Friday, November 24, 2017
Gateway to Sikhism

Sham Singh Attariwala


A traveller along the grand trunk road between Amritsar and the Indo-Pakistan border when about four to five kilometers short of the border, comes across a few tall buildings in a small village called Attari, hemmed in between the road and the railway line both of which once ran through without interruption between Amritsar and Lahore. An inquisitive traveller going towards the tall manions. But before entering the village, finds a huge Smadh-like building on the northeast corner of the village. Too here lie the remains of a famous General, to whom belong the tall mansions. This was the famous General Sham Singh Attariwala, "A prince among patriots," who died at Sabraon fighting for the honour of his homeland-The Punjab.

Most of the efficient, loyal and dependable generals of Maharaja Ranjit Singh had died during his life time; the number of such generals left behind, after his death, was very small and Sardar Sham Singh Attari Wala was one of these rare ones.

General Sham Singh's grandfather, Gour Singh, a Sidhu jat, came from Kaunke a village in the present district of Ludhiana (1) Gour Singh took service under Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh Bhangi and settled at a "Tibba" where he built an "attari" which gave the family and the village its name. On the death of Gurbakhsh Singh, Gour Sing joined the service of Gujjar Singh and Lehna Singh the two Bhangi Sardars. Gour Singh died in 1763, and his son Nihal Singh continued serving under Sahib Singh son of Gujjar Singh. During the battle of Bhasin, Nihal Singh, who was with Sahib Singh, was suggested by Ranjit Singh to join the latter, but Nihal Singh refused to desert the Bhangis. Nihal Singh rising star had created jealousies among his cousins who started poisoning Sahib Singh's ears. A time came when these intrigues bore fruit. Sahib Singh got annoyed with Nihal Singh and confiscated his jagir worth Rs. 15,000. Nihal Singh, disgusted, left the Bhangi Sardar and retired to Attari, Once again, Rajnit Singh offered service to Nihal Singh, this time the latter accepted the offer and became the first of the Attari family to join the Maharaja's service. He became a great favourite of the Maharaja. He was a very courageous leader, and took distinguished part in almost all the expeditions launched by the Maharaja between 1801 and 1817. For example, he took part in the first Kashmir Campaign; he was present at the battles of Pind Dadan Khan, Kask, Pakpattan, Dolar, Nila, Hola, Chakwal, Saidpur, Naraingarh and Multan. During the battle of Multan in 1810, he along with others was wounded by the bursting of a mine, and was brought to Lahore for treatment. He died in January 1818 leaving behind a jagir worth Rs. 3,05,800. But the well known personality of this family was Sardar Sham Singh, one of the greatest Panjabis who, to save the Punjab's honour sacrificed all his woldly benefit and personal comforts; who preferred death to thraldom and set personal example to prove that nothing was more precious than freedom.

Thers is no information available about his date of birth nor is much known of his life prior to his joining the Lahore service in 1805. During his employment, under the Maharaja, the Sardar had taken part in many eampaigns and, like his father, had distinguished himself. But, he is famous for his devotion and gallantry depicted during the First Anglo-Sikh War in which he died fighting.

After the Maharaja's death there was no strong man left to handle the State Affairs. Kings came and went; Wazirs were assassinated one after the other. Jawahar Singh, the real brother of Maharani Jind Kaur, was the wazir to meet this fate. Sardar Sham Singh abhored all this, and abstained from taking part in any of the intrigues. He wanted to be away from all this blood-shed wherein his own son-in-law had also been killed. So, with the excuse of celebrating his son, Kahn Singh's marriage he went to his jagir of kakrala lying on the east of the Satluj. Shortly after this marriage, when the First Anglo-Sikh war was in the offing, he had come back to Attari to live in retirement. Although he had denounced the war, but it was to no avail; he saw with disgust and sorrow the Sikh army marching to destruction under the guidance of false and incompetent men and he resolved to stand himself aloof.

The First Anglo-Sikh War, thrust upon the Sikhs by the British, broke out in 1843. The army fought like lions but had to face defeat on account of the treachery of their commanders such as Tej Singh and Lall Singh, who had secret understandings with the British.

