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The Sikhs of the Punjab 

Revised Edition 

In a revised edition of his original book, J. S. Grewal brings the history of 
the Sikhs, from its beginnings in the time of Guru Nanak, the founder of 
Sikhism, right up to the present day. Against the background of the history 
of the Punjab, the volume surveys the changing pattern of human 
settlements in the region until the fifteenth century and the emergence of 
the Punjabi language as the basis of regional articulation. Subsequent 
chapters explore the life and beliefs of Guru Nanak, the development of 
his ideas by his successors and the growth of his following. The book 
offers a comprehensive statement on one of the largest and most important 
communities in India today 

J. S. GREWAL is Director of the Institute of Punjab Studies in 
Chandigarh. He has written extensively on India, the Punjab, and the 
Sikhs. His books on Sikh history include Guru Nanak in History (1969), 
Sikh Ideology, Polity and Social Order (1996), Historical Perspectives on 
Sikh Identity (1997) and Contesting Interpretations of the Sikh Tradition 


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General editor GORDON JOHNSON 

President of Wolfson College, and Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, 
University of Cambridge 

Associate editors C. A. BAYLY 

Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge, 
and Fellow of St Catharine’s College 

Professor of History, Duke University 

Although the original Cambridge History of India, published between 
1922 and 1937, did much to formulate a chronology for Indian history 
and describe the administrative structures of government in India, it has 
inevitably been overtaken by the mass of new research published over the 
past fifty years. 

Designed to take full account of recent scholarship and changing 
conceptions of South Asia’s historical development, The New Cambridge 
History of India will be published as a series of short, self-contained 
volumes, each dealing with a separate theme and written by a single 
person. Within an overall four-part structure, thirty-one complementary 
volumes in uniform format will be published. As before, each will 
conclude with a substantial bibliographical essay designed to lead non- 
specialists further into the literature. 

The four parts planned are as follows: 

I The Mughals and Their Contemporaries 
II Indian states and the Transition to Colonialism 
III The Indian Empire and the Beginnings of Modern Society 
IV The Evolution of Contemporary South Asia 

A list of individual titles in preparation will be found 
at the end of the volume. 

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The Sikhs of the Punjab 

Revised Edition 




Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

+ Available in paperback 
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge cB2 rrp, United Kingdom 

The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge, cB2 2RU, UK _ 
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© Cambridge University Press 1990 

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant 
collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the 
written permission of Cambridge University Press. 

First published 1990 

Reprinted 1994, 1998 
First paperback edition 1998 

Typeset in Sabon [cE] 

British Library cataloguing in publication data 
Grewal J. S. 
The Sikhs of the Punjab. — (The New Cambridge History of India: II:3) 
1. India (Republic). Sikhs, history 
I. Title 

Library of Congress cataloguing in publication data 
Grewal, J. S. 
The Sikhs of the Punjab/J. S. Grewal. 
p. cm.-(The New Cambridge history of India: II.3) 
Includes bibliographical references. 
ISBN 0 521 26884 2 
1. Sikhs—History 
2. Punjab (India)—History. 
I. Title. 
II. Series. 

DS436.N47 1987 pt. 2. vol. 3 

ISBN 0 521 26884 2 hardback 
ISBN © 521 63764 3 paperback 

Transferred to digital printing 2003 

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Reeta, Aneeta, Harinder, Ravinder 
Tara, Sharan, Ranbir and Manek 

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List of Maps x 
General editor’s preface xi 
Preface xiii 
Glossary Xv 
Introduction I 
1 The Turko-Afghan rule 9 
2 Foundation of the Sikh Panth 28 
3 Evolution of the Sikh Panth (1539-1606) 42 
4 Transformation of the Sikh Panth (1606-1708) 62 
5 Rise to political power (1708-1799) 82 
6 The Sikh empire (1799-1849) 99 
7 Recession and resurgence (1849-1919) 128 
8 In the struggle for freedom (1920-1947) 157 
9 Towards the ‘Punjabi Province’ (1947-1966) 181 
to Inthe new Punjab state (1966-1984) 205 
Epilogue 228 
x The successors of Guru Nanak 242 
2 The descendants of Guru Ram Das 243 
3 The Mughal rulers of India 244 
4 Chronology of events from 1708 to 1997 245 
5 Heads of British administration in the Punjab 258 
Bibliographical Essay 259 
Index 268 

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1 The land of the Five Rivers 2 
2 Akbar’s empire 43 
3 The Mughal empire (1740s) 86 
4 The Punjab under Sikh rule 102 
5 British India (twentieth century) 129 
6 The British Punjab (twentieth century) 148 
7 Contemporary India 190 
8 The Punjab (1956-1966): linguistic zones 192 
9 Contemporary Punjab 206 

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The New Cambridge History of India covers the period from the 
beginning of the sixteenth century. In some respects it marks a radical 
change in the style of Cambridge Histories, but in others the editors 
feel that they are working firmly within an established academic 

During the summer of 1896, F.W. Maitland and Lord Acton 
between them evolved the idea for a comprehensive modern history. 
By the end of the year the Syndics of the University Press had 
committed themselves to the Cambridge Modern History, and Lord 
Acton had been put in charge of it. It was hoped that publication would 
begin in 1899 and be completed by 1904, but the first volume in fact 
came out in 1902 and the last in 1910, with additional volumes of tables 
and maps in 1911 and 1912. 

The History was a great success, and it was followed by a whole 
series of distinctive Cambridge Histories covering English Literature, 
the Ancient World, India, British Foreign Policy, Economic History, 
Medieval History, the British Empire, Africa, China and Latin 
America; and even now other new series are being prepared. Indeed, 
the various Histories have given the Press notable strength in the 
publication of general reference books in the arts and social sciences. 

What has made the Cambridge Histories so distinctive is that they 
have never been simply dictionaries or encyclopaedias. The Histories 
have, in H.A.L. Fisher’s words, always been ‘written by an army of 
specialists concentrating the latest results of special study’. Yet as 
Acton agreed with the Syndics in 1896, they have not been mere 
compilations of existing material but original works. Undoubtedly 
many of the Histories are uneven in quality, some have become out of 
date very rapidly, but their virtue has been that they have consistently 
done more than simply record an existing state of knowledge: they 
have tended to focus interest on research and they have provided a 
massive stimulus to further work. This has made their publication 
doubly worthwhile and has distinguished them intellectually from 


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other sorts of reference book. The Editors of the New Cambridge 
History of India have acknowledged this in their work. 

The original Cambridge History of India was published between 
1922 and 1937. It was planned in six volumes, but of these, Volume 2 
dealing with the period between the first century a.p. and the Muslim 
invasion of India never appeared. Some of the material is still of value, 
but in many respects it is now out of date. The last fifty years have seen 
a great deal of new research on India, and a striking feature of recent 
work has been to cast doubt on the validity of the quite arbitrary 
chronological and categorical way in which Indian history has been 
conventionally divided. 

The Editors decided that it would not be academically desirable to 
prepare a new History of India using the traditional format. The 
selective nature of research on Indian history over the last half-century 
would doom such a project from the start and the whole of Indian 
history could not be covered in an even or comprehensive manner. 
They concluded that the best scheme would be to have a History 
divided into four overlapping chronological volumes, each containing 
about eight short books on individual themes or subjects. Although in 
extent the work will therefore be equivalent to a dozen massive tomes 
of the traditional sort, in form the New Cambridge History of India 
will appear as a shelf full of separate but complementary parts. 
Accordingly, the main divisions are between I The Mughals and their 
Contemporaries, II Indian States and the Transition to Colonialism, III 
The Indian Empire and the Beginnings of Modern Society, and IV The 
Evolution of Contemporary South Asia. 

Just as the books within these volumes are complementary so too do 
they intersect with each other, both thematically and chronologically. 
As the books appear they are intended to give a view of the subject as it 
now stands and to act as a stimulus to further research. We do not 
expect the New Cambridge History of India to be the last word on the 
subject but an essential voice in the continuing discourse about it. 


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Writing his History of the Sikhs in the 1960s Khushwant Singh looked 
upon J. D. Cunningham as his predecessor whose work, written over a 
century earlier, had become a classic. Khushwant Singh himself has 
written with ‘power and passion’ under ‘masterly restraint’. That the 
present volume takes into account the research on Sikh history during 
the past two decades may be regarded as its major claim upon the 
reader’s attention. It touches upon religious, social, political, 
economic, cultural and demographic developments over the entire 
span of Sikh history. 

Within the broad context of Indian history, Sikh history falls into 
four well-marked periods: from its beginning with the mission of Guru 
Nanak to the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708; from the rise of 
Banda Bahadur to the annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1849; 
the near century of colonial rule up to 1947; and the four decades of 
Independence. During the past century historians of the Sikhs have 
concentrated on the first two periods. Interest in the colonial period 
goes back only to the 1960s. The movement for a Punjabi-speaking 
state and the crisis culminating in the Operation Bluestar in June 1984 
have induced many a writer to take interest in the history of the Sikhs 
in independent India. This broad pattern of historiography is reflected 
in the treatment of Sikh history in the present volume: generalizations 
yield more and more place to factual though analytical narrative as we 
pass from one period to another in an attempt to identify change. 

For an invitation to pursue a subject which had been my major 
occupation for two decades, I am thankful to the Syndics of the 
Cambridge University Press; I am equally thankful to the editors of 
The New Cambridge History of India for leaving me all the freedom I 
needed to write this volume. 

Iam indebted to many scholars and institutions for help, but I would 
like to mention specifically Professor Indu Banga and Professor W. H. 
McLeod among the scholars, and the Nehru Memorial Museum and 
Library, New Delhi, the Indian Council of Historical Research, New 
Delhi, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and the Indian Institute 


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of Advanced Study, Shimla, among the institutions. Dr Veena Sach- 
deva, Dr Radha Sharma and Dr Harish Sharma have helped me the 
most from amongst my colleagues and research students. I am thankful 
to Jaswant Singh and T. K. Majumdar for secretarial help, and to O. P. 
Sarna for cartographic assistance. N.K. Maini has helped me in 
checking the proofs and in preparing the index. 

My wife, Harjinder, gave me all the care and affection I needed for 
completing this study through the 1980s. 


Since the publication of this book in 1990, the publishers have found 
its sales satisfactory enough to bring out a paperback edition. The 
author has taken the opportunity to bring its Epilogue up to 1997, to 
add to its Chronology events from 1849 onwards, to replace its maps 
for better cartographic representation, to update the Bibliographical 
Essay, and to make necessary ‘corrections’ in the text, footnotes and 
the Index. 


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a‘la malik 








a touring justice under Sikh rule. 

a staunch follower of Guru Gobind Singh; in 
the early nineteenth century equated with the 
Nihang; in the twentieth century, initially a 
volunteer to take over Sikh temples and after- 
wards a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal. 
‘unbroken reading’; an uninterrupted reading 
of the entire Adi Granth performed by a team 
of readers. 

arena; a temple or monastery of the Udasis. 

a ‘superior owner’, entitled to a certain share in 
the produce from land; also called ta‘alluqdar 
or biswedar. 

a revenue collector; interchangeable with 
kardar as the administrator of a ta‘alluqa under 
Sikh rule. 

the Sikh prayer. 

literally, one who offers ardas; a person 
employed by Sikh rulers and jagirdars for this 

plural of wali, a favourite or friend of God; 

‘descent’; incarnation of a deity, usually 

a renunciant, usually a Vaishnavite. 

to stop work as a mark of protest; a method of 
agitation; a strike. 

speech; the utterances of the Gurus and bhaktas 
recorded in the Adi Granth; the amplified 
form gurbani or bhagat-bani is commonly 

the upland between two river valleys in the 
Punjab plains. 


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dal khalsa 



‘without face’; one who has turned away from 
the Guru. 

‘brother’; a Sikh formally connected with relig- 
ious affairs; an epithet of respect. 

store; a storehouse; a place for the preparation 
and distribution of food in religious insti- 

one who looks after a bhandar. 

a popular bard who also kept genealogies of 
important families. 

conclusion of the reading of the Adi Granth, 
followed generally by singing of hymns and 
always by an ardas. 

a measure of land generally considered equal 
to 20 biswds or 2 kanals; also one-half of a 
ghumaon; the actual size varied from region to 


a local representative of the Nirankari 

‘the holder of a twentieth part’; a person 
entitled to a certain share in the produce from 
land; also called a‘la malik or ta‘allugdar. 

a ceremony observed by the Namdharis in 
which Guru Gobind Singh’s composition on 
the Goddess Chandi was recited over a fire 
kept burning; also called hom. 

the hereditary headman of a group of villages 
for collecting revenues on behalf of the 

a disciple. 

the exalted office; a term used for the central 
secretariat of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 

aterm used for the combined forces of the Sikhs 
during the eighteenth century. 

a small coin, equal to one-fortieth of a silver 
rupee in the Mughal times; equated in due 
course with paisa. 


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entrance hall; royal residence; the royal court. 
the keeper of the royal residence in the time of 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 

camp; encampment; a unit in the army of 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors; the 
place of a religious personage. 

a minstrel; among the Sikhs, a musician who 
used to sing in praise of the Sikh Gurus and 
recount the heroic deeds of the Sikhs. 

a factional group. 

the appropriate moral and religious obligations 
attached to any particular section in Hindu 
society; duty, moral obligation; a righteous 

war in the cause of religion; a righteous war. 
the keeper of a treasury; the head of the finance 
department; an honorofic given to Hindu 
nobles by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and _ his 

an area lying between two rivers. 

a royal order. 

one who keeps troops; a military officer under 
the Mughals whose duty in peace time was to 
maintain law and order and to assist civil 
authorities; the office survived into the early 
nineteenth century in the Punjab. 

‘revolt’; revolution. 

literally a horse-rider; a traditional horseman in 
the kingdom of Lahore. 

a special cavalry raised by Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh to act as royal body-guards. 

one who possesses knowledge (gian); among 
the Sikhs, a person well-versed in the 

a professional reader of the Granth; the func- 
tionary in charge of a gurdwara. 

‘the utterance of the Guru’. 

‘the door of the Guru’; a Sikh temple, generally 
also the centre of social activity. 


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a decision arrived at by a congregation of Sikhs, 
generally in the presence of the Granth Sahib. 

a script adopted by the first successor of Guru 
Nanak for recording his compositions and used 
subsequently by the Sikhs for writing Punjabi. 
a true Sikh of the Guru. 

preceptor; religious teacher; an epithet used for 
the founder of Sikhism and each of his nine 
successors, and also for the Granth Sahib and 
the Panth. 

‘the temple of God’; the central Sikh shrine in 
Amritsar commonly known as the Golden 


offering an oblation with fire. 

an important spring festival observed by 
sprinkling coloured powder or water on one 

‘a written order’; used generally for the letters 
of the Sikh Gurus to their followers. 

a bill of exchange. 

an arrangement in which a certain source of 
income was placed in the charge of a person on 
the condition of his paying a certain stipulated 
sum to the state. 

an assignment of land revenue in lieu of salary. 
the holder of a jagir; an assignee. 

a group, a band; used particularly for Akali 
volunteers during their agitations. 

the leader of a jatha; a leader-organizer of the 
Shiromani Akali Dal. 

a water-carrier by caste. 

‘endeavour’; a crusade; a holy war. 

from yogi, or one who practises yoga; a person 
belonging to any of the twelve orders of the 
followers of Gorakhnath. 

a weaver by caste. 

unripe; spurious; false. 

a brewer or distiller by caste. 


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the fourth and last of the cosmic ages; the age of 

the exalted camp: a term used for the standing 
army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 

‘split-ear’; a follower of Gorakhnath who wears 
rings in pierced ears. 

an agent; an official; generally used for the 
administrator at the ta‘alluqa (or pargana) level 
under Sikh rule. 

sacramental food dispensed in gurdwaras. 

a work house, a manufactory; generally main- 
tained by rulers and members of the ruling 

in Sikh literature, refers to uncut hair. 

lands from which revenues were collected 
directly by the state in contrast to land alien- 
ated in jagir, dharmarth, in‘am or any other 
kind of alienation. 

the Sikh brotherhood instituted by Guru 
Gobind Singh; used for an individual as well as 
for the collective body. 

the ceremony introduced by Guru Gobind 
Singh, in which a double-edged sword was used 
for preparing the water known as amrit to be 
drunk by the person baptized. 

a hospice; the establishment of a Sufi Shaikh. 
from Kshatriya; an important caste in the 

a sermon, address; pronouncement made in 
Friday mosques regarding the ruler of the day. 
babul, a hardy and thorny tree in the Punjab. 
a sword. 

the singing of hymns from the sacred scriptures 
of the Sikhs; hence kirtan darbar for an elabor- 
ate performance. 

the official in charge of a fort; used generally 
for the city official meant to keep law and 

a script used by shopkeepers in the Punjab. 


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the kitchen attached to a gurdwara from which 
food is served to all regardless of caste or creed; 
a community meal. 

stanzas composed by Guru Ram Das for the 
solemnization of marriage. 

literally, aid for subsistence; most commonly 
used in the Mughal times for land revenue 
alienated in favour of a religious personage or 

a place where teaching is imparted; generally of 
high learning. 

a revenue sub-division usually corresponding 
with pargana; also applied to a source of 

an attestation signed by a number of persons. 
a place where books are taught; generally used 
for a school. 

self-oriented; one who follows his own impul- 
ses rather than the guidance of the Guru. 
literally office, position of rank; indicating 
under the Mughals the status, obligations and 
remuneration of its holder in the official 

the holder of a rank in the system evolved by 
the Mughal emperor Akbar and his successors; 
hence, the mansabdari system. 

a small structure raised over a spot of 

a representative appointed by the Guru to look 
after the affairs of a local congregation of Sikhs, 
or a number of such congregations. 

an intoxicated person; used for a Namdhari 
who was so deeply affected by the singing of 
hymns that he behaved like an intoxicated 
person, shouting and moving in frenzy. It was 
because of such mastanas that the Namdhiaris 
were given the label kaka (from kak or shout) 
by others. 

a monastery; a religious establishment. 


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religious writings of the Udasis. 

a mausoleum; the tomb of a Sufi Shaikh. 

a derogatory epithet used for Prithi Chand, the 
elder brother of Guru Arjan, and also for his 
successors and their followers. 

a combination of Sikh leaders in the eighteenth 
century for the purpose of defence and for the 
occupation of territories. 

an embrasure; an entrenchment for besieging a 
fort; used metaphorically by the Akalis for 
their non-violent agitations. 

an expounder of the law in Islam. 

the superintendent of police, who examined 
weights, measures and provisions, and preven- 
ted drinking and gambling. 

from insaf (justice), one who gives justice, a 
judicial officer; a judge; an arbitrator. 

the headman of a village or a part thereof. 
from the Persian nazr, ‘sight’; grace. 

a barber by caste. 

plural of naib, a vicegerent; a title used gen- 
erally for provincial governors under the 
Mughals; used also for some rulers who suc- 
ceeded them. 

an administrator; the governor of a province. 
detractor; used for the opponents of the Gurus. 
the office of nazim (governor) under the 
Mughals; the territory under a nazim; also used 
for lower officials and smaller units of admin- 
istration in later times. 

a local assembly of the representatives of a caste 
or brotherhood; used for the representatives of 
the soldiers in the army of Lahore in the 1840s; 
panch for an individual member. 

propagation of ideas, particularly of one’s faith. 
the first administrative unit in a province under 
the Mughals; remained in use in the Punjab till 
the mid nineteenth century and became syno- 
nymous with ta‘alluqa. 


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an elementary school, especially for simple 
arithmetic and book-keeping. 

the village accountant. 

stanza in a var. 

volume, tome. 

a hereditary keeper of the revenue records at the 
pargana or the ta‘alluga level. 

the judicial officer who administered Islamic 
law; the office survived into the early nine- 
teenth century in the Punjab. 

one who plays on the rabab, a kind of violin 
with three strings. 

a singer, particularly of the verses in the Sikh 

a socially eminent and affluent person. 

literally ‘protection’; a transitional arrangement 
signifying essentially the Sikh chief’s claim to a 
part of the produce from land in return for 
protection afforded against all other claimants. 
the folk drama on the life of Rama as the 
incarnation of Vishnu. 

the code of conduct for the Khalsa. 

‘one who conforms to rehat’; used actually fora 
category of low-caste Sikhs. 

a person devoted to religious pursuits; a mendi- 
cant; a recluse. 

an association of sadhs or pious persons; used 
for a Sikh congregation. 

assembly, religious congregation; a congre- 
gation of Sikhs; the collective body of Sikhs at 
one place. 

a renunciant, generally a Shaivite. 

literally ‘head and foot’; a robe of honour; a 
token of honour. 

a pool, a tank. 

a money-changer; a jeweller. 

voluntary burning of a widow on her husband’s 
funeral pyre. 


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shahidi jatha 











true association or assembly; used for a Sikh 

a poetical stanza in a particular metre with a 
particular rhyme scheme. 

a Sikh who is not baptized as a Khalsa and does 
not observe the Khalsa code of discipline; a 
non-Khalsa Sikh. 

a band of martyrs in non-violent agitation; 
the first band was organized in connection 
with the Rikabganj Gurdwara agitation in 

rite commemorating deceased forbears. 

the Islamic law. 

a person appointed by the king under Afghan 
rule to look after the civil and military admin- 
istration of a territory. 

a temple dedicated to Shiva. 

the Punjabi form of shudra. 

‘purification’; a ceremony conducted by the 
Arya Samaj to induct or restore to Hindu 
society those outside its bounds. 

a line, a chain; a Sufi order. 

the goddess of small pox. 

a memorial raised on a place of cremation, 
generally for persons prominent in one sphere 
or another. 

a province or the primary division of an empire; 
used also for the representative of Baba Ram 
Singh as an abbreviated form of sébedar or 

the mystics of Islam. 

the period of ‘impurity’ for a woman after she 
has given birth to a child; supposed to be eleven 
days for a Brahman, thirteen for a Khatri, 
seventeen for a Vaish and thirty days for a 

synonymous with pargana under the Sikh rule 
(see pargana). 


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a person entitled to a share in the produce from 
land; also called a‘la malik or biswedar. 
propagation of Islam. 

a carpenter by caste. 

the staunch Khalsa; used for the Khalsa of Guru 
Gobind Singh who opposed Banda Bahadur 
and his followers in the early eighteenth 
century, and also for the Singh reformers of the 
early twentieth century. 

the annual mourning of the death of Hasan and 
Husain, the sons of the Caliph Ali, observed by 
the Shi‘as by taking out the representations of 
their shrines in a procession. 

a temple dedicated to Vishnu or one of His 

the commandant of a garrison or a fort. 

a renunciant belonging to an order tracing its 
origin to Guru Nanak through his son Sri 
Chand and not through Guru Angad and his 

the plural of ‘alim, a person: who possesses 
knowledge; used generally for the learned in 
Islamic theology and law. 

the Punjabi form of Vaishya, one of the four 
castes of the varna order. 

a literary genre, generally used for heroic 
poetry; Guru Nanak used it for his religious 
compositions; the most famous vars in Sikh 
literature were composed by Bhai Gurdas in the 
early seventeenth century in praise of the Sikh 
Gurus and their teachings. 

literally, colour; used for the ideal norm of the 
four-caste social order. 

singular of auliya; used for a Sufi who has 
attained to the highest spiritual state of subsis- 
tence in God. 

a stipend. 

the first or the prime minister, next in power 
and importance to the king. 


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a method of assessment per unit area, based on 
measurement; applied commonly to perishable 
and superior crops under Sikh rule. 

charity for fellow Muslims institutionalized as a 
tax collected by the state. 

literally the holder of land; applied alike to the 
intermediary who collected revenue on behalf 
of the state and to a vassal chief as well as to a 
peasant proprietor. 

the non-Muslims who paid poll-tax (jizya) to a 
Muslim ruler to ensure protection of their life 
and property. 


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For every twenty Sikhs in the Punjab there are no more than four in the 
rest of India and not more than one in the rest of the world; among 
those who live outside, there are not many who do not have their roots 
in the Punjab. 

The literal meaning of the Persian term panj-ab is ‘five-waters’. It 
was meant to signify the land of five rivers. But it was not meant to be 
taken literally. When it became current in the reign of Akbar in the late 
sixteenth century, it was synonymous with the province of Lahore 
and, therefore, actually smaller than the area lying between the rivers 
Indus and Satlej. The British Punjab, however, embraced the entire 
plain between the Jamuna and the Indus. This region had a geo- 
graphical entity of its own. Its southern boundary was marked by a 
desert in historical times. The Himalayas stood in its north even before 
the Punjab plains emerged as a geological entity. 

As a geographical region, the Punjab was probably wetter in 
prehistoric times, but there has been little climatic change during the 
Christian era. The rains of July and August mark the end of the 
extreme heat of May and June, and the return of the spring in March 
and April marks the end of the extreme cold of December and January. 
The most temperate weeks come in February-March and October- 
November. The rivers have changed course from time to time. The 
river Sarswati, which either fell directly into the Arabian Sea or joined 
the Indus during the second millennium before Christ, is now marked 
by the stream called Ghaggar and its dry bed. This was a major change. 

Minor changes in the courses of the rivers of the Punjab are also 
known to have taken place even during the past five hundred years. 
Consequently, the inter-fluvial area between any two rivers (doab) has 
not remained the same. The names given to the doabs by Akbar have 
found general acceptance: the Bist Jalandhar Doab between the Beas 
and the Satlej, the Bari Doab between the Beas and the Ravi, the 
Rachna Doab between the Ravi and the Chenab, the Chaj Doab 


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w 3 
yr 2 Nanga Parbat 
yew Monee t2ed, =%) 

Wassees ayn’ 

tee ait, 



Sea, fi, 


t Ne 
Oy, F)4 

in, 3} 
» Mitgy Ct 


Spy enn 

OL ddd IME by, 

Map 1 The land of the Five Rivers 

between the Chenab and the Jhelum and the Sindh Sagar Doab 
between the Jhelum and the Indus. 

In the third millennium before Christ the Punjab formed a part of 
the civilization called the Indus Culture when its cities and towns were 
located close to the rivers, particularly in their lower courses. The city 
of Harappa which flourished as a major urban centre for about 500 
years was situated then on the left bank of the river Ravi, about a 
hundred miles lower than Lahore at present. The site of the prehistoric 
Ropar is still very close to the river Satlej. The villages which supported 
the towns and cities were also in or close to river valleys, and not in the 
upland (bar) between the rivers. 

Though the cities and large towns of the Indus Culture began to 
decline in the second millennium before Christ, the broad pattern of 


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human settlements persisted till about 1000 B.c. Thereafter, a slow but 
sure movement up the river valleys, and into the lower Himalayas, was 
made possible largely by the use of iron implements. Heavier rainfall 
among the mountain ranges then became an asset. The new cities like 
Taxila, Sialkot and Jalandhar as well as Lahore were among other 
things an index of this northward movement. A large number of 
villages grew up in the upperparts of the doabs. The balance in favour 
of the northern parts was tilted further by the introduction of artificial 
irrigation by wells with the Persian wheel, particularly after the 
Turkish conquest of the Punjab at the beginning of the eleventh 
century. The number and the size of towns began to increase in the 
upper portions of the doabs in the thirteenth century. This trend was 
accentuated further during the Mughal period. 

The change in the broad pattern of human settlements in the Punjab 
was a result of political as well as technological changes. At the time of 
the Aryan influx into India in the second millennium before Christ, 
the Indus Culture was in decline. Agricultural economy was revived 
when the nomadic Aryans established small republics and monarchies 
nearly all over the Punjab. At the time of Alexander’s invasion during 
the fourth century before Christ the kingdom of Ambhi was situated in 
the upper Sindh Sagar Doab, and King Puru (Poros) was ruling over a 
kingdom in the adjoining Chaj Doab. These areas had earlier remained 
peripheral to the Indus Culture. Soon after Alexander’s return the 
Punjab became an integral part of the vast Mauryan empire which 
stretched from Bengal to Afghanistan under Ashoka. Taxila was linked 
by a highway with the imperial capital Pataliputra in Bihar. Itself a 
cosmopolitan centre of art and learning, Taxila served as an important 
centre of trade with Iran and the Mediterranean world. 

For nearly a thousand years after the fall of the Mauryan empire, the 
Punjab remained politically isolated from the Ganges plains. In the 
second century before Christ, the Greek king Menander, known to 
Buddhist monks as Milinda, ruled over the western doabs of the 
Punjab; Greek coins bear testimony to Greek influence over the whole 
of the Punjab before the intrusion of the Shakas or the Scythians. In the 
first century before Christ, the Kushanas under Kanishka established a 
large empire which covered the whole of the Punjab but extended more 
towards Central Asia. The successors of Kanishka submitted to the 
Sassanian emperor Ardashir in the early third century after Christ. In 
the fifth century the Huns established their power in the Punjab; their 


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king Tormana carried his arms beyond the Jamuna, but his successor 
Mihirakula was pushed back into the Punjab first and then into 
Kashmir. In the seventh century Harsha ruled over the eastern Punjab 
up to the river Beas, while the upper portions of the remaining doabs 
were subjugated by the rulers of Kashmir and the lower portions were 
covered by a Kingdom known as Takka. Before the advent of the 
Ghaznavid Turks, the Hindu Shahi rulers were dominant in the 
Punjab proper and the Satlej-Jamuna Divide was under the Tomar 

From the eleventh century the Punjab became once again a part of 
large empires when Mahmud of Ghazni annexed it to his dominions in 
Afghanistan and Central Asia. His successors ruled over the land of the 
five rivers for over 150 years without extending their territory much 
beyond the river Ghaggar. The last of them was ousted from Lahore by 
the new rulers of Afghanistan, the Ghurids, before the end of the 
twelfth century. The Turkish Generals of the Ghurids conquered 
nearly the whole of northern India, and three Turkish dynasties ruled 
over the Sultanate of Delhi during the thirteenth century. During the 
fourteenth century, much of the Punjab was a part of the large empire 
established by the Khalji Turks and maintained by the Tughlugqs. The 
western doabs, however, had come under the influence of the Mongol 
successors of Chingiz Khan before Timur, the acknowledged ancestor 
of the Mughal emperors, invaded India towards the end of the 
fourteenth century. The Sayyid rulers came into power at Delhi during 
the early fifteenth century and tried to extend their influence over the 
Punjab, but without much success. This position was inherited by the 
Afghan ruler Bahlol Lodhi in the late fifteenth century. Under his 
successors, Sikandar and Ibrahim, the Afghan governor of the Punjab 
extended his influence up to the river Jhelum. Meanwhile, Babur had 
occupied Afghanistan as a successor of Timur, and was keen to expand 
his dominions in the direction of India. He occupied the Punjab in the 
early 1520s before he defeated Ibrahim Lodhi in the battle of Panipat in 
1526. For over two centuries then, the Punjab was to remain an integral 
part of the Mughal empire in India. 

Political changes affected inter multa alia the character of population 
in the Punjab. The dominant tribes of the region during the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries were an important legacy of political changes. 
Many a Baloch and Pathan clan was dominant in the area which 
became the Multan province of the Mughal empire. The Kharal and Sial 


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tribes were dominant in the lower portions of the Bari and Rachna 
Doabs. The Gakkhars, Awans and the Janjuas were dominant in the 
upper Sindh Sagar Doab. Many Rajput clans held lands along the 
Shivaliks and the border along Rajasthan. However, the most numer- 
ous of the agricultural tribes were the Jats. They had come from Sindh 
and Rajasthan along the river valleys, moving up, displacing the 
Gujjars and the Rajputs to occupy culturable lands. Before the end of 
the sixteenth century they were more numerous than any other 
agricultural tribe between the rivers Jhelum and Jamuna. However, it 
was still possible to trace the remnants of the original inhabitants of the 
Indus Culture, not only in the unprivileged shudras but also in the 
dark-skinned among the Brahmans who belonged to the privileged 
castes. Most of the Brahmans, however, and nearly all the mercantile 
Khatris and Aroras were the decendants of the Aryans who were 
represented among the artisans too. 

The ethnic plurality in the Punjab was matched by the variety in its 
cultural tradition. The Vedic Aryans interacted with the people of the 
Indus Culture not only to produce the prototype of the social system 
based on caste but also to evolve new systems of religious belief and 
practice, combining the simple worship of their nature-gods with the 
well-developed cults of the Indus people. This was most evident in the 
cult of the Goddess. Due partly to the patronage of non-Aryan rulers, 
Buddhism dominated the religious life of the Punjab for several 
centuries before its decline became irretrievable in the seventh century. 
The forms of religious belief and practice referred to as Shaiva and 
Vaishnava were surely becoming popular much before the Turkish 
invasions of the Punjab. A variety of Islamic religious beliefs and 
practices were introduced in the Punjab during the centuries of 
Turko-Afghan rule. To the scriptural authority of the Vedas and the 
Puranas was added the authority of the Quran. To Sanskrit in 
Devanagri script were added Arabic and Persian in slightly different 
scripts of their own. In the past, however, Greek and Kharoshthi 
scripts too were known in the Punjab, and so was Brahmi which was 
used by the Prakrit writers. 

Neither Sanskrit nor Arabic or Persian, however, was the language 
understood or spoken by the mass of the people in the Punjab. Just as 
they used Landa or Takri script for their simple accounts, they used the 
regional dialects in their daily intercourse. These dialects had begun to 
emerge clearly between the fall of the kingdom of Harsha in the 


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seventh century and the rise of the Sultanate of Delhi in the thirteenth. 
The great poet Amir Khusrau referred to Lahauri as the spoken 
language of the people of the Lahore region, later to be called Punjabi. 
At this time, Shaikh Fariduddin Chishti of Pakpattan was using 
another major dialect of Punjabi, namely Multani, as the medium of his 
literary expression. Those who wished to address themselves to the 
mass of the people naturally preferred to use their language. The bards 
and minstrels (dhadis) entertained the common people with tales of 
love and war in their own dialects, developing in the process a rich 
tradition of oral literature in Punjabi. 


The history of the Sikhs in the Punjab can be traced to the late fifteenth 
century. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in the Rachna 
Doab in April, 1469, when Bahlol Lodhi was ruling at Delhi and Tatar 
Khan Lodhi was governing the province of Lahore on his behalf. Guru 
Nanak’s father, Kalu, was a Khatri, a high caste among the Punjabi 
Hindus but the subcaste Bedi to which he belonged was rather 
unimportant among the Khatri subcastes. Kalu was residing in a village 
called Rai Bhoi di Talwandi in which the most prominent resident was 
a Muslim, popularly known as Rai Bular. Like many of his contempo- 
rary Khatris, Kalu had learnt Persian to be able to serve as a patwari. 
He wanted to educate his son well enough to find a place in life. Guru 
Nanak appears from his compositions to be a well-educated person. 
He could have been self-schooled. But probably he did learn all that 
the village teachers of accounts and Persian had to teach. 

As a young man Nanak was married to Sulakhni, daughter of Mula, 
a Khatri of the newly founded town of Batala who had come there 
from his village, Pakho di Randhawi, on the left bank of the river Ravi. 
Mula belonged to the subcaste Chona which was less important than 
even the subcaste Bedi. As a married young man Nanak was expected 
sooner rather than later to earn a living for himself. But there was not 
much in the village for a precocious young man in terms of a 
profession. Sometime before or after 1490, search for employment 
took him across the Bari Doab to Sultanpur in the Bist Jalandhar Doab. 

Sultanpur at this time was the seat of an important shigdar, Daulat 
Khan Lodhi, who was later to become the governor of Lahore. It was a 
flourishing town on the route from Delhi to Lahore. Its populace 


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consisted of Hindus and Muslims, following diverse professions. It is 
difficult to imagine that there was no one in Sultanpur to expound or to 
administer Islamic law, or that there was no one to represent Islamic 
mysticism. It is safe to assume that there were Khatri shopkeepers and 
traders, Brahman priests and astrologers. There were many who served 
Daulat Khan in the administration of the territory under his jurisdic- 
tion. There were ganungos to assist the administrator in the assessment 
and collection of land revenue. Indeed, there was an official storehouse 
(modikhana) for the revenues collected in kind. One of its employees 
was Jai Ram, an Uppal Khatri, who was married to Guru Nanak’s 
sister, Nanki. On his request and surety Guru Nanak was given 
employment in the modikhana of Daulat Khan. 

For about a decade Guru Nanak performed his duties well, living as 
a householder in Sultanpur. His two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi 
Chand, were born there. But neither his service to Daulat Khan Lodhi 
nor his attention to his family was the most important aspect of his life 
at Sultranpur. He was in search of something more valuable, the 
purpose of human life. Possibly, he had met wandering ascetics (sadhs) 
in or near Rai Bhoi di Talwandi. In Sultanpur he could meet the 
representatives of both Hinduism and Islam. Religious discussions 
between Hindus and Muslims were not uncommon in the fifteenth- 
century Punjab. Guru Nanak meditated on the mysteries of life and 
reflected on views expressed by others on some of the fundamental 
questions of life. His search for truth ended in a sense of divine calling. 
This marked the end of his stay in Sultanpur around 1500. 

During the first quarter of the sixteenth century Guru Nanak 
undertook long journeys in and outside the Indian subcontinent. In 
one of his verses there is a reference to towns and cities he visited in all 
‘the nine regions of the earth’ (nau-khand). There is hardly any doubt 
that he visited the important centres of Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage. 
He debated with the protagonists of nearly all systems of religious 
belief and practice in contemporary India. He kept his eyes and ears 
open. Even a cursory reading of his compositions is enough to realize 
that there was hardly anything that he missed, in politics or govern- 
ment, in society or religion, or in nature. His followers came to believe 
that he had undertaken these journeys for ‘the redemption of the 
world’. At the end of his journey the sole purpose of his life was to 
deliver his message of salvation to all. 

Sometime before or after the age of fifty-five Guru Nanak finally 


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settled down at a place he named Kartarpur on the right bank of the 
Ravi. During the Kartarpur years he seldom moved, not out of the 
Punjab anyway. He visited Achal, near Batala, which was an important 
centre of the Gorakhnathi jogis in those days. He also visited Pakpat- 
tan and Multan where the descendant-successors of Shaikh Fariduddin 
and Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya were still holding discourses on the 
suft way of life. Guru Nanak gave ‘instruction’ (sikhya) to all who 
visited Kartarpur for nearly a decade and a half before he died in 
September, 1539. It is difficult to estimate the number of his followers 
in his lifetime. It is clear, however, that the great majority of them 
belonged to the Punjab. 

The followers of Guru Nanak came to be known as Sikhs, from the 
Sanskrit shishya or disciple. Their number began to increase under his 
successors. Within a century of his death they were found in many 
cities of the Mughal empire as well as in the villages and towns of the 
Punjab. For nearly two centuries however, they remained confined to 
the Punjab as a result of the political struggle of the Khalsa instituted 
by Guru Gobind Singh at the end of the seventeenth century. Under 
colonial rule, once again, they began to move out, to other parts of the 
country and to other continents. This outmigration gained greater 
pace after 1947 when India became independent. The partition of the 
Punjab at the same time concentrated the Sikhs in about a dozen 
districts of the Indian Punjab. Thus, though it is possible to see a Sikh 
in every state of the Indian Union and in almost every country of the 
world, the great majority of the Sikhs reside in the Punjab, their 


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Babur’s invading army in the eyes of Guru Nanak was a ‘marriage- 
party of sin’. Not even the ladies of the nobles were spared dishonour. 
With heads once of luxuriant tresses and partings adorned with red, 
they suffered now the shears of brutality; their throats were filled with 
choking dust; they wandered forlorn, away from the places that had 
sheltered them. No longer were there the sports of the nobles them- 
selves, and gone were their horses and stables, their trumpets and 
clarions, their scarlet tunics and sword belts, their mansions and 
palaces, and their seraglios with soft beds and ‘beautiful women whose 
sight banished sleep’. Rocklike buildings were razed to the ground and 
princes were trampled into dust. ‘It is Babur who rules in their place 

Guru Nanak’s sharp response to Babur’s invasions underlines the 
most important political development during his life, the transition 
from Afghan to Mughal rule in the Punjab and in northern India. The 
first fifty years of Guru Nanak’s life had been marked by a period of 
peace in the Punjab. At the time of his birth in 1469 the Punjab was a 
part of the Sultanate of Delhi under Bahlol Lodhi. The major conquest 
of Bahlol and his successors was that of the Sharqi kingdom of 
Jaunpur. Their battles for minor political or territorial gains were 
fought in Rajasthan. There were only a few insignificant revolts in 
the Punjab during a period of about seventy years. Rehabilitation and 
resettlement of the countryside and the foundation of new towns like 
Bahlolpur and Batala can be seen as the reflection of a long spell of 
peace in the Punjab. 

More important than wars and battles were the administrative 
arrangements made by the Turko-Afghan rulers which had a more 
lasting effect on the lives of the people. The Lodhi Sultans, like their 

' These verses occur in the compositions of Guru Nanak referred to as Babur-vani or the 
“utterances concerning Babur’: Ad: Granth (hereafter AG), 360, 417-18, 722-23. 


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predecessors, acknowledged the fictional authority of the Abbasid 
Caliphs by styling themselves as their deputies (naib-i-amir al- 
muminin). This convention symbolized the cherished unity of an 
Islamic world that was actually divided into a large number of states. 
More important was the informal authority of the articulate members 
of the Sunni Muslim community to whose religious sentiments the 
Sultans could appeal in situations of weakness or stress. Only Sikandar 
Lodhi (1469-1517) felt the need to destroy temples in war and peace. 
Significantly, he also prohibited the annual procession of the spear of 
the legendary Muslim martyr Masud Salar and forbade Muslim women 
to visit the mausoleums (mazars) of Muslim saints. He yielded to the 
pressure of the ‘u/ama in allowing the execution of a Brahman who had 
maintained the equal veracity of his own faith with Islam. All these 
measures, like his wars and battles, related to the eastern parts of his 
dominions. Sikandar was not a full-blooded Afghan: his mother was 
the daughter of a Hindu goldsmith. As a political expediency he tried 
to make up for the deficiency in racial purity by a strong dose of Sunni 

Sikandar’s interest in judicial reform too was partly a reflection of his 
‘religious orthodoxy’. Tribal and caste panchayats in villages and 
towns, local administrators, provincial governors and the wazir per- 
formed judicial duties; the Sultan continued to consult the expounders 
of the Islamic law (shari‘at). The most important result of Sikandar’s 
interest in the administration of justice was the establishment of the 
qazi’s court in a number of towns. With or without the assistance of the 
expounder (mufti), the gazis administered the shari‘at in all those 
towns and cities which contained a considerable proportion of Muslim 
population. The gazi’s court was open to non-Muslims as well for 
matters relating to property and secular contracts.? 

The state patronage under the Lodhi Sultans, as under their pre- 
decessors, was virtually confined to the learned Muslims (‘ulama) and 
sufi shaikhs who received stipends in cash (wazifa) or revenue-free 
lands (madad-i-ma‘ash) for the maintenance of mosques and khan- 
qahs. To grant entire villages as madad-i-ma‘ash was not uncommon. 
Such patronage was extended to the genuine or supposed descendants 
of the Prophet, and to the members of the tribe to which he belonged. 

2 For documentry evidence and its discussion, J. $. Grewal, In the By-Lanes of History: 
Some Persian Documents from a Punjab Town, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, 



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By contrast, the non-Muslim subjects of the Lodhi Sultans and their 
predecessors suffered some disabilities. They were supposed to pay the 
tax called jizya as the price of their protection by the state. The 
Muslims were supposed to pay the tax called zakat, but for religious 
merit. In some parts of the Lodhi Sultanate, the Hindus had also to pay 
a pilgrimage tax. 

Acknowledgment of the Sultan’s political supremacy enabled non- 
Muslim chiefs to retain administrative control of their territories on 
certain conditions which made them an integral part of the polity of 
the Sultanate. In the territories directly held by the Sultans, however, 
the political and administrative power was almost exclusively the 
prerogative of Muslims. By far the most dominant among them were 
the Afghan tribal leaders and individuals of eminence. They were the 
real co-sharers of power with the Sultan. Notwithstanding 
occasional transfers, they tended to regard their territories (sarkar) 
consisting of several small units (parganas) as hereditary posses- 

In the revenue administration of the Lodhi Sultanate, particularly on 
the middle and lower rungs, Hindu participation was very consider- 
able. Brahmans and Khatris in the Punjab were encouraged to learn 
Persian. They were associated with account-keeping, some of them 
rising to become diwans of the provincial governors. The local 
administrators often employed Hindu accountants and worked with 
the assistance of Hindu qanungos familiar with local customs, castes 
and clans. Many a chaudhari of the pargana, or the part of a pargana, 
who assisted the Afghan administrator in the collection of revenue was 
Hindu. In all the non-Muslim villages the village headmen (muqad- 
dam) were Hindu and so were many of the village accountants 
(patwaris) even in Muslim villages. The association of the Hindus with 
Afghan administration made them important collaborators at the 
subordinate levels. Their loyalty to the rulers outweighed their 
concern for the common mass of the subject people, whether Hindu or 
Muslim.> There was no effective check on the exploitation of the 
peasantry by the intermediaries at various levels. 

3 Guru Nanak’s reference to the customary tax on gods and their temples is suggestive of 
pilgrimage tax: AG, 1191. 
+ The term generally used for the Afghan administrator was shiqdar and his jurisdiction 

varied from a few parganas to a small province. 
5 Guru Nanak brackets all administrators irrespective of their religious affiliation when he 

refers to their oppression. 


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In imitation of the Lodhi Sultans, the Khans and Maliks of the realm, 
the titled nobility, lived a life of luxury and ostentation. They had their 
own armies, palace-like mansions, harems, dancing girls and concu- 
bines, slaves, musicians and boon companions. Those who could not 
afford all the luxuries of the privileged nobles could find consolation in 
dancing girls and prostitutes. The brothel was a socially recognized 
institution. The Khans and Maliks expressed their piety in raising 
mosques, patronizing the ‘ulama, and paying homage to holy men. 

The ‘ulama formed an important section of the middling class. 
Apart from their role in the administration of justice, they tried to 
guard the shari‘at through public congregations and the traditional 
system of education. Schools and colleges were attached to small or 
large mosques in towns and cities. The major subjects of higher 
education were interpretation of the Quran (tafsir), tradition with 
regard to the sayings and actions of the Prophet (hadis), and juris- 
prudence (figh). As the recognized guardians of the traditional socio- 
religious order, the ‘ulama constituted the most conservative element 
in the Muslim community. More popular, however, were the s#fi 
shaikhs who were venerated by all sections of the Muslim community 
except the die-hards among the ‘ulama. The descendants of shaikhs 
and pirs, known as shaikhzadas and pirzadas were held in great 
respect, and many of them were not lacking in material means. Equally 
respectable were the sayyids whose social status was well recognized 
by the Afghans. There was hardly a sayyid family which did not enjoy 
state patronage. 

The middling class in the Muslim community was not confined to 
the religious or racial luminaries. There were scholars, soldiers, clerks, 
traders, shopkeepers, physicians, scientists and men of letters. The 
Muslim community did not consist only of the nobility and the 
middling classes. There were artisans and craftsmen: masons, black- 
smiths, dyers, weavers, leather-workers, shoe-makers, oil-pressers, 
water-carriers and the like. Furthermore, the slave was an important 
article of trade in the market, and the institution of slavery was an 
integral part of Muslim society in India as elsewhere in the world. 
Slaves did not make up a significant part of the agricultural labour 
force and the great days of the ‘official slave’, who served in civil and 
military capacities and who could thereby enter the ruling class, were 


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over; but male and female slaves were found in plenty in affluent 
Muslim homes for domestic work or concubinage.® 

This differentiated Muslim population in the Punjab during the late 
fifteenth and early sixteenth century consisted of both foreign and 
native elements. The land of the five rivers had remained under Turkish 
and Afghan rule for nearly five centuries. Muslim soldiers, admini- 
strators, scholars, men of letters, and learned and pious men had 
adopted the Punjab as their home. More numerous, however, were the 
native Punjabis who had accepted the faith of the rulers. In a long 
process of conversion, enslavement of men, women and children as a 
measure of war played a considerable role; and so did the institution of 
slavery even during the times of peace. An equally important part was 
played by the s#fi shaikhs, particularly in the countryside. The 
majority of the foreign Muslims lived in cities and towns but the 
number of Indian Muslims even in urban centres was probably 
larger, consisting partly of the middling classes but largely of artisans, 
craftsmen and slaves. On the whole, the proportion of Muslims in the 
total population of all the major towns and cities of the Punjab was 
quite considerable, and it was larger than the proportion of Muslims in 
the total population of the countryside. The majority of native 
Muslims in the countryside were to be found in the Sindh Sagar and 
Chaj Doabs and in the lower parts of the Rachna and Bari Doabs. Eth- 
nically, they belonged to Afghan, Baloch, Rajput, Jat and Gujjar clans. 

The cities and towns of the Punjab, as elsewhere in northern India, 
served as the centres not only of administration but also of Muslim 
culture. Known for their learned men were the cities like Lahore and 
Multan and the towns like Tulamba, Ajodhan, Jalandhar, Sultanpur, 
Sarhind, Thanesar, Panipat, Samana and Narnaul. Learned men of 
local repute were to be found in all the towns. Altogether, they 
cultivated not only ‘religious sciences’ but also secular sciences like 
medicine, astronomy and mathematics. There were men of letters too 
in the cities and towns. The Persian classics like the Gulistan, Bustan 
and the Sikandarnama were regarded as an essential part of a liberal 
education. Literacy, however, was confined to a very small proportion 
of the population. 

Those who wished to address themselves to the common people 
started making use of the indigenous languages. Malik Muhammad 
Jaisi remarked in one of his own works in Hindi that the suis had 

6 The Encyclopaedia of Islam, London, 1965, Vol. 2, 1079. 


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always adopted the language of the people among whom they lived and 
worked; he specifically mentioned Hindi and Punjabi. Indeed, Shaikh 
Fariduddin Shakarganj, popularly known as Baba Farid, composed 
verses in Punjabi during the early thirteenth century for his message to 
reach the people of the Punjab. His verses were quoted by his disciples 
and successors when they addressed other people. The ground was 
thus prepared for Punjabi to become a literary language. There was an 
oral tradition of heroic and love poetry in Punjabi. The s#fis lent a 
certain degree of respectability to the folk tradition by contributing 
religious poetry. 


All Muslims formally subscribed to the belief that there was no god 
but Allah and Muhammad was His messenger (rasul). However, 
sectarian division had appeared among Muslims even before the advent 
of the Turks into the Punjab. Imported by the immigrant Muslims, 
ideological differences were perpetuated also by those who came under 
their influence in India. It is easy to identify three old sects: the Sunni, 
the Shia and the Ismaili. A parallel interpretation of Islam was 
cherished, advocated and developed by the sé#fis, the mystics of Islam, 
from the very beginning of the Turkish conquest of the Punjab. In the 
late fifteenth century a new movement, known as the Mahdavi 
movement, arose in northern India. Of all these sectarian and religious 
groups the most important were the Sunnis and the sé#fis. The Lodhi 
rulers professed to subscribe to Sunni Islam, like all their predecessors 
and like the majority of their Muslim subjects. But profession of Sunni 
Islam and veneration for the s#fis were not mutually exclusive. The 
Lodhi rulers and the Afghan nobles had no difficulty in reconciling 
their ‘orthodoxy’ to their regard for the sufi shaikhs. 

The Sunni ‘u/ama accepted and popularized the theology formulated 
by al-Ashari in the tenth century.” In this theology, Allah’s uniqueness 
and His absolute transcendence over His creation was emphasized, and 
so was His majesty and power. Allah is the lord of the universe. He 
raised up heavens without visible supports. Not a leaf falls but He 
knows it. If all the trees of the earth were pens and all the seven seas 

7 For a good presentation of Islam in India on the basis of contemporary evidence, Peter 
Hardy, ‘Islam in Medieval India’, Sources of Indian Tradition (ed. W. M. Theodore de Bary), 
Columbia University Press, New York, 1958, 371-435. 


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were ink, the praise of Allah could not be exhausted. His is the 
command (ukm), and unto Him all shall be brought back.'He sends 
men astray and He places them on the straight path. His is the final 
judgment. Allah is hard towards His enemies but He is essentially just 
and righteous. He is omnipotent and inscrutable but He is merciful. 
‘Praise be to Allah, the lord of the worlds, the beneficent, the merciful’. 
The Sunnis believed that Muhammad as the messenger of Allah was the 
last of the prophets; the Quran was literally the speech of Allah. They 
believed in angels, the day of judgment, paradise and hell. They 
professed equal respect for all the first four Caliphs but with a sneaking 
sympathy for Ali and his martyr sons Hasan and Husain. 

The supreme aim of life for the Sunnis was to earn sufficient religious 
merit to enter paradise. The path to paradise was well paved by right 
conduct and worship coupled with right belief. There were four 
practices which insured piety; five daily prayers (salat), daily fast 
(rozah) during the month of Ramzan, pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), and 
charity to brother Muslims (zakat). All these observances were rather 
external, devoid of religious emotion. Just as Sunni theology tended to 
be formal, Sunni piety tended to be ritualistic. Both were nonetheless 
valued by the orthodox. Furthermore, the collection of zakat was 
supposed to be the duty of the state. Only a few could afford to go to 
Mecca for pilgrimage. The one who did, and thereby became a haji, 
was treated with respect bordering on veneration. What was left open 
to the majority of the people were the daily prayers and the fast in 

The Shias recognized the authority of the Quran as the revealed 
word of Allah and they subscribed to the finality of Muhammad’s 
prophethood. But they rejected the first three Caliphs and regarded Ali 
as the true successor of the Prophet and, therefore, the first Imam. The 
twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, disappeared from the world and 
he was expected to reappear to restore righteousness and justice. The 
authority of the Imam tended to overshadow the other beliefs of the 
Shias. The martyrdom of Husain, in the Shia belief, had paved the way 
to paradise for all Shias. Based on this belief was the great importance 
attached to the ta‘ziya for the annual commemoration of his death. The 
Shias condemned the first three Caliphs as a logical corollary of their 
belief in the exclusive legitimacy of Ali to be the successor of the 
Prophet. Because of their considered view that they should conceal 
their true identity it was not easy to distinguish them from the Sunnis. 


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But the Sunnis felt their presence in almost all the cities and large towns 
of the Punjab. 

The Ismailis believed in Allah as the only God, in Muhammad as His 
prophet, and in the Quran as His revelation. But they did not believe 
that prophethood had ended with Muhammad. They believed in fact 
that divine light had passed on to the Imams through Muhammad, the 
first Imam being the Caliph Ali. According to them the seventh Imam, 
Muhammad ibn Ismail, had disappeared and he was to reappear on the 
Last Day. His vicegerents were nonetheless important; they alone 
could interpret the Quran because of its esoteric meaning. In the eyes 
of some believers they were the incarnation of God. The laws of the 
shari‘at were not meant for them. The number of Ismailis in the Punjab 
was negligible. 

The Mahdavi movement had virtually no impact in the Punjab. 
Sayyid Muhammad of Jaunpur proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi 
expected more or less vaguely by all: the Ismailis, the Shias and the 
Sunnis. He was opposed by the ‘ulama, but he was patronized by 
Sultan Husain of Jaunpur (1458-1479). Obliged to leave the kingdom 
of Jaunpur later, he found shelter in Gujarat under Sultan Mahmud. He 
did not dabble in politics, but he was prepared to treat the non- 
Mahdavis as harbis who should be obliged to pay jizya like the 
protected people (zimmis) in Muslim states. He claimed to be the 
restorer of the pristine purity of Islam, interpreting the Quran accord- 
ing to his lights. He also claimed to be the last of the walis, which 
indicated his intimate connection with the séfis. Some of his beliefs and 
practices had indeed a close resemblance with those of the safes. 

More and more people were coming under the influence of the szfts.8 
Their importance is reflected in the increasing recognition given to 
them by the Persian chroniclers from the thirteenth to the sixteenth 
century, much of whose information was gathered from the works of 
the disciples of the shaikhs, like the Siyar al-Auliya and the Siyar 
al-‘Arifin written between 1350 and 1550. The s#ft orders (silsilahs) 
proliferated in India as in the rest of the Islamic world. If anything, the 
influence of the s#fts in the Punjab was more pervasive than elsewhere 
in the country. Lahore was known as the abode of many shaikhs since 
the time of Ali al-Hujwiri, the author of the Kashf al-Mahjub, who 

8 Much has been written on the s#fis in general but very little specifically on their ideas 
and practices in India on the basis of literature produced in India. For a brief but 
comprehensive discussion, J. S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in History, Panjab University, 

Chandigarh, 1979, 71-103. 


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settled in Lahore during the rule of the Ghaznavids to be venerated by 
successive generations as Data Ganj Bakhsh (the bestower of 
treasures). Multan was similarly a seat of many shaikhs, besides the 
famous Bahauddin Zakariya. The khadngah of Shaikh Farid at 
Pakpattan remained an eminent centre from the thirteenth to the 
sixteenth century. His successor in the early sixteenth century, Shaikh 
Ibrahim was known as the ‘Second Farid’ (farid-i-sani). There were 
sufis in Hansi, Thanesar and Narnaul. The town of Panipat was 
associated with Shaikh Sharfuddin, popularly known as Bu Ali 
Qalandar. Lesser luminaries adorned other towns and pockets of the 

There is a wide range of ideas in s#ft literature produced in India and 
abroad. In it are found contradictory positions, and there are differ- 
ences of emphasis and detail. But there is much that is common and 
rather basic. There was a general tendency to find support for 
theosophy in some of the verses of the Quran. ‘Allah is the light of the 
heavens and the earth’; ‘Everything will perish save His countenance’; 
‘He loveth them and they love Him’; ‘We verily created man and We 
know what his soul whispereth to him, and We are nearer to him than 
his jugular vein’; ‘Adore, and draw thou nigh.’ These, and some other 
similar verses, held a crucial significance for the safis. To verses from 
the Quran were added some ‘sayings’ of the Prophet. 

However, the most fundamental source of their theosophy was the 
mystical experience of the s#fis themselves. This experience consisted 
essentially of a kind of union with God. The pleasures of paradise are 
nothing compared to the everlasting ecstasy of this union. The torment 
of hell is nothing compared to the torture of separation from God. The 
basis of unification lies in the omnipresence of God: ‘everything is He’ 
and ‘He is in everything’. The s#fis underlined God’s immanence. For 
them the relationship between God and man was that of love, and this 
mutual relationship eventually led to unification. It was for man to 
strive and for God to give. The path to unification was marked by 
‘stages’ and ‘states’ corresponding to each other, the former attained 
through human effort and the latter through God’s grace. Man had to 
die to his human self (fana) before he could subsist in God (baqa). 
Unification was also explained by what may be called the theory of 
light (z#r). The human heart or soul was comparable to a mirror in 
which the divine light could be seen reflected. 

The shaikh as a guide (pir) who showed the path to his disciple 


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(murid) held a crucial position both in theory and practice. The 
prophets (nabis) are sinless; the saints (walis) are protected from sin. 
The miracle of the prophet (mzx‘jiza) found a parallel in the miracle of 
the saint (karamat). The command of the shaikh is like the command of 
the prophet. In the worship of the pir lies the worship of God. The 
formal disciples of the shaikh, from their initiation to the attainment of 
the goal, need his guidance. 

In contemporary literature the stages between the state of ungener- 
ation and the state of subsistence in God (baqa) vary in number and 
sequence.In Indian safi literature great emphasis is laid on repentance 
(taubah), renunciation (tark) and satisfaction with whatever is 
ordained by God (raza). The first implied realization of heedlessness; 
the second involved abandoning pleasures and earthly desires; and the 
third meant an eager acceptance of God’s decree. One of the most 
important practices of the safis was ‘remembrance of God’ (zikr). To 
repeat the name of Allah alone was preferable to ‘There is no god but 
Allah’ because the latter involved ‘negation’ whereas in ‘Allah’ there is 
complete affirmation. Throughout the Islamic world the shaikhs 
thought of sama‘ or qawwali as good for spiritual progress. Shaikh 
Bakhtyar Kaki of Delhi died while listening to a Persian couplet during 
an audition: ‘They who are killed by the dagger of submission to God 
receive every moment a fresh life from Him.’ The verses which affected 
Shaikh Nizamuddin were recited by people for a long time after the 
audition. The practice of audition was never discarded by the shaikhs in 
India despite opposition from the ‘ulama. 

The s#ft path (tariqat) was not only different from the path of the 
shavi-at, it was also more difficult to pursue. The practice of zikr did 
not replace the five daily prayers; it went beyond. Instead of fasting 
only in the month of Ramzan, the s#fis advocated much fasting 
throughout the year. Charity to brother Muslims was restricted to a 
certain share in the idea of zakat; the sé#fis placed no limits on charity: 
one could give away all one possessed. The Chishti sa#fts did not see 
much merit in the pilgrimage to Mecca; the time spent in hajj could be 
more fruitfully utilized nearer home with the pir. On the whole, the 
safis thought that their path began where the path of the shari‘at ended. 
Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi, the great masters of Muslim Law, had 
nothing to teach of love. 

The system of sa#ft beliefs and practices can be appreciated only in 
terms of a parallel interpretation of Islam. Indeed, the safis believed 


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that they were the true representatives of Islam. The essence of sufi 
ethics for Shaikh Nizamuddin consisted in not doing unto others 
what one did not wish for oneself. Not to injure others, by word or 
deed, is recommended again and again. The su#fis were inclined to 
extend the benefit of spiritual merit to the lowest castes and to women. 
They favoured manumission of slaves and humane treatment of the 
subject people. They were more tolerant of the non-Muslims, and they 
were prepared as much to learn from them as to teach them. They 
attributed the relative ineffectiveness of Islam as a religious force in 
India to the lack of ethical superiority in the Muslims themselves. 


The Arab and Persian writers referred to the Indian subcontinent as 
Sindh-wa-Hind and to the peoples of the subcontinent as ‘Hindus’. 
This in turn gave the name Hindustan to the county of the ‘Hindus’, 
that is Indians. One result of Muslim migration to India, and of 
conversion of Indians to the faith of Islam, was that the non-Muslim 
Indians came to be equated with Hindus. A secular identity was 
thus turned into a religious identity. In due course, not only the 
Muslim writers but also the non-Muslims of northern India started 
referring to themselves as ‘Hindu’ in the sense of non-Muslim Indians. 

In the Punjab, as in other parts of the Lodhi Sultanate, the number of 
Hindus was larger than the number of Muslims, but their proportion in 
the total population was smaller in the Punjab than elsewhere, par- 
ticularly in the western and southern parts of the land of the five rivers. 
Hindus lived in towns and cities as well as in the countryside. Even in 
towns founded by Turkish or Afghan administrators the proportion of 
Hindus was very considerable. They were indispensable for the 
economic life of the urban centres. However, they were predominant 
in the countryside, except in those areas where a whole tribe or a clan 
had accepted Islam, as in the Sindh Sagar Doab and in the southern 
parts of the Chaj, Rachna and Bari Doabs. 

The character of Hindu population had undergone a sea change 
during the five centuries of Turko-Afghan rule. The Rajput ruling 
classes had widely been dislodged from power. Some had migrated to 
the neighbouring hills or deserts and some others had accepted Islam. 
Their remnants among the Hindus were found in the intermediary 
zamindars called Rais. They held zamindaris as chaudharis and 


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muqaddams in a large number of parganas, particularly along the 
Shivaliks. Their control over the vital politics of the Punjab had 
declined. In a few pockets, however, they enjoyed local power under 
the aegis of the Lodhi Sultans. Some of them accepted Islam during the 
late fifteenth and the early sixteenth century. 

The loss of Rajput sovereignty meant also the loss of traditional 
patronage to Brahmans. A few Brahmans found favour with the 
Afghan nobles for their knowledge of astrology, but as a class they 
had to look for new patrons. They acted as family priests to perform 
various rites and ceremonies; they looked after the temples and taught 
in pathshalas; they expounded scriptures to a humbler but more 
numerous class of patrons; and they cultivated religious and secular 
sciences. However, not all the Brahmans of the Punjab belonged to the 
priestly or the learned classes. Many of them had taken to non-priestly 
professions like trade and money-lending, agriculture or even petty 
service. Nevertheless, their influence in the towns as well as the 
countryside was strong though subtle, pervasive though unobtrusive. 
They were easily the most conservative element among the Hindus, the 
counterpart in a sense of the ‘u/ama but without the patronage of the 
state. They were extremely meticulous about observing rites and 
ceremonies, whether personal, social or religious. In the sphere of 
religion, however, theirs was not the only voice among the Hindus of 
the Punjab. 

In the social sphere they were less important than the Khatris at least 
in towns and cities. Besides participation in the civil administration of 
the Lodhis, the Khatris of the Punjab had taken to trade and banking. 
As sahukars and merchants they made large profits and invested their 
earnings in landed property in urban centres. They had probably 
gained much from the tremendous development of commerce during 
the fourteenth century and retained some of this advantage during the 
fifteenth. But the Khatris as a class were not reluctant to take to 
shopkeeping and money-lending even in the countryside. They felt 
proud of their old Kshatriya lineage, and they were certainly older than 
the Rajputs, but they showed a remarkable sense of adaptability to the 
changing historical situation. In trade and shopkeeping, however, they 
were not alone. The Aroras in the western doabs of the Punjab and the 
Banias in the Satlej-Jamuna Divide were equally important. 

In the countryside there was a preponderance of Jats, besides the 
Rajputs, particularly in the upper Rachna and Bari Doabs, the Bist 


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Jalandhar Doab and the Satlej-Jamuna Divide. They had been moving 
up the river valleys during the previous four or five centuries, 
encouraged by artificial irrigation made possible by the Persian wheel, 
to take up agriculture. Divided into a large number of clans, they had 
their chaudharis and mugaddams, many of whom were important as 
intermediaries between the cultivators and the rulers. The bulk of the 
Jats were ordinary cultivators. Some of the Jat clans, entirely or 
partially, had accepted Islam, while some of the Gujjars (originally a 
pastoral group) who were taking up cultivation by the fifteenth 
century were still clinging to their non-Muslim beliefs and practices. 

