Sikh History:Early European Accounts
John Surman and Edward Stephenson
The paragraph which refers to the arrest and massacre of the Sikhs at Delhi in 1716 is extracted from a letter dated Delhi, March 10, 1716, written by Messrs. John Surman and Edward Stephenson to the Hon’ble Robert Hedges, President and Governor of Fort William, etc., Council in Bengal. These gentlemen and their Secretary, Hugh Barker, were then present in the Mughal capital as ambassadors of the East India Company’s Council in Bengal to the Court of Emperor Farrukh-Siyar. Under instructions of their principals, the ambassadors maintained a regular Diary of the events and transactions at the royal court, and wrote to Calcutta to keep the headquarters informed of the political and other developments there. This letter of March 10, 1716, was read at a consultation at Fort St. George on Tuesday, 5th June, 1716, and is to be found in the Madras Diary and Consultation Book for 1715 to 1719, No. 87, Range 237, in the India Office (now Commonwealth Relations Office), London. It is also reproduced in C. R. Wilson’s The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, volume II, part II (Calcutta, 1911), pp. 96-98, and in J. T. Wheeler’s Early Records of British India, p. 180.
The chief of the Sikhs, Banda Singh, referred to in the letter as ‘the great Rebel Gooroo’, was originally an ascetic sadhu of the bairagi order. He was initiated into the Sikh order of the Khalsa in September 1708 by Guru Gobind Singh at Nander in the Deccan where he had gone in connection with the negotiations that had been going on with Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707-12) since July 1707. There the Guru was stabbed by a Pathan from Sirhind in the last week of September 1708, and he died of his wound on October 6-7. The line of the Sikh Gurus that had begun with Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of Sikh religion, came to an end with the tenth and the last Guru Gobind Singh who bequeathed spiritual heritage of Sikhism to the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, and the temporal leadership of the Sikhs to the general body of the Khalsa.
Before the death of the Guru, however, Banda Singh, with the renewed zeal and vigour of a new convert, had left for the Panjab, not as Guru or the Sikhs but as commander of the forces of the Khalsa. Here the Sikhs gathered round him in large numbers and in the summer of 1710 he was soon able to carve out a small Sikh kingdom which, later, paved the way for the freedom of the country from under the Mughal yoke. But the Mughal empire was too strong for the infant power of the Sikhs under Banda Singh. He was captured in December 1715, during the reign of Emperor Farrukh-Siyar, under whose orders he was carried to Delhi as a prisoner along with 694 other Sikhs. Here they were all, with exception of Banda Singh and a few chosen leaders, executed in the maidan opposite the Chandni Chauk Kotwali at the rate of a hundred a day beginning on March 5, 1716. The turn of Banda Singh himself and his associates came three months later on June 9, when he was taken out to the Qutb Minar and torn to pieces near the tomb of Emperor Bahadur Shah.
C. R. Wilson, the author of the ‘Early Annals of the English in Bengal’, has given in the volume II, part II, pp. xlii-xliii, the following description of the entry of Banda Singh and his fellow captives into Delhi on February 27, 1716, based on the articles of William Irwine on the ‘Political History of the Sikhs’ (Asiatic Quarterly, January 1894, pp. 420-31 ) and ‘Guru Gobind Singh and Bandah’ (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1894, part I, pp. 112-43). He says:
The teacher himself dressed out of mockery in a turban of red cloth, embroidered with gold, and a heavy robe of brocade, flowered with pomegranates, sat in an iron cage, placed on the back: of an elephant. Behind him stood a mail-clad officer, with a drawn sword. After him came the other prisoners, seven hundred and forty in number, seated two and two upon camels without saddles. Each wore a high fool’s cap of sheepskin and had one hand pinned to his neck, between two pieces of wood. Many were also dressed in sheep skins with wooly side turned outwards. At the end of the procession rode three great nobles, Muhammad Amin Khan, sent by the emperor to bring in the prisoners, (From Agharabad to the Lahori gate of the palace] Kamr-ud-Din, his son, and Zakariya Khan, his son-in-law, who being
The road to the palace, for several miles, was lined with troops and filled with exultant crowds, who mocked at the teacher and laughed at the grotesque appearance of his followers. They wagged their heads and pointed the finger of scorn at the poor wretched as they passed. ‘Hu! Hu!, infidel dog-worshippers, your day has come. Truly retribution follows on transgression, as wheat springs from wheat, and barley from barley.’ Yet the triumph could not have seemed complete. Not all the insults that their enemies had invented could rob the teacher and his followers of their dignity. Without any sign of dejection or shame, they rode on, calm, cheerful, even anxious to die the death of martyrs.
