Gurbakhsh Singh Nihang, Bhai
Sikh Warrior and Martyr
Also known as Gurbakhsh Singh Nihang or Shahid, hailed from the village of Lil, in Amritsar district. According to an old manuscript which was preserved in the Sikh Reference Library, Amritsar, until it perished in the Army action in 1984, and which is quoted by Singh Sahib Giani Kirpal Singh, he was born on Baisakh vadi 5, 1745 Bk/ 10 April 1688 (father Bhai Dasaundha, mother Mai Lachchhami). In 1693, the family shifted to Anandpur where Gurbakhsh Singh took Pahul of the Khalsa on the historic Baisakh! day of 1699. He completed his religious education under Bhai Mani Singh. He later joined the Shahid misl under Baba Deep Singh and, after the latter’s death in 1757, organized his own jatha or fighting band.
In the battles against the Durranis and the Mughals in the eighteenth century, his dera or small group usually formed the vanguard carrying the banner, and won renown for its acts of gallantry. When in November 1764 Ahmad Shah Durrani, at the head of 30,000 men, invaded India for the seventh time, Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh happened to be stationed at the holy shrine at Amritsar. The Durrani advanced up to the town virtually unopposed and entered the partially reconstructed Harimandar, which he had demolished two years earlier. Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh, who had already evacuated from the precincts women, children and the aged, had with him only thirty men. According to Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Prakash,
"Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh, with garlands around his neck and sword on his shoulder, dressed himself as a bridegroom, his men forming the marriage party, waiting eagerly to court the bride-death."
As soon as they saw the Afghan king and his hordes, they swooped down upon them. This was an unequal flight – thirty pitted against thirty thousand. All thirty Sikhs were killed before Gurbakhsh Singh, though throughout in the forefront, also fell. Giving an eye-witness account of the action, Qazi Nur Muhammad, the chronicler who was in the train of the invader, writes in his Jangnamah:
"When the King and his army reached the Chakk (Amritsar), they did not see any [infidel] there. But a few men staying in a fortress were bent upon spilling their blood and they sacrificed themselves for their Guru…. They were only thirty in number. They did not have the least fear of death. They engaged the Ghazis and spilled their blood in the process. Thus all of them were slaughtered and consigned to the seventh [hell]."
This happened on 1 December 1764. Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh was cremated behind Takht Akal Bunga. Later, a tomb was built on the site which is now known as Shahid Ganj.