The cultivators of land needed the services of several categories of 
people in the village. They needed the carpenter, the leather-worker, 
the potter and the agricultural labourer for cultivation. They needed 
the services of many others for their social life, like the jhiwar and the 
nai, who performed more than one service. There were several other 
categories, but their number varied from village to village. One village 
could have a few weavers, and another one or two goldsmiths; one 
village could have a few shoe-makers, and another could have a few 
oil-pressers. Similarly, a brewer, a bhat, a singer, a dyer or a tailor 
could be found in some villages. Some Chandals or untouchables also 
lived in most of the villages. In the towns and cities too there were 
artisans and craftsmen of various categories, and there were menials 
and untouchables. 

The Hindus of the Punjab during the late fifteenth century did not fit 
into the four-caste varna order. This was not a new development. In 
the eleventh century, Alberuni had observed that there were four 
varnas among the Hindus: the Brahman, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya 
and the Shudra. He also observed that there were a number of 
subcastes in each varna. Below these four varnas there were several 
professional and crafts groups, like the shoe-maker, the weaver, the 
washerman, the basket-maker, the fisherman, the boatman, the hunter 
and the juggler. This was not all: there were the Chandals and the 
like who were outside the pale of society. By the fifteenth century, 
strictly speaking, there were no Kshatriyas in the Punjab. Their role 
had been taken over by the new rulers. The Brahman was no longer the 
most important or the most honoured caste, and the Brahmans as a 
class performed duties which were never dreamt of in the varna 
concept. There was a similar ambiguity about the Vaishyas and the 
Shudras. Nevertheless, the varna order was cherished as the ideal 


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norm. The gulf between the ideal norm and the social reality had 
become much wider under the Turko-Afghan rule than ever before. 
The Rajputs, the Khatris and the Brahmans were nonetheless proud of 
their lineage, regarding themselves as socially superior to the rest of 
the Hindu population. 

Though without state patronage now, some of the traditional 
‘sciences’ were cultivated by the Brahmans and Khatris. The study of 
the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Puranas was an important part of 
Hindu learning. Some scholars were familiar with the six philosophical 
systems. Some branches of knowledge cultivated by the Khatris as well 
as the Brahmans were mathematics, astronomy, medicine, grammar 
and prosody. There was some interest in jurisprudence, architecture 
and music, and also in astrology, palmistry and magic. Almost all 
scholars were to be found in cities and towns. The traders and 
shop-keepers learnt account-keeping and a good proportion of them 
were literate. Some Khatris and Brahmans learned Persian for its use in 
administrative service. 

Among the Rajputs, Khatris and the Brahmans, women were 
respected as daughters, wives and mothers, but their position was 
clearly subordinate to that of men. Their best virtues are an eloquent 
witness to their subordination. A childless widow was expected to 
burn herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband to become a 
sati, and satis were held in great esteem after self-immolation. She who 
did not immolate herself was ‘ill-treated’ for the rest of her life. In no 
case was a widow supposed to remarry. All these practices were related 
to the ideal of conjugal fidelity. But for men there was no bar; the idea 
of reciprocity was preposterous, not only for self-immolation but also 
in terms of monogamy. The ideal of chastity dictated the practice of 
child-marriage, but this practice was not confined to the upper castes 
and it was prevalent in northern India before its conquest by the Turks. 

Much before the advent of the Turks the peoples of India had come 
to subscribe to the concept of the four cosmic ages: the satyuga, the 
treta, the duapar and the kaliyuga. By the time this idea became 
current, the first three ages had already passed and people were passing 
through the last, the worst of the four. Much of the evil around could 
be explained in terms of the kaliyuga, but ‘evil’ was defined differently 
in different historical situations. In the eleventh century, as Alberuni 
tells us, the kaltyuga was associated, among other things, with the loss 
of the Brahman’s dignity, the rebellion of the small against the great, 


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the abolition of the four vargas, proliferation of religions and sects, 
destruction of temples and oppression by the rulers. 


All non-Muslim Indians were not ‘Hindu’ as the term is used today. 
There were pockets of Tantric Buddhism in the Punjab hills. In the 
plains, there were Jain monks with a lay following among traders and 
shop-keepers of many a town in the Punjab. The wandering monks 
(yatis) were rather small in number but they were obtrusive because of 
their peculiar appearance. They were known for their ascetical living 
and their meticulousness about non-injury to living beings, both 
visible and invisible. They were unpopular because of their atheistical 
system of beliefs. 

What is now called ‘Hinduism’ was represented by Shaiva, Vaish- 
nava and Shakta beliefs and practices. Temples dedicated to Shiva as the 
supreme deity were looked after by Shaiva Brahmans who also 
cultivated Shaiva literature, the Agamas and Puranas. There were 
Shaiva monks too, generally known as sanyasis. They were known for 
their hard penance and austerity. They belonged to several different 
orders, traditionally considered to be ten, because of which they were 
also known as Dasnamis. They generally wore ochre-coloured gar- 
ments, though some of them went naked and others of them carried 
tiger’s or panther’s skin over their shoulders. Almost all of them wore 
ash marks on their foreheads, known as tilak. Some used three 
horizontal lines, representing Shiva’s trident, or his third eye. Some 
others used two horizontal lines with a dot as the phalic emblem of 
Shiva. The sanyasis wandered from place to place, but they also 
founded establishments called maths. The head of the establishment 
could be nominated by the predecessor or elected by his fellow 

Turning to Vaishnavism in the Punjab we notice that the Vaishnava 
texts par excellence were known to Alberuni in the eleventh century: 
the Bhagavadgita, the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana. 
Temples dedicated to Vishnu as the supreme deity, as Lakshmi- 
Narayan or one of his incarnations, were looked after by Vaishnava 
Brahmans. The ascetics among the Vaishnavas were generally known 
as bairagis. They recognized merit in ceremonial ritual and pilgrimage 
to sacred places. Veneration for the cow and the Brahman they shared 


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with many other Hindus. They advocated total abstention from meat 
and liquor. The bulk of the Vaishnavas appear to have belonged to the 
trading communities in cities and towns. 

The Shaktas worshipped the Goddess in her various forms, giving 
primacy to the active principle or the cosmic force (shakti) which 
sustains the universe and the various manifestations of gods. Worship 
of the Goddess was of two kinds, generally referred to as ‘the cultus of 
the right hand’ and ‘the cultus of the left hand’. Animal sacrifice in 
honour of Durga or Kali, or any other terrible form of the Great 
Goddess, was an essential element of the cultus of the right. Otherwise, 
the right-handers observed the general usages of the Shaivas. The 
left-handers performed ‘black rites’ which, in theory, were meant only 
for the adept, and which involved wine (madya), fish (matsya), flesh 
(mansa), parched grain (mudra) and coition (maithuna). The purpose 
of this ritual was to attain to a state of complete identification with 
Shakti and Shiva. The practice of this rite was secretive and limited but 
it made the left-handers (vamacharis) extremely disreputable in the 
eyes of the majority of the people. 

This brief account of the major forms of Muslim and Hindu religious 
beliefs and practices does not take into account a large mass of the 
common people and their ‘popular religion’ which bordered on 
animism and fetishism. Godlings of nature, of disease, malevolent 
spirits, animal worship, heroic godlings, worship of ancestors, totems 
and fetishes made a conspicuous appearance in this popular religion. It 
was not a new thing. It had been there for many centuries; it was older 
in fact than all formal theologies and theosophies. This popular religion 
had survived partly in spite of the ‘higher’ religions and partly because 
of them. 

Within Shaivism a new movement arose probably after the Ghazna- 
vid conquest of the Punjab. In this movement, initiated by Gorakh- 
nath, Hathyoga was adapted to a theological system with Shiva as the 
supreme deity. The protagonists and the followers of this movement 
came to be known as Gorakhnathi jogis or simply as jogis (from yogi). 
They figure frequently in Indian suff literature, and by the fifteenth 
century they had come to enjoy great influence in the Punjab. The Tilla 
of Gorakhnath in the Sindh Sagar Doab remained their premier 
establishment, but ogi centres (maths) were established at other places 
also. By the early sixteenth century there were twelve different sections 
known as bhekh-bara. The adept among the disciples were allowed to 


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wear ear-rings (mudra), and they were known as kanpata (ear-torn). 
They were also allowed to use the epithet math (master) with their 
names. The jogis greeted one another with the epithet ades, and they 
kept with them a blowing horn (singi). An important feature of their 
monastic centres was a continuous fire (dhani). Their centres were well 
organized, maintaining a common kitchen (bhandar) for all the 
permanent and temporary inmates. 

The psycho-physical techniques of the jogis were meant to attain to 
liberation-in-life (jiwan-mukti), a state of everlasting bliss (sahay). It 
was also a state of great power, because the jogi then became a siddha, 
possessing supernatural powers. He could become tiny or huge, light 
or heavy, and obtain everything at will; he could walk on water or fly 
in the air; he could assume any shape or form he liked. The jogis were 
believed to be capable of prolonging their life by practising suspension 
of breath (habs-i-dam, in Persian). They were associated with alchemy, 
possessing the knowledge of turning base metals or even ash into gold. 
They were associated with herbal medicine too. Altogether, they 
inspired both fear and respect among the common people. They 
rejected ritualism and metaphysical speculation. In accepting disciples 
they disregarded the differences of caste. But they regarded woman as 
‘the tigress of the night’, a great temptation and, therefore, a great 
danger in the jogi’s path. 

As in Shaivism so in Vaishnavism arose a new movement known as 
the bhakti movement. The idea of bhakti or devotion to God was 
centuries old. The path of bhakti came to be regarded as a valid path for 
salvation, like the path of knowledge (jnana or gian) and the path of 
correct observance of ritual (karma). Ramanuja in the south in the 
eleventh-twelfth century made a significant contribution to the bhakti 
movement by giving primacy to the path of bhakti. In the thirteenth 
and fourteenth centuries two further steps were taken: Vaishnava 
bhakti began to be addressed to the human incarnations of Vishnu, that 
is Rama and Krishna, and it began to be claimed that bhakti was the 
only path to salvation. The consorts of Rama and Krishna, namely Sita 
and Radha, were also associated with them; the images of Sita-and- 
Rama and of Radha-and-Krishna were installed in temples dedicated to 

The cult of Rama bhakti was popularized by Ramanand in northern 
India during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His disciples 
established centres (maths) at many places. The Ramanandi bairagis 


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derived much strength from these establishments. Food was provided 
in these centres not only to the inmates but also to the visitors. An 
integral part of these establishments were pathshalas for teaching and 
goshalas for cows. The daily round of worship was well established. 
The cult of Krishna was popularized in the north during the late 
fifteenth and the early sixteenth century by Chaitanya in Bengal and 
Orissa and by Vallabhacharya in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and 
Gujarat. Chaitanya cultivated the emotional side of Krishna bhakti 
through kirtanas or devotional poetry sung with musical instruments 
and in ecstatic dance. Vallabha developed the ceremonial side of 
Krishna bhakti in temples where the daily round of his activities were 
ceremonialized from the early morning when the Lord awoke till he 
went to bed at night for sleep. Vaishnava bhakti was meant primarily 
for the upper or middling castes, though its protagonists made some 
use of the language of the people and they were more indulgent 
towards the lower castes. 


For a really lower-class movement we have to look to the Sants of 
northern India.’ They discarded the idea of incarnation and the 
practice of image-worship in temples. In fact they did not address their 
devotion to Vishnu. Nevertheless they were deeply influenced by the 
Vaishnava bhakti movement. Almost equally important, however, was 
the influence of the sufts and the jogis. The most outstanding figure of 
the Sant movement was Kabir, but he was by no means alone. In 
Benares itself, where Kabir pursued the profession of a weaver 
(julaha), there was Ravidas who plied his trade as a cobbler (chamar). 
What is true of Kabir is more or less true of Ravidas. 

Kabir denounced much of the religious belief and practice of his 
times. The mulla and the pandit, the guardians of Muslim and Hindu 
orthodoxy, were ‘pots of the same clay’; the paths that they advocated 
only led astray. The Hindu and Muslim revelational scriptures, the 
Vedas and the Quran, were discarded along with their custodians. 
Kabir does not believe in Vishnu. All his ten incarnations (avatars), 
including Rama and Krishna, are a part of the maya which is constantly 

° For the Sant tradition in northern India and its significance, W. H. McLeod, Guru 
Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Oxford University Press, 1968, 151-58, 189-90; J. S. Grewal, 
Guru Nanak in History, 125-30. 


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subject to annihilation. In unambiguous and uncompromising terms 
Kabir denounced worship of images in temples, purificatory bathings, 
ritual fasts and pilgrimage to places regarded sacred. His God, neither 
Hari nor Allah (but one may call Him Hari or Allah) does not reside in 
the east or in the west; He resides in the heart of man. This, and some 
other ideas reveal his affinity with the s#fzs. ‘When I was, Hari was not; 
now Hari is, and I am no more.’ What led to God was the path of love 
‘cutting as the edge of the sword’. Separation (viraha) involves torment 
in which the lover bleeds silently in the depths of his soul, he suffers 
many deaths every day. This torment is nevertheless a divine favour, a 
mark of God’s grace. Love involves sacrifice of self, and metaphori- 
cally of life. Kabir’s bhakti is an ardent quest in which he is completely 
involved at the peril of his life. 

Kabir’s familiarity with the beliefs and practices of the jogis is 
equally evident from his compositions. The ideas of jiwan-mukta 
(liberated-in-life), sahaja-samadhi (the state of unison with the div- 
inity) and shabad (the Word) are given great prominence in his verses. 
Occasionally, he refers to God as ‘the true guide’ (satgura). Ideas from 
three major sources were integrated by Kabir in a system which came 
to possess the originality of a new whole. His ineffable God is both 
immanent and transcendant, and to Him alone Kabir offers his love 
and devotion. Far from being a disciple of Ramanand, as it is generally 
but wrongly believed, Kabir discovered and delineated a new path 
which for want of a better term is still called bhakti. 

The social situation in the Punjab in particular and in northern India 
in general during the late fifteenth and the early sixteenth centuries 
was marked by a great change due to circumstances brought about by 
the Turko-Afghan rule in the sphere of politics and administration, 
urban and rural economy, and the sphere of religious and secular 
culture. The continuities, however, remained as important as the 
changes. Sensitive individuals responded to the changed situation 
according to their lights and moral fervour. Their social background 
and social position were equally relevant for the nature and character of 
their response. Social change was accompanied by social tension of 
various kinds. These tensions were probably the strongest in the 
Punjab. This might explain at least partly the distinctive response of 
Guru Nanak to the social situation in which he lived and moved. 


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A rigorous analysis of the compositions of Guru Nanak reveals that 
there is hardly anything in contemporary politics, society or religion 
that he finds commendable. Yet the age of Guru Nanak was not 
fundamentally or even radically different from the previous or the 
following few centuries. Much of his denunciation, therefore, can be 
understood in terms of his moral fervour. For a rational conceptuali- 
zation of his position it may be suggested that the entire social order 
had lost its legitimacy in the eyes of Guru Nanak because it had lost its 
support from the prevalent religious ideologies: it was neither ‘Hindu’ 
nor ‘Muslim’. A new religious ideology was needed to become the 
basis of a new social order. At one stage in his life Guru Nanak came to 
believe that he had discovered a new ideology and he was looking at the 
contemporary situation from the standpoint of this new ideology. His 
denunciation of contemporary practices and beliefs is only an inverted 
statement of his positive ideals. 


Guru Nanak was thoroughly familiar with the politico-administrative 
arrangements made by the Afghan rulers, particularly in the Punjab. 
This familiarity, reflected in the use of his metaphors, is a measure of his 
preoccupation with this vital aspect of the social situation. Moreover, 
there is direct denunciation of contemporary rule. The rulers are unjust; 
they discriminate against their non-Muslim subjects by extorting jizya 
and pilgrimage tax. The ruling class is oppressing the cultivators and the 
common people. The rajas prey like lions and the mugqaddams eat like 
dogs; they fall upon the ra‘tyat day and night. Notwithstanding the 
association of non-Muslims with the administration at subordinate 
levels, contemporary rule is occasionally equated with ‘Muslim’ rule:! 

The Primeval Being is now called Allah; the turn of the shaikhs has 

! AG, 1191, 470. 

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In fact, the Turko-Afghan rule is seen as a mark of the kaliyuga:? 

The kaltyuga is a knife; the rajas are butchers; dharma is fast 
vanishing; in the dark night of falsehood the moon of truth 
nowhere seems to rise. 

The rulers did justice when their palms were greased but not in the 
name of God.> They live and die in ignorance of the lord; singed by 
their own pride, they would burn like the forest reed in a wild fire.* 

Guru Nanak exhorted people to turn to God, the true king, the king 
of kings. His service alone is true service. He who finds a place with the 
true king does not have to look towards an earthly potentate. In a trice 
He can degrade the high and the mighty and raise the low to rulership. 
He protects the righteous against brute force; many a time has He cast 
down the wicked and exalted the righteous. 


The compositions of Guru Nanak reveal his familiarity as much with 
the socio-economic life of his times as with the politico-administrative 
arrangements. It was his conviction that the entire universe is suffused 
with divine light and all creation is His creation. The only source of 
light in all human beings is the divine light; God alone is the bestower 
of life upon all living beings. Caste distinctions and social differenti- 
ation did not harmonize with this conviction. God has no ‘caste’; He 
gives no consideration to caste. None should be regarded high (uttam) 
on the basis of his birth or caste; and none should be regarded low 
(nich). Against the Brahmans and the Khatris, Guru Nanak identifies 
himself with the lower castes and the untouchables:5 

Be there the lowest among the low, or even the lower, Nanak is 
with them. 

The pride of the Brahman and the Khatri is totally misplaced. Many a 
Brahman eats bread provided by the rulers, reads their books and 
adopts their dress in public, taxing the cow and the Brahman, and yet 
he tries to maintain ritual purity in private. Many a Khatri has adopted 
the language of the rulers, and their manners. They are a part of the 
oppressive establishment. 

The social reality did not conform to the ideal norm of the varna 
order. Consequently, the actual role of the ‘high castes’ did not 

2 AG, 145, 1288. 3 AG, 63. + AG, 350. 5 AG, 15. 


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conform to the role conceived for them. A true Brahman should attain 
to salvation through his conduct and worship. A true Khatri should be 
a hero in martial action. These were no longer the roles of the 
Brahmans and Khatris; there was nothing commendable in their 
conduct. Conversely, those who follow the true path are the true 
Brahmans and those who fight bravely in action are the true Khatris. 
Degeneration was not peculiar to the Brahman and the Khatri. It was 
general. There are millions of fools fallen in the depths of utter 
darkness; there are millions of thieves subsisting on the earnings of 
others; there are millions of murderers, sinners and slanderers; and 
there are millions of the false and the wicked. The chariot of kaliyuga is 
made of passion and driven by falsehood. Guru Nanak invites people 
to come out of the shells of their castes as individuals to tread the path 
of truth; he encourages the lowest of the low to feel confident of his 
spiritual regeneration. Do good deeds and think of yourself as low; 
think of everyone else as high because ‘there is none who is low 

The idea of equality and the universality of spiritual opportunity are 
the obverse and the reverse of the same socio-religious coin. The 
shudra and the untouchable are placed at par with the Brahman and the 
Khatri. The woman is placed at par with the man. The differences of 
caste and sex, and similarly the differences of country and creed, are set 
aside as irrelevant for salvation. 


As may be expected, Guru Nanak was interested in all the major 
forms of contemporary religious belief and practice, whether ‘Hindu’ 
or ‘Muslim’. He knows what the ‘ulama and the shaikhs stand for; he 
knows what the pandit and the jogi represent; he is also familiar with 
the Jain monks and the practices of those who worship Krishna and 
Rama. Thus, he is ina position to react to some of the new as well as the 
traditional systems of belief and practice. Except for ‘sants’, he finds 
nothing commendable in the contemporary systems. 

Guru Nanak is hard on the Jain monks. They have discarded the 
occupations of their parents and their families weep for them; they sit 
together, each covered with a cloth, as if in condolence; their hair is 
plucked by pluckers whose hands are smeared with ash; they always 

© AG, 62. 


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remain filthy; they walk in a single file, with cups tied to their waists 
and threads on their heads; they go about despised by the people. If the 
pluckheads do not wash, let there be seven handfuls of dust on their 
heads. They wore no tilak mark and observed no Brahmanical rites; 
they were not allowed to go to the sacred places of pilgrimage, and the 
Brahmans did not eat their food.” But for their atheism, Guru Nanak 
might not have taken any notice of them. They commanded little social 

Guru Nanak’s attitude towards the traditional Hindu deities and 
scriptures is intimately linked up with his attitude towards the pandit. 
God created Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh; Shiva—Shakti is God’s 
creation too. Thus, none of.the Hindu deities could be equated with 
the Supreme Being. In fact, everything known to myth, legend and 
history was the creation of Guru Nanak’s God. The human incar- 
nations of Hindu deities, like Krishna, could add nothing to God’s 
greatness. Even if the Vedas were revealed by Brahma, it hardly made 
them a ‘revealed’ scripture for Guru Nanak. The position of the 
Puranas, Smritis and Shastras was even weaker. Without direct denun- 
ciation or categorical rejection, the attitude of Guru Nanak has in-built 
rejection of the traditional authority of the Hindu scriptures. To read 
them, or to hear them read, in a language understood only by a handful 
of people, was at best useless. 

With the rejection of Hindu deities and scriptures went the repudi- 
ation of traditional modes of worship and religious practices. There 
was no merit in pilgrimage to the sixty-eight sacred places, not even to 
the sangam at Prayag where the Ganges and the Jamuna mingled with a 
third invisible stream. There was no merit in the worship of images:8 

The gods and goddesses whom you worship and to whom you 

pray, what can they give? You wash them yourselves; left to 
themselves, they will sink in the water. 

Ritual reading of scriptures is a waste of time. The performance of hom 
is equally useless. Ritual charities are of no use either. 

The protagonists of such beliefs and practices, the pandits, naturally 
come in for denunciation. ‘Can you advise me O learned Pandit how to 
find the Master?’ This rhetorical question implies that the pandit does 
not know. Nor does he care. It is not his primary concern. He does not 
believe that the ‘truth is within him’. He doles out externalities. He is a 

7 AG, 149-50. 8 AG, 637. 


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‘broker’ in false practices. He does it in mundane self-interest. With his 
intrinsic interest in worldly occupations, his pretence of knowledge 
increases the inner dirt which keeps on multiplying. He is like the 
spider that weaves its web all the time, living and dying upside down. 
The sacred thread of the pandit, the sacred mark on his forehead, his 
spotless dhoti and his rosary are useless without a genuine faith. 
Notwithstanding his eristic wrangling, he does not know that he does 
not know.? 

Guru Nanak gives as much attention to the jog? as to the pandit, and 
he is equally familiar with the beliefs and practices of both. Guru 
Nanak has no appreciation for the jog? aspiration to gain supranatural 

Were I to don fire, build a house of snow and eat iron; were I to 
drink all miseries like water; were I to drive the earth as a steed; 
were I to lightly weigh the skies in a balance; were I to become so 
large as to be contained nowhere; to lead everyone by the nose; 
were I to have the power to do all this and get it done by others — 
all this will be futile. 

Guru Nanak does not appreciate the jog? assumption that one can 
attain to salvation by psycho-physical or chemico-physical means. 
Nor does he appreciate their idea of renunciation (udas):!! 

Jog does not lie in the cloak, nor in the staff, nor in smearing the 
body with ash; it does not consist in the ear-ring, nor in shaving of 
the hair, nor in blowing the horn; it is obtained by living pure 
amidst the impurities of attachment. 

Constant devotion to God is real sahaj-samadh; absorption in the 
shabad or the guru is real meditation (tari); the Name is the real nectar 
(maharas). Far from appreciating the jog?, Guru Nanak asks the jogi to 
adopt his own values. 

The few references to the worshippers of Krishna and Rama in the 
compositions of Guru Nanak indicate only his disapproval of their 
practices. Once the idea of incarnation is rejected it becomes impos- 
sible to treat Rama and Krishna as deities. Any worship addressed to 
them, therefore, becomes misplaced. With reference to ram-lila and 
kirtanas, and patronage of plays with quasi-religious themes, Guru 
Nanak makes his attitude clear:!? 

9 AG, 56, 221, 3555358, 4135 432, 479, 471-72, 635, 1171, 1256, 1290. 10 AG, 147. 
AG, 17. 12 AG, 349-50. 


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The disciples play and the gurus dance; they shake their feet and 
they roll their heads; dust arises and falls on their heads; people are 
_ amused, they laugh and they return home; the performers beat 

time perfectly for bread and the dancers dash themselves to the 

ground. They sing of Gopis and of Kanh; they sing of Sita and of 

The dancers are likened to the spinning wheel, the oil-press, the 
potter’s wheel, the churning stave and the top. They fail to realize that 
the whole universe is a cosmic dance praising the Creator. The patrons 
of musical dances or dance-dramas ignorantly think of their charity as 
an act of religious merit:!3 

The gianis dance and play on musical instruments and they don 
costumes to sing loudly of battles and heroes. 

Guru Nanak’s attitude towards the ‘ulama and the shatkhs is similar 
to his attitude towards the pandit and the jogi. Just as there were 
thousands of Brahmas, Vishnus and Shivas created by God, there 
were millions of Muhammads. The Quran and the other Semitic 
scriptures were a sign of God’s glory but none of them was a scripture 
‘revealed’ by God. The mere fact of subscribing to the faith of 
Muhammad ensured nothing, neither paradise nor salvation. Such a 
presumption refuted an essential attribute of Allah Himself: He is 
inscrutable. God’s grace cannot be taken for granted:!4 

Allah does not consult anyone when he makes or unmakes, or 
when he gives or takes away; He alone knows His qudrat; He 
alone is the doer. He watches everyone and bestows His grace on 
whomsoever He wills. 

Mere talk does not lead to paradise; salvation lies in right conduct:!5 

If you add spices to unlawfully earned food, it does not become 
lawful. Falsehood begets only falsehood. 

While addressing the Muslims Guru Nanak shows his preference for 
the path of the s#fts over that of the ‘ulama. The Musalmans praise the 
shari‘at and they read and ponder, but God’s true servants ‘become His 
slaves to see His Face’. They who wish to become true Musalmans 
should ‘first adopt the path of the Auliya, treating renunciation as the 
file that removes the rust’ of the human soul. They who wish to 
become true Musalmans should ‘accept God’s decree most willingly, 

13, AG, 468-69. 14 AG, 53. 15 AG, 141. 


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believe in Him as the true Creator and efface themselves’. Only then 
might they receive His grace.!¢ 

This relative appreciation of the s#ft path does not mean, however, 
that Guru Nanak gave the sats his unqualified approval. A true darvish 
abandons everything, including his ‘self’, to meet the Creator, placing 
complete trust in Him. But many a shaikh subsisted on revenue-free 
land granted by the rulers. Presuming to be sure of his own place of 
honour with God, the shaikh gave assurance to others as well, and 
distributed ‘caps’ among them to authorize them to guide still others. 
He is likened to a mouse which itself is too big to enter the hole and yet 
ties a winnowing basket to its tail.!”7 Considering their earthly pursuits, 
Guru Nanak reminds the shaikhs of their own belief that God alone is 
everlasting. The earth and the heavens shall perish; only He, the only 
One, remains for ever.!8 

Guru Nanak’s basic attitude towards Islam and Hinduism is 
explicitly stated in the line:!9 

Neither the Veda nor the Kateb know the mystery. 

In the same way the qazi, the pandit and the jogi are bracketed:?° 

The qazi utters lies and eats what is unclean; the brabman takes 
life and then goes off to bathe ceremoniously; the blind jogi does 
not know the way; all three are desolated. 


God, for Guru Nanak, is the eternally unchanging Formless One. He 
has no material sign; He is inscrutable; He is beyond the reach of 
human intellect. He is boundless, beyond time, beyond seeing, infinite, 
unsearchable, beyond description, eternally constant, unborn, self- 
existent and wholly apart from creation. God created the universe as 
and when He wished. Consequently, he came to acquire attributes 
which become the means of understanding Him. He is the creator, the 
sustainer and the destroyer of the universe. 

He, the One, is Himself Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and He 
Himself performs all.?! 

16 AG, 465-66, 140-41. 17 AG, 1286. 18 AG, 64. 19 AG, toat. 
20 AG, 662, 951. 21 AG, 1908. 


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He is the only One; there is no second; there is no partner. God 
possesses unqualified power and absolute authority. He can oblige the 
carnivorous beasts and birds to eat grass, and He can feed the 
grass-eaters on meat; He can turn flowing rivers into sand-dunes, and 
He can create fathomless waters in place of deserts; He can confer rule 
upon an ant, and He can reduce whole armies to dust.?2 

God is omnipresent and immanent as well as omnipotent and 


Within all there is light and it is 
Thy light which is in all.23 

It is His light that shines in the creation; His light is in everything and 
in everyone. Wherever you look there is He; He is everywhere, and 
there is no other. He is not far, He is near; He is not far. He fills the 
earth and the heavens, and the space in between; He fills all the three 
worlds. He is the tablet and the pen and the writing. The ocean is in the 
drop, and the drop is in the ocean. He is the speech, the speaker and the 
listener. All is He. He is ‘within’ and He is ‘without’. God is as well in 
the microcosm as He is in the macrocosm. 

For entering into a meaningful relationship with God it is necessary 
to understand ‘divine self-expression’, that is how He stands revealed 
in His creation, and to see the implications of that understanding. Guru 
Nanak is emphatic about recognizing the Truth (sachch). God’s 
creation is real but it is not everlasting. God alone is eternal. To 
attribute all creation to God is to recognize the Truth. Men become 
‘true’ only when they lodge the Truth in their hearts and act in 
accordance with the Truth. Equally important is the appropriation of 
the Name (nam) and the Word (shabad), the object and the medium of 
communication. Through the Name one gets recognition from others; 
without the Name there can be no honour. There is no fulfilment 
without the Name. In the Name is real power, the authority of the 
diwan, the might of the army, and the sovereignty of the Sultan. The 
treasure of excellence is obtained by meditating on the Word. Having 
no form, colour or material sign, God is revealed through the Word. 
The Name and the Word are the revelation of the divine preceptor 
(guru). The Truth is recognized through the divine preceptor’s instruc- 
tion. Without the True Guru one wanders through the cycle of death 

22 AG, 144. 23 AG, 13, 663. 


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and rebirth. Without the True Guru one wanders in the darkness of 
ignorance. Only the True Guru bestows the Name without which 
there is no purpose in human life; ‘one comes and goes like a crow in an 
abandoned house’. The recognition of divine order (hukm, bhana, 
raza) is equally essential. The divine order is an all-embracing principle 
that accounts for everything: the creation of all forms, high or low 
status, misery and happiness, bliss and transmigratory chain. All are 
subject to divine order; none is beyond its operation. Everything in the 
universe points to the intelligent working of the divine order. It reveals 
God as the only doer. Man should recognize the divine order and 
submit himself to it. The divine order is a manifestation of God’s 

The rigour of God’s omnipotence is supported yet softened by His 
grace (nadar, kirpa, karam, prasad, mihr, daya, bakhsis, tars). It is 
through the True Guru’s prasad that ignorance is obliterated and the 
light of the Truth is perceived. One receives the Truth through God’s 
karam. The gift of the Name is received through God’s nadar. 
Through His grace comes the recognition of the divine order. One 
‘sees’ only what He ‘shows’. There is a point beyond which human 
understanding cannot proceed and there, it is the bestowing or 
withholding of God’s grace that decides the issue of salvation. Guru 
Nanak’s idea of God’s grace repudiates all presumption to liberation 
by human effort alone. 

Nevertheless, though human effort is not sufficient, it is absolutely 
necessary. Discarding heedlessness man is to remember God, which 
implies not a mere repetition of His name but meditation on the nature 
of God and His attributes. Consequently, the remembrance of God 
comes to embrace thought, word and deed. Loving devotion and 
dedication to God is true bhakti without which there is no salvation. 
Man should love God as the chakvi loves the Sun, as the chatrik loves 
the rain or as the fish loves water (so much so that it dies without 
water). Bracketed with bhakti is bhai or bhau, that is awe, so that the 
term bhai-bhakti is many a time used as one idea. Indeed, they alone 
can offer bhakti who have bhai lodged in their hearts. God’s awe is the 
remedy for the fear of death. He who lodges God’s fear in his heart 
becomes fearless. But fear catches hold of those who are not afraid of 

In contrast to the ‘truth’ of God, His creation is ‘false’ and, 
therefore, a snare. So long as man remains attached to the creation he 


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suffers from the misery of dubidha, misery arising from dual affili- 
ation :24 

If you worship the attendant you will never see the Master. 
Attachment to earthly things is bound to shut out the Truth.25 

The love of gold and silver, women and fragrant scents, horses, 
couches, and dwellings, sweets and meats — these are all lusts of the 
flesh. Where in the heart can there be room for the Name? 

But the multiformed maya allures man to itself, thanks to his lust, 
covetousness, attachment to earthly things, anger and pride. These five 
adversaries of man are difficult to subdue. But there can be no 
compromise, because there can be no conciliation between man’s 
affiliation to maya and his affiliation to God. 

One of the five adversaries of man, namely pride, becomes much 
more formidable in the form of self-centredness (haumai). In fact, 
pride springs from this self-centredness. Man attributes things to 
himself rather than to God, in opposition to the Truth and the divine 
order. Haumai is thus opposed to God as the only omnipotent reality ; 
it is a subtle psychological barrier between man and God. It is a disease 
that only the recognition of the divine order and the understanding of 
the Word can cure. To die to ‘self’ is to prepare the ground for life 
everlasting. The life of the self-willed man (manmukh), who vainly 
attributes things to himself, is like that of spurious sesame which is left 
desolate in the field. 

Psychological detachment from maya and eradication of haumai 
enable man to perceive God in the microcosm, just as his understand- 
ing enables him to perceive God in the macrocosm. Yearning for a 
union with God increases the pangs of separation:?¢ 

I cannot live for a moment without the Beloved; 
I cannot have a wink of sleep without meeting Him. 

Supplication is made in devout humility :27 

My sins are as numerous as the drops of water in the ocean. 
Through your mercy O Lord! even stones can cross the waters. 

If man’s sins are countless, God’s bounty is boundless. In His kindness 
God leads the devotee on the path towards Him:28 

24 AG, 229, 75. 23 AG, 15. 26 AG, 1274. 27 AG, 156. 
28 AG, 931. 


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He who is immersed in His love day and night sees Him immanent 
in the three worlds, and throughout all time. He becomes like Him 
whom he knows. He becomes wholly pure, his body is sanctified, 
and God dwells in his heart as his only love. Within him is the 
Word; he is blended in the True One. 

In the process of man’s union with God, an important experience is 
visamad, the awe-inspiring vision of God’s greatness and the feeling of 
ecstasy resulting from it. The emotion of wonder engendered by the 
overwhelming greatness of God leads to refined and intense meditation 
which purges man of his haumai. It leads to an intense adoration too, 
and the best praises of God appear to be inadequate. This too is His gift 
to man. He shows the way; He leads to union. 

The ever-widening visamad leads to higher and yet higher levels of 
understanding and experience. Recognizing the law of cause and effect 
in the moral as well as the physical world, man realizes the justice of 
God. In His court stand revealed the true and the false. Man’s wider 
understanding of the nature of God becomes a source of joy. Con- 
sequently, he puts in greater exertion, and his acts conform to his 
increasing understanding. As the reward of his devotion, he ascends to 
the Realm of Truth, the dwelling place of the Formless One, in which 
there is perfect harmony with His hukm. The transmigratory process 
ends with the state of union with God, a state of consummate joy and 
perfect peace. 

In Guru Nanak’s conception of the path to salvation ‘the law of 
karma’ is set aside and a new context is provided for right conduct. He 
does make use of the current notion to emphasize the need for good 
acts. ‘Do not blame others; you receive the reward or retribution for 
what you yourself do.’ The ‘law of karma’ is invoked also to explain 
the differences of birth; immediately, however, the grace of God is 
invoked for explaining the attainment to salvation. In any case, the ‘law 
of karma’ is not independent of God’s hukm. The subordination of 
karma to the hukm is not without significance. Paradoxically, sub- 
mission to God’s hukm becomes a means to release from the ‘law of 
karma’. The chain of karma obviously cannot bind God; rather His 
grace breaks the chain of karma. Human acts acquire fresh importance 
in this context:?? 

29 AG, §79, 1110. 


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The words man speaks shall be taken into account; the food he eats 
shall be taken into account; his movements shall be taken into 
account; what he sees and hears shall be taken into account. 
Indeed, every breath he draws shall be taken into account. 

Loving devotion to God becomes a good act. In fact all those deeds 
which enable men to tread the path shown by Guru Nanak become 
‘true’ acts, and those deeds which hinder men on that path are ‘false’ 
acts. Thus, right conduct is closely connected with Guru Nanak’s idea 
of right belief and right worship. Foremost in right conduct was honest 
living and charity based on that:5° 

He who eats what he has earned by his own labour and gives some 
to others — Nanak, he it is who knows the true way. 


By the time Babur established his rule in northern India, Guru Nanak 
had fully formulated his system of inter-related ideas and correspond- 
ing practices. True to his convictions, he attributed all his understand- 
ing and all his experience to God. On His authority, therefore, he was 
saying what he was saying and doing what he was doing. He regarded 
himself as God’s herald (tabal-baz) to proclaim His Truth:3! 

I was a minstrel (dhadi) without an occupation, but God gave me 

an occupation. He ordered me to sing His praises. He called the 

dbhadi to His abode of Truth, and gave him the robe of ‘true praise 

and adoration’. The true nectar of the Name has been sent as food. 

They are happy who taste it to the full in accordance with the 

Guru’s instruction. The dhadi openly proclaims the glory of the 
Word. By adoring the Truth, Nanak has found the Perfect One. 

During the last fifteen years of his life Guru Nanak settled down at 
Kartarpur, a place founded by him then on the right bank of the river 
Ravi, represented by the present Dera Baba Nanak on the left bank. 
Concerned seriously with showing to others the path he had dis- 
covered for himself, he acted as a guide. Disciples gathered around him 
as an acknowledged preceptor. The work of these years proved to be 
the most influential in terms of its legacy for the future. He imparted 
regular instruction to his disciples and exhorted the visitors as well to 
discard trust in external forms and in status based on caste or wealth, to 

30 AG, 1245. 31 AG, 150. 


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cultivate inner devotion and a truly religious attitude by recognizing 
the greatness of God and reflecting upon His revelation. A regular 
discipline was evolved for the adoration of God. The early hours of the 
morning were devoted to meditation. All the disciples and visitors 
joined Guru Nanak in singing the praises of God in the evening as in 
the morning. There is a good deal of emphasis in the compositions of 
Guru Nanak upon ‘true association’ or association with the true 
devotees of God. This ideal found concrete expression in corporate 
worship at Kartarpur. The disciples and the visitors ate communal 
meals, for which the believers in the new faith made contribution in 
cash, kind or service. 

It is difficult to estimate the number or the social background of the 
followers of Guru Nanak. There is no doubt, however, that Khatris 
were rather numerous among his followers. His successor-to-be was 
only one of them. They were petty traders, shop-keepers, agents of 
merchants, itinerant salesmen. It is equally certain that cultivators were 
among the followers of Guru Nanak, and most of them were Jats. Then 
there were some artisans and craftsmen, bond-servants and slaves. The 
followers came from towns and the countryside. Most of them 
belonged to the lower classes, and all of them were house-holders. 
Among themselves they thought they were all equal. ‘We are not high, 
or low, or the middling; we have taken refuge in God, and we are His 

The most important aspect of the mode of worship adopted by Guru 
Nanak for himself and his followers was the use of his own com- 
positions for this purpose. This was a logical corollary of his rejection 
of scriptural authority and the scriptures of contemporary religions. 
Some of his definitive utterances were used for liturgical purposes. The 
later importance given to his Japuji and to his So-dar appears to have 
been a continuation of Guru Nanak’s own practice. It is likely that 
these, and many other compositions, were recorded in writing by 
Guru Nanak himself. This aspect of his work became the basis of vital 
developments under his successors. 

Guru Nanak lived at Kartarpur as a house-holder, with his wife and 
his two sons. This fact carried a great significance for the future. In the 
compositions of Guru Nanak there are verses which can be interpreted 
as supporting renunciation (das), and Guru Nanak himself had 
travelled widely, leaving his family behind. His decision to return to 

32, AG, 504. 


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the life of a house-holder, therefore, was important. It demonstrated 
his basic ideal that true renunciation consisted in living pure amidst the 
impurities of attachment. The followers of Guru Nanak at Kartarpur 
and elsewhere pursued honest occupations for livelihood. They 
demonstrated thus how to combine piety with worldly activity. A 
disciplined worldliness was the hallmark of this new community. 
Before his death at Kartarpur in 1539 Guru Nanak chose his 
successor from amongst his followers, setting aside the claims of his 
sons. Nomination of a successor from amongst one’s own disciples was 
not a new thing; it was known to many an ascetical order of the times. 
But the nomination of Lehna by Guru Nanak was regarded as unique 
because Lehna was installed in his office by Guru Nanak himself. His 
name too was changed from Lehna to Angad, making him ‘a limb’ of 
the founder. This nomination was important not merely because it 
enabled Guru Nanak to ensure the continuation of his work but also 
because it served as the basis of the idea that the positions of the Guru 
and the disciple were interchangeable. Closely linked with this was the 
idea that there was no difference between the founder and the 
successor; they represented one and the same light. By the time Guru 
Nanak breathed his last the nucleus of a new social group had come 
into existence with an acknowledged Guru to guide its social and 
religious life according to a pattern set by the founder and in the light of 

ideas expounded by him. 


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By the beginning of the seventeenth century the socio-religious 
community of Guru Nanak’s followers became ‘a state within the 
state’. Each of his first four successors made his own distinctive 
contribution, working within the ideological and institutional para- 
meters adumbrated by him. We have to study their own com- 
positions closely to perceive the slow but sure development of the 
Sikh Panth in terms of numbers, composition, material resources, 
social institutions and a multi-dimensional transmutation of ideas in 
a creative response to changing situations. To listen to those who were 
closely connected with them is equally rewarding. The context for this 
development was provided by the politico-administrative arrange- 
ments evolved by Akbar, giving peace and prosperity to a vast 
empire. The position of the Sikh Panth at the end of his reign may be 
seen as the culmination of a peaceful evolution of nearly three- 
quarters of a century. This evolutionary phase came dramatically to a 
grave end with the martyrdom of Guru Arjan in the very first year 
of Jahangir’s reign. 


Babur ruled over the territory he conquered from Bhera to Bihar for 
only four years till his death in 1530. His son and successor, Nasirud- 
din Humayun, temporarily added Malwa and Gujarat to the domin- 
ions inherited from Babur. The Afghan resurgence under the leader- 
ship of the Sur Afghan Sher Khan obliged Humayun to abandon the 
Mughal territory in India in 1540. Sher Shah Sur and his successors 
ruled over northern India for fifteen years before Humayun staged a 
successful return in 1555. He died a year later. It was left for his son and 
successor, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, to conquer territories from 
Kabul and Qandahar in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east, from 
Kashmir in the north to across the Narbada in the south, and to 
introduce changes of great significance during his rule of nearly half a 
century till his death in 1605. 


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LY ke 
Kabul N. 

e Srinagar 


C7 seit ros 


é Banara 


2 Na ! 
~ ee 

Abmnadabad a ‘Y e Ujjain 
N. i “a 

GUJARAT De er ae 
(7 KHANDESH~———~ 
A “t , Elichpur 
7” Burhanpur ae 

Bay of Bengal 
Arabian Sea 

2 Akbar’s empire 

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Akbar adopted several measures which modified the character of the 
state. He made an extensive and effective use of suzerain—vassal polity 
in which the administrative control of a territory was left in the hands 
of its chief under the political control of the suzerain on certain 
well-stipulated conditions, especially the payment of annual tribute 
and the supply of contingents for imperial service. There were hun- 
dreds of chiefs in Akbar’s empire who retained their territories on the 
conditions of vassalage; the extent of their territories was by no means 
negligible. Akbar tried to induct the willing vassal chiefs into the 
mansabdari system. Many a vassal chief received high rank to serve the 
empire with zeal.! The bulk of the chiefs were Hindu, and Akbar’s 
attitude towards them was an important plank of his general policy. He 
abolished the discriminatory jizya and the pilgrimage tax. He remitted 
the tax on cows and discouraged cow-slaughter. He showed respect for 
native customs by participating in the celebration of Dusehra and 
Diwali. He showed interest in traditional learning and literature by 
getting Sanskrit works translated into Persian. He extended state 
patronage to non-Muslim institutions and individuals of known merit 
by giving them revenue-free lands (madad-i-ma‘ash).? 

Akbar had a rare genius for organization. For all practical purposes 
he dispensed with the office of the all-powerful minister known as the 
wazir or the vakil, and distributed the work of the government among 
four ministers of more or less equal importance to deal with the 
finances of the state, its army and justice and the royal household. This 
arrangement imparted stability and efficiency to the government at the 
centre and, together with some other measures, increased the control 
of the emperor over the administration of the different parts of the 
empire. Akbar divided his empire into a small number of rather large 
provinces. His province was also qualitatively different from the 
primary divisions of the earlier empires. Each province had three types 
of territory: vassal territory attached to the province, lands given in 
jagir to the servants of the state, and the khalisa lands from which 
revenue was collected directly for the emperor. In the last decade of the 
sixteenth century the diwan in the province was made independent of 
the governor to look after the revenue administration under the control 

' For vassal chiefs under Akbar, Ahsan Raza Khan, Chieftains in the Mughal Empire 
During the Reign of Akbar, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, 1977. 

2 For a discussion of Akbar’s madad-i-ma‘ash grants to non-Muslims, B. N. Goswamy 
and J.S. Grewal, The Mughals and the Jogis of Jakhbar, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 

Simla, 1967. 


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of the diwan at the centre. Besides the permanent local officials, 
full-fledged officials of the imperial administration were appointed to 
help and control the jagirdars. The zabti system, which implied the 
collection of land-revenue in cash according to rates for a unit area 
under cultivation, was introduced on a large scale. Even from villages 
not brought under the system of measurement (zabt), the revenue was 
generally collected in cash. 

Akbar’s conquests, his concessions and measures on conciliation 
resulted in peace and security in his vast dominions, particularly during 
the second half of his reign. This peace and security became an 
important condition for the growth of prosperity. Extension of 
agriculture was an important objective of Akbar’s revenue policy, and 
there are clear indications that more and more land was brought under 
cultivation during the late sixteenth century. ‘Cash crops’ were sown 
for the market, and agricultural produce was used for manufactures. 
Akbar introduced standardization in weights, measures and currency 
with the Ilahi gaz, Akbari man and the silver rupees as the standard. 
Two small coins were widely current for small transactions in villages 
and towns: one was the paisa, one-fortieth of the rupee; the other was 
the anna, equal to four paisa. To encourage trade, Akbar abolished 
many internal imposts. Routes were protected for caravans and trade 
became a pretty safe proposition. 

Akbar’s reign was marked by a revival of trade on a large scale. 
Bankers’ drafts or bills of exchange (hundis) were widely used for the 
purpose of trade. An organized system of insurance also protected 
trade interests. River traffic was well developed, and large or small 
boats were manufactured at many places, besides ship-building for 
coastal and sea trade. There were several mercantile communities to 
handle trade. Their distribution over large areas was an asset for 
commercial transactions. The increase in the size and number of urban 
centres in the dominions of Akbar during the late sixteenth century 
was an indication of an increase in the volume of trade and manufac- 
tures as well as an increase in agricultural production. On the whole, 
in the late sixteenth century northern India presented a historical 
situation which was markedly different from that of the late fifteenth 
or even of the early sixteenth century. 

The province of Lahore was among the advanced provinces of 
Akbar’s empire in terms of agriculture, manufactures and trade, with 
Lahore as one of the largest cities of the Mughal empire, which also 


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meant that it was one of the largest cities of the world around 1600. 
Expansion of cultivation in the Punjab had started under Afghan rule. 
When Babur crossed the river Jhelum he curiously noticed the Persian 
wheel which, later, he found in use for irrigation in the regions of 
Lahore and Dipalpur. It extended in fact to the Sarhind region. Akbar’s 
court historian Abul Fazl observed that most of the province of Lahore 
was irrigated by wells with Persian wheels. This artificial means of 
irrigation enabled the landholders of the province to grow high 
quality or cash crops. Akbar’s long presence in Lahore during the 
fourth decade of his reign added to the importance of the province. 
Well-known for its rock-salt, the province was known also for its 
exports of textiles, sugar candy of high quality, boats, shawls and 
carpets. Lahore was on the trade route from Delhi to Kabul, while 
Multan was on the route to Qandahar, and both these cities were linked 
with the ports of the Arabian Sea through riverain traffic. The 
economic development of the Punjab provided good opportunities for 
enterprising traders and cultivators. The Khatris and Jats of the 
province of Lahore were surely not unenterprising. In the empire of 
Akbar they tried to make the best of the opportunities offered by peace 
and prosperity. 

Akbar’s reign was covered by the pontificates of three of the first 
four successors of Guru Nanak. These three were Guru Amar Das, 
Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan. The first successor of Guru Nanak 
was Guru Angad, a Khatri of the Trehan subcaste who was a petty 
trader and a devotee of the Goddess before he came under the influence 
of Guru Nanak. Guru Amar Das too was a Khatri but of the Bhalla 
subcaste, and he was a Vaishnava before he became a disciple of Guru 
Angad; he too was a petty trader in a village near the present-day 
Amritsar. Guru Ram Das was a Khatri of the Sodhi subcaste, and he 
came under the influence of Guru Amar Das as a young hawker. Guru 
Ram Das nominated one of his own three sons, namely Guru Arjan, as 
his successor. Henceforth, Guruship was to remain in the Sodhi family 
of Guru Ram Das. All the Gurus, thus, were Khatris with a rural 
background. The subcastes to which they belonged were not among 
the important Khatri subcastes, not even the Bedi subcaste to which the 
founder of the Sikh Panth belonged. Their social position was rather 
low among the Khatris. 

3 For the successors of Guru Nanak see appendix 1. 


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Guru Angad’s pontificate was an extension of Guru Nanak’s work, but 
with significant shifts of emphasis. He shows a thorough grasp of the 
compositions of Guru Nanak. To preserve these compositions for 
posterity he adopted a new script called Gurmukhi which has served 
this purpose ever since its adoption by Guru Angad. His own 
compositions consist of short verses (shaloks), only a little over sixty 
and the longest having only twelve lines. These are composed sig- 
nificantly under the name ‘Nanak’, implying thereby that there was no 
difference between the compositions of the successor and the founder. 
This practice was followed by others to underline the idea of unity 
between the founder and the successors. 

In the compositions of Guru Angad the unity, omnipotence, omni- 
presence, omniscience and immanence of God are taken for granted, 
and so are the divine order (hukm, raza, farman) and grace (nadar, 
kirpa, prasad). The disease of self-centredness (haumat) keeps man 
entangled in the net of transmigration. Devotion is to be addressed 
voluntarily with love and dedication to the only God, in trust and fear, 
remembering Him in misery and comfort. The head that does not bow 
to Him is better cut off. One should be ready to die in His way.* 

There are references to the divine preceptor, but more significant are 
the references to Nanak as the Guru. The connotation of the state- 
ments with a bearing on the Guru begins to change. “The Guru has the 
key to salvation’; “There is utter darkness without the Guru.’> Such 
statements are as much applicable to Guru Nanak as to the divine 
preceptor. Similarly, the Word and the Name get equated with the 
sacred compositions (bani) of Guru Nanak. There is only one true 
shabad, the nectar-like bani of Guru Nanak.6 The Gurmukh (God- 
oriented) gets equated with the followers of Guru Nanak, and by 
implication with the followers of Guru Angad.” 

Guru Angad had to establish a new centre. The law of the state could 
be invoked by the legal heirs of Guru Nanak to claim Kartarpur as a 
matter of right. But Guru Angad voluntarily moved to Khadur (in the 
Amritsar district), leaving Kartarpur in the hands of Sri Chand and 
Lakhmi Chand, the sons of Guru Nanak. Sri Chand built in fact a 
structure over the spot where Guru Nanak was cremated, and refused 

4+ AG, 83, 88, 138, 463, 787, 788, 954, 1238, 1239. > AG, 145, 146, 463, 1237. 
6 AG, 466, 469, 787, 1283. 7 AG, 138, 463, 1288. 


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to recognize Guru Angad as the Guru. Some people were taken in by 
his claim to Guruship. The followers of Guru Angad were not thus the 
only followers of Guru Nanak. In the compositions of Guru Angad 
the presence of the ‘others’ is assumed. He invokes the principle of 
nomination against any other kind of claim to be the successor of Guru 
Nanak. ‘What kind of a gift is this that one gives to oneself? The true 
gift is that which is received by serving the Master to his satisfaction.’ 
His faithful followers ‘need no instruction’ for they have been ‘given 
instruction by Guru Nanak’.? The blind are not those who have no 
eyes; the blind are those who fail to recognize the Master even when 
they have eyes.!° 

Guru Angad established a community kitchen (/angar) at Khadur 
where his followers and visitors used to meet for congregational 
worship. His wife, known as Mother Khivi, took special interest in the 
community kitchen, and it was not uncommon to serve sweet pudding 
of rice boiled in milk, a sign perhaps of the ability of the Sikhs to bring 
substantial offerings.!' Guru Angad refers to the early morning 
meditation and daily worship practised by his followers. Their spirit- 
ual state is reflected in the brightness of their faces; the grace of the 
sarraf (God) has in fact gilded their entire frames.!2 The metaphors 
from trade in Guru Angad’s compositions underline the importance of 
the Khatri component of his followers, but there were certainly others. 
An ironsmith (/ohar) and a barber (nai) were among his eminent 
followers.!3 New followers were initiated in addition to the old 
disciples of Guru Nanak. To look after the needs of the congregation 
Guru Angad had to appoint a store-keeper (bhandari) and a master- 
cook (rasotya).'4 

Guru Angad shows a deep regard for his followers. ‘Nanak’ is the 
slave of those who recognize the only true shabad; they are like God to 
him. ‘Nanak’ is the slave of those who recognize the unity of God and 
the secret of His Divinity; they are like God to him.!5 Only those who 
have turned to the Guru know that in the outside world of kaliyuga the 
king is really a pauper and the learned pandit is really a fool.'¢ The 
‘Gurmukh’ thus stands distinguished from the rest of his contempo- 
raries. One such Gurmukh had served Guru Angad with devotion 

8 AG, 474. 9 AG, 150. 10 AG, 954. '! AG, 966-67. 
12 AG, 146. 
13. Varan Bhai Gurdas (ed. Giani Hazara Singh), Wazir-i-Hind Press, Amritsar, 1962, var 
11, pauri 14. 
14 [bid., var 11, pauri 15. 15 AG, 469. 16 AG, 1288. 

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since 1540. In 1552, Guru Angad nominated him as the successor- 


Guru Amar Das had to leave Khadur because it was claimed by Dasu 
and Datu, the sons of Guru Angad, as their inheritance. They set 
themselves up as Guru Angad’s spiritual heirs. Guru Amar Das 
founded a new centre a few miles away on the right bank of the river 
Beas, on the route from Lahore to Delhi, which developed into a 
township known as Goindwal. His community kitchen in Goindwal 
came to be known for the plenty of its fine flour and clarified butter, 
which may be taken as an indication of the growing prosperity of his 

In his compositions Guru Amar Das underlines the importance of 
true association (sat-sangat), that of his followers who came to the 
abode of the Guru (gurdwara) for singing the shabad of the Guru and 
to listen to the bani sung by the minstrels appointed by the Guru for 
this purpose. This true association of ‘brothers-in-faith’ and ‘friends- 
in-faith’ is a source of ‘understanding’; it opens the door to salvation. 
Access to the sangat is a gift of the Guru. He who fails to turn to the 
Guru and to recognize the shabad is self-oriented (manmukh). There 
are detractors (nindak) too, and there are deserters who have turned 
away (bemukh). The Guru does not regard anyone as his enemy, and 
his Sikhs are safe under the protection of the all-powerful God. Their 
enemies do not know that He is the only true king; His worshippers 
cannot come to any harm at the hands of the agents of the earthly kings. 
There are indications, thus, that the opponents of the Guru were 
seeking help from the local administrators. Opposition to the Guru 
may be taken as a measure of his increasing success in propagating his 

The compositions of Guru Amar Das read like annotations to the 
compositions of Guru Nanak. There is hardly an important idea of 
Guru Nanak which does not find a similar expression in the com- 
positions of Guru Amar Das. Figuring frequently in his compositions 
is God in His attributeless state, His revelation through the Word, the 

'7 AG, 967. 

18 AG, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35> 37-38, 65, 67-68, 114, IL5, 120, 129, 233, 364, 425, 427, 
516, 517, 586, 587, 590, 601, 638, 643, 645, 849, 854, 909, 912, 1046, 1249, 1258, 1259, 1260, 
1276, 1334, 148§, 1416, 1417. 


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divine order, the divine preceptor, His grace, His transcendence and 
immanence, the maya and haumai and the true path of bhakti. 
However, there are significant shifts of emphasis and connotation. 
Every cosmic age (yuga) had its appropriate faith (dharma); the present 
age (kaliyuga) has the Name.!? There is no guru but the true Guru. 
Those who do not serve the true Guru remain in misery throughout 
the four cosmic ages.2° One should do as the Guru says, and conform 
to his wishes (bhana).2! The bani of the true Guru is true. The bani of 
the Guru is the sweet nectar of immortality. ‘Gurmukh bani is Brahm.’ 
Bani is God.?2 

All compositions other than the bani of the true Guru are unripe 
(kachchi). They who recite or pronounce unripe compositions are 
themselves unripe; they who listen to unripe compositions remain 
unripe; what is conveyed by unripe compositions is unripe.2? Guru 
Amar Das prepared two volumes of true bami, consisting mostly of the 
compositions of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das 
himself. Included in these two volumes was the bani of sants and 
bhaktas like Kabir and Namdev.24 Guru Amar Das refers to Namdev, 
the calico-printer, and Kabir, the weaver, who attained to the state of 
salvation with the grace of the perfect Guru; they recognized the divine 
shabad and got rid of haumai and the restrictions of caste; now their 
bani is sung by both gods and men.?> Guru Amar Das found rather 
kindred spirits in Kabir and Namdev and collected their compositions 
to be incorporated in the volumes containing the bani of the Gurus. 
There was a professional scribe among his followers; there was also an 
eminent singer of the sacred bani.?¢ 

The number of Sikhs increased considerably in the time of Guru 
Amar Das. Instead of a few individuals here and there in the country- 
side, some villages came to have a large number of Sikhs. For the 
propagation of his faith he visited Kurukshetra and some of the sacred 
places on the Jamuna and the Ganges.?7 It is not unlikely that some of 
the Khatri followers of Guru Amar Das had started their trading 
activity outside the province of Lahore. In any case, new bonds were 

19 AG, 229, 797, 880. 20 AG, 519. 
21 AG, 37, 665, 757, 905, 943, 1015, 1248. 
22 AG, 39, 246, §15. 23 AG, 920; for sachchi (authentic) bani, by contrast, 968. 

24 W.H. McLeod, The Evolution of the Sikh Community, Oxford University Press, 1975, 

25 AG, 67, 555, 1380. 26 Bhai Gurdas, var 11, pauri 16. 
27 Stated by Guru Ram Das: AG, 2116. 


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needed for the growing community of followers. Guru Amar Das 
constructed a well at Goindwal, with eighty-four steps to reach the 
water for bathing, which became sacred for the Sikhs. In a sense, the 
first pilgrimage centre for the Sikhs was established at Goindwal. The 
Baisakhi and the Diwali became festival days for the Sikhs who visited 
Goindwal. Guru Amar Das introduced distinctly Sikh ceremonies for 
the occasions of death, birth and marriage, asking the Sikhs not to cry 
and lament in their hour of loss and not to forget the divine source of 
supreme happiness in their hour of earthly bliss.28 Guru Amar Das 
spoke against self-immolation, female infanticide and the consumption 
of liquor.2? The first injunction was perhaps meant for his Khatri 
followers; the second and the third, for the Jat cultivators of the 

Guru Amar Das upheld the principle of nomination. ‘God Himself 
is the Guru and He Himself is the disciple (chela).’° This could be 
applied to Guru Nanak and Guru Angad as well. In any case, it is a part 
of the divine order that the Guru can raise another to the status of the 
Guru.?! As his own successor, Guru Amar Das chose his son-in-law, 
Bhai Jetha, as Guru Ram Das. Thinking of the likely opposition from 
his sons, Mohan and Mohri, Guru Amar Das decided to found a new 
centre. The site was chosen and work was started on digging a pool 
when Guru Amar Das died in 1574. 


Guru Ram Das got a tank (sarovar) dug where we find it today in the 
city of Amritsar. From the very beginning it was meant to be a sacred 
tank. The pure water of this ‘divine pool’ removes dust and dirt from 
the bodies of those who bathe here, and their bodies become pure.? 
All sins are removed from those to whom the Guru gives the gift of 
bathing in this pool filled with ‘the nectar of immortality’ (amritsar).>3 
Indeed, Amritsar was the name given to this tank in the beginning; it 
came to be extended to the city much later. A township started 
growing around the tank and it was appropriately called Ramdaspur or 
the town of Guru Ram Das. Besides the followers of the Guru, other 

28 In the compositions of Guru Arjan there are references to the recitation of Anand at the 
birth of his son Hargobind: AG, 396. 

29 AG, $54, 787, 1413. 8° AG, 797. >! AG, 490. 32 AG, 774. 

33 AG, 732, 774. 


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traders, shopkeepers, artisans and craftsmen were encouraged to live in 
the town. 

The founding of a town and the excavation of a large tank is 
indicative of the resources mobilized by Guru Ram Das. The Sikhs 
were expected to make contributions in cash, kind and service. In the 
compositions of Guru Ram Das there is a good deal of insistence on the 
merit of offerings to the Guru. ‘Give your wealth and riches to him 
who enables you to meet the Friend.’>4 The followers are asked to send 
corn and cloth. All their wishes are fulfilled who serve the Guru with 
devotion. Whatever they wish, all they wish for, is given: true faith, 
earthly riches; pleasures and salvation (dharma, artha, kama, moksha). 
There are indications in the compositions of Guru Ram Das that he 
authorized some of his Sikhs to act as his representatives and to collect 
offerings from those Sikhs who could not come personally to the 

In the compositions of Guru Ram Das, the food, dress and posses- 
sions of those who have appropriated the name are sanctified. They 
who entertain the Sikhs, their houses and mansions are sanctified. The 
caparisoned horses which the Sikhs ride are sanctified.3¢ They who 
have God’s name on their lips, their actions and affairs are sanctified. 
They who bring offerings to the Guru, acquire the true merit of 
charity. The low caste also figure prominently in the compositions of 
Guru Ram Das. While Khatris and Brahmans were ignored by God, 
Namdev was drawn close. There were other low-caste devotees of God 
who attained to salvation through their devotion, like Kabir, Jaidev, 
Tarlochan, Ravidas, Dhanna and Sen.>” Appreciation for the low-caste 
Sants and Bhaktas may be treated as an indication of the presence of the 
low caste among the Sikhs. Guru Ram Das is aware of the presence of 
the cultivators among the Sikhs. He feels concerned about drought and 
gratified about timely rainfall; he is also aware of the wells with the 
Persian wheel to irrigate the fields.’38 Then there were shopkeepers, 
petty traders, artisans and craftsmen among the Sikhs, besides the 
wealthy merchants and traders. The community was never much short 
of women, but in the compositions of Guru Ram Das their presence is 
as palpable as that of men. 

There are some other important dimensions of the compositions of 

34 AG, 301, 443, 588, 719, 853, 1264. 35 AG, 301, 303, 307, 443, 588, 590. 
36 AG, 648, 1246. 
37 AG, 733, 799s 835, 976, 995. 38 AG, 304, 368, 1250, 1318, 1329. 


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Guru Ram Das. The importance of the Guru is increasing with the 
increasing number and prosperity of the Sikhs. He provides the 
common bond. He is the father and the mother; he is the friend and the 
relation. He is the honour of those who possess no honour on their 
own.>? Equally important is the bani of the Guru (gurbani). It is the 
embodiment of truth; there is no other true bani.4° The Sikh of the 
Guru (gursikh) is like the Guru himself; the true Guru dwells in them. 
They meditate on God day and night: ‘I am their slave.’*! To meet a 
gursikh is the sign of God’s grace. The sangat becomes the collective 
body of the Sikhs in the compositions of Guru Ram Das. The sangat of 
the Guru is dear to God.#2 Guru Ram Das composed /avan for the 
solemnization of Sikh marriage, and ghorian to be sung on days 
preceding the day of marriage.*> He contributed even more to the Sikh 
awareness of a distinct identity by separating them clearly from ‘the 
others’ in his compositions. The ‘noseless’ manmukh stands disho- 
noured; he is a ‘nameless’ bastard born to a prostitute.*4 

The distinctive identity of the Sikhs is underlined by Guru Ram Das 
partly because of the dissension among the professed followers of 
Guru Nanak. There are deserters who have turned away from the 
Guru (bemukh), the ‘black-faced’ thieves of God. They are misled by 
the detractors (nindak) of the Guru who are envious of his success and 
his wealth. They try to imitate the Guru, but what they say is 
‘unripe’.45 Guru Ram Das upholds the principle of nomination to 
castigate his opponents. They do not realize that the treasure of bhakti 
had been bestowed upon the true devotees of God from the very 
beginning; they stood cursed by Guru Nanak and by Guru Angad; the 
third Guru thought that they possessed no power to harm; the fourth 
Guru forgave the detractors and their associates. But the detractors 
persist in their folly and suffer ignominy. They seek the support of 
local administrators and chaudharis. This combination presented a 
threat which Guru Ram Das could not fail to notice.*¢ 

Guru Ram Das advises his followers not to retaliate, but to leave 
things to God. The diwans of God, the Sikhs, need not be afraid of the 
earthly diwans, the administrators of the empire.*” All the emperors 
and kings, khans and amirs and shiqdars are subject to the power of 

39 AG, 167. 40 AG, 304. 41 AG, 305-06, 493, 1263. 
42, AG, 446, 1197, 1297. 
43 AG, 575, 576, 774. + AG, 837. 45 AG, 304, 1250. 
*6 AG, 303, 306, 307, 316, 366, 651, 733, 850, 853-54. 
47, AG, 591. 


