Banda and the Sikh depredations in northern Haryana

The death of Aurangzeb (March 3, 1707) was followed by a period of decline, confusion and disorder throughout northern India. And Haryana, which was included mostly in the Delhi Subah and partly in the Agra Subah, could not escape it. Politically linked with the fortunes of the imperial capital (which was also its seat of power once) Haryana was deeply affected by the changing order. After the struggle for power between the three sons of the deceased emperor — Muazzam, the governor of Kabul, Muhammad Azam of Gujarat and Kam Bakhsh of Bijapur, the first succeeded in ascending the throne (May, 1707) under the title of Bahadur Shah (also known as Shah Alam I). On his return March from the Deccan while nearing Ajmer, the new emperor received the news of the Sikh outbreak in Panjab and Haryana. This was confirmed by the arrival in the camp in a destitute condition, of the inhabitants of Sarhind and Thanesar alongwith the Pirzadas of Sarhind and Sadhaura complaining against the oppression they suffered at the hands of the Sikhs. The emperor, therefore, decided first to march in person to crush the Sikh rebellion.


Banda and the Sikh depredations in northern Haryana


The Sikhs who were transformed into a real military power under Guru Govind Singh supported Muazzam (later Bahadur Shah) in the war of succession. On Govind Singh’s death came forward a man generally known as Banda, originally a native of a village either Pandor (in Jullundhar Doab) or Rajauri (in Punchh) and intimately connected with the Guru, his family and the following. The origin and antecedents of Banda still remains a matter of difference of scholarly opinion but this much appears to be certain that he was sent from the Deccan to the north. Be whatever it is, Banda succeeded within no time in projecting himself as the real leader of the Sikhs who alone was capable of unifying them and to secure for them prosperity in this world and salvation in the next.


In Haryana he first appeared in the town of Kharkhoda (about 30 miles west of Delhi). At his fervent appeal many armed men readily joined him and when their number reached five hundred, they attacked Sonepat, routed its faujdar and forced him to flee to Delhi. Banda’s initial successes have been noted by Khafi Khan who wrote:



… In the course of three or four months he gathered round him four or five thousand pony (yabu) riders and seven or eight thousand motley footmen. His numbers daily increased, and much plunder fell into his hands, until he had eighteen or nineteen thousand men under arms, and carried on a predatory and cruel warfare … In many villages which he plundered he appointed thanadars and tahsildars to collect the revenues of the neighbourhood for him . . .


Elated by this success Banda next turned to attack Wazir Khan, the faujdar of Sarhind who had murdered Govind Singh’s sons, Banda’s operation began with the capture of the town of Sadhaura (about 26 miles east of Ambala). Here the tomb of the celebrated Shah Qamis Qadiri was defiled, many inhabitants of the town were killed and their houses plundered. A place popularly known as Qatalgarhi (at Sadhaura) reminds one of the indiscriminate killing of the Muslims. Hindus even were not respected. An expedition was also sent to the vicinity of Kaithal where the royal treasure on its way to Delhi was plundered and distributed among Banda’s followers. A serious encounter between Sikh and Wazir Khan’s forces took place on a plain between Alwan Sarai and the town of Bamir (about 10 to 12 miles northeast of Sarhind). The Sikhs ultimately triumphed. Wazir Khan along with other Muslim leaders was slain. Consequently the old prosperous town of Sarhind was given to pillage and Muhammadans slaughtered, even women and childrens were not spared. All power was now usurped by the Sikhs and one Bar Singh (or Baz Singh) was appointed Subahdar of Sarhind. Making the town of Sarhind as the base of his further operations Banda sent out expeditions to various directions— south, east and west and occupied nearly the whole of Sarhind Sarkar (of Subah Delhi). Samana, Sunam, Mustafabad, Kaithal, Kuhram, Buriya, Sadhaura, Chath, Ambala, Shahbad, Thanesar, Pael, Supar, Phalvalpur, Machiwara, Ludhiana, i.e., all parganas between the Sutlej and the Jamuna passed on to the new masters. As Asad Khan, the governor of Delhi Subah and the Vice-regent {WakiUi-mutlaq), did nothing to restore order in the region, the responsibility to resist the Sikh onslaught beyond Thanesar was taken up by Sardar Khan, a Muhammadan Rajput zamindar but for whose exertions the Sikhs could never have been stopped in their advance to t he imperial capital.


The social change and the administrative set up in the parganas occupied by the Sikhs (which included a sizeable portion of Haryana in the Sarhind Sarkar) is thus vividly described by Irvine:


In all the parganas occupied by the Sikhs, the reversal of the previous customs was striking and complete. A low scavanger or leather-dresser, the lowest of the low in Indian estimation, had only to leave home and join the Guru, when in a short space of time, he would return to his birth-place as its ruler, with his order of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot within the boundaries, the well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and escort him home. Arrived there, they stood before him with joined palms; awaiting his orders . . . the new ruler had no difficulty in exacting from every one their best and most valuable belongings, which were confiscated for the use of the Guru or for his treasury.


These oppressive measures made terrific impact on the people. ‘Not a soul’, adds Irvine ‘dared to disobey an order, and men, who had often risked themselves in battlefields, became so cowed that they were afraid even to remonstrate. Hindus who had not joined the sect were not exempt from these oppressions.


