SHAHID BILAS (BHAI MANI SINGH), by Kavi Seva Singh, is a biography in verse of Bhai Mani Singh, a Rajput warrior of Panvar clan, whom the poet identifies with Bhai Mani Singh, the martyr. Seva Singh, son of Kesar Singh Kaushish, was a bhatt or family bard of one of Bhai Mani Singh`s great grandsons, Sarigat Singh, who had settled at Ladva, in the present Yamunanagar district of Haryana, as ajagirdar under Raja Ajit Singh. According to the poet himself, he commenced writing Shahid Bilas at Ladva, but completed it at Bhadson, in Parganah Thanesar, to which place he migrated, probably in 1846, when Raja Ajit Singh`s estates were confiscated by the British for helping the Lahore armies in the first AngloSikh war.

Originally written in Bhattakshri, script commonly used by the Bhatts, it was transcribed into Gurrnukhi by Chhaiju Singh Bhatt of Bhadson, in 1870. This manuscript in Gurmukhi script, the only one available, was aquired by a researcher, Giani Garja Singh (1904-77), from the house of Bhatt Mohlu Ram with the help of Bhatt Man Singh of Karsindhu village, in Jind district of Haryana. It was edited by him and published by Pahjabi Sahitya Academy, Ludhiana, in 1961. According to Seva Singh, wild uses Seva Hari as his nom de plume (Singh and ban both meaning a lion), Mani Singh was the third of the twelve sons of Mai Das of `Alipur, near Multan, now in Pakistan.

His grandfather, Ballu Rao had borne arms and served Guru Hargobind (1595-1644). Mani Singh was born to Madhari, the first wife of Mai Das, on Sunday, Chet sudi 12,1701 Bk/7 April 1644. Mani Singh was 13 when he was taken by his father to Guru Har Rai at Kiratpur where he stayed for two years serving in the Guru ka Langar and studying gurbam, i.e. the Scriptural texts. He was married at the age of 15 to Sito, daughter of Lakkhi Rai of Khairpur. He kept company with Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishan and, except a short intermission, with Tegh Bahadur whom he rejoined in 1672 and was assigned to preparing copies of the Scripture and to studying as well as instructing other Sikhs in the sacred text.

He practised the martial arts under Guru Gobind Singh and took part in the battles of Bhangani and Nadaun. At the time of the initiation of the Khalsa, Mani Singh along with five of his sons received khande ki pahul or initiation by the double edged sword. Soon after this he was sent by Guru Gobind Singh to take charge of the shrines at Amritsar. He rejoined Guru Gobind Singh at Talvandi Sabo and accompanied him to the South up to Baghaur from where the Guru sent him back to Amritsar. During the time of fierce persecution which followed, the venerable Bhai Mani Singh remained unharmed. In 1733 he even obtained government`s permission to hold in Harimandar at Amritsar a fair on the occasion of`Divali festival for which a cess had to be paid.

Owing to apprehension of an attack by imperial troops, the attendance was meagre, and the stipulated amount could not be raised. Bhai Mani Singh was arrested, charged with nonpayment of the tax, and was executed in Lahore on Har sudi 5,1791 Bk/24June 1734. Giani Garja Singh, in his introduction as well as in footnotes to the text, has tried to support the poet`s account as authentic history with ample quotations from various published and unpublished works, especially from a new source, the Bhatt Vahis, or scrolls of the traditional family bards; but the account given in the Shahid Bilas has not yet received firm acceptance. Neither the original manuscript in Bhattakshri nor the original of its Gurmukhi transcript is available for verification.

Besides, some of the crucial dates given in the Shahid Bilas (e.g. those of the creation of Khalsa and martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh Shahid) are at variance with those given by other chroniclers. It appears that there were two different historical personalities : Mani Ram, a Rajput warrior and father of Bhai Ude Singh, Bachittar Singh and their three brothers who attained martyrdom fighting for the Guru, and Bhai Mani Singh, scholar and exegete, who met a martyr`s death in 1737. Kavi Seva Singh, in panegyrizing the former ancestor of his patron, Sangat Singh, identified him with the latter. The veracity of the work must await further research.

References :

1. Gurmukh Singh, “Identity of Bhai Mani Singh Shahid”, Proceedings, Punjab History Conference, Twenty-second Session, March 25-27,2988-Patiala, 1989