Higher Division of the Dal Khalsa Nihang Sikhs in Eighteenth century
Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal, names now appropriated by two sections of the Nihang Sikhs, were the popular designations of the two divisions of Dal Khalsa, the confederated army of the Sikhs during the eighteenth century. With the execution of Banda Singh Bahadur in 1716, the Sikhs were deprived of a unified command.
Moreover, losses suffered by the Sikhs during the anti-Banda Singh campaign around Gurdaspur and the relentless persecution that followed at the hands of Abd us-Samad Khan, governor of Lahore, made it impossible for Sikhs to continue large-scale combined operations. Hunted out of their homes, they scattered in small jathas or groups to find refuge in distant hills, forests and deserts, but they were far from vanquished.
In 1726 the imperial government replaced ‘Abd us-Samad Khan by his more energetic and disciplinarian son, Khan Bahadur Zakariya Khan, but he too was unable to reduce the Sikhs to submission. He at last came to terms with them in 1733, offering them a jagir worth 100,000 rupees a year, the title of "Nawab" for one of their leaders and their peaceful settlement at Amritsar and elsewhere in the Punjab.
The Sikhs accepted the offer. Some went back to their old villages, but the bulk of the warriors among them, a few thousand in number and still grouped around their former leaders, concentrated in Amritsar under the command of Sardar Kapur Singh who, with Darbara Singh to assist him as his diwan, made arrangements for their maintenance.
Kapur Singh, finding it difficult to cater for such a large force centrally, particularly after Darbara Singh’s death in 1734, divided the camp into two parts on the basis of age of the jathedars or group leaders. The elders’ camp comprising jathas of older leaders such as Sham Singh, Gurbakhsh Singh, Bagh Singh, Gurdial Singh, Sukkha Singh and Kapur Singh himself came to be called Buddha (elderly) Dal, and the youths’ camp Taruna (youthful) Dal.
The latter was further sub-divided into five jathas, each with its own drum and banner. Buddha Dal too was similarly sub-divided after some time. Nawab Kapur Singh remained in overall command of the two Dals jointly called Dal Khalsa. Men were free to join jathas of their choice. In old sources we come across only one reference to the strength of a jatha. That is in Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Prakash, which, referring to the fifth jatha of the Taruna Dal commanded by Bir Singh Ranghreta, puts down its strength at 1300 horse. From this figure it may be surmised that the jathas broadly comprised 1,300 to 2,000 men each. It was generally agreed that Buddha Dal would remain at Amritsar and manage the shrines, leaving Taruna Dal free for operations in the country.
The entente with the Mughals did not last long. Zakariya Khan wanted the Sikhs to disperse and revert to civil life in villages or join the imperial army as regular soldiers. The governor eventually broke the compact and resumed his former policy of persecution through his gashti fauj (roving army) and rewarding informers and private killers of Sikhs.
While Taruna Dal crossed the Sutlej into the territory of Sirhind, Buddha Dal spread in the countryside of Majha (area of Bari Doab and Rachna Doab, especially the former). Its first clash with the gashti fauj took place in 1736 near Chimian, 50 km west of Kasur.
Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Buddha Dal crossed the Sutlej and, staying for some time at Barnala, then the capital of Sardar Ala Singh, proceeded northwards again to celebrate Divali (1736) at Amritsar.
While camping at Basarke near Amritsar, they were surprised by a 7,000 strong force under Diwan Lakhpat Rai. The Dal retreated towards Chunian and then to the Malva country, where it helped Ala Singh extend his territory southwards at the cost of Bhatti chiefs of that region.
Infuriated by the martyrdom in 1737 of Bhai Mani Singh at the hands of Zakariya Khan, Sikhs prepared to converge again upon Lahore territory. Although Nadir Shah’s invasion in January-May 1739 had shaken the imperial government at Delhi to its very roots, Zakariya Khan in the Punjab was not deterred from his policy of repression against the Sikhs.
