After thousands of years of subjugation and humiliation. Punjabis were awakened by Guru Gobind Singh. First Banda Singh Bahadur destroyed the Mughal administration, then Nawab Kapur Singh won over the Punjabi country freeing it from the persecution of Mughal and other feudal Zamindars. Once Mughal administration was weakened, foreigners like Nadir Shah invaded 5 years after Martyrdom of Banda Singh Bahadur and then when Kapur Singh had further weakened Mughals, Abdali invaded Punjab (and subsequently fought Marathas at Delhi who had replaced Mughals). At that time, Kapur singh created Dal Khalsa and asked Sikhs to occupy the area between Jamuna and Indus.
Sikhs acquired a new sirname called “Sardars” meaning leaders at that time. Forster who travelled through lndia at the time wrote,”Being at the time in Rohilkhand (area around Merrut), I witnessed the terror and general alarm which prevailed among the inhabitants who, deserting the open country, had retired into forts and places inaccessible to cavalry.” He adds “I saw two Sikh horsemen who had been sent from their country to receive the tribute which was collected from the revenues of certain custom houses. The manner in which these people were treated or rather treated themselves, I frequently wished for the power of migrating into the body of Sicque (Sikh) for a few weeks – so well did these cavaliers fare. Islo sooner had they alighted, than beds were preferred for their repose, and their horses were supplied with green barley pulled out of the fields. The ‘Kafilah’ travellers were contented to lodge on the ground, and expressed their thanks for permission to purchase what they required; such was the difference between those who were in and those who were out of power.”
It is sad to recall that the Sikhs in those days did not think of taking over Delhi and thus become the supreme power in India. There were several opportunities for such a course of action. One such arose in April, 1782 when the Wazir Najaf Khan who was the power behind the throne died and a struggle for power followed. They spent their time in the neighbourhood of the capital and crossed into Uttar Pradesh across the Ganges, instead of capturing the Capital.
A significant event, however took place next year. Baghel Singh Dhaliwal of Karoria Misl established his camp near Red Fort in Delhi and raised Gurdwaras at the historical sites associated with the lives of Sikh Gunus. One was erected at Sisganj where Guru Tegh Bahadur had been martyred in Chandni Chauk. Another gurdwara was raised at Rakab Ganj where the body of Guru Tegh Bahadur had been cremated. The third gurdwara was built at Bangla Sahib, Guru Harkishen’s place of residence and a fourth was built where the eighth Guru and the wives of Guru Gobind Singh were cremated.
In 1787 Bhaghel Singh joined Ghulam Qadir Rohilla and plundered the Emperor’s territory between Delhi and Agra. With Sikhs assistance the Rohilla Chief conquered and looted Delhi and then blinded the Emperor Shah Alam on August 10, 1788. In January 1791 Bhanga Singh of Thanesar captured an English officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart and got a ransom of sixty thousand rupees from the English. The English pretended that Stuart had been saved from the bandits by the Sardars.
The Sikh Sardars were gradually losing their idealism and sense of purpose and also their unity. In a quarrel between the Nawab of Rampur and the Nawab of Oudh, both parties asked for Sikh help and both were promised by the rival Sardars. As a result of such disunity the Marathas got the upper hand. General Peron of Marathas armies was able to dictate his terms to the Malwais. An English adventurer George Thomas who had set himself as a Raja at Hansi, was ejected from Sikh territory with great difficulty.
Sikh Chief’s fight over Jammu is a good example of their disunity. The Raja of this rich State, Ranjit Dev fell out with his son Braj Raj Dev. The Sukerchakias and the Kanhayas supported the son and Bhangis the father. Later the Ahluwalias joined the Kanhayas and Ramgarhias joined with the Bhangis. There were fights between these two groups for a long time. The Supreme Commander of Dal Khalsa became an ordinary chief of a Misl as this politics of anyone joining against anyone went on.
The total strength of the Misls may be put at one Lakh soldiers. There may have been some increase towards the close of the 18th century. The great mass of them were horsemen known for their effective use of match lock when mounted. Infantry was not an important branch of the ammy and was used only to garrison a few forts. There were few heavy guns which was a disadvantage when fighting against the Afghans and the Mughals. The Sikh soldiers were given no training in drill and discipline. However this shortcoming was compensated by their religiouss fervour. The most popular weapons were swords, spears, and matchlocks.