All About Sikh Warrior Banda Singh Bahadur

The Punjab government took an initiative in 2021 to commemorate the gallant warrior Banda Singh Bahadur by setting up a ...

The Punjab government took an initiative in 2021 to commemorate the gallant warrior Banda Singh Bahadur by setting up a memorial in the ancient town of Kalanaur. Sikhism is almost 500 years old, and the tales of bravery and selfless service by members of the Sikh community still continue to influence the generations of today. One such victorious warrior is Banda Singh Bahadur who acted as a strong pillar for the Khalsa Panth in the 18th Century. 

Who is Banda Singh Bahadur 

Banda Singh Bahadur (born Lachman Dev) was a Sikh warrior and Khalsa army commander who lived from October 27 to June 9, 1716. He became an ascetic at the young age of fifteen and adopted the name, Madho Das Bairagi. On the banks of the Godavari, near the town of Nanded, he founded a Sikh shrine. Guru Gobind Singh travelled to southern India in 1707 to see Bahadur Shah I and then travelled to the court of Banda Singh Bahadur the next year.  Banda became a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh and was given a new name, Gurbaksh Singh after the baptism ceremony. He is popularly known as Banda Singh Bahadur. The Guru blessed him with five arrows to use in his upcoming battles. After gathering an army, he led them in the battle against the Mughal Empire from the strategic outpost of Khanda, Sonipat.

In November of 1709, he commanded the siege of Samana, the Mughal province seat. Banda Singh Bahadur abolished the zamindari system and granted land cultivators property rights in Punjab after establishing his authority and Khalsa rule. In 1715-1716, the Mughals captured and tortured to death Banda Singh.

His early life 

Banda Singh Bahadur was born to a Hindu farmer Ram Dev in Rajouri, India (now in Jammu and Kashmir). Some reports indicate that his father was a Rajput of the Bhardwaj or Dogra gotra. According to Hakim Rai's "Ballad of Banda Bahadur" (Ahwāl-i-Lachhmaṇ Dās urf Bandā Sāhib), his family was of the Khatri Sodhi sub-caste. While the preceding Sikh Gurus were Sodhis, this assertion appears to have been an attempt to promote him as Guru Gobind's successor.

Tales of his early conquests 

After meeting Guru Gobind Singh, he marched to Khanda, Sonipat, and fought the Mughals alongside the Sikh army in the Battle of Sonipat. In 1709, he won the Battle of Samana against the Mughals and captured the Mughal city of Samana (30 km southwest of Patiala). Samana manufactured coins. This treasury provided financial security for the Sikhs. Mustafabad (now Saraswati Nagar) and Sadaura were rapidly conquered by the Sikhs (both places in the present Yamunanagar district, Northern eastern Haryana). The Sikhs then acquired control of the areas of Punjab Cis-Sutlej, including Malerkotla and Nahan.

On May 12, 1710, at the Battle of Chappar Chiri, the Sikhs murdered Wazir Khan, the Governor of Sirhind, and Dewan Suchanand, who were responsible for the killing of Guru Gobind Singh's two youngest sons. The Sikhs seized Sirhind two days later. From the Sutlej to the Yamuna, Banda Singh now governed an expansive realm. He commanded that the farmers be awarded land ownership and be permitted to live with dignity and self-respect.

Military invasions 

Banda Singh Bahadur made the village of Mukhlisgarh his capital. Then, he called it Lohgarh (steel fortress) and constructed his own mint there. The coin described Lohgarh: "Struck in the City of Peace, illustrating the beauty of civic life, and the ornament of the blessed throne".He briefly established a state in Punjab for half a year.Banda Singh dispatched Sikhs to Uttar Pradesh, where they conquered Saharanpur, Jalalabad, Muzaffarnagar, and other neighbouring regions.


During his tenure, Banda Singh Bahadur is said to have abolished the Zamindari and Taluqdari systems and granted the farmers ownership of their own land. It appears that all classes of government officials were addicted to extortion and corruption, and the entire regulatory and order system was undermined. 

According to local folklore, residents of the Sadaura neighbourhood complained to Banda Singh about their abusive landlords. Banda Singh ordered Baj Singh to start firing on them. The populace was startled by his unusual response to their representation and questioned what he meant. He informed them that despite their large number, they deserved no better treatment because they had allowed a small number of Zamindars to intimidate them. He triumphed over the Sayyids and Shaikhs in the Battle of Sadhaura.

Defending Sikhs from Mughal persecution 

The dominance of the Sikhs over the entire Punjab east of Lahore impeded the connection between Delhi and Lahore, the capital of Punjab, which alarmed the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah. He abandoned his intention to subjugate rebels in Rajasthan and marched towards Punjab.

Banda Singh Bahadur was to be defeated and killed by the entire Imperial troops. The generals were all ordered to join the Emperor's army. On August 29, 1710, an order was issued to all Hindus to remove their beards in order to ensure that there were no Sikh agents in the army encampment.

Banda Singh was in Uttar Pradesh when the Moghal army marched on Sirhind under the orders of Munim Khan, and they had already taken Sirhind and the surrounding areas when Banda Singh returned. As a result, the Sikhs relocated to Lohgarh for their final battle. The Sikhs beat the army, but reinforcements were called. They laid siege on the fort with 60,000 troops. Gulab Singh dressed in Banda Singh's clothes and sat in his place.

