BANDA SINGH BAHADUR (1670-1716). eighteenth century Sikh warrior who for the first time seized territory for the Khalsa and paved the way for the ulimate conquest of the Punjab by them, was born Lachhman Dev on 27 October 1670 at Rajauri in the Punchh district of Kashmir. According to Hakim Rai, AhwaliLachhman Das urfBanda Sahib, his father Ram Dev, a ploughman, came of the Sodhi subcaste. Lachhman Dev had a very tender heart and the sight of a dying doe during one of the hunting excursions proved a turning point in his life.

So strong was his sense of penitence that he left his home to become an ascetic. He was then fifteen years of age. He first received instruction from a mendicant, Janaki Prasad. At the shrine of Ram Thamman, near Kasur, he joined Bairagi Ram Das and was given the name of Madho Das. Roaming about the country for some years, he settled down in the Panchvati woods, near Nasik. He learnt yoga from Yogi Aughar Nath and, after his death, left Nasik and established a math (monastery) of his own at Nanded on the left bank of the River Godavari.

Here he had an encounter with Guru Gobind Singh who happened to visit his hermitary on 3 September 1708, at the end of which he, as the chronicler records, fell at his feet, pronouncing himself to be his banda or slave. Guru Gobind Singh escorted him to his own camp, administered to him the vows of the Khalsa and gave him the name of Banda Singh, from the word banda he had used fqr himself when proclaiming his allegiance to the Guru. Blessed by Guru Gobind Singh who bestowed upon him a drum, a banner and five arrows as emblems of authority, and accompanied by five Sikhs Binod Singh, Kahan Singh, Baj Singh, Daya Singh and Ram Singh, he set out towards the north determined to chastise the tyrannical Mughal faiy`dar of Sirhind.

As he reached the Punjab, Sikhs began to rally round his standard, amongst the first to join him being Bhai Fateh Singh, a descendant of Bhai Bhagatu, Karam Singh and Dharam Singh of Bhai Rupa and Alt Singh, Mali Singh and other Sikhs of Salaudi. Ram Singh and Tilok Singh, the ancestors of Phulkian rulers, provided material help. On 26 November 1709, Banda Singh attacked Samana, the native town of Jalal udDin, the executioner of Guru Tegh Bahadur, and of the two executioners who had volunteered to behead Guru Gobind Singh`s two young sons, at Sirhind.

After the sack of Samana, Banda Singh occupied Ghurham, Thaska, Shahabad and Mustafabad. The town of Kapuri, whose faujdar, Qadam udDin, was notorious for his debaucheries and persecution of Hindus and Sikhs, was razed to the ground. Next came the turn of Sadhaura, whose chief, `Usman Khan, had not only oppressed the Hindus but had also tortured to death the Muslim saint, Sayyid Buddhu Shah, for having helped Guru Gobind Singh in the battle of Bhangani. Banda Singh took this long circuitous route awaiting Sikhs from the Doaba and Majha areas to join his force before he attacked Sirhind where two of Guru Gobind Singh`s sons had met with a cruel fate at the hands of Wazir Khan, the Mughal satrap.

Wazir Khan was killed in the battle of Chappar Chiri on 12 May 1710, and on 14 May the city of Sirhind was captured and given over to plunder. Baj Singh, one of Banda Singh`s companions, was appointed governor of Sirhind. Banda Singh was now the virtual master of territories between the Yamuna and the Sutlej, yielding an annual revenue of thirty-six lacs of rupees. He made the old Fort of Mukhlisgarh, in the safety of the Himalayas, his headquarters, renaming it Lohgarh. He assumed the style of royalty and introduced a new calendar dating from his capture of Sirhind. He had new coins struck in the name of Guru NanakGuru Gobind Singh.

Besides the names of the Gurus, the inscription of his seal contained the word deg (the kettle in Guru ka Langar signifying charity) and tegh (the sword of the Khalsa signifying victory). Banda Singh`s rule. though short lived, had a farreaching impact on the history of the Punjab. With it began the decay of the Mughal authority and the demolition of the feudal system of society it had created. Banda Singh abolished the Zamindari system and made the tillers masters of the land by conferring upon them proprietory rights. He was liberal in his treatment of Hindus and Muslims many of whom joined the Sikh faith and took up arms under him. In the summer of 1710, Banda Singh crossed the Yamuna and seized Saharanpur.

On his arrival at Nanauta on 11 July 1710, crowds of Gujjars, who called themselves Nanakpanthis swelled his ranks, but he had to return to the Punjab, without making any further conquest in the Gangetic valley. In the Punjab, he took Batala and Kalanaur, marched towards Lahore, while a contingent proceeded to occupy the city and parganah of Pathankot. Seized with terror, Sayyid Aslam, the governor of Lahore, shut himself up in the Fort. Cries of jihad or religious war against the Sikhs proved of little avail and Banda Singh inflicted a crushing defeat upon the gathered host at the village of Bhiloval.

