Nawab Kapur Singh ~ Leader Par Excellence

Considered one of the most revered, pivotal and legendary figures in Sikh history post 1716

Introduction:
Sardar Kapur Singh (1697-1753/1764) is considered one of the most revered, pivotal and legendary figures in Sikh history post 1716. Nawab Kapur Singh was undoubtedly the most distinguished of the Sikh leaders who paved the way for the greatness of the Sikh nation as an independent power, (History of the Punjab, Mohammad Latif, p.323.) Sardar Kapur Singh was a tall, well-built and highly impressive man. He was a fine shot and adapt at the latest contemporary art of fighting. He was sweet tongued and possessed a winning and affable disposition. (Khushwaqat Rai, p.69) People felt enamoured listening to him speaking. In the battlefield he was like a brave lion. (Khushwaqat Rai, p.69; Ahmad Shah Butalia, p.45) He enjoyed a great reputation on being the holiest man among the Khalsa (Transformation of Sikhism, p.279, 2nd edition.) He was a brave man. His value and judgement was proverbial. (Gordon: The Sikhs, pp.70-71) He was a fearless, brave and strategist. (History of the Sikhs by W,L, Mcgregor, Vol 1, p.121) Nawab Kapur Singh is considered one of the major figures in Sikh history, under whose leadership the Sikh community traversed one of the darkest periods of its history. He was the organizer of the Sikh Confederacy and the Dal Khalsa. Nawab Kapur Singh is regarded by Sikhs as a leader and general par excellence. (Wikipedia) The founding father of the Sikh confederacy and Sikh Empire, he was also the founder of the Khalsa Dal and originator of the misl system. Misl system is a system of small groups to fight independently and to establish small confederacies on their own under the overall patronage of the Khalsa Dal or Dal Khalsa. These small confederacies later helped formation of Sikh Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Nawab Kapur Singh is regarded by Sikhs as a leader and general par excellence. (Wikipedia)

The period of repression of Sikhs started with the martyrdom in 1716 in Delhi of Baba Banda Sigh Bahadur, his son and seven hundred devoted Sikhs. In addition thousands of Sikhs were captured on the route to Delhi and beheaded along the march to Delhi. A reign of terror was unleashed on the Sikhs thereafter by the rulers, where young men, women and children were put to sword ruthlessly at Lahore and other places in Northern India. Sikhs were however, not deterred by this tyranny as this only stimulated the Sikhs' will to survive and they chose to stand and fight against this tyranny of the oppressor. This fight against the oppressors was planned and steered by Sardar Kapur Singh.

After the martyrdom of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur the Sikhs were left without a commonly acknowledged leader and the Mughals were hell bent to eliminate Sikhs. There was a strong need of a person who could bind them together, save their identity and pull them through the turmoil and turbulences of the period. It was Kapur Singh then who by providence was chosen the leader of the Sikhs through a collective decision (gurmata). He was even honoured by the Mughal Government with the title of Nawab and endowed with a Jagir of 1 Lakh in order to maintain peace with the Mughals. During this period, the stellar role played by Nawab Kapur Singh as a leader in creating pillars of strength for the Sikhs and their identity in the face of ruthless enemy is memorable and needs suitable record. The able leadership of Sardar Kapoor Singh strengthened the Khalsa and provided them with the confidence and the strength to destroy the foreign tyrants and establish self-rule. This paper studies the situation, the characteristic of the ruthless rulers; the plights of the Sikhs under them, the requirements for maintaining their identity and the strategies adopted by Sardar Kapur Singh for maintaining their identity under the then prevailing conditions.

Brief Life History of Nawab Kapur Singh (1697-1753/1764 AD):
Kapur Singh was born in 1697 AD in Virk Jatt family (Bhagat Singh.1993. p.134) of Faizullapur (Note 1). However, Prem Singh writes that Kapur Singh was the resident of village Kaleke in the Sheikhupura pargana. He asserts that his information is based on the evidence of Baba Assa Singh who belonged to Kapur Singh's family. After he captured the village of Faizullapur, he was known as Faizallapuria. He founded a little principality known as Faizullapura state which was later named as Singhpura and made this as his residence. This state was then known as Singhpuria state. (Note 2) (Prem Singh. Kapur Singh, p.12). This approach has been taken by Prof Harbans Singh (Harbans Singh, 1993, p.81) also. His father was Chuadhry Dalip Singh. He had a brother named Dan Singh, He was taught the Sikh History at his home and was told of the events of Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur, Mata Gujri and the four Sahibzadas. Guru Gobind Singh also was martyred in 1708 AD. The later event happened when he was about 11 years old and these events were fresh in his memory. Also fresh in his mind were the memories of martyrs of Gurdas Nangal and Baba Banda Singh Bahadur as he was then 18 years old. His formative years were thus in an atmosphere of high religious idealism (Harbans Singh, 1993, p.81).

