Bibi Sahib Kaur (1771-1801)
Bibi Sahib Kaur (1771-1801) was a warrior and leader of men who played a prominent part in the history of the Sutlej states from 1793 to 1801, was the elder sister of Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala. Born in 1771, Sahib Kaur was married at an early age to Jaimal Singh of the Kanhaiya clan, who resided at Fatehgarh and was master of a greater part of the Bari Doab above Dina Nagar in present-day Gurdaspur district of the Punjab. In 1793, Raja Sahib Singh, in view of mounting dissensions within his state, recalled his sister Blbl Sahib Kaur to Patiala and entrusted to her the of fice of prime minister. She had not been long in Patiala when she had to return to Fatehgarh at the head of a large Patiala army to rescue her husband who had been captured by Fateh Singh, a rival chief. Back in Patiala she faced a large Maratha force marching towards the town in 1794 under the command of Anta Rao and Lachhman Rao.
Raja Bhag Singh of Jind,Jodh Singh of Kalsia and Bhanga Singh of Thanesar joined hands n with her while Tara Singh Ghaiba sent a detachment of troops. The joint force, numbering about 7,000 men, met the enemy at Mardanpur near Ambala where a fierce engagement took place. The Sikhs were severely outnumbered and would have retreated had not Sahib Kaur, alighting from her rath, i.e. chariots made a brave call with a drawn sword in hand for them to stay firm in their ranks. The next morning they made a sudden charge on the Marathas who, taken by surprise, retired towards Karnal in utter confusion.
Bedi Sahib Singh of Una charged the Pathan chief of Malerkotla with cow-killing and attacked him. He was saved by the timely succour given him hy Sahib Kaur. In 1796, in response to the request of the Raja of Nahan who had sought help from Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala to quell a revolt in his state, Sahib Kaur proceeded to the hills with a strong force and soon reduced the insurgents to submission. The Raja was reinstalled on the gaddi and, at the time of Sahib Kaur’s departure, he presented her with many rich and valuable gifts in token of his gratitude. In the summer of l799, George Thomas, an English adventurer, who had become very powerful and who ruled the country in the neighborhood of Hansi and Hissar, turned his attention to the Sikh territories on his northern frontier and reached upon Jind. Sahib Kaur led out a strong contingent to relieve the besieged town and, assisted by the troops of other Sikh chiefs, she forced George Thomas to withdraw. Owing to differences with her brother, Blbi Sahib Kaur had to leave Patiala to take up residence in Bherlan, near Sunam, which fell within her jagir and where she had built a fort changing the name of the village to Ubheval. She died there in 1801 in the prime of her life. After the death of the Maharaja Alla Singh, the founder of Patiala rule, his grandson Maharaja Amar Singh became the ruler of Patiala. He too, like his grandfather, turned out to intelligent and brave. He clobbered his opponents and extended his rule stretching up to the river Jamuna. His subjects trusted him and were willing to give their lives for his cause. And likewise the Maharaja was extremely considerate of his subjects. Because of this trust and closeness among the ruler and his subjects, this rule made increasing progress. It seemed certain that Maharaja Amar Singh’s tactics and braveness would further extend the boundaries of his rule.
Unfortunately, we humans plan something while our Creator has something in store for us. At the moment when Patiala rule was at its peek, the young newly wed Maharaja passed away suddenly. All happiness were replaced by sadness, expectation by hopelessness, positiveness by negative attitudes. The future of Patiala seems to hang among major difficulties and facing numerous dangers. Maharaja Amar Singh’s death came unexpected in his youth. He left behind two prince and a princess. This princess is the heroin of our story, Rani Sahib Kaur. She was the eldest among her brothers. At the time of Maharaja’s death, she was 15 years old. Younger than her was Maharaja Sahib Singh of 7 years and the youngest, Kanwar Budh Singh. The rule was passed on to Maharaja Sahib Singh. However, he was the ruler in name only. The real control was in the hands of Diwan Nanu Mal who was the most trusted advisor during Maharaja Amar Singh’s period. Unfortunately, after the master’s death, his trust quickly evaporated and was replaced by selfishness. He aligned with the Marhatas and initiated efforts for Patiala rule’s destructions from its roots. Diwan’s attitude also influence the other servants of the empire. They too initiated pursuits for their selfish gains. As a result, corruption, looting, and injustice reigned in the empire. Justice and peace simply fled away like a bird. The empire was in immediate danger now. On one hand the inner situation was fast deteriorating while on the other hand, the external enemies were eager for its destruction. Child Maharaja Sahib Singh was terrified of the emerging situation.