Tej Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's army was not composed of Sikhs only. It had in its rank and file as well as among the top leadership people from all classes and religions. It was composed of Sikhs, Panjabi Musalmas, Afghans, Dogras, Gorkhas, Khatris, Rajputs, Brahmins and others. Upstart Tej Singh, one of the architects of the downfall of the kingdom of the Panjab, was a Poorbia Brahmin and was the nephew of Jamadar Khushal Singh. He was the son of Nidha, a Gour Brahmin shopkeeper of Ekri in the Sardhana pargana of Meerut district, and had come to Lahore in search of livelihood. This soldier of fortune found employment in the service of the Kingdom of Lahore in 1811 at the age of twelve. During the 1814 campaign of Kashmir, Tej Singh attended on the Maharaja. In 1816 under the influence of his uncle, he took pahul and became a full fledged Sikh.

During the Maharaja's life-time Singh had participated in a number of campaigns. Initially, he had participated as a subordinate commander, and was, later, raised to the rank of a divisional commander. But, during the Maharaja's lifetime he was never given an independent command of a major campaign.

In 1819, he accompanied Misr Diwan Chand on the expedition to Kashmir. Two years later he took part in many expeditions on the frontier including the Teri campaign. He commanded a division in the campaign for Mankera, Leiah, D.I. Khan, and also in 1823 in the battle of Naoshehra where he was located on the northern bank of the Landai River.

In 1831, Tej Singh was in command of a camp of infantry of twenty two regular battalions. This extensive command, combined with his relatioship with the important person of Jamadar Khushal Singh in the Lahore Darbar, rendered Tej Singh a great influence.

In 1835, he participated in the bloodless victory won by the Maharaja against Dost Muhammad near Peshawar. In 1837, when General Hari Singh Nalwa was killed in the battle of Jamrod, Tej Singh temporarily succeeded him as Governor of Peshawar, but was soon relieved by Avitabile. In November the same year, Painda Khan created disturbances in Hazara and captured the fort of Chandoo. Tej Singh was ordered to deal with the rebel, and, in order to maintain an effective control over the area, to build a fort at Salimgarh. By January 1838, Tej Singh was able to bring Painda Khan to his knees and also establish control over the area. Also, he constructed a strong fort at Gumti on the river bank and about three kilometers from Darband; the shot of a Persian gun fired from this fort could reach Amb. In July, on orders from the capital he left a company for thanedar of the fort at Harkishangarh and himself departed for Lahore. Tej Singh being the highest bidder, Hazara was granted to him in lease for payment of Rs. 36,000.

In 1843, when Avitabile found it difficult to control the affairs, he was relieved by Tej Singh. From there he returned to Lahore in 1845, and engaged himself in his nefarious activities.

This Poorbia family had baleful influence on the Maharaja which the latter could not shake off. Tej Singh, who had occupied a position of importance even during the life-time of the Maharaja, was one of the courtiers detailed to receive visiting dignitaries to Lahore. For example, when Burnes visited Lahore, Tej Singh was deputed to receive the visitor and bring him to the Maharaja's camp safe from the Akalis. Earlier, he had been ordered to build bungalows for the travellers' stay at various places and their cost to be debited to the Lahore ruler's account. He was present at the Ropar meeting (1831) between the Lahore monarch and the British Governor General in India, and was one of the recipients of presents from the Governor General. Again, in 1838, he had accompanied the Maharaja during the latter's meeting with the Governor General Ferozepore. When, once the Maharaja was annoyed with Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala, it was Tej Singh who was sent to demolish the Sardar's fort near Pasrur and also to recover from the latter a nazrana worth Rs. 16,000.

The Maharaja had showered Jagirs and titles on this family too. Tej Singh held the titles of Ujjal Didar, Nirmal Budh, Sardar-i-bawaqar, General-i-Awwal, Sardar Jang Bahadur, Mubarazul-Mulak and Sams-ud-daula.

