Thursday, September 29, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism

Bibi Sharan Kaur

Sharan Kaur, whose original name was Sharni, was born in a Hindu family in the northwest of the Punjab where more than ninety percent of the population was Pathan or Afghan. Her father was a petty shopkeeper. As soon as she became sixteen years old, she was married to a young man, Jagat Ram, of a nearby village. After a happy marriage, she left, along with her groom and the marriage party, to the village of her in-laws. As the bridal procession was passing through a thick forest, a party of armed goons attacked the party. They ordered them to surrender the cash, valuables, and the bride. The helpless party was unarmed and requested the dacoits to take everything, but leave them with the bride. Their request was rejected and they were forced to flee, leaving the bride in her palanquin. She cried and begged them to let her go with her groom. The dacoits dragged her out of the palanquin and presented her to their chief. He said, “Detain her for the time being. I would like to marry such a beautiful and charming young girl.”

The poor groom was disappointed and depressed. He did not want to go to his village and become the laughingstock of the whole village. It was the first half of the nineteenth century and Hari Singh Nalwa was the governor of the Pathan province. He was the bravest general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who bestowed on him the title of Nalwa, as he had single-handedly killed a (Nul) lion. Before the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Pathans and Afghans from the west of Punjab had invaded and looted India for eight centuries. It goes to the credit of generals like Hari Singh Nalwa that these invasions were stopped forever. He ruled the rebel Pathans of that region so fearlessly, courageously and wisely that Pathan parents used the name of Nalwa to scare their children to keep them quiet.

An idea struck Jagat Ram and he went straight to Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa at Jamrud where he was building a fort. He complained to the Sardar that his bride was forcibly taken away by a few dacoits. When the Sardar was listening to his complaint, he observed that two strangers were standing near the door of his court and were listening attentively to everything the groom was saying. He suspected that those persons were helpers of the dacoits. He ordered loudly, “Put this coward behind bars. One who cannot protect his wife deserves no help or mercy. Persons like this fellow are a burden on society and disgrace to the community.” The two suspects were very glad to listen to all this and at once left to tell everything to their leader. Hari Singh saw through their game and ordered a few Sikh horsemen to accompany the husband of the abducted woman and secretly follow the two suspects who were satisfied that the game was over.

The suspects (spies) reached their destination and told their leader about the reaction of the Sikh Sardar. They were still talking joyfully and enjoying their victory when the Sikh horsemen surrounded them and ordered them to disarm themselves. The dacoits were taken aback and outnumbered. The Sikh soldiers brought the dacoits, the booty, and the bride to Hari Singh Nalwa. When the Sardar asked the bride her name, she said, “I hate my old name. But for your help I would have committed suicide. Now I am under your ‘Sharan’ (protection) so I would like to be called Sharan Kaur. Her dowry, including her ornaments, was returned to her and she was asked to accompany her groom to her in-laws. The bride and the bridegroom requested the Sardar to allow them to live there like soldiers, as they did not want to live like cowards among the cowards. They wanted to live and die as brave Sikhs and work for their fellowmen.

On their insistence, they were baptized and allowed to stay there. She served in the community kitchen and her husband, who was named Jagat Singh after being baptized, was enlisted in the army. The Sardar observed the couple for a few days. One day, he said to his army officer, “Sharan Kaur seems to be brave and intelligent. I think she can become an excellent spy. Train her to become one.” Her training was started immediately and in a few months she picked up the art of spying.

Once she was sent to find out the strength of the Pathan forces that were planning to attack Jamrud. She disguised herself as a Pathan girl and professed that the Sikhs had murdered her brother. She wanted to see the Pathan chief to seek help and share with him the secrets of the Sikh army. She met the Pathan chief, wept, and told him that the Sikhs had a huge army in the Jamrud fort and they had killed her brother mercilessly. The chief thanked her for the information and assured the girl to take heart that the Sikhs would be chased out of Jamrud. He also told her about the Pathan strength. She suddenly leaned forward as if she were about to faint. As the chief rose to support her, she took out her handkerchief and pressed it to his nose. As he became unconscious, she stabbed him and walked out secretly. She reached Jamrud before the Pathan soldiers could catch her. She was awarded a medal for serving the Sikh Empire with distinction.

The Jamrud area was surrounded by Pathans who were unfriendly towards the Sikhs. Once, Hari Singh Nalwa fell seriously ill at Jamrud. When the Pathans came to know that Nalwa was seriously ill and could not take part in the battle, they rebelled against his rule and surrounded the fort. To show that he was hail and hearty, the general appeared at the upper story of the fort so that people could see him. Seeing him, the rebels returned, but one of them aimed his gun at Nalwa and shot him. Unfortunately, Nalwa was hit badly and died the next day on April 30, 1837. His death was kept secret, but everyone in the fort was depressed and tense as there was no one to replace Nalwa. Sharan Kaur did not lose heart and encouraged the Sikh army. She said, “This is not the time to be scared or worried. Let us face this critical moment bravely. Drop me behind the fort by a long rope. I shall disguise myself as a Pathan woman and reaching Pashawar, I shall see that the news is conveyed to Maharaja Ranjit Singh as early as possible.”

Brave Sharan Kaur reached Peshawar by walking and running the whole night through the dense forest. Quickly she took a few horsemen and rode with them to Lahore as fast as they could. She reported the whole story to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was very sad to learn the news of the death of his best general, who had strengthened the Sikh Empire. Seeing that the situation was serious, he at once left to punish the rebels. As soon as the rebels came to know that Maharaja Ranjit Singh had reached with a huge reinforcement, they surrendered and promised to behave. Sharan Kaur, with her husband, returned to Lahore with Maharaja Ranjit Singh where he bestowed honor on her. This was the most glorious moment in her life.

The shy helpless bride, Sharan Kaur, was transformed into a brave saint-soldier after her baptism. She is known as the bravest woman in the Sikh history. Her bravery saved the Sikh kingdom from being dismembered. She will always be remembered for her selfless service and excellent espionage.

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