Shah moved to Lahore on December, 20, 1756, and, then, shortly, therefore proceeded towards Delhi. After plundering the Mughal capital, and some other places, the Shah, on his homeward march, arrived at Tarori on the 13th of April 1757. Here, Jahan Khan was ordered to move in advance along with Prince Timur, to Lahore.

On their way to Lahore, Prince Timur and Jahan Khan sacked the Sikh town and temple of Kartarpur in the Jalandhar Doab. The importance of the town lay in its Gurdwaras or the Sikh temples, sacred to the memory of the fifth and the sixth Sikh Gurus, Arjan and Hargobind. The Afghans, guided by Naseer Ali Khan of Jalandhar attacked the unsuspecting residents, all of a sudden, and subjected them to indiscriminate massacre and plunder. The Gurdwaras were set on fire and the buildings, including the historic pillar, called the Thamm Sahib, were all reduced to ashes and desecrated with the blood of slaughtered cows. On his arrival at Lahore, the Shah stayed there only for a short time. He sent out a detachment against the Sikhs at Amritsar. The city was sacked, the buildings were razed to the ground, the tank was profaned and a number of Sikhs killed. This happened about October 1757.

This was too much for the Sikhs to tolerate. As the festival of Diwali approached, the Sikhs who had taken refuge in the Malwa were inspired by Deep Singh to march to Amritsar to get the city vacated from the Afghans. Five or six thousands of them collected at Tarn Taran, mostly from the villages of Jaga, Bahman, Nahanwala, Banjhoke, Guruchautra, Phul, Mehraj, Daraj, Bhachhu, Gobindpura, Kot and Lakhi Jungle. At Tarn Taran they tied festal ribbons round their wrists and sprinkled saffron on their turbans, “as if they were out to fight for and win brides for themselves.”5 They prepared themselves for extreme sacrifices.

The Sikhs under Deep Singh reached Amritsar where there was a severe fighting between the forces of Lahore under Jahan Khan and the Sikhs. Tahmas Khan Miskin, who had witnessed the fighting, wrote a detailed account of the action, in his Tazkirah-i-Tahmas Miskin. He recorded in his chronicle that “the Sikhs closely besieged the Muslim forces and from every side kept the fighting hot and distressed them so much that many of their men turned to flee in desperation.”6 Ultimately before the heavy odds of the Afghans the Sikhs suffered huge losses.

In the battle of Gohalwarh Deep Singh and Jamal Shah, one of the Afghan Commanders, engaged in a hand to hand fight in which both of them received mortal wounds. It is said that at this moment, one of Deep Singh’s companions reminded him as to how his vow to lay down his life at the feet of the Guru i.e. in the precincts of Harmandir Sahib, which was at a distance of two kos from there, would be fulfilled. Even at the ripe age of seventy five hi, unswerving valour and unshaken faith in the ultimate victory of the Sikhs kept his spirits high. Supporting his wounded head Deep Singh went on fighting until he fell dead in the precincts of the Golden Temple,7 where a cenotaph stands in his honour. The place, outside Ramsar, where he was wounded is also marked with a memorial temple.

The important Sikhs who laid down their lives there included Dharam Singh, Khem Singh, Man Singh, Ram Singh, Sant Singh, Sajjan Singh, Bahadur Singh, Hira Singh and Akharh Singh.8 Deep Singh’s jatha, henceforth, began to be known as shahid jatha. Later, they carved out a Shahid Misal. It was also called Nihang Misal as its members and Sardars wore “blue, chequered clothes, put bangles of steel round their wrists and a circular, sharpened, bright sword round their head.”9 The word Akali, meaning ‘immortal’, had been used for a particular order of the Sikhs which claims its origin to Guru Gobind Singh. These Akalis also called Nihangs were dedicated to the service and defence of the faith. According to Malcolm, “The Akalis have a great interest in maintaining both the religion and government of the Sikhs as established by Guru Gobind Singh as on its continuance in that shape, their religious and political influence must depend. Should Amritsar cease to be a place of resort or be no longer considered as the religious capital of the state in which all questions, that involve the general interest of the commonwealth, are to be decided, this formidable order would at once fall from that power and consideration, which they possess, to a level with other mendicants.”10

In the words of Gordon, “They exercised a fierce scrutiny as censors in upholding strict compliance with the militant creed of the Singhs, constituted themselves defenders of the faith against all innovations, took a prominent part in the councils in the planning and arranging of expeditions for averting national danger and in educating the people in the doctrines of the Sikh religion.”11