Banda Singh fled the fort at night to a remote location in the hills and Chamba woods. The army's failure to kill or capture Banda Singh outraged Emperor Bahadur Shah, who ordered on December 10, 1710, that any Sikh found should be slain.

Banda Singh Bahadur issued Hukamnamas to the Sikhs, urging them to regroup and immediately join him. In 1712, the Sikhs gathered in Kiratpur Sahib and defeated Raja Ajmer Chand, who was in charge of organising all of the Hill Rajas against Guru Gobind Singh and inciting conflicts with him. Upon Bhim Chand's death, the other Hill Rajas acknowledged their submissive status and paid revenue to  Banda Singh . As Bahadur Shah's four sons were killing themselves for the Mughal Emperor's throne, Banda Singh Bahadur recaptured Sadhaura and Lohgarh. The next Mughal Emperor, Farrukh Siyar, appointed Abdus Samad Khan as governor of Lahore and Zakaria Khan, Abdus Samad Khan's son, as Faujdar of Jammu. 

In 1713, the Sikhs departed Lohgarh and Sadhaura for Jammu's distant hills, where they erected Dera Baba Banda Singh. During this period, Sikhs were oppressed, particularly by the Mughals in the Gurdaspur region. Banda Singh appeared and took Kalanaur and Batala (both in the current Gurdaspur district) prompting Farrukh Siyar to order Mughal and Hindu officials and leaders to send troops to Lahore to reinforce his army.

In March 1715, the army of Abd al-Samad Khan, the Mughal ruler of Lahore, drove Banda Bahadur and the Sikh forces into the village of Gurdas Nangal, 6 kilometres west of the city of Gurdaspur in Punjab, and laid siege to it. The Sikhs maintained the little fort for eight months under extremely difficult conditions, but on 7 December 1715, the Mughals stormed the fort and captured Banda Singh and his companions.

Excommunication and competition with Tat Khalsa

Farrukh Siyar planned a determined effort to suppress Banda's rebellion in 1714, despite enormous Mughal efforts and the investment of resources. First, Mata Sundari (Guru Gobind's widow) was asked to persuade Banda to stop his lawlessness and expedition against the Mughals in exchange for jagirs and Sikh soldiers recruited into the imperial army. Banda declined due to his distrust of the administration. The Emperor subsequently imprisoned both of Gobind's widows, leading Sundari to write to Banda once more in order to persuade him to submit. Banda had declined once more, prompting the Emperor to tighten the restrictions on the widows, culminating in Mata Sundari's decision to excommunicate Banda Singh Bahadur for refusing to submit to the Emperor as per her demands. She further accused him of reigning the Sikhs as their "Guru". This conflict split the modern Sikh community into two factions: the Tat Khalsa, who supported Mata Sundari, and the Bandais, who supported Banda Singh Bahadur.

Mata Sundari's influence caused half of Banda's followers (about 15,000) to quit him before the siege of Gurdas Nangal. Disputes between the Tat Khalsa and the Bandais primarily concerned Banda's abandonment of traditional blue robes in favour of red robes, Banda's insistence on vegetarianism, and Banda's replacement of the prescribed Sikh slogan with "Fateh Darshan," as well as concerns about excesses committed by Banda's troops during their retribution campaign against the Mughals. Banda's exile hampered his ability to oppose the Mughals and aided in his final arrest and execution.

The modern Sikh tradition recognises at least two distinct Khalsas: the Tat Khalsa, which strictly adheres to the laws and teachings of Guru Gobind Singh, and the Bandais, who adopt and expand upon the ideas established by Banda Singh Bahadur. Mata Sundari delivered a reprimand to the Bandais in the form of a hukam-nama.

Brutal execution 

Banda Singh Bahadur was placed into an iron cage and his fellow Sikhs were chained. The Sikhs were carried to Delhi in a procession with the 780 Sikh prisoners, 2,000 Sikh heads hung on spears, and 700 cartloads of heads of murdered Sikhs used to terrorise the population. They were imprisoned in the Delhi fort and forced to abandon their faith and convert to Islam. 

Several non-converts were sentenced to death because they refused to convert. Every day, 100 Sikh troops were dragged from the fort and executed in public. This lasted around seven days. He was commanded to murder his four-year-old son, Ajai Singh, but he refused. As a result, Ajai Singh was assassinated, his heart removed, and shoved into Banda Bahadur's mouth. Yet, his resolution did not shatter under torture, and so he was martyred. Following three months of confinement, Banda Singh's eyes were gouged out, his limbs chopped, his skin stripped, and he was slain on June 9, 1716.

Keeping him alive in memory 

To honour valiant Sikh troops, a war memorial was created near the site of the Battle of Chappar Chiri. The Fateh Burj, which stands 328 feet tall, was dedicated to Banda Singh Bahadur, who commanded the army and destroyed the Mughal armies. The Fateh Burj is an octagonal tower that is taller than the Qutab Minar. At the top of the tower, there is a dome with Khanda constructed of stainless steel.

More such initiatives to honour him in perpetuity will continue to inspire Sikh youth to serve the community.


*Based on an article published in The Tribune on 4th April 2021


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