The Buddha Dal was still in the desert region of Malva and Rajasthan when news was received of the desecration of the Harimandar by Masse Khan Ranghar, Kotwal of Amritsar. Matab Singh and Sukkha Singh, members of the jatha of Sardar Sham Singh, travelled incognito to Amritsar, killed Massa in broad daylight on 6 May 1740 and rejoined the jatha in their desert resort.
The Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal soon returned to the Punjab and resorted to their usual hit-and-run tactics. They also resumed their gatherings at Amritsar on the occasion of Baisakhi and Divali. Zakariya Khan thought it politic to ignore these assemblies. According to Khushwagt Rai, he did post Diwan Lakhpat Rai with a suitable contingent at Amritsar on these occasions, but his orders were not to pick a fight with the Sikhs.
However, his campaign for general massacre of the Sikhs "wherever found" continued unabated till his death on 1 July 1745. Feeling the need for further dispersal, the Dal Khalsa, meeting at Amritsar on the following Divali, 14 November 1745, divided itself into 25 jathas who, however, owed allegiance to Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal according to the affiliation of their leaders, and who often undertook joint operations.
Jathas belonging to both Dals were involved in the bloody action known as Chhota Ghallughara of April-May 1746 in which Sikh losses amounted to seven to eight thousand killed and captured. Taking advantage of the civil war which had broken out between the two sons of Zakariya Khan-Yahiya Khan and Shah Nawaz Khan in November 1746, the jathas of the two Dals (their number had since gone up to 65) came out of their retreats and started converging on Amritsar whence they spread out again on their plundering raids in order to replenish their depleted stocks of stores, equipment and horses.
Shah Nawaz Khan, the victor in the civil war, on the advice of his Diwan, Kaura Mall, and Adina Beg, faujdar of Jalandhar, solicited peace with the Sikhs. The Sikhs at an assembly of the Sarbatt Khalsa at Amritsar on the occasion of Baisakhi, 30 March 1747, decided to build a fort near Amritsar which when completed came to be known as Ramgarh or Ram Rauni.
The jathas harassed and plundered for a whole week (18-26 March) the columns of
Ahmad Shah Durrani who, defeated in the battle of Manupur (16 March 1748), had recrossed the Sutlej and was on his way back to Afghanistan.
Sardar Charhat Singh, grandfather of Maharaja Ranjlt Singh, chased him up to the River Chenab and returned with a rich booty. At a Sarbatt Khalsa conclave at Amritsar on Baisakhi, 29 March 1748, the entire force of 65 jathas was divided into eleven misls or divisions each under its own sardar or chief as follows :
(1) Ahluvalia misl under Jassa Singh Ahluvalia,
(2) Singhpuria (also called Faizullapuria) misl under Nawab Kapur Singh,
(3) Karorsinghia mish under Karora Singh,
(4) Nishanvalia misl under Dasaundha Singh,
(5) Shahid misl under Dip Singh,
(6) Dallevalia misl under Gulab Singh,
(7) Sukkarchakkia misl under Charhat Singh,
(8) Bhangi,misl under Hari Singh,
(9) Kanhaiya misl under jai Singh,
(10) Nakai misl under Hira Singh, and
(11) Ramgarhia misl under Jassa Singh Ramgarhia.
The first six were under Buddha Dal and the latter five under Taruna Dal. Jassa Singh Ahluvalia was chosen to be in joint command of the entire Dal Khalsa, while Nawab Kapur Singh continued to be acknowledged as the supreme commander.
Taking advantage of the preoccupation of the Mughal governor, Win ul-Mulk, with Ahmad Shah’s second invasion (December 1749-February 1750), Buddha Dal under Nawab Kapur Singh attacked and plundered Lahore itself, and the Mughal satrap had to permit his minister, Diwan Kaura Mall, to enlist Sikhs’ help in his expedition against Shah Nawaz Khan who had risen in rebellion at Multan in September 1749. Jassa Singh Ahluvalia with 10,000 men of the Buddha Dal took part in the expedition.
