Sikh Martyrs, Warriors and Zakriya Khan
After Banda’s execution
For the first five years after Banda’s execution, very little was heard of the Sikhs. The focal point shifted from Punjab to Delhi, where Mata Sundari and Sahib Devan, were living in retirement. Bhai Mani singh looked after them and gave advice to parties of Sikhs who came to pay them homage. The Khalsa, who remained in the plains of Punjab got divided between Bandai, who wished to deify Banda and the Tat Khalsa, who, while revering the memory of the leader, disapproved of the attempt to apotheosize him. The rift grew wide between the two bands of Khalsa and situation became serious enough for the leading Sikhs to appeal to Mata Sundari for intervention. In A.D. 1721, she sent Bhai Mani singh to Amritsar to take charge of the Harimandir. The Bandai gave up their claim and, after a time, most of them threw in their lot with the Tat Khalsa.
Once the internal squabbles were settled, the sarbat Khalsa became a real force. Under its instructions Jathedars formed small bands of outlaws and began taking villages near mountain and jungle hideouts under their protection. A name which became legend in the countryside was Tara Singh of village van, who looted many district treasuries. His band of desperados was liquidated in 1726. By then many more bands of Sikh outlaws were operating in different parts of the province. The combine strength of these Jathas was enough to persuade Zakraya Khan, who, on the transfer of his father to Multan, had become governor of Lahore, to try to conciliate the Sikhs. His envoy came to the meeting of the Sarbat Khalsa on the first of Baisakh A.D 1733 and offered Dipalpur, Kanganwal, and Jhabal, which were worth a lakh of rupees in revenue as a jagir (estate). The offer was accepted with some reluctance and Kapur Singh virk of village Fyzullpur, was nominated jagirdar and given the title of Nawaab . Nawaab Kapur Singh Virk was thus recognized as the leader of the Sikhs, both by Sarbat Khalsa as well as the provincial governor. Closely associated with Kapur Singh was another remarkable man Jassa Singh ahluwalia. These two men became chief architects of Sikh power in the country.
Kapur Singh and Jassa Singh made full use of the conciliatory attitude of Zakraya Khan. The Khalsa was ordered to come out of their hideouts. At another meeting of the Sarbat Khalsa held at the Akal Takth, jathas were reorganized. They were assured complete freedom of action except when the future of the community was in jeapordy; then they had to merge their units in the Dal Khalsa , the army of the Khalsa. Two jathas of Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal were made. Former led by Kapur Singh, latter, which was more active and numerous, by a number of jathedaris had separate billets for their men.
The jagir did not prove as much of a sop to the Sikhs as Zakraya Khan had hoped. The Taruna Dal moved across the Bari Doab and forcibly collected the revenue which was due to the state. Zakraya Khan give up the policy of appeasement and jagir was confiscated. Zakraya Khan’s minister Diwan Lahkpat Rai drove the Budha Dal out of Amritsar into the Bari Doab (Area between Beus and Ravi) and then across river Satluj. Ala Singh of Patiala joined Budha Dal and soon Budha dal occupied a large part of Malwa. Lakhpat Rai bided his time; when the Budha Dal recrossed the Sutlej he intercepted it on its march towards Amritsar. In the skirmish that followed, many officers of Lahore army, including Lakhpat Rai’s nephew were slain. Zakraya Khan took the field himself, re-established his authority in the region, and maintained it with an iron hand for almost two years.
In the autumn of A.D. 1738 the aged Mani Singh, who was manager of the Harimandir, applied for permission to hold the Diwali fair in Amritsar. He was given license on undertaking to pay Rs. 5000 into the state treasury immediately after the festival. Mani Singh expected to raise money from the offerings of pilgrims. A few days before Diwali, Zakraya Khan sent a large force towards Amritsar. This frightened away the pilgrims, and Bhai Mani Singh was not able to pay the fee. He was arrested and brought to Lahore, and condemned to death. On his refusal to save his life by accepting conversion to Islam, Mani Singh was tortured and executed.History of Sikhs, by Khushwant singh page 124. Sohan Lal Suri in his Umdat-ut-Tawarikh states that Mani singh was tortured to death for his proselytizing activities. There is no doubt that the number of Sikhs increased rapidly under his influence. The killing of a pious and venerable head priest caused deep resentment among the Sikhs. But before they could retaliate, the situation changed with dramatic suddenness with the news of a Persian invasion from the northwest.