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God and they do what He wills for them.*® Since the Sikhs belong to 
the ‘faction’ of God they need not fear an earthly faction (dhara).*? 
Guru Ram Das invokes myth and legend to reassure the Sikhs that God 
is their protector. He is also keen to underline that he is the only 
legitimate successor of the world-preceptor (jagat-gura), Guru 
Nanak.°*° Before his death in 1581, Guru Ram Das chose his youngest 
son, Arjan, as the successor-Guru. The principle of nomination was 
upheld, but it was restricted to the family of Guru Ram Das. 


If the idea of Guru Ram Das was to enable his successor to have legal 
claims over Ramdaspur as one of his heirs, and thereby to enable him to 
remain in control of the headquarters, it was eminently successful. 
Guru Arjan was the first successor of Guru Nanak who succeeded to 
the missionary centre of his immediate predecessor. However, the 
other legal heirs could claim a share in the property. Guru Arjan’s 
eldest brother, Prithi Chand, approached the local administrators 
probably to claim the position of his father but he had to be content 
with a share in the income from Ramdaspur. Guru Arjan was only 
eighteen years old at the time of his nomination, and he had no son. 
Prithi Chand bided his time, remaining unreconciled to the Guruship 
of his younger brother. After the birth of Guru Arjan’s son Hargobind 
in 1595, Prithi Chand’s hostility was sharpened but he did not openly 
defy the Guru. Nevertheless, Guru Arjan had to face covert enmity 
from within the family. 

There were other detractors too. Guru Arjan refers to them rather 
frequently in his compositions. They are generally foiled in their 
attempt to harm the Guru’s interests. If one of them submitted an 
affidavit signed by a number of persons (mahzar) to the qazi against 
the Guru, it turned out to be false and the author of this falsehood met 
an ignominious end.°! If another tried to poison the child Hargobind, 
he was himself killed.5? An inveterate enemy of Guru Arjan was one 
Sulhi; he got axed to death before his evil intentions got clothed in 
action.>3 The faces of the detractors were ‘blackened’ when they made 
a representation against the Guru to a high dignitary of the state who 

48 AG, 851. 49 AG, 366. 50 AG, 733. 51 AG, 199. 
52 AG, 1137-38. 
53 AG, 825. 


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found their charges baseless and allowed the Guru to return home 
safe.>4 It is possible that Akbar’s attitude towards Guru Arjan had a 
sheltering effect. On his return from Lahore after a long stay, Akbar 
met the Guru at Goindwal in November, 1598. Two weeks later, he 
decreased the rate of revenue in the province to bring it down to what 
it was before his long stay in Lahore.5 

To cope with the feeling of insecurity, arising particularly from the 
hostility of the Guru’s opponents and detractors, Guru Arjan 
exhorted his followers to cultivate profound faith and trust in God. He 
who remembers God gets rid of fear. The shabad of the Guru acts like 
a protective garrison all around. The ‘wealth of God’ is the antidote for 
anxiety. The Name makes one fearless. They who take refuge in God 
have nothing to fear.5¢ Indeed, God is given new attributes; He is free 
from anxiety (achinta); He is the remover of misery (dukh-bhanjan); 
and, above all, He is the annihilator of the enemy (satr-dahan).5” With 
God lodged in one’s heart, not only was the fear of insecurity removed 
but also the day-to-day actions of the Sikhs were sanctified. One could 
attain to salvation while laughing and playing, and eating and 

The bani of the Guru was like a shower of rain for those who were 
thirsty in spirit. Guru Arjan composed more than any of his pre- 
decessors, particularly the short lyrical pieces (shabads) which could 
be easily memorized. He found ‘priceless gems’ and an ‘inexhaustible 
treasure’ in what had been preserved by his predecessors.°? To the two 
volumes compiled by Guru Amar Das were added the compositions of 
Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan himself, besides the compositions of a 
few more Bhaktas. A book was compiled in 1604, marked by an 
unusually systematic arrangement and a complex but generally con- 
sistent pattern of division and subdivision.© That book is now known 
as the Adi Granth, the old book, to distinguish it from the later Dasam 
Granth, the book of the tenth Guru; it is more popularly referred to as 
Granth Sahib as a mark of respect, and as Guru Granth Sahib to 
indicate that it enjoys the status of the Guru. Already for Guru 

54 AG, 826-27. 

55 Sujan Rai, ‘Khulasat ut-Tawarikh’ (late seventeenth century) in Ganda Singh (ed.), 
Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-i-Sikhan, 59. 

56 AG, 42, 43, 107, 131-32, 211, 240, 261, 262, 281, 285, 286, 287, 289, 292, 371, 674, 823, 

57 AG, 502, 503, 1157. 58 AG, 212, 522. 59 AG, 185. 

60 W.H. McLeod, The Evolution of the Sikh Community, 70-73. 


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Arjan, it was no ordinary compilation: it was ‘the abode of 

By this time the tank of Guru Ram Das had been enlarged, and paved 
and walled with burnt bricks. He felt gratified that the construction 
work was completed without any hindrance as if God Himself was 
amidst the Sikhs when they were working. The tank looked beautiful, 
like the earth around, and water flowed into it like nectar.2 Once the 
work was completed, all anxieties were gone. They who bathe in the 
tank earn salvation for their families as well.® In the midst of the tank a 
temple dedicated to God (harmandir) had been constructed for singing 
His praises. It was truly a happy conjunction when the ‘everlasting 
foundation’ of the temple was laid with God’s grace. Now the Sikhs 
can blissfully sing the praises of God all the twenty-four hours of the 
day; the bani of the Guru is now recited and sung here day and night. 

The town of Guru Ram Das continued to flourish under Guru 
Arjan. For him, there was no other place like the beautiful and thickly 
populated Ramdaspur, founded by God Himself. In this everlasting 
city of the Guru, the Name is the source of happiness, and all wishes 
are fulfilled. The Sikhs, who are like brothers and sons to the Guru feel 
pleased with the beauty of the town, a standing monument to God’s 
grace. The rule of Rama (ram-raj) prevails in Ramdaspur, due to the 
grace of the Guru. No jizya is levied, nor any fine; there is no collector 
of taxes.®° The administrative control of the town was in the hands of 
Guru Arjan. In the context and the framework of the Mughal empire, 
Ramdaspur was an autonomous town. 

Guru Arjan founded Tarn Taran and Sri Hargobindpur in the Bari 
Doab and Kartarpur in the Bist Jalandhar Doab. This can be taken as an 
indication of the growing number of Sikhs, particularly in the country- 
side. But this is only one indication. Guru Arjan feels gratified that the 
greatness of Guru Nanak has been revealed to the entire world. Sikhs 
come to the Guru from all the four corners of the world. The Name 
has proved to be the salvation of all the four varnas: the Khatri, the 
Brahman, the Shudar and the Vaish.6”7 There is no doubt that the 
number of Sikhs increased considerably in the Punjab during the 
pontificate of Guru Arjan. There were many Sikhs in Lahore. Simi- 
larly, Sultanpur Lodhi was known as a great centre of Sikhism. There 

61 AG, 1226. 62 AG, 781. 6 AG, 174, 1362. 64 AG, 820-21. 
65 AG, 430, 620, 781, 817, 1002. 

66 AG, 43, 611, 724, 801, 8t1, 819, L100, 1139, 1141, 1217, 1364, £429. 

67 AG, tool. 


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were Sikhs in the smaller towns like Patti Haibatpur, and there were 
Sikhs in many villages. There were certainly some Brahmans among 
the Sikhs and some of the out-caste. The trading communities, the 
cultivators, the artisans and craftsmen were well represented. Among 
the trading communities, there was a clear preponderance of the 
Khatris; and among the cultivators, that of the Jats. There was one 
Mian Jamal among the eminent Sikhs who remained present with 
the Guru.¢8 Furthermore, the Sikhs were not confined to the Punjab. 
There were Sikhs in Kashmir and Kabul, and in Delhi and Agra. It 
is most likely indeed that Sikhs could be found now in all the 
provinces of Akbar’s empire.®? Guru Arjan had to appoint a number 
of representatives authorized to look after the affairs of the local 
sangats at various places, not only outside the Punjab but also in the 
Punjab. Once a year, the authorized representatives brought offer- 
ings to the Guru, collected from the Sikhs under their supervision, 
together with some of the Sikhs themselves to have an audience with 
the Guru. 

The Guru was at the centre of the whole organization. In the 
compositions of Guru Arjan he is the true king, the king of kings, for 
his Sikhs who deemed it a great boon to sit with him even for a 
moment. His court was the most high. He was the source of all gifts. 
His sight removed all sins. His instruction led to salvation. His service 
was always well rewarded. The Sikh was expected to remember the 
Guru all the time. Indeed, the Guru is God (par-brahm). ‘Do not be 
misled by his human form; the Guru is the veritable God (ntranjan).’7° 
Guru Arjan, like his predecessors, carried an aura of divinity for his 



Over a dozen professional composers (bhats) have sung the praises of 
the Gurus in one var and over 120 savayyas are preserved in the Granth 
compiled by Guru Arjan.”! They refer to the congregational worship, 

68 This is one of the few explicit references to Muslims accepting the Sikh faith though in 
the seventeenth-century janamsakhis Mardana and even Daulat Khan Lodhi are treated as the 

followers of Guru Nanak. 

69 Bhai Gurdas, var 11, pauri 22-31. 70 AG, 1476. 

71 Sahib Singh (ed.), Sttk Satta Balwand di Var, Amritsar 1949; Sadd Stik, Amritsar, 1958. 
For the Savayyas, Adi Granth 1389-1409. 


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the community kitchen, the increasing number of the Sikhs, and the 
centres of pilgrimage at Goindwal and Ramdaspur. They admire the 
combination of religious faith and social commitment (jog and raj) in 
the mission of the Gurus. They underline the importance of the Name 
and the shabad; they refer to the bani of the Gurus as an alternative to 
the Vedas and the Quran. The divine sanction for the bhakti and the 
truth proclaimed by Guru Nanak is emphasized, and it is also 
suggested that his path possesses an exclusive validity and efficacy 
during the present cosmic age (kaliyuga). The divinity of the Guru is 
underlined, and so is his grace. One is redeemed by seeing him. He is 
the destroyer of fear. By serving the Guru and remembering him, all 
one’s wishes are fulfilled. 

The uniqueness of the Guru is brought out by the bhats in 
unambiguous terms. Guru Nanak is the preceptor of the world 
(jagat-guru); his mission is universal redemption. The unique status 
of Guru Nanak and his successors is brought out by invoking myth, 
legend and history. The thirty-three crores of gods and goddesses 
sing their praises. What they are doing in kaliyuga was done by 
Rama in the treta and by Krishna in the duapur. The saints like 
Kabir, Ravidas, Namdev, Jaidev, Tarlochan and Beni sing the praises 
of the Guru. The greatest emphasis of the bhats is on the unity of 
Guruship. The direct line of succession is repeated from Guru 
Nanak to Guru Arjan, through Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and 
Guru Ram Das, underlining the exclusive validity of nomination by 
the reigning Guru. The same divine light shone through all of them. 
It is explicitly pointed out that Guru Arjan is as much a successor of 
Guru Nanak as the others. The fact that he is a son of Guru Ram 
Das makes no difference to the legitimacy of nomination. One vital 
idea which is put forth in the var of Balwand and Satta is that Guru 
Nanak installed Angad as the Guru during his lifetime and bowed to 
him; the position of the Guru and the disciple (chela) was thus 
reversed. That is how Guru Nanak makes ‘the water run upstream’. 
The metaphors used by the bhats in connection with the Gurus are 
also significant: the true king, his rule, throne, umbrella, flywhisk, 
canopy, crown, court, armies, for instance. Many of the bhats refer 
to slanderers, their opposition to the Gurus and their discomfiture. 
The bhats show a thorough familiarity with the teachings of the 
Gurus but they were not formal Sikhs, which makes their ideas all 
the more important. In any case, all these ideas are expressed even 


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more crisply and emphatically by Bhai Gurdas who is often referred to 
as the ‘St Paul of Sikhism’.72 


At the death of Akbar in 1605, the Sikhs were living in many cities of 
the Mughal empire, with a clear concentration in the towns and the 
villages of the province of Lahore. Accredited representatives 
(masands) of the Guru looked after the distant congregations (sangats) 
and brought their offerings to Ramdaspur (Amritsar) at least once in a 
year. Included among the Sikhs were members of the trading commu- 
nities of merchants and shopkeepers, and of the producing communi- 
ties of cultivators and craftsmen. Themselves self-reliant, they pro- 
vided the economic backbone for the organization evolved by the 
Gurus to enable them to undertake large projects without financial 
dependence on outside agencies. 

The religious ideology of Guru Nanak was reinforced by his 
successors in a manner that added new dimensions without minimizing 
the importance of his basic ideas. With reference to the nomination of 
Angad as the Guru in the lifetime of Guru Nanak, the successors were 
brought into equal prominence with the founder; the idea of the unity 
of Guruship was adumbrated and upheld; the office of the Guru 
became more important than the person of the Guru; and his decisions 
became as legitimate as the decisions of the founder. Thus, the 
pontificates of the successors became an extension of the mission of the 
founder, and the work of his successors became an extension of his 
work. With reference to the reversal of the position of the disciple with 
the Guru, the individual Sikh was given great consideration by the 
Guru, and the collective body of the congregation (sangat) was given 
even greater importance. With reference to the shabad as the medium 
of divine revelation, and the bani of Guru Nanak as a part of that 
revelation, the compositions of the Gurus were brought into parallel 
prominence with the Guru. Though neither an incarnation of God nor 
His prophet, the Guru was so near allied to Him that his followers 
regarded him as the /ocus of divinity. 

72 Bhai Gurdas Bhalla was closely related to Guru Amar Das and associated himself with 
Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan and Guru Hargobind. He served as the scribe when Guru Arjan 
compiled the Granth. For his basic ideas, J.S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in History, Panjab 
University, Chandigarh, 1979, 295-302. 


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The religious ideology of the Sikhs, which informed their attitudes 
to life, was embodied in the Granth compiled by Guru Arjan. The 
Sikhs were now becoming more and more conscious that their 
scripture was tangibly distinct from the Veda and the Quran. Incorpo- 
rating the ideas contained in the compositions of sants, bhaktas and 
sufis, which had the greatest affinity with the ideas of the Gurus 
themselves, the Sikh scripture thus contained ideas becoming current 
in much of the Indian subcontinent. Composed in a language that was 
easily understood by common people over a large part of northern 
India, it was written out in a script that was easily the simplest of all the 
scripts known to India. It became the only authentic source of the 
characteristically Sikh ideas which were distinct from much in the 
contemporary systems of religious belief and practice. Copies could be 
made of the entire Granth, or a significant selection could be made, for 
use in distant places. To listen to gurbani, in any case, was to hear the 
voice of the Guru himself. 

The distinctive Sikh identity, based initially on religious ideology, 
was reinforced by the adoption of distinctly Sikh ceremonies on the 
occasions of birth, marriage and death. The Sikhs were free to maintain 
the old horizontal links of castes and sub-castes for matrimonial 
purposes but there was nothing in the teachings of the Guru that could 
be invoked in support of such links. The ideal of equality was openly 
demonstrated in the institutions of congregational worship and com- 
munity meals. Ramdaspur (Amritsar) as the place of pilgrimage was 
open to all Sikhs from far and near, and large crowds used to come for 
the festivals of Baisakhi and Diwali. The bi-annual convergence of 
Sikh pilgrims to the autonomous town of Guru Ram Das gave them a 
feeling of spiritual elation; it gave them also a sense of belonging to a 
large brotherhood. 

The Sikh Panth was a state within the Mughal empire at the death 
of Akbar, but a state that had its opponents and enemies whose 
presence was continuously felt by the successors of Guru Nanak. 
The enemies were becoming more numerous, and their intrigues 
were on the increase. If the law of the state enabled some of them to 
approach the administrators with plausible claims over the property 
and wealth of the Gurus, the cupidity of the administrators induced 
them to entertain those claims. Akbar’s catholicity could protect the 
Gurus and their followers against open violence but it could not 
obviate the nefarious designs of their enemies. The removal of a 


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protecting umbrella could increase the heat of hostility for the Guru 
and his followers. 

The withdrawal of symbolic protection came rather suddenly and in 
such a form that to call it harsh or hostile would be an understatement. 
Within eight months of Akbar’s death in October, 1605, Guru Arjan 
died the death of a martyr at the end of May, 1606, tortured by the new 
emperor’s underlings at Lahore. 


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PANTH (1606-1708) 

During the seventeenth century five Gurus succeeded Guru Arjan. His 
son, Guru Hargobind was succeeded by a grandson, Guru Har Rai. 
The younger son of Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan was succeeded 
by a grand uncle, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the youngest son of Guru 
Hargobind. Guru Gobind Singh, who succeeded his father Guru Tegh 
Bahadur in 1675, abolished personal Guruship before his death in 

Interference by the Mughal emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and 
Aurangzeb in the affairs of the Sikh Panth was an important feature of 
this period. We have already referred to the martyrdom of Guru Arjan 
at the beginning of Jahangir’s rule. A few years later, Jahangir ordered 
the detention of Guru Hargobind in the fort of Gwalior which was 
generally used for detaining political prisoners. In the reign of Shah 
Jahan the Mughal administrators of the Punjab came into armed 
conflict with Guru Hargobind. Aurangzeb took an active interest in 
the issue of succession, passed orders for the execution of Guru Tegh 
Bahadur, and at one time ordered total extirpation of Guru Gobind 
Singh and his family. State interference was, thus, a serious matter. 

State interference encouraged dissent within the Sikh Panth and 
accentuated disunity. Prithi Chand, significantly, put forth his claim to 
be the successor of Guru Arjan after his martyrdom, becoming thus a 
rival of Guru Hargobind. Dhir Mal, a grandson of Guru Hargobind, 
preferred to remain in the good books of the emperors and chose to 
have his own centre in the province of Lahore rather than succeeding to 
the office of Guru Hargobind at his headquarters in a vassal prin- 
cipality. Ram Rai, the elder brother of Guru Har Krishan, chose to 
become a protégé of Aurangzeb.? 

Apart from rival claimants from the Sodhi family of Guru Ram Das, 
there were the Udasis who traced their origin to Guru Nanak through 
his son Sri Chand; they were renunciant recluses rather than house- 
holders. Then there were the followers of Hindal, who did not show 

' For the successors of Guru Nanak after Guru Arjan see appendix 1. 
2 For the descendants of Guru Ram Das see appendix 2. 


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much veneration even for the founder of Sikhism; they were trying to 
hijack the Sikh movement. In this situation the masands became 
lukewarm or indifferent to the nominated Gurus, or actually changed 
sides. There was one attitude which all the dissidents and detractors 
shared: they were all what may be called ‘pro-establishmenv’. 

As a result of the combination of these circumstances the successors 
of Guru Arjan shifted the theatre of their activities to the east of the 
river Satlej, giving new cradle lands to the Sikh movement. Further- 
more, the places now regarded as the most historic outside the land of 
the five rivers were associated with the last Guru: Patna in Bihar, 
Anandpur and Muktsar in the Punjab, and Nanded in Maharashtra. 
The transformation of the Sikh Panth, which began in the time of Guru 
Hargobind reached its culmination under Guru Gobind Singh in 
response to external interference and internal disunity. 


Nuruddin Jahangir, the son and successor of Akbar, states in his 
Memoirs that he called for Guru Arjan on account of the charge 
brought against him that he had put a saffron mark on the forehead of 
the rebel Prince Khusrau as a token of his blessings.> As a prince, 
Jahangir had heard about the ‘shop’ which had done brisk business for 
three or four generations before Guru Arjan started luring ignorant 
Muslims as well as foolish Hindus to purchase ‘falsehood’.4 Many a 
time it had occurred to Jahangir that either this shop of falsehood 
should be closed or Guru Arjan should be brought into the fold of 
Islam. He ordered Guru Arjan to be put to death, his mansions and his 
family to be entrusted to Murtaza Khan and his property to be 

In the Sikh tradition, however, there is hardly any reference to 
Jahangir’s order of capital punishment. Bhai Gurdas admires the 
incredible equanimity of Guru Arjan under unbearable torture, but he 
says nothing more. In the Bachittar Natak, composed in the last decade 
of the seventeenth century, there is a reference to the martyrdom of 

3 It was acommon practice with Guru Arjan to place his hand on the forehead of a visitor. 
This could be easily exaggerated into putting of a saffron mark on Khusrau’s forehead by the 

opponents of the Guru. 

4 Guru Arjan’s followers did include at least a few former Muslims. 

5 Persian text of the Memoirs printed in Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-i-Sikhan (ed. Ganda Singh), 
Sikh History, Amritsar, 1949, 20-22. 


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Guru Tegh Bahadur, but nothing about the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. 
In the late eighteenth century, it was believed that Jahangir imposed a 
fine of 200,000 rupees which Guru Arjan refused to pay and he was 
tortured. Already in the 1640s the author of the Dabistan-i-Mazahab 
had stated that Jahangir imposed a heavy fine on Guru Arjan which he 
was not in a position to pay, and consequently he was tortured in hot 
weather and he died.® It was generally believed that the person 
responsible for torturing Guru Arjan was the diwan of Lahore. All this 
evidence suggests that the capital punishment was commuted into 
heavy fine. It is nevertheless certain that Jahangir was strongly 
prejudiced against Guru Arjan partly because of the vast size of his 
‘shop’ which offered its ‘wares’ to all, irrespective of their caste or 

The action of the state authorities was a stunning blow to the 
followers of Guru Arjan. Whether it was due to the intrigues of the 
slanderers of the Guru, or the enmity of some local administrator, or 
the autocratic prejudice of the emperor, the injustice was patent 
enough. Guru Hargobind reacted to the event in proportion to the 
enormity of the injustice. He girded two swords, as the Sikh tradition 
puts it, one symbolizing his spiritual authority and the other his 
temporal power. He encouraged his followers in martial activity. The 
Jat component of his followers needed only a little persuasion. Guru 
Hargobind added two new features to Ramdaspur. Opposite the 
Harmandir he constructed a high platform which came to be known as 
Akal Takht, ‘the immortal throne’. Here the Guru held a kind of court 
to conduct temporal business. He also constructed a fort called 
Lohgarh for the purpose of defence. 

A clear departure from the practices of his predecessors made Guru 
Hargobind conspicuous in the eyes of the administrators and on their 
representation Jahangir ordered his detention in the fort of Gwalior. 
Before long, however, counter-representations were made on behalf of 
Guru Hargobind and he was released. The emperor appears eventually 
to have felt satisfied with the justification given by the Guru for his 
interests and activities. Guru Hargobind was left free to pursue them 
for the rest of Jahangir’s reign.” 

The slanderers of the Guru, his opponents, criticized him for his 
martial activities, with the implication that he was not a true Guru. 
After the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, his elder brother Prithi Chand 

© (Dabistan-i-Mazahib) Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-i-Sikhan, 35-37. 7 Ibid., 38. 


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put forth his claim to be the successor of Guru Arjan. After Prithi 
Chand’s death his son Miharban claimed to be the seventh Guru. Some 
of the Sikhs who could not appreciate the measures adopted by Guru 
Hargobind were influenced by the propaganda of these rival claimants 
popularly known as minas. Bhai Gurdas in his vars refers to the plank 
of these propagandists. In contrast to the former Gurus, they say, the 
present Guru does not stay long at any one place; he was sent into 
imprisonment by the emperor; he roams the land without fear; he 
keeps dogs and goes out hunting; he does not compose bani, nor does 
he listen to it or sing it; and he gives preference to scoundrels over his 
devoted servants. Bhai Gurdas asserts, however, that Guru Hargobind 
is bearing an unbearable burden and the true Sikhs are devoted to him.® 
He justifies the new measures of Guru Hargobind with the argument 
that an orchard needs the protective hedge of the hardy and thorny 
kikar trees.? In other words, the Panth of Guru Nanak needed physical 
force for its protection. 

Guru Hargobind’s interest in hunting brought him into conflict 
with the Mughal administrators of the province of Lahore in the reign 
of Shah Jahan who had ascended the throne after Jahangir’s death in 
1627. Under imperial orders a Mughal commandant attacked Ramdas- 
pur but he was repulsed. Nevertheless, Guru Hargobind abandoned 
Ramdaspur and went to Kartarpur in the Bist Jalandhar Doab. There 
too he was attacked by the Mughal forces. Two Mughal commandants 
were killed in the battle and the Guru was victorious.!° He was 
convinced, however, that Mughal authorities would not leave him 
alone. He decided to leave the province of Lahore, to go into the 
territory of a Rajput vassal of the Mughal empire. The place he chose 
was Kiratpur in the small principality of Hindur (Nalagarh), protected 
not by the physical barrier of the Shivaliks so much as by the political 
barrier between the imperial and the vassal territory. 

For eight or nine years Guru Hargobind lived at Kiratpur before he 
died in the first week of March, 1644. He maintained his stables, his 
horsemen and his matchlockmen at Kiratpur. He did not abandon 
martial exercises, but there were no battles to fight. In his personal 
correspondence he used the epithet ‘Nanak’ for himself, indicating 
clearly that he regarded himself as one with the founder of the Sikh 

8 Bhat Gurdas, Varan Bhai Gurdas (ed. Giani Hazara Singh), Wazir-i-Hind Press, 
Amnritsar, 1962 (reprint), var 26, pauri 24. 
9 [bid., pauri 25. 10 (Dabistan-i-Mazahib) Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-i-Sikhan, 39. 


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Panth and his successors. The ideas and beliefs which are attributed to 
him by the author of the Dabistan-i-Mazabhib indicate that there was 
no change in the religious ideology of Guru Hargobind.!! He had 
numerous followers in Ujjain, Burhanpur, Lucknow, Prayag, Jaunpur, 
Patna, Raj Mahal and Dacca.!2 Like his eminent followers in the 
Punjab, they too were mostly Khatris. Among his important masands, 
however, there were many Jats, and agriculture was one of the two 
most important professions of the Sikhs. The Guru’s dependence on 
the masands had increased, and some of them had started appointing 
their own deputies or agents for the collection of offerings as well as for 
initiating others to the Sikh faith. On the day of the Baisakhi they 
brought the offerings to the Guru. Some of the masands did not have 
their own source of income; they lived on a part of the collections 

With Guru Hargobind’s absence from the plains, the field was left 
open to his opponents or rival claimants. Ramdaspur was taken over by 
Miharban, son of Prithi Chand, who wrote his own bani as ‘Nanak’ 
and claimed to be the seventh Guru. He composed a janamsakhi of 
Guru Nanak to buttress his claims.'* His son Harji, succeeded to his 
position at Ramdaspur in the 1640s as the eighth ‘Nanak’. It may not be 
too much to presume that some of the followers of Guru Arjan went 
over to the minas. Guru Hargobind’s own grandson, Dhir Mal, son of 
Gurditta who predeceased the Guru in the late 1630s, was not 
interested in succeeding to his position at Kiratpur. With the original 
copy of the scripture prepared by Bhai Gurdas under the instruction of 
Guru Arjan, Dhir Mal moved to Kartarpur in the early 1640s.!5 He was 
given revenue-free land at Kartarpur by the emperor Shah Jahan.!¢ 
Dhir Mal did not merely leave his grandfather; he also abandoned his 
anti-establishment stance. The hostility of the Mughal state was 
impinging upon the Sikh Panth in more than one way to affect its 
character. As the spokesman of Guru Hargobind, Bhai Gurdas pro- 

1 [bid., 40-41. 12 Bhai Gurdas, var 11, pauris 30-31. 

13 (Dabistan-i-Mazahib) Makhiz-i-Tawarikb-i-Sikhan, 35. 

14 The janamsakhi attributed to Miharban was edited by Kirpal Singh and published by 
the Sikh History Research Department of Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1962 as the Janam 
Sakhi Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. 

15 The descendants of Dhir Mal at Kartarpur are still in possession of the original Granth: 
W.H. McLeod, The Evolution of the Sikh Community, Oxford University Press, 1975, 
61-62, 74. 

16 The text of an imperial order issued by Shah Jahan in 1643 is given in Makhiz-i- 
Tawarikh-i-Sikhan, 51-52. 


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jects him sharply as the only legitimate successor of Guru Nanak and 
condemns the slanderers in general and the minds in particular in loud 
and clear terms. His emphatic ‘orthodoxy’ was partly a result of the 
growing dissent.!7 

Guru Hargobind nominated Har Rai, the younger brother of Dhir 
Mal, as the successor-Guru in 1644. Guru Har Rai was only fourteen 
years old at this time and he died in 1661 at the young age of a little over 
thirty. His pontificate of about seventeen years was rather uneventful. 
Soon after his accession he moved to Thapal in the territory of Sirmur 
(Nahan) temporarily, not to embroil himself in an armed conflict 
between the chief of Hindur (Nalagarh) and the Mughal commandants 
who invaded his territories.!8 He continued to maintain the retainers 
raised by Guru Hargobind, and his masands apparently held their own 
in competition with Dhir Mal at Kartarpur and Harji at Ramdaspur in 
the Bari Doab. A change in this situation came after Aurangzeb 
ascended the Mughal throne in 1658, defeating his elder brother Dara 

Shikoh in two battles. 


The reign of Aurangzeb from 1658 to 1707 was marked by some 
important changes, making the context of the late seventeenth century 
rather different from that of the late sixteenth century when Akbar was 
on the throne. In the first half of his reign Aurangzeb adopted an 
aggressive social and political policy. He destroyed some important 
Hindu temples even in times of peace. In the early 1670s he ordered 
that all grants of revenue-free land given to non-Muslims should be 
resumed. That this order was immediately implemented in the Punjab 
is evident from the resumption of the madad-i-ma‘ash grant of the 
jogis of Jakhbar near Pathankot in the fifteenth year of Aurangzeb’s 
reign.!? In 1679 the emperor re-imposed the jizya after more than a 
century of its abolition by Akbar. That this order too was implemented 
in the Punjab is evident from a document laying down the amount of 
jizya to be collected from all the three classes of assessees in a village.2° 

'7 For a brief analysis of the vars of Bhai Gurdas, J. S. Grewal, ‘Religious Literature and 
Secular History’, Proceedings Indian History Congress, Amritsar, 1985, 273-84. 

18 (Dabistan-i-Mazabib) Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-i-Sikhan, 45. 

19 B. N. Goswamy and J.S. Grewal, The Mughals and the Jogis of Jakbbar, Indian 
Institute of Advanced study, Simla, 1967, Documents 9, 12. 

20 Irfan Habib, Agrarian System of Mughal India (1526-1707), Asia Publishing House, 
Bombay, 1963, 119-20. 


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Even during the first half of Aurangzeb’s reign there were uprisings 
against his authority. In 1669 the Jat zamindar of Talpat near Mathura 
rose in revolt with the support of nearly 20,000 peasants. In 1672, the 
Satnamis rose in revolt in the pargana of Narnaul, about 120 kilometres 
from Delhi. There were some other revolts in northern India, including 
the Punjab, but of much smaller magnitude. In the south, a new 
sovereign state was established by Shivaji in the teeth of opposition 
from the Mughal commanders and partly at the cost of the Mughal 
empire. After a long struggle he declared himself to be a sovereign ruler 
in 1674 and died as a sovereign ruler in 1680. Despite his tremendous 
exertion Aurangzeb failed to subvert the kingdom founded by Shivaji. 
In the process, the Mughals brought down the rulers of Bijapur and 
Golkonda. Bijapur was annexed to the Mughal empire in 1686, and 
Golkonda in 1687. Two years later the emperor was able to capture and 
kill Shivaji’s son Shambuji. But the struggle for independence was kept 
up by the Maratha leaders under the nominal rule of Raja Ram, another 
son of Shivaji. When Aurangzeb died in 1707, Maratha horsemen were 
hovering around the imperial camp at Ahmadnagar. 

Aurangzeb’s long stay in the Deccan, from 1682 to 1707, affected the 
general administration of the Mughal empire as adversely as his wars 
affected its finances. It became increasingly difficult to assign ade- 
quately remunerative lands in jagir to the mansabdars. There ensued in 
due course a scramble for jagirs, and the mansabdars tended to align 
with one or another of the most powerful nobles in self-interest. The 
beginning of factional alignment was one serious result of the crisis in 
the jagirdari system. Another was the exploitation of the peasantry by 
the jagirdars. So long as the prospect of getting a good jagir was there, 
the jagirdars’ attitude was not affected by the transfer of his jagir. But 
in the absence of such a prospect he tried to extract as much as he could 
without caring for the future of the land or its cultivators. This 
tendency was accentuated by a relative regression in agricultural 
production. Exploitation of the peasantry led to unrest among the 

In the province of Lahore during the reign of Aurangzeb, both 
agriculture and trade received an appreciable setback. In the reign of 
Jahangir and Shah Jahan expansion of agriculture is evident from the 
creation of new parganas and the emergence of new towns. The most 
important canal for irrigation in the province was dug in the reign of 

Shah Jahan, namely the Shah Nahr which irrigated thousands of acres 


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in the upper Bari Doab. There was a large increase in the revenues of 
the province during the early seventeenth century. It amounted to 
nearly 68 per cent, from about 66,000,000 of dams in 1595-1596 to 
about 100,000,000 dams in 1656.2! In the reign of Aurangzeb the 
revenue figures went down to less than 90,000,000 dams. Seen in 
conjunction with the rise in prices, which enhanced the revenue 
figures, this decrease in the revenue meant a considerable decline in 
agricultural production. There is evidence also for a setback to com- 
merce in the Punjab. Since trade was intimately connected with 
agricultural production, both suffered together. However, the 
countryside suffered more, and in the countryside the cultivators 
suffered the most.?? 


Aurangzeb’s aggressive policy is reflected in his attitude towards the 
successors of Guru Hargobind. On the rumoured support of Guru 
Har Rai to Dara Shikoh during his flight to the Punjab, Aurangzeb 
called him to his court. Guru Har Rai sent his elder son, Ram Rai. The 
emperor kept him as a hostage in Delhi. Guru Har Rai chose his 
younger son, Har Krishan, as his successor. Aurangzeb summoned 
Guru Har Krishan also to Delhi. He continued to patronize Ram Rai 
and eventually granted revenue-free land to him in the present Dehra 
Dun in Uttar Pradesh. Guru Har Krishan died of smallpox in Delhi in 
1664 after indicating that his ‘grandfather’ (baba) Tegh Bahadur, the 
youngest son of Guru Hargobind, was his successor. 

Tegh Bahadur had left Kiratpur after the death of Guru Hargobind 
in 1644 and settled in Bakala, the parental village of his mother in the 
upper Bari Doab. He started his career as the eighth successor of Guru 
Nanak at Bakala. However, the opposition from his nephew, Dhir 
Mal, at Kartarpur across the river Beas, and from his other nephew, 
Harji, at Ramdaspur, obliged him to leave the Bari Doab, and go to 
Kiratpur. There too he was not a welcome guest for his brother Suraj 

Mal. During the very first year of his pontificate therefore, Guru Tegh 

21 A small coin in Persia, the copper dam in Akbar’s empire was the fortieth of a silver 
rupee; it came generally to be known as paisa and its value in the seventeenth century was 
merely a theoretical fraction of the rupee. 

?2 For a decline in trade in the Punjab during the seventeenth century see Chetan Singh, 
Region and Empire: Punjab in the Seventeenth Century, Oxford University Press, Delhi 

1991, 270-85. 


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Bahadur had to look for a new centre. He chose a place called 
Makhowal, only a few miles from Kiratpur but in the territory of the 
chief of Kahlur (Bilaspur). By accepting his nomination as the Guru, 
Tegh Bahadur gave an affront to Aurangzeb who had presumed to 
arbitrate in the matter of succession. Had Guru Tegh Bahadur stayed 
on in Makhowal, Aurangzeb might have ignored the affront. 

Before the end of 1665, however, Guru Tegh Bahadur left Makho- 
wal to establish contact with some of the Sikh centres (sangats) in the 
Mughal provinces of the Gangetic plain. Before long, he was taken to 
Delhi by one Alam Khan Rohila under imperial orders. On the 
intercession of Kanwar Ram Singh, son of Mirza Raja Jai Singh of 
Mewar, he was released from detention in December. From Delhi, 
Guru Tegh Bahadur went to Agra, from Agra then to Prayag (Allaha- 
bad), Benares, Sahsaram and Patna. At all these places there were old 
Sikh sangats. He left his family at Patna to be looked after by the local 
Sikhs before he moved on to Monghir. There he heard the news of the 
birth of his first and only son at Patna on December 22, 1666. From 
Monghir, Guru Tegh Bahadur moved to Dacca where Raja Ram Singh 
joined him early in 1668. He accompanied the Raja on his expedition 
into Assam. In March, 1670, Guru Tegh Bahadur moved back towards 
the Punjab, through Patna and Delhi, and reached Makhowal in April, 

In the first five or six years of his pontificate Guru Tegh Bahadur 
travelled more than any of his predecessors after Guru Nanak. If his 
idea was to reassure the far-flung congregations (sangats) of the Guru’s 
concern for them, he was amply successful. From his extant letters 
(hukmnamas) to the congregations at Patna and Benares it is evident 
that the Sikhs of those regions served Guru Tegh Bahadur with 
veneration. They looked after his favourite horse, Sri Dhar; they 
celebrated the birth of his son Gobind Das with a lot of fanfare;?3 they 
lodged his family in a spacious mansion; they sent costly articles for his 
camp; they sent cloth, fine turbans and cash to him; they went to see 
him in large numbers at the time of the Diwali. In one of his letters he 
talks of the entire sangat of the province of Allahabad; in another, he 
asks the masands of the province of Bihar to bring the sangats along 
when they were to bring their offerings to the Guru.?4 There is hardly 

23 Though the historians generally refer to the young Gobind as Gobind Rai, in the 
hbukmnamas of Guru Tegh Bahadur he is referred to as Gobind Das. 
24 Ganda Singh (ed.), Hukmnamey (Pbi), Punjabi University, Patiala, 1965, Nos. 8-25. 


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any doubt that the Khatri traders of the Gangetic plains formed an 
important constituency for Guru Tegh Bahadur. 

According to the Persian chronicler Khafi Khan, when Aurangzeb 
came to know that the Sikhs had built temples in all towns and 
populous places in the empire and that the agents of their Guru 
collected offerings from the multitude of his followers to be scrupulous- 
ly forwarded to him, he ordered the deputies of the Guru to be driven 
out of the temples.25 The temples were to be demolished. According to 
the author of the Ma‘asir-i-‘Alamgiri, Aurangzeb had issued a general 
order in 1669 that all the schools and temples of the non-Muslims 
should be demolished. In the town called Buriya in the sarkar of 
Sarhind the Sikh temple was demolished by the local administrator in 
accordance with the imperial orders, and a mosque was built in its 
place. The mosque was in turn demolished by the Sikhs and Aurangzeb 
felt annoyed with the gazi and the muhtasib of the place.2¢ This 
incident reveals the tensions created by the imperial orders. 

In the compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur under the name ‘Nanak’, 
which form now a part of the Granth Sahib, there is a clear indication 
that he regarded his situation as very grave. They bear witness to the 
truths enunciated by Guru Nanak and his successors and the conform- 
ity of Guru Tegh Bahadur to their religious ideology. Nevertheless 
there is a new dimension, a new note of urgency, and a sense of intense 
concern. Life is short; it hastens away; but it provides opportunity for 
those who would take it. Participation without entanglement is the 
ideal, which can be realized only through conquest of fear. The idea is 
not altogether new, but the insistence is. The Sikhs are asked to 
acknowledge him alone as truly wise who is not afraid of others and 
who inspires no fear in others. Himself prepared for the worst possible 
eventualities, Guru Tegh Bahadur wanted others also to face life with 
courage. His compositions reveal him as a prophet of reassurance in a 
trying situation.?7 

In 1673 Guru Tegh Bahadur moved out of Makhowal to impart his 
message of reassurance to peasants and zamindars in the province of 
Delhi. He moved from village to village in most of the districts now 

25 Muntakhab al-Lubab, quoted, Indubhushan Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Cal- 
cutta, 1980, II, 59. 

26 The text of the imperial order issued by Aurangzeb is given in Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-i- 
Sikhan, 73. 

27 J.S. Grewal, ‘The Prophet of Assurance’, From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1982 (2nd edn), 64-70. 


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covered by the states of Punjab and Haryana. There was a good 
response to this missionary work of about two years. The news- 
writers of the Mughal empire were bound to send reports of this 
response, and Aurangzeb was not likely to ignore this. Guru Tegh 
Bahadur was making a public demonstration of his convictions at a 
time when the emperor was bent upon discouraging such demon- 
strations. Whereas the emperor could use the power of the state in 
support of his policy, the Guru could rely on moral courage inherited 
from a long line of illustrious predecessors to defend the claims of 

A deputation of Brahmans met Guru Tegh Bahadur at Makhowal in 
May, 1675, with a woeful tale of religious persecution in the valley of 
Kashmir by its Mughal governor. After a deep reflection on the 
situation, Guru Tegh Bahadur decided to court martyrdom to uphold 
his beliefs. In July, 1675, he nominated his young son Gobind Das as 
the successor-Guru and moved out of Makhowal. He was arrested 
soon after he entered the Mughal territory in the pargana of Ropar and 
kept in custody for nearly four months in the sarkar of Sarhind before 
he was taken to Delhi in November, 1675. In Delhi, he was asked to 
perform a miracle as the proof of his nearness to God. He refuted the 
idea that occult powers were a proof of one’s nearness to God.?8 As a 
logical corollary of his ‘failure’ to perform a miracle he was asked to 
accept Islam. Three of his companions were put to death in his 
presence to impress upon him the consequence of a refusal. Guru Tegh 
Bahadur refused to accept Islam, and he was beheaded in Chandni 
Chauk, the main market-square close to the Red Fort, on the 11th of 
November 1675. 

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s unique sacrifice in the cause not only of his 
own faith but also in the cause of freedom of conscience in general was 
admired by his son and successor. Metaphorically, he protected the 
sacred thread (janjz) and the sacred mark (tilak) of the men of faith. 
The world was ‘enwrapped in mourning’ at his departure.?? The grief 
was great and the sorrow was deep, but there was also some 
resentment. A Sikh in Agra threw two bricks at Aurangzeb in 
October, 1676, when he was returning from the jami‘ masjid. The 

28 The Sikh Gurus, reinforcing the attitude of Guru Nanak, believed in the possibility of 
miracles but regarded the power to perform miracles as irrelevant for one’s spiritual status 

and beneath the concerns of a devotee of God. 
29 Shabdarth Dasam Granth Sahib (ed. Taran Singh), Punjabi University, Patiala, 1973, I, 



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unfortunate assailant was handed over to the kotwal, presumably for 


The first decade of Guru Gobind Singh’s pontificate was rather 
uneventful. Growing into manhood, he received literary and relig- 
ious education, and also training in the use of arms. He was par- 
ticularly fond of hunting wild boar. He inspired his young com- 
panions and followers to take interest in martial activity. There were 
some old Sikhs too who remembered the days of Guru Hargobind. 
The annual visits of the Sikhs at the time of the Baisakhi and the 
Diwali swelled the numbers at Makhowal which gave the appearance 
of an armed camp. The young chief of Kahlur (Bilaspur), Bhim 
Chand, did not relish this development, regarding it as a threat to the 
integrity of his territories. He insisted on a formal acknowledgment 
by Guru Gobind Singh that he was subject to the authority of the 
chief. The situation was becoming more and more tense when, in 
1685, the chief of Sirmur (Nahan) invited Guru Gobind Singh to his 

Guru Gobind Singh accepted the invitation of the chief of Sirmur 
and settled down at Paunta on the right bank of the river Jamuna. This 
place was on the border of Sirmur, adjoining the territory of Garhwal, 
and there was a long-standing dispute between the chiefs of Sirmur and 
Garhwal over the border territories. This unenviable position induced 
Guru Gobind Singh not only to build a fortress at Paunta but also to 
raise an efficient fighting force from amongst his followers and 
kinsmen. Before long they were put to a severe test when the chief of 
Garhwal invaded the territory of Sirmur in 1688 with a number of hill 
chiefs as his allies, and with the help of some mercenary commanders. 
Guru Gobind Singh moved out of Paunta to give them battle at a place 
called Bhangani. The mercenary commanders Hayat Khan and 
Najabat Khan were killed in the battle and Bhikhan Khan was 
unhorsed. The most valiant fighter on the side of the enemy, Hari 
Chand, died on the field. The Guru lost his cousin Sango Shah, one of 
the five sons of Guru Hargobind’s daughter, besides a good number of 

30 Ma‘asir-i-‘Alamgiri (Pbi, ed. Fauja Singh), Punjabi University, Patiala, 1977, 135. 


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his followers. But the losses of the enemy were much heavier and they 
lost the battle.3! 

Guru Gobind Singh’s victory at Bhangani proclaimed the fact that 
he was more powerful than any single chief in the hills. He had good 
resources in men, bows and arrows, javelins, swords, maces and 
horses. But he had no intention of embroiling himself any further in 
the affairs of a chief who had tricked him into unreciprocated support. 
He left Paunta and returned to Makhowal in 1689 to found Anandpur 
in its vicinity. The new township was built with better defences. The 
men who had not fought in the battle at Bhangani were not allowed to 
reside in Anandpur. Those who had fought well were rewarded and 

Guru Gobind Singh was building up his strength when a few years 
later Bhim Chand, the chief of Kahlur, sought his help against the 
Mughal faujdars of the hills. Bhim Chand was heading the hill chiefs 
who had refused to pay tribute, and the Mughal faujdar of Jammu had 
sent a force against the rebels. The commandant of this force was 
supported by the loyal vassals. Guru Gobind Singh participated in the 
battle at Nadaun which ended in Bhim Chand’s victory. But soon after 
the battle the rebel chief patched up his quarrel with the Mughal 
faujdar and agreed to pay tribute. Guru Gobind Singh expressed his 
disapproval of his submission by plundering a village in his territory. 
Returning then to Anandpur he picked up the old threads. 

The concourse at Anandpur became so conspicuous that towards the 
end of 1693 the news-writer of Sarhind was constrained to report of the 
gathering crowds. Aurangzeb was now in the Deccan, vainly chasing 
the Maratha rebels. He ordered the faujdars to ensure that no crowds 
gathered at Anandpur.3?2 A Mughal force was sent to Anandpur with 
the intention of a night attack. But Guru Gobind Singh was awakened 
by his guards in time to prepare for defence. The young commander of 
the Mughal force was disheartened to hear the unexpected din of 
preparation for battle and left the environs of Anandpur without a 
fight. Another expedition was sent against the Guru. But, by then, 
some of the hill chiefs had become rebellious. The Mughal commander, 
Husain Khan, though supported by some hill chiefs, was defeated and 

31 The battle is described in the ‘Bachittar Natak’: Shabdarth Dasam Granth Sahib, 
77-79; for an English translation, Indubhushan Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol. 2, 

32 (Akbbarat-i-Darbar-i-Mu‘alla) Chetan Singh, Region and Empire, 274 and n 129. 


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killed by the rebel chiefs. A small contingent sent by Guru Gobind 
Singh was supporting them. The leader of this contingent died fighting, 
together with seven of his horsemen. Another Mughal force was sent 
under a Rajput commandant, Jujhar Singh. He too was defeated and 
killed by the rebel chiefs. Thus, the campaign against Guru Gobind 
Singh was diverted into a campaign against the rebel hill chiefs. When 
Aurangzeb sent his son to the Punjab in 1696, he chastised the rebel 
chiefs and their supporters. Guru Gobind Singh remained safe at 

During all these years Guru Gobind Singh was in contact with the 
Sikh sangats in the country. His extant letters (bukmnamas) to some of 
these reveal the nature of his interests. The sangats of ‘the east’ (Dacca, 
Chittagong, Sondeep and Sylhet) were asked to send offerings col- 
lected on various accounts, including fine quality cloth, swords and 
matchlocks, a war elephant, besides gold and cash. The Sikhs were 
asked to come personally at the time of the Baisakhi and the Diwali. 
Some of them were asked to come with batches of foot-soldiers and 
horsemen. It is interesting to find the bulk of the hukmnamas 
addressed to sangats outside the Punjab and to sangats on the east of 
the Satlej.34 

There was indeed a shift in the constituency of the successors of 
Guru Arjan. It was partly a result of dissent within Sikhism. The 
successors of Guru Nanak had experienced opposition from rival 
claimants from the very beginning. In the early seventeenth century, 
when Guru Hargobind came into armed conflict with the Mughal 
authorities and felt obliged to leave Ramdaspur, the rival claimants 
became more effective. In terms of followers, the doabs of the Punjab 
were virtually lost to the successors of Guru Hargobind. The erosion 
of their influence is reflected among other things in the janamsakhi 
literature of the seventeenth century.>> This form of literature was used 
for missionary work by the ‘orthodox’ followers of Guru Nanak to 
underline his uniqueness and to uphold the unity of Guruship on the 
principle of nomination. The rival claimants were quick to realize the 
importance of this form. The successors of Prithi Chand composed a 
janamsakhi to promote their own sectarian purpose. The Udasis tried 

33 ‘Bachittar Natak’, Shabdarth Dasam Granth Sahib, 80-91; for English version, 
Indubhushan Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol. 2, 182-89. 

34 Ganda Singh (ed.), Hukmnamey (Pbi) Nos. 33-65. 

35 W.H. McLeod, Early Sikh Tradition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980; for a brief 
discussion, W. H. McLeod, The Evolution of the Sikh Community, 20-36. 


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to minimize the importance of all the successors of Guru Nanak and 
the followers of Hindal tried to undermine the position of Guru Nanak 
himself. The janamsakhis they produced bear testimony to their partial 


Faced with threat from outside and dissension within the Sikh Panth, 
Guru Gobind Singh thought long and deeply about his own position as 
the successor of Guru Nanak. Turning to the Dasam Granth, or the 
Book of the Tenth Master, we find that all that is there in this 
compilation was not written by the Tenth Master. But there is much 
that was, and more that was approved by him. A careful analysis of this 
evidence reveals that Guru Gobind Singh believed in the supersession 
of all faiths by the faith enunciated by Guru Nanak; he subscribed to 
the idea of the unity of Guruship from Guru Nanak to Guru Tegh 
Bahadur; and he regarded himself as their only true successor. Like 
Guru Nanak, he believed in one God, the creator, the sustainer and the 
destroyer of the universe. He also believed that God exalts the pious 
and destroys the wicked. In the universal struggle between the forces of 
good and evil, God intervened from time to time to restore the balance 
in favour of the forces of good. 

It is in this context that Guru Gobind Singh’s interest in the 
‘incarnations’ of God acquires meaning and significance. His interest 
in the Goddess and in Rama and Krishna springs from his preoccu- 
pation with the meaning of his own mission. What was common to 
these crucial figures of the old Shaktas in the hills and the new 
Vaishnavas of the plains was the use of physical force made by the 
‘instruments’ of God in favour of the good. The use of physical force in 
defence of the good was sanctified by God:3¢ 

Having created Durga, O God, You destroyed the demons. From 
You alone did Rama receive his power to slay Rawana with his 

arrows. From you alone did Krishna receive his power to seize 
Kansa by the hair and to dash him on the ground. 

Guru Gobind Singh believed that he too was a chosen instrument of 
God. This providential role he was to fulfil in his own way as the 
successor of Guru Nanak. In terms of his historical situation, his 

36 Kala Singh Bedi (ed.), Var Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki, New Delhi, 1966, 104-5. 


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problem was to defend the claims of conscience against external 
interference. Guru Tegh Bahadur had given one answer to this 
problem. Guru Gobind Singh proposed to give another. His aim was 
to obviate external interference with the use of physical force. For the 
fulfilment of this purpose he had to set his own house in order, that is, 
the Panth founded by Guru Nanak. 

On the Baisakhi of 1699, when there was a large gathering at 
Anandpur, Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed that henceforth all Sikhs 
would be his Khalsa. The term Khalsa was used by that time for the 
Sikhs initiated into the Sikh faith by the Gurus themselves and not by 
the masands. The far-reaching implication of this declaration was that 
all those who were not directly linked with him were not Sikhs either. 
This proclamation removed the mediacy of the masands. It also meant 
that the followers of the dissidents were not to be treated as true Sikhs. 
In fact the Khalsa were instructed not to have any connection with the 
masands and theic followers (masandis); the Khalsa were similarly 
instructed not to have any connection with the followers of Ram Rai, 
Dhir Mal and Prithi Chand.*” Direct link of the Khalsa with the 
Guru was symbolized by a new baptismal ceremony introduced by 
Guru Gobind Singh. This was the chastening baptism of the double- 
edged sword (khande ki pauhl) which obliged the initiate to keep the 
hair unshorn, to wear arms and to bear the epithet ‘Singh’ with their 
names. Any five Singhs could initiate others to the new order. These 
indeed were very vital measures. The principle of unity and equality 
was re-introduced in the Sikh Panth. Given the vested interests of the 
masands and the dissidents, and even of the high-caste Sikhs of Guru 
Gobind Singh, this principle introduced an element of internal tussle 
between those who accepted the new order and those who did not. 
Furthermore, since in their outward appearance the baptized Singhs 
stood distinguished from their contemporaries, their socio-religious 
identity became more distinctly pronounced than that of the earlier 
Sikhs. Indeed, as a contemporary writer puts it, the Khalsa stood 
distinguished from the rest of the world.>8 The local Khalsa sangats 
assumed collectively the position relinquished by the masands. The 
Khalsa sangats now represented the Guru. Their decisions were 

37 Senapat, Sri Gursobha (ed. Ganda Singh), Punjabi University, Patiala, 1980, 22; For 
dissent in Sikhism, J. S. Grewal, ‘The Dissidents’, From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh (and edn), 50-63. 

38 J.S. Grewal and S.S. Bal, Guru Gobind Singh (A Biographical Study), Panjab 
University, Chandigarh, 1967, 121. 


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binding on the individual members of the sangat. Guru Gobind Singh 
declared the Khalsa to be the heir of everything he possessed, because 
he himself owed everything to them.*? In the common consecration of 
their lives to God, the baptized Singhs and the Guru became one. 


The immediate result of the measures of Guru Gobind Singh was to 
invite the outside interference which the Singhs were meant to 
withstand. The increasing number of armed Singhs at Anandpur, 
particularly at the time of the Diwali and the Baisakhi, presented a 
grave threat to the neighbouring hill chiefs. Bhim Chand did not 
take long to notice their presence with apprehension. No single 
chief, however, was able to confront them. Bhim Chand formed an 
alliance with some other chiefs of the hills and attacked Anandpur. 
They found it difficult to dislodge Guru Gobind Singh and decided to 
approach the Mughal faujdars for help. The combined forces of the 
Mughal faujdars and the hill chiefs, coupled with the suggestion of an 
honourable peace, induced Guru Gobind Singh to cross the river Satlej 
into the territory of a friendly chief, and the Mughal troops went back. 
Bhim Chand, however, was rash enough to attack the Guru but only to 
suffer defeat. His men fled from the field of battle ‘as the arrow flies 
from a stretched bow’.*° Guru Gobind Singh rode back to Anandpur 
in triumph. 

The success of Guru Gobind Singh encouraged more and more of 
the Singhs to come to Anandpur. Their increasing numbers created the 
problem of supplies. It became necesssary for them to raid the 
neighbouring villages for food and forage. The hill chiefs could not 
close their eyes to this new development. But they felt helpless. 
Ultimately they decided to approach Aurangzeb for protection as his 
vassals. Imperial and vassal forces were mobilized against Guru 
Gobind Singh and a siege was laid to Anandpur. A long blockade and 
promise of safe conduct induced the Singhs to agree to evacuate the 
fortresses, and Guru Gobind Singh left Anandpur towards the end of 
1704 against his better judgment. While crossing a flooded stream near 
Ropar he was attacked by the Mughal troops. His wife, Mata Sundri, 

39 Guru Gobind Singh’s feeling for the Khalsa is well rendered into English by Harbans 
Singh: Guru Gobind Singh, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, 1979, 47. 
40 Senapat, Sri Gursobba (ed. Ganda Singh), 63. 


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and his mother, Mata Gujri, and his two youngest sons were separated 
from him in the mélée. He crossed the stream and stopped at a village 
called Chamkaur. He was pursued and attacked. All his followers 
and his two eldest sons fell fighting at Chamkaur. Meanwhile, 
Mata Sundri was escorted to Delhi by a devoted follower, but 
Mata Gujri and the two youngest sons fell into the hands of Wazir 
Khan, the Mughal faujdar of Sarhind. He put the young boys to 

Guru Gobind Singh was able to establish contact with the Khalsa in 
the present districts of Faridkot and Bhatinda, and he was able to 
repulse an attack from Wazir Khan at a place called Khidrana 
(Muktsar). Aurangzeb came to know of these developments in the 
Punjab and he thought of conciliating Guru Gobind Singh. When the 
Guru wrote a spirited letter (zafarnama) in response, justifying his 
position on moral grounds and indicting the emperor with perfidy, 
Aurangzeb sent special messengers with orders for Mun‘im Khan, the 
governor of Lahore, to conciliate the Guru at all costs and to persuade 
him to meet the emperor personally in the Deccan.4! Guru Gobind 
Singh refused the help offered by the Lahore governor, but he decided 
to meet Aurangzeb. On his way to the Deccan he was in Rajasthan 
when he heard the news of the emperor’s death. Aurangzeb had died in 
February, 1707. 

Guru Gobind Singh met the new emperor, Bahadur Shah, at Agra in 
the summer of 1707. He was well received and encouraged to hope that 
he would get Anandpur back. Bahadur Shah went to Rajasthan, and 
from Rahjasthan to the Deccan to fight for the throne with his brother 
Kam Bakhsh. Guru Gobind Singh remained close to the imperial camp 
for nearly a year, hoping that the issue could be resolved any time. 
Bahadur Shah, not yet in a position to offend either the Guru or the hill 
chiefs, went on postponing the decision to restore the status quo ante. 
When the imperial camp halted near Nanded on the banks of the river 
Godavari, Guru Gobind Singh decided to stay behind. A few days later 
he was stabbed and badly wounded by an Afghan connected with 
either Wazir Khan or an imperial officer.42 On October 7, 1708, Guru 
Gobind Singh breathed his last. 

41 J. S. Grewal, ‘The Zafarnama’, From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, 85-93. 

42 J. S. Grewal, ‘Guru Gobind Singh and Bahadur Shah’, ibid., 94-99; in the Akhbarat-i- 
Darbar-i-Mu‘alla the name of the Afghan given is Jamshid Khan and it is added that his son 
was given a robe by way of condolence by the emperor: Makhiz-i-Tawarikh-t-Sikhan, 83. 


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Guru Gobind Singh did not nominate any individual as his successor. 
For nearly a century now the Sikhs had been nurtured in the belief that 
Guruship was confined to the family of Guru Ram Das. This is 
explicitly stated not only in the Bachittar Natak towards the end of the 
seventeenth century but also at the beginning in the vars of Bhai 
Gurdas.*#3 At the time of Guru Gobind Singh’s death, however, there 
was none in the three generations of the surviving Sodhis who could be 
considered for taking up this grave responsibility. More important 
than this was the process by which Guruship had been gradually 
impersonalized, bringing the bani and the sangat into parallel promi- 
nence with the personal Guru. The decision taken by Guru Gobind 
Singh did not abolish Guruship itself but personal Guruship. The 
position of the Guru was henceforth given to the Khalsa and to 
shabad-bani as a logical development from Guru Nanak’s decision to 
nominate a disciple as the Guru during his lifetime and his equation of 
the Shabad with the Guru. As a further logical development, the 
decision of Guru Gobind Singh crystallized into the twin doctrine of 
Guru-Panth and Guru-Granth. Larger and larger numbers of Sikhs 
came to believe that Guruship after Guru Gobind Singh was vested in 
the Khalsa Panth and in the Granth. 

All the Sikhs at the time of Guru Gobind Singh’s death were not his 
Khalsa, and all his Khalsa were not Singhs. The difference between the 
Singh and the Khalsa ended with his death and the two terms became 
synonymous and interchangeable. The difference between the Sikh and 
the Singh remained. It was yet to be seen which component would 
become dominant in the affairs of the Sikh Panth. It was also to be 
seen how the Singhs would conduct themselves in relation to the 
Mughal state. 

Political attitude was one important element that distinguished the 
Singhs and the Sikhs. What is more important, the political attitude of 
the Singhs was not an adjunct but an essential part of their religious 
ideology. Bhai Gurdas had used an apt metaphor for the change 
introduced by Guru Hargobind in the beginning of the seventeenth 
century: the orchard of the Sikh faith needed the thorny hedge of 
armed men for its protection. The Singhs of Guru Gobind Singh were 

43 Bhai Gurdas, var 1, pauri 87. 


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the orchard and the hedge rolled into one. In the entire body of the 
followers of the Gurus, divided into two distinct components, the 
Singhs represented the ‘transformed’ component. It was soon to 
become the mainstream as the result of Guru Gobind Singh’s known 


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The eighteenth century in Indian history is known for the decline of 
the Mughal empire and the rise of successor states and new powers like 
the Marathas and the British. The rise of the Singhs into power during 
the eighteenth century was a part of this political process. But there 
was nothing in the process itself to ensure their rise to power. The 
combination of religious piety and disciplined worldliness that was 
evolved by Guru Nanak and elaborated by his successors was extended 
to the realm of politics by Guru Gobind Singh. The political struggle of 
the Singhs can be appreciated not merely in terms of the growing 
weakness of the Mughal empire but also as an extrapolation of the 
pontificate of Guru Gobind Singh. 


Only about a year after Guru Gobind Singh’s death, Bahadur Shah 
heard of a serious uprising in the Punjab and left the Deccan for the 
north. This uprising was led by Banda Bahadur who had met Guru 
Gobind Singh at Nanded and become his follower. He was commis- 
sioned to lead the Singhs in the Punjab against their oppressors. Some 
of the old followers of Guru Gobind Singh accompanied him, and he 
was also given letters (pukmnamas) addressed to the Singhs for coming 
to his support. Banda Bahadur and his companions moved cautiously 
towards Delhi, entered the sarkar of Hissar and started collecting men 
and materials for military action. By November, 1709, they had 
gathered enough strength to storm the town of Samana in the sarkar of 
Sarhind. The faujdar of Samana was overpowered, its inhabitants were 
killed in thousands and the town was razed to the ground. The scale as 
well as the suddenness of Banda’s action justified the emperor’s 

Before Bahadur Shah appeared on the scene in December, 1710, 
Banda had occupied the entire sarkar of Sarhind and several parganas 
of the sarkar of Hissar; had invaded the sarkar of Saharanpur in the 
Jamuna-Ganga Doab; and the Singhs had risen in revolt against the 


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Mughal authorities in the Bist Jalandhar and the upper Bari Doab. 
Before the fall of Sarhind in May, 1710, Banda had conquered 
Shahabad, Sadhaura and Banur on the east of Sarhind; after its fall he 
had occupied the territory on the west. In the entire area between the 
rivers Satle; and Jamuna, he made his own administrative arrange- 
ments, appointing his own faujdars, diwans and kardars. He adopted 
Mukhlispur, an imperial fort now given the name of Lohgarh, as his 
capital and struck a new coin in the name of Guru Nanak and Guru 
Gobind Singh. With a similar inscription he started using a seal on his 
orders (hukmnamas).' In the Jalandhar Doab, the Sikhs occupied the 
important town of Rahon; in the upper Bari Doab, they occupied 
Batala, Kalanaur and Pathankot. A long belt of territory along the 
Shivaliks, from the Jamuna to the Ravi, came under the influence of 
Banda and his supporters in less than a year. The imperial forces 
invaded Lohgarh towards the end of 1710. Banda escaped into the 
hills. While the emperor moved towards Lahore, Banda reappeared in 
the upper Bari Doab before the middle of 1711. At the time of Bahadur 
Shah’s death at Lahore in February, 1712, Banda was still unsubdued. 

For three years more the Mughal administrators could not crush the 
uprising. Due to the struggle for succession, the emperors were not ina 
position for one year to pay any serious attention to the affairs of the 
Punjab. During this short span Banda was able to recover much of the 
territory conquered earlier, including the fort of Lohgarh. He defeated 
Bayazid Khan, the faujdar of Jammu, and killed Shams Khan, the 
faujdar of Sultanpur in the Jalandhar Doab. Some of the hill chiefs too 
were obliged to pay tribute. When Farrukh Siyar ascended the throne 
in February, 1713, he issued a general order that the Sikhs should be 
exterminated. Abdus Samad Khan was appointed as the governor of 
Lahore and he was successful in expelling Banda Bahadur from the 
sarkar of Sarhind before the end of 1713. 

A year later, however, Banda reappeared in the upper Bari Doab, 
and his supporters marched towards Lahore with the aspiration of 
occupying the provincial captial. Farrukh Siyar admonished Abdus 
Samad Khan for his failure to suppress the Sikhs and sent reinforce- 
ments from the imperial camp. A considerable number of Singhs 
withdrew their support to Banda on account of serious differences. 
Banda was eventually besieged by Abdus Samad Khan in the fort of 

' For a facsimile of Banda Bahadur’s Hukmnama, Ganda Singh, Life of Banda Singh 
Bahadur, Khalsa College, Amritsar, 1935. 


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Gurdas Nangal near the present town of Gurdaspur. The siege lasted 
for eight months before Banda and his followers surrendered towards 
the end of 1715. Over 700 of them were taken to Delhi to be paraded in 
the streets before their execution in March, 1716. Banda and his close 
companions were executed in June near the tomb of Shaikh Qutbuddin 
Bhaktyar Kaki close to the Qutb Minar. 

In the second decade of the eighteenth century it was still possible 
for the Mughal emperors to send imperial troops to support their 
provincial governors against rebels. Abdus Samad Khan was supported 
by the zamindars of his province too, like the Bhatti Rajputs, the 
Afghans of Qasur and the leaders of the Kharal and Wattu tribes. 
Under changed circumstances they would all become keen to carve out 
principalities for themselves. In any case, the circumstances of the 
Mughal empire were changing rather rapidly, and it is necessary to 
keep in view the general process of political change with all its 
ramifications in order to grasp the developments in the politics of the 
Punjab in their proper perspective. 


