Banda Singh: Sikh General Who Led 5 Battles to Victory against Mughals and Established Supremacy in Punjab
A multi-faceted energetic child who was expert in the art of warfare and hunting. An ascetic from his 15th to his 38th year. A Sikh at 38. A general of Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa army at 38. Led five battles to victory against Mughal and other Islamic forces. Established his authority in the Punjab region east of Lahore putting an end to Islamic rule. Ended the zamindari system. Martyrdom at 45. A name immortalized in golden letters in the pages of History. He was Baba Banda Singh Bahadur.
Baba Banda Singh was born on 27 October 1670 at Rajauri, Poonch, present-day Jammu and Kashmir. According to the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, published by the Punjabi University, Patiala, his father was Ram Dev, a ploughman of the Sodhi sub-caste of Khatris. Lachman Dev was his birth name. His other names were Madho Daas Bairagi and Gur Bakhash Singh (named by Guru Gobind Singh).
Why Banda Singh Bahadur Became an Ascetic at Age 15?
At a very young age, Banda Singh developed fondness for hunting. It became one of his major hobbies. An active and energetic child, he often practiced hunting. An incident changed his very perception of hunting and he stopped practicing this hobby all throughout his life. He was then 15 years of age. As usual, he went to the forest and aimed at a she-deer that caught his attention. His arrow tore the belly of the deer. When he went near it, he saw it was pregnant. The sight of the deer and her wounded twin offsprings writhing in pain and dying in front of his eyes deeply disturbed him. He was so much moved of this happening that he couldn’t sleep for days together. It was then that he decided to become an ascetic. He left his home and started walking towards an unknown destination.
Banda Singh Bahadur’s Initial Gurus
Banda Singh had grown up watching his father providing food and shelter regularly to saints, sadhus and holy persons who visited their abode. As a recluse, he reached Lahore (now in Pakistan). There he became a disciple of Sadhu Ram Daas of Ram Thamman near Lahore. Later he became a disciple of Janaki Daas, Hereafter, he came to be known as Madho Daas. But he could not get peace of mind.
Under his new identity as Madho Daas, he moved from place to place until he reached Punchvati near Nasik in Maharashtra. There he met Sadhu Aughhar Nath. A satisfied Madho Daas became his disciple and served him for 5 years. Pleased with his services, the Guru bestowed him with all his virtues, occult powers and even his own created holy book. Banda Bahadur was then only 21 years of age. Meanwhile, Aughhar Nath expired in 1691.
Banda Singh Bahadur set up his own ashram at Nander. Over time, his ashram expanded. Many people became his disciples. His name and fame, especially for his miraculous powers, spread far and wide. Soon, he became proud and arrogant.
Banda Singh Bahadur’s Ultimate Guru – Guru Gobind Singh
Banda Singh Bahadur met Guru Gobind Singh at the age of 38, i.e. in 1708. Guru Gobind Singh happened to come with his followers to his ashram at Nander. Banda Singh wasn’t in the ashram then. The Guru arranged for himself a seat and his followers started arranging food without the permission of the ashram’s head, i.e. Madho Daas. Enraged followers of Madho Daas informed the latter. Using his occult powers, Daas tried to humiliate the Guru, but in vain. It was then that he fell at the Guru’s feet and offered himself as his ‘banda’ (sevak).
Guru Gobind Singh stayed at the ashram for a few days. Both the Guru and Madho Daas engaged themselves in long conversations. Guru Gobind Singh named Madho Daas Gur Bakhash Singh, gave him amrit to drink and baptized him to Sikhism. Later, Gur Bakhash Singh became popular as Baba Banda Singh Bahadur.
How Baba Banda Singh Got Inspired to Fight Against the Mughals
In 1699 on Vaisakhi at Anandpur, Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, a warrior community, involving a group of six warriors including himself, the other five being known as the Panj Pyare. He prepared nectar mixing water and sugar into an iron bowl and stirring it with a double-edged sword. Amidst recitation from the Adi Granth, the baptism ceremony took place with all six taking the surname ‘Singh’, connoting lion. Guru Gobind Singh’s father Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed by Aurangzeb; Muslim Sikh conflicts increased thereby. Guru Gobind Singh led several wars against the Mughals and neighboring kingdoms.
In December 1704, the Guru had to temporarily leave Anandpur as a condition for peace. Aurangzeb died in 1707 AD following which a fight ensued between his sons for emperorship. His eldest son Bahadar Shah, a Shia Muslim, sought Guru Gobind Singh’s help. With the Guru’s help and against a promise, Bahadar Shah became the next Mughal emperor. The promise was that as king he would do justice in Punjab by punishing the Governor of Sirhind, Nawab Wazir Khan and his accomplices for their crimes against the common people and for killing his mother Mata Gujri and two younger sons Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh. His sons, aged 5 and 8, were buried alive into a wall after they refused to convert to Islam. But after becoming emperor, Bahadur Shah did not keep his promise.
A year later, i.e in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh along with his family and followers reached the Nander ashram. Knowing about Banda Singh Bahadur’s expertise in the art of warfare, he appointed him his general. The Guru appointed five Sikhs for counseling – Daya Singh, Binod Singh, Kahan Singh, Bijay Singh, and Ram Singh as his counselors. The Guru ordered him to go to Punjab and fight the Mughals.