In November 1845, when Lal Singh was nominated wazir, Tej Singh was re-confirmed in his office of Commander-in-Chief. Thus, the two leading traitors came to the helm of the affairs of Lahore Darbar. After the death of the Maharaj, Tej Singh's share in the political intrigues preceding the First Sikh war was enormous. Although he was one of the influential personalities of the Maharaja, he is better known for his notoriety in these affairs.



After the death of the Maharaja, it became, difficult for persons like Lal Singh and Tej Singh, who were then at the helm of the Lahore Darbar affairs, to control the army. They were afraid of the changes that had taken place in the Sikh Army. The consequences of such a state of affairs had been correctly anticipated by Sir Henry Hardinge who, on 30th September 1845, wrote to the authorities in England :- "Their (Chiefs) personal interests endangered by the democratic revolution so successfully accomplished by the Sikh Army, may induce those Chiefs to exert all their effort to compel the British Government to interfere; but these attempts and any danger resulting from them will be attributable, not to our forbarance but to their personal fears for life and property."2 These Chiefs were Tej Singh and Lal Singh; they urged the army to war, when the latter declared they desired peace.

Further, on 4th December, 1845, Lord Hardinge wrote from Ambala to the Secret Committee that these "Sardars are becoming more and more urgent that the Army should advance to the frontier, believing that in the present posture of affairs the only hope of saving their lives and prolonging their power is to be found in bringing about a collision with the British forces." He also observed that "The Sikh Army moves with evident reluctance." His previous impressions remained unaltered and it was evident to him that the Chiefs were, for their own preservation, endeavouring to raise a storm.

According to Malleson,3 who also supports this view, there was reason to believe, indeed, that Lal Singh and Tej Singh had begun to nurture the idea that if they failed to master those peaceful soldiers it would be a wise policy to throw them on the bayonets of the British. With this aim in view, both of them started correspondence with the British and acted as their spies in the Lahore Darbar. One cannot help suspecting that these men were planted at Lahore by the British. Cunningham writes :

"These men considered that their only chance of retaining power was to have the army removed by inducing it to engage in a contest which they believed would end in its dispersion, and pave the way for their recognition as ministers more surely than if they did their duty by the people, and earnestly deprecated a war which must destroy the independence of the Panjab. Had the shrewd committees of the armies observed no military preparations on the part of the English, they would not have needed the insidious exhortations of such mercenary men as Lal Singh and Tej Singh, although in former days they would have marched uninquiringly towards Delhi at the bidding of their great Maharaja. But the views of the government functionaries coincided with the belief of the impulsive soldiery; and when the men were tauntingly asked whether they would quietly look on while the limits of the Khalsa dominion were being reduced, and the plains of Lahore occupied by the remote strangers of Europe, they answered that they would defend with their lives all belonging to the common wealth of Gobind, and that they would march and give battle to the invaders on their own ground."4

The Battle

With this background, both Lal Singh and Tej Singh at the head of about 50,000 strong army and with 100 guns crossed the Satluj on 11th December, 1845, and took up position at Ferozeshah, a village about fifteen kilometers east of Ferozepore. They did nothing to deal with the isolated and weak garrison at Ferozepore, which could have been wiped out without much effort. On the other hand, this period of inactivity on the part of these Sikh generals gave enough time to the enemy to enable them to concentrate their forces. The British forces at Ambala and Ludhiana had commenced their march towards Mudhki on 13th December reaching there on the 18th in a State of exhaustion due to the rapid and long marches, dust and lack of water. This exhausted force could have been easily defeated had the Lahore troops advanced towards them in force.5 Instead, they sent forward only a small portion of the force, whose advance was checked at Mudhki by the British cavalry. After a heartless effort the detachment retired to the main position at Ferozeshah On 19th December, the enemy recived reinforcements bringing their strength to 16,700 men and guns. Thus reinforced, the British, on 21st December, started their advance towards Ferozeshah; Littler with his division advanced from Ferozepore.

The battle was joined at 4 p.m. the same day . Littler's Division attacked the Sikh right flank; it was repulsed with heavy losses to the enemy. Next the enemy attacked the left flank of the Sikhs. The enemy's central also joined the attack. However at night the British force had to withdraw into their bivouacs; the native troops with the British were much "disheartened and unnerved." There were cousels for retreating to Ferozepur.

