Bhai Bhota Singh and Garja Singh
Sawa lakh se ek laraoon
Tabe Gobind Singh Singh Nam Kahaoon
In 1739, Zaikriya Khan launched an all out campaign of persecution of Sikhs. Rewards were offered for the capture and extermination of Sikhs. It was declared law-ful to plunder Sikh houses and to seize their property. The whole machinery of the government, including chaudhris and zamin-dars, were put into motion to crush the Sikhs. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered. Cartloads of their heads were taken to Lahore for obtaining rewards from Zakariya.
Under such conditions of persecution, Sikhs took shelter in the Shivalik hills, Lakhi jungle, and the sandy deserts of Rajputana. A few, who still chose to remain in Majha, had to pass their days in local forests, bushes, or by taking shelter in Khulasa (Sa-hajdhari or slow adopting Sikhs) houses. Sometimes Muslims, and even Hindus, would boast that Sikhs were afraid of appearing in the plains. Such taunts would cause some daring Sikhs to come out of their hiding places and make their presence felt.
The Sikhs, as a collective body, refused to oblige the enemy by venturing out of their hideouts in large numbers. However, individual Sikhs made history by openly challenging governmental authority. One of them was Bota Singh, from the village of Bharana. He, along with Garja Singh, brought much ridicule to Zakariya Khan. In spite of the Governor’s ban on Sikhs visiting Amritsar, these two would time and again come to have a dip in the holy tank in the night and then disappear into the bushes near Taran Taran.
One day, a party of wayfarers noticed Bota Singh and Garja Singh near Noordin.
One of the wayfarers said, “Look, there in the bushes are two Sikhs.” The other way-farer replied, “They can’t be true Sikhs. They must be some cowards who are afraid of showing their faces in the open. The Sikhs are not afraid of coming out.”
This remark stung Bota Singh and Garia Singh. They knew that a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh Ji is as brave as a lion. So, Bota Singh and Garja Singh decided to come out and make their presence felt even to the government. They took a position on the Grand Trunk Road, near Sarae Noordin, and as a show of bravado, began to collect a toll of one anna per cart and one paisa per donkey-load.
None dared to refuse the demand and nobody reported it to the government. Bota Singh’s aim in collecting the toll was to prove to Zakariya Khan that in spite of all his efforts to exterminate Sikhs, they were very much in existence. He therefore informed the Governor, through a letter, of his new pastime. In the Panjabi folklore, this letter is still sung as follows: Chithi likhae yun Singh Bota, hath hai sota; vich raah khaIota; Anna Iaiya gade nu, paisa Iaiya khota; Akho Bhabi Khano nu, yun aakhe Singh Bota.
Thus writes a letter Singh Bota. With a big stick in hand, on the road I stand. Levying an anna for a cart; and a paisa for a donkey. Tell my sister-in-law Khano; thus, says Singh Bota
The Governor, highly incensed, sent a force of one hundred horsemen to arrest him. But, the two Sikhs refused to surrender and died fighting after nearly demolishing the Mughal soldiers. Their only weapons were big sticks cut from kikkar trees.
jo jan loojhehi manai sio sae soorae paradhhaanaa ||
Those humble beings who struggle with their minds are brave and distinguished heroes.