By now Bibi Sahib Kaur had been married and was happily living with her in-law. No women is willing to leave her home, yet Sahib Kaur took immediate action upon learning of the situation in her brother’s empire. Her love for the younger brother drove her to set aside her own happily married life and immediately proceed to protect the Patiala rule.
A working machinery isn’t difficult to operate. However, only a knowledgeable mechanic can operate a machine whose essential parts have seriously deteriorated. That was the situation of Patiala. However, the daughter of Khalsa was undeterred. She cleverly fix the broken machinery and attempted to operate it.
Slowly the situation started improving. The situation though improved significantly, hadn’t completely recovered when a mob of Marhatas soldiers advanced to conquer Patiala. The famous Lakshami Rao was the commander of the Marhata forces. He was commanding a force of 100,000 men. The news of the impending attacked also reached Rani Sahib Kaur. The rulers of Jind and Kaethal had already accepted the conditions of Marhatas and paid large sum for their safety. This made the situation even more grave for Patiala.
Marhatas were fast advancing towards Patiala. Their success with Jind and Kaethal had given a huge boost to their confidence. On the other hand. Patiala’s inner situation wasn’t completely recovered. In everyone’s estimations, Patiala forces were incapable of defending themselves against the Marhatas. Bahadhur Sahib Kaur was well aware of this assessment. But she neither twitched nor loss her confidence. In such situation, even the bravest men could loose their courage. Yet this brave daughter of the Khalsa remained undeterred. Her composure was unchanged, as if she didn’t know the concepts of failure. She wasn’t discouraged. She had partaken Guru’s amrit which can give lease of new life even to the dead. It can instills courageous spirit in birds to defeat hawks. Then why should she be afraid? Fear couldn’t even approach her. She ordered the sounding of the battle drums, Nagara, while preparing to face the invading forces. During the darkness of the night, she summoned and gathered Bhai Bangha Singh Thanaesar, Jodh Singh Kalsia, Deep Singh and Bir Singh Bhadodhiae, Tara Singh Ghaeba and other Chiefs of the neighboring rules and made all necessary preparations. Even before sunrise, the skies echoed with sounds of Khalsa’s Jaikara “Jo Bohlae So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” while the Sikhs advanced to welcome the invading forces with the tips of their swords. Before reaching Kuch, she addressing a small group of select associates. She said in sweet yet firm voice “Brothers, the enemy thinking of you as few and weak, is advancing to snatch your freedom. Our freedom is a blessed reward of our Guru Sahibans. Our Tenth Pathshah addressed this rule as `your home is same as my home.’ This is Guru’s rule and that of his GurSikhs. This is your freedom as well as your honor. Could you tolerate Marhata feet reaching here to crush your freedom and honor? .” Every soldier collectively responded “Never, Never!”
Continuing with her speech, she said, “My brothers, this is what I expected from you. You are Sikhs of the Guru and I am confident that you will not allow the enemy to advance any further. The remaining issue is that of numbers. But remember, our Tenth Guru engaged 150,000 against each Sikh. You are Sikhs of the same Guru. Thus don’t worry about the huge numbers of the enemy force. We are within our rights and following the truth. We are rasing our swords in defense of our freedom. Guru is with us. Recognize your duty and responsibilities. the victory is yours. Take oath with me that we shall die but not allow the enemy to advance even a foot.”