On 22nd December, fighting was renewed. While this battle, which resulted in the defeat of the Sikhs, was going on, Tej Singh with 30,000 men was sitting idle. May be he was watching the fireworks. He came into action two hourse after theh fall of Ferozeshah, mad a demonstration against the enemy and without giving any real fight left the field. The Sikh army withdrew across the Satluj. Both at Mudhki and Ferozeshah, where all the factors such as ground, weather and the state of the forces, were in their favour, concentrated attack would have won the Sikhs these battles; but Tej Singh ensured that such a concentration did not materialize. He pusposely remained inactive and the battle resulted in defeat for the Sikh army.

Tej Singh's cowardice and treachery during the First Anglo-Sikh War was too obvious. He has rightly been condemned for his conduct during this war for showing lack of moral courage and letting down the Panjab Army resulting in its defeat when they had nearly won the war. On cannot agree with Griffin who, to condon the actions of this traitor, argues that "the temper of the Sikh Army was so suspicious, and the circumstances under which he was so suspicious and the circumstances under which he held command were so difficult, that those who have most carefully examined the action of Tej Singh at the time are inclined to acquit him of anything beyond vacillation and weakness."6 Sir Herbert Edwardes' comments on the conduct of Tej Singh were "To what the army of the Satluj are indebted for this deliverance; whether to cowardice, tieachary or ignorance on the enemy's part of the British numbers, or whether, after all, Tej Singh's whole object was a chivalrous wish to cover his friend's retreat remains to be guessed and wondered at, but we fear not to be satisfactorily decided." Commenting on this, Malleson writes "We may dismiss at once the last supposition, that regarding the chivalrous wish, for British were not pursuingcowardice can scarcely have been seriously suggested; nor can ignorance of the British numbers be pleaded with better grace. There is only one possible solution, and that is the solution adopted in the text. The object of Tej Singh was to destroy the Khalsa army, and then to claim credit with the British for having destroyed it. He succeeded in both objects."7

The base intentions of Lal Singh and Tej Singh are clear from what Cunningham wrote :

"The Sikh leaders threatened Ferozepore, but no attack was made upon its seven thousand defenders, which with a proper spirit were led out by their commander, Sir John Littler, and showed a bold front to the overwhelming force of the enemy. The object, indeed, of Lal Singh and Tej Singh was not to compromise themselves with the English by destroying an isolated division, but to get their own troops dispersed by the converging forces of their opponents. Their desire was to be upheld as the ministers of a dependent kingdom by grateful conquerors, and they thus deprecated an attack on Ferozepore, and assured the local British authorities of their secret and efficient good wil. But these man had also to keep up an appearance of devotion to the interestsof their country, and they urged the necessity of leaving the easy prey of a cantonment untouched, until the leaders of the English should be attacked, and the fame of the Khalsa exalted by the captivity or death of a Governor-General. The Sikh army itself understood the necessity of unity of counsel in the affairs of war, and the power of the regimental and other committees was temporarily suspended by an agreement with the executive heads of the state, which enabled these unworthy men to effect their base objects with comparative ease. Nevertheless, in the ordinary military arrangements of occupying positions and distributing infantry and cavalry, the generals and inferior commanders acted for themselves, and all had to pay some respect to the spirit which animated the private soldiers in their readiness to do battle for the commonwealth of Gobind. The effects of this enthusiastic unity of purpose in an army, headed by men not only ignorant of warfare, but studiously treacherous towards their followers, was conspicuously visible in the speediness with whichnumerousheavy guns and abundance of grain and ammunition were brought across a large river."8

It was well known that Lal Singh was in communication with Captain Nicoloson, the British Agent at Ferozepore. But due to the ultimately death of Nicolson, the details of the overtures made, and expectations held out, could not be gathered. (Lal Singh, again, is reputed to have sent a plan of the Sikh positions at Sabraon to Colonel Lawrence.) And as for Tej Singh, according to a reliable tradition, he had "tempered" with the artillery ammunition and rendered it useless before the operations. But, through malicious propaganda he had tried to put the blame, for this sabotage, on Maharani Jind Kaur who was absolutely ignorant of this treachery.