Struggling through such an environment needed both physical and mental strength. His father put him through rigorous physical exercises including horse riding. His father had very fine horses in his stables, which taught him true service to the animals and also helped gain expertise in riding. Along with this expertise, he practiced on arms. One day he received a sharp thrust on his shoulder while at play. It had nearly proved fatal, but he made an unexpected recovery and survived (Harbans Singh, 1993, p.82).

He became a baptised Sikh along with his father and brother as they all took baptism at a large gathering of Sikhs held at Amritsar in celebration of Diwali in 1721 at the hands of Panj Piaras (The five beloved Ones) with Bhai Mani Singh in the lead. Kapur Singh's father and brother too were baptised on this historic day. Guru Gobind Singh's Widow, Mata Sundri, assigned the responsibility of head priest of Sri Harmandir Sahib to Bhai Mani Singh, a pious and learned Sikh. Unable to control the Sikhs and facing the onslaught of the invaders from Khurasan, Governor Lahore Zakria Khan submitted a report to Emperor Shah Mohammad requesting for recognition of Sikhs as a power within Mughal Kingdom.

Kapoor Singh is also said to have been with the companions of Banda Singh in his early life. Because of his intrepidity and bravery some of the Sikhs took him as their sardar. (Gian Singh, Panth Parkash 5th edn, p.907).

He was a tall and stoutly built man and always seemed full of life, dynamism and dash. He possessed sharp intellect, penetrating shrewdness and power of quick grasp. He had learnt the use of weapons as sword, spear, arrow and gun and had become an expert in horse riding from his early days. In his free time he indulged in sham fight, in which once by accident he got a stroke of companion's sword on his shoulder. He was so seriously wounded that it seemed that he would not survive the wound. But ultimately he recovered from the injury after a long time and resumed his activities (Prem Singh, pp. 19-20). 

Zakriya Khan succeeded his father, Sammad Khan, to the governorship of the Punjab in 1726 and continued in this office till 1745. From 1726-1732, the young governor spared no pains in inflicting the heaviest penalties on the Sikhs. When Tara Singh of van village was killed in 1726, along with his 26 companions by a contingent of 2200 horsemen sent by Zakriya Khan, the Sikhs all over the central Punjab got stirred up and accepted the challenge of the new governor. They vowed to wreck the vengeance on the government. Kapur Singh, who was very much exercised over the tragedy, came to Amritsar, accompanied by many young men, and joined the group (jatha) of Diwan Darbara Singh. In the following years he distinguished himself as a brave, sagacious and prudent man. He led the Sikhs on many occasions into dangerous situations and his success established him as an able organiser and a successful and competent leader. The Sikhs under Kapur Singh waylaid and looted the revenue money taken from the pargana headquarters to the provincial treasury at Lahore. The state machinery sometimes found itself helpless against the activities of the Sikhs and at times there were serious confrontations between the state contingents and the Sikhs resulting in heavy human losses. (Bhagat Singh, pp.135-136)

Having tired of Sikh depredations governor Lahore Zakria Khan submitted a report to emperor Shah Mohammad requesting for recognition of Sikhs as a power within Mughal Kingdom in 1732. In 1733, the Mughal government at Delhi decided, at the insistence of Zakarya Khan, to revoke all repressive measures issued against the Sikhs and made an offer of a grant to them. The title of Nawab was to be conferred upon their leader, with a jagir consisting of the three parganas of Dipalpur, Kanganwal and Jhabal. In a Sarbat Khalsa, initially reluctant Sikhs accepted the offer on the insistence of Subegh Singh. Kapur Singh's mentor Darbara Singh proposed Kapoor Singh for the honour who was unanimously elected as the leader and chosen for the title. He was reluctant, but could not deny the unanimous will of the community. As a mark of respect, he placed the robe of honour ('Siropa') sent by the Mughals at the feet of the Panj Piare - amongst whom were Baba Deep Singh, Bhai Karam Singh and Bhai Buddh Singh (great-great-grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit Singh - before putting it on. The dress included a shawl, a turban, a jewelled plume, a pair of gold bangles, a necklace, a row of pearls, a brocade garment. (Pracheen Panth Parkash)

