Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib
My Sikh Sense
Banda Singh Bahadur
Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s short-lived rule had a far reaching impact on the history of the Punjab people and the Sikhs. The battle of Sirhind was fought and won on May 12, 1710. This established the first Sikh state in India. Banda Singh Bahadur avenged the martyrdom of two sons of Guru Gobind Singh. With that came the decay of the Mughal authority and the demolition of the feudal system and the society it had created.
To commemorate the Tri-Centenary of the victory of Sirhind by Baba Banda Singh Bhadur, the Sikhs are celebrating this last Shatabdi with much fervor and enthusiasm at Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab. This is a summary of his life and his story as we remember him 300 years later.
Baba Banda Bahadur Singh was born as Lachman Das on October 27, 1670 at Rajauri, in the Poonch district of Western Kashmir. He was tenderhearted even as a young age. He resolved to become a Sadhu after he shot a female deer and watched her die before his eyes. Shortly after he met Janki Das Bairagi and became his disciple. He became a Bairagi and took the name of Madho Das. He wondered from place to place with a band of Bairagies. This is when he came to Punjab. After a short time he wandered around and came to Nasik on the banks of the river Godavari. Finally he settled at Nanded and established a dera of his own. Here he learned various Tantra and magical powers.
In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh visited Banda Singh’s monastery. Madho Das tried to practice his magic tricks on the Guru and failed terribly! This is when he knew that he found his master at last! Guru Gobind Singh transformed him to his faith and baptized him as a member of the Khalsa and gave him the title of ‘Bahadur’. He called himself Guru’s Banda (slave). This is when his name was officially changed to Banda Singh. Guru Gobind taught Banda Singh the faith and the history of the Sikh’s and all that they had to suffer. Banda Singh yearned to be a warrior and battle in the fields. He wanted to punish all those that did injustice to the Sikhs.
Banda Singh was appointed leader of the Khalsa. He promised to remain pure in his faith as well as his conduct. The Sikh’s flocked to him and joined his forces and fought lots of battles that killed many enemies. Emperor Bahadur Shah heard the news of Banda Singh’s success and sent a huge army to fight against Banda Singh and his forces. The Sikh’s had too many enemies and not enough men. They all hid in the fort of Lohgarh. They became very desperate and ran out to the hills of Nahan. They called out for more Sikh’s. At this time Raja of Chamba became Baba Banda Singh’s friend and ally. He gave Banda Singh a beautiful bride from his own family. Banda Singh and his people conquered several more places and retreated to the hills again.
An imperial order came about to kill all Sikhs. The Sikhs were slaughtered in huge numbers. Banda Singh was ordered to evacuate Lohgarh and eventually he and his followers then retreated to the village of Gurdas-Nangal. They were brutally attacked once more. They lost almost all their men and had absolutely no food. They were all starving. They were forced to eat grass, leaves and bark. The Sikhs became far too weak to fight.
The imperial army attacked and took Banda Singh’s wife and three-year-old son as prisoners. Baba Banda Singh was bound in chains in four places and put in a cast iron cage on top of an elephant and paraded around. Hundreds of other Sikhs were as well. Thousands more were killed and the heads of 2000 Sikhs were hung on spears and carried along with the other prisoners.
Banda Singh was offered to choose between Islam and death. He chose to die rather than give up his beloved faith. This is when his torture began. His baby son was placed on his lap. His son’s heart was ripped out. While his heart was still beating in his enemy's hand it was forced into his mouth. Banda Singh was tortured, killed and then his head was placed on a spear and paraded around for all Sikhs to witness!
Today, Banda Singh Bahadur is celebrated as a great warrior and the first Sikh ruler who established the first Sikh state. Banda Singh was the ultimate warrior and loved his Sikh people and his faith until the very end. He gave a decisive defeat to Wazir Khan and established the first Sikh kingdom at Sirhind. He issued coins in the names of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh and ended the feudal mogul system by giving ownership rights to cultivators and land tillers. He avenged the barbarous execution of Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Sahibzada Fateh Singh, the two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh.