The battle of Ferozeshah is a glaring example of Tej Singh's treachery. The combined forces of Ambala and Ludhiana divisions and the divisions of Sir John Littler attacked the Sikhs on the evening of 21st December, 1845.The resistance met was wholly unexpected, and the enemy were startled with astonishment. The state of the British army after some fighting was deplorable and, according to Cunningham, "on that memorable night the English were hardly masters of the ground on which they stood." The fighting went on the whole night and also the next morning. The reserves (the second wing of the Khalsa army consisting of 30,000 horse, fresh battalions and a large part of artillery) were under Tej Singh.9 When it approached in battle-array the wearied and famished English saw before them "a desperate and, perhaps useless struggle." This was the crucial moment when the reserves should have been employed; on 22nd December, had Tej Singh attacked, the British could never have survived the onset of the thirty thousand fresh troops. But the Sikh commander hesitated and acted according to what had previously been arranged with the enemy. He did not intend to spoil the plans of British.10 At eleven o'clock Tej Singh opened fire on the left flank of the enemy's position and again hesitated. Four hours later, he threatened an attack on the British right flank; but to the utter astonishment and intense satisfaction of the weary defenders, his whole force was seen turn suddenly northwards and move off rapidly in the direction taken by the vanquished battalions of Lal Singh.11 Tej Singh's intentions were to give time to the adversary to rally round their standards, so that the enemy could overcome and put to flight the Khalsa army. Even at the last moment, when the artillery ammunition of the English had failed, when a portion of their force was retiring upon Ferozepore, and when no exertions could have prevented the remainder from retreating likewise, instead of boldly pressing forward, and putting in a resolute attack, Tej Singh merely skirmished and made feints: and shortly afterwards he precipitately fled, leaving his subordinates without orders & without an object.

The brave and untutored warriors were led by generals who were betraying them; had they only known it, they would have won a victory. They had repulsed the British attack. They had driven back Littler, forcep Smith to retire, compelled even Gillbert to evacuate the position he had gained, and thrown the whole British army into disorder. The large force under Tej Singh, watching Ferozepore, remained unengaged. What the Sikhs needed at this moment was a guiding mind to direct the movements of Sikh army when nothing could have saved the exhausted British. Instead there were divided counsels. The honest amongst them had either not recognised the advantage they had gained, or were powerless; on the other hand, there were the traitors who overtly desired nothing less than the victory of the Khalsa. This led to stormy counsels, bitter words, all cohesion vanished, and along with it hopes of victory.

After the battle of Ferozeshah, Tej Singh went to the British camp and had an interview with the Governor General. There, he is said to have promised to bring about the occupation of Lahore by the British troops. (Normally, it happens during training exercises that the chief umpires often go over to the other side for consultation with the officer directing the exercise.)

During one month's full that followed the battle of Ferozeshah, the British were in no position to resume the offensive until reinforced with fresh troops, guns and ammunition. Practically all ammunition had been expended, and the troops were exhausted. Tej Singh, very much in the know of this state of affairs, failed to take advantage of the situation. How could be (a traitor) do anything to embarrass the British! Another chance to beat the enemy was thus lost, the nearly won battle was lost, victory was turned into defeat, because "on the sikh side there were commanders undoubtedly brave, but possessing neither that moral courage which alone can command success, nor that confidence in the prospects of their cause which is so great an incentive to victory; while the honest purpose of some of them was at least open to imputation."12 J.N. Sarkar has appropriately remarked that, "the officers were the weakest element in the Sikh army, so that, in their struggle with the English the Khalsa proved an army of lions led by asses."13 Tej Singh was no exception. Lamenting on the lack of efficient, loyal and vigorous leadership on the Panjab side, Shah Muhammad, the famous Panjabi poet, wrote thus;

Shah Muhammada ik Sarkar bajon,

Faujan Jit ke ant nu harian ne.

(O, Shah Muhammad, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's absence cost the Punjab Army its victory when it was in their grasp.)


