Sikh Martyrs:Bhai Maharaj Singh
Maharaj Singh was a saintly person turned revolutionary who led an anti-British movement in the Punjab after the first Anglo-Sikh war, was born Nihal Singh at the village of Rabbon, in Ludhiana district. He had a religious bent of mind and came under the influence of Bhai Bir Singh of Naurangabad. After the latter’s death in 1844, he succeeded him as head of the Naurafigabad dera and was held in high esteem by a vast following, including most of the Sikh chiefs and courtiers. Maharaj Singh’s revolutionary career started with the Prema conspiracy case involving him in a plot to murder the British resident, Henly Lawrence, and other pro-British officers of the Lahore Darbar. Maharaj Singh, whose movements were restricted to Naurangabfid by the British, went underground. The government confiscated his properq at Amritsar and announced a reward for his arrest.
Bhai Maharaj Singh intensified his activities against the British when he came to know that Dlwan Mul Raj had in April 1848 raised a standard of revolt against them at Multan. He left for Multan with 400 horsemen to join hands with Mul Raj. But soon differences arose between the two leaders, and Maharaj Singh left Multan for Hazara in June 1848 to seek Chatar Singh Atarivala’s assistance in his plans to dislodge the British. In November 1848, he joined Rija Sher Singh’s forces at Rimnagar and was seen in the battlefield riding his black mare and exhorting the Sikh soldiers to lay down their lives for the sake of their country. Thereafter he took part in the battles of Chehanvala and Gujrat but, when Raja Sher Singh surrendered to the British at Rawalpindi on 14 March 1849, he resolved to carly on the fight single-handed.
He escaped to Jammu and made Dev Batala his secret headquarters. In December 1849, he went to Hoshiarpur and visited the Sikh regiments to enlist their support. Bhai Maharaj Singh, who carried on his head a price of 10,000 rupees was arrested on 28 December 1849 at Adampur. The Guru is no ordinary man," wrote Dr Vansittart, the Jalandhar deputy commissioner, who had arrested him. He is to the natives what Jesus is to the most zealous of Christians. His miracles were seen by tens of thousands and are more implicitly believed than those worked by the ancient prophets*" Vansittart was so greatly impressed by Bhai Maharaj Singh’s personaliq that he recommended special treatment to be accorded him, but the government did not wish to take any risks and deported him to Singapore where after several years of solitary confinement, he died on 5 July 1856. He had gone blind before the end came.
Bhai Maharaj Singh was a trusted follower of Bhai Bir Singh, the famous saint of Naurangabad. Maharaj Singh led the anti-British campaign as a matter of religious duty towards his people. After the First Anglo-Sikh War he moved about the Jalandhar Doab, a British territory and aroused the people against the British. He contacted Dewan Mul Raj, the Nazim of Multan to raise a banner of revolt against the British administration of Lahore kingdom. He went to Hazara where Sardar Chattar Singh Attariwala was preparing to rebel. Maharaj Singh’s presence there gave a boost to the cause of rebellion. The Bhai ignited, a yearlong revolt, almost national in intention. He sought to extend it all over northern India by involving in it the Maharaja of Bikaner, Dost Mohammad, the Amir of Afghanistan and Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir but could not achieve any success. Then came the Second Anglo-Sikh War which resulted in the annexation of the Punjab by the British on March 29, 1849.
The annexation of the Punjab by the British slackened the activities of the freedom fighters in the province for a number of reasons.
However Maharaja Singh, did not allow the freedom movement to die out. He chalked out a fresh plan to continue the struggle. He escaped from Rawalpindi to Jammu and from his hide out sent secret emissaries to contact, in particular, the discharged soldiers of the Khalsa Army, the Jagirdars, and chiefs who had been dispossessed of their estates or pensions by the British authorities, and also holders of religious estates, particularly the Gosains in the Kangra hills, who could help him finance the freedom struggle.
Maharaja Singh sought help from Dost Mohammad, the Amir of Kabul, in Punjab’s struggle for freedom from foreign rule. He wrote to the Amir and his brother Sultan Muhammad Khan for support. But they refused to render him any help. Bhai Maharaj Singh planned to make guerilla type of attacks on the selected British contonments of Hoshiarpur, Hajipur and possibly Jalandhar. His men looted the Government treasury at Bajwara.
The Bhai obtained substantial help from a large number of influential people from all over the north India. On December 29, 1849, Vinsittat, the Deputy Commissioner of Jalandhar arrested him alongwith his followers at Adampur.
He was taken to Calcutta and later sent to the dark and dingy cell in the New Jail Singapore. In 1853, he got blind due to the cataract of the eyes. He breathed his last in the jail on July 5, 1856, just a year before the Revolt of 1857.