However, soon after the successful completion of the campaign, the Lahore governor renewed his policy of repression. The Buddha Dal retreated towards the Sivalik hills, while the Taruna Dal found refuge in the Malva and in Bikaner. In October 1753, the Buddha Dal assembled in Amritsar to celebrate Divali (26 October 1753). Mu’in ul-Mulk died in an accident a week later.
Nawab Kapur Singh, before his death at Amritsar on 7 October 1753, nominated Jassa Singh Ahluvalia supreme commander of the Dal Khalsa. The appointment was ratified by Sarbatt Khalsa on Baisakhi, 10 April 1754. Mu’in ul-Mulk’s death had cleared the way for Sikh hegemony over vast areas in central and southern Punjab, from the Chenab to the Yamund.
The Durranis’ victory in the third battle of Panipat (January 1761) was a severe blow to the Mughal empire as well as to the Marathas as rivals to the Sikhs in northwest India. The only contender left now was the Afghan invader, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who annexed the Punjab to his dominions and appointed his son, Taimur, governor at Lahore in 1757.
During 1753-64, the Sikhs replaced the strategy of plundering raids with the system of Rakhi, literally protection, under which villages and minor chiefs accepting the protection of the Dal Khalsa paid to it a regular cess. The TarunA Dal was now spread over the Majha area, and the Buddha Dal operated in the Doaba and Malva regions. Both collaborated for operations against the Afghan invader, who took, on 5 February 1762, a heavy toll in what is known as Vadda Ghallughara (q.v.), the Great Holocaust, so called in comparison with a similar but lesser disaster of 1746.
With the conquest of Sirhind in January 1764 started the final phase of the development of the Dal Khalsa into a confederacy of sovereign political principalities called Misls. The Misls now occupied well-defined territories over which their Sardars ruled independently while maintaining their former links as units of the Dal Khalsa. The misls of the Buddha Dal established themselves broadly as follows:
Ahluvalia misl in Jagraon, Bharog and Fatehgarh (later in Kapurthala Sultanpur Lodhi area in the Jalandhar Doab);
Singhpuria in parts of Jalandhar Doab and Chhat-Banur-Bharatgarh areas south of the Sutlej.
Karorsinghia misl in a long strip south of the Sutlej extending from Samrala in the west to Jagadhri in the east;
Nishanvalla misl in area Sahneval-Doraha-Machhivara-Amloh, with pockets around Zira and Ambala;
Shahid mist in area Shahzadpur-Kesari in presentday Ambala district, and territory around Rania and Talvandi Sabo;
Dallevalia mist in parganahs of Dharamkot and Tihara to the south of the River Sutlej and Lohiain and Shahkot to the north of it.
Of these, Ahluvalia misl survived as the princely house of Kapurthala and a branch of Karorsinghia misl as rulers of Kalsia state.
Others divided into several petty chieftainships were either taken over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the British East India Company or absorbed into the Phulkian states of Patiala, Nabha and Jind.
Even after the consolidation of their territorial acquisitions, the misls of the Buddha Dal continued co-operating in joint operations in Ruhila and Mughal territories in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab and in the country north and west of Delhi. They collected rakhi from parts of the Doab and their plundering raids extended up to Delhi itself and beyond.
Instances of Buddha Dal’s co-operation with the Taruna Dal, active in Bari and Rachna Doabs and further to the north and east, became far fewer. The two together defeated Ahmed Shah Abdali in a 7-day running battle in the Jalandhar Doab in March 1765. Early in 1768, men from both the Dals were included in a 20,000-strong contingent engaged by Jawahar Singh, the ruler of Bharatpur, at Rs 7,00,000 a month, to fight against Raja Madho Singh of Jaipur.
The latter, however, retired without giving a fight, and the Sikhs came back to the Punjab receiving part of the contracted sum. The two Dals now entrenched in their respective spheres as separate misls, the terms Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal became redundant and went out of use.