Ranjodh Singh Crosses the Satluj

Ranjodh Singh, the youngest son of S. Desa Singh Majithia, also held high rank in the army of Ranjit Singh. He was of the loyal group at the Lahore Darbar and he had fought against the British during the first Anglo-Sikh war. Before the commencement of the war, a force under Ranjodh Singh had been placed at Phillour as a precautionary measure, and also to watch the enemy movements at Ludhiana.

After the battle of Ferozeshah; the British did not have enough guns, ammunition and men to enable them to resume further operations; for the time being there was inactivity on their part. This emboldened the Sikhs, and on 17th January 1846, Ranjodh Singh with 10,000 men and 70 guns crossed the Satluj at Phillour, and took up position at a place called Baranhara, seven miles from Ludhiana, and occupied the fasts at Fatehgarh, Baddowal and Gangrana ten miles south of Baddowal. Thus he not only threatened Ludhiana but was also able to cut off the enemy's lines of communication between Ludhiana and Ferozepore. But, strangely, he did not attack the city of Ludhiana which was lightly defended.

On learning about these movements of Ranjodh Singh, the British sent Sir Harry Smith at the head of a Strong force composed of four regiments of infantry, three regiments of cavalry and eighteen guns, to the relief of Ludhiana. The garrison commander at Ludhiana was also ordered to advance and meet Sir Harry Smith at Baddowal. Meanwhile, Ranjodh Singh had moved from Baranhara to Baddowal. Sir Harry Smith finding the direct route to Ludhiana blocked decided to make a detour, leaving Baddowal on his left. On 21st January, Ranjodh Singh attacked the relieving column and captured almost all the enemy baggage and also made some white prisoners. However, the relieving column less its baggage reached Ludhiana.

So far, these were the bold and energetic moves on the part of the Sikh commander. He had captured a number of fortresses and was able to cut off Ludhiana. Having done all this, one wonders as to why Ranjodh Singh failed to carry home the advantage he possessed and attack Ludhiana which was held lightly and could have been easily captured. Here he showed lack of enterprise.

Sir Harry Smith paying tribute to Ranjodh Singh's tactics at Boddowal wrote in his autobiography : "It is the most scientific move made during the war and had he known to profit by the position he had so judiciously occupied he would have obtained wonderful success. He should have attacked me with the vigour his French tutors have displayed and destroyed me, for his force compared to mine was over-whelming ; then turned about upon the troops at Ludhiana, beaten them and sacked and burnt the city ."

Even a laymen like Shah Muhammad felt likewise; he writes :

"Shah Muhammada Singh Je zor karde,

Bhanwen Ludhiana tadon mar lainde."

(Had the Sikhs then pressed forward, they could have captured Ludhiana.)

The victory over Sir Harry Smith's relieving force had produced encouraging results for the Sikhs and had demoralized the enemy, Cunnigham writes :

"Ludhiana was relieved, but an unsuccessful skirmish added to the belief so pleasing to the prostrate princes of India that the dreaded army of their foreign masters had at last been foiled by the skill and valour of the disciples of Gobind, the kindred childern of their own soil. The British sepoys glanced furitively at one another, or looked towards the east, their home; and the brows of Englishmen themselves grew darker as they thought of struggles rather than triumphs. The Govrnor-General and Comnander-in-Chief trembled for the safety of that siege train and convoy of ammunition, so necessary to the efficiency of an army which they had launched in haste against aggressors and received back shattered by the shock of oposing arms. The leader of the beaten brigades saw before him a tarnished name after the labours of a life, nor was he met by many encouraging hopes of rapid retribution. The Sikhs on their side were correspondingly elated; the presence of European prisoners added to their triumph. Lal Singh and Tej Singh shrank within themselves with fear, and Gulab Singh, who had been spontaneously hailed as minister and leader, began to think that the Khalsa was really formidable to one far greater than himself, and he arrived at Lahore on the 27th January, to give unity and vigour to the counsels of the Sikhs." 14

The Battle

Now withstanding the advantages gained, Ranjodh Singh, on 22nd January, left Baddowal and took up position in the form of a semi-circle on the left bank will strive to be most comprehensive directory of Historical Gurudwaras and Non Historical Gurudwaras around the world.

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