The whole force collective took their oath. Subsequently, Bibi Sahib Kaur did her ardas following which the skies echoed with the sounds of Jaikaras, “Jo Bohlae So nihal, Sat Sri Akal,” and the battle drums. Now the brave soldiers of Patiala advanced in defence of their honor. While these few brave soldiers of Patiala left their capital, Ghanta Rao and Lakshami Rao left Ambala with their forces towards Patiala. Both sides clashed in the open fields of Mardaan Pur. Upon facing each other, it became evident that not only the Marhata force was large in numbers they had heavy artillery and cannons. In comparison Sikhs were few in numbers and did not possess any cannons. There was no match among both sides. It was clearly evident that Sikhs would simply disappear facing the Marhatas as salt when mixed with flour. The Marhata Sardars sent their envoy to convey a message, “why are you bent upon getting your men killed for nothing, give up and surrender.” Bibi Sahib Kaur’s face reddened with anger upon hearing this message. “Surrender,” she repeated. Then addressing the Marhata envoy, she said, “Surrender! Guru’s Sikhs know no surrender. Go tell your sardars that if they have any desire to live, they should return immediately. If not, Khalsa’s sword awaits them. They may approach with their coffins.”
Confident of their strength, the Marhata Sardars got aggravated hearing this response. Winning over a few Patiala soldiers was no challenge for them. They signaled the Marhata cannons to initiate shelling. Competition between Swords and Cannons? This was a unique event in the history of battles. However, such competition was clearly visible in the fields of Mardaan Pur. On one side the cannons of Marhatas were blindly firing shells. While on other side, Guru’s brave soldiers were advancing with their swords. Bibi Sahib Kaur, dressed in male attire and riding on horse back, was directing her soldiers with an unsheathed sword.
The Sikh soldiers fearlessly advanced into the enemy’s fortified positions. Now the soldiers were directly facing each other and the cannons became useless. The battle of swords ensued. Sikhs were renowned for their skills in using swords. For once the Marhatas got scared. Witnessing the weakness of their soldiers, Lakshami Rao advanced with fresh horsemen and attacked the Sikhs. At this moment, the Sikhs too were in need of some fresh reinforcements. But where could they get it? All their resources were tied in the battle with none to spare. Intense battle pursued all day. Sometimes the Sikhs had the upper hand while other times the Marhatas seemed to have the upper hand. The battle field was filled with dead bodies with flowing rivers of blood. The Sun God couldn’t witness this bloody battle and hide behind a hill. At this moment, the Sikh’s position was grave. They were surrounded in the enemy’s siege with no visible way to escape. Even at this moment, Sahib Kaur courage came handy. Seeing a weak segment in the enemy’s siege, she shouted the Jaikara, “Jo Bohlae So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal,” and forcefully attacked this segment. Her courage and the Jaikara instilled new courage among the Sikh soldiers. Using their swords, the Sikh soldiers successfully broke through the enemy’s siege. Ghanta Rao and Lakshami Rao were astonished as their well planned scheme simply evaporated in front of their eyes. By now it was nightfall, the soldiers couldn’t see each other and thus both forces returned to their camps for rest. Celebration in Marhata camps and mourning in Sikh camps was evident. The reason being that the Sikhs took heavy casualties in today’s battle. The Sikh Sardars and soldiers were discouraged. Despair and disappointment was prevalent among them. However, Bibi Sahib Kaur was neither disappointed nor in any despair. She appeared to be peaceful yet serious, as if engrossed in some deep thoughts. Select few Sikh Sardars gathered in Bibi Sahib Kaur’s tent to assess the day’s battle. It was assesses that more than half of the Sikh force had been wiped out. Sardar Jodh Singh said, “Bibi Ji! Tell us what to do now?” “You tell me what to do brother?” Bibi ji answered in slow and soft voice, as if trying to probe the inner thoughts of the Sardars. After all the Sardars had collectively come to her with some apparent consensus. Jodh Singh did not respond. But Dalip Singh Bhadodhiae said, “Bibi Ji! The status of the battle is clear. There is no hope for any type of victory. The time to give our lives is upon us. Although, Guru’s Sikhs aren’t afraid of this but .” He couldn’t complete his sentence when he was interrupted by Bibi Ji’s question, “But what?” Silence prevailed. For a long time no one responded. Seeing no answer, she repeated her question “Brothers! Tell me what we