Farrukh Siyar, who had ascended the throne in 1713 with the support 
of the Sayyids of Barah was removed and killed by those very Sayyids 
in 1719, and three more princes ascended the throne before the year 
was out. The last of them, Muhammad Shah, remained on the throne 
for nearly thirty years till his death in April, 1748. But he could not 
prevent the disintegration of his empire. The nobles at the court failed 
to browbeat the emperor but the emperor failed to control the nobles. 
Financial difficulties became more acute. While income from the 
crownlands (kAalisa) went on decreasing with the increase in the ranks 
of the nobles and their jagirs, the provincial governors became more 
and more reluctant to send regular instalments of the surplus revenues 
to the imperial treasury. The system of revenue-farming (ijara), 
which became well established in the reign of Muhammad Shah, 
created new vested interests for appropriating the surplus produce 
with serious implications for politics. 

The frontiers of imperial authority began to contract rather rapidly, 
making room for successor states and new powers. In 1725, when 
Nizam ul-Mulk Asaf Jah took over the viceroyalty of the Deccan 
provinces, the khutba continued to be read in the name of the emperor 


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and the coins continued to be struck in his name, but this legal fiction 
hardly concealed the fact that Nizam ul-Mulk was the virtual ruler of 
the Deccan without any binding political or administrative ties with 
the powers at Delhi. He had to contend rather with the Marathas 
whose sovereignty over the kingdom established by Shivaji had been 
recognized by the Mughal emperor in 1719. In 1737 they defeated 
Nizam ul-Mulk in a battle near Bhopal and confined him to the 
erstwhile territories of Golkunda, now the nizamat of Hyderabad. 
Before Nadir Shah invaded India in 1738-1739 the Marathas had 
subjugated Gujarat and Malwa and extended their sway up to the river 
Chambal in Rajasthan. 

Two years after his coronation as the Shah of Persia, Nadir Shah 
took over Qandahar from the Afghans in March, 1738, and occupied 
the Mughal province of Kabul in June. In January, 1739, he entered the 
province of Lahore and defeated its Mughal governor, Zakariya Khan, 
who was allowed to hold on to his office after paying two million 
rupees. Nadir Shah reached Sarhind in the first week of February to 
defeat the Mughal army before the end of the month. Having clearly 
established the superiority of the Persian bullet over the Mughal arrow, 
he moved to Delhi to gather its accumulated riches. When he heard of 
the death of his mulcting soldiers at the hands of the citizens of Delhi, 
he ordered a general massacre and imposed an indemnity of twenty 
million rupees. The Mughal emperor and his nobles made a much 
larger contribution in jewels, gold and silver, and precious articles. 
Nadir Shah celebrated the marriage of his son with a Mughal princess, 
put the crown back on the head of Muhammad Shah and got the 
khutba read in his name. With a long train of camels and mules loaded 
with spoils, he left Delhi in May after a formal treaty with the Mughal 
emperor by which the province of Thatta and all Mughal territories to 
the west of the river Indus were ceded to the Persian monarch. The 
four parganas (chahar mahal) of Sialkot, Pasrur, Aurangabad and 
Gujrat in the province of Lahore too were ceded to Nadir Shah. 

Soon after Nadir Shah’s invasion, the eastern provinces of the empire 
were virtually lost to the Mughal emperor. Shuja ud-Daula had 
established his power in Bengal, Orissa and Bihar by acknowledging 
the authority of Muhammad Shah and by sending regular instalments 
of revenue or tribute to Delhi. On his death in 1740 Aliwardi Khan 
forcibly took over the nizamat of Bengal and obtained legal recogni- 
tion by paying tribute to the Mughal emperor. Gradually, however, 


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Kabul feng agar (1740s) 

. Peshawar J, 

~ 4 
‘N° Ghazni : J 
“ By 


Map 3 The Mughal empire (1740s) 

Aliwardi Khan started acting as an autonomous ruler, taking his own 
decisions without reference to Delhi and withholding payment of 
tribute. In the 1740s, while the Marathas were trying to increase their 
power and influence between the Deccan and the Gangetic provinces, 
Safdar Jang as the governor of Awadh strengthened his hold over the 
province of Allahabad as well. The Jats in the province of Agra and the 
Rohila Afghans in the Delhi province were trying to carve out new 
principalities for themselves. 

Turning to the Mughal governors of the Punjab in this process of 
decline and disintegration, we find that Abdus Samad Khan was 
succeeded by his son Zakariya Khan in 1726 when the father was sent 
to the neighbouring province of Multan. Upon his death in 1737 
Multan too was entrusted to Zakariya Khan. When Zakariya Khan 
died in 1745 his sons, Yahiya Khan and Shah Nawaz Khan, acted on 
the assumption that Lahore and Multan belonged to them almost by 
right. In any case, the governorship of Lahore remained in the hands of 
Abdus Samad Khan and his son and grandsons for nearly thirty-five 


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years. Themselves Turanis, they were related to a powerful Turani 
family in Delhi. Abdus Samad Khan was married to the sister of 
Muhammad Amin Khan who became the wazir of Muhammad Shah 
after the fall of the Sayyid brothers. Zakariya Khan was married to the 
daughter of Muhammad Amin Khan, the sister of Qamruddin Khan 
who also became the wazir at Delhi. Qamruddin’s daughter was 
married to Yahiya Khan. Nizam ul-Mulk Asaf Jah was a nephew of 
Muhammad Amin Khan. At least partly, the position of Abdus Samad 
Khan and Zakariya Khan was strengthened by these matrimonial ties. 

Both Abdus Samad Khan and Zakariya Khan held high mansabs and 
they were regarded as competent and powerful governors. Occa- 
sionally, however, they had to face refractory vassals or zamindars. 
Abdus Samad Khan had to suppress the revolt of Husain Khan of 
Qasur. Zakariya Khan had to deal with Ranjit Dev of Jammu and the 
zamindars like Jang Pannah Bhatti and Jang Mir. It is not clear whether 
or not Zakariya Khan sent surplus revenues to the imperial treasury. It 
is quite clear, however, that he received no assistance from Delhi when 
he was faced with internal or external threat. A large measure of 
autonomy or initiative and nearly a total reliance on their own 
resources were the reverse and the obverse of the same political 
situation, accounting largely for their strength and weakness at the 
same time. 

The position of the Mughal governors of Lahore weakened con- 
siderably after Zakariya Khan’s death in 1745. The emperor was 
opposed to the idea of any of his sons becoming the governor of 
Lahore or Multan. Qamruddin Khan felt obliged to get these provinces 
for himself. Early in 1746 he was able to make Yahiya Khan his deputy 
at Lahore but a year later he was ousted by Shah Nawaz Khan. The 
emperor was not willing to recognize Shah Nawaz even as a deputy. 
He started negotiations with Ahmad Shah Abdali who had succeeded 
to the eastern dominions of Nadir Shah in 1747. To neutralize his 
inclination to rebel, Shah Nawaz Khan was made Qamruddin Khan’s 
deputy at Lahore. He decided now to oppose Ahmad Shah Abdali but 
he was defeated in a battle near Lahore. Qamruddin himself had to 
march against Ahmad Shah. In a battle fought near Sarhind early in 
1748 Qamruddin received a fatal wound but his son Muin ul-Mulk 
defeated Ahmad Shah Abdali with the support of Safdar Jang. The 
governorship of Lahore and Multan was now passed on to Muin 



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Muin ul-Mulk, called simply Mir Mannu by the Singhs, received no 
support from the new emperor and the new wazirs. In fact Safdar 
Jang encouraged Shah Nawaz Khan to occupy Multan. Muin ul-Mulk 
had to send a large force against him; Shah Nawaz was defeated and 
killed. When Ahmad Shah Abdali demanded the arrears of the 
revenue from the Four Parganas in 1750-1751, Muin ul-Mulk refer- 
red the matter to Delhi, asking for reinforcements. But he was told to 
pay the arrears. In 1752, Ahmad Shah Abdali defeated Muin ul-Mulk 
and occupied Lahore. In this situation Muin ul-Mulk had no hesi- 
tation in remaining the governor of Lahore on behalf of Ahmad Shah 
Abdali, though his position became even more vulnerable than 
before. He died in 1753 as an ‘Afghan’ governor. In 1757, when the 
province of Lahore was formally ceded to Ahmad Shah Abdali by the 
Mughal emperor, together with the provinces of Multan and Kashmir 
and the sarkar of Sarhind, Ahmad Shah Abdali appointed his son 
Timur Shah as the governor of Lahore. By this time the Singhs had 
occupied many pockets of territory in the eastern doabs of the 


After the death of Banda Bahadur there was no eminent leader among 
the Singhs. Their struggle against the Mughal government became 
eventually a people’s war. From this viewpoint, the period from 
Banda Bahadur’s death to Nadir Shah’s invasion assumes great sig- 
nificance. One of the most important developments of this phase was 
the emergence of Ramdaspur (Amritsar) as the rallying centre of the 
Singhs.? They established their control over Amritsar against the 
claims of the followers of Banda in the time of Abdus Samad Khan, 
and appointed Bhai Mani Singh, the lifelong companion of Guru 
Gobind Singh and his oldest disciple, to look after the affairs of the 
Harmandir. Amritsar became once again the most important centre of 
Sikh pilgrimage. Equally important was the Singh insistence on the 
end of personal Guruship after Guru Gobind Singh, upholding the 
doctrine not only against the old dissidents but also against the new 
contenders like Gulab Rai, a grandson of Guru Hargobind, and the 
Gangu Shahi Kharak Singh, the successor of an eminent follower of 

2 J. S. Grewal, The City of the Golden Temple, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 


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Guru Amar Das. A third important element in this situation was a hard 
core of individuals who refused to submit to the Mughals. 

It was this last element which was the primary source of anxiety for 
the Mughal governors. Many of those who had risen against the 
government under the leadership of Banda returned to their old 
occupations. Some of them were induced to relinquish arms by 
concession of land revenue. Not all of them, however, gave up the 
stance of independence. The well-known martyr Tara Singh who 
humbled the faujdar of Patti and died fighting against the contingents 
sent by Zakariya Khan was only one of them. While the Sikhs in 
general, and even a large number of the Singhs, lived as peaceful 
citizens of the Mughal empire, the professed rebels, or the tat-khalsa, 
lived as outlaws in the less-accessible tracts of the province plundering 
or killing the government officials and their supporters. 

The developments of the 1730s indicate that the number of the 
tat-khalsé was increasing and, consequently, Zakariya Khan was 
becoming more and more grim in his measures of suppression. Early in 
the decade, however, he decided to adopt conciliatory measures, to kill 
the Singhs with ‘sugar’ instead of ‘poison’.> The emperor was per- 
suaded to confer a robe of honour and the title of nawab on their 
chosen leader, and a number of villages in jagir for their maintenance. 
The title and the robe were accepted by Kapur Singh, remembered 
consequently as Nawab Kapur Singh. The villages chosen for jagir 
were close to Amritsar. This ensured peace for a few years. 

Amritsar became a converging centre for the scattered Singhs, and it 
became necessary for Nawab Kapur Singh to organize the increasing 
numbers into large units (deras) under different leaders from amongst 
the Khatris, Jats and the ‘outcaste’ Ranghretas. He entrusted the work 
of the common kitchen, the treasury, the stores, the arsenal and the 
granary for horses to experienced or competent Singhs. But he failed to 
contain the increasing numbers, and many of them became restive. 
Some of them took to plunder and adopted an attitude of confrontation 
with the officials.* Zakariya Khan resumed the jagir and adopted 
repressive measures with greater vigour. 

The Singhs took to the roving life of outlaws in small bands. They 
moved with speed, and struck with effect. When Zakariya Khan failed 

3 Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Parkash, Wazir-i-Hind Press, Amritsar, 1962 (4th 

edn), 210. 
4 [bid., 215-17. 


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to liquidate these illusive bands he turned his attention to their rallying 
centre. Bhai Mani Singh was given to understand that the Sikhs could 
visit Amritsar on the Diwali if he would pay a stipulated amount to the 
government. The Singhs did come but they soon became suspicious 
that this was a ruse, and they dispersed. Bhai Mani Singh failed to remit 
the stipulated amount, and he was put to death in Lahore; his body was 
cut into pieces limb by limb. This did not deter the Singhs from 
paralyzing Zakariya Khan’s administration. When they plundered the 
rear of Nadir Shah’s army on its return from Delhi, the Shah warned 
the Khan against their potential threat to his rule in the Punjab.5 

In the 1740s the rigour of repression increased, but with a diminish- 
ing effect. Zakariya Khan established a permanent post in Amritsar. Its 
Rajput faujdar, popularly referred to as Massa Ranghar, who used the 
precincts of the Harmandir for his amusement with dancing girls, was 
killed by Mehtab Singh and Sukhkha Singh. Another faujdar was 
appointed in his place. Zakariya Khan also mobilized the support of 
local zamindars against the Singhs, and persecuted even their sympa- 
thizers. That was why the well-known martyr Bhai Taru Singh had to 
suffer death. The defiant attitude of the Singhs was symbolized by a 
Sandhu Jat, Bota Singh, who started collecting tax from travellers on 
the high road to Lahore to invite martyrdom. In the time of Yahiya 
Khan, a band of the Singhs under the leadership of Jassa Singh 
Ahluwalia turned on their pursuer Jaspat Rai, the faujdar of Eminabad, 
and killed him. His brother Lakhpat Rai, the diwan of Lahore, pursued 
the Khalsa in vengeance and killed several thousand of them in a 
relentless campaign.® By now, the Singhs were able to survive such a 
loss. In 1748 they felt strong enough to oust the Mughal faujdar from 
Amritsar and to build a small fortress there named Ram Rauni. 

In the early 1750s the leaders of Singh bands started occupying 
pockets of territory in the Bari Doab in which the capital of the 
province was situated. Jai Singh Kanhiya, for instance, started issuing 
orders to local officials in 1750. A lesser-known leader named Hakumat 
Singh ordered the local officials not to interfere with a religious grant in 
the present district of Gurdaspur.” Jassa Singh Ahluwalia occupied 

5 Perhaps a post-eventum prophecy, but this is emphasized by Ahmad Shah, Tarikh-i- 
Hind, MS, SHR 1291, Khalsa College, Amritsar, f. 315; and by Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin 
Panth Parkash, 231-32. 

In Sikh tradition this event is remembered as chhota ghallaghara or the ‘small carnage’. 

7 The leaders of the Khalsa bands started using their seals to issue orders after the 
occupation of territories. It is interesting to note in this connection that the seal of Jai Singh 


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Fatehabad in the present district of Amritsar in 1753, and it served as 
his headquarters for nearly a quarter of a century.8 In this context the 
memoirs of the contemporary Tahmas Khan begin to make sense. In 
1754 Khwaja Mirza Khan was appointed as the faujdar of Eminabad 
but before he could take charge he had to fight several times with the 
Singhs, and Qasim Beg who was appointed as the faujdar of Patti was 
not allowed by the Singhs to join his post. Towards the end of 1757, the 
veteran Afghan General Jahan Khan, who was appointed by Ahmad 
Shah Abdali to assist his son Timur Shah in the administration of the 
province, was nearly overpowered by the Singhs before he was saved 
by the timely arrival of fresh Afghan contingents. The Singhs ousted its 
Afghan faujdar Sa‘adat Khan Afridi from Jalandhar early in 1758. 
Henceforth, in whichever direction an Afghan army was sent it came 
back defeated. The Singhs even attacked Lahore and plundered its 

At this juncture Ahmad Shah Abdali had to contend with the 
Marathas who wanted to establish their own control over the Punjab 
on behalf of the Mughal emperor. He came to India towards the end of 
1759, stayed in the neighbourhood of Delhi throughout 1760, and 
fought the battle of Panipat in April, 1761, to defeat the Marathas and 
to oblige them temporarily at least to abandon their aspiration to 
dominate the north. However, Ahmad Shah Abdali now found the 
Punjab too hot for himself. In September, 1761, the governor he had 
appointed to the province of Lahore was defeated by the Singhs near 
Gujranwala. The Singhs threw out the other appointees of Ahmad 
Shah Abdali like ‘a fly from milk’ and brought the entire land from the 
Satlej to the Indus under their control.!° To strike a decisive blow, he 
killed more than 5,000 Singhs in a single day in a running battle in the 
present district of Ludhiana.'! But only six months later he felt obliged 
to retire to Lahore after an indecisive engagement with the Singhs near 
Amritsar. After his return to Kabul his faujdars were dislodged by the 
Singhs from the Bist Jalandhar Doab, Sarhind, Rachna and the Cha; 
Kanhiya bears the date 1750 in his orders: B. N. Goswamy and J. S. Grewal, The Mughal 
and the Sikh Rulers and the Vaishnavas of Pindori, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 
Simla, 1969, Documents 24, 25; for Hakumat Singh’s order, Document 18. 

8 Contrary to the general impression, the founder of the Kapurthala state, Jassa Singh 
Ahluwalia, occupied Kapurthala towards the end of his career. 

° Tahmas Beg Khan, Tabmas Namah (ed. Muhammad Aslam), University of the Punjab, 
Lahore, 1986, 106~10, 179-84. 

10 Tbid, 251-52. 
'1 In Sikh tradition this event is remembered as wadda ghallighara or the ‘great carnage’. 


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Doabs. When Ahmad Shah himself came to the Punjab in 1765 his 
authority was confined to his camp; he was on the defensive and he 
returned to Kabul without fighting a single battle even though the 
Singhs were hovering around his camp. Qazi Nur Muhammad, who 
had accompanied the Shah on this expedition, regretfully observed that 
the Singhs had divided up the country from Sarhind to the Derajat 
among themselves and enjoyed it ‘without fear from anyone’.!? The 
Singhs formally declared their sovereignty in 1765 by striking a coin at 
Lahore after its occupation by three of their leaders. This coin bore the 
inscription which Banda Bahadur had used on his seal fifty-five years 
earlier.!3 Sikh rule was re-established and it had come to stay. 

The Singhs were not the only new rulers of the Punjab. The vassal 
chiefs of the hills had only to withhold tribute and contingents to 
become independent rulers. With the decline in Mughal authority 
many of them became independent of outside control. They acknow- 
ledged Ahmad Shah’s suzerainty only intermitantly in self-interest. 
The chiefs of Jammu and Kangra in fact added to their power and 
prestige during the late eighteenth century. There was also a good 
number of new principalities under non-Sikh chiefs in the plains. Most 
of them were descendants of the zamindars of the Mughal times. Some 
of them were former jagirdars. A few of them were heads of religious 
institutions enjoying revenue-free lands. They had all come into power 
by making use of the politico-administrative framework of the Mughal 

By contrast, the Singhs rose from amongst the common people, 
setting aside the politico-administrative framework of the Mughal 
empire and setting themselves up against all its supporters. Their 
greatest assets were the arrangements they evolved on the basis of their 
common sense, the ties of kinship and, above all, their religious faith 
and doctrines which served as the motivating force and the ground for 
their military and political action. 

The ‘institutions’ which enabled the Singhs to occupy territories on a 
large scale are known as rakhi, the misl, the dal khalsa and the 

12 Qazi Nur Muhammad, Jang Namah, MS, SHR 1547, Khalsa College, Amritsar, f. 177. 

13 The Persian couplet of this inscription refers to deg, teg and unlimited success which 
Guru Gobind Singh received from Guru Nanak and, by implication, left as a legacy for the 
nee much attention has been paid to the non-Sikh chiefs of the Punjab during the late 
eighteenth century. For a brief discussion see Veena Sachdeva, “The Non-Sikh Chiefs of the 

Punjab Plains and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’, Journal of Regional History, Guru Nanak Dev 
University, Amritsar, 2 (1981), 1-11. 


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gurmata.'> They undertook to provide protection (rakhi) to cultiva- 
tors against all outsiders, including the officials of the government, 
after levying only a fifth of the produce in return for that protection. 
The system became more and more popular as the Singhs became more 
and more effective, and it often served as a prelude to permanent 
occupation. Since all the leaders had rather limited resources it was 
necessary to pool them for the purposes of offence and defence. The 
ties of kinship among other things became the basis of small combin- 
ations which afterwards came to be known as misls. Territory was 
often occupied by the mis/ as a unit, and sometimes by a combination 
of two or more misls. A larger combination of forces became all the 
more necessary when the Singhs grew in power. The combination of a 
large number of misls came to be known as the dal khalsa which acted 
in concert under the command of a chosen leader for a specific 
purpose. Depending upon the needs of a situation the dal khalsa could 
be divided into two or more units. Invariably, before a campaign was 
undertaken the matter was discussed and a consensus formed by the 
leaders of the Singhs. Such meetings were open to every Singh and the 
resolution passed was called gurmata or the ‘resolution of the Guru’. 
Most of the important gurmatas were adopted at Amritsar where the 
Singhs used to meet at the time of the Baisakhi and the Diwali. But a 
gurmata could be adopted at any place in the presence of the Guru 
Granth or even on the field of battle. A gurmata was morally binding 
on all the Singhs, even on those who were not personally present in a 
meeting, because of their belief in the doctrine of Guru-Panth. It is 
difficult to think of a better basis of cohesion than the gurmata which 
was based on the principles of equality and freedom, which subsumed 
the ties of kinship and other social ties, and which imparted a large 
degree of flexibility to its practical application. It made the Singhs 
much more formidable than the other contestants for power. 

The doctrine of Guru-Panth, which provided the basis for concerted 
action, also ensured the right of every Singh to fight, to conquer and to 
rule. The theoretical derivation of power from God through the grace 
of the Gurus, which is implied in the inscription on the coin struck at 
Lahore in 1765, enabled the Singhs collectively to assert their sove- 
reignty against outsiders; it also gave equal legitimacy to every indi- 

18 For a discussion of these institutions, J. S. Grewal, ‘Eighteenth Century Sikh Polity’, 
From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1982 
(and edn), 127-38; Indu Banga, Agrarian System of the Sikhs, Manohar Publications, Delhi, 

1978, 27-38. 


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vidual Sikh chief. In any case, the number of identifiable Sikh prin- 
cipalities between the Jamuna and the Indus in the 1770s was more than 
three scores. The chiefs commanded varying resources in terms of 
territory, revenues and horsemen. A small chief could be the master of 
a pargana yielding only 50,000 rupees a year; a large chief could hold 
more than half a dozen parganas yielding nearly 10 lakhs of rupees.'¢ 
Eminent among the Sikh chiefs in the former province of Lahore were 
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Charhat Singh Sukarchakia, Hari Singh Bhangi 
and his sons Jhanda Singh and Ganda Singh, Jai Singh Kanhiya, Gujjar 
Singh and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia. In the middle rung were the chiefs 
like Buddh Singh in the Jalandhar Doab, Hakikat Singh in the Bari 
Doab, Sahib Singh Sialkotia in the Rachna Doab and Milkha Singh 
Thehpuria in the Sindh Sagar Doab. There were others, followed by a 
score of really small chiefs. In the former Mughal province of Delhi 
there were about a score of Sikh chiefs, including the chiefs of Patiala, 
Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Ambala, Shahabad, Thanesar, Kaithal, Jaga- 
dhari and Buriya. 

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the Sikh chief generally 
acted in his individual capacity in his political relations with others. 
The more powerful chiefs like Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Charhat Singh 
Sukarchakia, Gujjar Singh, Jai Singh Kanhiya and Jassa Singh Ramgar- 
hia asserted their suzerain claims over some of the hill principalities. 
Jhanda Singh and Ganda Singh Bhangi conquered Multan and held it 
until 1780. Some of the Sikh chiefs of the Satlej-Jamuna Divide led 
campaigns across the Jamuna and established rakhi but without any 
permanent gain of territory. Already in the 1770s the Sikh chiefs could 
range on opposite sides in alliance with non-Sikh chiefs. Even the 
veterans like Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Jai Singh Kanhiya and Jassa Singh 
Ramgarhia could fight against one another. With a few exceptions, 
however, the Sikh principalities founded in the eighteenth century 
survived into the nineteenth to be subverted or subjugated by Ranjit 
Singh, the grandson of Charhat Singh Sukarchakia. 

All the chiefs were completely independent of others in the govern- 
ment and administration of their territories. Every chief appointed his 
own diwan, thanadar and kardars for the administration of his 
territory; every chief appointed his own commandant of the army. 

16 Carefully identified and studied in terms of territories and resources by Veena 
Sachdeva, Polity and Economy of the Punjab During the Late Eighteenth Century, 
Manohar, Delhi, 1993. 


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Those who served the principality at subordinate levels were generally 
given jagirs and not cash salaries. Arrangements for the collection of 
revenue from land were made with chaudharis and muqaddams; the 
actual cultivators were treated rather leniently. The ganungos and 
patwaris continued to perform their usual functions in revenue admin- 
istration. In the administration of justice many of the old courts of the 
qazi were kept up; the individual chief gave his personal attention to 
matters of justice; and the panchayats in villages and towns were given 
more importance. Non-Sikhs were associated with the administration 
in different capacities and at various levels. The Sikh chiefs extended 
their patronage to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, particularly for giving 
revenue-free land to religious personages or institutions. In spite of a 
total political change from the Mughal rule to the rule of the Sikh 
chiefs, which involved much social mobility as well, there was a great 
deal of continuity, including institutional continuity.!7 


Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the number of Singhs was 
larger than ever before. However, they did not constitute the entire 
Sikh Panth. There were many others who had not received the baptism 
of the double-edged sword but who regarded themselves as Sikh. 
Though every Sikh was not a Singh, the Singhs were clearly the 
dominant component, not merely because of their large numbers or 
their association with government and administration, but also because 
of the centrality of their doctrines. They believed in the unity of 
Guruship from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh and in the end of 
personal Guruship after his death. They also subscribed to the twin 
doctrine of the Guru-Panth and Guru-Granth. 

The Singhs constituted the bulk of the ruling class in the areas under 
Sikh rule. The majority of the rulers were Jat, but there were also 
others who had earlier belonged to the lower castes in the countryside, 
like tarkhans and kalals. At the subordinate levels in administration 
also there were some former barbers, water-carriers and scavengers. 
They enjoyed jagirs like the other members of the ruling class. In the 
armies too, though there was a preponderance of Jats, the others were 

17 Indu Banga, ‘State Formation Under Sikh Rule’, Journal of Regional History, I (1980), 
15-35; Veena Sachdeva, ‘Jagirdari System in the Punjab (Late 18th Century)’, ibid, 5 (1984), 



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represented. There was a considerable number of cultivators, artisans 
and craftsmen, traders and shopkeepers in the Sikh Panth, including 
both Singhs and Sikhs. Even in the Singh component, a certain degree 
of social stratification was introduced by the political process, and it 
was being reinforced after the establishment of Sikh rule by the 
operation of government and administration. 

The operation of the Sikh government affected the Sikh community 
in some other ways too. The descendants of Guru Nanak and Guru 
Ram Das, the Bedis and the Sodhis, came to be held in high esteem, and 
nearly every Sikh ruler extended patronage to them. The descendants 
of Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das, the Trehans and the Bhallas, also 
received state patronage. The improvement in their material means as 
much as their descent gave them a peculiar prestige in the Sikh social 
order. The number of granthis, ragis and bhais in general increased 
with the extension of patronage to places associated with the Sikh 
Gurus. Reconstruction of the Harmandir and the Akal Takht in 
Amritsar was only a more pronounced example of the interest of the 
Sikh rulers in the sacred places of the Sikhs. Many new gurdwaras were 
built with arrangements for religious services. Revenue-free lands were 
granted not only to the sacred places in Amritsar but also to many 
others. Some of the places were maintained by Udasi sadhs who traced 
their origin to Sri Chand, the elder son of Guru Nanak, and used 
Granth Sahib for their vedantic exposition of the Sikh faith. During 
the late eighteenth century, several of the Sikh rulers gave revenue- 
free lands to Udasis. Quite a few of their important centres were 
established in the late eighteenth century, including the akhara 
known as Brahm Buta in the vicinity of the Harmandir. Some of the 
religious places were maintained by Nihangs, the remnants of the 
Khalsa who failed or refused to occupy any territories and who were 
not associated with government and administration.*® 

Largely in the hope of receiving patronage from the rulers, or the 
members of the ruling class, quite a few individuals started producing 
literature. Important among them was Sarup Das Bhalla, tenth in 
descent from Guru Amar Das. He compiled events (sakhis) connected 

18 For patronage of religious persons and institutions by the Sikh rulers of the late 
eighteenth century, Indu Banga, Agrarian System of the Sikhs; Veena Sachdeva, Polity and 
Economy in the Late Eighteenth-Century Punjab; Sulakhan Singh, ‘Udasi Establishments 
Under Sikh Rule’, Journal of Regional History, 1 (1980), 70-87; and ‘State Patronage to 
Udasis Under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and His Times (eds J. S. 
Grewal and Indu Banga), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1980, 103-16. 


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with the lives of the ten Gurus, adding one on Banda Bahadur, on the 
basis of earlier writings and oral evidence. Without much understand- 
ing of the Sikh tradition, he underlines the importance of the outward 
Singh form (rebat), extols the role of the Bhalla descendants of Guru 
Amar Das in Sikh history, and tries to minimize the seriousness of 
dissent in the past to clear the way for the acceptance of former 
dissidents in the contemporary Sikh social order.!? A Sodhi descendant 
of Dhir Mal at Kartarpur, probably Wadbhag Singh, actually 
approached Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with the request to intercede with 
the Khalsa to rescind the old injunction regarding the excommuni- 
cation of the followers of Dhir Mal. After a good deal of debate among 
the leaders he was allowed to join the fold.2° The dissidents of old 
gradually began to receive patronage from the Singhs, or even to join 
their ranks.?! 

Another writer, Kesar Singh, was a descendant of Chhibber Brah- 
mans closely associated with Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru 
Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. In recognition of the services 
of his ancestors he expected patronage from the new rulers, but having 
got none he was rather resentful. He did not like the association of 
Hindu Khatris and Muslims with the government and administration 
of the Sikh rulers. In fact he had little appreciation for political power if 
it was not used to promote justice and patronage of deserving 

Kesar Singh Chhibber’s work is extremely interesting as one kind of 
response to the establishment of Sikh rule. Making a clear distinction 
between the Sikh and the Singh he shows much less appreciation for 
the Singhs who were associated with political power. Yet he is prepared 
to pronounce legitimacy on the rule of ‘shu#dars’. He subscribes to the 
doctrine of Guru-Granth much more emphatically than to the doctrine 
of Guru-Panth. This enables him to become an interpreter of ‘the 
Guru’. Indeed he is proud of his understanding of the scriptures, but he 

19 Sarup Das Bhalla’s work, written around 1770, has been published now by the Punjab 
Languages Department as Mahima Parkash, Patiala, 1970. 

20 Joginder Kaur (ed.), Ram Sukh Rao’s Sri Fateh Singh Partap Prabhakar (A History of 
the Early Nineteenth Century Punjab), Patiala, 1980, 204. According to Tahmas Beg Khan, 
Wadbhag Singh was an active leader of the Sikhs: Tahmas Namah, 182-83. 

21 The Sodhis of Kartarpur, the descendants of Prithi Chand and the descendants of Suraj 
Mal as well as the Udasis were included among the recipients of revenue-free land. 

22 Kesar Singh Chhibber’s work, written around 1770, has been published by the Panjab 
University: Bansdwalinama Dasan Patshahian Ka (ed. Ratan Singh Jaggi, Parakh, Vol. 2), 
Chandigarh, 1972. 


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interprets them in his own way, presenting on the whole what may be 
called a Brahmanized version of Sikhism. Involuntarily a sort of 
alliance is implied between the new Sikh state and a Brahmanized Sikh 
church. Kesar Singh Chhibber upholds the distinctions of caste among 
the Sikhs. What was shared by all the Sikhs and Singhs, according to 
him, was only their religious faith; the caste dharma remained oper- 
ative for all in matters of matrimony and commensality. 

Chhibber was much more conservative than the contemporary 
Singhs, almost a reactionary. But he was upholding a position which 
differed from the contemporary social reality only to a degree, though 
surely a large degree. There was enough differentiation in the growing 
complexity of the Sikh social order to compromise the egalitarian 
principle of the Order of the Khalsa or even the earlier Sikh Panth. 


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THE SIKH EMPIRE (1799-1849) 

In 1799, a process of unification was started by Ranjit Singh virtually to 
establish an empire during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. 
He made use of an efficient army raised and trained more or less like 
the army of the East India Company. The use of the time-honoured 
suzerain-vassal polity was equally important in establishing his poli- 
tical control. Paying personal attention to revenue administration and 
trade in his large dominions he revived prosperity in the Punjab. 
Extending state patronage to all important sections of the population 
he attached them to the new empire. In the ruling class too, Hindus and 
Muslims came to form a substantial element. 

The Sikhs formed the dominant element in the ruling class and had 
the largest share in jagirs assigned by Ranjit Singh and his successors. 
In state patronage in the form of revenue-free land, the Sikhs received a 
much larger share than Hindus and Muslims, but not at their cost. The 
state alienated more revenues now in favour of the religious grantees 
than in Mughal times. In fact Ranjit Singh only extended the pattern 
first set by Akbar and enlarged later by the early Sikh rulers. Some Sikh 
members of the ruling class patronized art and literature; a few took 
personal interest in traditional learning. The number of Sikhs was 
increasing during the early nineteenth century though only a small 
number of the new entrants were associated with government and 
administration or the army. In the towns and cities the increase was 
largely in the number of the professional and commercial middling 
class; in the countryside, it was largely in the number of the peasantry. 
Besides social differentiation, a certain degree of ideological differenti- 
ation also developed in the Sikh community. 

Within ten years of Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839 his empire was taken 
over by the British who had already established their direct or indirect 
political control over the rest of the subcontinent. At Lahore, a tussle 
for power at the top had brought in a factious nobility, and the 
increasing struggle for power brought in the army; the growing 
instability eventually brought in the British who were half inclined to 
annex the Punjab for reasons which had little to do with its internal 


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affairs. After the hard-fought battles of the Satlej in 1845-1846 the 
army and the territory of the boy-king Dalip Singh were cut to size to 
make the Punjab more manageable. Lahore was garrisoned by British 
troops and a British adviser was given to the Lahore Darbar. The final 
annexation of the Punjab was only a matter of time. It came in March, 



The occupation of Lahore by Ranjit Singh in the summer of 1799 
marked a watershed in his career and in the history of Sikh rule in the 
Punjab. The city was unified more than three decades after its 
occupation and partition by Gujjar Singh, Lehna Singh and Sobha 
Singh in 1765. The territories of their successors, Sahib Singh, Chait 
Singh and Mohar Singh, were taken over by Ranjit Singh. This meant 
the end of two Sikh principalities. Only Sahib Singh survived as a chief 
with his larger territory around Gujrat. Ranjit Singh adopted Lahore 
as his capital. His political achievement as the ruler of Lahore has so 
completely overshadowed his late eighteenth-century predecessors 
that the year 1799 appears to many historians to mark the beginning of 
sovereign Sikh rule in the Punjab. 

The legacy of the late eighteenth century was nevertheless relevant 
for Ranjit Singh’s occupation of Lahore. His grandfather Charhat 
Singh was one of the foremost leaders of the Khalsa in their struggle for 
power and he had occupied large pockets of territory in three Doabs. 
Ranjit Singh’s father, Mahan Singh, added to those territories, occu- 
pied some strategic places and asserted his suzerain rights over some of 
the chiefs in the hills and the plains. A large, almost contiguous, and 
well-administered territory from the middle of the Rachna to the 
middle of the Sindh Sagar Doab was the most valuable asset Ranjit 
Singh inherited from his father, yielding about a million rupees a year. 
He also came into command of 5,000 well-mounted and well-armed 
cavalry. This advantage was reinforced by two marriages, one in the 
family of Jai Singh Kanhiya in the upper Bari Doab and the other in the 
family of Kamar Singh Nakkai in the south of Lahore. 

The invasions of Zaman Shah, the second successor of Ahmad Shah 
Abdali, served as a catalyst to bring out Ranjit Singh’s qualities of 
leadership. After the first invasion Ranjit Singh recovered his own fort 
of Rohtas; during the second, he emerged as a leading Sikh chief; and 


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during the third, in 1798-1799, he opposed Zaman Shah as the leader of 
a number of Sikh chiefs. Within six months of Zaman Shah’s departure 
from the Punjab, Ranjit Singh occupied Lahore as much with the 
willing cooperation of some of its leading Hindu and Muslim residents 
as with the assistance of his allies, particularly his mother-in-law Sada 

With the conquest of Lahore Ranjit Singh was fairly well launched 
on a career of systematic aggrandisement which made him the master 
of an empire in less than a quarter of a century. In the first ten years of 
this career he subverted more than twenty principalities in the plains. 
Before the occupation of Amritsar in 1805, which put an end to the 
dominions carved out by the redoubtable Hari Singh Bhangi, Ranjit 
Singh annexed the territories of Jassa Singh Dulu and Dal Singh Gill in 
the Rachna Doab, and of Jodh Singh Bajwa in the Chaj Doab. Within 
the five years following, he took over Rahon and Nakodar in the 
Jalandhar Doab on the death of Tara Singh Dallewalia, Philaur from its 
Kang chief and Hariana in Hoshiarpur from the widows of Baghel 
Singh. In the Bari Doab he took over Pathankot from Tara Singh 
Sandhu, Sujanpur from Buddh Singh Bagga, Adinanagar from Gulab 
Singh Khaira, Chamiari from its Randhawa chief, Qasur from the 
Afghans, Maruf from Buddh Singh, and Hujra Shah Mugim from its 
Sayyid chief. In the Rachna Doab he took over Pindi Bhattian from the 
Bhattis and Kamalia from the Kharals. In the Sindh Sagar Doab, the 
territories of Nawab Khan Jodhra around Pindi Gheb and of Muham- 
mad Khan Gheba around Fateh Jang were annexed. Thus, before 
Ranjit Singh signed the Treaty of Amritsar with the British in 1809, he 
was ruling over large areas in all the five Doabs of the Punjab. 

By the Treaty of Amritsar, the British recognized Ranjit Singh 
as the sole sovereign ruler of the Punjab and left him free to round off 
his conquests in the former Mughal province of Lahore, to oust 
the Afghans from Multan and Kashmir and finally, to turn the 
tables against the successors of Ahmad Shah Abdali in the former 
Mughal province of Kabul.! The Sikh chiefs ousted now were 
those of Jalandhar, Hajipur and Mukerian in the Bist Jalandhar 
Doab; Jaimal Singh of Fatehgarh Churian, Jodh Singh Ramgarhia of 

1 In the first article of the treaty between the British and ‘the Raja of Lahore’ it was 
stipulated that ‘the British Government will have no concern with the territories and subjects 
of the Raja to the northward of the river Sutlej’. For more than two decades then, the British 
did not interfere with the affairs of the chiefs on the north of the Satie}. 


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Map 4 The Punjab under Sikh rule 

Sri Hargobindpur and the Nakkai chiefs in the Bari Doab; the chiefs of 
Wazirabad, Hallowal and Doda in the Rachna Doab; of Daska and 
Gujrat in the Chaj Doab; and Jiwan Singh of Rawalpindi in the Sindh 
Sagar Doab. Batala was taken over from Sada Kaur. Fateh Singh 
Ahluwalia of Kapurthala was the only Sikh chief left in the Punjab 
whose territory was not taken over. The Rajput chiefs of Jammu and 
Kangra, Khari Khariali, Akhnur, Bhimber, Lakhanpur, Nurpur, Guler, 
Siba, Kotla, Jaswan and Datarpur also lost their territories in the hills to 
Ranjit Singh. All these states were close to the plains. Attock was 
wrested from the Afghans; the Awan, Gakkhar and the Tiwana chiefs 
were shorn of their possessions in the Sindh Sagar Doab. The Baloch 
chiefs of Khushab and Sahiwal in the Chaj Doab, and the Sial chief of 
Jhang in the Rachna Doab lost their territories to Ranjit Singh before 


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1818. He was well poised now to oust the Afghans from the Punjab and 

In less than four years Ranjit Singh liquidated all the Afghan 
strongholds on the east of the river Indus. Multan fell finally in June, 
1818, and all the territories of Nawab Muzaffar Khan were annexed. 
Kashmir was conquered a year later, in July, 1819. The chief of 
Mankera surrendered his capital in 1821, and all his territory in the 
Sindh Sagar Doab was taken over. Then for ten years Ranjit Singh did 
not add much to the directly administered areas. In 1831, he took over 
Dera Ghazi Khan from the chief of Bahawalpur to whom it had been 
entrusted ten years earlier. Peshawar was taken over from its Afghan 
governor in 1834 though he had been sending revenues and tribute 
since 1824. In 1836, the territories of Bannu, Kohat and Dera Ghazi 
Khan were taken over from the subordinate chiefs and made an integral 
part of the directly administered dominions of Ranjit Singh. Before his 
death in 1839 Ranjit Singh’s authority over all the conquered and 
subordinated territories between the river Satlej) and the mountain 
ranges of Ladakh, Karakoram, Hindukush and Sulaiman was recog- 
nized by the rulers of Kabul as well as by the British rulers of India. 


Ranjit Singh’s political success would have been impossible without an 
efficient army. Apart from his own cavalry, which went on increasing 
with his early conquests, he was helped by the cavalry of the chiefs who 
allied with him, like Sada Kaur, Fateh Singh Ahluwalia and Jodh Singh 
Ramgarhia, and by the contingents supplied by the chiefs whom he 
subordinated. There is no doubt that cavalry held great fascination for 
Ranjit Singh and his nobles. He raised special troops known as 
Orderlies and the ghorcharha-i-khas. As a European witness 
remarked, it was difficult to find a finer or a more striking body of 
men.? However, the cavalry of Ranjit Singh did not increase after 1820. 

2 For the detail of Ranjit Singh’s conquests, Indu Banga, Agrarian System of the Sikhs: 
Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 1978, 
22-26; Veena Sachdeva, ‘The Non-Sikh Chiefs of the Punjab Plains and Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh’, Journal of Regional History, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 2 (1981), I-11; 
J. S. Grewal, ‘Between the Treaty of Amritsar and the Conquest of Multan’, in ibid., 12-20. 

3 Baron Charles Hugel, Travels in Kashmir and the Punjab (tr. T. B. Jervis), Light and 
Life Publishers, Jammu, 1972 (reprint) 330-31, 334-35. A ghorchara wore shirt of mail over a 
velvet coat; his steel helmet was inlaid with gold; his left arm was covered with a steel cuff 


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In fact during the second decade he had started raising cavalrymen 
trained on European lines. In 1820 he had three regiments of this 
regular cavalry consisting of about 850 horsemen. The number of such 
horsemen rose to 4,000 in the 1830s. 

The real strength of Ranjit Singh’s army lay in its infantry and 
artillery. Not only in the conquest of Multan and Kashmir but also in 
his earlier conquests, particularly after the Treaty of Amritsar, these 
new wings played an increasingly decisive role. Even before 1809, 
Ranjit Singh had raised 1,500 infantrymen and two batteries of 
artillery. The men who initially served in these units of the army were 
mostly deserters from the army of the East India Company; they were 
trained by Rohila Afghans in the service of Ranjit Singh. By 1820 there 
were thirteen infantry battalions consisting of about 10,000 trained 
infantrymen. At this time Ranjit Singh possessed 200 guns. Horse 
artillery was added in the 1820s when the most important of his 
European officers were also employed, Allard and Ventura in 1822 and 
Court and Avitabile in 1827. In 1831 there were 300 guns in the 
artillery and about 20,000 trained infantrymen in twenty-one batta- 
lions. Towards the end of Ranjit Singh’s reign, nearly half of his army 
in terms of numbers consisted of men and officers trained on European 
lines, with a large number of Punjabis among them. In terms of its 
striking power, the state of Ranjit Singh was stronger than many larger 
states in Asia. 

In the expansion of Ranjit Singh’s dominions the time-honoured 
institution of vassalage proved to be nearly as important as the 
westernized wings of his army. A large majority of the chiefs whose 
principalities were subverted were first obliged to pay tribute in 
acknowledgment of his political superiority. In this respect there was 
no difference between a Sikh and a non-Sikh chief, or a chief of the hills 
and the plains. The chiefs of Khushab and Sahiwal, Jhang and Mankera, 
for instance, paid tribute to Ranjit Singh for several years before their 
territories were annexed. The chief of Multan had paid tribute regu- 
larly for nearly a decade before the annexation of Multan in 1818. The 
chief of Bahawalpur went on paying tribute for his territory on the 
west of the Satlej till 1831. In many cases, in fact, Ranjit Singh went on 
increasing the amount of tribute till the chief was either unable or 

inlaid with gold; a damascened round shield hung over his back; he held in his right hand a 
long bayonet ornamented with gold; he slung a bow over his left shoulder, with a quiver on 
the right; he wore a pistol and a Persian dagger. 


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unwilling to pay, which created a situation in which annexation 
appeared to be called for if not justified. Before the British came in to 
declare that all the chiefs of the Satlej-Jamuna Divide were under their 
protection, Ranjit Singh had collected tribute from nearly all of them, 
including the chiefs of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Shahabad, 
Thanesar, Kaithal, Malerkotla and Raikot. Nearly all the Sikh chiefs of 
the Punjab proper paid tribute to Ranjit Singh after his occupation of 
Lahore and before the annexation of their territories. Jodh Singh 
Ramgarhia paid tribute to Ranjit Singh for nearly a decade before his 
principality was subverted in 1816. The last among the Sikh chiefs to 
lose his sovereign status was Fateh Singh Ahluwalia. In 1825 he crossed 
the Satlej to seek protection with the British against Ranjit Singh’s 
alleged or real design over his territory. Fateh Singh succeeded in 
retaining his territory, but when he recrossed the Satlej in 1826 he was 
walking into vassalage with his eyes wide open.‘ 

Ranjit Singh subverted more principalities in the hills than all the 
Mughal rulers put together. However, Mandi, Suket, Bilaspur, Kulu 
and Chamba in the former Mughal province of Lahore were not 
annexed by Ranjit Singh, and hardly any vassal state of the province of 
Kashmir was taken over. Thus, a larger number of vassal chiefs went on 
paying tribute to Ranjit Singh. They sent contingents too whenever 
they were called upon to do so. Most of them were asked to provide 
hostages for their good conduct; succession to their position was 
controlled by Ranjit Singh. They could not have any political relation- 
ship with one another, or with another sovereign power. They had to 
allow passage to persons permitted by Ranjit Singh to pass through 
their territories. In the internal administration of their principalities the 
vassal chiefs were given more or less complete autonomy.> 

Ironically, vassal territories did not decrease with the passage of time 
in Ranjit Singh’s reign. This was because the Maharaja decided to create 
new Rajas of his own after 1820. Fateh Chand, the younger brother of 
Raja Sansar Chand, was made a vassal chief with the title of Raja anda 
small territory. A son of Raja Sansar Chand was similarly made a vassal 
chief all over again after the fall of the Kangra principality. Another 
principality to be revived in the Kangra region was that of Siba. It was 

+ J. S. Grewal, ‘Passage to Vassalage’, From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranpt Singh, Guru 
Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1982 (2nd edn), 160-68. 
5 For suzerain-vassal relations in the early nineteenth-century Punjab, Indu Banga, 

Agrarian Systems of the Sikhs, 39-62. 


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in the Jammu region, however, that vassalage was revived on a large 

Before the ouster of Raja Jit Singh of Jammu in 1815, his second 
cousin Kishora Singh and the latter’s three sons, Gulab Singh, Dhian 
Singh and Suchet Singh, had joined the service of Ranjit Singh as 
common troopers. They rose rapidly in the estimation of the Maharaja, 
and in 1820 they were made jagirdars of Jammu, Bhoti, Bandralta 
(Ramnagar), Chenini and Kishtwar for maintaining 400 horsemen and 
on the condition that they would extirpate Dido, a rebel collateral of 
the Jammu Rajas. Dido was killed in 1821. Kishora Singh was made the 
Raja of Jammu. When he died in the year following, Gulab Singh was 
installed in his place, while Suchet Singh was made the Raja of 
Ramnagar (Bandralta). Dhian Singh was given the title of Raja-i- 
Rajgan and Raja-i-Kalan Bahadur in 1827 with the territory of 
Bhimber. In 1837, Hira Singh, son of Raja Dhian Singh, was made the 
Raja of Basohli and Jasrota. More areas were added to their territories 
in due course so that, altogether, they came to hold much larger 
territories than the former chiefs of Jammu. 


The territories directly administered by Ranjit Singh were divided into 
a large number of primary units over which governors (nazims) were 
appointed by the Maharaja. Each primary unit consisted of ta‘allugas, 
also called parganas, over which kardars were appointed for the 
collection of revenues and the maintenance of peace and order. The 
kardars were assisted by qanungos, chaudharis, mugaddams and 
patwaris. Thus, there was hardly any change in the general framework 
of administration. The former Mughal province of Lahore remained 
divided into several primary units. The territories across the Indus did 
not form a single unit. Thus the area under a province was much less 
important. The size of the pargana or the ta‘alluga, however, did not 
always decrease, and the Sikh kardar remained as important as the 
Mughal ‘amil. 

Administrative arrangements at the centre became more elaborate 

6 For the documents of jagir, rajgi and title, J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga, ‘The Sikh 
Suzerain’, From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Guru Nanak Dev University, 
Amritsar, 1982 (2nd edn), 139-59. As vassals of Ranjit Singh the Jamwal brothers served the 
Lahore state and received large jagirs in addition to their territories. 


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with the expansion of territories. The entire record of income and 
expenditure of the state had to be maintained. Diwans and treasurers 
were appointed to maintain records relating to different heads of 
income and expenditure. The central secretariat came to be known as 
the Exalted Secretariat (daftar-i-mu‘alla) to distinguish it from the 
provincial secretariats. Finance, however, was only one concern of 
Ranjit Singh. Assistance was needed for his other concerns too. 
Important among these was the day-to-day work of the court (deodhi). 
The office of the deodhidar was therefore extremely important. It was 
held by Jamadar Khushal Singh till 1818 when Dhian Singh was 
appointed to this office. Under Raja Dhian Singh the office gradually 
developed into the office virtually of the Prime Minister (wazir). Ranjit 
Singh acted as the Commander-in-Chief of the army but he appointed 
one of his Generals to look after the standing army (kampa-i-mu‘alla) 
in accordance with his detailed instructions from day to day. For 
negotiations and correspondence with foreign powers Ranjit Singh 
generally used the services of Faqir Azizuddin. There were other 
courtiers who apparently held no particular office but who were 
consulted from time to time. The Maharaja himself was the chief source 
of justice, though judges (adalatis) were appointed all afresh and the 
court of the gazi and panchayats were kept up in towns and villages. 

Though Ranjit Singh introduced cash salaries in his battalions, 
regiments and batteries of artillery, jagivs remained the most important 
mode of payment to those who served the state. Remuneration to state 
functionaries was made on two accounts, for personal service and for 
the maintenance of troopers. Since all the functionaries of the state did 
not maintain troops, a large number of them received remuneration 
only for their personal service. Those who were paid on account of 
maintaining horsemen included not only the army commandants but 
also nazims and kardars. Many a horseman too was paid in jagir. Thus, 
the amount of jagir given to a person could vary from a few hundred to 
a few lakh of rupees, or in other words from half a village to a number 
of ta‘alluqas. Whereas a civilian like the Treasurer Beli Ram received 
about 60,000 rupees a year at one time, a General like Hari Singh 
Nalwa received over eight lakhs. Raja Gulab Singh at one time was 
getting seven lakhs of rupees as a jagirdar of the state. Altogether, 
nearly 4o per cent of the total revenues of the state were alienated as 

However, revenue from land was alienated not only in favour of 


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those who served the state but also in favour of several other categories 
of persons. In the first place, all those chiefs, whether Sikh, Hindu or 
Muslim, who were displaced from power were given jagirs for subsis- 
tence. The amount of such jagirs was generally reduced with the 
passage of time, but a certain amount was left permanently with the 
descendants of the deposed chiefs. Small jagirs were given also to the 
descendants of persons who had served the state with zeal and 
distinction. Hereditary jagirs of small amounts were given by Ranjit 
Singh as a reward for extension of cultivation and for something out of 
the ordinary, like the discovery of a mine, the intelligence of a crucial 
significance, the defence of a fort in a desperate situation, an act of 
personal valour, skill or devotion or the gift of an exceptionally good 
horse. The total amount of revenue alienated for such purposes 
remained rather small. 

A much larger amount of revenue was alienated in favour of persons 
and institutions connected with religion. Grants given by former rulers 
were generally continued. Additional grants were given to some old 
institutions, and fresh grants were given to new centres. Sikh, Hindu 
and Muslim institutions received state patronage. The Sodhis and the 
Bedis, the Harmandir and its mutasaddis, granthis, ardasias, ragis and 
rababis, the Akal Takht, Jhanda Bunga, Shahid Bunga, Ber Baba Sahib, 
Dera Baba Atal Sahib and Bibeksar in the precincts of the Harmandir, 
Gurdwara Tahli Sahib at Dera Baba Nanak, and the Gurdwaras at 
Keshgarh and Kiratpur, the Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran and at Ramdas, 
the udasi akharas and Nirmala centres, the Akalis and Nihangs were 
prominent among the Sikh recipients of revenue-free lands. Purohits 
and Brahmans in general, the purohits of Thanesar and Hardwar, the 
court pandits, the Jwalamukhi Temple in Kangra, Shaiva jogis and 
Vaishnava bairagis, particularly the Tilla of Gorakhnath in the Chaj 
Doab, the jogi centres at Kirana and Jakhbar, the bairagi estab- 
lishments at Pindori, Dhianpur and Dhamtal, besides a number of 
Shivalas and Thakurdwaras were important among the Hindu 
recipients. Among the Muslims there were the Gardezi Sayyids of 
Multan, the descendants of Shaikh Farid at Pakpattan, the descendants 
of Bahauddin Zakariya at Multan, the shrines of Hazratbal and Shah 
Hamdan in Kashmir, the shrine of Sakhi Sarwar in Dera Ghazi Khan, 
Shaikhs and Sayyids in Bannu and Peshawar, the khanqah of Pir 
Miththa near Wazirabad, and numerous other khanqahs. Altogether, 
more than 7 per cent of the state revenue came to be alienated in 


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dharmarth by the end of Ranjit Singh’s reign. The example of Ranjit 
Singh was often followed by the jagirdars who gave small grants to all 
categories of persons and institutions from their own jagirs. Many of 
these continued to be enjoyed by the grantees even after the jagir was 
transferred to someone else.” 


The revival of cultivation and trade, which had begun in the late 
eighteenth century, reached a high watermark in the reign of Ranjit 
Singh. He was keen to extend cultivation to culturable waste land and 
to virgin land, and gave general instruction to this effect to nazims and 
kardars. The chaudharis and muqaddams who succeeded in extending 
cultivation in the areas under their jurisdiction were rewarded with 
revenue-free lands. The actual tillers of new lands were given concess- 
ion for a number of years through graded rates of assessment, and also 
the right of occupation or even proprietary right. State loans were 
given for digging new wells. The Shah Nahr was re-excavated and a 
number of inundation canals were dug to help irrigation, particularly 
in the province of Multan. The state revenues from land increased con- 
siderably in the areas covered by the former Mughal provinces of 
Lahore and Multan. Towards the end of Ranjit Singh’s reign the total 
income from land amounted to nearly 30 million rupees a year. If this 
amount was less than the figures available for the reign of Shah Jahan, it 
was largely because the rates of assessment in the early nineteenth 
century were lower than what they had been in the early seventeenth. 
In any case, the loss of the state was the gain of the cultivator.’ 

The state policy of ensuring larger and larger revenues through 
increased agricultural production was favourable to the actual cultiva- 
tors of land and to those who could invest capital in wells or 
irrigational channels. Many large proprietors of land were reduced to 
the status of ta‘alluqdars, which meant that they lost their lands and 
retained only a certain share in the produce or a certain percentage in 
the revenue.” The dues of the ta‘alluqdar varied from area to area, with 
a tendency towards decrease so that in certain areas they received 

? For jagirs and grants in the early nineteenth century Punjab, Indu Banga, Agrarian 
Systems of the Sikhs, 118-67. 

8 This has been well argued by Indu Banga, ib:d., 113-17. 

9 The ta‘allugdars of the Punjab held a widely different position from that of the 
ta‘alluqdars of Awadh. 


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virtually nothing. In the process many a tenant became a proprietor. 
The tenants gained at the cost of the peasant proprietors also in places. 
In any case, there was a large proportion of tenants cultivating the same 
lands for decades. This accounted for the preponderance of ‘occu- 
pancy’ tenants later under British rule in the Punjab. Towards the end 
of Ranjit Singh’s reign, nearly ro per cent of the land under cultivation 
had become ta‘allugdari, which meant a certain decrease in the 
holdings of the large proprietors of land. The bulk of the land under 
cultivation was held by small proprietors who generally cultivated 
their own lands. The tenants were half the number of peasant pro- 
prietors and tilled only a quarter of the cultivated land. Free-peasant 
and free-tenant economy was helpful in agricultural production. Land 
in well-settled areas was certainly a commodity of some value. The 
trading communities in the Punjab invested some of their savings in 
land, particularly in the neighbourhood of cities and towns.!° In the 
province of Multan many Arora families acquired proprietary rights in 
land by providing the means of irrigation. 

Increase in agricultural production was paralleled by an increase in 
manufacturing and the volume of trade. Cities and towns expanded 
with the expansion of Ranjit Singh’s dominions."! The capital cities of 
Multan, Srinagar and Peshawar regained some of their former impor- 
tance, and the city of Lahore was revived on a larger scale. Towns like 
Wazirabad, Gujrat and Sialkot flourished more now than in the late 
eighteenth century. Some new towns were also founded. Amritsar 
became the premier city in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. 
The number of important urban centres in the dominions of Ranjit 
Singh exceeded one hundred, and they all served as centres of trade. 
Many of them served as centres of manufacturing as well. The revival 
of Lahore, for instance, meant among other things the revival of its 
manufacturing of cotton, wool and silk textiles and its metal work. 
Multan became famous for its silks and cottons, woollen carpets, 
glazed pottery and enamelled silver. Amritsar was more important 
than Lahore and Multan, both for its manufacturing and trade. The 
shawl industry of Srinagar was revived, and many Kashmiri weavers 

10 A large number of Khatri proprietors of land in towns and villages are mentioned by 
Ganesh Das in his Char Bagh-i-Panjab: J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga (eds), Early Nine- 
teenth Century Panjab, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1975. 

‘t For trade and manufacturing in the early nineteenth century, Reeta Grewal, ‘Polity, 
Economy and Urbanization: Early Nineteenth Century Punjab’, Journal of Regional 
History, 4 (1983), 56-72. 

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moved into the cities and towns of the plains as well. Many towns came 
to be known for their specialized manufacturing, like Batala, Jaland- 
har, Hoshiarpur, Bajwara, Sialkot, Chandiot, Gujrat, Sahiwal and 

Ranjit Singh encouraged trade by ensuring safe passage for the 
caravans of traders and by imposing lenient duties. Banking facilities 
were available through the system of bundis, and insurance (bima) was 
available at low rates. Trade and manufacturing were almost exclu- 
sively a family enterprise. There were no corporate business organi- 
zations in the dominions of the Maharaja. The state held the monopoly 
of salt, invested a little in trade, and maintained a good number of 
workshops (karkhanas) for manufacturing articles needed by the army 
and the royal household. The items of trade in every town were rather 
numerous though the quantities involved were not large. Important 
items of trade related to agriculture, manufacturing and natural pro- 
ducts. Wheat, sugar, rice, cotton, indigo, poppy, pepper and dried 
ginger were exported to Afghanistan and central Asia. Gold, silver, 
iron, copper, brass and zinc were among the important items of 
import, besides silk and wool, fresh and dry fruit, horses and some 
luxury goods. Internal trade was more important than external trade. 
Amritsar was linked by road with Lahore, and through Lahore with 
Multan, Srinagar and Peshawar. All these cities were linked with a 
number of towns which in turn were linked with smaller towns and 

The socio-political situation created by the establishment of a large 
state by Ranjit Singh was conducive to new developments of great 
cultural significance. A new style of architecture is visible in the 
religious and secular buildings of the period. A new style of painting 
also emerged in the Punjab during the early nineteenth century as a 
result of the patronage given to artists by the rulers and the nobles.!? 
Historical literature in Persian was encouraged by Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh. Sohan Lal Suri’s monumental Umdat ut-Tawarikh is only one 
example of the historical works on the Punjab produced in Persian 
during the first half of the nineteenth century.!> Ram Sukh Rao, a 
chronicler patronized by Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, wrote a volume each 
on Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, his successor Bhag Singh and Fateh Singh 

12, W.G. Archer, Paintings of the Sikhs, London 1966; B. N. Goswamy, ‘The Context of 
Painting in the Sikh Punjab’, Journal of Regional History, 2 (1981), 85-105. 

‘3 Tris not generally known that under Colonel Mihan Singh as the governor of Kashmir a 
detailed work on its fiscal resources was prepared under the title Tarikh-i-Kalan. 


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Ahluwalia himself, not in Persian but in Gurmukhi script in a language 
easily understandable to the people of the Punjab.'* Some of the poets 
also wrote in Punjabi in the hope of patronage from the members of the 
ruling class if not from the rulers themselves. Only in this context can 
we appreciate Sawan Yar’s Sibarfi Sarkar Ki praising the rule of Ranjit 
Singh, Jafar Beg’s Stharfi lamenting his death, and Hakam Singh’s 
Stharft celebrating the exploits of Hari Singh Nalwa. Qadir Yar 
identified himself with the Punjabi ruling class against their Afghan 

Not all the Punjabi works were written for the rulers or the members 
of the ruling class. Many of them were clearly meant for the common 
Punjabis, like Qadir Yar’s Qissa Sohni Mahiwal or his Puran Bhagat. 
His Raja Rasala was actually meant to be sung by popular minstrels 
(dhadis). Ahmad Yar, who wrote the Shahnama of Ranjit Singh in 
Persian was nonetheless a poet of the people. All his life he had written 
in Punjabi and quite deliberately too. He cannot help mentioning this 
in the Shahnama. Having been born in the Punjab, lived in the Punjab, 
breathed its air and tasted its water, he was naturally inclined, he says, 
to write on all old or new themes in Punjabi, a language that was much 
easier for the people to understand than any other language. Obvi- 
ously, Ahmad Yar was writing for the common people of the Punjab. 
The themes of his works indicate that he was writing for members of all 
the three communities.!> This articulation of regional identity may be 
regarded as the cultural counterpart of the secularization of polity by 
Ranjit Singh which ensured participation of all important sections of 
society on a significant scale. 

However, the new interests of the early nineteenth century did not 
eliminate the works produced for the consumption of a particular 
community. Nor did they undermine the traditional branches of 
learning or knowledge. This was partly because of the continuance of 
Persian as the language of administration. There were scholars in cities 
and towns who went on studying books written in Persian or Sanskrit. 
These books related to several areas of interest, like jurisprudence, 
politics, poetry, composition, calligraphy, mathematics, medicine, 
astronomy and astrology. Jurisprudence was exclusively the domain of 

14 One of these works has been edited and published by Dr Joginder Kaur as Ram Sukh 
Rao’s Sri Fateh Singh Partap Prabhakar, Patiala, 1980. 

'5 Daljinder Singh Johal, ‘Heroic Literature in Punjabi (1800-1850)’, Journal of Regional 

History, 2 (1981), 57-84; ‘Punjabi Literature: Late Eighteenth-Early Nineteenth Century’, 
ibid., 20-42. 

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Hindu scholars, particularly Brahmans. All other interests were culti- 
vated by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike.'® 


The Austrian traveller Baron Charles Hugel remarked that the state 
established by Ranjit Singh was ‘the most wonderful object in the 
whole world’. Like a skilful architect the Maharaja raised a ‘majestic 
fabric’ with the help of rather insignificant or unpromising frag- 
ments.!7 In retrospect it is possible to see that Ranjit Singh did evolve a 
structure of power by which he could reconcile all important sections 
of his subjects to his rule, and he could induce many of them to be 
enthusiastic in his support. He revived prosperity and minimized 
oppression. He created opportunities for members of several sections 
of the society to improve their social position. It is in this context that 
we can appreciate the position of the Sikh community during the early 
nineteenth century. 

We can form a general idea of the number of Sikhs and their 
distribution in the dominions of Ranjit Singh. In the areas covered by 
the former Mughal provinces of Lahore, Multan and Kabul there were 
about 12 million persons. In this population there were about a million 
and a half Sikhs who accounted for about 12 per cent of the total 
population. Furthermore, the Sikh population in the dominions of 
Ranjit Singh was concentrated in the upper Bari, Jalandhar and the 
upper Rachna Doabs. In fact, though this region was much smaller in 
area than the rest of the dominions of Ranjit Singh in the plains, it 
contained more than 50 per cent of the total population, and nearly 90 
per cent of the total Sikh population. Nearly half of the Sikh popu- 
lation of this core region was concentrated in the area covered by the 
later districts of Lahore and Amritsar. The impression formed by 
Alexander Burnes in the 1830s was not off the mark when he observed 
that the Sikhs formed about one-third of the total population in the 
area of their greatest concentration. Burnes carried the impression that 
the number of Sikhs had been increasing year by year.'8 

However, the importance of the Sikhs in the early nineteenth 

16 J. S. Grewal, The Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Structure of Power, Economy and 
Society, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1981, 34. 

17 Baron Charles Hugel, Travels in Kashmir and the Punjab, 293-94. 

18 Alexander Burnes, Travels into Bokhara, Oxford University Press, 1973, Vol. 1, 11-13, 
44-45, 80; Vol. 3, 102, 119 and 146. 