Death of Guru Gobind Singh at Nander
Meanwhile, Wazir Khan, the Nawab of Sirhind who killed Guru Gobind Singh’s two younger sons, came to know about the Guru’s whereabouts. He sent two Pathan spies to Nander. They were entrusted to kill the Guru. By this time Banda Singh Bahadur had already left for Punjab with a small force of Sikh men. The two spies reached Nander; they were successful in stabbing Guru Gobind Singh while he was taking rest. The Guru retaliated bravely, killing one of them. His followers, alerted after the uproar, attacked and killed the other spy. The deep wounds of the Guru were operated and stitched. But he could survive only for one and a half month. The injuries led him breathe his last. It was 7th October 1708.
Banda Singh’s Troops
Reaching Punjab, Banda Singh Bahadur managed to garner support from both Hindus and Sikhs for fighting against enemy forces in battle. The Sikhs, who had fought under Guru Gobind Singh and others who were waiting to take revenge, aligned themselves with Banda. The Guru had prophesized about Sikh sovereignty in Punjab. Supporting Banda Singh, they decided to fulfill the Guru’s prophecy. Jats, Gujars, Rajputs, and people of other communities joined him. Though his followers were armed with matchlocks, spears, swords, bows and arrows in battle with no elephants, no good horses and no guns yet it was their zeal and determination that helped him win numerous battles.
Victorious Battles Fought by Banda Singh Bahadur
Battle of Sonepat in 1709: Banda Singh with his army marched towards Khanda, Sonepat, which was under Mughal rule. He successfully attacked the town, defeated the faujdar and his army and looted the state treasury. later, he distributed the treasury wealth amongst the poor.
Battle of Samana in 1709: This battle took place at Samana in Patiala against Wazir Khan, who was badly defeated. 10,000 Muslims were killed in the aftermath. This battle shook the administration of Delhi.
Battle of Sadhaura in 1709: With only a few Sikh army, Banda Singh Bahadur attacked Sadhaura ruled by the Sayyids and Shaikhs. He defeated them and killed its ruler Osman Khan.
Battle of Chappar Chiri in 1710: This battle was fought at Chappar Chiri near Sirhind Fatehgarh. Though the Mughals gained an advantage with artillery which the Sikh forces lacked yet they faced defeat. The Sikh forces led by Baba Banda Singh Bahadur gave a crushing blow to the Mughal army. Wazir Khan (Sirhind) was killed in the battle. Following victory in this battle, the Sikhs established their first rule in Punjab.
Battle of Rahon in 1710: By this time, Banda Singh Bahadur had captured almost entire Punjab in the east of Lahore. He then advanced towards Jallandhar. On the way, a battle took place against the Mughals at Rahon. The Sikhs emerged victorious.
Banda Singh Bahadur lost three battles, viz. at Lohgarh in 1710, Jammu in 1712 and Gurdaspur in 1715. In another battle against the Mughal forces in 1710 at Jalalabad, Muzaffarnagar, Banda Singh Bahadur lost and withdrew after four days. Sikh prisoners captured were executed by the Mughals.
What Banda Singh Bahadur Did for the People of Punjab
After his victorious win in battles against the Mughals and other Islamic rulers, Banda Singh Bahadur established his authority in Punjab from the Sutlej to the Yamuna. He developed the village of Mukhlisgarh, and made it his capital, which he later named Lohgarh, which meant ‘fortress of steel’. Though he ruled only for 6 to 7 years, he broke the yoke of 700 years rule of Islamic invaders. He married the daughter of one of the hill chiefs. The couple had a son named Ajai Singh.
Soon after, he abolished the zamindari system, and granted property rights to the tillers of the land. Farmers under him started living in dignity and self-respect. He removed corrupt officials and replaced them with honest ones. The liberal offerings he received were distributed amongst the poor and the needy.
His Last Days and Brutality of Mughals
In 1713, the Sikhs left Lohgarh and Sadhaura and went to the remote hills of Jammu. They established a Dera there. In March 1715, the Mughal army drove Banda Bahadur and the Sikh forces into the village of Gurdas Nangal, Gurdaspur, Punjab. Later, the enemy forces laid siege of the village. For eight long months, the Sikhs defended the fortress at Gurdas Nangal. On 7 December 1715, the Mughals could manage entry into the fortress; they captured Banda Bahadur and other Sikhs besides slaughtering thousands of others.
The Sikh leader was put into an iron cage and the rest, 780 in number, were chained. To terrorize the people, the Mughals hung 2000 slaughtered Sikh heads on spears, loaded 700 cartloads of the slaughtered heads and brought them to Delhi in a procession along with the leader and the prisoners. Once they reached Delhi, the Mughals pressurized Banda Singh and the 780 Sikh prisoners to convert to Islam, but in vain. Following this, on firm refusal, everyday 100 Sikh soldiers were executed in public until everyone faced martyrdom except their leader and his son. Banda Singh Bahadur was confined in prison for three months along with his four-year old son Ajai Singh. Every day he was pressurized to convert to Islam.
On 9 June 1716, a Mughal executioner gave Banda Singh a dagger to cut his son Ajai Singh, who was then seated on his lap. He refused. Immediately, the executioner pierced the chest of the little boy, violently took out the vibrating heart and tried to push it into the mouth of the father. A shackled Banda Singh furiously refused. Following the orders of the Mughal ruler, the executioner offered to spare his life if he converted to Islam. Upon refusal, his flesh was notched out with pliers and hot sharp rods were inserted into his flesh. His eyes were gouged out and his limbs severed. Yet he refused to give up his faith. The Mughals then went to the extent of having his skin removed. Yet he remained firm, refusing to convert. He was then killed. He was only 45 then. Such was the brutality the Mughals showcased!
Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s martyrdom will inspire generations to remain fearless against all odds and the extremes of circumstances.
1. Sikhi Wiki
Featured image courtesy: bhaskar.com and Chaar Sahibzaade 2: Rise of Banda Singh Bahadur (2016).