Book Review: Banda Singh Bahadur- Persian Sources (in Punjabi)

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Banda Singh Bahadur: Persian Sources (in Punjabi)
Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon
Singh Brothers, Amritsar
Rs 350/- (HB 1st edition, 2011)
Dr. Hardev Singh Virk, Professor Emeritus, Eternal University, Baru Sahib, HP, India
([email protected])
bahadur (28K)


Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon, Director, Centre on Studies in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, who retired as a Professor from Guru Nanak Studies Department of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, is a well established author in Sikh literature. He has published almost a dozen books on Sikh history and Sikh religion. Banda Singh Bahadur is an edited volume based on 21 original historical sources in Persian. After reading the text in Punjabi, I have come to the conclusion that no historian of Sikh history has taken so much trouble to search for original evidence about the struggle of Banda Singh Bahadur to establish the first Sikh rule in Punjab. Dr Dhillon has retrieved facts and figures from all reliable Persian sources, both contemporary and not so contemporary, written in the era 1708-1800 (CE).

Karam Singh historian wrote his account of Banda Singh Bahadur in 1907. He was the pioneer to use Persian sources as evidence to record his historical account. Dr Ganda Singh, the doyen of Sikh historians, published his well researched book, “Life of Banda Singh Bahadur” in 1935. Dr Dhillon claims that most of the Sikh historians, including Dr Ganda Singh and Dr J S Grewal, fail to provide full references to available Persian sources. He therefore extended his domain of research to most extant Persian sources available in the libraries of India, Pakistan and England. These sources are Tarikh-i-Jahandar Shah, Ibratnama (Kamraj-bin-Nain Singh), Shahnama Munawar Kalam, Fatuhatnama-i-Samadi and many more which refer to rise and fall of Banda Singh Bahadur.

The author has given an elaborate introduction to his edited volume which is an abstract or summary of his findings. He appreciates the Mughal system of collecting news. These reporters were sending all information to the central authority at Delhi. These classified news diaries were known as ‘Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla’. The only contemporary Sikh source used by the author is ‘Amarnama’ of Dhadi Nath Mal. It is written in Persian verse and gives an account of Guru Gobind Singh’s meeting with Banda Singh Bahadur and dispatching him to Punjab as leader of a mission to destroy the Mughal empire root and branch.

The copies of these reports were secretly collected by Rajput Maharajas through their courtiers (agents) in the Mughal Darbar. The author has made use of Jaipur Records kept in the state archives in Bikaner. A letter addressed to Mirza Raja Swai Jai Singh by Baba Banda Singh on September 11, 1711, with a plea to join his mission is cited by the author. I found almost all Persian sources relate the story of Banda Singh Bahadur in a similar vein, with a little variation here and there. It is better to give a brief account of salient features of this story under different headings.

1. Crusade of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur: The first meeting between Guru Gobind Singh and Bairagi Madho Das took place at Nander, on the banks of the river Godavri, on 3rd September 1708. He was baptized by the Guru and called Banda Singh. After his conversion to Khalsa fold, he was asked to proceed to Punjab to fulfil Tenth Guru’s mission of liberating Punjab from the oppressive rule of the Mughals. The Sikh tradition believes that the main clause of his mission was to teach a lesson to Wazir Khan, the Subedar of Sirhind, who was responsible for bricking alive the two younger Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh. Baba Banda Singh entered Punjab at Kharkhoda, a place in between Rohtak and Sonepat. He collected his followers from Malwa region of Punjab and began his crusade at Sonepat. Their next onslaught was Thanesar, Mustafabad, Sadhaura, Ghuram, Samana and Chhat-Banur. The Sikh crusaders under Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s leadership occupied areas of Punjab lying between the rivers Jamuna and Sutlej. The Muslim chieftains of these areas were devastated and their land holdings were distributed to cultivators of their lands. This was a revolutionary step in the history of India when the feudal system was abolished in Punjab.

The Sikh army under Banda Singh was not a regular army but they were highly motivated to defeat and destroy the oppressive regime of Mughals. After winning some battles, they were itching to attack Sirhind. Wazir Khan confronted Baba Banda Singh at Chappar Chirri (near Landran and Mohali). Wazir Khan was an experienced commander and brought his elephants, artillery, cavalry and infantry, supported by the Nawab of Malerkotla and other Chieftains into the battlefield. The army of Banda Singh was uprooted in the first attack. Then Banda Singh himself jumped into the fray and led the Sikh army from the front. A ferocious battle took place in which Wazir Khan was killed and his army defeated. Chappar Chirri was a historical battle fought on May 12, 1710 in which mighty Mughal army was defeated by the Khalsa. Sirhind was occupied on 14th May by Baba Banda Singh Bahadur. The Khalsa army devastated Sirhind and killed all those courtiers who had voted for the execution of the two younger Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh. The Persian sources have called the Khalsa army as the butchers of Sirhind as they destroyed the city and killed its entire population. Some sources claim that even pregnant Muslim women were not spared. The Khalsa army wanted to avenge the killing of younger Sahibzadas and Sirhind was demolished brick by brick (fJZN Bkb fJZN yVek fdZsh). In Sikh parlance it is called Guru-cursed Sirhind (r[o{ wkoh ;ofjzd).