"The Khalsa Panth then blessed Kapoor Singh (with Nawabi). With Khalsa's grace, he aquired wisdom (to lead the Panth).All the Singhs were given utmost respect by him. He would first consult the Singhs (Panth) before making any decisions. He then increased the selfless seva (of the stables) even further, and has been blessed with utmost humility (after being a Nawab). As he continued the seva in service of the Panth, the further he was blessed with the fruits of Gurmat" (Pracheen Panth Parkash)

Kapoor Singh par panth kirpa karee. Bhalee budh ai tis main paree.
Bahut singhan ko aadar dharai. Bina puchhai gall na karai.
Tehl agai te lari svi. Bahut garibi us man aaee.
Jim jim panthah(i) tehl kamavai. Tim tim singh ji gurmat pavai.
(Pracheen Panth Parkash)

Nawab Kapoor Singh knew that period of this agreement is short lived since Zakriya Khan could not be taken at face value. He planned to consolidate the position of Sikhs and to reorganise and reequip and train the Khalsa to meet any impeding challenge. He always entertained high aims and made plans to achieve them. (Bhagat Singh, p.134). The strategies adopted by him to maintain the identity of Sikhs included the following:

Recuperation, Rebuilding and Consolidation
Nawab Kapur Singh was a visionary leader. Taking over the responsibilities, he analysed the situation critically and realised that believing the Mughals would be a mistake. They will maintain peace till they are in trouble but once they get the required strength they would again resort to the repressive measures. He thus planned that he must first recuperate, reequip, train, develop, organise, create safe haven and consolidate the gains. He understood that it will futile to have direct fights since Mughals were in superiority hence preferred guerrilla warfare. For this he trained the Sikhs accordingly. The operations of offensive defence were the most suitable under such circumstances; hence his trained his Dal for that as well. He knew that Mughals were the invaders and the Sikhs and their sympathisers were the real sovereigns. The fret of invasion and sense of sovereignty were inculcated in the general public including his men. Since Sikhism was the binding force against the Islamic fundamentalists, he preached the same among public, He strengthened the pillars of faith. He knew that any fighter's base is in the public. If the public is not with the fighter no one could stay for long. He planned to expand mass base and general acceptability among the public. With his strength of character he won the hearts of the people and the public started looking towards in hours of need and trouble. He helped the poor and looted and punished the oppressor to feed the poor. He ensured equality and secularism and did not harm anyone on the base of religion but punished on the base of wrong deeds. He did not spare the wrongdoer and punished harshly to teach others a lesson and build confidence in general public.

Superb Leadership and a Great Warrior
Nawab Kapoor Singh proved to be a leader of the masses par excellence at the time when the Sikhs had become leaderless. They had lost many of their warriors, besides which there was an eruption of disputes amongst them. One group, the followers of Banda Singh Bahadur, started calling themselves 'Bandais', while another group called themselves 'Tat Khalsa'. The hidden hand of the Mughals was believed to be behind the dispute, with the 'Bandais' being used by them to create disunity amongst the Sikhs so that they ended up fighting amongst themselves. Fortunately, the dispute was amicably settled amongst the Sikhs with the intervention of Bhai Mani Singh.

Bhai Mani Singh who was in-charge of the Harmandar Sahib's administration had been in close contact with the Tenth Guru and was thus, respected by all. He ably handled the dispute and Tat Khalsa was made the real representative of the Sikhs. Vanquishing the rebel group of Bandais', the Sikhs became united to challenge the Mughal policy of Sikh persecution and genocide. However, there was no commonly accepted leader except Darbara Singh who could be respected by both the groups. He helped gained the Sikhs their strength and faced the Mughals bravely but he too had become quite old. Continuous attacks of the Sikhs worried the Mughal kingdom. Zakaria Khan now wanted to compromise with the Sikhs because he realized that their wrath against his harsh policy of persecution and genocide had not been successful. On the contrary it had made the Sikhs more determined to wipe out the Mughals by taking offensive action against them despite their state of repression for more than a decade.

