Banda Singh Bahadur appeared in Sikh history for a relatively short period (1708-1716) but, after the Sikh gurus influenced it more significantly than any other individual
Banda Singh Bahadur is among the most colorful and fascinating characters in Sikh history. From an ascetic he was transformed into Guru Gobind Singh’s most trusted disciple. So much so that when the seriously injured guru could not lead his Sikh army against the Mughal forces, he appointed Banda Singh Bahadur as his deputy. As proof of this appointment he gave Banda his sword, a mighty bow, arrows from his own quiver, his battle standard and his war drum.
Banda rode out from Nanded (where Guru Gobind Singh passed away; now in Maharshtra) at the head of a small band of Sikhs, which, by the time it reached the Punjab, had grown into a formidable army. Over the next few years his exploits against the Mughal rulers, both in pitched battles and in skirmishes became the stuff of legends. He became the first of many legendary Sikh generals, famous both for their personal heroic courage and their skill in warfare. His many encounters with the Mughal rulers eroded the very foundation of the Mughal Empire and ensured its quick demise. As he said when questioned on what he had achieved: ‘I have ensured that never again will the crown sit easily on the Mughal emperor’s head.’ He also prepared the coming generations of sikhs for future conflicts, which lair greatly helped Maharaja Ranjit Singh in creating Sikh empire.
Banda was a true leader who led from the front, not only in the battlefield but also in civil administration. He established a secular government which swept aside 700 years of slavery and the myth of domination by foreign powers, proclaimed freedom of worship, allowed the people to follow professions of their choice and stopped forcible marriages even while recovering adducted women for return to their families. His land revolution abolished zamindari in parts of North India, thereby redistributing land equally amongst the tillers.
This book seeks to tell the story of this remarkable and brave man and his equally remarkable achievements. Perhaps, the finest of Banda Singh Bahadur’s biographies.
Author of eleven books, Harish Dhillon has taught English for forty-four years. He has also written numerous articles and features. Starting his career at Lucknow University, he moved first to Lawrence School, Sanawar (in Himachal Predesh), and then to the two Yadavindara Public Schools at Patiala and Mohali (near Chandigarh, in northern India). Currently editorial consultant to The Tribune newspaper and advisor to the Board of Governors of the two Yadavindra Public Schools, he lives in Dharampur amidst the Shimla hills, close to Sanawar.
The fascinating, colourful and larger than life personality of Banda Singh Bahadur has spewed dozens of books some well researched, some indifferent. They bring us details of his remarkable career and seek, with varying success to explain his enigmatic persona. Here was a man who had lived life in reverse. He had become an ascetic when he was in his teens and had perforce to return to the material world in his later years; a man who turned from a scholar of Hindu religious and spiritual texts into a great warrior and a remarkably efficient leader. According to Harinder Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Research Institute, Texes: ‘His [Banda’s] was a life defined by two extreme identities by the age of 38 when he met Guru Gobind Singh before that fateful meeting, his allegiance has been to Vaishnavite and shavite traditions. He was a natural fighter and hunter and. . . had studied religious texts, spirituality and Tantra…. He attempted and ardous and pushing journey of some 2,500 kilometers, with no training no weapons, no army… yet, in 20 months, Banda Singh Bahadur captured Sirhind and established the Khalsa Raj… his deeds were that of a mortal legendary accomplishments not rhetorical or magical. He prepared the coming generations of Sikhs for future conflicts: Sikhs warring with Afghans, Persians and the Mughal empire;
And yet, he remains a distant figure in history. This book seeks to present Banda Singh Bahadur as a flesh-and –blood character, a character, who, it is hoped, will stay with the reader long after he has finished reading the book.
I knew I could not hope to achieve this if I adopted the guise of a historian. My style would be precise, clear and crisp and my depiction of Banda Singh Bahadur would be accurate and historically correct. But there would be no flesh and blood, no life, no passion, no pain. My Banda had to be pictured as a living, breathing man and for this I would have to take on the role of a narrator, telling a story with all the trappings that go with it. Hence, I have used real life incidents while crating others to support the bald statements of the history books. Periods of Banda’s life on which the history books are silent or where both legend and accounts have offered what is plainly implausible, I have taken liberties with, for which I offer no apologies.
