Bibi Prem Kaur
The green Thaeri Hills were soaked in blood. The powerful Pathan Army defended the hill top against a small troop of fearless Akalee soldiers. The Pathan Army heavily outnumbered the bravest battalion of the Khalsa Army, but these warrior lions of Guru Gobind Singh did not lose faith. United, like the waves in the ocean, by their deep blue battle-dress and turbans, they fought against all the odds and faced the rain of enemy bullets, stones, and arrows. Hacking their way through treachorous terrain, they hammered their way up the hill.
Time was running out for the Akalees, Maharaja Ranjit Singh hadn’t arrived with reinforcements wereas the Pathans had won the support of thousands of local muslims by distributing pamphlets that declared this battle as a war against Islam – Jihad. The Akalees belonged to Akal, the Immortal God, and with Akal on their side who should they be afraid of? Being outnumbered didn’t scare them, Guu Gobind Singh Jee had transformed them with his `khanda-batta da amrit’ – the initiation amrit-nectar prepared in the indestructable iron batta-bowl and stirred by the most awesome of weapons – the double-edged Khanda sword. The words of their Guru father rang in their ears `I will make one fight against 125,000, then and only then can I be called Gobind Singh!’. The Akalees belonged to Akal, they fought for their Guru’s honour and their only hope in life was to die fighting courageously on the battle-field.
The future of the Sikh Empire, the Khalsa Raaj, depended on this battle. The Akalees marched forward led by the courageous warrior Akalee Phoola Singh , the sun reflected like bolts of lightning from the sharp bladed discus-like chakr-weapons going around his mountain peaked turban. Raising his sword his thundering voice gave power to the battle cry jaekara – `JO BAWLEH SO NIHAL’, (Whoever speaks it Will be Joyous). Every single Akalee Lion roared the response `SAT SREE AKAL’ (Akal Is True!). The Akalee’s spirits rose, new life was injected into them with each jaekara. They faced the Pathans with rejuvenated spirits, just seeing the fire in the Akalee’s eyes was enough to send the Pathans running in all directions. Advancing into an almost deserted battlefield the Akalees had captured the hill top against all the odds.
But then, from out of nowhere, bullets and arrows started raining down on the Akalees, the Pathans had hidden in hill-caves and now charged out. Surrounding the Akalees they bombarded them with bullets and arrows. Akalee Phoola Singh took a bullet in the chest and the mighty lion fell. The great warrior Karnail Singh Bania also fell wounded by another bullet. The Akalees wanted to die fighting, but seeing their leader’s serious condition they decided it was wiser to retreat. The Pathans chased them down to the foothills.
The wounded were carried for about a mile, they marched passed their ammunition depot and reached the camp hospital. A few young Khalsa women busily nursed the wounded lions. Looking towards the hill they saw the enemy forces charging down like an avalanche. The Khalsa nurses along with the remaining Akalee Warriors, gathered their wounded and once again retreated to a safer location.
The Pathans were exhilerated by the fact that victory was almost in their ruthless hands. They marched triumphantly towards the deserted Akalee Camp with the Islamic battle cry `Allah Hu Akbar’ (God is Great). Reaching the undefendend depot they desperately needed to find a mountain load of ammunition. Most of their army didn’t have rifles and without them they knew they stood no chance against the Khalsa Army re-inforcements that were rapidly riding to the battle-scene. On finding thousands of rifles, their joy had no bounds and the skies reverberated with their war cries – `Allah Hu Akbar’.