After the occupation of Thanesar, Shahbad and Pundri forays were made even into Saharanpur, and along with these Karnal and its neighbourhood were also laid waste. Banda appointed one Ram Singh as chief of Thanesar whose responsibility was to resist the Mughal troops from Delhi.


In the estimation of modern historians the Sikh revolt under Banda was led mainly by ‘low class people’, the down trodden peasantry who took up arms against the Mughals. Although his agents ruled arbitrarily yet Banda remained sympathetic to the peasantry whose grievances he tried to redress by abolishing zamindari system and by declaring actual cultivators as the owners of the land.


On June 27, 1710 Bahadur Shah left Ajmer and advanced against the Sikhs following the route via Rupnagar, Sambhar, Rasulpur, Pragpura and Narnaul. Orders were also issued to Khan Dauran (the Subahdar of Oudh), Muhammad Amin Khan Chin (Faujdar of Muradabad), Khan Jahan (the Subahdar of Allahabad) and Sayyid Abdullah Khan Barha to join Asad Khan {Wakil-Fniutlaq) against the Sikhs. From Pragpura an advance force under the command of Firuz Khan Mewati was also sent (August 7, 1710). At Patodhi the imperial forces met a number of their lieutenants from across the Jamuna (September 10, 1710) and near Delhi Churaman Jat along- with his contingent joined them. At Sonepat (October 22, 1710) was received the message of Shams-ud-din Khan’s (the Faujdar of the JuUundhar Doab) victory over the Sikhs (October 12, 17 lO). At Sarai Kunwar, the emperor was greeted with the news of Firuz Khan Mewati’s victory over the enemy between Indri and Karnal and the three hundred rebels’ heads which were sent to him. In token of this service Firuz Khan was rewarded with the appointment as Faujdar of Sarhind, and six robes of honour were also sent for him and his companions. The next marches were to Sarai Sambhalka, Panipat, Kharonda, (and then after crossing a brick bridge) Karnal, Azimabad’Talaori (Alamgirpur) and then Thanesar (November 13). At Karnal was re eived another good news of the defeat of the Sikhs at Thanesar by the forces of Fi uz Khan who, after clearing Thanesar had already advanced to Shahabad? Such Sikhs as had been made prisoners were strung up to the road-side trees, their long hair being twisted to perform the office of a rope. Another force led by Bayazid Khan, a Afghan of Qasur (near Lahore) and the then Faujdar of Jammu had driven the Sikhs at Panipat before the success of the other military leaders mentioned above. The Sikhs were finally driven in disorder towards Sarhind.


The emperor left Thanesar on November 25 and advancing through Shahabad and Aukala, reached Sadhaura on December 4 from which place a few days before, the Sikhs had already moved southwards with 3,000 horsemen and 10,000 infantry. The rebels now took refuge in the strong fort of Lohgarh (Iron-gate) where earlier Guru Govind had also taken resort after the death of his father. Previously well known as the fort of Mukhlispur and situated halfway between the towns of Nahan (in Sirmur) and Sadhaura (in Sarkar Sarhind), ‘on the top of a steep hill and surrounded by deep ravines it became the seat of Banda’s headquarters where he introduced his official seal and issued his coinage whose year commenced from the date of his victory at Sarhind.


Despite hardships of the campaign the imperial forces subsequently succeeded in capturing Lohgarh but the Guru, although sustained a crushing defeat, succeeded in escaping towards Bari Doab in the parganas of Raipur and Bahrampur (Gurdaspur).


On emperor Bahadur Shah’s death (February 28, 1712) Muhammad Amin Khan left Punjab, an action which helped Banda in recapturing the town of Sadhaura and the fort of Lohgarh.3) After Jahandar Shah’s accession, Amin Khan was again sent to resume the campaign, but the investment of Sadhaura which followed did not yield any result.


Zain-ud-din Ahmad Khan, a reputed military leader of Alamgir’s time and also the newly appointed Faujdar of Sarhind, continued campaign against the Sikhs. But despite the best efforts of the Mughals in investing the Sikh strong hold at Sadhaura, Banda maintained his position. He attacked Batala and Jammu and succeeded in recapturing Sarhind in 1712. Soon after Farrukhsiyar’s accession Abdus-samad Khan (the new governor of Lahore) and his son Zakariya Khan (the Faujdar of Jammu) were ordered to expel Banda from Sadhaura, or, if possible to destroy him altoge- ther. He despatched a force of 20,000 troops, joined by 5000 from Sarhind. The Sikhs offered stubborn resistence for sometime but had to give up due to shortage of supplies. They ultimately decided on flight to Lohgarh. The capture of Sadhaura and the flight of the rebel forces were reported at Delhi on October 9, 1713. After plundering Rupar, Kalanaur, and Batala, Banda finally took position at the earthern fort at Gurdaspur. The imperial forces besieged Gurdaspur, stopped its supplies of corn and fodder and thus starved Banda and his followers into surrender (December 17, 1715). He was brought to Delhi, paraded along with his disciples and then tortured to death on June 19, 1716. After an interval of about three years Sarhind Sarkar once again passed into the hands of the Mughals and peace was restored, but Nadir Shah’s invasion undid it all.


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