With his end Sikhism did not die. On the contrary Sikhism came out even stronger and the torch of Banda Singh Bahadur was carried on by new warriors like Baba Deep Singh, Sardar Budh Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Nawab Kapur Singh, Hari Singh Bhangi and the lion of Punjab-Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
On this day we all should celebrate and give a warm salute to the greatest Sikh warrior, Sardar Banda Singh Bahadur that ever lived who gave his life but not his beliefs. --
My Sense of Sikh History
Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Sikhs remember Ranjit Singh with respect and affection as their greatest leader after the Gurus. He succeeded as Sukerchakia misldar when his father died in 1792. By 1799 he had entered Lahore, and in 1801 he proclaimed himself Maharaja of the Punjab. He sheathed the two upper stories of the Harmandir Sahib in gold leaf, thereby converting it into what became known as the Golden Temple. Within the kingdom that replaced the misl system, Sikhs of the Khalsa received special consideration, but places were also found for Hindus and Muslims.
The rise of Ranjit Singh in the Punjab was a unique phenomenon. It is important to understand about the rise of Ranjit Singh and the situation in Punjab is that the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babar, set his heart ‘to possess Hindustan’ about the same time when Punjab was under the spell of sweet stirrings of a new gospel preached by Guru Nanak the founder of Sikh faith. His gospel was not meant for recluses or mendicants. It aimed at creating a vibrant social order that could stand against oppression.
Guru Nanak witnessed the sack of Syadpur (Emnabad, Gujranwala district, Pakistan) and the massacre that followed. He was unhappy to see the atrocities committed by the conquerors. With the coming of the Mughals, a record stability of sorts ensued under four Mughal emperors — Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb — for about half a century, unique in India indeed. The nine successors of Guru Nanak stood their ground during this very period. Two of them were martyred by Jahangir and Aurangzeb who aligned themselves with Sunni fanatics.
Guru Gobind Singh, the last in the line of spiritual successors of Nanak, created the Khalsa and embarked upon open struggle against oppression. His nominee, Banda, a recluse-turned-Sikh warrior struck at the root of the Mughal power in Punjab and by his conquest of Sirhind and minting of a coin in the name of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh made it sufficiently clear that the Khalsa Panth would not let any Mughal satrap establish his sway over the Punjab.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled with an iron fist. His measures like abolition of zamindari system and wholesale dismissal of Mughal kardars were enough to show the direction to which the events were leading. The Sikhs fought the Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Abdali with the same ferocity as they had fought against the Mughals. They learnt much from the rigors of persecution and ultimately the Afghan Baba-i-Qaum had to concede victory to the Sikhs when Ranjit Singh’s grandfather Charhat Singh fell upon his retreating army, uttering the words ‘Azin Qaum bue badshahi me ayad’ (the manner of these people smacks of royalty). The road to the pedestal of power that awaited Ranjit Singh had thus been cleared.
Ranjit Singh inherited a ravaged country, devastated towns with minimal industrial activity and a host of inimical neighbors. The fraternity of the Khalsa did not accept him as emerging leader, like Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. On the other hand, the old guards like Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Gurdit Singh Bhangi and Jai Singh Kanheya resented the success that came his way.
Though illiterate, he had the vision to peep into the future. Without any delay or dithering he was able to perceive that his first priority was to be the unification of Punjab. Small principalities could neither give strength and glory to the Khalsa nor prosperity to people of Punjab as a whole. Therefore, he formulated a well considered policy to progressively bring the Sikh, Muslim as well as the Hindu hill rajas under his tutelage.
“Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled his kingdom exactly according to the Sikh way of life and Sikhism considers everyone as friends and talks about the welfare of all, irrespective of caste and creed." (Le Griffin). From the accounts noted in the personal diary of the daily life of Ranjit Singh by Syed Imamuddin, the Lord Chamberlain or the Minister-in-charge of household, Syed Waheedudin writes in Chapter-II entitled 'True Sikh', that "Ranjit Singh was a devout Sikh, who as a normal daily routine, would wake up early in the morning, take his bath, put-on his arms and go to the prayer room in the Lahore Palace where he would listen to the recitation from the Holy Granth Sahib; after that he would place over his eyes and forehead the sacred Kalgi worn by Sri Guru Gobind Singh."
He further notes, "so great was his faith in the Guru Granth Sahib that he never took any big decision particularly relating to any settlement or treaty with the British Govt. in India without seeking guidance from the Granth Sahib or as we say getting an order." Syed Waheeduddin however clarifies that, "his faith in the holiness of the Guru Granth Sahib did not make him a narrow minded zealot and it made many of his commentators to make a misjudgment and called him a Sceptic."