Through their extraordinary zeal and enthusiasm, they acquired the character of priests in which capacity they acted effectively while directing the conduct of the Sikh councils at the Akal Takht. They did not like the Europeans and the Muslims because of their anti-Sikh practices. According to Malcolm they were, “insufferable to strangers for whom they entertain a contempt which they take little pains to conceal.”12

To serve a foreign master was against their creed. In fact, it was a practice with them to be a little uncharitable to the powerful and the rich while serving and helping the poor and the weak. In the matter of religious doctrine and practice, they were uncompromisingly orthodox. According to Ali-ud-Din Mufti, the Akalis were an order that never cared about death and misery. And because of the respect for this order the Sikhs were strictly forbidden from oppressing these people or shedding their blood and doing so was considered a sinful act.13 The Akalis have, ever since their origin, been held in high esteem by the Sikhs. Their contingents were called the forces of Guru Gobind Singh.14 Therefore, they enjoyed the regard of the whole Sikh community. Hence the deep veneration in which the Shahid or Nihang Misal was held.

Sudh Singh Shahid

After the martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh, his associate Sudh Singh succeeded him at the shrine at Damdama Sahib. As referred to earlier he belonged to Dakoha in the pargana of Jalandhar. He died fighting against the Muhammadan governor of Jalandhar,15 in 1762, near his native place Dakoha.16

Karam Singh Shahid

Karam Singh, the companion of Sudh Singh, succeeded him. He was the son of Chaudhry Bir Singh, a Sidhu Jat, resident of the village Marana (Marhaka) in the pargana of Lahore. After Zain Khan of Sirhind was killed the Sikh Sardars occupied the surrounding territories. Karam Singh also occupied parganas of Shahzadpur, Majri and Kesari in Ambala district from which an income of one lakh rupees accrued annually.17 Nawab Zabita Khan of Ranniawala was ruling his territory near Damdama Sahib. He was in constant warfare with the Sikhs. In order to pacify them he transferred twelve villages in the name of the Gurdwara, including the villages of Dadu, Dharampura, Rampura, Talokewala, Kewal and Huna Pucca.18 Karam Singh later took possession of Rannia, Damdama, Khari, Jaroli, Faizullapur and the adjoining areas.19 He lived at Kesari. His brother Dharam Singh was given Shahzadpur. Dharam Singh died issueless. After Dharam Singh’s death his widow Mai Desan was given a village Baragaon for her subsistence. Karam Singh himself shifted to Shahzadpur, and brought Mai Desan, the widow of Dharam Singh, into his wedlock.20 After Mai Desan’s death her possessions also passed into the hands of Karam Singh.

During Karam Singh’s time a contingent of 404 Sikhs, with two guns and 10 zamburs, was stationed at Damdama. Natha Singh was the mukhtar of the place. He was replaced by the orders of Karam Singh.

When in 1768, on the complaint of a Brahman whose married daughter had been forcibly seized by Hasan Khan, the Nawab of Jalalabad Lohari, the Sikh forces marched on Jalalabad under the command of Karam Singh Shahid who emerged successful in the fighting. The Nawab was tied to a cot and burnt alive. Nawab’s agent, a Hindu Kalal, who informed him of the beautiful girls, was publically executed. The Brahman’s daughter was restored to her husband and the Sardar saw that the food cooked by the girl was served to all the Brahmans of her husband’s village. The Sikhs gave a sufficient amount of money to the girl’s husband to assure good treatment for her.21 Karam Singh ruled his territory very efficiently. He kept under his control, the parganas of Bankhandi and Bartha Jawai (in the Saharanpur district) with an income of one lakh rupees annually, for a period of thirty years.22

Towards the end of 1779, Karam Singh arrived in the camp of Prince Abdul Ahad at Karnal and presented two horses and some other gifts. He was awarded a khillat of five pieces, a sarpech and a sword. Some other chiefs, including Baghel Singh Karorsinghia and Sahib Singh Khundawala, also met the prince. These chiefs were joining the imperial camp partly to crush their opponents with the assistance of the king’s forces and partly to plunder the territory of the Raja of Patiala at whose domination they were chafing.23

Due to his hobnobbing with the Marathas Diwan Nanumal of Patiala fell from royal favours. When he was returning from Karnal he heard of all that his enemies had accomplished against him. He thought it unwise to return to Patiala where he could only expect imprisonment or death. He, therefore, took refuge with Sardar Karam Singh Shahid.24

The forces of the Shahid Misal comprised 2000 horsemen.25 Karam Singh died in 1794.