First and foremost is the nature of Banda’s mission. Common perception would have us believe that his mission was to wreak vengeance on those who had been cruel to the family of Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, Like Dr Ganda Singh and Harbans Kaur Sagoo, I too would like to believe that neither the guru nor Banda Singh Bahadur would involve themselves in something as petty as personal revenge. There is also a commonly held belief that he reason for Guru Gobind Singh’s visit to Madho Ram’s ashram, on the banks of the Godavari, was that the latter in his arrogance used a magical cot to cause discomfort to many of the men who came to visit him. The guru wanted to put the ascetic in his place. However, I find myself subscribing to Dr Hari Ram Gupta’s hypothesis that the guru had probably met Madho Ram earlier and learning that he was at Nanded had come to see how he was doing. It is around this hypothesis that I have built the opening scene of my story. In any case the gurus were firm in their rejection of miracles and magic.
Here, I must mention about the battle at Chappar Chiri. According to Dr Sukhdial Singh, ‘right from the invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni in the eleventh century to the beginning of the eighteenth century, to the beginning of the eighteenth century, there have been battles fought throughout Indian history but in all of them the people of India were defeated and their culture sought to be destroyed. Till the battle of Chapter Chiri that is, fought between the Sikhs and the Mughal forces in May 1710, under the leadership Banda Singh Bahadur. The Mughal forces were defeated and for the first time in Indian history, an indigenous Republic was established on the land of the five rivers. The date of the battle is given in the Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla as 22 May 1710 (24th Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1122 Hizri). This date is also supported by various historians and researchers of the period including Rattan Singh Bhangu, Sohan Singh and Dr Ganda Singh in the original edition of Banda Singh Bahadur; as also William Irvine (see his the later Mughals, wherein he refers to the fragment of a Farrukkhsiyarnama, which supports that the battle was fought in Chappar Chiri). I have used accounts by all these writers as also those of contemporary Muslim writers, like Muhammad Qasim, to create the battle of Chapper Chiri. The end of the battle and the death of Wazir Khan has also been described differently in various accounts.
For example, the one by Rattan Singh Bhangu says:
At the climax, Banda Singh Bahadur, flanked by Baj Singh and Fateh Singh came in front of Wazir Khan and on seeing him, ‘he roared like a lion and sprang upon him like a bolt from the blue.
O sinner, thou are the enemy of Guru Gobind Singh, thou has shown him no respect, but on the contrary hast put to death hi innocent children, and thereby committed grievous and unpardonable crime, the punishment for which I am now going to deal thee. Thine army and the country shall be destroyed at my hands Banda Singh Bahadur then struck off his head with one blow of the sword Khafi Khan writes that not ‘a man of the army of Islam escaped with more than his life and the clothes that he stood in. horsemen and footmen fell under the swards of the infidels, who pursued them as far as Sirhind. In the words of William Irvine, the Baggage was plundered, he elephants captured and the body of Wazir Khan dishonored and hung from a tree. This jihad tree remains standing in the grounds of the Guru Nanak Public School adjacent to the fields of battle.
However, my research shown that it was Fateh Singh who killed Wazir Khan and I have stuck to that.
The other departures from history are of a minor nature. For example, I have built the character of Sushil Kaur, Banda’s first wife and the details of the period of their lives on the banks of the Chenab, as I firmly believe that she was an important influence in his life. Also there is no evidence in history to support the fact that Bulleh Shah and Banda Singh Bahadur ever met. I admire the two personalities immensely and when, during the course of my reading. I found that they were contemporaries, and were in close geographical proximity at that time, the temptation to bring them together was too strong for me to resist. All that I can offer by way of justification is that what transpires at their two meetings serves to illustrate essential features of Banda’s character and personality, features that, history tells us, he had in ample measure. If such creations seem flawed, I must live with my failure.
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