The Persian Invasion 1738-1739 A.D.
The Persian, Nadir Shah swept across Punjab scattering all opposition. Zakariya Khan made submission; Khalsa retreated to the hills. The Persian defeated imperial army at Karnal and pushed on to Delhi. The capital was plundered and its population massacred. In the summer of 1739 Nadir shah turned homewards laden with enormous booty, which included the be jewelled peacock throne, the famous koh-i-noor diamond, and thousands of slaves. He chose to travel back along the foothills of the Himlayas to avoid the heat of the plains as well as to find new pastures. The Khalsa, who were already there and were well acquainted with the terrain, found Nadir’s loot-army an easy prey. The began plundering the invader’s baggage train as soon as it entered the Punjab, and continued to do so all the way to river Indus. While passing through Lahore, Nadir shah is said to have questioned Zakaraya Khan about the brigands who have been audacious enough to attack his troops. The governor replied: “They are faqirs who visit their Guru’s tank twice a year, and after having bathed in it disappear.” “Where do they live?” enquired the Shah. “Their homes are their saddles,” replied Zakaraya Khan. Nadir is said to have prophesied, “Take care the day is not far distant when these rebels will take possession of your country.” By most historians, from Mohd. Latif, Miskin to Sohan Lal Suri, almost all agree that this dialogue took place.
Interlude between the Invasions, 1739-1747 A.D.
Nadir Shah’s five months stay in India utterly disrupted the administration of Punjab. Zakraya Khan could do little more than retain his post by dancing attendance on the Persians. The only people who refused to have any truck with the foreigner were the Sikhs. The sikh conduct during the occupation, particularly in liberating Indian prisoners, created a new prestige among local people. Sikhs were now seen as a powerful guards of Punjab who could save the common people from an invader. Thousands of beautiful girls being taken to Persia for the harems were freed by Sikhs. Peasentry from Jamuna to Indus was behind them. Thus Khalsa returned to plains and built a mud fot at Dallewal on the banks of Ravi, and resumed their pilgrimage to Amritsar. According to a contemporary Muslim Writer:“Sikh horsemen were seen riding at full gallop towards their favourite shrine of devotion. They were often slain in the attempt and sometimes taken prisoner;but they used on such occasions to seek instead of avoiding, the crown of martyrdom No instance was known of a Sikh taken on his way to Amritsar consenting to abjure his faith.”
Zakraya Khan, who had submitted to the foreigner, showed great alacrity in taking the offensive against the Sikhs. He had the fortress of Dallewal blown up and ordered village officials to round up Sikhs and hand them over for execution. He made head-hunting a profitable business by offering a graded scale of rewards:a blanket for cutting off a Sikh’s hair, ten rupees for information of the whereabouts of a Sikh, fifty rupees for a Sikh scalp. Sikhs or withholding information of their movements was made a capital offence. Zakraya’s police scoured the countryside and brought back hundreds of Sikhs in chains. They were publicly beheaded at the nakhas, the horsemarket of Lahore, since then renamed Sahidganj (place of martyrdom), in memory of the dead. At least 2-5 thousand Sikhs were executed here. Persecution had the opposite effect. Since the peasants were in sympathy with the Khalsa, they thwarted the administration by giving shelter to the fugitives, and many joined hands with Khalsa bands to ambush the state constabulary. The only notable exceptions were the Niranjanis of Jandiala, near Amritsar who colloborated with the authorities.
The Khalsa suffered terrible hardships during Zakraya Khan’s stern rule. But they remained as defiant as ever and developed a spirit of bravado which enabled them to face adversity. Zakraya Khan died on July 1, 1745 A.D. His son Yahya Khan, who was also son in law of the chief wazir at Delhi, had no difficulty in securing an appointment as the governor of Lahore. Sikhs decided to reorganise their forces.
Upto 1745 bands of a dozen or more horsemen dharvi under a jathedar had operated independently. On the diwali of 1745 (October 14) the Sarbat Khalsa resolved to merge the small jathas into twenty-five sizeable regiments of cavalry and confirmed Kapur singh as overall commander. The commanders of some of the regiments, name, Hari Singh Bhangi, Naudh Singh of Sukarchak, Jassa singh Ahluwalia, and Jai Singh Kanhaya, played a decisive role in liberating the Punjab from Mughals and foreign invaders.
Excerpts taken from
A History of the Sikhs, Volume 1 By Khushwant Singh