One there was, a young man, an only son, whose widow mother had made many applications to the Mughal officers, declaring that her son was a Sikh prisoner, and no follower of the Guru. A release was granted and she hastened to the prison-house to claim her son. But the boy turned from her to meet his doom crying, ‘I know not this woman. What does she want with me? I am a true and loyal follower of the Guru.’ For a whole week the sword of the executioner did its butcher’s work. Every day a hundred brave men perished and at night the headless bodies were loaded into carts, taken out of the city, and hung upon trees.
It was not till June 19 [Sunday, the 29th Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 1128 A.H., June 9, 1716 O.S.] that Banda himself was led out to execution, all efforts having failed to buy him off. They dressed him, as on the day of his entry, set him again on an elephant, and took him away to the old city, where the red Qutb Minar lifts its proud head of white marble over the crumbling walls of the Hindu fortress. Here they paraded him round the tomb of the late emperor Bahadur Shah, and put him to a barbarous death. First they made him dismount, placed his child in his arms and bade him kill it. Then, as he shrank with horror from the act, they ripped open the child before its father’s eyes, thrust its quivering flesh into his mouth and hacked him to pieces limb by limb.
The authors of the despatch John Surman and Edward Stephenson (and the Secretary, Hugh Barker) were, evidently, eyewitnesses of the dreadful massacre of the Sikhs at Delhi in March recorded by them. The executions began on March 5, five days before the date of the despatch, March 10, when a few hundred Sikhs had yet to be executed. This paragraph of the despatch, therefore, is of great historical value to the students and scholars of history. The last sentence regarding the unflinching devotion of the Sikhs to their faith under the severest of trials is very significant. Except for the number of the Sikh prisoners, which Muhammad Hadi Kamwar Khan gives as 694 in his ‘Tazkirat-us-Salatin’, the despatch of the English ambassadors is in full agreement with the writings of the other eye-witnesses and contemporaries. The reader interested in futher study of the exploits and achievements of Banda Singh is referred to ‘Life of Banda Singh Bahadur’ published in 1935, and the bibliography appended to it.
Dr Ganda Singh
Honourable Sirs. etc
We wrote your Honour on the 7th ultimo since which we have received no letters.
The great Rebel Gooroo [Banda Singh] who has been for these 20 years so troublesome in the Subaship [suba] of Lahore is at length taken with all his family and attendance by Abd-us-Samad Cawn the Suba [subedar. i. e., Governor] of that province. Some days ago they entered the city laden with fetters, his whole attendants which were left alive being about seven hundred and eighty all severally mounted on camels which were sent out of the City for that purpose, besides about two thousand heads stuck upon poles. being those who died by the sword in battle. He was carried into the presence of the King, and from thence to a close prison. He at present has his life prolonged with most of his mutsuddys in the hope to get an Account of his treasure in the several parts of his Kingdom, and of those that assisted him, when afterwards he will be executed, for the rest there are 100 each day beheaded. It is not a little remarkable with what patience they undergo their fate, and to the last it has not been found that one apostatised from his new formed Religion.
March the 10th , 1716
Honourable Sir & Sirs,
Your most obedient humble servants,
Cojee Seerhaud assenting.
Hugh Barker. Secretary.
:Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, Dr Ganda Singh