should do now?” “Bibi Ji! What can we do. We will fight bravely. We shall fight in the face of sure death. We shall happily accept our death. It is true that we have no hope of victory. But a Sikh’s duty is to fight. We shall fight, for we can not witness any encroachment of Patiala’s freedom or honor while living. However, we have a serious request of you, that you should return to Patiala. The battle field isn’t in our control and we can not sustain your capture by the enemy forces,” Bhai Bangha Singh Thanaesar hesitatingly uttered this response. Hearing this Bibi’s face got reddened with anger as if her honor had been challenged. However, this quickly disappeared and was replaced with peace and seriousness. She said, “Your courage is commendable that you can not witness any encroachment of Patiala’s freedom or honor. Prior to such encroachment you would like to give up your lives. But how could you assume that Maharaja Amar Singh’s daughter could tolerate and witness the encroachment of Patiala’s freedom and honor. How could you assume that her personal life is more important to her than these things. Brothers! No one can live for ever in this world. One day we all have to die for sure. And if this live is expended preserving freedom and honor what better honor can there be than this. Sahib Kaur is prepared for this. Granted, I am a women and for sure weak. But brothers! I too have partaken the amrit of same Guru that you have partaken. Then why would I hesitate facing death? Don’t even think about it. If I leave here I shall leave in victory or I shall not leave at all.” Saying this, tears dropped her cheeks. Apparently, the mere suggestion for her return to Patiala, inflicted some deep pain in her. Sahib Kaur’s words created silence in the meeting while everyone got deeply engrossed in thoughts. After a while Sahib Kaur continued “You say we have no hope of victory. I cannot accept this. We are fighting the battle of truth and righteousness. VaahGuru is with us. I am confident of our victory. Don’t get discouraged.” Saying this, she stood up and started pacing around the tent as if she was about to take a major decision. Soon her face lightened up with happiness as if she got convinced of her victory. Addressing her Sardars she said, “Guru Sahib has shown me the way to our victory. What we need now is your courage.” Everyone’s attention was now focused on Bibi’s face. They replied in unison, “we are prepared to follow your orders.” Bibi said, “Look! Strength itself isn’t enough for For winning a battle. In fact the understanding and deployment of strategy is more beneficial. We too can defeat the Marhata forces with strategy.” “Tell us what to do” everyone responded collectively. “At this moment the enemy forces are celebrating their victory. As such they are careless in their egoistic happiness. If we were to suddenly attack them now, our victory is assured and the freedom and honor of Patiala can be preserved.”
All Sardars were astonished. They didn’t know that Sahib Kaur was equally sharp in battle strategy. This decision was taken around 10:30pm. Until midnight all battle preparations were carried out quietly. This decision invigorated new courage among the Sikh forces. Soldiers started coming out of their tents after preparing themselves for the battle. Bibi Sahib Kaur now dressed in male attire, riding horseback with unsheathed sword, face her soldiers and gave a short speech, “Brothers! Time has come for either victory or death in this battle for preserving the freedom and honor of Patiala. Advance keeping faith in Guru. Victory shall be yours. Your swords shall be the death message for the egoistic Marhatas. Prove the strength of our Tenth Guru’s Amrit.”
Subsequently, the sky echoed with the sounds of Jaikaras, “Jo Bohlae So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal.” The Sikh forces advanced and gave a surprise attack to the enemy forces. Even before the enemy became aware of what happened their soldiers were killed by the Sikh swords. In minutes the field was filled with dead bodies. The suddenness of the attack as well as the darkness made it difficult to distinguish among their own and Sikh soldiers. As a result, many enemy soldiers died fighting among themselves. Bibi Sahib Kaur was moving around encouraging her soldiers with Jaikaras. Her sword too killed many enemy soldiers.
This surprise attack by the Sikhs completely changes the status of the battle. Their defeat turned into a victory while Marhata’s victory changed into a defeat. When Ghanta Rao and Lakshami Rao saw the shining sword of Bibi Sahib Kaur upon them, they found escape as the best way out. They quickly collected their remaining companions and ran towards Hisar. Now the battle field was in total control of the Khalsa.
