Historical Sikh Events: Battle of Naushera ( 1824)
India had to face attacks by foreign invaders many more times than any other nation in this world. Majority of these attacks came from the invaders who had passed the natural barrier of Himalayas through Khyber pass in the North West of India. These invaders were lured by riches of India, zeal to convert people to their beliefs or world domination through force. Greeks under Alexander attacked India in about 400 B.C., obviously their object was world domination In 600’s A.D., Mohammed Bin Qasim from Arabia attacked Sindh and thus bringing in whole new series of invasion to India by the followers of Islam. These invaders wanted to increase the territory of Islam as well as plunder the riches of India by looting and destroying its rich temples. After attacks by Arabian and Turkish invaders, Mughal invaders from Central Asia attacked India and became Emperors. This dynasty effectively ruled for six generations. Then Afghani invaders started attacking small cities in Punjab. By 1700’s Afghanis created small city states all over Punjab and North East. Rohillas of Awadh (UP), Tipu Sultan of South India, Nawab of Malerkotla, Multan, Kashmir all were Afghanis. These Afghanis were tyrants and wrecked havoc on local population in their districts. They deployed tactics of rape and rapine, of forceful conversions of minorities. Children born out of forceful marriages and rapes were given a special caste of "Ranghars". Ranghars were specially targeted by Maulavis to fill them a zeal of Islam, in order to make them fighters of Islam.
Sikhs who opposed these Afghanis and Mughal landlords and governors were their staunch enemies. Sikh fought with Afghanis and Mughals and eventually under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh they were able to wrest control of the biggest city in Punjab named Lahore from the hands of Mughals. Their next target was to bring these isolated pockets of Afghanis under their control. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was helped by his many generals among them Hari Singh Nalua was his most decorated general.
Sardar Hari Singh Nalua was born at Gujranwala in Year 1791 (Now in Pakistan). His father’s name was Gurdial Singh Uppal and mother was Dharam Kaur. Gurdial Singh, father of Sardar Hari Singh Nalua was in army of Ranjit Singh commanding a detachment. He expired in 1798 fighting Afghanis, when Hari Singh was only seven years of age. Hari Singh who was physically quite stout and strong and impressive too in appearance, standing over 6 feet in height, learnt the art of warfare. He could continuously ride for 14 hours at a stretch. Baron Charles Hugel states that Hari Singh besides his general knowledge about the statistics of many of the European states, was well versed in Persian. He impressed him extremely with his overall achievements.
Hari Singh was administered Pahul that is initiatory rites of the Sikhism where person takes a vow that he will always protect the weak one’s and will never fail in doing his Dharma, when he grew up and assumed the responsibility of supervising the affairs of his father’s territory. Hari singh presented himself before Maharaja Ranjit singh in his open Durbar. The Maharaja was so impressed by the feats of chivalry shown by him that he was taken in the royal service as a personal khidmatgar or an attendant. Maharaja commissioned him in 1804 by granted him a command of a cavalry of 700 men and horses with the honor of Sardar. Hari Singh Nalua named his regiment ‘Sher-Dil-Rajman’. HaWhy is Hari singh called "Nalua" and not Uppal? The reason is that he came to be known by an incident which took place during the early days of his joining the service of Maharaja Ranjit singh. "During the course of hunting expedition he happened to be a victim of a sudden attack of a tiger. The attack was so subtle and unexpected that he did not gain time to pull out his sword. Sardar Hari Singh Nalua faced the crucial situation with such boldness that he managed to catch hold of the jaw of the beast forcefully with his hands and pushed it away with the prowess of arms arranging thus to kill it with his sword. Baron Charles Hugel says he was called Nalua for ‘having cloven the head of a tiger who had already seized him as its pray’. " The Sikhs passing through a series of battles and struggles with many martyrdom’s, established themselves as a political power in the Punjab in 1765 after they defeated the governor of Ahmad Shah Abdali at Lahore. But their mode of fighting then was hardly suited to the requirements of a well organized state. Maharaja Ranjit Singh out of these Sikhs became leader of whole Khalsa (Sarbat Khalsa). He built up a strong , centralized and effectively controlled military system by getting the best elements in foreign with the best elements found in the indigenous fighting systems.
After some major campaigns of Multan and Kasur where Hari Singh Nalua’s regiment fought with distinction, Maharaja turned towards Kashmir. Hari Singh Nalua’s regiment "Sher-Dil-Rajman’ was in forefront in campaign to get back Shah Shuja from the Governor of Kashmir, Shah Shuja’s wife Wafa Begum had promised Kohinoor Diamond for Maharaja if her husband was to be freed from prison of Kashmir. In 1814 A.D., Hari Singh forces routed Kashmiri forces. Shah Shuja gave Ranjit Singh kohinoor Diamond, from that day on till his death Maharaja Ranjit Singh wore that Diamond on his right shoulder. Meanwhile, Through political means, Ranjit Singh installed Jahan Dad Khan as governor of Peshawar. Earlier Governor of Peshawar was under Afghani suzerain.