It was difficult for him to locate an intermediary approach in order to attack the Sikhs as the state was not successful in infiltrating the Sikh ranks. Ultimately he found Subheg Singh, who had contacts with both sides. He sent through Subheg Singh an offer of peace with the Sikhs and promised to treat them with dignity and honour. He apologized for past offences and excesses against Sikhs and gave his word that he would not interfere in their religious affairs in future. As a mark of respect Rs 1 Lakh jagir and honour of Nawab were offered to the Sikhs in March 1733. The Sikhs assembled at Akal Takhat to consider this matter. The offer was first given to Darbara Singh to be the Nawab but he refused it because of his age. He recommended Kapoor Singh's name, who had now come up as a charismatic leader in recent fights with Mughals. After detailed deliberations, the peace offer was thought fit to be accepted as the Sikhs did not prefer violence and only resorted to the sword if all peaceful means had failed. It was decided unanimously that the status of Nawab be conferred on Kapur Singh, a dedicated Sikh and respected by all.

Kapoor Singh's apprehension turned true. The entente with the Mughals did not last long. On a flimsy ground of an attack by Taruna Dal in Rajasthan the agreement was recused and the title of Nawab from Kapoor Singh was withdrawn by Zakriya Khan before the harvest of 1735. Zakarya Khan sent a strong force and occupied the Jagir. The Sikhs were driven out of Amritsar into the Bari Doab and then across the Satluj into Malwa by Diwan Lakhpat Rai, Zakarya Khan's minister. They were welcomed by Sardar Ala Singh of the Phulkian Misl of Malwa. During his sojourn in Malwa, Nawab Kapur Singh conquered the territory of Sunam and made it over to Ala Singh. He also attacked Sirhind and defeated the Mughal governor. Nawab Kapur Singh led the Sikhs back to Majha to celebrate Diwali at Amritsar. He was pursued by Lakhpat Rai's army near Amritsar and forced to turn away. The Taruna Dal promptly came to his help. The combined force fell upon Lakhpat Rai before he could reach Lahore and inflicted a severe defeat. His nephew, Duni Chand, and two important Faujdars, Jamal Khan and Tatar Khan, were killed in the battle.

Zakriya and his minister Lakhpat Rai, again leashed an all-out campaign against the Sikhs setting forth with a large army. The Sikhs were brought to bay in a dense bush near Kahnuwan, in the Gurdaspur District. They put up determined fight, but were overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the enemy and scattered with heavy losses. They were chased into hills. More than 7000 died. "To complete revenge" says Syed Mohammad Latif, another historian of the Punjab, "Lakhpat Rai brought 1000 Sikhs in irons to Lahore, having compelled them to ride on donkeys, bare-backed, paraded them in the bazars. They were, then taken to the horse-market outside Delhi Gate, and there beheaded one after another without mercy." So indiscriminate and extensive was the killing that the campaign is known in Sikh history is known as the Chhota Ghalughara or the lesser holocaust. The Wadda Ghalughara or the greater holocaust was to come later as explained earlier In the summer of 1739, Nadir Shah, the Persian invader, was returning home after plundering Delhi and Punjab. The Dal lay in wait, not far from the route he had taken. When he reached Akhnur, on the Chenab (in the present-day Jammu region), they swooped down upon the rear guard, relieving the invaders of much of their booty. On the third night they made an even fiercer attack and rescued from their hands, thousands of girls who were escorted back to their families. For a long part of his return journey, the Sikhs pursued Nadir Shah in this manner. Zakarya Khan continued to carry out his policy of repression with redoubled zeal. A pitiless campaign for a manhunt was started. Sikhs heads sold for money and the Mughals offered a prize for each head brought to them. According to the historian, Ratan Singh, "Who gicve information about a Sikh received ten rupees, he who killed one received fifty." To cut off the Sikhs from the main source of their inspiration, the Harmandir at Amritsar was taken possession of and guarded by Mughal troops to prevent them visiting it. Sikhs were then living in exile in the Shiwalik hills, the Lakhi Jungle and in the sandy desert of Rajputana. To assert their right to ablution in the holy tank in Amritsar, they would occasionally send riders, who, in disguise or openly cutting their way through armed guards, would reach the temple, take a dip in the tank and ride back with lightning speed. Zakarya Khan, sent a strong force under Samad Khab to seek out the Sikhs. The force was defeated and their leader, Samad Khan who had been the target of the Sikhs' wrath since he had on June 24, 1734 executed Bhai Mani Singh was killed.