It is interesting that having lived through an age of intrigue where recrimination through murders was not uncommon; Ranjit Singh banned capital punishment in his state. Secularism as conceived and adopted by rulers like Sher Shah and Akbar had been the outcome of political exigencies. But in case of Ranjit Singh it was an article of faith. Sikhism never taught him to use political power to bring adherents to his religion. Moreover, he had been invited to occupy Lahore by prominent persons belonging to all faiths. He did not declare any religion as a state religion.
Therefore, tolerance and co-existence of all communities was ensured. He appointed no minister for ecclesiastical affairs. He refused to ban azan (Muslim call for prayers) at the behest of some fanatic Akalis and also did not allow them to occupy Sunehri Masjid at Lahore to convert it into a gurdwara. His was a regime of Hlemi Raj of Guru Arjan’s concept and his ideal was Sarbat Da Bhala (good to all) as set forth by Guru Nanak.
He spurned the suggestion of using marble adoring the Mughal mausoleums at Shahdra for parkarma of Harmandar (Amritsar). It is this policy that earned the unstinted support of the Punjabi Muslims for Sarkar-i-Khalsa of Ranjit Singh and they refused to respond to Syad Ahmad Brelui’s call for Jehad in the trans-Indus territory. Ranjit Singh did not declare himself as Gau Rakshak but banned cow slaughter in his kingdom. He did much for the glorification of the Harmandar Sahib (Amritsar), which was turned into the Golden Temple. He also made liberal grants to the Hindu and Muslim shrines for extensive repairs and maintenance.
He was responsive to the scientific advances. He felt an urgent need for modernization of artillery and reorganization of his forces and welcomed the European expertise by appointing experienced Europeans who had served in the French army. He encouraged industry and trade. The Kashmiri pashmina shawl industry was revived and shawls began to be exported to the European countries. Multan silk became popular. Existing roads were repaired and made safe and new kacha roads were laid to open up villages. The conditions of small towns like Adina Nagar (Gurdaspur), Phillaur, Eminabad were considerably improved. Punjab saw prosperity and glory under Ranjit Singh.
By any standards, Ranjit Singh was statesman who out of anarchy and chaos had created order and stability and made Punjab a power to reckon with. There was also a glimmering of Punjab Nationalism during his rule.
Ranjit Singh also had a model brigade known as Fauj-i-Khas. It had 4 battalions of infantry, 2 regiments of cavalry and a troop of artillery. Its artillery was maintained on European model, cavalry on British model and infantry on French pattern. Well-dressed, well armed and well disciplined, it was the best contingent of the Maharaja’s army and rose to a high degree of perfection under the command of Ventura. Impressed by its efficiency, the Maharaja ordered a reorganization of his whole regular force on the model of Fauj-i-Khas in 1835. The British were alarmed at it. Strict orders were issued to all political agents in India in 1837 "to be vigilant and try to arrest any French officer travelling in disguise to join Ranjit Singh’s army."
The Khalsa army, under Ranjit Singh, presents entirely a new spectrum. "The change is distinctly perceptible in three important directions, namely the organization, the equipment and the mode of fighting. Infantry and artillery, which were virtually a non-entity in the 18th century now came to be regarded as the mainstay of military strength. A steady fire from guns or muskets was considered more conducive to success than irregular attackers of cavalry or a guerrilla mode of warfare.
Elphinstone, returning from Kabul in 1809, wrote, "Almost the whole of the Punjab belongs to Ranjit Singh who in 1805 was but one of many chiefs but who when we passed had acquired the sovereignty of all the Sikhs in the Punjab." This was the impression of a very competent foreign observer. A dynamic, vigorous personality now began to shape the history of the Punjab. The diverse groupings and affinities, a feature of misl history, the differences and discords of the princes and princelings, were now replaced by the achievements of one man with determination who "absorbing the power of his associates, displayed from the ruins of their commonwealth the standard of monarchy".
He acknowledged no earthly superior. He was impelled by the weight of tradition that had grown up over the years, that it was the destiny of the Sikhs to rule. (See Raj Karega Khalsa.) --
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