To subdue the Afghani rulers who were ruling various pockets all over Punjab Nalwa deployed and used all possible means. In 1821, Dost Mohammed Khan and Yar Mohammed Khan, two Afghanis were able to expel the Maharaja’s nominee Jahan Dad Khan from Peshawar and thus an expedition was undertook by Punjabi forces. This time the forces were being led as follows: cavalry by Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, Infantry by Dhanna Singh Malwai, and Jagat Singh Attariwala, Artillery by Mian Ghaus Khan. Dost Mohammed Khan managed to reconcile by paying a handsome nazarana to Maharaja and by accepting the submission to Khalsa kingdom rather than to kingdom of Kabul. This attack by Durbar forces ended without a bloodshed.
Battle of Naushera
Ranjit Singh’s forces at this time were divided into regular and irregular infantry, regular and irregular cavalry and artillery. Regular means forces which were directly under Lahore kingdom of Ranjit Singh, irregular forces were which were supplied by allies or by those kingdoms that were bound by treaties., artillery was totally under state and was led by Mian Ghaus Khan and General Allard. Ranjit Singh had employed several foreigners in his military services. Famous one’s were General Allard leading an artillery regiment and General Ventura leading a regiment made up of Poorbia (Bihar, Bengali, and UP) soldiers. Both Allard and Ventura had earlier fought in the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Ranjit Singh’s motive to include foreigners in his army was to modernize his forces.
Next Year, Fakir Azizudeen, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s "foreign officer" was sent to Peshawar to collect the tribute for Lahore Durbar. He was well received by Yar Mohammed, who ordered the city to be illuminated in the Fakir’s honor. Yar Mohammed paid the tribute in cash and horses. Then Fakir Azizuddin returned to Lahore well satisfied with his mission. This incident lowered the prestige of Yar Mohammed Khan among his people.
Mohammed Azim who was ruling Kabul taunted Yar Mohammed for paying tribute to Sikh infidels. Azim Khan marched out of Kabul and the cry of jihad echoed at Khyber. Over Forty-five thousand Khattaks and Yusufzai tribesmen under the leadership of Syed Akbar Shah of Balmer volunteered to fight. Yar Mohammed abandoned Peshawar and went into hiding. Maharaja Ranjit Singh ordered his army to move north towards Peshawar. Prince Sher Singh, Misr Dewan Chand and General Ventura were leading their battalions of infantry. Hari Singh Nalwa, Phula Singh, Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, Desa Singh Majithia and Attar Singh Sandhawalia leading cavalry while artillery was in charge of Mian Ghaus Khan and General Allard. Recently trained and incorporated battalion of Purbia (Bihari soldiers) and Gurkha Soldiers were also sent. These were led by General Ventura and General Balbhadra (Gurkha General). Total number forces were about 25,000 men.
In December 1822 orders were given to march out of Lahore and Prince Sher Singh, younger son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh lead the march with his battalions of Cavalry and Infantry. Hari Singh Nalwa whose Sher-e-Dil Rajaman battalion was replenished by additional soldiers making it the largest Cavalry regiment of about 5000 men and horses in the Lahore Darbar’s army was closely following Prince Sher Singh. These advance columns of Lahore Durbar reached attock river a month ahead of other forces. They crossed the attock river using a pontoon bridge and occupied the Sikh fort of Jehangiria. Mohammed Azim and his Afghani Jihadis soon surrounded the fort of Jehangiria. Other men helping Mohammed Azim to lead their 45,000 forces of Mujahdeen were his brothers, Dost Mohammed (who had more than once paid tribute to Lahore), Sayyid Akbar Shah and Jabbar Khan, the ex-governor of Kashmir. They destroyed the pontoon bridge over rive Attock so that Lahore’s forces could not cross and started pounding the fort with their guns. Hari Singh Nalwa and Prince Sher Singh with much grit and determination held the fort with their total of less then 10,000 men. Since this fort was right on the banks of a river, there was no shortage of water or other supplies. Hari Singh Nalwa lead his cavalry in numerous sorties outside fort destroying two of the invaluable guns of Afghanis.