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century was not due to their number. Rather, their number was 
increasing partly due to their importance. Over 50 per cent of the 
ruling class was formed by the Sikhs. It is true that Ranjit Singh 
inducted a considerable number of persons on merit, irrespective of 
their creed or country. Apart from the well-known European officers 
in the army, there were several important civil functionaries like Diwan 
Bhawani Das, Diwan Ganga Ram, Diwan Ajudhya Prashad and 
Diwan Dina Nath, who did not belong to the Punjab. Among them 
were also persons like Jamadar Khushal Singh and his nephew Tej 
Singh who accepted the baptism of the double-edged sword to join the 
Sikh fold. However, the number of Punjabis among the members of 
the ruling class remained much larger. There were men like Diwan 
Muhkam Chand, Misr Diwan Chand, Diwan Moti Ram, Diwan Kirpa 
Ram, Diwan Sawan Mal, Faqir Azizuddin, Fagir Nuruddin, Faqir 
Imamuddin, Diwan Sukh Dayal and Sarab Dayal who belonged to the 
Punjab. The Dogra brothers, Gulab Singh, Dhian Singh and Suchet 
Singh, and Dhian Singh’s son Hira Singh, who all served the Maharaja 
as jagirdars and vassal chiefs, were matched in importance by the Sikh 
vassal chief Fateh Singh Ahluwalia who served the Maharaja with great 

Furthermore, since Ranjit Singh gave service jagirs to many disposs- 
essed chiefs, and the number of Sikh chiefs among them was the largest, 
they became a part of the ruling class. This was equally true of the 
jJagirdars of the former chiefs. In fact men like Hukma Singh Chimni, 
and the Majithia and Atariwala Sardars, who were among the most 
important members of the ruling class, belonged to this category. Even 
the new men, like Hari Singh Nalwa and the Sandhanwalia Sardars, 
rose to eminent positions. A commoner like Colonel Mihan Singh, or 
Dhanna Singh Malwai, could rise to nearly the highest rung. There is 
hardly any doubt that the Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs of the core 
region constituted the large majority of the ruling class, and within this 
majority the Sikhs formed the largest component. There were some 
khatris, kalals, nais and jhiwars among the Sikh nobles. By far the 
largest bulk, however, consisted of Jats who constituted also the 
dominant agricultural caste in the core region. Among the hereditary 
jagirdars also the Jat Sikhs formed the largest bulk.!9 

'9 Indu Banga, ‘The Ruling Class in the Kingdom of Lahore’, Journal of Regional History, 
3 (1982), 15-24; J. S. Grewal, The Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Structure of Power, 
Economy and Society, 32-33. 


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In the army of Ranjit Singh the Sikhs were represented in large 
numbers. The Khalsa horsemen had initially established Sikh rule in 
much of the Punjab. The new rulers depended almost exclusively on 
cavalry, and their forces consisted very largely of Sikh horsemen. 
Many of these forces were taken over by Ranjit Singh when he 
subverted the Sikh principalities. The regular cavalry too was raised 
mostly by recruiting Sikhs as horsemen. Ranjit Singh encouraged the 
Punjabis in general and the Singhs in particular to join the infantry and 
the artillery raised on European lines. In the 1830s, several comman- 
ders of the infantry and artillery units were Sikh; the number of Sikhs 
increased as the ranks became lower till the foot soldier or the gunner 
was reached. We have no exact figures, but it may be safe to suggest 
that more than half of the men in the army of Ranjit Singh were Sikh, 
which would mean about 50,000. Among these too the representation 
of the Jats of the core region was the largest.2 

The share of the Sikhs in revenue-free grants given by Ranjit Singh 
was the largest. The Sodhis and Bedis, who did not belong strictly to 
religious classes and who in fact maintained a considerable number of 
horsemen, got a very large share. Towards the end of Ranjit Singh’s 
reign the Sodhis were enjoying jagzrs worth 500,000 rupees a year, and 
the Bedis were receiving 400,000 rupees. A descendant of Dhir Mal at 
Kartarpur, Sodhi Sadhu Singh, was lavishly patronized by Ranjit 
Singh; several villages were given for the Granth Sahib compiled by 
Guru Arjan which was in his possession. Eminent among the Bedis was 
Baba Bikram Singh of Una, son of Baba Sahib Singh. Their importance 
in the early nineteenth century was no less than that of any courtier of 
the Maharaja. Bhai Ram Singh and Bhai Gobind Ram, sons of Bhai 
Wasti Ram, figured prominently at the court of Ranjit Singh and his 
successors. They were more important than the court granthi, Bhai 
Gurmukh Singh. The revenue-free grants received by Sikh individuals 
and institutions, apart from the Sodhis and the Bedis, amounted to 
hundreds of thousands of rupees. Nearly 60 per cent of the total 
revenue alienated by the state in favour of religious personages and 
institutions was enjoyed by the Sikh grantees. The Nirmalas, the 
Nihangs and the Akalis were among them, and they all represented the 
Singh component of the Sikh community. 

20 A set of over 450 orders of Ranjit Singh to Te} Singh as the officer in charge of the 
kampu-i-mu‘alla provides valuable insights into the working of the military system of Ranjit 
Singh: The Civil and Military Affairs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (eds J. S. Grewal and Indu 
Banga), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1987. 


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The Singh component of the community spread into the countryside 
more in the early nineteenth century than ever before. During the grim 
struggle between the Khalsa and the Mughal administrators it was 
difficult to find a village entirely of the Singhs. The number of such 
villages in the early nineteenth century ran into hundreds. The largest 
addition to the number of Singhs from the countryside came from 
amongst the Jats of the core region. The bulk of the Sikh peasantry 
belonged to the areas which had produced the largest number of Sikh 
rulers and Sikh jagirdars. Agricultural clans other than those of the Jats 
were represented in the Sikh peasantry by Mahtons, Kambos and 
Sainis. The gulf between the economic means of the Sikh peasant and 
the Sikh noble was conspicuously wide, giving support to the observa- 
tion of a contemporary that the difference between the rich and the 
poor classes in the Punjab was greater than elsewhere in India.?! 
Service in the army of the state mitigated the poverty of a large number 
of the Sikh peasant families. There was a considerable number of Sikh 
artisans and service-performiny individuals in the villages. The 
Mazhabi Sikhs were represented in the army.?2 

The number of the non-Singh or Sehajdhari Sikhs in the dominions 
of Ranjit Singh appears to have been pretty large. All the Sikhs had not 
become Khalsa during the eighteenth century. Those who did not take 
up arms against the Mughal authorities, or did not openly support the 
Khalsa, had not been persecuted. They went on living in villages and 
towns following their ordinary pursuits. In the late eighteenth 
century the Udasi protagonists of the teachings of Sikhism had been 
patronized by the Sikh rulers, and their centres began to proliferate 
more in the early nineteenth century. Before the advent of Sikh rule 
their centres numbered about a dozen; in the late eighteenth century, 
this number reached about fifty; and by the end of Ranjit Singh’s 
reign there were nearly 250 Udasi centres in his dominions. Most of 
them were patronized by the state, and the majority of the patronized 
centres were in the core region. Though dispersed over the country- 
side in large numbers, the Udasi centres in cities and towns were 
much larger in size. Presumably, they catered more for the town- 
dwellers than for the people living in the countryside. They were 

2! H.L.O. Garrett (trans.), The Punjab a Hundred Years Ago, Patiala, 1971 (reprint), 
22 The outcaste ch#hra Sikhs were generally known as Mazhabi. 


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useful allies of the state which needed a broad base for the willing 
acceptance of its authority. Not for nothing did they receive revenues 
worth 200,000 rupees a year which was nearly ro per cent of the 
state revenues alienated by way of dharmarth.”? 

The Udasi version of Sikhism was in some essential ways different 
from what the Singhs believed in. The Udasis traced their origin to 
Guru Nanak but gave more prominence to Sri Chand as the real 
founder of the path of renunciation (uddas). They did not reject the line 
of succession from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, but they 
attached greater importance to the chain of succession from Guru 
Nanak, through Sri Chand and the Adi Udasis, to the reigning Mahant 
of an Udasi establishment.”* They showed no great respect for the 
Granth Sahib, and interpreted its essential message in Vedantic terms, 
shifting the emphasis from a personal God to an impersonal reality. They 
did not subscribe to the twin doctrine of Guru-Panth and Guru-Granth. 
The mark of their ideas is left on the literature they produced in the 
early nineteenth century. They wrote expositions of several important 
compositions in the Granth Sahib; they wrote original matras of their 
own; they produced new versions of janamsakhis and gurbilases; and 
they wrote about their own past.?5 In the process they produced an 
interpretation of Sikhism that made them rather ‘unorthodox’ from the 
viewpoint of the Singhs. 

New representatives of Sehajdhari Sikhism were arising towards 
the close of Sikh rule in the Punjab. They were working outside the 
core region, addressing themselves to the small number of Hindu 
traders and shopkeepers in the towns of the Sindh Sagar Doab. 
They regarded Guru Nanak as the founder of a new faith and paid 
equal reverence to his nominated successors. They regarded Granth 
Sahib as the Guru but not as the exclusive Guru, because the founders 
of the movements were also regarded as gurus. They advocated 
adoption of specifically Sikh ceremonies for birth, marriage and death. 
However, they did not insist on the baptism of. the double-edged 

23 Sulakhan Singh, ‘Udasi Establishments Under Sikh Rule’, Journal of Regional History, 
1 (1980), 70-87; ‘State Patronage to Udasis under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’, Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh and His Times (eds J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga), Guru Nanak Dev University, 
Amritsar, 1980, 103-16. 7 

24 Founder of four branches of Udasis, the Adi Udasis were Almast, Balu, Hasna and 
Goinda who are believed to have lived and worked in the seventeenth century. 

25 Sulakhan Singh, ‘The Udasis in the Early Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Regional 
History, 2 (1981), 3§-42. 


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sword. Both the Singhs and the Sikhs with shorn hair could become 
their followers.26 

The Sikh Panth in the early nineteenth century was thus marked by 
ideological differences. Not exactly a vertical division, the first line of 
difference was between the Singhs and the Sehajdharis. The Singhs 
believed in the indistinguishability and the unity of Guruship from 
Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, and in the end of personal 
Guruship after Guru Gobind Singh. The doctrine of Guru-Granth was 
coming to the fore in place of the doctrine of Guru-Panth. This is 
understandable because the doctrine of Guru-Granth was better suited 
to the situation of the early nineteenth century when social inequalities 
had to be reconciled to the ideal norm of equality. Every Sikh was 
equal in the presence of the Granth Sahib, in the sangat and the langar, 
but in the life outside social differences were legitimized. 

The Sikh community in the early nineteenth century was not a 
caste-ridden society, but there was enough social differentiation in the 
community to infringe the idea of equality on which the Sikh Panth 
was based in theory and which was still espoused by a handful of the 
Khalsa, like the Akalis and the Nihangs. Between the ruling class and 
the ordinary peasant there was a wide social gulf. Among the peasants, 
artisans and the service-performing groups in the Sikh community, 
there were subsistence jagirdars, petty functionaries, chaudharis and 
muqaddams, and the well-paid soldiers of the state. In addition to 
these, there were Sikh traders and shopkeepers in cities and towns, 
some of whom were Sehajdhiaris but a considerable number of them 
were Singhs. However, all ideological differences and social stratifi- 
cation in the Sikh community appear to have been overshadowed by an 
awareness of political power. The Sikhs had a vague feeling that the 
rulers of the land were their own people. 

Identification with the sovereign Sikh rule found clear expression in 
Ratan Singh Bhangu’s Gura-Panth Prakash completed at Amritsar in 
1841.27 He refers to the expulsion of the Marathas from Delhi and from 
the sarkar of Hissar in the early years of the nineteenth century, the 
declaration of British ‘protection’ over the chiefs of the Satlej-Jamuna 
Divide, and the establishment of a British Agency at Ludhiana. A 
recurrent question which, according to Bhangu, the British were 

26 They came to be known as nirankaris and namdbaris in the late nineteenth century. 
27 Ratan Singh Bhangu’s work has been published as Prachin Panth Parkash, Wazir-i- 
Hind Press, Amritsar, 1962 (4th edn). 


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asking was about the ‘right’ of the Singhs to rule. Men like Ochter- 
loney and Murray were given to understand that the Singhs were the 
subject people of the Mughals and, during the invasions of Ahmad 
Shah Abdali, they had illegitimately occupied Mughal territories. The 
implication of this view was that these territories could be taken back 
by the Mughal emperor, or by someone else on his behalf. 

In presenting his own view on this issue, Ratan Singh Bhangu 
presents in fact the Singh view of Sikh history. He looks upon Guru 
Nanak’s mission as transcending all previous dispensations; he sees no 
difference between the first Guru and his successors; the personal 
Guruship ends for him with Guru Gobind Singh; Guruship hence- 
forth is vested in the Khalsa and the Granth; but Ratan Singh Bhangu 
attaches greater importance to the doctrine of Guru-Panth. In his 
presentation Mughal oppression is the cause of conflict between the 
emperors and the Gurus who had no temporal ambition, being the 
‘true emperors’ of the spiritual realm. Guru Gobind Singh instituted 
the Khalsa to put an end to Mughal oppression. From the very 
beginning the Khalsa was sovereign. Men from all the four varnas were 
merged into one varna, that of the Khalsa. That was why ‘khatris, 
tarkhans, kalals, nais and jhiwars’ laid down their lives for the 
establishment of the sovereign rule of the Khalsa. 

Far from taking undue advantage of the anarchy caused by Ahmad 
Shah Abdali, the Khalsa in reality wrested from Ahmad Shah Abdali 
those provinces which the Mughals had lost to him. Obviously, the 
Khalsa ruled over the Punjab in their own right, justified by the 
sacrifices they had made and upheld by the sword they had come to 
wield against oppression. This was how the sovereignty of the Khalsa 
Panth was made manifest to the world. Ratan Singh Bhangu’s assertion 
of Sikh sovereignty sprang partly from his apprehensions about its 


Maharaja Ranjit Singh died at Lahore on June 27, 1839, after nominat- 
ing his eldest son Kharak Singh as his successor, with Raja Dhian Singh 
as the wazir, a position he had held under the Maharaja. The formal 
investiture of Kharak Singh as Maharaja was arranged in the capital on 
the first of September, deliberately before the arrival of his son, Prince 
Nau Nihal Singh, who was in the Peshawar region at the time of Ranjit 


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Singh’s death. The increasing influence of a close relative, Chet Singh 
Bajwa, on the new Maharaja, and Chet Singh’s aspiration to oust Dhian 
Singh, induced the latter to conspire with Prince Nau Nihal Singh. 
Chet Singh was murdered in early October.?8 

Prince Nau Nihal Singh became de facto ruler, and ruled generally in 
consultation with Raja Dhian Singh. For a little over a year, their 
administration was successful. Unrest in the Hazara region was put 
down by Sardar Chattar Singh Atariwala; the governors of Kashmir 
and Multan, Colonel Mihan Singh and Diwan Sawan Mal, were called 
to Lahore to pay up the arrears; expeditions sent to Iskardu, Mandi and 
Kulu were successful; and the attempts of the British officers like 
MacNaughten to favour the fugitive Shah Shuja at the cost of Maharaja 
Kharak Singh in the Peshawar region were foiled. Maharaja Kharak 
Singh died of ill health on 5 November 1840. Returning from his 
funeral Nau Nihal Singh, accompanied by Raja Gulab Singh’s son 
Mian Udham Singh, died due to the accidental fall of a gate. With him 
died the great expectations associated with that ‘Alexander-like 

There were six princes left after the death of Maharaja Kharak Singh 
and his son. Sher Singh and his twin brother Tara Singh were in their 
mid-thirties; Pashaura Singh, Kashmira Singh and Multana Singh were 
in their early twenties; and Dalip Singh was less than three years old. 
The accession of Sher Singh as the new Maharaja was proclaimed on 
November 9. But the mother of Nau Nihal Singh, Maharani Chand 
Kaur, asserted her claim to be the Regent till the birth of the child by 
his widow. Raja Dhian Singh became her adviser but only in addition 
to Sardar Attar Singh Sandhanwalia, Jamadar Khushal Singh and 
Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia. Dhian Singh discovered very soon that he 
could not have his way. His opponents were supported by the 
Maharani who listened to the Sandhanwalia Sardars more than to him. 
To obviate his eclipse at the court, Dhian Singh incited the already 
eager Sher Singh to make a fresh bid for power, telling some of the 
army commanders to support him. 

Prince Sher Singh occupied the fort of Lahore on 20 January 1841, 
but only after meeting resistance from the troops of Raja Gulab Singh 

28 The contemporary poet Shah Muhammad in his Var looks upon this incident as the 
beginning of the violence: Var Shah Muhammad (eds Sita Ram Kohli and Sewa Singh Giani), 
Punjabi Sahit Academy, Ludhiana, 1972, 136. 

29 In one of his orders to Tej Singh, the Maharaja refers to the prince as sikandar-misal: 
The Civil and Military Affairs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Document 454. 


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who was in the fort in support of Maharani Chand Kaur. The use of the 
army to decide the issue of succession, with Raja Dhian Singh and Raja 
Gulab Singh ranged on opposite sides, had a disastrous effect on 
discipline in the army. Commanders were humiliated and coerced at 
many places in the empire, some of them were in fact murdered, like 
Mihan Singh in Kashmir, Foulkes in Mandi, Ford in Hazara and Sobha 
Singh in Amritsar. The civilians of Lahore were molested by the 
soldiers of the kampu-i-mu‘alla. Maharaja Sher Singh and Raja Dhian 
Singh felt obliged to give a raise in pay, in addition to gratuity and 
promotions, after parleying with the representatives of the soldiers. 
This was the beginning of the army panchayats which became a crucial 
factor in the deteriorating situation.>° 

During the reign of Maharaja Sher Singh, the British diplomats and 
even the Governor-General developed an increasing interest in the 
affairs of the Punjab. Maharani Chand Kaur and Maharaja Sher Singh 
had both approached the British with the offer of a large slice of the 
empire as the price of their support against each other. The discomfi- 
ture of the Maharani was at the same time a defeat of the Sandhanwalias 
in their drive against Dhian Singh. Sardar Attar Singh Sandhanwalia 
and his nephew Ajit Singh sought protection with the British. Sardar 
Lehna Singh Sandhanwalia and his nephew Kehar Singh were placed 
under detention. All their jagirs were resumed. Out of a feeling of 
insecurity, Maharaja Sher Singh used Dhian Singh’s manipulative skills 
to ensure first the abortion of Nau Nihal Singh’s child and then the 
death of Maharani Chand Kaur who had not stopped her intrigue with 
either the nobles or the soldiers or the British. The Maharani and the 
Sandhanwalia Sardars were not alone in cultivating the British in 
self-interest. The European Generals Avitabile and Ventura, who were 
keen to take back their earnings to Europe, and Gulab Singh who was 
eager to retain his territories, entered into small conspiracies with the 
British officers and diplomats. Their inclinations were conveyed to 
higher authorities. It was on the suggestion of a British political Agent 
that Maharaja Sher Singh pardoned Sardar Attar Singh and Ajit Singh 
Sandhanwalia and allowed them to return to Lahore. Lehna Singh and 
Kehar Singh were released. They were all reinstated in their jagirs. 
Regaining the Maharaja’s confidence and trust, Lehna Singh and Ajit 

30 An interesting dimension of this situation was the assumption of the Sikh soldiery and 
the junior officers that they were the truer representatives of the Panth than the courtiers and 
nobles. In Shah Muhammad’s Var, they refer to themselves as the ‘Khalsa Panth’: Var Shah 

Muhammad, 167. 


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Singh murdered him and his son, Prince Pratap Singh, on 15 September 
1843. They also murdered Raja Dhian Singh who had served himself 
well but who had also served the state faithfully for nearly a quarter of a 

The intention of the Sandhanwalia Sardars was to install the boy- 
prince Dalip Singh, with his mother Maharani Jindan as the Regent to 
perpetuate their indirect control over the affairs of the state. But Dhian 
Singh’s son Raja Hira Singh was able to win the support of the army 
against them. About a thousand men, including Lehna Singh and Ajit 
Singh, were killed in action when Hira Singh occupied the fort. The 
palace revolution of 1843 was thus bloodier than that of 1841. To have 
Dalip Singh on the throne, with himself as the wazir, was in Hira 
Singh’s interest too. In fact he tried to eliminate Prince Pashaura Singh 
and Prince Kashmira Singh with the help of Raja Gulab Singh. The 
grimness of the whole situation comes out clearly from the fact that 
when Raja Suchet Singh made a bid for the office of the wazir against 
his nephew Hira Singh, the nephew had no hesitation in eliminating the 
uncle. Raja Suchet Singh died fighting against overwhelming numbers 
on 27 March 1844. Hira Singh made a move against Gulab Singh too, 
who was eventually obliged to send his son Sohan Singh to Lahore 
virtually as a hostage. 

Sardar Attar Singh Sandhanwalia who had escaped into the British 
territories returned to the religious centre of the much-venerated Bhai 
Bir Singh at Naurangabad near Tarn Taran. Hira Singh struck at the 
centre, treating it as a source of disaffection. Both Bhai Bir Singh and 
Attar Singh were killed. This action made Hira Singh a little unpopular. 
A greater cause of his unpopularity with the army was the attitude of 
Misr Jalla, his factotum at the court who gave offence to all and sundry. 
The army panches demanded his surrender. But Hira Singh tried to 
escape with him to the hills. They were pursued and killed on 21 
December 1844. With them died Sohan Singh, the second son of Raja 
Gulab Singh, and Mian Labh Singh, a distant cousin of the Raja. Of the 
Jammu Rajas thus only Gulab Singh survived, with only one son left to 
succeed him. 

In military matters the army panches were now supreme. For civil 
affairs, Maharani Jindan acted as the President of a Council consisting 
of her brother Jawahar Singh, Bhai Ram Singh, Bakshi Bhagat Ram, 
Diwan Dina Nath and Faqir Nuruddin. With the nazims and kardars 
reluctant to submit revenues, and the increasing expenditure on a larger 


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army, it became difficult to run the administration. The total strength 
of the army in 1844 was about 120,000 whereas at the end of Ranjit 
Singh’s reign it had been about 85,000. The total expenditure on the 
army in 1844 amounted to about six million rupees whereas in 1839 it 
had been about four million.3! The revenue alienated in favour of 
jagirdars was in addition to this amount. Among those who had not 
paid large arrears to the Treasury were the governors of Multan and 
Kashmir, and Raja Gulab Singh. 

Troops were sent to Jammu to collect arrears from the Raja. He 
accompanied them to Lahore, paid 2,700,000 rupees, but got his 
contracts (ijara) renewed for two years. Asked to become the wazir, he 
declined the offer politely and hurriedly marched back to Jammu. 
Prince Pashaura Singh rose in revolt; he was killed on 31 August 1845, 
on Jawahar Singh’s instructions. The army demanded Jawahar Singh’s 
head. He was killed on September 21. 

Maharani Jindan and the Sardars who supported her decided to 
approach the British with the suggestion that they may destroy the army 
and take the Maharaja under their ‘protective wings’. Gulab Singh had 
already offered cooperation on the understanding that Jammu and some 
other territories should be left with him. The British had been collecting 
men and war materials on the Punjab frontiers. The stage was set for a 
war. Lal Singh was appointed as the wazir and Tej Singh as the com- 
mander of the army.?? Reports of British preparations were assiduously 
spread among the soldiery and solemnly confirmed by Diwan Dina 
Nath. After a pledge on the samadh of Ranjit Singh to save his state, the 
authority of the panches was suspended. The stage was set for a defeat. 

One important element in the understanding between the British 
agents and the junta at Lahore was that the army of Lahore should 
cross the river Satlej to make it appear that the state of Lahore was the 
aggressor. The army of Lahore crossed the river on 11 December 1845. 
Lord Hardinge declared war on the state of Lahore on December 13. 
The first battle was fought near Mudki on December 18. The British 
forces suffered heavy losses.33 But in the second battle fought near 

31 Sita Ram Kohli, Sunset of the Sikh Empire, Orient Longmans, Bombay, 1967, 85-97. 

32 This position was different from the position of Tej Singh under Maharaja Ranjit Singh 
when he was looking after the kampi-i-mu‘alla on behalf of the Maharaja as discussed in The 
Civil and Military Affairs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 

33 ‘British losses in men and officers, considering the brevity of the action, were heavy; 215 
killed, including Sir Robert Sale, Sir Joseph McGaskill and two aides of the Governor- 
General; and 657 wounded’: Sita Ram Kohli, Sunset of the Sikh Empire, 107. 


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Pherushahr on December 21 they could claim a victory. Both Lal Singh 
and Te} Singh played their premeditated treacherous roles, informing 
the British officers of the disposition of their armies, not attacking the 
British critical situations and leaving the field of battle after the 
commencement of action. The replacement of Lal Singh by Gulab 
Singh before the battle of Sabraon, fought on 10 February 1846, was a 
change for the worse. Tej Singh not only left the field of battle but also 
destroyed the bridge of boats which could be used for retreat. 
Thousands lost their lives in this battle, including the grey-beard 
Sardar Sham Singh Atariwala. Ranjodh Singh Majithia had been 
defeated in the battle of Aliwal near Ludhiana after his initial success in 
the battle of Baddowal in January, 1845. Gulab Singh was eager to 
negotiate the terms of peace. 

According to a treaty signed on March 9, the Jalandhar Doab was 
taken over by the British, Jammu and Kashmir were given to Gulab 
Singh under a separate treaty, and the strength of the Lahore army was 
reduced. By a supplement added on March 11, a British force was kept 
in Lahore at the expense of the state; a British political officer was 
stationed there for ‘advice and guidance’. Dalip Singh remained on the 
throne, with Lal Singh as the wazir and Tej Singh as the commander of 
the army, while Maharani Jindan became the Regent. This was the 
reward for their helpful role in the late war. Henry Lawrence was sent 
to Lahore with a British force which was to remain there only until the 
end of 1846. The state of Lahore was not merely smaller and weaker 
now, it was also a ‘protected’ state for all practical purposes. In a letter 
to Henry Lawrence it was made clear by Hardinge that ‘the native 
prince is in fetters and under our protection, and must do our 

bidding’ .34 


If there was any doubt about the status of Maharaja Dalip Singh, it was 
formally clarified by the Treaty of Bhyrowal signed on 22 December 
1846, before the expiry of the time for the British force to leave Lahore. 
Lal Singh had already been pensioned off to Dehra Dun because of his 
complicity in the refusal of the Governor of Kashmir to hand over the 
province to Raja Gulab Singh. No one was appointed as wazir in his 
place. Instead, a Regency Council had been formed, consisting of Tej 
34 [bid., 119. 


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Singh, Diwan Dina Nath, Faqir Nuruddin and Sher Singh Atariwala, 
whose sister had been betrothed to Prince Dalip Singh in the reign of 
Maharaja Sher Singh, and who was now given the title of Raja. By the 
new Treaty, four other members were added to the council: Attar 
Singh Kalianwala, Shamsher Singh Sandhanwalia, Ranjodh Singh 
Majithia and Bhai Nidhan Singh. More important than the enlar- 
gement of the Council was the removal of Maharani Jindan from her 
position as the Regent; she was given 150,000 rupees a year as pension. 
The most important clause of the treaty, however, was the one that 
empowered the Resident at Lahore ‘to direct and control the duties of 
every department’. These arrangements were to continue till Maharaja 
Dalip Singh reached the age of 16 on 4 September 1854. 

In the first week of October, 1848, Governor General Dalhousie’s 
secretary wrote to Frederic Currie, the Resident at Lahore, that he 
should consider ‘the State of Lahore to be, for all intents and purposes, 
at war with the British Government’.35 Dalhousie’s own letter reveals 
his satisfaction with the crisis developing in the Punjab: ‘I have for 
months been looking for, and we are now not on the eve of but in the 
midst of war with the Sikh nation and the kingdom of the Punjab.’36 
Ironically, the ‘Sikh nation’ and the ‘kingdom of the Punjab’ were 
represented by two rebel governors and not by the Maharaja or the 
Regency Council. 

Initially, in fact, there was only one rebel, Diwan Mul Raj, the 
governor of Multan. The actions of the representatives of the British 
Government in the Punjab were partly the cause of his revolt. In 1846, 
Mul Raj had accepted all the conditions imposed on him as the 
governor of Multan, knowing that Lal Singh was keen to dislodge him. 
Subsequently, certain duties were abolished in the province without 
reducing the amount of ijara to be paid by the governor. A simul- 
taneous reduction in his judicial powers undermined his authority to 
make even the usual collection.3” He offered to resign in December, 
1847. John Lawrence, as the officiating Resident, agreed to accept 
his resignation but with effect from March, 1848. By then, Frederic 

35 §.S. Bal, British Policy Towards the Punjab 1844-49, New Age Publishers, Calcutta, 

1971, 204. 
36 N. M. Khilnani, British Power in the Punjab 1839-1858, Asia Publishing House, New 
Delhi, 1972, 154. 
3? For changes made in the judicial, civil and revenue matters by the Resident at Lahore 
before the second Anglo-Sikh War which created resentment among various sections of the 
Punjabis, zbd., 96-125; S. S. Bal, British Policy Towards the Punjab, 148-85. 


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Currie had become the Resident and he sent Kahn Singh Man to the 
governorship of Multan, appointing Vans Agnew as his political 
adviser with Lt Anderson to assist him. Mul Raj handed over the keys 
of the fort of Multan to Kahn Singh Man. Soon afterwards, however, 
Agnew was attacked by some men without incitement from Mul Raj. 
His troops, the largest losers due to the impending change, now forced 
him to lead their revolt. A rebel commandant, Godar Singh Mazhabi, 
on his own attacked both Agnew and Anderson, and killed them. 
Currie did not order the British force at Lahore to march against Mul 
Raj. In fact he told Herbert Edwardes, posted in Bannu to ‘advise’ its 
governor, only to contain Mul Raj and not dislodge him from Multan. 
James Abbott, posted at Haripur in Hazara to ‘advise’ its governor, 
Sardar Chattar Singh Atariwala, suspecting him of sympathies with 
the rebels, moved away from Haripur and recruited unauthorized 
levies. When Colonel Canora refused to obey Sardar Chattar Singh’s 
orders, he was killed and Abbott presented the incident as the 
cold-blooded murder of a loyal officer. Currie knew that Chattar 
Singh was not at fault, but Dalhousie wanted the Sardar ‘smitten’. He 
was dismissed from governorship and his jagirs were resumed. Chattar 
Singh decided to defy the Resident’s orders. He tried to enlist the 
support of army units posted in the Sindh Sagar Doab and the 
Peshawar region, approaching Dost Muhammad Khan of Kabul and 
Raja Gulab Singh for help in the cause of the Punjabis to overthrow the 
British usurpers. He wrote to his son, Raja Sher Singh, to join him. 
Raja Sher Singh had joined Edwardes in his campaign against Mul 
Raj. When General Whish appeared on the scene, he issued a procla- 
mation demanding unconditional surrender from the rebels of Multan 
on hearing the salute to be fired on the morning of September 5 ‘in 
honour of her Most Gracious Majesty, the Queen of Great Britain, and 
her ally, the Maharaja Dalip Singh’. The British intention of annexation 
had been noised abroad; this proclamation came as a confirmation. 
General Whish suspected the loyalty of the Sikh units and ordered 
them to leave on September 11. They decided to join Mul Raj. Raja 
Sher Singh went over to the rebels on September 14. In joint procla- 
mations with Mul Raj, he exhorted the Hindus and Muslims of the 
Punjab to join them against the English, and asked the chiefs of the 
Satlej-Jamuna Divide for support. No chief joined the rebels. A forged 
letter arranged by Edwardes to fall into the hands of Mul Raj made him 
suspicious of Raja Sher Singh who felt obliged to leave Multan on 


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October 9, eventually to join his father in Hazara. Mul Raj was left 
alone to defend himself against the British forces. He was compelled to 
lay down arms on 22 January 1849. 

The Commander-in-Chief Lord Gough had crossed the Satlej in 
November, 1848, at the head of a large army to suppress the revolt of 
the Atariwala Sardars. In a battle fought on November 22 near 
Ramnagar, close to the river Chenab, Brigadier General Campbell’s 
force was routed. A Lt Colonel and a Brigadier General of the British 
army were killed in this action. In the battle of Chillianwala, fought on 
13 January 1849, three British regiments lost their colours, and 
Brigadier Pennyuick was killed in action along with 3,000 British 
officers and men. This was the worst defeat suffered by the British in 
the Indian subcontinent. In the battle of Gujrat, however, Raja Sher 
Singh suffered defeat on February 21, and his retreat towards Kabul 
was barred by Abbott with the help of Raja Gulab Singh who by now 
was bound by atreaty to help the British. On March 14, Sardar Chattar 
Singh and Raja Sher Singh surrendered to General Gilbert near 
Rawalpindi. Laying down his sword a few days later a greybeard 
veteran could not help feeling, ‘today Ranjit Singh is dead’.58 

Lord Dalhousie kept up the charade till the end. He sent H. M. Elliot 
to Lahore with the document of annexation. Elliot coerced Raja Tej 
Singh and Diwan Dina Nath first to sign this document, and then 
approached Bhai Nidhan Singh and Faqir Nuruddin. The representa- 
tives (vakils) of Shamsher Singh Sandhanwalia and Attar Singh Kalian- 
wala, both of whom had stuck to Edwardes when Raja Sher Singh had 
gone over to the rebels, signed in the absence of the Sardars. On 29 
March 1849, Maharaja Dalip Singh held his court for the last time in his 
life to sign the document of annexation in Roman letters and to become 
a pensioner of the British. The ‘majestic fabric’ raised by Maharaja 
Ranjit Singh was a thing of the past. 

38 Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1986, Vol. 2, 


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The Punjab as a province of the British empire was larger than the 
kingdom of Ranjit Singh and it was also placed in a context almost of 
global economy and polity. The colonial rulers introduced a large 
measure of bureaucracy and the rule of law, which established a new 
kind of relationship between the individual and the state. The ‘paternal’ 
rule of the early decades was eventually replaced by the ‘machine rule’ 
of laws, codes and procedures. The executive, financial and judicial 
functions were separated. An elaborate administration was geared to 
the purposes of peace and prosperity. For political and economic 
purposes as well as for administration, new forms of communication 
and transportation were developed, symbolized by the post office, the 
telegraph office, the metalled road, the railway and the press. 

To increase agricultural production and revenue from land the 
British administrators of the Punjab introduced reform in the agrar- 
ian system with periodic settlements and records of rights as its 
major planks. Land revenue began to increase steadily. New sources 
of revenue were tapped. Irrigation projects completed between 1860 
and 1920 brought nearly 10,000,000 acres of land under cultivation, 
creating a ‘prosperous, progressive and modern’ region in the 
province and changing not only its agrarian economy but also its 
demographic distribution and even its physical appearance. The 
increase in production was reflected in the increasing volume and 
value of trade. 

Colonial rule in the Punjab as elsewhere in the subcontinent was 
marked by economic exploitation. Geared largely to export needs, the 
bulk of external trade was controlled by British exchange banks, 
export-import firms and shipping concerns. Payment of home charges 
out of Indian revenues drained wealth and converted rupees into 
sterling at the officially determined rate to the advantage of the British. 
The imperial government exercised control over the finances of the 
Punjab and shared income and expenditure in a manner that tilted the 


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financial balance in its favour, making it a major co-sharer in the 
increasing wealth of the Punjab. 

From the very beginning, the British administrators of the Punjab 
gave importance to education in English literature, western sciences 
and social studies. For about two decades Dr G. W. Leitner tried to 
revive the learning of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit, to introduce 
western sciences in vernacular languages and to raise the standard of 
contemporary Indian literatures. Even his conception of a university 
was different from what had been established at Bombay, Calcutta and 
Madras. Nevertheless, when the Punjab University was established at 
Lahore in 1882 its character was no different from that of the other 
universities. The cause of indigenous education in the Punjab was 


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finally lost. Urdu was introduced as the medium of education in 
government schools up to the matriculation level, though Punjabi was 
the dominant language of the province. 

Christian missionaries proved to be the greatest allies of the govern- 
ment in spreading English education. The system of grant-in-aid at the 
time of its introduction was meant primarily for their schools. They 
made the press an effective medium of communication in Punjabi, 
Urdu and Hindi for evangelization. In the process they denounced 
indigenous religious beliefs and practices, social evils and morals of the 
Punjabis rather openly and aggressively, partly because of their own 
theological assumptions and partly because they regarded the colonial 
rule as providential.! In the popular mind they were closely allied with 
the rulers, and their socio-cultural programme carried a sharper edge 
because of this real or supposed alliance. The Punjabis reacted to the 
presence of the Christian missionaries also because of their spectacular 
success. Starting from about 4,000 in 1881, the number of Indian 
Christians in the Punjab rose to over 300,000 in 1921. 

The colonial regime produced a certain degree of social trans- 
formation in the Punjab. The collapse of peasant prosperity by the 
1880s was attributed by one contemporary administrator ‘particularly 
to the innovations of fixed assessments, freedom of contract, individual 
property in land, and the series of technical laws which benefited the 
rich and astute at the expense of the poor and the ignorant’.?2 The 
impoverishment of the small landholder was reflected in the increasing 
number of the tenants-at-will. An unprecedented degree of commer- 
cialization of agriculture facilitated the emergence of petty commodity 
producers in the central districts of the province first and then in the 
canal colonies. Socio-economic differentiation among landholders was 
accentuated by the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900 which brought 
the agricultural moneylender into greater prominence during the early 
decades of the twentieth century. 

Traders and moneylenders, the unconscious accomplices in the 
commercialization of agriculture, were the subordinate beneficiaries of 
colonial exploitation. The traditional business communities like the 
Khatris, Aroras and Banias among the Hindus and the Shaikhs, Khojas 

1 For the missionary work of the Presbyterians in the Punjab and their attitudes and 
assumptions, John C.B. Webster, The Christian Community and Change in Nineteenth 
Century North India, Macmillan, Delhi, 1976. 

2 §.S. Thorburn, The Punjab in Peace and War, Punjab Languages Department, Patiala, 

1970 (reprint), 252. 


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and Pathans among the Muslims provided commercial leadership. 
Looking for new opportunities they invested capital in small-scale 
industries. The Punjab National Bank, a purely Indian concern, was 
founded in 1895, followed by a number of other enterprises like the 
Bharat Insurance Company and the People’s Banking and Commercial 
Association. The old moneylender blossomed into usurer through 
high interest charges and forced sale of land at below market price, 
virtually in collusion with munsifs and lawyers thrown up by the new 

Indeed, to the agrarian and commercial middle classes was added a 
professional middle class, through English education, which opened 
the door to employment on the middle of bureaucratic rungs and in 
professions like law, teaching and medicine. At the end of the 
nineteenth century, the Punjabi Hindus outnumbered the Punjabi 
Muslims on the middle and upper rungs of administration open to 
Indians. The Khatris among the Hindus occupied the largest propor- 
tion of gazetted positions, followed by Brahmans, Aroras, Banias and 
Rajputs. Among the Muslims, foremost in employment were Shaikhs, 
followed by Pathans and Sayyids. The new professions too were 
generally dominated by Hindus, particularly by the Khatris. All 
educated Punjabis were trying to climb up, and those who were lagging 
behind wished to catch up with the others. 

Numbers began to count, in argumentation as well as in census 
reports, strengthening democratic assumptions without even the sem- 
blance of a democratic system. Numerically both Hindus and Muslims 
lost to Christians and Sikhs, the Hindus much more than the Muslims. 
Since numbers were generally equated with strength, particularly for 
employment under the government, change in numbers was viewed 
with concern. As yet, however, there was little representation on 
legislative or executive bodies on the basis of people’s will. The Indian 
Councils Act of 1861 was made operative in the Punjab only in the last 
decade of the century, and all the nine members of the provincial 
council were nominated by the Lieutenant Governor. The Act of 1909 
raised the number of the legislative council to 30, but only a fifth of 
them were to the elected members. 

The political and socio-cultural concerns of the Punjabis were 
reflected in their journalistic activity.> More than half of the publi- 

3 This is well brought out in Emmett David, Press and Politics in British Western Punjab 
(1836-1947), Academic Publications, Delhi, 1983. 


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cations were brought out in Lahore. Next in importance was Amritsar 
but with a wide margin; it brought out only a fourth of the number 
published in Lahore. Books too began to be published in increasing 
numbers. In 1911, nearly 600 books were published in Urdu, over 450 
in Punjabi, and about eighty each in English and Hindi, not only in the 
traditional forms of prose and poetry but also in the new forms of 
drama and fiction. This literature and journalism reflected the commu- 
nal concerns of the Punjabis as well as their interest in religious and 
social reform, history and biography, sciences and arts. 

The first to own a press for the propagation of their ideas in the 
Punjab, besides the Christian missionaries and the government, were 
the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj who started bringing out their 
monthly Hari Hakikat in 1877. The Brahmo Samaj in the Punjab was 
an offshoot of the movement started initially by Raja Ram Mohan Roy 
in Bengal. Based on Upanishadic thought and appreciative of western 
science and the Christian ethic, this rational yet theistic, tolerant yet 
socially radical movement stood for the freedom of the press and 
English education and espoused the cause of the low castes and the 
Hindu woman. Though willing to make use of Urdu and Punjabi for 
the propagation of their own ideas, the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj 
had a decided preference for Hindi in Devanagri script. As Lajpat Rai 
put it rather negatively, the ‘atmosphere’ of Brahmo literature was not 
free from ‘Hindu nationalism’ .* 

Swami Dayanand Sarswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, had 
published his Satyarth Prakash in Hindi before he came to the Punjab 
in 1877. He had discarded the Vedantic monism of the Upanishads in 
favour of a faith in an eternal, omniscient, all-pervading, just and 
merciful God who revealed all true knowledge in the Vedas, the source 
of all true virtue. The post-Aryan history of India was a long tale of 
degeneration, particularly after its invasion by foreign peoples and 
their alien faiths. The time had now come to regenerate Aryavarta with 
true knowledge and virtue and to turn the tide against the invaders of 
its culture. In the Satyarth Prakash there is a stronger argument against 
Christianity and Islam than against Puranic Hinduism or Sikhism. 
Swami Dayanand discarded idol-worship, traditional rites and rituals, 
and pilgrimage to sacred places. He was opposed to child marriage, 
discrimination against widows, distinctions of caste and restriction on 

+ Quoted, Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm, University of California Press, Berkeley, 
1976, 65. 


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travel to foreign countries. He retained only the ritual of havan and the 
ideal of cow protection. 

After Dayanand’s death in 1883 the Lahore Arya Samaj decided to 
establish a college in memorium. In the last decade of the nineteenth 
century a system of Arya education was set up from primary to college 
level, geared largely to the needs of the westernized Hindu middle 
class. English literature, western science and social studies were 
combined with Sanskrit and Hindi to evolve what was generally 
known as the Anglo-Vedic system of education. Social reform went 
ahead with simpler ceremonies for marriage, birth and death, remar- 
riage of ‘virgin widows’, founding of orphanages, education of girls, 
Ved parchar for the propagation of new ideas and shuddhi for 
reconversion to Arya dharma. After a split in 1893-1894, the ‘militant’ 
Aryas in particular waged a war in print against Christians, Muslims, 
Sikhs and the traditionist Hindus. The Arya leaders hobnobbed with 
the Indian National Congress to promote the interests of Punjabi 
Hindus. When the government became hostile to the urban leaders in 
general and the Arya Samaj leaders in particular after the agitation of 
1907, the Aryas declared the Samaj to be a non-political body and tried 
to remove the impression that they were ‘seditious’. Hindu Sabhas 
sprang up in the province and the Punjab Hindu Conference was held 
successively for six years from 1909 to 1914. The ‘Arya’ consciousness 
was being transformed into ‘Hindu’ consciousness. 

The British policy of impartiality towards all religious communities 
encouraged corporate action within each, and leaders talked as if they 
represented their entire community. The British policy of maintaining 
‘balance’ between the various communities encouraged competition 
between them. Communal! consciousness, therefore, was not confined 
to the Aryas or the Hindus. Muslim associations known as Anjuman-i- 
Islamia and Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam were founded over the entire 
province and formed a network to embrace education, social reform, 
religion and politics during the last two decades of the nineteenth 
century. Schools were established with western education as an 
essential element in their programme, orphanages for boys and girls 
were founded, preachers were sponsored, pamphlets and tracts were 
printed and distributed, memorials and petitions were presented to 
safeguard and promote Muslim interests.> The influence of Sir Syed 

5 Edward D. Churchill Jr., ‘Muslim Societies of the Punjab, 1860-1890’, The Punjab Past 
and Present, Vol. 8, Part 1 (April 1974), 69-91. 


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Ahmed Khan was palpable in the Punjab in the field of education as 
well as politics. In 1887-1888 he advised the Muslims to remain aloof 
from the Indian National Congress and his call proved to be effective 
in the Punjab. There was a general fear among the Muslims that 
representation based on elections and employment based on open 
competition were not in their interest. 

The ‘Anglo-Muslim’ programme of education and politics did not 
exhaust the concerns of the Punjabi Muslims. In the 1870s there were 
still a few hundred Wahhabis in the province, drawn generally from the 
pre-industrial lower middle class, but their idea of jihad to get rid of 
non-Muslim domination by armed force had lost its appeal.¢ There 
were a few hundred Ahl-i-Hadis too, who dwelt on the past alone for 
reform, which had no appeal for the westernized middle-class 
Muslims. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the founder of the 
Admadiya movement, made a contribution to religious controversy 
out of all proportion to the number of his followers. In his Burahin-i- 
Ahmadiya (1880-1884), which was meant to rejuvenate Islam on the 
basis of the Quran, he tried to refute the Christian missionaries, the 
Ayra Samajists and the Brahmos. In another work he argued that Guru 
Nanak was in fact a Muslim. Interpreting jihad as a peaceful propa- 
gation of Islam (tabligh), he put all his energies into tabligh, assuming 
for himself the position of the promised Messiah (masih-i-maw‘ud), 
which made him rather heterodox. Muslims as well as Hindus, Sikhs 
and Christians reacted to Ghulam Ahmad’s publications to make the 
last decade of the nineteenth century the highest watermark of 
religious controversy in the Punjab.” 

In the first and second decades of the twentieth century the idea of 
Hindu Muslim separation was given constitutional and political recog- 
nition in the Punjab as in the rest of the country. Two years after the 
founding of the All India Muslim League the demand for separate 
electorates for Muslims was made at Amritsar in 1908. The principle 
was conceded and embodied in the Councils Act of 1909. To hasten 
political and constitutional change, the Muslim League and the Con- 
gress entered into a pact at Lucknow in 1916, ensuring separate 
electorates for Muslims in every province and weightage in those in 

6 Peter Hardy, ‘Wahhabis in the Punjab, 1876’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 15, Part 

2 (October 1981), 428-32. 
7 Spencer Lavan, ‘Communalism in the Punjab: The Ahmadiyah Versus the Arya Samaj 
During the Lifetime of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 5, Part 2 

(October 1971), 320-42. 


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which they formed a minority. There was only a small and a logical 
step from the Lucknow Pact to the Reform Act of 1919 in which both 
weightage and separate electorates for the Muslims were enshrined. In 
the Punjab they got only separate electorates; weightage was to go to 
the minorities. 


To the British administrators of the Punjab in the early 1850s, the 
decline of the former ruling class, the ‘pillars’ of the Sikh empire, 
appeared to be inevitable. The gaudy retinues of the former jagirdars 
had disappeared, their country seats stood rather neglected and their 
city residences were not thronged by visitors. The British admini- 
strators hoped to ‘render their decadence gradual’ by allowing them 
pensions, or a part of their jagirs. 

However, all of them were not treated alike. Jawahar Singh, the son 
of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, who had fought against the British with 
conspicuous gallantry at Chillianwala and Gujrat, lost all his jagirs 
and got no pension. Sardar Chattar Singh Atariwala and his son Raja 
Sher Singh, the arch rebels, were banished from the Punjab but with 
pensions. The ‘rebels’ generally lost jagirs and got merely pensions for 
life. The loyal members of the nobility retained a part of their jagirs in 
perpetuity. Raja Tej Singh, for instance, got a jagir worth about 20,000 
rupees a year in perpetuity out of a jagir of over 90,000 rupees for life. 
Sardar Shamsher Singh Sandhanwalia, a former member of the 
Regency Council, retained a fourth of his jagir in perpetuity out of 
40,000 rupees a year for life. The hope of reward induced a large 
number of jagirdars of the Punjab to demonstrate their loyalty to the 
British rulers during the uprising of 1857-58, and the reward came in 
terms of increase in pensions and jagirs, grant of land in proprietorship 
and employment in service, proving to be a turning point in their 
fortunes. They began to be looked upon as the ‘natural leaders’ of the 
society. Nearly half of the Sikh aristocratic families survived into the 
twentieth century, readjusting themselves to the new situation. Many 
of them played a leading role in socio-religious reform and consti- 
tutional politics.8 

8 The changing fortunes of the former jagirdars of the Punjab come out clearly from an 
analysis of Lepel Griffin’s The Panjab Chie; 8 published in 1865, and its subsequent editions 
published in 1890, 1909, 1940. 


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The dharmarth grantees of the days of Ranjit Singh and his 
successors were allowed to retain a part of their grants, and the Sikhs 
remained the major recipients of revenue-free grants now as before. 
Many Udasi mahants got proprietary rights over lands granted earlier 
for their establishments or for the gurdwaras they maintained on 
behalf of the Sikhs. The number of important gurdwaras enjoying 
grants was not less than three scores, including a score of those 
associated with Guru Nanak and his successors. The descendants of 
Bhai Ram Singh, Gobind Ram and Bhai Gurmukh Singh, who had 
been patronized by the former rulers, were treated with special 
consideration by the British administrators. 

The influence of Bhais and Sardars was utilized by the new rulers to 
maintain effective control over the Golden Temple and the institutions 
in its precincts. A committee headed by Raja Tej Singh was formed to 
advise Sardar Jodh Singh who was appointed as an Extra Assistant 
Commissioner at Amritsar to manage the affairs of the Golden Temple 
complex. Through an administrative manual (dastar al-‘aml), signed 
by a large number of Sardars and the functionaries of the Golden 
Temple in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar in 
1859, its management was transformed into ‘simple magisterial and 
political control’ to maintain influence over the ‘high spirited and 
excitable Khalsa’. It was conceded, however, that Guru Ram Das was 
the sole proprietor of the institution and the entire body of the Khalsa 
constituted the ‘noviciate’.? With the passage of time the Singhs would 
claim not only the Golden Temple but all the historic gurdwaras as an 
inheritance of the Sikh Panth. 

Retrenched after 1845-46 and virtually disbanded after 1848-49, 
the Khalsa came to form nearly a third of the 60,000 men raised from 
the Punjab during 1857-58. Raised at a most critical time when other 
recruiting grounds were in the hands of the rebels, the Khalsa were 
called out to ‘save the Empire’ and they ‘fulfilled their mission’.!° 
Henceforth they were to hold an honoured position in the Indian army 
and to fight in nearly all major wars fought by the British in all the 
three continents of the world. The proportion of the Sikhs in the 
Indian army remained much larger than their proportion in the 

9 Tan J. Kerr ‘The British and the Administration of the Golden Temple in 1859’, The 
Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 10, Part 2, (October 1976), 306-21. 
10 A report of 1858, quoted, Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Oxford University 

Press, 1978, Vol. 2, 114, n 47. 


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population. Their ‘gallant and faithful service in all climes’ made them 
the ‘pride of the Punjab’.!! 

The Sikh peasantry suffered economically in the late nineteenth 
century with the rising tide of indebtedness but much less than others. 
‘Their love of gain and inherited shrewdness’, observed a contempo- 
rary British administrator, ‘have, since the establishment of our reign 
of law, enabled them to avoid the pitfalls of the system of administra- 
tion which has demoralised so many of the less efficient agricultural 
communities of the province.’!? Many Sikh landholders prospered as 
commodity producers in the central Punjab and in the canal colonies. 
However, prosperity and debt travelled together for the Sikhs as for 
others. If some of the Sikh proprietors became richer, others became 
poorer. Differentiation among the Sikh landholders was in evidence 
everywhere but more so in the central districts of the Punjab. Apart 
from service in the army, which played a sustaining role in rural 
economy, emigration promised better opportunities of employment. 
In the first decade of the twentieth century, the percentage of net 
outmigration from the central Punjab rose from about 1.5 to nearly 
4.75, and Sikh agriculturists represented a substantial portion of the 
emigrants to other parts of the country and to other countries and 

Much more striking than the increasing richness and poverty of the 
Sikh peasantry, the employment of the Sikhs in the Indian army, the 
conciliation of the Sikh priestly class or the partial rehabilitation of the 
Sikh aristocracy from the viewpoint of Sikh resurgence was the sheer 
increase in the number of Sikhs, from less than 2 millions in 1881 to 
over 4 millions in 1931, raising the percentage in the total population of 
the province from about 8 to over 13. In 1891 the number of Sikhs had 
increased by more than 8 per cent but the percentage of increase in the 
population of the Punjab was more than 10. In 1go1, the corresponding 
percentages were about 13.5. In 1911, when the total population of the 
province was actually 2 per cent less than in 1901, the Sikh population 
increased by more than 37 per cent. 

Equally remarkable was the increase in the proportion of Keshdhari 
Sikhs in the Sikh population. When the British administrators talked of 
the declining number of the Sikhs in the early decades of British rule in 

11 Major G. F. Macmunn, ‘The Martial Races of India’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 
3, Part 1 (April 1970), 75-77; Regionald Hodder, ‘The Sikhs and the Sikh Wars’, ibid., 

12.§.$. Thorburn, The Punjab in Peace and War, 265. 


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the Punjab they had actually the Keshdhari Singhs in mind.13 The early 
census operators were instructed to return only those Sikhs as ‘Sikh’ 
who wore kesh and refrained from smoking. In 1911 for the first time 
all those persons were returned as Sikhs who thought of themselves as 
‘Sikh’, whether Keshdharis or Sehajdharis. By now the number and 
proportion of Keshdhari Sikhs was increasing, rising from about 
840,000 in 1891 to nearly 3,600,000 in 1931. The number of Sehajdharis 
fell from nearly 580,000 in 1891 to less than 300,000 in 1931. Thus, the 
percentage of Keshdhari Sikhs rose from less than seventy to more than 
ninety in less than half a century. 

Increase in the number of Sikhs was generally attributed to the 
policy of the British to give preference to Sikhs in many branches of 
government service as well as in the army. However, only in 1911 were 
the Sikhs able to catch up with the Hindus in literacy, with 10.6 per 
cent of literates among them. In 1921 they formed nearly 16 per cent of 
the literates in the province, but literacy among them was still not 
higher than among the Hindus. If the number of literates in the army 
was not to be counted, the percentage of literacy among the Sikhs was 
in fact much lower. Literacy in English was even lower than the 
literacy in general. This position was reflected in the number of Sikhs 
in the government services. In 1911, nearly 15 per cent of the Sikhs 
were in the employment of the government but their percentage in the 
civil service was less than eight. Even in the police force in which they 
were believed to be well represented their percentage was less than 
nine. If ‘preference’ for the Sikhs in many branches of government 
service was the cause of increase in the number of Sikhs it was not 
because of the partiality of the British but the smaller representation of 
the Sikhs in the services other than the army. 

Another cause of increase in the number of Sikhs was thought to be 
‘conversions’ due to concern for religious reform among the educated 
Sikhs. There is no doubt that many persons were influenced directly by 
parchar or the propagation of reform. Many more, however, were 
affected by the growing consciousness of a distinct identity. ‘A change 
of sentiment on the part of the Sikh community has led many persons 
recording themselves as Sikhs who were formerly content to be 

13 This is evident from the statement of Lord Dalhousie quoted by Khushwant Singh in 
his History of the Sikhs (Vol. 2, 96 n 20) and the statement of Richard Temple quoted by Rajiv 
A. Kapur in his Sikh Separatism, Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1987, 8. 


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regarded as Hindus.’!* This phenomenon was best exemplified among 
the Jats of the central districts of the Punjab: The percentage of Sikhs 
among the Jats rose from less than fifty four in 1881 to nearly eighty in 
1921, while the percentage of Hindus among the Jats decreased from 
about forty in 1881 to less than ten in 1921. This was not a peculiarity 
of the Jats. Their proportion among the Sikhs did not appreciably 
change during all these decades. In fact the percentage of many other 
caste groups among the Sikhs actually increased by 1921 when the 
percentage of the Jats was slightly less than what it had been in 1881. 

In terms of traditional professions, the number of agriculturists and 
their percentage in the Sikh population increased only slightly during 
these four decades, rising from about 1,190,000 persons in 1881 to over 
2,000,000 in 1921, from 72.76 per cent to 73.53 per cent. Besides the 
Jats they were represented by Kambos, Sainis, Rajputs and Mahtons. 
The trading communities were represented by Khatris and Aroras. 
Their number rose from about 73,000 to over 177,000, improving their 
percentage from 4.46 to 6.41 during these decades. The number of Sikh 
artisans and craftsmen rose from about 122,000 to nearly 324,000 but 
their percentage fell from 13.58 to 11.71 during this period. They were 
represented by Tarkhans, Lohars, Jhiwars, Nais, Kumhars, Sunars, 
Julahas, Darzis and Chhimbas. The number of traditional outcastes, 
represented by Chuhras and Chamars among the Sikhs, rose from over 
140,000 in 1881 to over 200,000 in 1921, but their percentage fell from 
8.59 to 7.31 during these decades. But this could be partly due to the 
fact that some of them did not return themselves as Chuhras or 
Chamars. By 1921, the Sikhs coming from the traditional occupations 
of agriculture, commerce, artisanry and scavenging constituted nearly 
99 per cent of the Sikh population in the Punjab. 

However, all the Sikhs were not pursuing their traditional occu- 
pations. The Khatris, Aroras and Brahmans among the Sikhs led in 
literacy, followed at a considerable distance by Jats and other agricul- 
turist groups, followed in turn by Tarkhans and by Jhiwars, Chamars 
and Chuhras. In the early twentieth century they were all represented 
in the new professions and occupations, though not in proportion to 
their numbers. The agriculturists were represented adequately in the 
army and the police; the trading groups were represented more than 

14 James Douie, The Panjab, North-West Frontier Province and Kashmir, Seema Publi- 
cations, Delhi, 1974 (reprint), 117. Douie also observed that the future of Sikhism was with 
the Keshdharis: ibid., 118. 


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adequately in civil services and in the new professions of teaching, 
medicine and law. However, there were also Khatris, Kalals, Tarkhans 
and Chuhras in the army; and there were Labanas, Nais, Jhiwars and 
Chhimbas too in the police. They were all represented in the pro- 
fessions of law, medicine and teaching. In 1921, there were nearly 
seventy factories owned or managed by Sikh Jats and thirty by Sikh 
Tarkhans. Several of the non-agriculturist groups owned or cultivated 
land. However, the largest bulk of land was still held by the traditional 
land-owning groups, just as the bulk of the trade and shopkeeping was 
still handled by the traditional business communities. In the pro- 
fessions of law, medicine and teaching, the Khatri, Arora and Brahman 
Sikhs found the largest representation, followed by the Jats. These 
were the groups which had played a conspicuous part in the politico- 
administrative and the socio-economic life of the Punjab during the 
early nineteenth century. In the early decades of the twentieth century 
they were back on the stage to participate in the growing resurgence in 
the Sikh community and to feel their way towards wealth and power. 


Religious ferment among the Sikhs was in evidence already at the time 
of the annexation of the Punjab to the British empire. Baba Dayal, a 
Malhotra Khatri of Rawalpindi, was asking his fellow Sikhs to believe 
in only the Formless One (nirankar), to reject all gods and goddesses, 
to discard all Brahmanical rites and ceremonies and to conform their 
lives to the teachings of the Granth Sahib. He came to have hundreds of 
followers before he died in 1853. His eldest son, Baba Darbara Singh, 
established many centres in towns and villages outside Rawalpindi, 
appointing his representative (biradar) for every local congregation 
(sangat). For their guidance he prepared a hukmnama containing the 
essential teachings of Baba Dayal. Though divine sanction is invoked 
for the mission of Baba Dayal in this hakmnama and he is referred to as 
‘the true guru,’ the doctrine of Guru-Granth is clearly enunciated.!> 
On his death in 1870, Baba Darbara Singh was succeeded by his 
younger brother, Sahib Rattaji. He consolidated the work of his 
predecessors by an uncompromising insistence on the Nirankari code 
(rehat). He transformed the mission at Rawalpindi into an impersonal 

‘5 An English version of this hxkmnama is given by John C. B. Webster in The Nirankari 
Sikhs, Macmillan, Delhi, 1979, 83-99. 


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institution in 1903, through a formal will which also reflects its 
prosperity. The Nirankaris were now counted in thousands, consisting 
of the Khatri, Arora and Bhatia traders, bankers and shopkeepers of 
the towns and villages of the upper Sindh Sagar Doab. Even there, 
however, some of them were turning to a new movement called the 
Singh Sabha.!¢ True to their advocacy of a peculiarly Sikh ceremony of 
marriage, the Nirankaris supported the Anand Marriage Bill in 1998— 
1909 but the initiative for the bill had come from the Singh Sabha 
reformers. Indeed, during the early twentieth century, under the 
guidance of Baba Gurdit Singh who succeeded his father Sahib Rattaji 
in 1909, the Nirankari participation in Sikh resurgence remained rather 
marginal. Geographically on the fringe, the Nirankaris could never 
hold the central position even doctrinally. They remained as much true 
to the mission of Baba Dayal as Baba Dayal was true to the mission of 
Guru Nanak. But that was not the whole of the Sikh tradition. They 
did not take Guru Gobind Singh fully into account, and they were 
bound to lag behind when the Singh identity was coming to the fore. 

The first reformer to emphasize the importance of Singh identity 
under colonial rule was Baba Ram Singh. He was a disciple of Baba 
Balak Singh, a Batra Arora, who too had invoked the authority of Sikh 
scriptures, emphasized the importance of the Name (nam) for sal- 
vation and addressed himself to both Sehajdhari and Keshdhari house- 
holders, from his centre at Hazro near Attock. A new direction was 
given to his namdhari movement by Baba Ram Singh who worked in 
the central districts of the Punjab, instituting the Sant Khalsa in 1862, 
the year of Baba Balak Singh’s death.'” 

By the middle of 1863, Baba Ram Singh was ordered by the British 
administrators not to move out of his native village Bhaini in Ludhiana 
district and not to hold a religious assembly (diwan). Baba Ram Singh 
subscribed to the doctrine of Guru-Granth but the mission of Guru 
Gobind Singh was more important in his eyes. His followers were 
administered the baptism of the double-edged sword (khande ki pauhl) 

16 Bhai Manna Singh, ‘a saintly Sikh and the most illustrious member of the Nirankari 
community, next to the Guru of this sect’, performed kirtan and katha for the founding of 
Singh Sabha at Gujar Khan. Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Autobiography (ed. Ganda Singh), 
Calcutta, 1965, 107-09. 

'7 There are references to the Sant Khalsa in the official records of the 1860s and Baba Ram 
Singh refers to its institution in 1862 in one of his letters. According to Bhagat Lakshman 
Singh, Baba Ram Singh was a disciple of Baba Balak Singh who was a disciple of Bhagat 
Jawahar Mal, a Kohli Khatri of Rawalpindi, and Baba Ram Singh was known to Jawahar Mal 
as well: Autobiography, 3-6. 


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and, since there was a legal ban on carrying a sword, they were asked to 
carry some other simple weapon or merely a staff. Like many of his 
contemporary Sikhs, Baba Ram Singh believed that Guru Gobind 
Singh had invoked the goddess Chandi when he instituted the Khalsa. 
Many of his followers believed in the veracity of the Sau Sakhi 
attributed to Guru Gobind Singh in which the end of British rule in the 
Punjab was foretold as a prelude to the establishment of Sikh rule 
under a carpenter named Ram Singh.!8 With the background of the 
uprising of 1857-1858, the activity of his followers appeared to be 
potentially dangerous. A circular letter of Baba Ram Singh, asking his 
followers to come to Amritsar at the time of the Diwali, convinced the 
British administrators that his internment at Bhaini could contain his 
increasing popularity. 

Within a few years of Baba Ram Singh’s internment, however, the 
number of his followers was estimated to have shot up to over 100,000. 
Organizational improvement was reflected in the ‘postal arrange- 
ments’ he evolved and the appointment of ‘provincial governors’ 
(stbas) he made to look after the Namdharis, now popularly known as 
Kukas.'® The millenarian hopes of his followers increased with the 
popularity of his ideology among the peasantry in the central districts 
of the Punjab. Invocation of the goddess Chandi, through chandi- 
paths, became an important ritual, giving a long leverage to the 
‘frenzied’ (mastana) among his followers. They expressed their icono- 
clastic zeal in the destruction of idols, tombs, marhis and samadhs. In 
1866-1867, a number of them were sentenced to an imprisonment of 
three months to two years in the districts of Ludhiana, Ferozepur, 
Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Gujranwala and Sialkot. 

One great resentment which Baba Ram Singh developed against the 
British was over the killing of kine for beef. The more irate among the 
Kiukas struck at the butchers in Amritsar first and then in Raikot in 
Ludhiana district, killing seven persons and wounding twelve. Eventu- 
ally, eight Kikas were sentenced to death. The Commissioner of 
Ambala Division now marshalled every known fact and plausible 

18 This prophecy, included in the Sax Sakhi, was known to the British administrators in 
1863: Nahar Singh (ed.), Gooroo Ram Singh and the Kuka Sikhs, Amrit Books, New Delhi, 
1965. This volume contains official documents from 1863 to 1871. 

19 In the reports of 1863, the followers of Baba Ram Singh are referred to as Kukas by 
some of the administrators. They had acquired this name because of their ecstatic cries 
(kaks) during the singing of hymns. Baba Ram Singh, who preferred to call them Namdharis 
or Sant Khalsa, was also aware that others referred to his followers as Kukas. 