The true status of the battle became evident with sunrise. Uncountable enemy soldiers lay dead. Apart from the dead bodies, the enemy cannons, ammunition, ration, and treasury were left behind. Bibi Sahib Kaur awarded all this wealth and distributed it among the Sikh soldiers. She capture the cannons and the ammunition and took them to Patiala. Upon reaching Patiala, she was welcomed with huge celebration. celebrations unparalleled in Patiala history. Why not? After all her courage and battle strategy had not only saved the freedom and honor of Patiala but instilled such terror among the Marhatas that they never thought of advancing towards Punjab again. Bibi Sahib Kaur’s name is engraved in the fine pages of Sikh history. What are the daughter’s of Khalsa capable of can be assessed from the above accounts. Who can say that GurSikh women are weak compared to their male counterparts. Sahib Kaur’s sword became an object of terror for the Marhatas.
Sahib Kaur was a woman of remarkable leadership and diplomacy. She belonged to the royal family of the Patiala state ruled by a Sikh ruler. Patiala is now a part of the Punjab state and is a district headquarters. She was born to the ruler of the state, Amar Singh, and his wife Raj Kaur in 1773. She is also called Rani which means queen. She was beautiful, extraordinary intelligent, and brilliant. She could read and write Punjabi. She knew horse riding and the use of arms as she was taught these arts in her childhood. She was baptized in 1779 and became a Singhni. In those days, the custom of early marriage was prevalent so she was married to S. Jaimal Singh son of S. Haqiqat Singh of Kanehia Misal (group) in 1780 with great pomp and show. It is said that her marriage party consisted of twenty thousand members.
Her younger brother, Sahib Singh, became the ruler of the state after the death of their father in 1781 when he was only six years old. According to historians, he was coward, lazy and stupid person. During his minority the state was saved from disintegration by his grandmother, Rani Hukman and his clever prime minister, Nanu Mal. The state was in a complete mess and there were intrigues all around against both of them. After the death of Rani Hukman the state received such a terrible shock as could wreck it. Subordinate chiefs of Patiala began to declare independence. Sahib Singh dismissed Nanu Mal and took control of the state in his own hands, but failed to control the palace intrigues.
In 1791 Sahib Singh invited his sister Sahib Kaur, who was living with her husband in Gardaspur, and appointed her as his prime minister. She accepted the appointment on the condition that none would interfere in her affairs and she would be at liberty to select her assistants. As the subsequent events will prove, she was a good administrator, a brave general and an intelligent diplomat. She managed her affairs in the office as well as in the battlefield most successfully. She possessed all the manly virtues like bravery, perseverance and sagacity without any mixture of womanly weakness. She appointed S. Tara Singh as her deputy and dismissed corrupt officials. She used her iron hand, subordinated the chiefs who did not pay their tribute and collected the due taxes. She also constructed two new forts and toured the state to keep in touch with the people. Soon she came to know that his cousin had imprisoned her husband. She hurried with a strong force to help her husband. After a sudden and forceful attack, she not only librated her husband, but also restored to him the property under dispute and returned to Patiala.
Marathas were advancing from the west India as the Mughal kingdom at Delhi was crumbling. Nano Rao, a Maratha chief, wanted to subordinate the Patiala state and sent his agents to demand tribute. Sahib Kaur won over his agents who went back and reported that the Sikh chiefs were very powerful and he should not challenge them. He did not hesitate and planned to attack. Sahib Kaur also called a meeting of the Sikh rulers of Jind, Nabha, and Kalsian states for consultation. They were not in favor of a fight, but Sahib Kaur exhorted them and told them the consequences of subordination. They agreed to face the Marathas unitedly. Sahib Kaur sent a strong reply and warned the Marathas that if they advanced she would face them in the battlefield. She with an army of seven thousand left Patiala to face the enemy. Before starting, she addressed her chiefs and soldiers, and said, “I have taken a pledge that I will not return without defeating the enemy. Would you tolerate a young lady to be killed while fighting and leave the battlefield in disgrace?” She stood with a naked sword and continued to prepare her chiefs and soldiers mentally. Her speech and display of heroism touched the heart and pride of her soldiers and chiefs.