Meanwhile, Maharaja Ranjit singh and rest of the Khalsa force which was following his advance columns leisurely arrived in January to found that only pontoon bridge across the river was destroyed. To make matter worse next day there was a heavy snowfall. He could see blood thirsty Afghanis around the fort of Jehangiria. Ranjit Singh waited couple of days. "The Maharaja was being informed through his network Of intelligence of the rapidly rising force of the enemy but decided to wait for his heavy guns to arrive which were due by mid-day (March 14, 1823) But, at the morning Sikh service, which was always held at times of war or peace, a Gurmata (Resolution) had already been passed that the Ghazis shall be attacked the same morning, before they could gather more force. The Akalis. therefore, refused to wait in view of the Holy Resolve (Gurmata), and wanted the attack launched without delay. The Maharaja had also to yield and ordered prince Kharak Singh to take the lead. Fortunately, the artillery also arrived before time under Gen. Allard."
Hari Singh Nalwa and Prince Sher Singh had already taken on the enemy earlier crossing the river before the bridge was destroyed and capturing the fort of Jehangiria. They were exerting powerful pressure on the enemy but badly needed reinforcements which had arrived on the other side of that river, but could not wait for the bridge to be constructed under the threat of enemy fire. Ranjit Singh one early morning leading himself riding on his white horse he dipped in the freezing water to cross the river. Whole force followed but in this exercise much of the equipment was lost, that included much needed guns. "Akali Phoola Singh’s suicide squad who was following Ranjit Singh, now took the lead, and, without a moment’s thought, plunged their horses in the swollen and turbulent river. How could the others stay behind ? Every one followed suit, but before they crossed over, the enemy had taken flight from Jehangiria leaving even their dead or dying in the battle-field and saying in despair:-" Toba, Toba,Khuda Khud Khalsa shud." (God forbid, but it appears, God himself has turned a Khalsa ! )." It was believed that no one could cross the river at its full fury.
Thus catching the enemy by surprise who were sleeping soundly, Ranjit Singh and his forces broke open the cordon massacring more then 1,000 Afghanis. Afghanis who were mostly belonged to Khattak and Yusufzai tribes, fled and entrenched themselves nearby a city then called Pir Sabak ( On this site, British later established a cantonment of Naushera which is currently one of the major bases of Pakistan Army). Main Afghan force under Azim Khan’s brothers was separated from the other column of tribal Jihadis by a small swift running stream called Landai. Whatever was left of Darbar’s artillery it by passed these Jihadis and reached the bank of the landai training its heavy guns on the opposite bank. When Azim Khan knew about this situation he made a dash from Peshawar and joined his brothers on the bank of the Landai river. They could not cross the stream because of constant firing by Durbar guns. Azim Khan and his brothers decided to launch an attack early morning when Punjabi guns were being rested. Durbar forces who were on constant vigil counter attacked on Pir Sabak Hill where tribal mujahids were resting. Tribal army fought desperately but were overwhelmed by the Darbar’s newly trained battalions of Gurkhas and Purbias.
General Balbhadra of Gurkha Infantry fought the ferocious Afghans with equaling ruthlessness, holding each attack of Jihadis and responding back with equal ferocity. General Balbhadra was surrounded by several Jihadis and thus after massacring many Afghans he paid the ultimate price. Suddenly in one swift action, his body was torn apart by the shower of bullets from the muskets of Afghani Jihadis. A furious battle raged. The Sikh guns rained death on the enemy lines and soon the warriors took to hand-to-hand fighting.
Meanwhile, seeing their comrades getting killed all Afghanis came together in a desperate effort to hold the attack by Darbar’s army. Darbar’s forces surrounded them from all sides. Both Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phula Singh from one end lead the cavalry charge while Gurkhas who were leaderless after martyrdom of General Balbhadra and Purbias under General Ventura and Punjabi soldiers under General Dewan Misr Chand holding their positions. Hari Singh Nalwa pressed on his cavalry deploying Guerilla tactics of attack and retreat of one wave while other attacked and retreated. Raising war cries of Bole So Nihal Sat Sri Akal from time to time, Hari Singh Nalwa and his disciplined soldiers emptied their muskets on Jihadis. A wave of about 50 soldiers on their horses would charge at Jihadis, firing their muskets and then sending more to meet their creator through their bayonets as they gallop across the battlefield. Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phula Singh with their cavalry regiment of Sher-Dil-Rajman and Nihangs as Khushwant Singh succinctly puts it gave them "coup de grace." They drove the Khattaks and Yusufzais from Pir Sabak Hill. Heavy artillery on the land surrounded the Jihadis and opened up a barrage to complete the slaughter.