Each soldier eagerly seized a weapon, but their hearts sunk down to the lowest depths of hell when they realised there were no bullets. Searching frantically they ripped apart every storage tent and overturned every stack of crates, like thirsty men in the desert they ran in all directions looking for even a tiny clue as to where the metal messengers of death could be, finally Allah was truly merciful and they located crate after crate full to the brim with the finest bullets stuffed full of gunpowder. Once again their joy had no bounds and the valleys echoed with `Allah Hu Akbar’. Surrounded by a sea of ammunition the Pathan Army danced like drunken men waving their new found guns in the air. Without warning, an incredible explosion suddenly shocked the sky and shook the mountains. Flames shot up hundreds of feet into the sky, like an errupting volcano spewing out it’s insides with all the force and fury of ten thousand angry gods. Bodies went flying in all directions like fragile rag dolls. Within a blink of an eye, the Pathans dancing heaven had turned them into black logs of charcoal feeding the flames of hell on earth.
By now, the `Lion Of Punjab -Shere Punjab’, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had crossed the Attock river and appeared on the horizon like the the light of the rising sun after a dark and stormy night, the rays of hope reached out in all directions in the form of Khalsa Warrior after Khalsa Warrior. Whether riding on horseback or marching on foot, each battalion was headed by the the flag bearers waving the Khalsa flags high in the sky. They whispered `Waheguru, Waheguru’ with each breath, their secret power given to them when they were blessed with `khanda-batta-da-amrit’. General Hari Singh Naluwa commanded them and they rode like the wind, attacking the remaining Pathans with so much power that they ran for their lives like headless chickens. The Khalsa Army claimed complete control of the battlefield. The skies echoed with the battle cry jaekara `JO BAWLEH SO NIHAL’, (Whoever speaks it Will be Joyous). Every single Khalsa Lion roared the response `SAT SREE AKAL’ (Akal Is True!).
Maharaja Ranjit Singh and General Hari Singh Naluwa looked around at the site of death and destruction, smoke was still emating from burning crates and bodies. Tha Akalee’s told Maharaja Ranjit Singh that by some miracle Guru Gobind Singh jee himself had caused the explosion. They all knew that they would have suffered a total wipeout against a fanatical Pathan Army on a religious Jihad armed to the teeth with guns and bullets.
As they wandered around what used to be the camp, Maharaja Ranjit Singh noticed something, quickly dashing to the outskirts he kneeled down. The others followed him and they congregated around the dead body of a fair, innocent, young khalsa woman. She was lying face down on the ground less than 50 feet from the depot and away from the bodis of the Pathans. In her hand she was still tightly clutching a fire-torch!
It was the head nurse, Bibi Prem Kaur. This brave lioness daughter of Guru Gobind Singh Jee had given up her life to save the Khalsa Army from a humiliating defeat. While the other nurses retreated with the wounded Akalees, she had secretly gone to the depot and hidden near the bullet storage. Lighting the ammunition, the blast had blown her body away from the dead Pathans, as if to protect her innocence and honor her sacrifice.
This scene deeply moved Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his eyes were flooding with tears. Addressing her as his daughter, he gently raised her head onto his lap and tenderly wiped her face with his damp handkerchief.
The Khalsa warriors witnessed these scenes with tears rolling down their cheeks, Bibi Prem Kaur had sacrificed her own life so that her brothers would be saved. At her funeral the Khalsa Army band played on and the cannons fired in continuous salute as Maharaja Ranjit Singh and other Officers carried her coffin in a royal procession. Every Khalsa Warrior felt Bibi Prem Kaur’s eternal love for Guru Gobind Singh Jee wash over them, with their heads bowed low, they said great, truly great is our father Guru Gobind Singh Jee.
The `khanda-batta-da-amrit’ that Guru Gobind Singh jee used to transform the sparrows into hawks, jackals into lions, cowards into Khalsa, had now enabled Bibi Prem Kaur to make the ultimate selfess sacrifice. She was now a martyr that the Khalsa would never forget. By the Guru’s infinite and unparralled grace and kindness she had single-handedly overturned a sure defeat for the Khalsa into an overwhelming victory.
“By Harjit Singh Lakhan ([email protected])
fictionalised version of a true story by Karam Singh in the punjabi book ‘Ardashak Singhnian’ “