Except for the city of Lahore, the whole of Majha and Riarki had fallen into his hands. On 3 October 1710, he occupied Rahon in the Jalandhar Doab. Banda Singh`s increasing influence roused the ire of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah, who came northwards from the Deccan, and commanded the governors of Delhi and Oudh and other Mughal officers to punish the Sikhs. The order he issued on 10 December 1710 was a general warrant for the faujdars to kill the worshippers of Nanak, i.e. Sikhs, wherever found (Nanakprastan ra bar ja kih bayaband baqati rasanand). Even in face of this edict for wholesale destruction of the Sikhs, Banda Singh maintained towards the Muslims generally an attitude of tolerance.

A report submitted to Emperor Bahadur Shah stated that as many as five thousand Muslims of the neighbourhood of Kalanaur and Batala had joined Banda Singh and that they. were allowed the fullest liberty to shout their religious call, azan, and recite khutba and namaz, in the army of the Sikhs and that they were properly looked after and fed. In 1710, a massive imperial force drove the Sikhs from Sirhind and other places to take shelter in the Fort of Lohgarh in the submontane region. Here Banda Singh was closely invested by sixty thousand horse and foot.

For want of provisions, the Sikhs were reduced to rigorous straits but on the night of 10 December 1710, Banda Singh made a desperate bid to escape and hacked his way out of the imperial cordon. Banda Singh was far from vanquished and, within a fortnight of his escape from Lohgarh, he began to send out hukamnamas exhorting the people to carry on the fight. He ransacked the submountainous state of Bilaspur; Mandi, Kullu and Chamba submitted to his authority of their own accord. In June 1711, as he descended towards the plains he was engaged in an action at Bahrampur near Jammu, in which the Mughal troops were worsted.

Banda Singh was, however, forced in the end again to retreat into the hills. After the death, on 28 February 1712, of Emperor Bahadur Shah, the war of succession for the imperial throne and the disturbed state of affairs in Delhi brought Banda Singh some respite, but FarrukhSiyar who ascended the throne of Delhi in 1713 accelerated the campaign against the Sikhs. They were hounded out of the plains where Banda Singh had reoccupied Sadhaura and Lohgarh. Their main column, led by Banda Singh, was subjected to a most stringent siege at the village of GurdasNarigal, about six kilometres from Gurdaspur.

The supplies having run out, the Sikhs suffered great hardship and lived on animal flesh which they had to eat raw owing to lack of firewood. To quote the Muslim diarist of the time, Khafl Khan, “Many died of dysentary and privation….When all the grass was gone, they gathered leaves from the trees. When these were consumed, they stripped the bark and broke off the small shoots, dried them, ground them and used them instead of flour, thus keeping body and soul together. They collected the bones of animals and used them in the same way. Some assert that they saw a few of the Sikhs cut flesh from their own thighs, roast it, and eat it.” For eight long months, the garrison resisted the siege under these gruesome conditions.

The royal armies at last broke through and captured Banda Singh and his famishing companions on 7 December 1715. They were at first taken to and paraded in the streets of Lahore and then sent to Delhi where they arrived on 27 February 1716. The cavalcade to the imperial capital was a grisly sight. Besides 740 prisoners in heavy chains, it comprised seven hundred cartloads of the heads of the Sikhs with another 2,000 stuck upon pikes. By FarrukhSiyar`s order Banda Singh and some two dozen leading Sikhs were imprisoned in the Fort, while the remaining 694 were made over to the kotwal, Sarbrah Khan, to be executed at the Kotwali Chabutra at the rate of a hundred a day.

Then Banda Singh Bahadur and his remaining companions were taken to the tomb of Khwaja Qutb udDin Bakhdyar Kaki, near the Qutb Minar. There he was offered the choice between Islam and death. Upon his refusal to renounce his faith, his fouryearold son, Ajai Singh, was hacked to pieces before his eyes. He himself was subjected to the harshest torments. His eyes were pulled out and hands and feet chopped off. His flesh was torn with redhot pincers and finally his body was cut up limb by limb. This occurred on 9 June 1716.

References :

1. Bhahgu, Ratan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash. Am ri tsar, 1962
2. Gian Singh, Giani, Panth Prakash [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
3. Ganda Singh, Life of Banda Singh Bahadur. Amritsar, 1935
4. Bhagat Singh, Sikh Polity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Delhi, 1978
5. Irvine, W., Later Mughals. London, 1922
6. Surman, John, and Edward Stephenson, “Massacre of the Sikhs at Delhi in 1716” in Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, edited by Ganda Singh [Reprint]. Calcutta, 1962