While Hari Singh was leading his Sher-Dil-Rajman attacking Jihadis from one end, from other side Akali Phula Singh and his Cavalry of Nihangs, or the "Crocodile Sikhs who fight till death" were performing similar feat. Jihadis were surrounded by Gurkha Infantry at one end, General Ventura soldiers at other end, while waves of Cavalry charges were attacking from the one side. Jihadis changed their tactics and decided to go for the leaders in order to demoralize the Khalsa forces. General Bhalbhadra was shot, General Ventura was injured and Akali Phula Singh’s horse was shot. This angered Akali Phula Singh and he made a grave mistake by getting on an elephant. Now Akali Phula Singh’s towering torso was seen from all over the battlefield. Ghazi Jihadis saw the Khalsa General on top of an elephant and immediately trained their muskets on him. Akali Phula Singh’s body was riddled with bullets, he collapsed in his howdah exhorting the Nihang Sikhs to not to give way. Akali Phula Singh through his dashing feats had inspired other Sikh commanders his martyrdom renewed the vigor to fight. Mohammed Azim Khan watched the massacre from the other side of the stream without being able to help his tribesmen brother. He did not had the will to fight till death. By the day’s end, Four thousand tribesmen were left dead on the field. Probably two times that number were injured and left dying at the battlefield. It was a crushing defeat for Afghanis. Hari singh Nalwa whose ideal was Akali Phula Singh, chased the remaining Afghans deep into their territory killing hundreds more.
Mohammed Azim was too ashamed to face the people of Peshawar and he returned to Afghanistan, where he died in couple of months. This battle proved the effectiveness of organized military. Death of a great General Akali Phula Singh at this battle was the biggest cost of this battle for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Azim Khan’s Jihadis had lost heart and abandoned their zeal for Jihad in complete disorder. 14 large and 18 small guns were captured by the Sikhs. It showed them the effectiveness of organized artillery and cavalry regiments as well as old tactics of Guerilla warfare. In this battle not all of Ranjit Singh’s forces took part, some regiments just waited for their turn which never came. "General Allard and Ventura’s participation in this battle with their divisions and trained army of Lahore kingdom with Akali division of the army had absolutely no match for untrained militia who although surpassed in sheer numbers, Afghans after a great massacre submitted and Naushera was captured. Albeit, the Lahore troops lost an indispensable commander. Hari Singh Nalua played a conspicuous role first by inflicting a crushing defeat upon the enemy and secondly by pursuing the enemy after the defeat in order to be sure about the victory of the Lahore troops. The battle of Naushera made it evident to the frontier tribesmen that the Afghan militia was weaker than those of Lahore troops. This battle sealed the further prospects of Muhammad Azim of Kabul and established the Sikh supremacy over Peshawar."
"Akali Phula Singh’s memorial still stands intact there. For Ranjit Singh as much as for others, the joy of a superb victory was marred by this sad and heart-rending event. This monument (now situated in the Frontier Province of Pakistan) on the bank of the river Kabul was endowed wish a Jagir by Ranjit Singh and a Gurdwara was also built on the site. Sardar Gurbaksh Singh. well-known Punjabi writer and editor of * Preet Lari", settled there in early thirties of this century. and tractoriscd the farm attached to this monument. The place is still called Samadh Akali Phoola Singh."
"Three days later the Maharaja entered Peshawar the head of his victorious troops. The citizens welcomed him and paid him homage with nazarana (gifts). The Maharajah’s sojourn was, however, not a peaceful one. what the tribesmen could not achieve in open combat, they tried to gain by the cold-blooded murder of Punjabi soldiers under cover of darkness."
Ranjit Singh knew about the tactics of these tribesmen. A few days later both Yar Mohammed and Dost Mohammed presented themselves at court and craved the Maharajah’s pardon, he forgave them readily and accepted their tribute of presents and horses. Yar Mohammed was reinvested governor of Peshawar on promising an increased annual revenue of Rs. 1,000,000 to the Lahore Durbar. This was first time that Afghanis were totally beaten and humiliated in their own country by the people on whom they had earlier ruled. Ranjit Singh made this possible through his able generals and brilliant military tactics. So huge was this victory that it caused apprehensions in British circles. British realized that sooner or later showdown with Ranjit Singh was inevitable. "The British realized that the Durbar’s conquests had reached the furthest geographical limits of the Punjab in the north and north-west. Beyond were impassable mountains and inhospitable, unprofitable regions."
Ranjit Singh in order to further subdue the Afghanis ordered Hari Singh Nalwa and Prince Sher Singh to remain in North West Frontier province. He also ordered them to construct series of small forts all along the highway leading to Khyber pass. He correctly had assessed the importance of Khyber pass., and thus organized the defenses of his frontier with Kabul. Hari Singh Nalwa was given governorship of North West Frontier province which he ruled with firm hand. Even to this day, Afghanis remember Hari Singh Nalwa as "the only general who thoroughly defeated and humiliated them"