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argument to convince the higher authorities that murders could not 
have taken place without Baba Ram Singh’s approval. In any case, Baba 
Ram Singh, according to the Commissioner, was oppposed to British 
rule in the Punjab and he was hoping if not actually working for the 
return of Sikh rule. While the suggestion of his removal from the 
Punjab was under consideration, a band of the Kuakas struck at Malaud 
and Malerkorla in January, 1872, in search of arms to overawe the 
kine-killers all over the Punjab. They killed ten and wounded seven- 
teen persons in the process of getting one double-barrelled gun, five 
horses and some swords. The Deputy Commissioner of Ludhiana, 
L. Cowan, acted with undue promptness to save the empire from what 
he felt was the beginning of a holocaust like the one of 1857-1858. He 
blew forty-nine Kukas from guns at the spot. The Commissioner of 
Ambala, T.W. Forsyth, put his stamp of approval on what his 
subordinate had done illegally: Forsyth ordered sixteen more Kikas to 
be blown from guns. Cowan was removed from service and Forsyth 
was removed from the Punjab. Baba Ram Singh and eleven of his sabas 
were sent to distant jails in or outside the subcontinent. 

The devotees of Baba Ram Singh established contact with him at 
Rangoon and letters began to exchange between Burma and the Punjab 
with increasing frequency till 1880 when he was removed to Mergui 
where he died five years later.2° His letters refer to the practice of 
Anand marriage among his followers. Subscribing emphatically to the 
doctrine of Guru-Granth, he refers to himself as the Guru’s drummer, 
his reporteur, a dog sitting at his door. But he was aware of the 
prophecies which implied that he was the twelfth Guru. He came to 
pay more and more attention to prophetic literature attributed to Guru 
Gobind Singh: the Sau Sakhi, the Prem Sumarg and a Pothi discovered 
at Prahladpur in the Hissar district. He was convinced of the impend- 
ing fall of British rule through a political upheaval between 1877 and 
1883. In this context he emphasized the importance of chandi-path and 
the bhogs of Guru Granth Sahib and asked his followers not to join the 
service of the British. 

In the context of the prophecies of political turmoil, there was a 
certain degree of excitement among the Kukas in the Punjab due to the 
worsening relations of the British with Afghanistan and Russia. The 
Police Superintendent of Ludhiana observed in 1878 that in the case of 

20 About sixty letters of Baba Ram Singh are published by Ganda Singh in his Kakian di 
Vithya (Pbi), Amritsar, 1944. 


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a reverse to British arms the Kikas were sure ‘to show their teeth’ and 
to get support from a large portion of ‘ignorant agriculturists’. 
However, the expected turmoil did not take place and the Kika unrest 
gradually merged into the issue raised by the expected return of 
Maharaja Dalip Singh to India. In 1885 they were eagerly looking 
forward to Dalip Singhs’s visit to the Punjab, hoping that ‘this would 
be followed by the release and the return of their exiled Guru Ram 
Singh’.2! In the late 1880s the Kukas were potentially his most 
important supporters. Uneasy excitement among them began to 
subside, however, when the Maharaja returned to his loyalty to the 
Queen Empress in 1890. In the census of 1891 only about 10,500 
persons returned themselves as Namdhiris. They were now guided by 
Baba Ram Singh’s younger brother, Baba Hari Singh, who had taken 
his place at Bhaini after his deportation in 1872. On Baba Hari Singh’s 
death in 1906, the leadership of the Namdharis devolved upon his son, 
Mahraj Pratap Singh, who led them into free India as a sect within 

Before the end of the nineteenth century the Namdharis had dis- 
carded militancy and stuck to the ideals of personal piety and earnest 
living. They retained the idea and practice of ‘intoxication’. They 
developed the idea of a living gur#. They could not be the precursors of 
the movement known as the Singh Sabha which was characterized by 
serious interest in modern education, including science and English 
literature, and in the politics of numbers, municipalities, councils and 
legislatures. The Namdhari idea of a living personal guru could not be 
reconciled to the doctrines of Guru-Granth and Guru-Panth which 
were reinforced by the Singh Sabha reformers with an uncompromis- 

ing zeal. 


The Sri Guru Singh Sabha of Amritsar was founded in 1873 and 
followed by the Lahore Singh Sabha in 1879. Then for twenty years, six 
Singh Sabhas on the average were added every year. At the end of the 
First World War there were Singh Sabhas in nearly all the cities of the 
Punjab, in most of its towns and some of its villages. Nearly all these 
associations had formal constitutions. Each Singh Sabha catered to a 

21 Ganda Singh (ed.), Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence, Punjabi University, 
Patiala, 1977, 387~88. 


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small area in practice but in theory regarded itself as the representative 
of the whole community. A new consciousness of common identity 
was imparted by common concerns and a kindred outlook on the 
world around in spite of rivalries due to differences in the social 
background of the leaders, their image of the past or their vision of the 

The need for coordination brought into existence the Khalsa Diwan 
at Amritsar in 1893 and the Khalsa Diwan at Lahore in 1896. Khalsa 
Diwans were founded in a few other cities and towns as well. The Chief 
Khalsa Diwan, founded at Amritsar in 1902, had about thirty Sabhas 
and Diwans affiliated to it. By 1920, the number of associations 
affiliated to the Chief Khalsa Diwan was more than a hundred. 
Between 1890 and 1910, about a dozen allied or ancillary associations 
were founded, like the Gurmat Granth Pracharak Sabha of Amritsar, 
Gurmat Granth Sudharak Sabha of Amritsar, Gurmat Granth Sudha- 
rak Sabha of Lahore, Khalsa Dharam Pracharak Sabha of Rawalpindi, 
the Khalsa Tract Society, the Central Khalsa Orphanage, the Sikh 
Education Conference, and the Punjab and Sind Bank. The leaders of 
the Sikh associations came from all sections of the Sikh community in 
varying proportions from place to place. The ruling families were 
represented by the Princes of Nabha, Faridkot and Kapurthala. The 
aristocracy was represented by men like Sunder Singh Majithia and 
Harbans Singh Atariwala. The new middle class was represented by 
teachers like Gurmukh Singh and Bhai Jodh Singh, petty bureaucrats 
like Bhai Jawahar Singh and Babu Teja Singh, businessmen like 
Trilochan Singh, scholars like Giani Gian Singh and Bhai Kahn Singh, 
writers like Bhai Vir Singh and Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid and publicists 
like Bhai Dit Singh Giani. 

Whatever the differences between one Sabha or Diwan and another, 
they were all concerned with religious reform. They felt a threat from 
Christian missionaries who continued to gain converts from amongst 
the Sikhs, besides the conspicuous conversion of Maharaja Dalip Singh 
and Kanwar Harnam Singh Ahluwalia in the early decades of British 
rule. Fear of conversion to Christianity was articulated in Sikh 
publications even in the early twentieth century. There were stray 
conversions to Islam as well. But more than the threat of Islam and 
Christianity, the Singh reformers felt a threat from the Arya Samaj. 
Despite Swami Dayanand’s dim view of Sikhism in the Satyarth 
Prakash, several eminent Sikhs had joined the Arya Samaj, but a 


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decisive break came in 1888 when the Arya ‘fire-brands’ mounted a 
‘thoughtless attack’ on the Sikh Gurus.?? Bhai Jawahar Singh and Bhai 
Dit Singh Giani felt obliged to leave the Arya Samaj leaders of Lahore 
and to join the Singh Sabha reformers. 

The Sikh-Arya confrontation sharpened the issue of Sikh identity. 
The Sikh leaders in their farewell address to the Governor General in 
1888 at Lahore expressed the view that the Sikhs should not be 
‘confounded with Hindus but treated in all respects as a separate 
community’.23 The death of Dyal Singh Majithia in 1898 made the 
question of Sikh identity a legal issue because his widow went to the 
court to contest his will on the plea that he was not a Hindu. But the 
court ruled that he was. This gave new impetus to the Sikh—Arya 
debate. In this context Bhai Kahn Singh published his well-known 
work Ham Hindu Nahin which is regarded now as a classic exposition 
of a distinct Sikh identity. Bhagat Lakshman Singh refuted Bawa 
Chajju Singh’s contention that the Sikh Gurus were ‘only Hindu 
reformers’, or that the Sikh scriptures were ‘only mutilated copies’ of 
Hindu works. For Lakshman Singh, ‘the Sikh dispensation was an 
independent entity and not a subsidiary system, based on Hindu 
philosophy’.2+ In 1900, the Arya Samaj leaders reconverted some 
Rehatia Sikhs through a ceremony involving the shaving of their 
heads in public. The Singh reformers evolved their own programme of 
purification (shuddhi) and their confrontation with the Aryas con- 
tinued into the twentieth century. 

On several vital issues the Singh reformers had to contend not only 
with outsiders but also with their fellow Sikhs. If some Sehajdharis 
insisted that they were Sikh and not Hindu, some Keshdharis insisted 
that they were Hindu. Baba Gurbakhsh Singh Bedi, son of Baba Sir 
Khem Singh Bedi, made a public statement in 1910 that the Sikhs were 
Hindus. Bhai Avtar Singh, a protégé of Baba Sir Khem Singh Bedi, 
maintained in a couple of tracts published a year later, that the Sikh 
Gurus had worshipped gods and goddesses, accepted no Muslims as 
their followers and maintained the distinctions of caste. A conservative 
interpretation of Sikhism was built into the commentary of Sant Badan 
Singh on the Adi Granth, sponsored by the ruling chief of Faridkot and 
published in 1905. The Singh reformers did not appreciate this 

22 Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Autobiography, 58. 

23 ‘Bhai Jawahar Singh - Arya Samaj Singh Sabha’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 7, 
Part 1 (April 1973), 92. 

24 Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Axtobiography, 132-33. 


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‘Hinduized’ commentary and supported the religious views expressed 
by Bhai Kahn Singh in his Gurmat Prabhakar and Gurmat Sudhakar, 
both of which were published around 1900. A similar preference was 
shown by the Singh reformers for M.A. Macauliffe’s Sikh Religion, 
published in 1909, over Ernest Trumpp’s Adi Granth published three 
decades earlier. 

The volume of tracts and pamphlets expressing the social and 
religious concerns of the Singh reformers increased sharply in the early 
decades of the twentieth century. Apart from the general appeals for 
return to the teachings of the Gurus, there were arguments against idol 
worship, observance of fasts, notion of auspicious and inauspicious 
days, the practice of shradhs, the celebration of Holi and other ‘Hindu’ 
elements of belief and ritual. For ‘Sikh’ ceremonies and rites, a 
comprehensive code was published by the Chief Khalsa Diwan in 1915 
as the Gurmat Parkash Bhag Sanskar. The authenticity of the Dasam 
Granth was questioned because its contents appeared to compromise 
the ideal of monotheism. The idea of Guru-Panth became stronger 
with the increasing importance of Singh identity. In a tract published in 
1919, it was argued that no human being could be the Guru of the Sikhs 
after Guru Gobind Singh decided to vest Guruship in the Adi Granth. 
The Sikhs were ‘to view themselves as the Panth and not to recognize 
any single person as their sole leader’. The idea of Guru-Panth was 
emerging as clearly as the equation of the Guru with the Adi Granth.*° 

Interest in the past was a reflection of the concern for the present. 
Giani Gian Singh led the way by publishing his Panth Parkash in 1880, 
followed by his Tawarikh-i-Guru Khalsa in 1892. A number of books 
in Punjabi were published on the lives of the Sikh Gurus, the 
institution of the Khalsa, and the political struggle of the Sikhs against 
the Mughals and the Afghans. Bhai Vir Singh, by far the most 
important literary figure among the Singh reformers, recreated the 
heroic age of the Khalsa in his Sundari, Byai Singh, Satwant Kaur and 
Baba Naudh Singh, producing historical fiction far more attractive 
than history. The creative literature produced by the Sikh writers of the 
early twentieth century also reflected concern for reform.?6 

25 The entries in N. Gerald Barrier’s The Sikhs and Their Literature, Manohar Book 
Service, Delhi, 1970, contain ample evidence of the concerns, ideas and attitudes of the Sikhs 
in the early decades of the twentieth century. 

26 J. S. Grewal, ‘The Emergence of Punjabi Drama: A Cultural Response to Colonial 
Rule’, Journal of Regional History, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Vol. 5 (1984), 



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(20th Century) 


Chamba L Na 
7X Lahaul S 

S; \ em YD 
aaa) Spiti G a 

NN, 7 7. . 
J shang 7 Lyalipur 
? / 


. > —S Karnal 

"2 = UNITED 


Map 6 The British Punjab 

The Singh reformers welcomed English education and appreciated 
western science and technology but they did not like the idea of 
Christian instruction in missionary schools and no religious instruc- 
tion in government institutions. They were keen to teach Sikh tenets 
and Sikh history to their boys and girls as well as western science and 
literature. This Anglo-Sikh system of education was an important 
plank of reform. The proposal for a Khalsa College at Lahore was 
made as early as 1885. In 1890, there was a hot debate about its 
location.?” The foundation stone of Khalsa College was eventually laid 
at Amritsar in March, 1892, and the College soon became the premier 
educational institution of the Sikhs. Equally symbolic of the Singh 
reform was the Kanya Maha Vidyalaya founded at Ferozpore by Bhai 
Takht Singh in 1892, and run without any grant from the government 
and without any tuition fees from the girls. It was followed by girls’ 

27 Some of the Arya Samaj leaders were not happy about the establishment of a Khalsa 
College at Lahore: Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Axtobiography, 90-93. 


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schools at Lahore, Amritsar, Rawalpindi and Ropar. High Schools 
were established not only in cities but also in small towns like 
Damdama Sahib and new towns like Lyallpur. A college was estab- 
lished at Gujranwala before 1920 when the number of Sikh educational 
institutions was more than three scores. 

Like the Brahmos and the Arya Samajists, the Singh reformers were 
opposed to Urdu as the medium of education and administration. 
Unlike them, however, they supported Punjabi in Gurmukhi script 
rather than Hindi in Devanagri script. They argued strongly that 
school education should be based on ‘the language of the people’.28 
The traditional Punjabi literature was still dear to Muslim and Hindu 
writers but the number of Hindu and Muslim writers taking to the new 
literary genres in Punjabi was rather small. The Singh reformers 
espoused the cause of new Punjabi literature. In their minds, Punjabi 
language and literature were inseparable from the Gurmukhi script in 
which were written their sacred scriptures.2? In the opening decade of 
the twentieth century, the Singh reformers and the Arya Samajists were 
fighting over the linguistic issue as well as the issue of religious 
identity. Differences in language and script came to be progressively 
associated with differences in religion, deepening communal 
consciousness and its appeal. 

Like most of the educated Punjabis, the Singh reformers tried to 
promote their interests through journalism. The average number of 
tracts by the Sikhs and on the Sikhs increased from about sixty a year in 
the 1870s to about 160 a year in the late 1890s. Compared with the 
‘Hindu’ press, however, the ‘Sikh’ press was rather weak. The most 
important Sikh publications were the Gurmukhi Akhbar and the 
Khalsa Akhbar in Punjabi and The Khalsa in English, which were 
brought out from Lahore. The Nirguniara and the Khalsa Samachar in 
Punjabi and the Khalsa Advocate in English were brought out from 

In the early twentieth century, the viewpoint of the Singh reformers 
was consistently represented by the Khalsa Samachar. Apart from an 
attempt in its numbers to counter the propaganda of Christian 
missionaries, the Arya Samajists and the Ahmadiyas, there is an 
insistence on the separate socio-religious identity of the Sikhs, an 

28 Note 23, above. 
29 As an example of contemporary attitudes towards languages and scripts, Bhagat 

Lakshman Singh, Autobiography, 110-13. 


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emphasis on the study of Sikh religious literature and Sikh history, an 
increasing criticism of Udasis, pujaris and mahants, argument for the 
good treatment of the Ramdasia and the Rehatia Sikhs, and an advo- 
cacy of the education of women. There are pleas for the use of 
Punjabi in Gurmukhi script at least up to primary level in education, 
in courts, in post offices and in railway carriages. There is advocacy of 
the Anand marriage. There is criticism of the management of gurd- 
waras and there is the argument that they should be handed over to 
committees of Singhs because they belong to the Panth. There is a 
general expression of loyalty to the British Government with pleas 
for separate representation for the Sikhs in municipalities, local 
boards, the provincial council and the imperial legislature. The domi- 
nantly religious concerns of the late nineteenth century were thus 
spilling over into the political concerns of the early twentieth cen- 



The British intelligence officer David Petrie thought of the neo-Sikhs 
in 1911 as the source of disaffection among the Sikhs. These neo- 
Sikhs were equated by him with the tat-khalsa or the Singh 
reformers. The activities even of the Chief Khalsa Diwan and its 
leading light, Sunder Singh Majithia, appeared to him to be 
potentially subversive. In any case, he saw a political dimension in the 
programme of shuddhi because representation, and consequently 
power, was expected to flow from numerical strength. Furthermore, 
he disliked loose talk among the Singh reformers about the fallen 
estate of the Sikhs because it carried the implication that it was due to 
their loss of power. Their wretched condition under the Mughals was 
obliquely suggestive of their miserable plight under the British. 
Finally the past was invoked to carry implications for the present; 
what the sword of Guru Gobind Singh did to the empire of Aurang- 
zeb, the might of the Khalsa could do now to the British empire. 
Seditious ideas were expressed through quotations from the Sikh 
scriptures: ‘the brave is he who fights in the cause of religion; the 
rulers are lions and muqaddams are dogs; the times are a dagger and 

30 Joginder Singh, ‘Resurgence in Sikh Journalism’, Journal of Regional History, Vol. 3 
(1982), 99-116; Satpal Kaur, ‘Journalism in the Punjab and the Khalsa Samachar (1899- 
1919)’, M. Phil. Dissertation, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1985. 


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the rulers are butchers’. Petrie was inclined to attribute this new mood 
to the increasing number and influence of the Singh reformers.3! 

There is no doubt that one of the professed objectives of the Chief 
Khalsa Diwan was to safeguard ‘the political rights’ of the Sikhs. 
However, their idea was to make representations to gain constitutional 
positions or advantages from the British. In the late nineteenth 
century, some of the Sikh leaders had worked with the Lahore Indian 
Association and the Indian National Congress. The most eminent 
among them was Dyal Singh Majithia who was closely associated with 
the activities of the Brahmo Samajists and left behind the legacy of a 
college, a library and The Tribune. Before the end of the nineteenth 
century, however, he had come to be looked upon as an apostate by a 
large number of Sikhs who did not like even to cast their eyes on him.32 
Those of the Singh reformers who wanted to retain their image of 
loyalty to the British did not appreciate Dyal Singh’s politics either. In 
any case, Bhai Jawahar Singh was telling the Sikhs not to associate 
themselves with the Congress which was looked upon by the British 
administrators with suspicion if not hostility. 

Only some members of the ruling and aristocratic families were 
representing the Sikhs on councils and legislatures, like the Maharaja of 
Patiala, the Yuvraj of Nabha, Kanwar Harnam Singh Ahluwalia, Sir 
Ranbir Singh, Baba Sir Khem Singh Bedi and Sunder Singh Majithia. 
However they did not remain unaffected by the concerns of the Singh 
reformers. The Anand Marriage Bill was proposed by Yuvraj Ripuda- 
man Singh and introduced in the Imperial Council in October 1908. It 
was meant to give legal recognition to the Sikh ceremony of marriage. 
Not only the Arya Samajists but also many Sikhs were opposed to the 
Bill, including the granthis of the Golden Temple. The Anand 
marriage was regarded as an innovation of the Singh reformers by the 
opponents of the Bill. Hundreds of communications were sent for and 
against the Bill. The Nirankaris and the Namdharis wrote to the 
government in its support. The support of the Nirankaris, who were 
basically Sehajdharis, proved to be rather crucial in a tussle between the 
conservative Sikhs and the Singh reformers. The Bill was eventually 
passed in October 1909, when Sunder Singh Majithia was a member of 

the Council. 

31 D. Petrie, ‘Recent Developments in Sikh Politics’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 4, 
Part 2 (October 1970), 302-79. This comprehensive report was compiled in August, 1911. 
32 Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Autobiography, 128-29. 


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If the Anand Marriage Act was a triumph for the Singh reformers, 
the Act of 1909 proved to be a disappointment. The Provincial Council 
was enlarged with the provision for eight of its members to be elected. 
For nearly a decade, only one Sikh was elected. The Sikhs could find 
representation only through nominated members like Partap Singh 
Ahluwalia, Daljit Singh of Kapurthala, Baba Gurbakhsh Singh Bedi, 
Sunder Singh Majithia and Gajjan Singh Grewal. The Singh reformers 
felt more and more convinced that the Sikhs needed separate elector- 
ates like the Muslims. Soon after the Lucknow Pact, Sunder Singh 
Majithia wrote to the Lieutenant Governor that the Sikhs should be 
given a share in the councils and administration with due regard to 
their importance, their status before the annexation of the Punjab, their 
present stake in the country and their services to the British empire. 
Asking for a share in excess of the proportion of the Sikh population in 
the province, Sunder Singh Majithia had in mind the Lucknow Pact 
which gave such weightage to Muslims in the provinces where they 
were in the minority. 

A Sikh deputation met Chelmsford, the Governor General, in 
November, 1917, to plead for separate electorates and weightage for 
the Sikhs on the basis of their ‘unique position’.>3 In the Montford 
Report it was noted that the Sikhs had remained unrepresented in spite 
of their services to the empire. ‘To the Sikhs, therefore, and to them 
alone, we propose to extend the system already adopted in the case of 
Muhammadans.’34 In September 1918, representatives of the entire 
Sikh community prepared a memorandum on the initiative of the Chief 
Khalsa Diwan to impress upon the government that the principle 
conceded in the Montford Report should be ‘carried out and fulfilled in 
the fullest measure and in all its consequences’. However, the proposal 
of 30 per cent share for the Sikhs in the provincial council was not 
acceptable to its Hindu and Muslim members. On a strong rec- 
ommendation from the Punjab government, nonetheless, the Fran- 
chise Committee conceded ‘a separate electoral role and separate 
constituencies for the Sikhs’. In terms of weightage, however, the Sikhs 
got merely half of what they had demanded, ten out of fifty eight seats 
and not 30 per cent. 

Sikh politics was not confined to constitutional politics. During 

33 Ruchi Ram Sahni, Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines (ed. Ganda Singh), SGPC, 
Amnrtsar, nd, 45-46. 
34 [bid., 46-47. 


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the unrest of 1907, Denzil Ibbetson had observed with some 
concern that ‘if the loyalty of the Jat Sikhs of the Punjab is ever 
materially shaken, the danger will be greater than any which could 
possibly arise in Bengal’.*> The leader of the agitation, Ajit Singh, 
was paying special attention to the Sikhs, including soldiers and 
pensioners. The Sikh peasants did participate in the agitation more 
than the Muslim or Hindu peasants in proportion to their 

David Petrie had looked upon Sikh participation in the agitation of 
1907 as an example of their disaffection. But the Singh reformers had 
little to do with that agitation. As if to bear him out, they felt much 
exercised when in 1913 the outer wall of the Rakabganj Gurdwara in 
Delhi was dismantled to construct a road through its estate to the 
Viceregal Lodge. When the Sikhs came to know of the demolition of 
the wall, they sent telegrams, petitions and memoranda to the 
Viceroy, the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, the Commander-in- 
Chief and the Commissioner of Delhi. The Sikh Review was 
launched in Delhi, with Sardul Singh Caveeshar as its editor, to 
inform Sikh opinion on Sikh interests. However, Sunder Singh Maji- 
thia and the Chief Khalsa Diwan tried to support and to accommo- 
date the government. In the Sikh Education Conference held at 
Jalandhar in April 1914, a Sikh leader from Lyallpur was not allowed 
to raise the Rakabganj issue. In a meeting held at Amritsar, Sunder 
Singh Majithia and his associates tried to support the official 
viewpoint. Protest meetings were held in several places as much 
against the Chief Khalsa Diwan as against the government. The 
Rakabgany agitation was beginning to gain momentum when the war 
broke out in September. The agitation was shelved but only to be 
taken up after the war.3¢ In 1912 David Petrie had ‘sufficient evidence 
available to prove that a spirit of anti-British disaffection is com- 
monly prevalent among the Sikhs in Canada’. Indeed the executive 
committee of the Sikh Temple at Vancouver had resolved in October, 
1909, that none of its members should wear ‘any kind of medal, 
buttons, uniforms or insignia which may signify that the position of 
the party wearing the article is nothing but of a slave to the British 

35 ‘Sir Denzil Ibbetson’s Report on Political Situation in Punjab (1907)’, K.K. Khullar, 

Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Hem Publishers, New Delhi, 1981, 98-110. This report was written 

on 30 April 1907. 
36 Harjot Singh, ‘From Gurdwara Rakabganj to the Viceregal Palace - A Study of 
Religious Protest’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 14, Part 1 (April 1980), 182-98. 


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supremacy’.>” The resentment which thousands of Indians felt against 
the blind racial prejudice of their white neighbours was transferred to 
the colonial rulers of India. In a meeting of the United India League 
and the Khalsa Diwan Society held in February, 1913, it was decided to 
send a delegation to the Colonial Secretary and the Governor General 
of India to present the case of Indian emigrants against the legal 
disabilities and statutory discrimination they were suffering at the 
hands of the states and the federal government in Canada. This 
delegation was well received by the press in the Punjab, but the 
Lieutenant Governor merely warned its members against inflamma- 
tory speeches; Lord Hardinge expressed his inability to help them, and 
the Colonial Secretary in London refused to meet them. 

Before the delegation returned to Canada, a new organization called 
the Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast, had been founded. It was 
given the popular name of Ghadar Party by Har Dayal in the very first 
issue of its weekly, the Ghadar. The Urdu and Gurmukhi editions of 
the Ghadar began to circulate among the Indian settlers in three 
continents. This propaganda had gone on for about six months when in 
May 1914 the Japanese steamer Komagata Maru reached Vancouver 
with 376 emigrants. Their entry into Canada became a legal issue in 
which the validity of the new laws was upheld and their efficacy was 
reflected in the return of the Komagata Maru in July with the bulk of 
its passengers. The steamer was on the high seas when the war broke 
out. None of its passengers was allowed to disembark before it reached 
Calcutta. There, at Budge Budge, the passengers refused to be sent 
straight to the Punjab and eighteen of them were killed when the 
troops opened fire. The first batch of the Ghadarites had already left 
America. The Komagata Maru affair appeared to merge into the 
revolutionary programme of the Ghadar Party. 

Batches of Ghadarites started coming to India from Canada, the 
United States, Hong Kong and Shanghai, including their president 
Sohan Singh Bhakna. The Indian government was much better 
informed about their intentions and movements than they ever 
imagined. Even their entry through the southern ports did not save 
them all from the British dragnet. Of over 3,000 returning emigrants 
who were handled by the police at Calcutta and Ludhiana, nearly 190 
were interned and more than 700 were restricted to their villages. 

37 Harish K. Puri, Ghadar Movement: Ideology, Organisation and Strategy, Guru Nanak 
Dev University, Amritsar, 1983, 46. 


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Those of the revolutionaries who escaped the police started telling the 
people openly to rise against the British. They addressed the Sikh 
gatherings at Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Muktsar and Nankana Sahib, with 
mixed response from their audiences. If Randhir Singh Grewal, who 
had earlier participated in the Rakabganj Gurdwara agitation joined 
the Ghadarites, Gajjan Singh Grewal condemned their seditious ideas 
and passed their propaganda material on to the police. The leaders of 
the Chief Khalsa Diwan looked upon them as dupes, and regarded 
their activity as discreditable. The Zaildars and Lambardars in the 
villages were ready to inform the police against the revolutionaries. 
Their activities during 1914 were confined to a few robberies, an attack 
on a railway station and an unsuccessful attempt at looting a treasury. 
Disillusioned with the people, the revolutionaries turned to the army 
units in the beginning of 1915. 

Rash Bihari Bose and a few other revolutionary leaders, the only 
category of political activists who had any sympathy for the Ghadarite 
cause, arrived at this juncture. The revolutionaries were able to contact 
a number of regiments, particularly the 23rd Cavalry at Lahore, the 
28th Punjabis at Ferozepur, the 28th Pioneers and the 12th Cavalry at 
Meerut. They were optimistic about their response. February 21 was 
fixed as the date of general rising, advanced to February 19 in view of 
suspected leakage. This date too was known to the authorities. The 
disaffected regiments were disarmed; suspects were court martialled 
and executed. The attempt of the revolutionaries to capture arms from 
the arsenals at Lahore and Ferozepur and the police station at Sarhali in 
Amritsar district proved abortive. The revolutionaries blamed the 
informers and the loyalist supporters of the administration for this 
fiasco and killed a few of them. By about the middle of 1915 the hope of 
a popular rising was over. All that was now left of the ghadar was a 
series of conspiracy trials in which forty-two of the accused were 
sentenced to death, 114 were transported for life and ninety-three were 
given long or short terms of imprisonment. A few of them left a legend 
behind, like the young Kartar Singh Sarabha who had gone about 
seducing the soldiers with astounding audacity and faced the trial with 
cool courage, ready to lay down his life in ‘the struggle for India’s 
freedom’ .38 

Like the Punjabi labourers repatriated in 1914 and 1915, the Ghada- 

38 [bid., 161; ‘Sarabha, Kartar Singh’, Dictionary of National Biography (ed. S.P. Sen), 
Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta, 1974. 


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rites who returned to the Punjab to fight for the freedom of the country 
belonged overwhelmingly to the central Punjab, and they were over- 
whelmingly Sikh. Some of their leaders recalled later that they had been 
inspired by the novels of Bhai Vir Singh and the Panth Prakash of 
Giani Gian Singh to live or die heroically. The non-Sikh revolutionary 
leaders made an important contribution in terms of the goal and the 
direction. In the process, the rank and file of the Ghadarites as well as 
their Sikh leaders acquired a genuinely ‘national’ outlook. Their source 
of inspiration, however, remained almost exclusively Sikh. Appeal to 
their religious sentiment was made in many an article or a poem in the 
Ghadar, though for a secular end. It was implied that love, whether of 
God or the country, demanded sacrifice. To fight against tyranny of 
this kind was presented as the duty of a true Sikh. To take up the sword 
as a last resort was an injunction of Guru Gobind Singh. The memory 
of Sikh heroes and martyrs was evoked. The Sikh heritage of struggle 
was presented in terms of a struggle for liberation, substituting the 
Khalsa Panth by the country. Not indifference to faith but secular 
interpretation of the heritage came to divide them from the Singh 
reformers of the Punjab. 


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The phase of about three decades from the end of the First World War 
to the Act of Independence in 1947 was marked by intense political 
activity appearing first in the form of the Act of 1935 and then in the 
form of independence and partition. However, the struggle for 
freedom was not always constitutional; it was also agitational, and even 
militant. The Sikhs participated in the struggle for freedom in all its 



In a general meeting of the Sikh leaders at Lahore in March, 1919, anew 
political party known as the Central Sikh League was announced, and 
it was formally inaugurated at Amritsar in the last week of December. 
The immediate and long-term objectives of the new party were put 
forth in the first issue of its organ, the Akali: to rebuild the demolished 
wall of the Rakabganj Gurdwara, to bring the Khalsa College at 
Amritsar under the control of the representatives of the Sikh commu- 
nity, to liberate gurdwaras from the control of the mahants, and to 
inspire the Sikhs to participate in the struggle for the country’s 

The Rakabganj issue was taken up by the Central Sikh League when 
a few of the prominent individuals who had participated in the 
agitation of 1914 approached Sardul Singh Caveeshar at Lahore to 
revive the agitation. Caveeshar issued an appeal in the Akali of 
September 2, 1920: “Wanted 100 martyrs to save gurdwaras’. Within a 
fortnight, he received 700 offers. The method and the mood had 
changed. Before the band of martyrs (shahidi jatha) led by Sardul Singh 
reached Delhi to construct the demolished wall, the government had 
reconstructed the wall at its own expense and handed over the 
Gurdwara to the Khalsa Diwan of Delhi. 

1 Harjot Singh, ‘From Gurdwara Rakabganj to the Viceregal Palace — A Study of Religious 
Protest’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 14, Part 1 (April 1980), 182-98. The Akali was 
the new name given in May 1920, to the Khalsa Akhbar, a weekly published by Harchand 

Singh of Lyallpur. 


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The control of the Khalsa College at Amritsar was restored to the 
representatives of the Sikhs in November, 1920. The Central Sikh 
League in its second annual session at Lahore on 20 October 1920, had 
resolved to support the non-cooperation movement. The teachers and 
students of the Khalsa College demanded that the College should 
refuse grant-in-aid from the government. The management of the 
College since 1908 had been entrusted to the Deputy Commissioner of 
Amritsar ostensibly on financial but intrinsically on political grounds. 
When the College Council passed a resolution on October 31 against 
receiving any grant from the government, no basis was left for 
government control over the management of the College. Sunder Singh 
Majithia became President of the Managing Committee in place of the 
Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar.2 

This development was overshadowed by what was happening at the 
Golden Temple. The Central Sikh League had demanded that ‘this 
foremost seat of Sikh faith should be placed in the hands of a 
representative body of the Sikhs, constituted on an elective basis and 
responsible for its action to the Panth at large’? In the month of 
October, the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht were taken over by 
the Singh reformers and placed under the management of a committee. 
The government appointed another committee consisting of thirty-six 
members, mostly from the Sikh aristocracy. The leaders of the Central 
Sikh League called a general meeting of the Sikhs in November. It was 
attended by more than 10,000 Sikhs who elected 175 members to form 
a managing committee for all Sikh gurdwaras. The comprehensive 
scope of its authority was implied in the name chosen for this 
committee: Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. It became 
responsible for launching a movement for liberating all gurdwaras 
from their custodians on behalf of the Sikh Panth. In this self-assigned 
task the Shiromani Committee was assisted by the Shiromani Akali 
Dal, formed at Amritsar in December, 1920, to coordinate the local 
bands of volunteers known as Akali Jathas. Thus, within one year of 
the inauguration of the Central Sikh League, its concerns resulted in 
the formation of two organizations which were to play a vital role in 
the history of the Sikhs after 1920. 

2 Kashmir Singh, ‘Managing Committee of Khalsa College Amritsar: Its Relations with 
British Government’, Proceedings Punjab History Conference, Punjabi University, Patiala, 
1983, 221-24. 

3 Quoted, Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement, Macmillan, Delhi, 1978, 21. 


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With the direct and indirect support of the Central Sikh League and the 
Indian National Congress, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak 
Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal started what a contemporary 
called ‘the third Sikh war’, a non-violent struggle against the govern- 
ment for the control of gurdwaras. On 25 January 1921, a band of 
about forty Akalis took over the Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran from its 
mahants but not before two Akalis were killed and several of them 
were wounded by the henchmen employed by the mahants. In fact, a 
local jatha had been beaten up only a fortnight earlier. The mahants 
were ejected now and a managing committee was appointed by the 
Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. 

The British administrators did not like the gurdwaras to pass under 
the control of managing committees appointed by the Shiromani 
Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee on behalf of the Sikh Panth. Their 
earlier posture that the control of a gurdwara could be contested in a 
court of law was of little use to the mahants against the direct action 
launched by the Akalis. When the mahant of Nankana Sahib, Narain 
Das, approached the administrators for advice and support against the 
Akali threat of direct action, he was encouraged to make his own 
arrangements to meet the threat. Consequently when over a hundred 
Sikhs entered the Gurdwara at Nankana Sahib on 20 February 1921, 
without any intention yet of taking it over, they were attacked by the 
hired assassins of Mahant Narain Das. Most of them were killed or 
wounded, and burnt at the spot. The Akalis reached Nankana Sahib in 
thousands. The authorities arrested Mahant Narain Das and over a 
score of his hired assassins. On 3 March 1921, the Gurdwara was 
handed over to a committee, with Harbans Singh Atariwala as its 

In May, 1921, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee 
passed a resolution in support of non-cooperation. It was clear that the 
Singh reformers had thrown in their lot with Mahatma Gandhi. The 
British administrators felt obliged to revise their policy of acquiescing 
in the increasing control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak 
Committee over the gurdwaras. In October, 1921, the executive of the 
Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee asked its secretary, 

* Nankana Sahib was visited in the first week of March by Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana 
Shaukat Ali, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew and Lajpat Rai, among others. 


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Sunder Singh Ramgarhia, who was also the officially appointed 
manager of the Golden Temple, to hand over the bunch of its fifty- 
three keys to Baba Kharak Singh, the President of the Shiromani 
Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Sunder Singh Ramgarhia sought 
the advice of the Deputy Commissioner who deputed his subordinate 
Lala Amar Nath to collect the keys from Sunder Singh Ramgarhia. The 
Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee decided to hold protest 
meetings against this interference. The Akali protesters were arrested 
and awarded punishments. However, the number of protest meetings, 
arrests and punishments went on increasing till 17 January 1922, when 
all the Akali workers and leaders were released unconditionally and the 
keys of the Golden Temple were handed over to Baba Kharak Singh. 
The ‘first decisive battle for India’s freedom won’ was the telegraphic 
message sent by Mahatma Gandhi to Baba Kharak Singh.5 

The keys were delivered to the Shiromani Committee as a politic 
measure in view of the large proportion of the Sikhs in the army, a large 
number of disbanded Sikh soldiers, an unprecedented Hindu—Muslim 
solidarity on the Khilafat issue and the threat of an intensive civil 
disobedience at the beginning of 1922.6 After the middle of the year, 
however, the situation appeared to have changed and the British 
administrators were inclined to humble the Akalis who, for their part, 
were feeling that Swaraj was the only remedy of all their troubles.’ 

The Mahant of the Gurdwara Guru Ka Bagh, near Ajnala in the 
Amritsar district, who had submitted to the Shiromani Committee 
nearly a year earlier was encouraged by the administrators to treat the 
Akalis as trespassers. The Akalis accepted the challenge and launched a 
morcha which became the most famous in the Akali struggle for the 
control of gurdwaras. On 9 August 1922, five Akalis who had chopped 
wood from the land adjoining the Gurdwara for the community 
kitchen (/angar) were arrested and put on trial for theft. By August 25, 
the number of Akalis arrested rose to over 200. Pickets were placed on 
the road to Guru Ka Bagh and the gathering at the Bagh was declared to 
be an unlawful assembly. Akali volunteers continued to reach Amritsar 

5 Ganda Singh (ed.), Some Confidential Papers of the Akali Movement, SGPC, Amritsar, 
1965, Il. 

6 John Maynard, ‘The Sikh Problem in the Punjab, 1920-23’, The Punjab Past and 
Present, Vol. 11, Part 1 (April 1977), 129-41. This article was originally published in the 

Contemporary Review in September, 1923. 
7 Sardul Singh Caveeshar, ‘The Akali Movement’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 7, 

Part 1 (April 1973), 136. 


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and bands of fifty to 100 and even 200 Akalis continued to march from 
the Akal Takht to the Guru Ka Bagh to suffer blows in passive 
resistance. By October 19, the number of Akalis arrested was more 
than 2,450. On October 25, a jatha consisting entirely of army 
pensioners reached Guru Ka Bagh under the leadership of a retired 
Subedar Major. This development was deemed to have dangerous 
implications. The Mahant was persuaded to sell the entire estab- 
lishment to Sir Ganga Ram who, in turn, handed it over to the Akalis 
on 17 November 1922. In March, 1923, more than 5,000 Akali 
volunteers were released from jails in appreciation of the role of the 
Akalis in a situation of Hindu-Muslim riot in Amritsar. C. F. 
Andrews, who had visited the Guru Ka Bagh in September 1922 to be 
shocked by the brutality and inhumanity of the British administrators 
and their henchmen, admired the Akalis for their patient suffering 
without any sign of fear. In his eyes the Guru Ka Bagh morcha was a 
‘new lesson in moral warfare’.8 

The last battle of ‘the third Sikh war’ was fought outside British 
territory in a neighbouring princely state. Maharaja Ripudaman Singh 
of Nabha was forced to abdicate in favour of his minor son on 9 July 
1923. Because of his sympathy for the Singh reformers, the Shiromani 
Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee decided on August 4 to take up his 
cause. Meetings were held in protest. In a meeting held at Jaito in the 
Nabha state on August 25, the action of the government was con- 
demned. The organizers of the meeting were arrested. New leaders 
started an akhand-path. It was disrupted. The Shiromani Gurdwara 
Prabandhak Committee condemned the official action and resolved to 
restore the Sikh right to free worship. 

It was decided to send jathas from the Akal Takht to Jaito for 
completing an akhand-path as a matter of right. On 12 October 1923, 
the Shiromani Akali Dal as well as the Shiromani Gurdwara Praban- 
dhak Committee were declared to be unlawful associations. All the 
sixty members of the morcha committee were arrested and charged 
with treason against the King-Emperor. New members replaced the 
old ones and jathas continued to reach Jaito. On 21 February 1924, a 
special jatha of 500 Akalis was sent to mark the third anniversary of the 
Nankana Sahib massacre. Its departure from the Golden Temple was 
witnessed by 30,000 people. The British administrators in Nabha 
decided to stop the jatha by firing at the Akalis. Three hundred 

® Ruchi Ram Sahni, Struggle for Freedom in Sikh Shrines, SGPC, Amritsar nd, 176-83. 


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volunteers were injured, of whom a hundred eventually died. Neverthe- 
less, jathds continued to march to Jaito till 101 akhand-paths were 
completed on 6 August 1925, and the right to free worship was firmly 

Jawahar Lal Nehru who had marvelled at the courage and sacrifice of 
the Akalis during the Guru Ka Bagh morcha, was looking for an 
opportunity to show his deep admiration for them by some form of 
service. He visited Jaito during the morcha to be arrested, and rejoiced 
at being tried for a cause which the Sikhs had made their own. Indeed, 
the leaders of the Indian National Congress supported the Akalis in the 
Jaito morcha as they had supported them during the morcha at Guru 
Ka Bagh. However, after the release of Mahatma Gandhi on 5 
February 1924, the Congress support became less enthusiastic. 
Mahatma Gandhi wanted the political issue of abdication to be 
completely separated from the religious issue. The Punjab Governor, 
Malcolm Hailey, was as much keen to separate the religious from the 
political issue as to split the Akali leadership, to divide their resources 
by opening new fronts and to alienate Hindus and Muslims from their 
cause by attributing political designs to them.? 

Malcolm Hailey was nonetheless prepared to go a long way in 
conceding the demand with which the Akali movement had started. 
On 7 May 1925, a Bill was introduced in the Legislative Council and 
adopted on July 7. It received the assent of the Governor General in 
Council on July 28 and came into force on 1 November 1925. This Act 
recognized the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee as the 
legal authority to manage and control Sikh gurdwaras. With this 
constitutional recognition added to its links with the Sikh masses and 
control over a large number of important gurdwaras, the Shiromani 
Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, popularly referred to as the SGPC, 
was well poised to overshadow the Chief Khalsa Diwan and to become 
the foremost Sikh institution of the twentieth century.!° 

During the five years of the Akali movement 400 persons suffered 
death, 2,000 were wounded and 30,000 men and women were jailed. 
The pensions and jagirs of many were withdrawn, fines were imposed 
and property was confiscated in the case of many others; many lost 
their jobs; soldiers were court-martialled for wearing kirpan or a black 

9 Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement, Macmillan, Delhi, 1978, 62-86, 126-36. 
10 Gobinder Singh, Religion and Politics in the Punjab, Deep and Deep Publications, New 
Delhi, 1986, 


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turban; printers, publishers and editors suffered for their sympathy 
with the movement. As a contemporary put it, the British authorities 
soon came to believe that the Gurdwara Reform Movement was a 
subversive movement which aimed at overthrowing the British Raj and 
which therefore, it was necessary to suppress.!! For Sardul Singh 
Caveeshar, freedom of religion and the freedom of the country went 
together. He regarded the Akali movement as ‘only an offshoot of the 
national movement. The national spirit impregnated the Sikh hearts 
through and through; they desired to assume responsibility as much 
for the control and management of the temples as for the administra- 
tion of the country.”!2 

In 1920 almost two-thirds of the Akalis were Jats, and 15 per cent of 
the protesters belonged to the low castes. This was broadly in 
proportion to their numbers in the Sikh population. The urban Singhs, 
who were mainly Khatris and Aroras, constituted nearly 19 per cent of 
the protesters, representing a much larger proportion than their 
number in the Sikh population. The number of recently returned 
immigrants was considerable among the Akali protesters and so was 
the role of former soldiers in the movement. The general impression 
carried by the contemporaries that the Akali movement found support 
from nearly all sections of the Sikh community was not wrong. 
According to Sardul Singh Caveeshar the Akali movement was ‘pre- 
eminently the movement of the masses, of the humble folk recruited 
from among peasants, artisans and the labourers. Doctors, pleaders, 
editors, merchants and the professors were all in the movement but 
their number was very small.’!3 


All the Akalis did not appreciate passive resistance or non-violence as 
the political weapon to fight against the colonial rulers. A few of the 
Akali leaders and some old Ghadarites reacted sharply to the cold- 
blooded murder of a large number of Singh reformers at Nankana Sahib 
in February, 1921. A month later, when the Sikh Education Conference 

11 Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Autobiobraphy (ed. Ganda Singh), the Sikh Cultural Centre, 

Calcutta, 1965, 256. 
12 Sardul Singh Caveeshar, ‘The Akali Movement’, The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 7, 

Part 1 (April 1973), 135. 
13 Sardul Singh Caveeshar, 140; Teja Singh, ‘The Singh Sabha Movement’, The Punjab 

Past and Present, Vol. 7, Part 1 (April 1973), 42. 


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met at Hoshiarpur, a few militant leaders found the opportunity to 
conspire revenge upon the persons who were deemed to be essentially 
responsible for the massacre at Nankana Sahib. Before the end of May, 
1921, an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of G. M. Bowring, 
the Superintendent of Police, and Sunder Singh Majithia. A few of the 
conspirators were arrested and the others absconded, including Master 
Mota Singh and Kishan Singh popularly known as Gargajj. 

During the year following some of the militant leaders were arrested 
but the others were able to enlist more supporters to their programme. 
In August, 1922, an organization known as the Babbar Akali Jatha was 
formed with the twin objective of vindicating the Sikh faith and gaining 
political independence. The Babbar Akalis addressed themselves to 
demobilized soldiers as well as to the Singh reformers. They invited 
Hindus and Muslims too, for eliminating the British officials and their 
Indian and Punjabi supporters. They brought out fifteen issues of the 
Babbar Akali Doaba from August 1922 to May 1923, froma press that 
moved from place to place to propagate their ideas in the districts of 
Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. In 1923, they also undertook a campaign of 
political murders. Consequently, in August, 1923, the Babbar Akali 
Jatha was declared to be an unlawful association. In less than a year 
then, almost all the important Babbar Akalis were either eliminated or 
arrested. They were tried in courts and in the verdict given in February, 
1925, it was imputed that their aim was to gain independence in India 
and Sikh rule in the Punjab. Six Babbars were hanged a year later, in 
February, 1926. Several organizations, including the Central Sikh 
League, issued appeals for raising a fund for the families of the Babbars 
who were hanged. Many a poet glorified their martyrdom. 

Bhagat Singh, a nephew of Ajit Singh, founded the Naujawan Bharat 
Sabha which organized public meetings in Lahore from March, 1926 to 
April, 1927. It remained dormant for about a year till it was revived in 
April, 1928. The declared aim of the Sabha was to organize labourers 
and peasants for establishing an independent Republic in India with all 
its inhabitants forming a united Indian Nation. Bhagat Singh and his 
comrades subscribed to the idea that ‘a single deed makes more 
propaganda in a few days than a thousand pamphlets’. Nevertheless, in 
the sessions of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1929, the ideas expressed 
were not only anti-British and revolutionary but also socialistic. One 
session was presided over by Sohan Singh Josh who is well known as 
both an Akali and a Communist leader; the other session held at 


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Amritsar in August was attended by Jawaharlal Nehru. There was 
rather a close link between the Indian National Congress and the 
Naujawan Bharat Sabha. In 1928, the Sabha supported the Congress in 
its protest demonstration against the Simon Commission. Lord Irwin 
observed that the activities of the Sabha and the Congress in the Punjab 
had been ‘identical’. 

At about his time, however, Bhagat Singh was activating the 
Hindustan Socialist Republican Association with the help of Sukhdev 
and Bhagwati Charan. The objective of the Association was not merely 
the freedom of India from foreign rule but also the restructuring of 
society on socialist principles. However, their approach was militant. 
In fact, they came to regard the civil disobedience movement as a 
failure. They favoured violence in the cause of justice. In their 
‘philosophy of the bomb’, it was legitimate to make ‘loud noise to 
make the deaf hear’. The two best-known incidents in which the 
leaders of the Association took an active part exemplified their basic 
attitude: the murder of J.P. Saunders, who was thought to be 
responsible for Lajpat Rai’s death, on 17 December 1928 and the 
throwing of a bomb in the Legislative Assembly in Delhi on 8 April 
1929. Such activities continued for some time more under the leader- 
ship of Yash Pal but militant nationalism lost its appeal soon after the 
execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru on 23 March 1932.!4 

Of all the militant revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh, towards the end of 
his life, had probably the best grasp of the rationale and the impli- 
cations of socialist revolution. In one of his articles published in 
September 1931 he states that before the end of 1926 he was convinced 
of the baselessness of ‘the theory of existence of an almighty supreme 
being who created, guided and controlled the universe’. Such a theory, 
in his view, was refuted by the existence of human misery. Further- 
more, it went against the progressive assumption that it was necessary 
for man to establish his domination over nature. Thus, there was a 
close connection between Bhagat Singh’s atheistic position and his 
ideology of social progress. To fight against the alien rulers was a 
laudable objective but not a ‘revolutionary idea’. Revolution for 
Bhagat Singh meant a ‘systematic reconstruction’ of society after a 
‘complete destruction’ of the existing order. Such a revolutionary 
social reconstruction could not be based on a teleological or meta- 

14 Kamlesh Mohan, Militant Nationalism in the Punjab, 1919-1935, Manohar, New 
Delhi, 1985, 146-95. 


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physical interpretation of the universe; it needed a rational and causal 
world-view. !5 

The influence of the Russian Revolution was more clearly visible in 
the Kirti Kisan Party which drew its support from the former 
Ghadarites as well as from some Akalis and Babbars. The Ghadar Party 
in California had sent Santokh Singh and Rattan Singh as its repre- 
sentatives to the fourth Congress of the Communist International in 
November, 1922. They left Moscow for India in 1923 but Santokh 
Singh, who was a founder member of the Ghadar Party, was confined 
to his village for two years by the police authorities of the Punjab. 
Towards the end of 1925 he moved to Amritsar and started the Kirti 
with the help of two other Ghadarites, Bhag Singh Canadian and 
Karam Singh Cheema. Like the Ghadar and the Babbar Akali Doaba, 
the Kirti made use of verses from the Sikh scriptures. It showed great 
concern for liberating the working class from the bourgeois ideology. 
In April, 1928, in a meeting called by Sohan Singh Josh and Bhag Singh 
Canadian and held at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, it was resolved 
to establish a party to organize workers and peasants. The name chosen 
for it was appropriately the Kirti Kisan Party. Nearly all the leaders of 
the party were Sikhs, with a rural or revolutionary background. Unlike 
the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, the Kirti Kisan Party was opposed to the 
Indian National Congress. The Kirtis supported the idea of expro- 
priating large landholders though they did not subscribe to cooperative 
farming. They advocated an increase in wages and a reduction in 
revenues and water rates. In September 1934, the Kirti Kisan Party was 
one of several organizations which were declared illegal and dissolved. 


Notwithstanding the preoccupation of the majority of the politically 
articulate Sikhs with agitational and militant politics, the working of 
the Act of 1919 and the formulation of the Act of 1935 remained central 
to the politics of the Punjab. Sikh representation in the Imperial 
Council and Legislature was rather marginal. The Sikhs had only one 
out of the four seats meant for the Punjab in the Council of States. In 
the Legislative Assembly they had only two seats out of the eleven for 
the Punjab. The twelfth seat for the Punjab was meant for landholders, 

18 Bhagat Singh, Why J Am An Atheist, Shahid Bhagat Singh Research Committee, Delhi, 


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including the Sikhs. In all, thirteen Sikhs were represented on both 
these bodies between 1919 and 1947.16 

Sikh participation in the Legislative Council of the Punjab was only 
a little more satisfactory. The Sikhs had thirteen seats out of a total of 
seventy-one. One of these thirteen seats was meant for the urban 
contituency and another for the constituency of landholders. Elections 
to the Council were held in 1920, 1923, 1926 and 1930. During all these 
years, forty-six persons represented the Sikhs in the Legislative 
Council, which indicates that the membership of the Council changed 
rather frequently. Only a few candidates were elected twice or thrice. 
Though most of the candidates fought elections in their individual 
capacity, parties began gradually to be formed.!” 

Between 1920 and 1937, the Punjab Legislative Council was domi- 
nated by the Unionist Party. Formed initially by Fazl-i-Husain as the 
Rural Party from amongst the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh members 
elected to the Council in 1920, it came to be known as the Unionist 
Party by the time of the second elections and dominated the consti- 
tutional politics of the Punjab for nearly a quarter of a century til] its 
defeat in the elections of 1946. Two other political parties contested the 
elections in 1923, namely the Swarayists and the Hindu Nationalist 
Party. Two of the Sikh members elected to the Council were sponsored 
by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. The Congress 
contested elections only in 1926 and won a few seats. In 1930, the 
elections were boycotted not only by the Congress but also by the 
Central Sikh League and the Akalis. The field, thus, was left wide open 
for the Unionists. The Sikh legislators who collaborated with them 
were either independents or leaders of the Chief Khalsa Diwan. The 
ministers were appointed by the Governor without reference to any 
political party. The Sikh legislators who became ministers were Sunder 
Singh Majithia and, in his absence, Joginder Singh. Sikh representation 
in the Government as well as the Council remained rather unsatis- 
factory from the viewpoint of the new Sikh leaders.!8 

The Unionist Party professed to be representative of the rural 
classes, irrespective of religious differences, and to safeguard the 
interests of all landholders. In actual operation, however, its Muslim 

16 The federal provisions of the Act of 1935 were never implemented. Therefore the Act of 
1919 remained operative till the formation of the interim government in 1946. 

'7 Kripal C. Yadav, Elections in Panjab, 1920-1947, Manohar, Delhi, 1987. 

18 The Sikh minister did not represent the Sikh legislators; they, in turn, did not 
necessarily represent the Singh reformers. 


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leaders gave preference to Muslim interests and the interests of the 
richer landholders. The Reform Enquiry Committee observed in 1924 
that the Ministry of Education, which was headed by Fazl-i-Husain 
himself, had subordinated the interests of its departments to ‘the 
support of the communal interests of the Mohammadans’.!9 Separate 
electorates were extended by the Unionists to municipal bodies, and 
reservation was introduced in educational institutions. In 1932, they 
improved the proportion of Muslims in services from the older ratio 
of 40, 40 and 20 for Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs respectively to 50, 30 
and 20. 

The working of the ‘transferred’ departments under the Unionists 
largely determined the attitude of the Sikhs towards constitutional 
reform. The Central Sikh League asked for abandoning communal 
representation or weightage for the Sikhs. The Akalis as well as the 
Central Sikh League decided to boycott the Simon Commission and to 
hold protest demonstrations jointly with the Congress. The Chief 
Khalsa Diwan submitted a memorandum to the commission asking for 
reservations and constitutional safeguards for the Sikhs. The moderate 
Sikh leaders formed the Central Sikh Association to represent the Sikh 
case before the Commission; they asked for 30 per cent representation 
each for the Sikhs and the Hindus. The Unionists, who appeared to 
represent the majority view, asked for the maintenance of communal 
electorates and for greater autonomy and power for the province. 

The Akali and the Central Sikh League leaders attended the All 
Parties Conference at Delhi in February, 1928 and Mangal Singh Gill 
became a member of the Moti Lal Nehru Committee to frame a 
constitution for India as an alternative to the proceedings of the Simon 
Commission. The report prepared by the committee recommended 
separate electorates for Muslims in provinces other than the Punjab 
and Bengal. When the report was taken up in the All Parties meeting at 
Lucknow in August, the Sikh delegates raised the issue regarding their 
position in the Punjab. Some of them demanded that if separate 
electorates or weightage was to be maintained for minorities in other 
provinces then a similar provision should be made for the Sikhs. Most 
of the Sikh leaders dreaded the prospect of universal suffrage without 
reservation of seats for the Sikhs as a minority. 

The Central Sikh League decided to reject the Nehru Report and to 

19 Quoted, K. L. Tuteja, Sikh Politics (1920-40), Vishal Publications, Kuruskshetra, 1984, 


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boycott the Congress session scheduled to be held at Lahore. Mahatma 
Gandhi, Moti Lal Nehru and M. A. Ansari met Master Tara Singh and 
Baba Kharak Singh to inform them that the Congress Working 
Committee had replaced the goal of Dominion Status by ‘complete 
independence’, an objective on which Baba Kharak Singh had been 
insisting. The Sikh leaders were persuaded to participate in the 
Congress session at Lahore towards the end of 1929. In this session the 
resolution for ‘complete independence’ was passed. Furthermore, the 
Congress gave explicit assurance to the minorities that no constitution 
would be acceptable to the Congress if it did not give ‘full satisfaction’ 
to the Sikhs and the Muslims as minorities. Baba Kharak Singh, Master 
Tara Singh and other Sikh leaders felt satisfied with this declaration of 
Congress intentions. Sikh participation in the celebration of Indepen- 
dence Day on 26 January 1930 was marked by enthusiasm. When 
Mahatma Gandhi launched Civil Disobedience in March, 1930, Baba 
Kharak Singh refused to join unless the Sikh colour was included in the 
national flag, but the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Central Sikh League 
decided to join the Civil Disobedience. The Shiromani Gurdwara 
Prabandhak Committee joined the movement after the firing incident 
at the Sisganj Gurdwara in Delhi. 

The report of the Simon Commission appeared in June, 1930, 
retaining communal electorates and reservations. It was rejected by the 
Sikh leaders. In response to a call from the Congress they decided to 
boycott the elections in August. They also decided to boycott the First 
Round Table Conference. Ujjal Singh and Sampuran Singh, who were 
invited to the Conference, did not represent the Akalis or the Central 
Sikh League. In March, 1931, when the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed, 
the Central Sikh League decided to participate in the Second Round 
Table Conference. Master Tara Singh presented a memorandum to 
Mahatma Gandhi which contained a proposal to alter the boundaries 
of the Punjab to give larger representation to Hindus and Sikhs in 
addition to reservation of seats for the Sikhs on the basis of joint 

In August, Ramsay MacDonald announced his award, popularly 
known as the Communal Award, which retained separate electorates 
and reinforced reservations. What was galling for the Sikh leaders was 
the proposed distribution of seats in the Punjab Legislative Council: 
eighty-eight for Muslims, forty-four for Hindus and thirty-three for 
Sikhs. The only party that found the award satisfactory was the 


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Unionist party. The Sikh leaders were strongly opposed to the award 
but the Congress remained neutral. This award was to become the basis 
of the Act in 1935 with greater autonomy to the provinces.?° 

The Sikh leaders tried unsuccessfully to ensure that the ‘communal 
award’ did not become the basis of formal legislation. As a significant 
result of their activity of these few years the Shiromani Akali Dal 
emerged as an important political party of the Sikhs. In a general 
meeting of the Sikhs held in September, 1932, it was decided to form 
the Khalsa Darbar to present a united front against the ‘communal 
award’. However, in its second meeting held in the year following, 
Baba Kharak Singh and his supporters dissociated themselves from the 
Darbar and tried to raise parallel organizations, while the Central Sikh 
League was merged with the Khalsa Darbar. A further split in the 
Darbar on the eve of the elections of 1937 divided its leaders into two 
camps: the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congressite Sikhs. The 
Central Sikh League became extinct in the process. 


In the election to the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1937 about a 
dozen political parties took part. The most successful were the 
Unionists who won ninety-five out of the total 175 seats. In forming 
the government, they were joined by the legislators elected on the 
ticket of the Khalsa National Party which represented the leaders of the 
Chief Khalsa Diwan and the Hindu Election Board which represented 
the non-Congress Hindu leaders. In the opposition eighteen legislators 
belonged to the Indian National Congress and ten to the Shiromani 
Akali Dal. One or two seats each were won by the Muslim League, the 
Congress Nationalists, the Socialists, the Majlis-i-Ahrar and the 
Itihad-i-Millat, and there were nineteen independent legislators. 
Prominent among the Khalsa Nationals were Sunder Singh Majithia, 
Ujjal Singh, Joginder Singh and Dasaundha Singh. Among the Akalis, 
there were Baldev Singh, Giani Kartar Singh, Partap Singh Kairon, 
Sampuran Singh and Kapur Singh. Under Sikandar Hayat and Khizr 
Hayat Khan as the Unionist Premiers, Sunder Singh Majithia was 
succeeded on his death in 1941 as a minister by Dasaundha Singh who 

20 By the Act of 1935 the provincial governments were made ‘completely autonomous and 
they and the central government acted in mutually excluded spheres of administration’: V. P. 
Menon, The Transfer of Power in India, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1979 (reprint), 52. 


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was replaced by Baldev Singh in June, 1942. There remained only one 
Sikh minister at a time now as before, though the number of ministers 
in the province increased from three in the 1920s to six in the 1940s.?! 

After the formation of the ministry in 1937 the first important 
political development was Sikandar Hayat Khan’s agreement with 
Jinnah at Lucknow in October, 1937. It made all Muslim legislators of 
the Punjab Unionists within the province but Muslim Leaguers outside 
the province. In reaction, Gokul Chand Narang left the Unionists. 
Sunder Singh Majithia did not leave the Unionists but only because of 
Sikandar’s reassurance that there would be no change in the policies of 
the Unionist Party. There was no need. As Khizr Hayat Khan was to 
point out later, the policies of the Unionist Party had enabled ‘the 
backward’ Muslim community of the Punjab to compare ‘favourably 
with any in India or even elsewhere’ and the Muslims were surely the 
‘predominant community’ of the province.22 The Sikandar-Jinnah 
agreement brought the Akalis and the Congress leaders formally closer 
to one another. In November, 1938, when the All-India Akali Confer- 
ence was held at Rawalpindi, the Akali and Congress flags were hoisted 
together, and the Akali leaders appreciated the Congress as the only 
representative political party in the country, a true trustee of national 
honour and self respect. 

Much more important than the Sikandar-Jinnah agreement was the 
outbreak of war in September, 1939. The Unionists offered uncon- 
ditional support. The Chief Khalsa Diwan was equally prompt, though 
it wished the government in turn to safeguard Sikh rights and privi- 
leges, culture and religious liberty. The Shiromani Akali Dal wanted 
the government to declare its war aims, following thus the Congress 
lead on this issue. Unlike the Congress, however, the Akali Dal did not 
relish the prospect of being isolated in the Punjab on the issue of war 
effort. Master Tara Singh tried to persuade the Congress through 
Mahatma Gandhi that the Sikhs might participate in the war effort, but 
only to receive a categorical and rather strong disapproval from the 
Mahatma. Before the end of 1940 Master Tara Singh felt obliged to 
resign from the Congress Working Committee.23 

21 This fact was pointed out as a grievance by Sikh leaders in the 1940s. 

22 Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana, ‘The 1937 Elections and the Sikandar-Jinnah Pact’ (ed. 
Craig Baxter), The Punjab Past and Present, Vol. 10, Part 2 (October 1976), 356-85. 

23K. L. Tuteja, Sikh Politics (1920-40), 193-95; Jaswant Singh (ed.), Master Tara Singh, 
Pbi, Amritsar, 1972, 168-70. Combining the evidence cited in these works it becomes clear 
how thin was the line between ‘communalism’ and ‘nationalism’ in the minds of the leaders. 


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By this time, the Akali leaders were not feeling happy with the 
Congress because of its indifference to the resolution of the Muslim 
League, passed at Lahore in March, 1940, which appeared to demand 
separate states in the Muslim majority areas in the north-west and the 
north-east of the subcontinent. Sikandar Hayat Khan clarified his 
position in a forceful speech in the Assembly, making an appeal to the 
Punjabi sentiment of its members.24 Nevertheless, the resolution of the 
Muslim League, popularly referred to as the ‘Pakistan Resolution’, was 
denounced at the All-India Akali Conference. Dr V.S. Bhatti of 
Ludhiana published a pamphlet demanding ‘Khalistan’ as a buffer state 
between India and ‘Pakistan’. That the idea of Khalistan was meant 
merely to oppose the idea of Pakistan is evident from the frequent use 
of the phrase ‘if Pakistan is to be conceded’. On 1 December 1940, a 
general conference of the Sikhs was convened at Lahore to pass a 
resolution against the formation of Pakistan. Throughout 1940, 
however, the Congress did not formally react to the ‘Pakistan Resolu- 
tion’, treating the idea as fantastic. 

By the beginning of 1941, the Shiromani Akali Dal was finally 
committed to support the war effort. The Khalsa Defence League was 
formed in January, 1941, under the leadership of the Maharaja of 
Patiala with the sympathy and support of Master Tara Singh and Giani 
Kartar Singh among others. Confrontation with the government in the 
early 1920s had resulted in the decrease of Sikh soldiers in the Indian 
army. The Akalis were afraid of further loss on this account. The 
government was equally keen to enlist their entire support during the 
war. Sikandar was encouraged to forge a link with the Akali leaders. In 
March, 1942, Baldev Singh formed a new party in the Assembly under 
the label of United Punjab Sikh Party, consisting initially of a few 
Akali and independent legislators. Three months later he joined the 
ministry on the basis of an agreement with Sikandar Hayat Khan. The 
British administrators looked upon the pact with great satisfaction. 
Like the leaders of the left parties, only a handful of Akalis took part in 
the Quit India Movement in August, 1942. For the time being, the 
Second World War became for them all ‘the war for freedom’ 


24 V. P. Menon, The Transfer of Power in India, 443-58. Sikandar was applauded when he 
referred to ‘our province, our motherland’ as ‘the sword arm’ of India and asked the Punjabis 
to stand united to tell the meddling busybodies from outside, ‘hands off the Punjab’. 


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Neither the Sikandar-Baldev Singh pact nor the Quit India 
Resolution of the Congress was so important to the Sikhs as the 
spectre of partition which appeared on the horizon of Indian poli- 
tics in 1942. The mission of Stafford Cripps appeared to concede 
Pakistan in principle. The experience of ‘Muslim’ domination in the 
province in the form of the Unionist politics which concealed 
Muslim partialities under a Punjabi front obliged the Akalis to 
dread the prospect of its perpetuation. Therefore, the Sikhs in 
general and the Akalis in particular denounced the principle of 
partition even more than the fact of the constitutional domination 
by a single community in the province. Master Tara Singh and 
Giani Kartar Singh declared that Pakistan could be formed only 
over ‘their dead bodies’. 