Nawab Kapur Singh now made a plan to capture Zakarya Khan. With a force of 2000 men all of whom were in disguise, he entered Lahore and went on to the Shahi Mosque where, according to intelligence received, the Mughal governor was expected to attend the afternoon prayer. But Zakarya Khan did not visit the mosque. Kapur Singh was disappointed at the failure of the mission. Throwing off the disguise and shouting their war cry of Sat Sri Akal, the Sikhs marched out of Lahore and vanished into the jungle.

It was Nawab Kapur Singh who not only subdued the Governors of Punjab but also harassed and looted the invaders Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali from whom even the emperor of India feared and bowed before him allowing him not only the large booty but also the Indian girls as slaves. He not only recovered the wealth from these invaders but also the captured girls whom he sent to their homes with honour. He put fear in the most dreaded. This is the greatest dare and valour not shown by anyone else in the history of this period. He was great expert at using sword. He killed over 500 of the Mughal Army with his sword. His had numerous cut on his body. (Seetal,1983). Many Sikh scholars of the Past and present have stated that had it not been for the leadership of Nawab Kapur Singh, that the entire numerous Sikh community of the time would not have survived and would have been completely decimated. Today, significant number of Sikhs commemorates and celebrates his birthday as a sign of respect and as a way to repay a debt of gratitude for his sacrifice. He led the Sikh Nation from 1733-1753, as the new Sikh Jathedar.

Death of Nawab Kapur Singh:
Nawab Kapur Singh requested the community to relieve him of his office, due to his old age, and at his suggestion, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was chosen as the supreme commander of the Dal Khalsa. Kapur Singh died in 1753/1764 at Amritsar. The great Sikh Warrior was cremated near Baba Atal Rai Gurdwara, near the banks of the Kaulsar Sarovar, at Amritsar. The Samadh existed in 1923, as a Photo was taken of it, by a Gurmukh. But after that the old building of the Samadh disappeared, and now the Samadh of Sultan Al Quam Jassa Singh Ahluwalia Stands their and nothing is written about Nawab Kapur Singh.

Conclusion
Nawab Kapur Singh was undoubtedly the most distinguished of the Sikh leaders who paved the way for the greatness of the Sikh nation as an independent power, (History of the Punjab, Mohammad Latif, p.323.) Sardar Kapur Singh was a tall, well built and highly impressive man. He was a fine shot and adapt at the latest contemporary art of fighting. He was sweet tongued and possessed a winning and affable disposition. (Khushwaqat Rai, p.69) People felt enamoured listening him speaking. In the battlefield he was like a brave lion. (Khushwaqat Rai, p.69; Ahmad Shah Butalia, p.45) He enjoyed a great reputation on being the holiest man among the Khalsa (Transformation of Sikhism, p.279, 2nd edition.) He was a brave man. His value and judgement was proverbial. (Gordon: The Sikhs, pp.70-71) He was a fearless, brave and strategist. (History of the Sikhs by W,L, Mcgregor, Vol 1, p.121)

Sardar Kapur Singh (1697-1753/1764) is considered one of the most revered, pivotal and legendary figures in Sikh history post 1716. As Nawab, Kapur Singh is considered one of the major figures in Sikh history, under whose leadership the Sikh community traversed one of the darkest periods of its history. He was the organizer of the Sikh Confederacy and the Dal Khalsa.Under his leadership decision-making and brave acts, the Sikh community went through some of the darkest periods of its history, from 1716-1764.. After Banda Singh Bahadur Sardar Kapur Singh dominated the Punjab scene, laid the foundations of the Sikh Empire and helped the eventual over-through of the vicious Mughal Empire.

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