2. Foundation of Khalsa Raj: After conquering Sirhind, Banda Singh occupied Saharanpur, Buria, Ambala, Shahbad Markanda and all areas upto Panipat and beyond. He chose a place called Mukhlisgarh (renamed Lohgarh) in the Shivalik hills of Nahan state as his capital. Khalsa flag was hoisted on the ramparts of Lohgarh fort and a coin was struck in the name of Guru Nanak – Guru Gobind Singh to commemorate the setting up of first Khalsa Raj in Punjab. But this Khalsa glory was short-lived. The Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah himself led the Mughal army and attacked the Lohgarh fort. The Khalsa army suffered heavy loses, the fort was destroyed by the artillery but Banda Singh had a narrow escape and could not be captured alive. The Mughal chronicle writers believed that Banda Singh is a magician who can change his appearance and escape in any garb. There were many rumours in the Mughal army that he can escape as an animal, knows black magic and can disappear in no time. The Khalsa army re-assembled to conquer areas of Jallandhar Doab. Banda Singh set up his police station (thana) at Rahon. He re-captured Lohgarh again and hoisted the Khalsa flag.

Emperor Bahadur Shah died, Jahandar Shah was killed and Farukhsiyar occupied the Delhi throne. He appointed Abdus Samad Khan, the Subedar of Lahore, to capture Banda Singh alive. Abdus Samad Khan succeeded in his mission. He surrounded the Khalsa army in a fortress at Gurdas Nangal (near Gurdaspur) and cut off all food and fodder supplies. The Khalsa army was starved to death during this occupation of 8 months (7th April 1715 to 7 December 1715). Those who survived this ordeal surrendered before Abdus Samad Khan and made prisoners of war. Banda Singh and 700 Sikh soldiers of his army were brought to Delhi in chains by Zakarya Khan and Kamrudin Khan. To humiliate them, they were made to dress up as clowns and wear sheep skin hats and presented to Mughal emperor in Red fort on March 1, 1716, who ordered the execution of captured Sikhs @ 100 per day at Kotwali Chabutra in full public view. The massacre of Sikhs started on March 6, 1716 and continued for one week. They were given the option to embrace Islam and save their lives. Persian sources reveal that not a single Sikh saved his life by accepting Islam. So much so that a young Sikh boy whose mother got reprieve for his son by making a false claim that he is not a Sikh, offered his head to the executioner telling him that his mother was a liar. Finally, Banda Singh and his comrades-in-arms, like Baj Singh and Fateh Singh, were executed on June 9, 1716 in Mehrauli. Banda Singh was ordered to kill his 5 year old son, Ajay Singh. When he refused to do so, the jalad (executioner) thrust a dagger into Ajay Singh’s stomach, killed him and thrust his quivering heart into the mouth of Banda Singh. After that Banda Singh was blinded, his body was cut into pieces and he died as the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

3. Highlights of Banda Singh Bahadur’s compaign: a) Baba Banda Singh created the first Khalsa commonwealth of Guru Gobind Singh ji’s dreams in Punjab. b) He abolished feudal system of Jagirdari and established democracy and Panchayati raj. c) He has been wrongly assigned the title of Guru by the Mughal chronicle writers. They created a myth that Guru Gobind Singh’s spirit has entered his body. He was represented as Guru-incarnate for the Sikhs. d) All chronicle writers used most derogatory epithets for Banda Singh and his comrades. They call him God-cursed (oZph efjo dk wkfonk), magician (ikd{ro, pj[-o{ghnk), Kafir (ekfco), characterless (pd-feodko) and leader of low castes (pdiks), dogs and pigs (;r ns/ ;{o). Both Hindu and Muslim chronicle writers call Sikhs as dogs (;r, e[Zs/) . e) Even when they hate Banda Singh and his comrades in strongest terms, Khafi Khan is all praise for their courage and bravery. They died to the last man rejecting all offers of saving their lives. Their dead bodies were hanged from tree tops on all entry points to Delhi to create a fear psychosis among the public. f) It is unfortunate that fissures appeared in followers of Banda Singh Bahadur. They split into two groups: Bandais and Tat Khalsa. This may be one of the reasons of their defeat at the hands of Abdus Samad Khan. g) Jaipur Records establish that Banda Singh wrote letters to Rajput Maharajas to join his crusade for uprooting the Mughal Empire. He wrote a letter to Mirza Raja Swai Jai Singh on September 11, 1711 but got no moral or physical support. h) In campaign of Lohgarh and Gurdas Nangal, Hindu Rajas of Shivalik hill states supported the Mughal army by men and materials. They proved to be traitors to the noble cause of Banda Singh Bahadur. Banda fought for liberation of India but Indians preferred the slavery of Mughals! End Note: No reliable information is available about the fate of Raj Kumari Rattan Kaur, wife of Banda Singh Bahadur. Khushal Chand in Tarikh-i-Mohammad Shahi (1740 CE) writes that she was put under the tutelage of Dakhani Begum in Red Fort. She embraced Islam and went on pilgrimage to Mecca. Conflicting accounts have been given by Dr Sukhdial Singh (Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Vol. XIV, Issue 2, 2012). Sikh historians must trace her roots to bring out the truth.


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