The idea put forth by Master Tara Singh in his memorandum to 
Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 became much more relevant now. Master 
Tara Singh wrote to Stafford Cripps that, since the Sikhs could not 
dominate in any large area because of their more or less thin distri- 
bution over the province, it was unthinkable to demand domi- 
nation. However, a province could certainly be carved out ‘in 
which the Sikhs are dominated by no single community’.25 This 
was the basis of the Azad Punjab Scheme which the Akalis tried to 
clarify and popularize for about two years as an alternative to the 
Cripps Proposals. 

The use of the word azdd gave the wrong impression that the 
proposed Punjab was meant to be an independent state. The Sikhs and 
Hindus of the western districts, particularly in the Rawalpindi Divi- 
sion, were opposed to it because of their implied exclusion. The Akali 
leaders tried to clarify their position and to justify their demand to all 
fair-minded Punjabis. Master Tara Singh declared in December, 1942, 
that the Punjab he visualized would consist of 40 per cent Muslims, 4o 
per cent Hindus and 20 per cent Sikhs. Again, in March, 1943, he 
asserted that by creating Azad Punjab, the Sikhs and Hindus will get 
rid of the spectre of Pakistan. By the middle of 1943, Master Tara Singh 
felt obliged to refer to his memorandum of 1931 to make it clear that 
the Sikhs were not in a majority anywhere to ask for a Sikh state. He 
insisted that they wished to remain in India and should not be forced to 
get out. In this context Sadhu Singh Hamdard published a booklet in 

25 Quoted, Kirpal Singh, The Partition of the Punjab, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1972, 


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1943 giving the background, the objectives and the boundaries of the 
Azad Punjab.?6 

In 1944 C. Rajagopalachari came out with his famous formula 
involving the principle not only of the partition of the country but also 
of the possible partition of Bengal and the Punjab. Apparently, he had 
the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi and his proposal in the popular mind 
came to be associated with the Congress. The Sikhs reacted sharply to 
the formula. In August, 1944, an All Parties Sikh Conference under the 
presidentship of Baldev Singh came to the conclusion that, since it set 
aside the Lahore resolution of 1929, it was a breach of faith by the 
Congress. Therefore, in a general meeting of the Sikhs on August 
20-21 at Amritsar it was resolved that no settlement would be 
acceptable to the Sikhs if it was not based on their prior consent. In 
October, 1944, the Akali leaders thought of a Sikh state as an alterna- 
tive to Pakistan but their main grievance was that the Congress had not 
kept its promise of 1929. Mahatma Gandhi reassured Durlabh Singh 
that the Lahore resolution of the Congress was still valid. By this time 
Gandhi-Jinnah talks had broken down and Jinnah had rejected Rajago- 
palachari’s formula as the basis of any understanding with the Con- 
gress. In their memorandum to the Sapru Committee, the Sikhs 
reiterated that if Pakistan was to be conceded the Sikhs would insist on 
the creation of a state with a substantial Sikh population and provision 
for transfer of population and property. But even after the Simla 
conference in 1945 the Sikh leaders were hoping that the demand for 
Pakistan would not be conceded. 


The Akalis fought the elections of 1946 independently of the Congress 
but in support of the unity and integrity of the country. They could 
come to an understanding with the Congress only in four constitu- 
encies which were believed to be the stronghold of the Communists 
whom the Congress leaders had not forgiven after what was regarded 
as their betrayal at the time of the Quit India Movement, and whom the 
Akalis denounced as atheists. Ironically, the election manifesto of the 
Communists underlined the justification for a Sikh state as much as for 

26 Published anonymously in the middle of 1943, the Azad Punjab was brought out for the 
second time under the author’s name before the year ended. It contains a map showing the 
area of the proposed Azad Punjab from the Jamuna to the Chenab. 


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Pakistan.2”? They believed that in espousing the principle of self- 
determination for cultural minorities they were only being consistent. 
They failed to win even a single seat. The largest number of seats were 
won by the Muslim League, seventy-four out of 175; the Congress 
came out second with fifty-one seats, including ten Sikh seats; the 
Akalis won the remaining twenty-three of the Sikh seats, the Unionists 
won only twenty-one seats, with only twelve Muslim legislators. The 
Muslim League and the Akalis had fought elections on the issue of 
Pakistan, ranged on opposite sides. The cleavage was clearly reflected 
in the election results. The Akalis emerged as the sole representatives of 
the Sikhs on the issue of Pakistan and partition. . 

The single largest party in the legislature, the Muslim League failed 
to form a ministry primarily because no other political party in the 
Punjab was willing to form a coalition with its leaders. Jawaharlal 
Nehru was inclined to support the League in principle because of its 
mass base, but Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as the Congress President 
had already decided in favour of a coalition with the Unionists and the 
Akalis, and he had the support of Mahatma Gandhi. Khizr Hayat Khan 
Tiwana formed the coalition ministry in March, 1946. This ‘makeshift 
coalition’ merely glossed over a position in which practically all 
Muslims were on one side and nearly all non-Muslims on the other. 
Punjabis ceased to be Punjabis and became Muslims, Hindus and 
Sikhs. Until the ministry resigned in March, 1947, the Punjab 
Governor thought he was ‘the only member of the Government who 
could meet members of the opposition naturally and without con- 
straint’.28 The major concern of the ministry was to maintain law and 
order in face of the mounting communal tension. 

The results of the elections convinced the Sikhs that the possibility of 
Pakistan had turned into a probability. In any case, when the mission 
of the British Cabinet ministers arrived in New Delhi, the most 
outstanding issue of the moment was a united India versus Pakistan. 
The case of the Sikh community was presented to the Cabinet Mission 
first by Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh and Harnam Singh 
together as the Sikh leaders and then by Baldev Singh alone as the Sikh 
minister. They were asked specially to express their views on whether 
they favoured a united India or its division, and in the case of its 

27 DrG. Adhikari, the author of the Sikh Homeland Through Hindu-Muslim-Sikh Unity, 
Bombay, 1944, wrote the election manifesto of the Communist Party. 

28 Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre (eds), Mountbatten and the Partition of India, 
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1982, 133. 


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division whether they would join India or Pakistan, or would they like 
to have a state of their own. They were all opposed to the creation of 
Pakistan. But if Pakistan was to be created they opted for a Sikh state. 
Master Tara Singh wanted the right for a separate independent Sikh 
state to federate with Hindustan or Pakistan. However, the Sikh state 
or Khalistan of the Sikh leaders was still synonymous with an area in 
which no single community was in absolute majority.?9 

The proposals of the Cabinet Mission, embodied in their statement 
of 16 May 1946, gave a serious jolt to the Sikhs. Whereas the Congress 
leaders could see in this statement the possibility of a virtual federation 
in a united India and the Muslim League a virtual Pakistan, the Sikhs 
could see nothing but their perpetual subjection to a Muslim majority 
in the Punjab. Master Tara Singh wrote to Pethic-Lawrence on May 25 
that a wave of dejection, resentment and indignation had run through 
the Sikh community because the Cabinet Mission Proposals would 
place the Sikhs permanently at the mercy of the Muslim majority. In an 
all-parties conference of the Sikhs at Amritsar on 10 June 1946, the 
Cabinet Mission Proposals were rejected.°° 

Before the Cabinet Mission left India on June 29, the Akali leaders 
rejected the interim proposals as well. An organization called the 
Panthic Pratinidhi Board was formed as a representative body of nearly 
all Sikh organizations. Its formation symbolized the will of the Sikh 
community to fight against the dreaded domination of Pakistan. It 
resolved to accept no constitution that did not meet their just demands. 
Within a fortnight of this resolution the Panthic Board was faced with 
the concrete issue whether or not Baldev Singh should join the interim 
government. The Board decided against his joining the government. 

By early September, however, the Sikh leaders accepted both the 
long-term and the interim proposals. On June 25, the Congress Work- 
ing Committee had noted among other things the unfairness of the 
Cabinet Mission Proposals to some of the minorities, especially the 
Sikhs; the Congress rejected the idea of joining the interim government 
but decided to join the Constituent Assembly. At Wardha on August 
8, however, the Congress Working Committee turned in favour of 
Jawaharlal Nehru forming the interim government. Baldev Singh asked 
Attlee to intervene for undoing the wrong done to the Sikhs. Attlee 

29 V.P. Menon, The Transfer of Power in India, 242-43. Even when the Sikh leaders 
talked of a ‘Sikh State’, or ‘Khalistan’, or ‘Sikhistan’, they did not think of a territory in which 
the Sikhs would form a majority. 

30 [bid., 272. 


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referred the matter to the Congress President through the Viceroy, 
advising Baldev Singh at the same time that the Sikhs should join the 
Constituent Assembly. The Congress Working Committee passed a 
resolution assuring the Sikhs of all possible support in removing their 
legitimate grievances and in securing adequate safeguards for the 
protection of their just interests in the Punjab. In response, the Panthic 
Pratinidhi Board decided to accept the statement of 16 May 1946, and 
to send their representatives to the Constituent Assembly. Baldev 
Singh joined the interim government as Defence Minister on 2 Septem- 

ber 1946. 


Early in August, 1946, the Punjab Governor had noticed that the 
League resolution of direct action passed in July was bringing the Sikhs 
closer to the Congress. After Baldev Singh joined the interim govern- 
ment, Swaran Singh became the leader of the Akali legislators and 
signed a pact with Bhim Sen Sachar to ensure unity of action among the 
Congress and Akali members of the Assembly. The opponents of 
Sachar in the Punjab Congress raised objection to the Akali-Congress 
pact but the Congress President, Acharya Kriplani, ruled that Sachar 
was within his rights to enter such an understanding with the Akalis in 
the Legislative Assembly. 

This renewed understanding enabled the Akalis to convince the 
leaders of the Congress that the best way to safeguard the interests of 
the minorities in the Punjab was to divide the province into two units. 
The Sikh leaders were against the idea of compulsory grouping of 
provinces. On 5 January 1947, in a meeting of the All India Congress 
Committee, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the resolution that the Congress 
could not bea party to compulsion. ‘In the event of any attempt at such 
compulsion, a province or part of a province has the right to take such 
action as may be deemed necessary in order to give effect to the wishes 
of the people concerned.’3! A few days later Mangal Singh Gill made 
the statement that partition of the Punjab into two parts was the ‘only 
solution which would help the Sikhs’. When Wavell pressed upon 
Nehru the necessity of getting the Muslim League into the Constituent 
Assembly, Nehru argued that ‘it was only logical that large minorities 
inside a province, such as the Hindus in Bengal and the Hindus and 

31 [bid., 332. 


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Sikhs in the Punjab, could also not be compelled into an unacceptable 

To the attraction of the idea of partition was added an element of 
necessity by the mounting violence in the Punjab. Balked in their 
aspiration to form a ministry the leaders of the Muslim League had 
concentrated their energies upon bringing down the ministry of Khizr 
Hayat, resorting to direct action against what they regarded as the 
suppression of civil liberties. In January, 1947, Khizr Hayat Khan 
banned the National Guards, and the Muslim League started a civil 
disobedience movement. With the pace of this movement rose the 
pitch of communal tension. The Hindu and Sikh legislators of the 
Punjab wanted Khizr Hayat Khan to suppress the agitation; the 
agitators wanted him to join the League or resign. On March 2, he 
decided suddenly to resign. On March 3 the leaders of the Congress 
and the Sikhs made violent speeches to leave no scope for the League to 
form a coalition. Riots broke out in Lahore on the day following, and 
spread later to Amritsar, Multan, Rawalpindi, Jalandhar and Sialkot. 
With reference to these events the Congress Working Committee, in 
its meeting on March 5, resolved that ‘in order to avoid compulsion of 
any section, the province should be divided into two parts so that the 
predominantly Muslim portion might be separated from the predom- 
inantly non-Muslim portion’.>> This resolution had ‘a tremendous 
reassuring effect’ on the Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab. 

Ten days after his arrival in India in March, 1947, Mountbatten 
noted that all parties in the Punjab were seriously preparing for civil 
war, and of these ‘by far the most business-like and serious are the 
Sikhs’.34 He was inclined to think that the partition of the province was 
really inevitable. On the Governor’s suggestion he decided to meet the 
Sikh leaders. He met Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh and Baldev 
Singh on April 18. They were emphatic that the Sikhs would fight to 
the last man if put under Muslim domination. They invoked property 
and religious or historical associations as the criteria of partition and 
talked of ‘Sikhistan’ with the option to join either Hindustan or 
Pakistan to extort the largest possible concessions in terms of territory. 
Mountbatten, however, was not yet inclined to give them any areas 

32 [bid., 339. 
33 [bid., 346-47. This resolution was approved by the Congress on 8 April 1947: Kirpal 

Singh, The Partition of the Punjab, 28. 
34 Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre (eds), Mountbatten and the Partition of Indta, 



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where Muslim population was predominant.>> By April 30, the Punjab 
Governor reported to Mountbatten that the Sikhs were deeply, almost 
finally, committed to partition. Nehru had declared in a public speech 
already on April 20 that the Muslim League could have Pakistan on the 
condition that ‘they do not take away other parts of India which do not 
wish to join Pakistan’.3¢ Rajendra Prasad as the President of the 
Constitutent Assembly told its members a week later that they might 
have to draw up a constitution based on the division of provinces. At 
the beginning of May a resolution was passed by the non-Muslim 
legislators of the Punjab that a just and equitable division of the 
province was the only solution of the political problem of the Punjab. 

In the month of May, events took a dramatic turn. The idea of 
Dominion Status was brought back into focus. Mountbatten was able 
to present a new plan on June 2 in a conference with Nehru, Patel, 
Kriplani, Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Abdur Rab Nishtar and Baldev 
Singh. Partition of the country and partition of the Punjab and Bengal 
was built into the new proposal. Therefore, the question now before 
the Congress and the Akalis was to get as much territory as they 
possibly could from the British province of the Punjab for the East 
Punjab of the Indian Union. As it could be easily anticipated by now, 
all the non-Muslim legislators of the Punjab opted for the Indian 
Union, making the option of the Muslim members for Pakistan totally 
irrelevant according to the terms of the new plan. The question of 
territory, however, was not so simple. The Muslim majority districts 
covered even the Bari Doab with the only exception the district of 
Amritsar. But the Akalis were staking their claims to nearly the whole 
of the Rachna Doab on the basis of religious and historical associations 
as well as property. For the labour leaders in Great Britain and for 
Mountbatten, however, population was virtually the only criterion of 
division. Not much discretion was left for the Boundary Commission 
after the notional division of the Punjab had been declared on the basis 
of population. Nevertheless, the award of Cyril Radcliffe brought the 
larger part of the district of Gurdaspur and a small area of the district of 
Lahore to the East Punjab. 

The Bill for the Independence of India, introduced in the House of 
Commons on July 4, was passed on July 15. The House of Lords 

35 Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre (eds), Mountbatten and the Partition of India, 
36 V. P. Menon, The Transfer of Power in India, 354. 


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passed it on the day following, and it received the royal assent on July 
18. On 15 August 1947, India became a free subcontinent, with India 
and Pakistan as its two sovereign states, and with the larger proportion 
of the Sikhs in India. The ‘East Punjab’ became in a sense a gift of the 
Akalis to the Indian Union. 


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To the task of framing a constitution for free India was added the 
problem of resettlement and rehabilitation almost immediately upon 
Independence. The integration of princely states with the Indian 
Union too was urgent. Equally important were a long-term territorial 
reorganization and economic growth. The politics of the Sikhs in the 
early decades of Independence were linked up with these major issues. ! 

The political decision to partition the subcontinent into two sover- 
eign states resulted eventually in the largest transfer of population 
known to history. Nearly a million persons perished, and over 13 
million crossed the borders. Over 4 million refugees from West 
Pakistan crossed into the Punjab and a larger number of Muslims from 
the Indian side went to Pakistan. In 1951, when the total population of 
the Indian Punjab was over 12'/ millions, there were nearly 21/2 million 
refugees, forming a fifth of its population. 

Resettlement of refugees became the most urgent task of the new 
governments. The Indian Government retained the responsibility of 
rehabilitating urban refugees, delegating the responsibility of rehabili- 
tating rural refugees in the Punjab to the Punjab Government. The 
non-Muslim landowners, who had left 5,700,000 acres of land in the 
West Punjab, had to be settled on 4,500,000 acres left by Muslim 
landowners in the East Punjab. The government evolved a scheme of 
graded cuts by which the refugees lost land in increasing proportion to 
the size of their holdings, putting a virtual end to large landholdings. 
Several legislative measures from 1951 to 1957, including the abolition 
of the Land Alienation Act of 1900, ensured that the occupancy tenants 
did not lose, and the ‘superior owners’ did not retain, their rights. Land 
tenures were made more secure; jagirs were made liable to resumption. 
Combined with the consolidation of landholdings, these measures 
proved to be effective in increasing agricultural production. 

1 For a brief outline of the developments in the first decade, S. S. Bal, British Administra- 
tion in the Punjab and its Aftermath, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1986, 19-30. 


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Equally important was the attention given to schemes of irrigation. 
The Punjab Government built a new dam at Harike, largely for 
ensuring regular flow of water into the canals already in existence. The 
Madhopur-Beas link was completed in two years by 1955. The Bhakra 
Dam scheme was taken up to be completed at a rapid pace. In 1957, 
more than 6!2 million acres of land were under canal irrigation, adding 
more than 2! millions to the irrigated acreage of 1947. From a deficit 
area in food in 1947, the Punjab became a surplus area in 1957. The élan 
imparted by the refugees as much as the policy of the government 
accounted for a rather rapid rehabilitation in terms of transportation 
and industry as well.2 A new university, a new high court and 
eventually a new capital were established at Chandigarh. 

Rehabilitation and resettlement after partition resulted in a sig- 
nificant change in the demographic pattern in the Punjab. In 1951 the 
Sikhs formed about 35 per cent of the total population of the state, 
while the Hindus represented the majority with over 62 per cent. The 
majority status of the Hindu population as well as the increase in the 
percentage of the Sikhs was a new thing. Furthermore, since the Sikh 
landowners settled mostly in the districts from which they had gone to 
the canal colonies, and both Sikhs and Hindus replaced the erstwhile 
Muslim population of the cities and towns, the bulk of the Sikh 
population came to be concentrated in the area between the Ravi and 
the Ghaggar. In fact, in the Sikh princely states and the districts of 
Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and Feroze- 
pore, the Sikhs came to represent more than half of the total popu- 
lation. For the first time in their history they found themselves 
concentrated in a large contiguous territory. 

Before the actual partition of the Punjab and the transfer of minority 
populations, Baldev Singh and Giani Kartar Singh had met Lord 
Mountbatten to suggest that either the Constituent Assembly should 
give weightage to the Sikhs in the new constitution or the Hindi- 
speaking areas of the East Punjab should be separated from its 
Punjabi-speaking areas. When Mountbatten broached the subject with 
Jawaharlal Nehru his reaction against the second proposition was 
rather strong; in his eyes it was ‘a fundamentally wrong principle’. 

2 For the attitudes of the refugees, Stephen L. Keller, Uprooting and Social Change, 
Manohar Book Service, New Delhi, 19735. 


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However, weightage or reservation with joint electorates could be 
given ‘with freedom to contest the general seats also’. 

Thinking in terms of weightage and reservations was not a new 
thing. All Indian politicians were familiar with this political idiom and 
practice. In October, 1948 the Shiromani Akali Dal passed a resolution 
in favour of continuing separate representation for the Sikhs because of 
an aggressive ‘communal mentality’ displayed by some Punjabi 
Hindus. Three weeks later the Minority Committee formed by the 
Punjab Chief Minister to represent the official viewpoint to the 
Constituent Assembly elaborated the terms of weightage and reserva- 
tion for the Sikhs, adding significantly that if it were not possible to 
give weightage and reservation to the Sikhs a new province may be 
created with the districts of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Hoshiar- 
pur, Ludhiana, Ferozepore and Ambala as its core. 

The Constituent Assembly had been eager to consider the issue of 
statutory reservations for religious minorities before August, 1947, 
but after the creation of Pakistan it favoured the abolition of all 
such reservations. In May, 1949, the Advisory Committee of the 
Constituent Assembly was clearly of the view that there was no 
room for weightage to religious minorities in a federal republic with 
a parliamentary democracy based on adult suffrage, and with the 
fundamental rights of all its citizens enshrined in a written constitu- 
tion. In any case, the Sikhs as ‘a highly educated and virile 
community’ needed no weightage.‘ It was feared in fact that even 
proportionate reservation with the right to contest additional seats 
would enable them to grab much more than what was their due 
share. The unsympathetic attitude of the Constituent Assembly was 
more clearly visible in its refusal to extend to the Sikh scheduled 
castes the concessions and reservations provided for the Hindu 
scheduled castes.5 The last-minute efforts of the Sikh members of 
the Constituent Assembly to get at least reservation with the right 
to contest additional seats proved futile. They refused to sign the 
draft constitution to be adopted by the people of India on 26 January 
1950. This was hardly an auspicious beginning. 

3 A.C. Kapur, The Punjab Crisis, S. Chand and Company, New Delhi, 1985, 131-32. 
4 Quoted, A. S. Narang, Storm Over the Sutlej: The Akali Politics, Gitanjali Publications, 

New Delhi, 1983, 91. 
5 Master Tara Singh and the other Akali leaders had to struggle for the inclusion of the Sikh 

scheduled castes in the general category until 1956. 


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On 15 July 1948, Sardar Patel referred to the Patiala and East Punjab 
States Union (Pepsu) as ‘a Sikh homeland’ when he inaugurated the 
new state. It had been formed two months earlier by merging the Sikh 
states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Kapurthala and Kalsia 
together with the states of Malerkotla and Nalagarh. The area of this 
new state was a little over 10,000 square miles and, in 1951, it had a 
population of nearly 3,500,000. Nearly half of this population was 
Sikh, which made the Sikhs a little more numerous than the Hindus. 
The number of Muslims in the new state was very small, only about 2 
per cent. Before 1947 their number was nearly a million but the bulk of 
them had crossed over to Pakistan, and their place was taken by about 
360,000 Sikhs and Hindus. The former chief of Patiala, Maharaja 
Yadvindra Singh, was made the Governor (Rajpramukh) for life, and 
the former chief of Kapurthala was made the Deputy Governor 
(Uprajpramukh) for life. A caretaker government was installed in 
August, 1948, under Sardar Gian Singh Rarewala. Thus, the top 
positions in the state, as much as the composition of its population, did 
appear to make Pepsu rather than the Punjab ‘a Sikh homeland’. 

The princely states of the Punjab had served the British as strong 
bastions of loyalty and support for more than a century and, though 
less ‘modernized’ and less ‘progressive’ than the British districts, 
neither the rulers nor their subjects had remained isolated from the 
developments in the British Punjab. The Akalis had taken interest in 
the affairs of the Sikh states and had considerable influence in their 
politics. In 1928, their leaders founded the Punjab States Praja Mandal, 
an organization that advocated constitutional and agrarian reform. For 
about a decade the Praja Mandal received support from the Congress 
and the Kisan leaders as well as the Akalis. The changing political 
situation of the Punjab in the 1940s found its reflection in the Sikh 
states. When the Akalis decided to support the British in their war 
effort, they came close to the Maharaja of Patiala. Emphasis was laid on 
Sikh interests and Sikh rights in the princely states. The Akalis began to 
leave the Praja Mandal while the number of educated Hindus from 
professional and business classes, who were coming under the influ- 
ence of the Congress, began to increase within the Mandal.® As in the 

6 Ramesh Walia, Praja Mandal Movement in East Punjab States, Punjabi University, 
Patiala, 1972. 


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British Punjab so in the princely states, the dominant political parties 
among the non-Muslims on the eve of Independence were the Akalis and 
the Congress-oriented Praja Mandal. The first consisted entirely of 
Sikh leaders and the second very largely of Hindus, though it was to 
throw up leaders like Giani Zail Singh and the less-known Tirath Singh. 

After Independence, the leaders of the Akalis and the Praja Mandal 
revealed their differences first on the question of merger. Whereas the 
Akali leaders favoured a union of Sikh states, or even the creation of 
two new states by keeping Patiala as a single unit, the Praja Mandal 
leaders advocated merger of the princely states with the East Punjab. 
The second important issue on which the two parties held divergent 
views was the formation of government in Pepsu. Because of their 
differences, Gian Singh Rarewala became the premier; he was neither 
an Akali nor a Praja Mandalist at that time. When he was sworn in at 
the beginning of 1949 he chose his colleagues from the Praja Mandal 
and the newly formed Lok Sewa Sabha led by Colonel Raghubir Singh. 
Before the middle of 1951, however, the leaders of the Praja Mandal 
and the Lok Sewa Sabha, Brish Bhan and Raghubir Singh, joined hands 
to oust Rarewala; Raghubir Singh became the Chief Minister and Brish 
Bhan agreed to be the Deputy Chief Minister.” 

Before the first general elections in 1952 the Praja Mandal and the 
Lok Sewa Sabha merged together to form the Pepsu Pradesh Congress 
and captured twenty-six out of a total of sixty seats. The Akalis turned 
out to be the second largest party in the legislature with nineteen seats. 
The remaining seats were won by the Communists and other small 
parties and independent candidates. Without a clear majority the 
Congress was invited to form a ministry but only to be replaced by a 
United Front ministry under Gian Singh Rarewala on 21 April 1952. 
He was supported by the Akalis. This first non-Congress ministry in 
the country fell in March, 1953, when Gian Singh was unseated 
through an election petition. The assembly was dissolved and 
President’s rule was promulgated in Pepsu, which again was the first 
instance of such a rule in the country. 

The Akalis were resentful: Gian Singh could have been asked to get 
re-elected within six months, they argued; or, another leader of the 

7 For relevant information on the Sikh states, Barbara Ramusack, ‘Punjab States: 
Maharajas and Gurdwaras: Patiala and the Sikh Community’, People, Princes and Paramount 
Power (ed. Robin Jeffrey), Oxford University Press, 1978, 170-204. “The Sikh States’ and 

“The Patiala and East Punjab States Union (Pepsu)’, written for The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism 
by Barbara Ramusack, have been consulted in typescript through the author’s courtesy. 


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United Front could have been invited to form a ministry. The 
Congress leaders at the centre appeared to be misusing the consti- 
tutional provisions to oust a non-Congress ministry. In any case, by 
the end of September, 1953, one of the demands of a Sikh convention 
held at Anandpur was early elections in Pepsu. In the mid-term polls in 
early 1954, the Akalis won only twelve seats (including two of the 
Rarewala group). In fact the Akalis were so hopelessly divided that 
they contested the elections on separate tickets. A Congress ministry 
was formed under Raghubir Singh. Upon his death in January, 1956, 
Brish Bhan became the Chief Minister of Pepsu. By now, the Akalis 
were asking for the merger of Pepsu with the Punjabi-speaking areas of 
the Punjab to form a new state on the basis of language. 


For over a quarter of a century before 1947 the Indian National 
Congress had been harping on the reorganization of provinces on the 
basis of languages. After the partition of 1947, however, serious 
re-thinking started on the question of reorganization, more perhaps 
due to emotional than rational reaction. The Dar Commission recom- 
mended before the end of 1948 that contiguity, financial efficiency, 
administrative convenience, capacity for future development and a 
large measure of agreement among the people speaking a language 
should be the criteria for reorganization. In no case was the view of a 
majority to be imposed on a substantial minority. At the Congress 
session in December, 1948, a committee was formed to consider the 
recommendations of the Dar Commission; it consisted of Jawaharlal 
Nehru, Vallabbhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitarammaya. Its report was 
adopted by the Congress Working Committee in April, 1949. It made a 
distinction between the South and the North: ‘We are clearly of the 
opinion that no question of rectification of the boundaries of the 
provinces of Northern India should be raised at the present moment 
whatever the merits of such a proposal might be.’8 Jawaharlal Nehru, at 
one time the arch-advocate of linguistic states, now began to feel that a 
sense of the unity of India was to be given the top priority before 
linguistic states could be formed with the consent of all concerned. 
The kind of ‘consent’ visualized by Jawaharlal was hard to find in the 
Punjab. Much before 1947 the languages had been ‘communalized’. In 
8 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, U. C. Kapur and Sons, Delhi, 1970, 186-87. 


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June, 1948, the Punjab Government made Hindi and Punjabi the new 
media of instruction in schools in place of Urdu. In February, 1949, the 
Municipal Committee of Jalandhar, an old stronghold of the Arya 
Samaj, resolved to introduce Hindi in Devanagri script in all its schools. 
In June, 1949, the Senate of the Panjab University, virtually a bastion of 
the Arya Samaj, refused to have Punjabi in Gurmukhi or even Devana- 
gri script as the medium of instruction in schools. The Sikhs in general 
and the Akalis in particular began to express their fears that Punjabi was 
likely to remain a secondary language even in free India. 

In October, 1949, a formula was evolved by Giani Kartar Singh and 
the Chief Minister Bhim Sen Sachar to accommodate the Sikh concern 
for Punjabi. It created a zone in which Punjabi in Gurmukhi script was 
to be the medium of instruction up to matriculation and in which 
Hindi in Devanagri script was to be taught from the last year of the 
primary school. A parent could opt for Hindi as the medium if the 
number of such scholars was not less than ten at the primary stage; 
even so, a boy had to take up Punjabi as a compulsory language from 
the fourth class and a girl from the sixth. The districts of Gurdaspur, 
Amritsar, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and Ferozepore consti- 
tuted the Punjabi zone together with the Ropar and Kharar Tehsils of 
the Ambala district and the portions of Hissar district lying on the 
north of the Ghaggar. The rest of the Punjab formed the Hindi zone in 
which the position of Punjabi and Hindi was reversed. 

Though the Akalis objected to the option given to parents, whether 
for Hindi or Punjabi, they welcomed the Sachar Formula. However, 
the Arya Samajists with their Urdu dailies in Jalandhar and Delhi were 
opposed to it. They were supported by the Jan Sangh and the Hindu 
Mahasabha. The Arya Samaj institutions refused to implement the 
formula; it was never to be implemented in the schools of the Arya 
Samajists. The language issue, a legacy of the pre-Independence days, 
had come to stay. The Arya Samaj attitude was in fact reinforced by the 
political implications of reorganization on a linguistic basis. 

The denial of constitutional safeguards to the Sikhs in terms of 
reservation made the Akali leaders more eager about the creation of a 
Punjabi-speaking state. In the beginning of 1950, Hukam Singh was 
clarifying to the journalists in Bombay that the demand for a Punjabi- 
speaking state was not communal but secular and democratic. The 
Working Committee of the Akal: Dal passed a formal resolution in 
May in favour of a state on the basis of Punjabi language and culture. It 


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became the demand of a Panthic convention before the end of 1950. 
Early in 1951 the Arya Samaijists, and others who shared their concerns 
and attitudes, persuaded many Hindus to return Hindi as their 
mother-tongue on the assumption that this would negate the argument 
for the formation of a Punjabi-speaking state.? Some of them chose to 
see an autonomous Sikh state behind the ‘smoke screen’ of a ‘Punjabi 
Province’. In the elections of 1952 the Congress won with a more 
convincing majority in the Punjab than in Pepsu. The Akali aspiration 
to be ‘free and equal partners in the destiny of the country’, as they had 
said in their election manifesto in support of a Punjabi-speaking state, 
became stronger after their defeat.!° 

Moral support came to the Akalis from unexpected quarters. 
Towards the end of 1952, Potti Sriramulu died on fast for the creation 
of Andhra Pradesh; four days later the Prime Minister announced the 
separation of Andhra from Madras as a Telugu-speaking state. The 
movement for linguistic states gathered fresh momentum. In 
December, 1953, the Government of India announced the formation of 
States Reorganization Commission, which kindled hopes and fears in 
the Punjab. Its formation by itself was a sign of hope for the Akalis, 
who had been articulate on the issue throughout 1953, but Jawaharlal 
Nehru repeated his declaration against the Punjabi-speaking state 
during the Pepsu mid-term poll in early 1954. The Akalis prepared 
their case with care, strictly on the basis of language, using pre-1947 
census figures, to argue that an area of over 35,000 square miles with a 
population of nearly 12 million was really Punjabi-speaking, though 
the Sikh population in this area was much less than half. The Commu- 
nists and the Praja Socialists also supported the demand for the merger 
of the Punjab and Pepsu and the formation of a Punjabi-speaking state. 
The leaders of Himachal and Haryana too wanted separate states in 
their respective regions, complementing thus the demand for a 
Punjabi-speaking state. 

There were many others, however, who advocated the merger not 
only of Pepsu but also of Himachal Pradesh, or even a few districts of 
Uttar Pradesh, with the Punjab to form a greater Punjab on economic, 
administrative, cultural, educational and patriotic arguments. They 
alleged that the demand for a linguistic state was only a ruse for 

? Tempers rose so high on the issue that one person was killed in a Jalandhar village: 
Kailash Chander Gulati, The Akalis Past and Present, Ashajanak Publications, New Delhi, 

19745 157. 
10 [bid., 157. 


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creating a state with a Sikh majority; they feared that such a state would 
eventually lead to separation and logically to the disintegration of the 
country; they insisted that the language of the Punjab was actually 
Hindi, with several varieties of Punjabi as its dialects; and as the last 
resort they asserted paradoxically that every citizen of India had the 
right ‘to choose’ his ‘mother-tongue’. The hard core of the protagon- 
ists of ‘Maha-Punjab’ consisted of the Arya Samajists and the Jan 

Besides submitting their memoranda to the States Reorganization 
Commission, the protagonists of the ‘Punjabi-Province’ and the 
‘Maha-Punjab’ used the press and addressed meetings to propagate 
their views. Very soon, however, anti-Sikh and anti-Hindu slogans 
became a common feature of such meetings. The government decided 
to impose a ban on slogans. The Akalis regarded this ban as essentially 
a ban on slogans in favour of the Punjabi Province. They decided to 
defy the ban. Master Tara Singh was arrested in May 1955. Sant Fateh 
Singh joined the morcha for the first time in his life. Within two 
months, thousands of volunteers courted arrest and the movement 
reached its peak in early July. The government began stopping the 
volunteers on their way to the Golden Temple. The arms licences of 
the SGPC were cancelled and on refusal to surrender arms the police 
entered the Golden Temple complex, stopped the langar, entered 
Guru Ram Das Sarai, arrested the head-priests, raided the Akali Dal 
Office and used tear gas shells on the volunteers gathered in the Temple 
complex. Troops were ordered to flag-march through the bazars and 
streets around the Golden Temple. But all this failed to overawe the 
Akalis. On July 12, the government withdrew the ban on slogans. The 
Chief Minister Sachar visited the Akal Takht to offer a personal 

The freedom gained by the Akalis to shout slogans in favour of the 
Punjabi Province did not impress the States Reorganization Commis- 
sion. In its report submitted on 30 September 1955, the majority of the 
Punjabis were opposed to the demand for a Punjabi-speaking state. The 
most crucial part of this ‘majority’ was actually the articulate section of 
the Hindus of the Punjabi-speaking zone. The Commission confused 
the language issue with the issue of scripts on which ‘sentiment 
was arrayed against sentiment’.'* The ‘sentiment’ of the anti-Punjabi 

11 Sachar lost his Chief Ministership a few months later to Partap Singh Kairon. 
12 Quoted, Satya M. Rai, Punjab Since Partition, Durga Publications, Delhi, 1986, 292. 


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~~ Ne a arn. 
fon pa 
. 4 
BIHAR de = aoe i MaPuR 
‘) Desh J oa! 
& ~west), rene (MIZORAM 

Arabian Sea 

Bay of Bengal 

Disa < &Y TAMIL 



Map 7 Contemporary India 

Hindus of the Punjabi-speaking zone won the battle. The Commission 
recommended the merger of Himachal Pradesh, Pepsu and the Punjab 
to form a new state. The criterion of language was totally set aside. 
Giani Kartar Singh remarked that out of the fourteen languages 
regarded as ‘national’ in the Constitution of India, Punjabi alone was 
left without a state formed on its basis. 

The report was rejected by the Akalis on the day following its release 
on 9 October 1955. They called a convention of all the parties and 
organizations of the Sikhs on October 16 and underlined the secular 

13 Satya M. Rai, Punjab Since Partition, 295-96. Master Tara Singh remarked that the 

Sikhs would have to fight now with their backs to the wall: quoted, A. S. Narang, Storm 
Over the Sutlej, 126. 


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and democratic character of the demand. The recommendation of the 
Commission appeared to be as partisan as the most rabid partisan could 
wish. Even the Sachar Formula, which the Commission recognized 
was not implemented, was whittled down. The convention authorized 
Master Tara Singh to approach the Government of India on behalf of 
the Sikh community. 

Master Tara Singh met Jawaharlal Nehru on October 24 in the 
presence of Abul Kalam Azad and G. B. Pant. He was accompanied by 
Giani Kartar Singh, Hukam Singh, Gian Singh Rarewala and Bhai Jodh 
Singh. Their talks were inconclusive. Another deputation met the 
Prime Minister on behalf of the Punjab Government to suggest that the 
Pepsu formula could be extended to the Punjab for solving the 
language problem and the Punjabi language could be promoted in the 
whole state. Re-thinking of a sort had started before the annual session 
of the Congress was held at Amritsar in December. The Akalis also 
decided to hold their conference in Amritsar at the same time, and so 
did the protagonists of ‘Maha-Punjab’. All took out processions as a 
demonstration of popular participation. The Akali procession was the 
most impressive. This popular demonstration appealed to the demo- 
cratic instincts of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was now prepared to accom- 
modate the Akalis as much as he could in the face of contending 

Hukam Singh had formulated a scheme which essentially met some 
of the Akali demands without actually creating a Punjabi-speaking 
state. This became the basis of discussion in January 1956, and an 
agreement was reached before the end of February. In a general 
meeting of the Akali Dal on March 11 the majority of the leaders were 
in favour of accepting the scheme. Finalized afterwards, the scheme 
came to be known as the Regional Formula. From the viewpoint of the 
Akalis it was not a bad compromise. Not Himachal Pradesh but only 
Pepsu was to be merged with the Punjab. The new state was to be 
bi-lingual, but Punjabi in Gurmukhi script was to be the ‘regional’ and 
the official language in the Punjabi zone. The Punjab Government was 
to set up a separate department for the development of Punjabi as well 
as Hindi; the Union Government was to encourage Punjabi like any 
other ‘regional’ language in the country. All this appeared to take care 
of the language problem. On the political side, a regional committee 
was to be formed for each zone, with a certain degree of initiative and 
power to legislate on fourteen important subjects. Worked in the right 


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NJAB -66 rh in 

Lahaul and Spiti 


Himachal ‘Pradesh 


WY Punjabi speaking zone Mohindergarh 
(I) Hindi speaking zone aie > 

Map 8 The Punjab (1956-1966): linguistic zones 


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spirit, this provision promised a large measure of legislative 

As a part of the understanding between the Akali and the Congress 
leaders, the Working Committee of the Akali Dal resolved on 30 
September 1956, that the Dal would not have a separate political 
programme of its own. It would concentrate on the promotion of the 
religious, educational, cultural, social and economic interests of the 
Sikh Panth, and guard against any violation of ‘fundamental rights’ 
which might adversely affect Sikh interests; it would actively partici- 
pate in the working out of the Regional Formula, and in the implemen- 
tation of various plans for the development of the country.'5 Master 
Tara Singh declared that he would never forsake Jawaharlal Nehru, and 
Jawaharlal praised Master Tara Singh for his courage and honesty of 
purpose. The new Punjab state was inaugurated on 1 November 1956. 


The coalition ministry which had ended with Khizr Hayat’s 
resignation in March, 1947 was revived after 15 August 1947, 
without the Unionists and those legislators whose constituencies 
were left in the West Punjab.’ Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava headed the 
new ministry which included Swaran Singh and Ishar Singh Majhail. 
Recalling the promises of the Congress, particularly its resolution of 
1929, and expressing their faith and trust in the great Congress 
leaders, the Akalis resolved in March, 1948 that all their legislators 
should join the Congress Assembly Party. This was done on 
March 18. 

In June, 1948, Giani Kartar Singh was included in the cabinet in place 
of Ishar Singh Majhail as a concession to the Akalis. Giani Kartar Singh 
is believed to have cultivated Bhim Sen Sachar, the leader of the 
Congress Assembly Party before 1947, to work against Bhargava. In 
any case, Sachar replaced Bhargava as Chief Minister on 13 April 1949. 
It was at this time that Giani Kartar Singh worked on the new leader to 
evolve the language formula. Sachar lost his Chief Ministership within 
a few weeks and Bhargava was back in office in October, 1949. 

14 For the text of the ‘regional plan’, Satya M. Rai, Partition of the Punjab, Asia Publishing 
House, Bombay, 1965, 274-75. 

15 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 284. 

16 Kailash Chander Gulati, The Akalis Past and Present, 149-50. That was why Dr Gopi 
Chand Bhargava became the leader of the Punjab Congress and not Bhim Sen Sachar. 


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By this time, the Akalis had failed to get any constitutional safe- 
guards.!7 In the Bhargava ministry they began to feel rather ineffective. 
In a meeting of the Working Committee of the Akali Dal on July 30 the 
merger was revoked on the grounds that the hopes of constructive 
sympathy and support from the great Congress leaders had been 
belied. However, the bulk of the erstwhile Akali legislators chose to 
remain in the Congress. At the end of 1950, the ‘nationalist’ Sikhs like 
Udham Singh Nagoke, Gurdial Singh Dhillon, Surjit Singh Majithia, 
Sohan Singh Jalal-Usman and Giani Zail Singh could hold a parallel 
Sikh convention at Amritsar to oppose the formation of a Punjabi- 
speaking state in the interest of ‘the unity and strength of the 
country’.!8 The opponents of the Punjabi-Province, thus, were not 
only in Delhi, or among the ‘communal’ Hindus of the Punjab, but 
also among the Sikh leaders themselves, including some of the former 
members of the Akali Dal. 

The Congress Party in the Punjab was no less divided by factions 
than the Akalis. Jawaharlal in 1951 was particularly unhappy about 
‘communalism’ and ‘factionalism’ in the Punjab Congress.!? Bhargava 
could not hold office for long, particularly after the death of his patron, 
Sardar Patel. When Bhargava resigned on 16 June 1951, the Congress 
High Command opted for President’s rule in the Punjab rather than a 
new Congress ministry. Early in November, Giani Kartar Singh left 
the Congress and became General Secretary of the Shiromani Akali 
Dal. This could hardly improve the position of the Dal. The Akali Dal 
lost heavily in the elections of 1952, winning only thirteen seats in a 
house of 126. With a larger number of rural Sikh leaders in the 
Congress, the Akali Dal did not have much chance against the 
Congress even in the Punjabi-speaking zone dominated by the Sikhs. 
Furthermore, the Akalis fought the elections both in Pepsu and the 
Punjab on the issue of the Punjabi-speaking state, and this issue in the 
early years of Independence had no fascination for the Sikh peasantry. 

The defeat of the Akalis did not mean a defeat of the Sikhs. In fact 
when Sachar was sworn in as the new Chief Minister he chose Swaran 
Singh, Partap Singh Kairon and Ujjal Singh as his cabinet colleagues 
from amongst the Sikh legislators. Not exactly through a convention 

17 In this context, Master Tara Singh made the statement that the Muslims got Pakistan and 
the scheduled castes got reservations but the Sikhs got kicks for seeking merely constitutional 
safeguards: Satya M. Rai, Partition of the Punjab, 203. 

18 Quoted, Kailash Chander Gulati, The Akalis Past and Present, 156. 
19 Quoted, Satya M. Rai, Partition of the Punjab, 212-13. 


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but because of the sheer exigency of the political situation, Sikh 
ministers had parity with the non-Sikh ministers in the Congress 
government. This lent plausibility to the contention of the Congressite 
Sikhs that even the interests of the community were better served by 
remaining in the Congress. When the Akalis decided towards the end 
of September, 1956, to have no separate political programme, they too 
were hopeful that they would serve themselves and the community 
better from within the Congress. 

The tussle between the Akali and the Congressite Sikhs for the 
leadership of the Sikh community was not confined to the legislative 
assembly. The Akalis regarded the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak 
Committee as their domain almost by right. With the changing 
political alignments of the early 1950s this prerogative was questioned. 
Mohan Singh Nagoke, who was the President of the SGPC on 15 
August 1947, was replaced by Udham Singh Nagoke on 28 June 1948. 
At this time the Akalis were in the Congress. Gradually, however, 
Master Tara Singh realized that there was a possibility of the SGPC 
being captured by the Sikh leaders who were in the Congress or with 
the Congress. For about eight months in 1950 Udham Singh Nagoke 
remained out of office because Chanan Singh Orara, who had been 
asked to arbitrate between two rival claimants, chose himself to be the 
President. The Akali defeat in the elections of 1952 was attributed by 
them largely to the fact that the SGPC was not under their control. 
Even in June, 1952 Udham Singh Nagoke was able to get his own 
candidate elected. But within four months he was replaced by a 
nominee of Master Tara Singh. He remained in office for more than a 
year before he was replaced by Ishar Singh Majhail on 18 January 1954. 
Ishar Singh was replaced by Master Tara Singh himself in February 
1955. : 

The importance of the SGPC for Sikh politics had been taken for 
granted before 1947. The tussle for its control in the first decade of 
Independence intensified the awareness of that importance. In fact 
certain amendments were deliberately made in the Gurdwara Act to 
enable the members of the General Body to oust the President if he did 
not enjoy its confidence. That was how Ishar Singh Majhail was 
brought in at the beginning of 1954. Not only the Congress Party but 
also the Communists entered the arena of SGPC elections in 1954, the 
former in the garb of the Khalsa Dal Front and the latter as the Desh 
Bhagat Board. But the Khalsa Dal won only three out of the 132 seats it 


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contested. The Akalis won all the 110 seats they contested. They were 
nonetheless resentful of ‘nationalist’ interference in the affairs of the 
SGPC. They felt all the more sensitive about this ‘religious’ institution 
because it served as a strong base for their secular politics. 


At the time of the inauguration of the new Punjab state on 1 November 
1956, Partap Singh Kairon was the Chief Minister. The Akali legisla- 
tors joined the Congress Party under his leadership. The Congress 
won 120 seats in a house of 164. There were fifty-eight Sikh legislators 
in the Congress Party, and nearly fifty of them represented the Punjabi 
‘region’ which had seventy-one seats in all. However, the proportion 
of former Akalis among them was smaller than that of the Congressite 
Sikhs. In fact, Master Tara Singh had been rather unhappy about the 
number of tickets given to the ‘Akalis’. He was not even consulted, and 
consequently he had encouraged independent candidates to contest the 
elections to demonstrate his resentment. It was not from the Akalis, 
however, that Kairon faced the first problem in his new tenure as Chief 
Minister. One of the provisions of the Regional Formula was to give no 
option to parents for Hindi in the Punjabi region. The Arya Samajists, 
who had earlier refused to implement the Sachar Formula in their 
schools, now opposed the Regional Formula as something much 
worse. Under the Hindi Raksha Samiti they started a ‘save Hindi’ 
movement in their opposition to Punjabi. This movement was sup- 
ported by men like Suraj Bhan, Principal of D. A. V. College, Jalan- 
dhar, who later became Vice-Chancellor of the Panjab University, and 
the Arya Samayist politicians like Virendra, editor of the Pratap. The 
language aspect of the Regional Formula was compromised by con- 
cessions to Hindi soon after the agitation started, though the agitation 
lasted for seven months. 

Jawaharlal Nehru felt sorry in 1957 about the ‘save Hindi’ move- 
ment and feared that it would disintegrate the Punjab.20 What he did 
not anticipate was that Partap Singh Kairon would not implement the 
Regional Formula. The Akali Dal daily Jathedar was to observe in 
October, 1961 that ‘if the Regional Formula had been implemented in 
the spirit in which it had been conceived by the Central leadership 
under the guidance of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then no further 

20 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 301. 


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trouble would have arisen in the Punjab’. Till March, 1958 the fore- 
most objective of the Akali Dal had been to get it implemented. In June, 
however, Master Tara Singh indicated that he would be compelled to 
reopen the demand for a Punjabi Province if the Regional Formula was 
not implemented. The first Punjabi-Province conference was held in 
October. Master Tara Singh was still prepared to accept an impartial 
arbitration on whether or not the Formula was being implemented. 
Partap Singh Kairon made a successful move to dislodge Master Tara 
Singh from the Presidentship of the SGPC with the help of Giani 
Kartar Singh who was now a minister in his cabinet. On 16 November 
1958 the Master lost the Presidentship by three votes. Kairon pressed 
the advantage by reviving an amendment bill apparently to accommo- 
date the representatives of Pepsu on the SGPC but actually to change 
its constitution to dilute its democratic character. In the Act passed in 
January, 1959 however, his intention stood defeated because of a 
clearly articulated opposition from the Sikhs outside the Congress. 
Master Tara Singh decided to recover his lost position in the SGPC by 
fighting elections on the issue of the Punjabi Province. The Shiromani 
Akali Dal won 132 out of the total 139 seats, and all the Akali Dal 
members of the SGPC took a pledge at the Akal Takht on 24 January 
1960 to work for the achievement of a Punjabi Province with single- 
minded devotion and with all the resources at their command. 
During 1960 the movement for a Punjabi-Province gained some 
momentum. Master Tara Singh, having failed to induce the majority of 
the erstwhile Akalis to resign as Congress legislators, called a Punjabi- 
Province conference in May, which was attended by some leaders of 
the Swatantra and Praja Socialist parties, and announced a demon- 
stration march in Delhi in June. He was arrested; many other Akali 
leaders, including some legislators, were arrested; the Akali papers 
Prabhat and Akali were suppressed. Nearly 18,000 Akalis courted 
arrest at Amritsar before the end of July. Jawaharlal Nehru took notice 
of the demand in his Independence Day speech: ‘every Punjabi should 
himself consider to learn both Hindi and Punjabi’, but there could be 
no bifurcation of the Punjab.?! Partap Singh Kairon started releasing 
Akali volunteers from jails to create the impression that they were 
recanting. The détenus at Bhatinda agitated over their release and four 
of them were killed in firing by the police. Sant Fateh Singh, who was 
the dictator of the morcha in the absence of Master Tara Singh, 
21 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 331. 


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declared on the first of November that it had become necessary to lay 
down his life to save the country from ‘dictatorial rule in the garb of 
democracy’.?2 On December 18 he went on fast unto death to move the 
Prime Minister to concede the legitimate demand for a Punjabi 
Province purely on linguistic basis. 

Jawaharlal Nehru was now prepared to concede the claims for the 
Punjabi language. On December 23 he requested Sant Fateh Singh to 
give up the fast and come for talks. He was thinking in terms of making 
the entire Punjab unilingual.23 Partap Singh Kairon released Master 
Tara Singh from detention in Dharamsala on 4 January 1961 appar- 
ently to enable Sant Fateh Singh to consult him but actually in the hope 
that he would diminish the possibility of an understanding between the 
Prime Minister and the Sant. Those who were advising Sant Fateh 
Singh that the proposal of the Punjab as a unilingual state should be 
accepted now felt weak, and Sant Fateh Singh declined to have talks 
with Jawaharlal Nehru. 

Master Tara Singh met Jawaharlal Nehru at Bhavnagar on January 7 
but failed to convince him about the formation of a Punjabi-speaking 
state. On the 8th, however, Nehru declared that no discrimination was 
deliberately made against the Punjabi language and the Sikh commu- 
nity. He underlined that Punjabi was the dominant language of the 
entire Punjab and deserved encouragement in every way. In his view 
this statement met the substance of the demand about Punjyabi.?4 
Master Tara Singh too insisted with Sant Fateh Singh that the demand 
had been essentially met and persuaded him to give up his fast. The 
Sant did so on 9 January 1961. All the Akali volunteers, officially stated 
to be 30,000, were released. 

However, Sant Fateh Singh’s talks with Jawaharlal in February and 
May, 1961 failed to produce any result. Apart from his own view of the 
situation there was pressure on Nehru from ‘the other communities’ 
against bifurcation of the Punjab. It was insinuated that the Akalis were 
in league with Pakistan. The Akali Dal expressed its resentment over 
the mendacious propaganda of their opponents and asserted that the 

22 This change in the method of agitation has been generally missed. Baldev Raj Nayyar, 
for instance, talks of Akali strategy in terms of constitutional, infiltrational and agitational 
methods without assigning much significance to individual fast unto death: Minority Politics 
in the Punjab, Princeton University Press, 1966, 325. 

23 Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 338-39. 

24 Quoted, Kailash Chander Gulati, The Akalis Past and Present, 172. 


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Sikhs were a dynamic limb of the Indian nation.25 Against the 
unrelenting attitude of the ruling party, the General Body of the Dal 
allowed Master Tara Singh to start his fast on 15 August 1961. Sant 
Fateh Singh met the Prime Minister ten days later but only to find that 
he was prepared to look into the grievances of the Sikhs but not to 
create a Punjabi-speaking state. 

Master Tara Singh gave up his fast on the first of October when 
Hardit Singh Malik came to Amritsar professedly as an emissary of the 
Prime Minister. This was treated as a sign of impending settlement with 
the Akalis. There was a strong reaction from the anti-Punjabi lobbies. 
Jagat Narain, for example, who had resigned as a minister on the issue 
of the Regional Formula, warned the government on October 6 against 
any settlement with the Akalis: ‘The Hindus of Punjab would not 
accept the settlement.’26 Master Tara Singh met the Prime Minister on 
October 30. A Commission was formed a day later, with S. R. Das as 
its Chairman. Both the personnel of the Commission and its scope 
disappointed the Akali leaders and they decided to boycott the Das 
Commission. Its first meeting was held in December, 1961 and its 
report was submitted in February, 1962. Only a few representations 
were made to the Commission, including one by Virendra who argued 
that Punjabi was a dialect of Hindi and Gurmukhi merely a religious 
script. Balraj Madhok, a protagonist of the Jan Sangh, told the 
Commission that the real source of trouble was the Regional Formula 
and that the ‘regional committees’ should be scrapped. The Commis- 
sion concluded that the implementation of the Regional Formula was 
only delayed but not stopped and therefore it involved no injustice. 
The government accepted the report promptly. The general elections 
were round the corner. 


The prestige of Master Tara Singh, like the morale of the Akali Dal, in 
early 1962 was rather low. Towards the end of November, 1961 Master 
Tara Singh and Sant Fateh Singh had been summoned by the 
Cherished-Five as the representatives of the Sikh Panth to explain why 
they had gone back on their decisions to fast unto death after a solemn 
prayer (ardas) in the presence of the Guru-Granth. They were found 

25 Resolution of the Shiromani Akali Dal, quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 350. 
26 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 365. 


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guilty, particularly Master Tara Singh who had not only broken his 
own fast but also persuaded Sant Fateh Singh earlier to break his fast 
without achieving its purpose. Master Tara Singh was ‘punished’ to 
perform an akhand-path, to read bani in excess of the daily norm, to 
offer karah parshad worth 125 rupees, to clean utensils of the Guru’s 
langar and to clean the shoes of the sangat visiting the Gurdwara. He 
did all this in atonement, and he was forgiven by the Cherished-Five. 
But his lapse was not forgotten by the Panth. For the first time in his 
life he had the sad experience of knowing that the Sikhs were no longer 
keen to listen to him; at places in fact they did not allow him to speak. 

In the elections of 1962, the Congress won ninety seats out of 154, 
and Kairon entered the second term of his Chief Ministership. 
However, he himself won only by a margin of thirty-four votes, and 
that too was regarded by many as a result of rigging. There was a clear 
shift of Sikh votes in favour of the Akalis. They could win only 
nineteen seats but they got 20.7 per cent of the total votes. In the 
Punjabi-speaking region, they got over 1,500,000 of the Sikh votes 
while the Congress got less than 600,000. A little over 72 per cent of the 
Sikh voters, thus, supported the Akali candidates. 

The defeat of the Akalis in the elections was followed by a division 
among them. Master Tara Singh was re-elected President of the SGPC 
but only seventy-four members participated in the election. Most of 
the remaining eighty-six members had stayed away in protest. In a 
convention held in the Ludhiana district in July, 1962 Master Tara 
Singh’s failure to keep his solemn pledge was openly denounced as the 
cause of the failure of the Punjabi Province movement. It was resolved 
to take up the cause entirely on linguistic basis under the leadership of 
Sant Fateh Singh. On August 1 Sant Fateh Singh clarified to the press at 
Delhi that his concept of the Punjabi Province had been fundamentally 
different from that of the Master from the very beginning. Early in 
October, Master Tara Singh was dislodged from the Presidentship of 
the SGPC with a no-confidence vote of seventy-six against seventy- 
two. The Akali leaders of Delhi demonstrated their support for Master 
Tara Singh by severing all connections of the Delhi Gurdwara Pra- 
bandhak Committee with the SGPC at Amritsar. The Akali Dal was 
virtually divided into two. 

During the Chinese incursion into Indian territory in October, 1962 
both the Akali leaders demonstrated their patriotism by giving whole- 
hearted support to the government. All the Sikhs responded well, and 


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the Punjab contributed more than 20 million rupees to the national 
defence fund, besides gold weighing double the weight of Jawaharlal 
Nehru. Sant Fateh Singh presented 50,000 rupees to him on behalf of 
the SGPC. In February, 1963 Sant Fateh Singh was still calling for a 
war effort to drive out the Chinese. In June, 1963 Master Tara Singh’s 
effort to dislodge the Sant from the SGPC proved to be unsuccessful 
when a no-confidence motion was defeated by eighty-one votes to 
sixty-two. The support of Sant Fateh Singh had increased much in one 
year at the expense of Master Tara Singh’s popularity. 

Meanwhile, Kairon’s leadership came to be openly criticized by a 
number of legislators.2”? They submitted a charge-sheet against him to 
the Congress President. A deputation of some opposition leaders had 
already met the President of India with over thirty charges of corrup- 
tion, nepotism and favouritism against Kairon. Such charges in fact had 
been brought against him for the first time in 1958 but he was then 
strongly supported by Jawaharlal Nehru to ensure that the Punjab 
legislators did not pass a vote of no-confidence against him. Even in 
1963 Jawaharlal Nehru was inclined to support him, but opposition 
was now stronger and more vocal. On 22 October 1963 Nehru 
recommended to the President that an enquiry may be made into the 
charges against Kairon. He added, however, that any change in the 
leadership of the Punjab might result in producing confusion and 
putting a stop to the progress the state was making under him. The 
Enquiry Commission started its work on 5 December 1963. Nehru’s 
refusal to suspend Kairon led to the resignation of a few Congress 
legislators. The Commission’s findings went against Kairon. He 
resigned on 14 June 1964, a week before the publication of the 
Commission’s Report, carrying the verdict that he had connived at 
the exploitation of his influence by his sons and relatives, colleagues 
and government officials. Jawaharlal Nehru had died already in May, 
1964. Kairon was assassinated in February, 1965. 

At the time of Kairon’s death, the Punjab was on the threshold of 
‘the green revolution’. His policies and measures for over eight years 
had contributed much towards that development. Jawaharlal Nehru 
was justified in saying that the Punjab had made great progress under 
his guiding care. His commitment to communal harmony and 
economic progress was in consonance with Nehru’s thinking. Because 

27 For factionalism in the Punjab oT and opposition to Kairon, Pandit Mohan Lal, 
Disintegration of Punjab, Sameer Prakashan, Chandigarh, 1984. 


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of his support, Kairon was able to withstand the popular movement of 
the Akalis. At the same time he tried to cater to the Punjab peasantry in 
general and the Sikh peasantry in particular, to create the impression 
that he could do more for the Jats than the Akalis could: acquisition of 
land for seed farms outside the plan, consolidation of landholdings, 
provision of electric power to villages, construction of metalled roads, 
loans for tube-wells, introduction of poultry farming and grape 
cultivation and establishment of the Punjab Agricultural University. 
He could do even more for the Punjabi language, he claimed, by 
establishing the Punjabi University at Patiala.28 

The number of tenants in the Punjab decreased from hundreds of 
thousands to merely tens of thousands between 1955 and 1964. 
Agricultural production increased by 42 per cent. From the small 
beginnings made in the early years of Independence, nearly 22 million 
acres were brought under consolidation by 1964~1965, more than 
5,000 villages were supplied with electric power and nearly 8,000 miles 
of metalled roads were under the wheels of buses and trucks. At the 
same time, more than 5,000 factories were registered. The growing 
prosperity of the Punjab and the policies of the government under 
Kairon won many voters for the Congress. The increasing alienation of 
the Akalis, however, was alienating the Sikh peasantry also from the 



On 18 January 1965, Sant Fateh Singh’s group won ninety seats and 
Master Tara Singh’s group got only forty-five seats in the SGPC 
elections. Master Tara Singh retired into the hills for six months. His 
supporters, however, remained active in the plains. In May, 1965 a 
conference was held at Ludhiana in which an important resolution was 
moved by ‘Justice’ Gurnam Singh, leader of the opposition in the 
Punjab Assembly, and seconded by the President of the Master Akali 
Dal, Giani Bhupinder Singh. It was stated in this resolution that the 
Sikh people were makers of history and conscious of their political 
destiny in a free India; the law, the judicial process and the executive 
action of the Indian Union were heavily weighted against the Sikhs; 

28 The Punjabi University was inaugurated by President S. Radhakrishnan in 1962 and 
Kairon underlined the importance of Punjabi as a great language. The institution was meant 
to fulfil a part of the objectives of the Regional Formula. 


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they had no other alternative left than the demand for a self-determined 
status within the Union. By the Urdu and Hindi press of the Punjabis it 
was interpreted as a demand for a sovereign Sikh state.29 

Master Tara Singh returned to the plains in July and put forth his 
final thesis in August. He referred to the solemn promises of the 
Congress which, after the attainment of freedom, were forgotten; he 
referred to the new threat to all the minorities of India in the form of a 
resurgence of militant Hinduism, particularly to the Sikhs who shared 
much with the Hindus; he referred to the Sikh tradition of eschewing 
discrimination against others; he put forth the idea that Sikhism was 
against the concentration of wealth in individual hands and any abuse 
of the means of production; and he concluded that the Sikh demand for 
a space in the sun of free India to breathe the air of freedom was a 
legitimate demand. Indeed, what God and history had built could not 
be destroyed by the new rulers of India.° Clearly, then, Master Tara 
Singh was in favour of an autonomous state for the Sikhs within the 
Indian Union. Seriously put forward for the first time in free India, this 
idea of ‘a Sikh homeland’ was largely the result of Master Tara Singh’s 
failure not only to get the Punjabi Province but also to retain his 
leadership of the Sikh Panth. 

The Working Committee of the Sant Akali Dal passed a resolution 
that not to form a linguistic state in the Punjab was a clear discrimina- 
tion against the people of the Punjab. Sant Fateh Singh was authorized 
to meet the new Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, to press upon 
him the necessity of forming a Punjabi-speaking state. But his meeting 
with Shastri proved to be an unmitigated disappointment. He carried 
the impression that the leaders in Delhi did not trust the Sikhs. On 
August 16 he declared that he would go on fast on September 10 in the 
cause of the Punjabi Province and, if he survived the fast for fifteen 
days, he would immolate himself on the sixteenth day. However in 
view of the armed conflict with Pakistan, he decided on September 9 to 
postpone his fast. It was much appreciated by the President of India, 
Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. All sections of the Punjabis, once again, 
displayed great patriotic fervour during the three weeks of war till the 
cease-fire was declared on 26 September 1965. Soon afterwards, the 
Union Home Minister declared that the question of the Punjabi- 
Province would be examined all afresh and a Parliamentary Committee 

29 Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 401-02. 
39 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 402-06. 


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under the Chairmanship of Hukam Singh, the Speaker, would be set 
up. A cabinet subcommittee was also formed to advise the Parlia- 
mentary Committee from time to time. It consisted of Indira Gandhi, 
Y. B. Chavan and Mahavir Tyagi. 

Lal Bahadur Shastri died at Tashkent on 11 January 1966 and Indira 
Gandhi became the Prime Minister on January 20. She thought of 
discussing the matter with a small committee appointed by Sant Fateh 
Singh but the Sant suspected further delay. He wrote back that he 
would wait for the decision of the government till the end of March. 
The delay resulted in the adoption of extreme postures; the Master 
Akali Dal reiterated its demand for a Sikh homeland and the Jan Sangh 
opposed the formation of even a Punjabi Province. On March 9 the 
Congress Working Committee recommended to the Union Govern- 
ment that a state with Punjabi as state language may be created out of 
the existing Punjab. In reaction, there were strikes, arson and murder, 
generally believed to have been orchestrated by the Jan Sangh. Three 
Congressmen were burnt alive in Panipat, including an old associate of 
Bhagat Singh. 

The Union Home Minister, Gulzari Lal Nanda, announced the 
appointment of a Commission on 17 April. The falsified returns of 
‘mother-tongue’ in the census of 1961 were made the basis of 
enumeration and the tehsil, instead of the village, was made the unit 
of bifurcation. These terms of reference minimized the relevance of 
‘other factors’. The Akalis sought all genuinely Punjabi-speaking 
areas for the reorganized Punjab in their memorandum to the 
Commission, headed by Justice Shah, a sitting judge of the Supreme 
Court, with two retired officials as its members. Two members of the 
Commission recommended exclusion of Tehsil Kharar from the 
Punjab, carrying the implication of the loss of its capital, Chandigarh, 
to the Punjab state. The report of the Commission was considered by 
the Congress Parliamentary Committee on 8 June, and accepted with 
some modifications. The Punjab Reorganization Bill provided not 
only for a linguistic state but also for the creation of Haryana and the 
Union Territory of Chandigarh. Introduced in the Lok Sabha on 
3 September 1966, it was passed on 7 September. It received the 
President’s assent on 18 September. Despite protests from the Akalis, 
the reorganized Punjab was inaugurated on 1 November 1966. 