Gulab Singh Shahid

Karam Singh was succeeded by his eldest son Gulab Singh who was an inefficient man. He could not retain the possessions of his father. On January 4, 1804, he met colonel Ochterlony of the East India Company, at Karnal, when the British proceeded up to that place, and offered assistance to the British and appealed to place him under their protection.26

Ochterlony gave him a recommendatory letter in which he wrote that, “Sardar Gulab Singh of Kesari came here and sought asylum under the East India Company. Whosoever follows me to command the company’s forces he must take Gulab Singh as a faithful follower of the British and watch his interests.”27

The Sikhs paid great regards to the Shahid Misal as its early leaders had fought very bravely in the campaigns of the Dal Khalsa. When Ranjit Singh conquered Naraingarh in 1807, during his second cis-Satluj campaign, he passed through Shazadpur, 10 kms west of Naraingarh. Out of great regards for the Shahids the Maharaja did not interfere in the affairs of Shahzadpur. Gulab Singh died in 1844.28

Gulab Singh’s successors

Gulab Singh was succeeded by his son, Shiv Kirpal Singh, who was, then, only six years old. He sided with the British in the Indian mutiny and earned their goodwill. He held estates worth 30,000 rupees, a year and continued to be the guardian of the Damdama Sahib Gurdwara, which brought in about 1000 rupees a year, in offerings. After Shiv Kirpal Singh’s death in 1871, his son Jiwan Singh became his successor. Jiwan Singh was married to Bachittar Kaur, daughter of Maharaja Mahendar Singh of Patiala. He received about 20 lakh rupees from Patiala in the form of dowry.29 Later also, he continued receiving great financial assistance from the Maharaja of Patiala. Jiwan Singh’s annual income from the revenue was only 48 thousand rupees. On January 10, 1890, he received the title of the ‘Star of India’ from the governor of Punjab.

Notes and References

  1. Gian Singh, Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, (ed. 1970), p. 261.

According to Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Deep Singh was a Jat of Khera sub-caste.

  1. Ibid., p. 262.
  2. Ibid., p. 261.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Lakshman Singh, Bhagat, Sikh Martyrs, Madras, 1928, pp. 195-97.
  5. For details see Miskin, Tazkirah-i-Tahmas Khan Miskin, or Tahmas Nama. MS., GS., pp. 162-65.
  6. Ganda Singh and Teja Singh, A Short History of the Sikhs, Bombay, 1950, p. 155, fn, 2; Lakshman Singh, Bhagat, Sikh Martyrs, Ludhiana ed. pp. 195-98.
  7. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 263.
  8. Muhammad Latif, History of the Punjab, Calcutta, 1891, pp. 324-25.
  9. Malcolm, Sketch of the Sikhs, London, 1912, pp. 119-20.
  10. Gordon, The Sikhs, London, 1904, p. 73.
  11. Malcolm, op. cit., p. 134.
  12. Ali-ud-Din Mufti, Ibratnama, Vol. I, (1854), Lahore, 1961. p. 365.
  13. Amar Nath, Zafarnama-i-Ranjit Singh, (1836-37), Lahore, 1928. p. 115.
  14. Lepel Griffin, The Rajas of the Punjab. Lahore, 1870, p. 44, fn.
  15. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 263.
  16. Ibid., p. 264.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Lepel Griffin, op. cit., p. 44, fn.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Rattan Singh Bhangu (1841), Amritsar, 1939, pp. 431-33.
  21. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 264.
  22. Tazkirah-i-Khandan-i-Rajahai Phulkian, MS., GS., p. 40; Muhammad Hasan Khan, Tarikh-i- Patiala, Amritsar 1878, p. 114.
  23. Tazkirah-i-Phulkian, p. 61.
  24. Prinsep, Origin of Sikh Power and Political Life of Rujeet Singh, Calcutta, 1834, p. 31; Muhammad Latif, op. cit., p. 325.
  25. Lepel Griffin, op. cit., p. 44. fn.
  26. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 265.
  27. Lepel Griffin, op., cit. p.44. Gian Singh, op. cit., p. 265.
  28. Gian Singh. op. cit., p. 265.