The Maratha chief, at the head of twelve thousand men, met the Sikh forces under Sahib Kaur in the battlefield of Mardanpur. In the fierce battle, the Sikhs lost one-third of their army while the enemy lost half of his army. Sahib Kaur personally took part in the battle and killed Ranjit Rao, a brave Maratha chief, in a one-on-one fight. The fight continued till evening, when the soldiers retired to their camps. Sahib Kaur and her chiefs met at night and planned for the next day. They were afraid that the Maratha army would get reinforcements soon. They decided to attack them at midnight. The Marathas were taken by surprise, left the battlefield and ran back.
In 1796, at the time of the great Kumbh Fair at Hardwar, a famous pilgrim station, a dispute arose between two groups of saints – the Gosains and the Udasis. Sahib Singh, who with his followers was camping nearby, took the side of the Udasis. Sahib Kaur was away in the state. She came to know of it, rushed with reinforcements, and saved the situation.
The ruler of Nahan, a hilly state, had friendly relations with the Patiala state. The ruler could not control internal disturbances in the Nahan state so he sought the help of the Patiala state in 1796. Sahib Kaur, with a force of one thousand, rushed to Nahn, about eighty miles from Patiala, and restored peace. The ruler of Nahn presented her with a tall and strong elephant that she kept for her own use.
George Thomas was an Irish adventurer, who had carved out for himself an independent state at Hansi, now in Haryana state. He was keen to expand his territory. He attacked Bhag Singh, ruler of Jind state and laid siege to Jind. Bhag Singh asked the other Sikh rulers and chiefs for help. Sahib Singh adopted delaying tactics, but Sahib Kaur, a woman of masculine and brave spirit, put pressure on Sahib Singh. He flatly refused and forbade her to go for help. She replied that if Jind was captured, nobody could save Patiala for long. She collected troops and left Patiala without the approval of her brother. On the way, many other Sikh chiefs joined her.
Thomas opposed them with heavy artillery fire and the Sikhs had to retreat. In the beginning of 1799, Sahib Kaur collected nine thousand Sikh troops under her command and attacked Thomas’ strongholds. She cut his supply lines. Her bravery inspired others and the number of her forces increased. After a blockade of one hundred days, Thomas retired from Jind, and hurried back. The Sikh forces pursued him, but had to retreat when Thomas attacked them while they were sleeping. When they returned to Jind, they were scolded and taunted by Sahib Kaur for their cowardice. She said that she would take the field personally to show them how to fight. They felt humiliated and resolved to conquer or to perish.
The Sikhs again attacked Thomas, who offered peace terms that each party should remain in possession of its territories held before the siege of Jind. Every Sikh chief except Sahib Singh was in favor of accepting the terms. Like a wise politician, Sahib Kaur tried her best to persuade her brother to agree to the peace terms, but he, being a stubborn man, did not agree and Sahib Kaur signed the treaty on behalf of the Patiala state. This enraged Sahib Singh, who was also instigated by his wife against Sahib Kaur.
He arrested Sahib Kaur and imprisoned her at Patiala. She appealed for help to Thomas, who marched to Patiala. He had to fight Patiala forces on his way and consequently, both sides suffered heavily. When he reached near Patiala, the weak-minded Sahib Singh yielded, accepted the peace terms, and released his sister. Sahib Singh was extremely vindictive and possessed a cruel nature. He again imprisoned Sahib Kaur in the fort of Patiala. She managed to escape and went to the fort at Sangrur. She was again caught and imprisoned. It seems she was murdered during her imprisonment in 1779,in the prime of her life. This was the tragic end of the Joan-of-Arc of the Patiala state. Her role was the noblest and the best. In character, in bravery, and in statesmanship, she occupies the first-place in Sikh history. In independent India, she would have proved the best Prime Minister. Thomas called her a man and not a woman. Bhai Kahn Singh, author of Mahan Kosh, writes that she made unique efforts to save and expand her brother’s state. Mohamad Latif, a famous Muslim historian, writes that the Marathas defeat was due to the fact that Sahib Kaur herself took part in the battlefield and thus exhorted her army. There is no doubt that Sahib Singh would not have survived as the ruler of Patiala but for the help of his brave and self sacrificing sister. Her biography is a lighthouse for the coming generation.