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The new Punjab state created new problems because of the way in 
which it was formed. Sant Fateh Singh expressed his dissatisfaction 
several months before the new state was inaugurated: genuinely 
Punjabi-speaking areas were being left out of the new state and given to 
Haryana or Himachal Pradesh; Chandigarh was unjustly being turned 
into a Union Territory; power and irrigation projects were being taken 
over by the Union Government. Opposing the Reorganization Bill in 
the Parliament, Kapur Singh referred to the promises made by the 
Congress and its leaders on various occasions; as late as July, 1946 
Jawaharlal Nehru had told a press conference that the Sikhs were 
entitled to special consideration: ‘I see no wrong in an area and a set-up 
in the North wherein the Sikhs can also experience a glow of freedom.’ 
Kapur Singh too favoured a larger state irrespective of Sikh population, 
but a state standing in a special relationship to the Centre and having a 
special internal constitution, a Sikh homeland.' 

Sant Fateh Singh demanded ‘the same rights for the Suba administra- 
tion as were allowed to other states, and the same status for the 
language as enjoyed in other areas’.2 On 17 December 1966 he went on 
a fast with the declared intention of immolating himself ten days later. 
On the afternoon of December 27 Hukam Singh reached Amritsar to 
tell a large congregation in the Golden Temple that the Prime Minister 
Indira Gandhi had agreed to arbitrate on the issues involved and that 
Chandigarh belonged to the Punjab. Sant Fateh Singh was persuaded 
to break his fast. A few days later the Home Minister denied in the 
Parliament that any assurance had been given to the Sant. Indira 
Gandhi stated on 8 January 1967 that she had agreed to arbitrate but 
given no assurance to Sant Fateh Singh. 

In the elections of 1967, Master Tara Singh’s followers demanded a 
special status for the new Punjab, like Jammu and Kashmir. This idea 

1 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, U. C. Kapur and Sons, Delhi, 1970, 449-50. 
2 Quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 457. 


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(After 1966) 


je aA 
fe nwo 
p ae ou 
LO". ‘ 
5 ». 

é a ; 




Map 9 Contemporary Punjab 

of a Sikh homeland did not go well with the mass of the Sikhs, and the 
Master Akali Dal won only two seats, with about 4.5 per cent of the 
votes. The Sant Akali Dal, however, won twenty-four seats, with about 
20.5 per cent of the votes. A sizeable section of the Sikh peasantry still 
supported the Congress which won forty-eight seats, with over 37.5 
per cent of the votes. But the Congress failed for the first time after 
1947 to have a majority in the Assembly. The Sant Akali Dal, under the 
leadership of ‘Justice’ Gurnam Singh, formed the first non-Congress, 


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United Front ministry in March with the support of the Jan Sangh, the 
Communist parties and others. The United Front ministry fell on 
22 November 1967. Three days later, the defecting Akali leader Lachh- 
man Singh Gill formed a new ministry with the support of the 
Congress. The leader of the Congress Assembly Party, Gian Singh 
Rarewala, tried to persuade the Congress High Command that the 
Punjab Congress may form a coalition ministry with the Akalis instead 
of merely supporting Lachhman Singh Gill. But the High Command 
did not even extend support to Gill for a long time. His ministry fell on 
23 August 1968. President’s rule was imposed in the new Punjab within 
two years of its formation. 

The fall of two Akali ministries in less than nineteen months obliged 
the Akali leaders to review the political situation. Kapur Singh became 
Senior Vice-President of the combined Master and Sant Akali Dal. His 
ideas were reflected in the agreement reached and signed on 8 October 
1968. The political objective of the Panth, it was stated, was well 
grounded in the commandments of Guru Gobind Singh and given 
concrete shape in Sikh history. The Khalsa were ‘a sovereign people by 
birth-right’; all decision-making powers belonged to the Panth; and 
the goal of the Shiromani Akali Dal was to achieve an autonomous 
status in a well-demarcated territory within free India. More powers 
were demanded for the states because ‘the Congress party in power has 
abused the Constitution to the detriment of the non-Congress 
Governments, and uses its power for its party interest’. The Shiromani 
Akali Dal demanded that the Constitution of India ‘should be on a 
correct federal basis and that the states should have greater auton- 
omy’. The slogan of state autonomy was added to the earlier concern 
for getting Chandigarh included in the Punjab and regaining control of 
power and irrigation projects. In the mid-term elections of February 
1969, which the Akalis fought in alliance with the Jan Sangh, they won 
forty-three seats, five more than the Congress. The percentage of the 
Sant Akali Dal votes too increased to 29.5 for the first time. Gurnam 
Singh headed the ministry again, in coalition with the Jan Sangh. 

The issue of Chandigarh was now taken up by the advocates of Sikh 
homeland. Jathedar Darshan Singh Pheruman went on fast unto death 
on 15 August 1969 on this issue. He was determined to demonstrate 
that a true Sikh of the Guru did not go back on his vow (ardas) without 
attaining its objective. This did not reflect well on Sant Fateh Singh. 

3 Resolution of the Akali Dal, quoted, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, Punjabi Suba, 465-66. 


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Pheruman also declared that though the country was free, the Panth 
was still in bondage. And this was supposed not to reflect well on the 
Congress leadership. He wished to lay down his life for the ultimate 
objective of a Sikh homeland. The Working Committee of the Akali 
Dal resolved to struggle for all those objectives for which Sant Fateh 
Singh had kept his fast. Nearly all the political parties of the Punjab 
combined to take out a huge procession in Chandigarh, demanding its 
inclusion in the Punjab. Jathedar Darshan Singh Pheruman died on 
October 27. 

On 24 November 1969 Sant Fateh Singh announced his decision to 
go on fast on the forthcoming Republic Day, 26 January 1970 and to 
immolate himself on February 1, if Chandigarh was not given to the 
Punjab. The Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced her award on 29 
January 1970 giving Chandigarh to the Punjab. But this was not all. A 
part of the Fazilka Tehsil in Ferozepur district was awarded to 
Haryana, with a corridor on the border with Rajasthan to bypass the 
Punjabi-speaking villages of the Muktsar Tehsil between Haryana and 
Fazilka. A commission was to be appointed to consider other terri- 
torial claims of the Punjab. The award was to be implemented five 
years later in 1975. The All-Parties Action Committee under the 
Chairmanship of the Jan Sangh leader Baldev Parkash denounced the 
award as unjust and illogical but asked Sant Fateh Singh to give up his 
fast because Chandigarh was awarded to the Punjab. Sant Fateh Singh 
broke his fast on 30 January 1970. 

Within two months of the Prime Minister’s award there occurred a 
rupture between the Akali Dal organization and its Assembly Party, 
more specifically between the President Sant Fateh Singh and the Chief 
Minister Gurnam Singh. The Chief Minister got Giani Bhupinder 
Singh elected to the Rajya Sabha against the candidate nominated by 
the Sant, and Sant Fateh Singh got them both expelled from the Akali 
Dal. On 27 March 1970 Parkash Singh Badal became the new Chief 
Minister of the Akali-Jan Sangh coalition. Before long, however, his 
supporters were asking him to get rid of their Jan Sangh partners who 
were becoming aggressive in demanding parity of Hindi with Punjabi 
and a change in the jurisdiction of Guru Nanak Dev University 
established by Gurnam Singh in November, 1969. The Jan Sangh 
members left the government on June 20. Dissension within the Akali 
Party synchronized with the increasing hold of Indira Gandhi over the 
ruling Congress. In the Parliamentary elections of March, 1971 the 


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Akalis won only one seat. Three months later, Badal advised the 
Governor to dissolve the Assembly, afraid of his removal from Chief 
Ministership due to defections. President’s rule was imposed on the 
Punjab on 13 June 1971. 

The general elections were held in the Punjab in March 1972 after the 
war with Pakistan resulted in the independence of Bangla Desh and the 
prestige of Indira Gandhi was at its highest. The Congress swept the 
elections in the Punjab, as in many other parts of the country, winning 
sixty-six out of the total 104 seats. Its communist allies won another 
ten. The Akalis had fought alone, and won only twenty-four seats. In 
terms of votes, however, the loss of the Akali Dal was rather marginal, 
falling from 29.5 per cent in 1969 to 27.7 per cent in 1972. The gain of 
the Congress was largely at the expense of the Jan Sangh which failed to 
win any seat and got only 5 per cent of the votes. The Sikh peasant base 
of the Akali Dal remained virtually intact. The Sikh scheduled and 
backward castes, however, like the urban Hindus and Hindu Harijans, 
largely supported the Congress. Thus, when Giani Zail Singh was 
elected as the leader of the Congress Assembly party on 15 March 
1972, to become the Chief Minister of the Punjab, he did not enjoy the 
support of the Sikh landholders, even though nearly 60 per cent of the 
Congress legislators were Sikh.* 


In spite of political instability, the first five years of the new Punjab 
state were marked by a spurt in economic growth. When the Akalis 
declared in 1967 that they would make the Punjab ‘a model province’, 
‘an object of envy’ for the rest of the country, the green revolution had 
already begun. The consolidation of landholdings was completed in 
1969. The rural share of electric power in 1970 rose to over 35 per cent. 
The percentage of irrigated area in the gross area under cultivation 
was increasing rather rapidly. Nearly 2,000 kms of link roads were 
constructed in 1969-1970, which was more than the total length of 
roads built during the First Five Year Plan. The majority of villages 
were linked with main roads and, therefore, with markets. The 
functioning of agricultural machinery was ensured by a certain degree 

+ For changes in the voting patterns, M.S. Dhami, ‘Changing Support Base of the 
Congress Party in Punjab, 1952-80’, Punjab Journal of Politics, Guru Nanak Dev University, 
Amritsar, 1984, Vol. 8, No. 1, 65-97. 


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of indigenization of technology. A high-yielding variety of dwarf 
wheat had been introduced in 1965 and within five years the farmers of 
the leading district of Ludhiana took entirely to this variety. The area 
under wheat doubled from 1960 to 1970, and the production of wheat 
increased five-fold.5 

The Akali regime came to be associated with agrarian prosperity 
though the green revolution did not lose momentum afterwards. In the 
Punjab as a whole, wheat and rice production increased threefold from 
1965-1966 to 1971-1972, wheat rising from 1.9 to 5.9 million tonnes 
and rice from 0.29 to 0.92 million tonnes. The rate of increase in the 
production of maize and cotton as well as wheat and rice became higher 
in the late 1970s. The output of cereals rose from less than 8 million 
tonnes in 1975 to nearly 12 million tonnes in 1980. In 1978-1979 the 
Punjab contributed over 6 million tonnes of foodgrains to the all India 
procurement of about 11 million tonnes. The production of sugarcane 
and cotton also increased steadily during the 1970s. 

The economic development in the Punjab reduced the poverty ratio 
to the lowest in the country but industrial production lagged far behind 
the agricultural production. Small-scale industries came to be concen- 
trated in Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana, engaged mainly in the 
production of cotton and woollen textiles, hosiery, cycles, machine 
tools, agricultural implements, sports goods, steel re-rolling and cotton 
ginning and pressing, accounting for over 78 per cent of the total value 
of small industrial production in 1973-1974, and for go per cent in 
1978-1979. The large- and medium-scale units, about 200 in 1978- 
1979, accounted for about 48.5 per cent of the total production.® 
Nevertheless, the gap between the growth of agrarian economy and 
industrialization in the state became wider. 

A considerable number of the Sikhs from the towns and villages of 
the Punjab were moving to other parts of the country in search of 
better opportunities. In 1971, when the Sikhs formed nearly 1.9 per 
cent of the total population of the country, more than 20 per cent of 
them were living outside the Punjab. Their largest number was in 
Haryana, well over 600,000, which was a part of the Punjab state only a 
few years before. The combined number of Sikhs in Uttar Pradesh and 
Rajasthan was larger than in Haryana, and most of them had gone there 

5 Partap C. Aggarwal, The Green Revolution and Rural Labour, Sri Ram Centre for 
Industrial Relations and Human Resources, New Delhi, 1973. 

6 Pramod Kumar and others, Punjab Crisis: Context and Trends, Centre for Research in 
Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh, 1984, 52-56. 


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to reclaim waste lands. Delhi came next with nearly 300,000 Sikhs. In 
Jammu and Kashmir and in Maharashtra the number of Sikhs was more 
than 100,000 each; in Madhya Pradesh, it was only a little less than 
100,000. The percentage of increase in Sikh population in these states 
ranged from twenty-four to sixty-eight between 1961 and 1971, a clear 
index of their outmigration from the Punjab and their integration with 
national economy and polity. 

Of over 8 million Sikhs in the Punjab in 1971, who formed a little 
over 60 per cent of the total population of the state, over 90 per cent 
were living in the countryside. Nearly 65 per cent of the Sikhs in the 
Punjab belonged to the cultivating castes, while Khatri, Arora, 
Brahman and Rajput Sikhs formed only about 5 per cent. Even in cities 
and towns the artisan and scheduled castes among the Sikhs were as 
numerous as the Sikhs with a ‘high caste’ background. Altogether, the 
artisans and scheduled castes formed about a fifth of the total Sikh 
population, and lived mostly in the villages. The number and propor- 
tion of ‘high castes’ among the Sikhs was smaller than among the 
Hindus who lived mostly in cities and towns. The proportion of 
scheduled castes too was higher among the Hindus. The proportion of 
artisans and craftsmen as well as agriculturalists was much higher 
among the Sikhs. 

The effects of agrarian growth in the Punjab on the landholders 
were not uniform. Amidst a decreasing number of tenants and an 
increasing number of labourers in the 1970s, the rich and middle-class 
farmers, owning more than ten acres of land (who formed about 23 per 
cent of the total landholders) came to operate nearly 65 per cent of the 
area under cultivation. The peasants owning five to ten acres of land 
constituted about 20 per cent of the landholders and cultivated about 
20 per cent of the land. The poor peasants, who cultivated only about 
15 per cent of the land, formed nearly 57 per cent of the landholders. A 
small class of rich peasants existed side by side with a large group of 
small and poor peasants. But they all felt concerned about higher prices 
and cheaper inputs. The Akali Chief Ministers from 1967 to 1971 
catered largely to the countryside. Landholdings up to five acres were 
exempted from land-revenue. The abolition of betterment-fee levied 
on areas irrigated by the Bhakra canals was accepted in principle. Over 
25 millions of dollars from a World Bank loan of 39 millions were 
earmarked to purchase tractors which could be ‘hire-purchased’ by 
farmers for 25 per cent of the price. Prices were ‘guaranteed’ for 


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procurement. To appeal to the sentiments of landholders, the Akalis 
contemplated amendment in the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 to 
enable married women to get a share in the landed property of the 
father-in-law rather than the father to reduce fragmentation of land- 
holdings. To hammer the point that the ceiling of thirty acres was an 
anti-rural measure, the Akali leaders advocated a ceiling on urban 
property exceeding the value of thirty acres of agricultural land. To 
underline that middlemen and traders were substantial beneficiaries of 
the green revolution they proposed to take over the entire foodgrains 

On the basis of their experience the Akali ministers became 
conscious of the areas of tension between the Centre and the State. One 
such area was funds for developmental purposes. They had a strong 
feeling that the Punjab was getting a much smaller share from the 
Centre than its due. No clearance was given by the Centre for the 
Thein Dam Project, and a thermal project had to be started without 
prior clearance. The Punjab was not getting its due share from the river 
waters. The prices of agricultural produce fixed by the Centre were 
rather low. ‘At the poiitical level also we faced interference in the very 
continuance of the Akali Ministry. These tactics of the Central Party 
were ultimately instrumental in the overthrowing of our Govern- 
ment.’8 In the early 1970s, while a few of the Akali leaders were in 
favour of revising the Centre-State relations in financial matters and a 
few others were in favour of a separate constitution for the Punjab, the 
majority advocated the introduction of a genuinely federal system, 
with defence, foreign affairs, communications and currency as the 
great prerogatives of the Union Government. It was on the basis of 
such rethinking that a subcommittee was constituted by the Working 
Committee of the Akali Dal before the end of 1972 to chalk out a 
‘policy programme’ of the Akali Dal for the future. The proposals of 
this sub-committee were accepted by the Working Committee in its 
meeting at Anandpur Sahib on the Baisakhi of 1973. Generally referred 
to as the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, it was to prove later to be the 
most controversial resolution passed by the Shiromani Akali Dal in its 

entire history. 

7 For the economic measures and ideas of the Akalis, A. S. Narang, Storm Over the Sutlej: 
The Akalis Politics, Gitanjali Publishing House, New Delhi, 1983, 194-99. 

8 M.S. Dhami, Minority Leaders Image of the Indian Political System, Sterling 
Publishers, Jullundur, 1975, 34-35. 


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During the ministry of Giani Zail Singh, the land ceiling was reduced 
from 30 to 17.5 standard acres and attempts were made to distribute 
surplus land among the tenants and the landless. The Akalis regarded 
this reform as a political stunt, and it did not endear Giani Zail Singh or 
the Congress to the Sikh landholders. From a ‘socialistic’ animosity 
towards large landholders to a thinly veiled antipathy towards the Jats 
was only a step. Before the end of his ministry in 1977, some of his 
admirers had begun to credit him with humbling the Jat leaders. 

One of the major concerns of Giani Zail Singh, however, was to 
demonstrate that he was a better Sikh than the best of the Akalis. He 
was thoroughly familiar with the Sikh scriptures and knew how to use 
this asset with Sikh audiences. If the 300th anniversary of Guru 
Gobind Singh’s birth was celebrated in 1967 and the sooth anniver- 
sary of Guru Nanak’s birth in 1969, the Guru Gobind Singh and Guru 
Nanak Foundations were established during the tenure of Giani Zail 
Singh with substantial financial support from the government. On his 
initiative, kirtan darbars were organized, foundation stones of public 
buildings were laid with an ardas and state functions started with a Sikh 
ritual. A road was completed in the name of Guru Gobind Singh, to 
commemorate his march from Anandpur Sahib to Damdama Sahib, 
combining a large measure of fiction with convenience and utility. 
When it was inaugurated on 10 April 1973 the Akalis joined the 
procession. On April 13 Giami Zail Singh received a robe of honour 
(saropa) at Damdama Sahib, in recognition of his meritorious services 
to the Sikh Panth. 

The events which led to the ouster of Giani Zail Singh and his 
ministry were taking place outside the Punjab. The Prime Minister 
Indira Gandhi was legally ‘unseated’ on 12 June 1974 and her popular- 
ity in the country was waning. The Akalis held a rally at Ludhiana in 
support of her arch opponent, Jaya Prakash Narayan. In 1975 they 
participated in his rally at Delhi in which a call was given for civil 
disobedience, and people were asked not to recognize Indira Gandhi as 
the legitimate Prime Minister of the country. On 25 June 1975 she 
declared that the country was under ‘internal emergency’. In a special 
meeting of their executive on June 30 the Akalis resolved to oppose ‘the 
fascist tendency of the Congress’.? On July 9 they launched a ‘save 

9 Quoted A. S. Narang, Storm Over the Sutlej, 192. 


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democracy’ morcha. They were unhappy with the Congress over the 
delay in starting work on the Thein Dam, discrimination in the 
allocation of heavy industry, and unremunerative prices for farm 
produce. The morcha continued throughout the period of the emer- 
gency, and nearly 40,000 Akalis courted arrest by the beginning of 
1977 when the emergency was withdrawn. 

In the Parliamentary elections of March, 1977 the Congress was 
routed. The Acting President of India, B. D. Jatti, dissolved assem- 
blies in nine states in which the Congress was the ruling party and 
ordered fresh elections. The Akalis formed an alliance with the CPM 
and the Janata Party to contest the elections in June. Altogether they 
won ninety-one seats against the seventeen of the Congress. The Akalis 
alone won fifty-eight out of 117 seats. Parkash Singh Badal, who led 
the coalition ministry, declared after assuming office that the Punjab 
economy was largely rural and the countryside deserved great atten- 
tion: “The real Punjab lives in villages, and it is necessary that the 
benefits of our progress must percolate to the countryside and reach 
the needy people.”!° The whole additional outlay of 480,000,000 rupees 
in 1977 was earmarked for increasing agricultural production through 
extension of irrigational facilities and improvement in infrastructure. 
An ambitious programme of integrated rural development was 
launched in November, 1978 in the shape of ‘focal points’ for groups of 
villages to provide health services, marketing centres, credit facilities 
and recreation. Interest rates on loans were reduced by 1 per cent anda 
new system of credit to farmers was introduced to make it more easily 
available. The measures and policies of the Akalis benefited the 
peasantry greatly, and the rich farmers even more. 

Contrary to the general impression studiously spread by their 
self-interested opponents that the Akalis forget their demands when 
they come into power, in the All India Akali Conference held at 
Ludhiana in October, 1978 a dozen resolutions were passed in the light 
of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution endorsed by the Shiromani Akali 
Dal in 1977.1! These resolutions represented their most important 
ideas on the long-term programme of the party, covering a wide range 
of political, economic, religious, cultural and social issues. A ‘real 
federal shape’ of the Indian constitution was demanded in the very first 

10 Quoted, A. S. Narang, Storm Over the Sutlej, 197. 
1 For the text of the resolution endorsed by Sant Longowal, Government of India, White 
Paper on the Punjab Agitation, Delhi, 1984, 67-90. 


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resolution ‘to enable the states to play a useful role for the progress and 
prosperity of the Indian people in their respective areas by the 
meaningful exercise of their powers’. The merger of Chandigarh and 
other Punjabi-speaking areas in the Punjab, the control of all head- 
works, the just distribution of river waters, the maintenance of the 
‘present ratio’ of the Sikhs in the army and protection to the Sikh 
settlers in the Terai areas of Uttar Pradesh were demanded in the 
second resolution. The third resolution asked among other things for a 
dry port at Amritsar and a stock exchange at Ludhiana. The fourth 
resolution asked for Punjabi to be the second language in the states 
which had a considerable number of Punjabi-speaking people. Some of 
the significant demands in the other resolutions were a broadcasting 
station at Amritsar to relay gurbani to be erected at the expense of the 
Khalsa Panth but under the overall control of the Indian Government, 
and amendment in the Hindu Succession Act to enable a woman to 
inherit her share in the property of her father-in-law, exemption of 
farming land from wealth tax and estate duty and a special ministry for 
the economically backward classes, including the scheduled castes. On 
the whole, the resolutions of October, 1978 were more a manifesto of 
the politico-economic concerns of the Akalis than a demonstration of 
their religious or cultural preoccupations. '!2 


If the Akalis in power tended to become more secular, their opponents 
among the Sikhs tended to become more radical in the spheres of both 
religion and politics. In 1977 Sant Jarnail Singh succeeded to the 
headship of the Damdami Taksal at Chowk Mehta, near Amritsar, 
after the demise of Sant Kartar Singh Bhindranwale (spoken in the 
plural as a mark of reverence), an organization which had upheld Sikh 
‘orthodoxy’ for several decades in free India. Running almost parallel 
with this mission was the ‘heterodox’ mission of the Sant Nirankaris of 
Delhi who were much different from the successors of Baba Dayal, the 
founder of the Nirankari movement. The Sant Nirankaris based their 
teachings on the Sikh scriptures but their leader Baba Avtar Singh also 
composed his Avtar Bani and Yug Pursh. Their decreasing reverence 

12 Anup Chand Kapur, The Punjab Crisis, S. Chand and Co., New Delhi, 1985, 202-05. 
The author sees a great difference between the resolutions passed at Ludhiana and the 
Anandpur Sahib Resolution without much justification. 


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for the Granth Sahib, coupled with their belief in the living gur#z, made 
the Sant Nirankaris extremely unorthodox in the eyes of the Sikhs 
nurtured on the doctrines of the Singh Sabhas. The publication of a 
book on the nature, affluence and influence of the Sant Nirankaris 
brought them into clearer focus.'3 

On the Baisahi of 1978 the Nirankari Guru Baba Gurbachan Singh 
held a congregation at Amritsar. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who 
subscribed to the twin doctrine of Guru-Granth and Guru-Panth, 
regarded Baba Gurbachan Singh’s congregation in the holiest city of 
the Sikhs on the day when Guru Gobind Singh had instituted the 
Khalsa, as an affront to the entire Khalsa Panth. Encouraged by his 
open resentment over the Sant Nirankari Congregation, a number of 
Sikhs went there with the idea of stopping its proceedings. The Sant 
Nirankaris were ready. Their bullets proved to be more deadly than the 
traditional swords of the Khalsa who, consequently, lost many more 
lives than their opponents. The Akali government took legal action. In 
June, 1978 however, a hukmnama was issued from the Akal Takht to all 
the Sikhs that they should have no connection with the Sant Nirankaris 
and they should discountenance their heterodoxy. The hukmnama 
referred to the false claims of Baba Gurbachan Singh to be an avtar and 
to his turning away from the Shabad-Guru to preach the worship of a 
human being.'* The Akalis and the Sikhs in general were content to 
invoke legal and social sanctions but there were others who wanted to 
avenge themselves on the Sant Nirankaris by other means. 

In August, 1978 a council of five was formed in Chandigarh to fight 
the ‘Nirankari onslaught on the Sikhs’. This small organization was 
called Dal Khalsa. It was believed to have been financed and encour- 
aged by some Congress leaders opposed to the Akali Dal coalition. 
Another small organization which decided to take revenge upon 
those Nirankaris and officials who were connected with the incident 
of the Baisakhi day of 1978 at Amritsar was a purely religious 
organization called the Akhand Kirtani Jatha headed by Bibi Amarjit 
Kaur, the widow of Fauja Singh, an Agricultural Inspector, who was 
one of the ‘martyrs’. The hit squad created by Bibi Amarjit Kaur was 
headed by Talwinder Singh. 

New political ideas and organizations were sprouting in the 

13 Balwant Gargi, Nirankari Baba, Thomson Press, Delhi, 1973. 
‘4 For the text of the bukmnama, Harbans Singh, Khalistan, Pbi, Punjabi Writers 
Cooperative, New Delhi, 1982, 109-10. 


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1970s rather imperceptibly. The idea of Khalistan was thrown out by 
Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan through a half-page advertisement in the New 
York Times in October, 1971 after his brief spell as a Finance Minister 
under Lachhman Singh Gill. Whatever the superficial historians or 
self-interested politicians and public men may say about its anteé- 
cedents, the idea of Khalistan was altogether a new idea. In the 1970s it 
was treated as a hoax and Chauhan was treated well by some eminent 
Congress leaders during his visits to India. In the late 1970s the defunct 
Sikh Students Federation, originally founded in the 1940s, was revived 
as the All India Sikh Students’ Federation (AISSF) by Bhai Amrik 
Singh, son of the deceased Sant Kartar Singh Bhindranwale, who was 
closely linked with Sant Jarnail Singh.15 

Some of the new Sikh organizations were opposed to the Akalis. In 
the SGPC elections of 1979, for instance, the Dal Khalsa candidates 
fought against their candidates though without any success. Sant 
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale also fielded about forty candidates who 
were backed by the Congress, but only four of them were elected. In 
the elections of 1980 Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale supported some 
of the Congress candidates.'¢ 

Paradoxically, however, the Congress in the Punjab was becoming 
less and less representative of the Sikhs during the 1970s. It won sixty- 
three seats in the elections of 1980 when the Akalis and their Commun- 
ist allies won only fifty-one. But this was no mean achievement during 
the ‘Indira wave’ of the 1980s. In any case, the main support to the 
Congress in the Punjab came from the Hindus living in urban and 
semi-urban areas and Harijans living in both villages and towns. Only a 
small section of the peasantry, and that too with growing interest in 
business and industry, voted for the Congress. The Akalis and their 
allies got the bulk of their votes from the agricultural castes, totalling 
only a little less than 38 per cent of the votes polled. The Akalis alone 
polled nearly 27 per cent of the votes. The increasing polarization 
between the country and the town was accompanied by an increasing 
polarization between the two major religious communities. This 
development affected the Congress Party in a significant way. The 

15 For ‘extremist’ organizations, Chand Joshi, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, Vikas 

Publishing House, New Delhi, 1984, 32-40. 
16 For the rise of Bhindranwale and the support he got from the Congress leaders, Mark 
Tully and Satish Jacob, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, Rupa and Co., Calcutta, 1985, 



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number of Sikh legislators in the Congress was steadily decreasing, 
from about 65 per cent in 1967 to about 45 per cent in 1980. 


The Congress Chief Minister Darbara Singh had to deal with a 
situation marked by increasing militancy and sectarian polarization.!” 
Baba Gurbachan Singh, who had been acquitted along with his sixty- 
one followers by a court ouside the Punjab, was murdered in Delhi 
after the Punjab Government withdrew its appeal against him from the 
High Court on the fall of the Akali ministry. His son and successor, 
Baba Hardev Singh wrote a letter to the Jathedar of the Akal Takht 
towards the end of 1981 that he and his followers had deep regard for 
the Sikh Gurus, that they were never disrespectful towards the 
traditions and practices of Sikhism, and that they regarded the Guru 
Granth Sahib as a revelation from God. Baba Hardev Singh also 
showed his willingness to expunge objectionable passages from the 
Avtar Bani and the Yug Pursh by mutual agreement.!8 The Akalis were 
inclined to accept this apologetic gesture from the head of the Sant 
Nirankaris, but there were others who were not. 

Meanwhile, separatist ideas began to be aired. An announcement 
was made on 16 June 1980, about the formation of Khalistan by Balbir 
Singh Sandhu who put himself forth as the Secretary-General and Jagjit 
Singh Chauhan as the President of the National Council of Khalistan. 
Ganga Singh Dhillon, a US citizen, addressed the Sikh Education 
Conference at Chandigarh in March 1981 to expound the idea that 
the Sikhs are a distinct nation. His links with Jagjit Singh Chauhan and 
with the President of Pakistan were known to his Indian supporters, 
including Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Jathedar Gurcharan 
Singh Tohra. The Chief Khalsa Diwan dissociated itself from the 
statement of Dhillon in a resolution of 16 April 1981 and asserted that 
the Sikhs were and would remain an inseparable part of Bharat. 
Obviously, the idea that the Sikhs are a distinct nation was taken to 
mean that it carried the implication of political separation. It was 
suggestive of Khalistan. Nevertheless, the SGPC did pass a resolution 

17 For major events from 1980 to 1984, Jagtar Singh, ‘Chronology of Events’, The Punjab 
Crisis: Challenge and Response (ed. Abida Samiuddin), Mittal Publications, Delhi, 1985, 

'8 For the text of his letter, Harbans Singh, Khalistan, 111-12. 


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in 1981 that the Sikhs are a nation. The National Council of Khalistan 
and the Dal Khalsa stood for an independent state for the Sikhs. 

In May, 1981 the All India Sikh Students Federation demanded that 
tobacco and other intoxicants should be banned in the holy city of 
Amritsar before the end of the month. On May 28 the Arya Samaj and 
other ‘Hindu’ organizations led a huge procession in Amritsar to 
demand that not only tobacco but also alcohol and meat should be 
banned in the city of Amritsar. They did not relish the idea of lagging 
behind in expressing whipped-up religious concerns with political 
overtones. On May 31, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale led a proces- 
sion which clashed with the police and nearly a dozen persons were 
killed. Tempers were rising. 

Lala Jagat Narain, who was present in the Nirankari congregation at 
Amritsar on April 13 in 1978 and who had given evidence in support of 
the Sant Nirankaris before a special commission, was vociferous 
through a chain of papers he owned and edited against the protagonists 
of Khalistan whom he regarded as the enemies of the nation without 
making any subtle distinction between one group and another among 
the Sikhs. He was murdered on 9 September 1981. By his own press 
and by some others he was treated as a great martyr. 

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a suspect now as he was after 
the murder of Baba Gurbachan Singh a year and a half earlier. Giani 
Zail Singh as the Home Minister had told the Parliament in 1980 that 
Sant Bhindranwale had no hand in the murder of the Nirankari Baba. It 
was more difficult now to defend him openly. At his headquarters at 
Chowk Mehta, Sant Jarnail Singh chose to offer himself for arrest on 20 
September 1981. Unfortunately, the police opened fire because of 
some misunderstanding and eleven persons were killed. Several inci- 
dents of random firing, sabotage and bomb explosions and the 
hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane took place before Sant Bhindran- 
wale’s release from police custody on October 15. Ironically, both 
Giani Zail Singh and the Akalis were keen for the release of Sant Jarnail 
Singh Bhindranwale. Two months later Jathedar Santokh Singh was 
shot dead and when Sant Bhindranwale went to Dehli for the bhog 
ceremony, Buta Singh, the Union Minister for Sports and Parliament 
Affairs as well as Giani Zail Singh greeted him with customary 

Sant Harchand Singh Longowal presided over a World Sikh Con- 
vention in July, 1981 which directed the Akali Dal to plan dharm yudh 


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(righteous war) to pursue the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Early in 
September the Akali Dal mobilized support for its demands and gave a 
call for demonstration before the Parliament to present their memo- 
randum of grievances to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Only a few of 
the volunteers were allowed to enter the capital. On September 21, 
however, the Akalis were able to present a list of forty-five grievances 
to the Prime Minister. They were asked to prepare a memorandum of 
their demands. A fresh memorandum of fifteen demands was pre- 
sented to Indira Gandhi in October, 1981.19 

The first meeting between the Prime Minister and the Akali leaders 
was held at New Delhi on October 16. It was meant primarily to 
identify issues, and the Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao was to take up 
the issues in detail later. But the Akali leaders who met Narasimha Rao 
found it ‘a waste of time’. Their second meeting with the Prime 
Minister took place on November 26. One of the issues discussed was 
the circular issued by Indira Gandhi’s government during the Emer- 
gency which laid down that recruitment to the defence services was to 
be made from the different states of the country on the basis of their 
population. Its implication for the Sikhs was obvious enough. The 
Akali leaders talked of merit as the main criterion of recruitment but 
the Prime Minister replied that she had to carry ‘others’ along, leaving 
the impression that it was a considered policy of her government to 
reduce the number of Sikhs in the Indian army. 

The impression left on the Akali leaders regarding the more vital 
issue of river waters was even worse. According to the needs hurriedly 
estimated for the Indus Waters Treaty of 1955, the Punjab was 
supposed to require 7.20 million acre feet (maf) of water together with 
Pepsu, and Rajasthan was supposed to need 8.00 maf, while Jammu and 
Kashmir were supposed to require 0.65 maf of water. The Punjab 
Reorganization Act of 1966 stipulated that the waters of the Punjab 
rivers, but not of the Yamuna from which the Punjab till then had been 
drawing water for irrigation, were to be divided between the Punjab 
and Haryana on a basis mutually agreed. If they failed to agree, the 
Union Government was to decide their shares. Indira Gandhi had 
decided during the Emergency in 1976 that out of the 7.20 maf of the 
Punjab share, 0.20 be given to Delhi for drinking purposes and the 
round figure of 7.00 maf be equally divided between the Punjab and 
Haryana. Giani Zail Singh as the Chief Minister of the Punjab did not 

19 For these lists, White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, 61-65. 


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relish the patent injustice done to his state. He was given the choice to 
resign, which he was not inclined to exercise. 

When the Akalis came into power they took up the issue with the 
Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. He could make the Rajasthanis see with 
their own eyes on the map that they had little to do with the Punjab 
rivers, but he was not prepared to reopen the decision of 1955. He was 
prepared to give his own verdict on the shares of the Punjab and 
Haryana but only on the condition that his verdict would be final. 
When the Akalis suggested that they could take the issue to the 
Supreme Court, Morarji Bhai had no objection. A suit was filed, and it 
was pending in the Supreme Court when Indira Gandhi met the Akalis 
on 26 November 1981. She gave assurances of much larger supplies of 
water and energy to the Punjab in the future on the basis of more 
scientific exploitation of sources but she was not in favour of revising 
earlier decisions. 

Within five weeks, nevertheless, Indira Gandhi gave a unilateral 
decision. The available water was estimated at 17.17 maf, and out of the 
additional 1.32 maf 0.72 was given to the Punjab. But at the same time it 
was made clear to the Akalis that their talk about Rajasthan being a 
non-riparian state was a contemptible nonsense: even though it was 
not utilizing the water already allocated, Rajasthan was given the 
remaining 0.60 maf of the estimated additional waters. It was also 
decided that Satlej- Yamuna Link (SYL) canal should be completed in 
two years for Haryana. Of the three Congress Chief Ministers 
concerned two were eager to accept the decision in self-interest. The 
Punjab Government felt obliged to withdraw its case from the 
Supreme Court against its own interest. 

After their third and last meeting with the Prime Minister on 5 April 
1982 the Akali leaders returned from Delhi with the impression that 
Indira Gandhi had already made up her mind to let the issues 
wait. She had, but not on all issues. In view of the impending 
elections in Haryana she was keen on getting the SYL canal dug for 

The Shiromani Akali Dal organized a ‘block the canal’ (nahar roko) 
agitation on 24 April 1982 with the support of the Communist parties, 
at a village close to Kapuri from where the water of the Satlej was to be 
diverted to Haryana. Some of the volunteers were arrested. A month 
later another agitation was launched at Kapuri itself, which also failed 
to mobilize the peasantry. On July 26 the Akalis decided at last to 


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launch their ‘righteous war’ (dharm yudh) with effect from August 4. It 
started with Parkash Singh Badal courting arrest with a large number of 
other volunteers. 

Soon afterwards, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale joined the Akali 
dharm yudh. Two of his followers had been arrested on July 17. Bhai 
Amrik Singh offended the Punjab Governor Chenna Reddy during his 
visit to Amritsar by pleading the case of the arrested workers a little too 
vehemently, and he too was arrested on July 19. Thara Singh, another 
devoted follower of Sant Bhindranwale, was arrested on July 20. Sant 
Bhindranwale decided to leave Chowk Mehta to start a peaceful 
agitation from the Golden Temple complex against their arrest. His call 
failed to evoke much response. He approached the Akali leaders for 
support. They asked him to join the ‘righteous war’ under the 
leadership of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. He accepted the sug- 
gestion. The two morchas became one. 

The dharm yudh for the political, economic, cultural and religious 
demands of the Akalis gained increasing momentum in August and 
September. It became more and more difficult for the government to 
find room for the protesting volunteers in the existing jails. On 
September 11 a bus carrying arrested volunteers collided with a train 
near Tarn Taran and thirty-four of them died on the spot. An 
impressive procession in their honour was taken out in Delhi on 
October 10. Five days later Indira Gandhi decided to release all Akali 
volunteers on the auspicious day of the Diwali of 1982. Before the end 
of October, Swaran Singh was negotiating settlement with the Akali 
leaders on behalf of the Prime Minister. He hammered out a mutually 
acceptable formula on several important issues, like Chandigarh and 
river waters, the relay of kirtan from the All India Radio, the 
Centre-State relations. Indira Gandhi appointed a cabinet subcommit- 
tee consisting of Pranab Mukherjee, R. Venkatraman, Narasimha Rao 
and P. C. Sethi to consider the formula. They accepted it and Swaran 
Singh told the Akali leaders that the government had approved of the 
formula. However, the statement placed before the Parliament turned 
out to be materially different from what had been agreed upon. Indira 
Gandhi had changed her mind. 

A despairing Sant Longowal announced in early November, 1982 
that the Akali Dal would hold demonstrations in Delhi during the 
Asian games. An exhibition of ‘Sikh grievances’ in the capital on an 
occasion of international importance was better avoided. A Congress 


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Member of Parliament, Amrinder Singh, son of Maharaja Yadvindra 
Singh of Patiala, negotiated with the Akali leaders on behalf of the 
Prime Minister. An agreement was reached, but it was sabotaged by 
Bhajan Lal, the Chief Minister of Haryana. Among other things, he 
assured the Prime Minister that no Sikh demonstrators would be 
allowed to reach Delhi at the time of the Asiad. Bhajan Lal proved to be 
truer than his word. No Sikh, whether a Congress member of 
Parliament or a retired army general, was allowed to pass through 
Haryana without being humiliated in one way or the other. Many an 
ordinary Sikh lost not merely metaphorically his ‘honour’ but literally 
his turban. The veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar observed that the 
Sikhs felt humiliated not as individuals but as members of a commu- 
nity. ‘From that day their feeling of alienation has been increasing.’2 


The number of violent incidents had begun to increase steadily before 
the imposition of President’s rule in October, 1983. In 1982 about sixty 
such incidents had taken place. In 1983, the number rose to nearly 140. 
The monthly average by September, 1983, rose to nine. In October the 
number of violent incidents rose suddenly to thirty-six and in May, 
1984, shot up to over fifty. There were bank robberies, thefts of 
weapons, cutting of telegraph wires, setting fire to railway stations, 
attacks on policemen, bomb explosions, murders of Nirankaris, 
murders of public men and attacks on ministers. There was also the 
breaking of idols, damage to temples, sacrilege of gurdwaras, firing on 
Hindu shopkeepers, killing of cigarette sellers, firing on jagrata and 
Ram-Lila crowds, indiscriminate firing and, finally, the killing of 
Hindu passengers taken out of buses.?! 

Some of the incidents were more significant than others. On 25 April 
1983 for instance, a Deputy Inspector General of Police was shot dead 
when he was emerging from the Golden Temple. He was not quite an 
innocent worshipper as he was made out to be, but he was surely trying 
to perform his duties, risking his life in the process. On October 5-6, a 
number of innocent Hindu passengers were taken out of a Delhi- 
bound bus near Dhilwan on the river Beas and murdered in cold blood. 

20 Kuldip Nayyar and Khushwant Singh, Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar and 
After, Vision Books, New Delhi, 1984, 66. 

21 For a consolidated list of violent incidents, White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, 


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It was decided to remove the Chief Minister Darbara Singh immedi- 
ately to impose President’s rule on October 6. Not without justi- 
fication, he attributed his fall to the machinations of his opponents 
within the Congress. On the day following, the Punjab was declared to 
be a ‘disturbed area’. The Bengal Governor B. D. Pande was sent to the 
Punjab as its Governor. His considered view that a political problem 
required a political solution went unheeded. He could not have a free 
hand even in the administration of law and order because of the 
‘backseat driving’ of a Punjab Committee sitting in Delhi. 

Within four weeks of the President’s rule, on October 31, the 
Sealdah-Jammu Tawi Express was derailed and nineteen passengers 
lost their lives. The burning of a gurdwara at Churu in Rajasthan on 
November 26-27 transformed the vicious circle into a spiral. On 14 
February 1984 the Hindu Suraksha Samiti observed a bandh in which 
eleven persons died. ‘Some members of extremist Hindu organizations 
committed the sacrilege of damaging the model of the Golden Temple 
and a picture of Guru Ram Das at the Amritsar Railway Station.’22 
From 15 to 20 February 1984, there was mob violence in Haryana 
against the Sikhs, generally believed to have been engineered by its 
Chief Minister on the insistence of the leader of a powerful lobby in 
Delhi. On February 19, eight Sikhs were killed on the Grand Trunk 
Road in Panipat within sight of the Haryana police. In retaliation, 
thirty-five ‘Hindus’ were killed in the five days following. Harbans 
Singh Manchanda, the pro-Congress President of the Delhi Gurdwara 
Prabandhak Committee, was assassinated in Delhi on March 28. On 
March 31 the examination branch of Guru Nanak Dev University at 
Amritsar was burnt to obviate the holding of its annual examinations 
involving nearly a lakh of students.23 Harbans Lal Khanna, the 
Bharatiya Janata Party leader, was shot dead in Amritsar on April 2, 
and eight persons were killed during his funeral procession on the day 
following. On April 14 an attempt was made to burn down thirty-four 
railway stations. On May 12, Ramesh Chander, the son and successor 
of Lala Jagat Narain, was shot dead in Jalandhar. On 2 June 1984 the 
Janata leader Om Parkash Bagga was killed. 

In this steadily worsening situation of escalating violence and 

22 White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, 30. In Amritsar, however, it was generally 
believed that this was the work of a Congress legislator. 

23 The White Paper is silent on the point but a non-Sikh official of the University was 

believed to have provided the information needed: such was the complexity of the pattern of 


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communal polarization, the Akali leaders pursued their dharm yudh, 
looking for a way out of the impasse. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal 
asked the Akali legislators to resign their seats on 26 January 1983 but 
with effect from February 21. His call for a meeting of the Sikh 
ex-servicemen met a good response from nearly 5,000 persons. In the 
camp at Anandpur Sahib, held under the ‘command’ of Jathedar 
Gurcharan Singh Tohra for the training of ‘non-violent self-sacrificing 
squads’, the retired Generals J. S. Bhullar and Narinder Singh were 
present. On 4 April 1983 the Akali leaders organized a peaceful ‘block 
the roads’ (rasta roko) campaign but violence erupted in spite of their 
intentions, and twenty-six persons were killed. On June 17, the Akalis 
organized a ‘stop the trains’ (rail roko) campaign but the government 
decided not to run any trains, and yet there was some violence. The 
campaign of the Akalis to ‘stop work’ (kam roko) on August 29 was a 
great success. 

However, the ‘clean-hearted’ Sikhs who responded to the call of 
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale on 3-4 September 1983 did not 
express much satisfaction with either the success or the methods of 
Sant Longowal. Tension in the Golden Temple complex was increas- 
ing. Sant Bhindranwale referred to the rooms of Sant Longowal as 
‘Gandhi Niwas’ and Sant Longowal referred to his rooms as the 
‘Ravines of Chambal’, known to have been the refuge of dacoits in 
Madhya Pradesh. Towards the end of 1983, the Bharatiya Janata Party 
and the Lok Dal demanded army action and the government gave the 
green signal for Sant Bhindranwale’s arrest on December 16. He 
moved into the Akal Takht on December 15. While the militants could 
engage even the security forces, the police felt demoralized; the 
judiciary was intimidated; Sant Bhindranwale started giving decisions 
on disputes between private persons, with the implication of a ‘parallel 

On 8 February 1984 the Akalis organized a bandh to demonstrate 
their strength and their trust in non-violent agitation. It was a success. 
A tripartite meeting was held on February 14 and 15, which was 
attended by five cabinet ministers and five secretaries, five of the Akali 
leaders and fifteen leaders from the opposition parties.”4 It came close 
to a successful settlement. It was at this juncture that anti-Sikh violence 

24 For the tripartite as well as the secret meetings of the Akali leaders and their meetings 
with the Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers, White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, 



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was orchestrated in Haryana to frustrate settlement. On February 27, 
the Akali leaders carried out their decision to burn the pages of the 
Constitution which contained Article 25(2) (b) in Delhi and Chandi- 
garh, and they were arrested.25 Others followed them to court arrest. 
Early in March Indira Gandhi unilaterally appointed the Sarkaria 
Commission to go into Centre-State relations.2 On March 30, the 
Home Minister P. C. Sethi declared in Parliament that the government 
was willing to amend Article 25(2) (b). The Akali Dal withdrew the call 
given for observing the ‘Panth Azad’ week beginning with April 2. In 
the absence of any initiative from the Centre, Sant Longowal gave a call 
in May for non-cooperation with effect from June 3, the day on which 
Operation BlueStar was to start. 

The question of army action in the Punjab was first discussed in 
December, 1983.27 Indira Gandhi decided finally in favour of the army 
action in April, 1984. However, when Sant Longowal declared on May 
23 that a morcha for non-cooperation would start on June 3, Indira 
Gandhi’s emissaries met Parkash Singh Badal and Gurcharan Singh 
Tohra on May 27-28 to suggest that the Akali leaders should negotiate 
settlement instead of launching a morcha. The Akali leaders were 
prepared to pick up the old threads, but on June 2 it became clear that 
nothing short of the demands in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution was 
acceptable to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.?8 

On June 3 the Punjab was cut off from the rest of the country and 
movement within the state was made impossible by the presence of 
troops everywhere. The supply of water and electricity to the Golden 
Temple complex was stopped. On June 4 the army opened exploratory 
fire. On June 5 the commandos and CS gas proved to be ineffective. On 
the morning of June 6 tanks were used against ‘the enemy’ in the Akal 
Takht. Meanwhile, tanks and helicopters were used, among other 
things, to deter the thousands of agitated villagers from converging 
upon Amritsar, and several other gurdwaras in the state were taken 

25 The real issue, as Sant Longowal wrote to P. C. Sethi, was a separate personal law for 
the Sikhs, and therefore related to the question of the inheritance of landed property: Kuldip 
Nayyar and Khushwant Singh, Tragedy of Punjab, 85. 

26 Kuldip Nayyar and Khushwant Singh, Tragedy of Punjab, 71. The unilateral concess- 
ions did not help the Akali leaders to withdraw the morcha. 

27 Chand Joshi, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, 19. In this discussion the idea figured 
that army action would consolidate Hindu votes in favour of the Congress. 

28 The Prime Minister’s broadcast to the nation on 2 June 1984, referred to settlement 
through negotiations but there was hardly any point in it by then. For the text of the 
broadcast, White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, 105-09. 


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over by the army. The crucial action in the Golden Temple complex 
was over before the nightfall of June 6. A large number of pilgrims, 
including women and children, died in cross-firing. The infuriated 
troops shot some young men dead with their hands tied at their backs 
with their own turbans. Some died of suffocation in the ‘prisoners 
camp’ set up in a room of Guru Nanak Niwas. According to one 
estimate, the total casualties of officers and men were about 700 and of 
civilians about 5,000.29 

The officers and men of the Indian army commented on ‘the courage 
and commitment’ of the followers of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 
who died in action. The Sikhs were outraged at the attack on the 
Golden Temple complex and the destruction of the Akal Takht. All 
sections of Sikh opinion, from the urban sophisticates sipping Scotch 
in their bungalows in Delhi to the peasants in the fields, were horrified 
at what had happened. Two Congressite Sikhs resigned from the 
Parliament. The two best-known historians of the Sikhs returned 
‘honours’ received from the President of India. Operation BlueStar 
revived the memories of Ahmad Shah Abdali in Sikh imagination. 
Action from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came ‘too late’ and it 
proved to be ‘too much’.?° 

2? Chand Joshi, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, 161. 

3° Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, 13. According to 

Chand Joshi, the negotiations of the Pime Minister with the Akalis failed because they were 
not meant to succeed: Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, 75. 


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The Akali leaders present in the Golden Temple complex during 
Operation BlueStar were taken into custody along with some ‘extrem- 
ists’ and ordinary visitors, including women and children. The 
countryside was combed in search of arms and ‘rebels’, and about 5,000 
young men were taken into custody. Quite a few innocent persons 
were killed in the process. Those who were supposed to have waged 
war against the state were to be tried by Special Courts. In reaction to 
the rumours of an attack on the Golden Temple, Sikh soldiers at several 
places in Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam and Jammu ‘mutinied’ to march 
towards Amritsar. Scores of them got killed in the attempt and a few 
thousand were marked for court martial. Some retired Sikh Generals 
who thought that these men had acted on the spur of the moment 
‘under a great emotional stress’ wanted them not to be treated as 
‘ordinary deserters’ but their appeal had no immediate effect on the 

Sikh reaction to BlueStar induced Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to 
rebuild the Akal Takht. The octogenerian Baba Kharak Singh agreed to 
undertake this service (kar sewa) but only on the condition that the 
Golden Temple was cleared of troops. This was not acceptable to the 
Prime Minister. Her Minister Buta Singh persuaded Nihang Santa 
Singh to preside over the reconstruction undertaken essentially by the 
government. The speedily rebuilt Akal Takht was handed back to the 
SGPC by October, 1984. This could hardly help; the building or 
rebuilding of the Akal Takht had always been regarded as a prerogative 
of the Sikhs and their chosen representatives. Sikh resentment against 
the government was mounting. No computation in Delhi could gauge 
its intensity. On the morning of 31 October 1984 when the Prime 
Minister was traversing the short path from her residence to the 
adjoining office, one of her guards Beant Singh drew his revolver and 
shot at her; Satwant Singh emptied his sten gun into her frail body. She 
had returned from an election tour in Orissa; Beant Singh had returned 
from his home in the Punjab. Physically at one place, they were 
mentally and emotionally living in two different worlds. 


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The universality of Sikh resentment was reflected in a spontaneous 
celebration of the assassination of the Prime Minister in the towns and 
villages of the Punjab, in the capital of the country and in many parts of 
the world. An equally spontaneous anger over her assassination 
resulted in mob violence in Delhi and in some other cities of India. 
‘Sikhs were sought out and burned to death. Children were killed, 
shops looted, cars burnt, markets destroyed, houses gutted. Trains 
were stopped, and Sikhs were picked out and murdered.”! In the scenes 
of arson, looting and murder many policemen were seen in khaki and 
many Congressmen in khaddar. More brutal than the days of the 
partition, the Delhi happenings were a reminder of the historic 
massacres (ghallugharas) of the eighteenth century. The psychological 
alienation of the Sikhs was almost complete. 

Conversely, if Bluestar brought Indira Gandhi close to the electoral 
victory, her assassination ensured it for the Congress. To the slogan of 
unity and integrity of the country was added the charge of separatism 
in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution for the consumption of emotionally 
surcharged voters. The Congress scored a thumping victory in the 
parliamentary elections held towards the end of 1984. It gave the new 
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi great confidence. In March, 1985 the 
Akali leaders began to be released. The ban imposed on the All India 
Sikh Students’ Federation was lifted. An inquiry into the Delhi 
massacres was ordered. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal asked the 
government to apologize to the Sikh community for storming the 
Golden Temple, demanded the release of Sikhs detained without trial 
and wanted the government to rehabilitate the Sikh ‘deserters’. He 
declared himself to be against the idea of Khalistan. On invitation from 
the Prime Minister he went for a secret meeting to negotiate terms of 
settlement, so secret indeed that it was not known even to Parkash 
Singh Badal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra. On 24 July 1985 he signed a 
memorandum of settlement with Rajiv Gandhi, generally called the 
Rajiv-Longowal Accord. 

There was nothing spectacular about the Accord. It provided for an 
ex gratia grant and compensation to sufferers of violence, rehabili- 
tation of Sikh soldiers discharged from the army and extension of the 
inquiry into the violence against the Sikhs that happened in Kanpur 
and Bokaro. Some issues had been resolved before Bluestar, like merit 
as the criterion of selection for the army, an all India Gurdwara Act, 

1M. J. Akbar, India: The Siege Within, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1985, 109. 


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protection of minority interests and the promotion of Punjabi. The 
Anandpur Sahib Resolution, like other memoranda on the issue of 
Centre—State relations, could be submitted to the Sarkaria Commission 
already appointed. Regarding the two most important issues of terri- 
tory and river waters, there were positive and rather concrete sugges- 
tions. The Accord was hailed as a great document by the bulk of the 
people in the country. Its spirit appeared to be more important than its 
letter. It was meant to bring to an end ‘a period of confrontation’ and to 
usher in ‘an era of amity, goodwill and cooperation’.” 

BlueStar had not put an end to militancy. The new spirit of protest 
and resentment it produced was reinforced by the Delhi massacres. 
There were incidents of violence in March and April, 1985. Nearly 
eighty persons were killed in transistor-bomb explosions in Delhi in 
the month of May. There was resentment against the Akali leaders too. 
Sant Bhindranwale’s father Baba Joginder Singh formed the United 
Akali Dal, unilaterally dissolving the Longowal and Talwandi Akali 
Dals. Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Parkash Singh Badal retained their 
former positions only because the district Jathedars expressed their 
support for them. When the Accord was signed in this context it was 
denounced as a ‘sellout’ by Baba Joginder Singh as a spokesman of the 
militants. That was why Rajiv Gandhi appreciated the courage and guts 
of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, and that was also why Sant 
Longowal wasassassinated on 20 August 1985. His mantle fell on Surjit 
Singh Barnala who had been taken into confidence by Sant Harchand 
Singh Longowal for signing the Accord and who was more acceptable 
to the Congress High Command than the more senior leaders. 

The polarization between Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab which had 
been increasing gradually in the early 1980s and rather suddenly after 
BlueStar and the Delhi massacres was reflected in the elections held in 
the Punjab in September, 1985. The Akalis won seventy-three seats; 
the congress won only thirty-two. Among the Congress legislators 
there were only a few Sikhs, and many who had always voted for the 
Congress now voted for the Akalis. Just as the bulk of the Sikh support 
went to the Akalis, the bulk of the Hindu support went to the 
Congress. The consolation of the Congress leaders that there was only 
a slight margin in the votes polled in their favour and in favour of the 
Akalis was rather hollow. Never were the Punjabis split so clearly on 

2 Rajiv Gandhi-Longowal Accord, Satya M. Rai, Punjab Since Partition, Delhi, 1986, 


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communal lines as in the elections of September 1985. Surjit Singh 
Barnala was sworn in as the Chief Minister on the 29th after nearly 
two years of President’s rule in the Punjab. His hope was to see the 
Accord implemented. His problem was to contain the militants whose 
spokesmen had boycotted the elections. 

The first jolt to the Accord came early, and it proved to be crucial. 
The capital project area of Chandigarh was to go to the Punjab and 
some Hindi-speaking territories in the Punjab were to go to Haryana 
in lieu of Chandigarh. A commission was to be appointed to determine 
the Hindi-speaking areas on the principle of contiguity and linguistic 
affinity with a village as a unit. The commission was to give its findings 
by 31 December 1985, and the transfer of these areas to Haryana and of 
Chandigarh to the Punjab was to take place simultaneously on 26 
January 1986. However, the phrase ‘other matters’ was added to the 
terms of reference given to the Mathew Commission for this purpose. 
When the Akali leaders pointed out this departure from the letter of the 
Accord, the Prime Minister assured them that this phrase was included 
as a matter of routine. Nevertheless, though it was well known that a 
Punjabi-speaking village separated Haryana from the Abohar-Fazilka 
villages, the Commission identified Hindi-speaking areas in the 
Abohar-Fazilka region instead of looking elsewhere for Hindi- 
speaking villages contiguous to Haryana. The Commission, con- 
sequently, failed to give a verdict but suggested that another commis- 
sion could be asked to identify Hindi-speaking areas. Mathew’s 
successor Venkataramiah ruled rather arbitrarily that 70,000 acres 
should go to Haryana in lieu of Chandigarh, but he could identify only 
45,000 acres as Hindi-speaking. It began to be argued now that the 
remaining 25,000 acres should somehow be given to Haryana. This was 
unacceptable to the Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala because such 
an area could only be a Punjabi-speaking area. The territorial issue was 
thus messed up, and Chandigarh was not transferred to the Punjab on 
26 January 1986. B. G. Verghese of the Indian Express remarked about 
a year later that Chandigarh was ‘a crucial test and posed the first 
deadline. The Centre must take major responsibility for derailing this 
part of the accord’. 

Militancy began to increase after January 26. By the end of 1986 
more than 500 persons had been killed and violence spread from the 
districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur to Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur 

3 Indian Express, 5 December 1986, editorial page. 


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across the Beas and to Ferozepur and Ludhiana across the Satlej, 
spilling into the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Batches of clean- 
shaven passengers were murdered in cold blood near Muktsar first and 
then in Hoshiarpur district on 30 November 1986. Early in October a 
nearly successful attempt was made on the life of Julio Francis Ribeiro, 
the Director General of Police. Killing of innocent villagers by the 
CRPF and the BSF personnel began to be reported, followed by ‘fake 
encounters’. According to one report, over 500 crores of rupees were 
spent on Ribeiro’s operations in 1986, inflating the police budget to 
five times the amount in 1983. The militants replenished their material 
resources with huge robberies to buy arms from Pakistan. They were 
partially successful in obliging Hindu families to leave the countyside 
for the towns and cities or to move out of the Punjab. Increasing 
militancy brought the question of law and order into focus to create a 
certain degree of confusion about priorities. A year after the Chandi- 
garh fiasco, while the Chief Minister of the Punjab was complaining 
about ‘the delay in the implementation of the Punjab accord by the 
Centre and the difficulties it had created for him within and without 
the party’, the Centre in turn was complaining about ‘the lack of 
adequate measures to check the deteriorating law and order situation in 
the state and the difficulties it had created for the Prime Minister in the 
rest of the country’.4 

By now the Chief Minister of the Punjab was politically crippled. 
The United Akali Dal, which had been formed before the Accord, was 
sympathetic to the AISSF and the Damdami Taksal, both of which 
were believed to be the organizers of militancy. They had demolished 
the Akal Takht and virtually taken over the kar sewa for its reconstruc- 
tion after 26 January 1986. The police action in the Golden Temple on 
April 30 divided the Akali Dal into two groups. Though the larger 
number of Akali legislators were still supporting Surjit Singh Barnala, 
his opponents under the leadership of Parkash Singh Badal and 
Gurcharan Singh Tohra enjoyed more popular support. They had a 
more realistic assessment of the Sikh sentiments. Tohra won against the 
candidate of the ruling Akalis in the SGPC elections held on 30 
November 1986. This was a clear indication of Barnala’s fallen credit 
with the Sikh masses and his position as Chief Minister was further 
weakened. Parkash Singh Badal as well as Gurcharan Singh Tohra were 
placed under detention because of their soft attitude towards the 

+ The Tribune, 19 January 1987, 4. 


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militants. But this did not help the Chief Minister in handling the 
deteriorating situation. 

Towards the end of 1986 there was an overwhelming media support 
for a political initiative by the Prime Minister in the form of talks with 
all segments of Sikhs including the Badal group, the extremists and the 
middle-roaders, and for implementation of the Accord. There was also 
a general feeling that the Jodhpur prisoners, barring those who were 
accused of waging war against the Indian Union, should be released 
and something should be done to heal the wounds of the riots of 
November, 1984. There was a near consensus that ‘terrorism’ could not 
be wiped out merely with ‘superior state terrorism’.> Hard line could 
produce results only when combined with political initiative. Early in 
1987 the Punjab appeared to be ‘still manageable’ to many like Kuldip 
Nayyar. In a seminar held at Delhi with spokesmen of nearly all Sikh 
groups there was a consensus that an informal dialogue could be started 
with the leaders of the Sikh youth in and outside the jails, besides the 
release of Jodhpur prisoners, the rehabilitation of the remaining 
‘deserters’ and punishing the culprits of the Delhi massacres.¢ 

In February 1987 came out the report of the Ranganath Misra 
Commission on the Delhi riots. The press treated it as ‘a whitewash’, 
‘flawed inquiry flawed report’ and the ‘best of a bad job’. The terms of 
reference for the inquiry had closed many legitimate angles because the 
Commission was to inquire into allegations of ‘organized violence’ and 
to recommend measures to obviate future recurrence of such violence. 
The report pointed out the participation of Congress leaders in the 
riots but absolved the Congress Party from the charge of organizing 
violence. Against the Congress leader H. K. L. Bhagat the Commission 
found no ‘convincing material’ that he had instigated the riots. The 
police and the Delhi administration were indicted but not the Home 
Ministry. The report appeared to be ‘a great let-down’. The editor of 
The Tribune posed the question: ‘should not the Congress(I) indi- 
viduals who took part in the crimes be identified and punished’?” The 
veteran journalist S. Mulgaokar rightly observed that the report 
‘carried no conviction with the Sikh community. Instead of winning its 
trust in some measure it has made the community more distrustful of 
New Delhi’s intentions’. The Chief Minister Barnala, who had 

5 Bhabani Sen Gupta, Jndian Express, 20 December 1986, 6. 
6 The Tribune, 22 January 1987, 3. 

? [bid., 25 February 1987, editorial. 

8 Indian Express, 28 February 1987, editorial page. 


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insisted on the release of the report, could derive no consolation 
from it. 

The Punjab Government and the Akali Dal (Longowal) submitted 
their memoranda to the Ranjit Singh Sarkaria Commission on the 
Centre-State relations, reiterating their political philosophy in favour 
of ‘true federalism’, with the balance of constitutional powers vested 
in the states and the centre exercising powers only in relation to 
national security, defence, foreign affairs, communications, railways, 
aviation and currency. The Constitution, in their view, should have 
checks and balances to ensure that the Governors of the States were 
not used by the ruling party at Delhi as rival centres of power to the 
State Governments. No Governor should have the right to dismiss a 
State Government until the loss of majority was established on the 
floor of the House. There should be more clearly laid down rules on 
when and how the President’s rule could be imposed on the States. 
Ironically, Barnala’s ministry was dismissed on 12 May and Presi- 
dent’s rule was imposed on the Punjab. 

Many journalists like Khushwant Singh expected the Punjab 
Governor, Sidharatha Shankar Ray, to stamp out terrorism as the first 
priority of his administration. They also wanted the Governor to 
ensure that Chandigarh was transferred to the Punjab, the SYL canal 
was completed, and river waters were equitably distributed. The 
report of the Eradi Commission on river waters was released in June. It 
came as a great disappointment to the Punjab. According to the 
Accord, the farmers of the Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, were to 
continue getting water ‘not less than what they were using from the 
Ravi-Beas system as on 1.7.1985’. The claims of the Punjab and 
Haryana over the remaining waters were to be adjudicated by a 
tribunal presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court. The SYL canal 
was to be completed by 15 August 1986. The tribunal presided over by 
Justice Balakrishna Eradi was to submit its report by 15 January 1987. 
In view of the elections in Haryana, however, he was asked to defer it 
to June. The Bhakra Beas Management Board had given the figures 
regarding usage of water on x July 1985, as 9.655 maf for the Punjab, 
1.334 maf for Haryana and 4.500 maf for Rajasthan. The total water 
available was calculated to be 18.28 maf. Only less than 3.00 maf 
could be distributed between the Punjab and Haryana according to the 
terms of the Accord. The Punjab was therefore to get at least 10.00 
maf. But it was awarded only 5.00 maf by the Commission, which was 


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far less than even the actual usage. Haryana was awarded a much 
larger share than it actually used: 3.83 maf. The award clearly reflected 
the political interest of the ruling party in Delhi. The share of 
Rajasthan, as determined by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 
1981, was not touched at all: it remained 8.6 maf. 

The editor of The Tribune felt constrained to observe that the 
Rajiv-Longowal memorandum of understanding was ‘neither news 
nor is it any good. The spirit of accommodation and understanding it 
generated at the time has all but evaporated and the letter remains — a 
standing monument to the insincerity, waywardness and lack of 
commitment on the part of persons in authority.” Commitments went 
into cold storage; statements inundated the media and the society.” 
Another journalist observed a month later that the ‘extremists’ were 
gradually asserting their authority in the religio-political affairs of the 
Sikhs in the absence of any opposition from the Akali factions and 
the head priests.1° 

The militants were asserting themselves in politics. In the summer 
of 1987 there were more than a score of militant groups. Four of 
these were really important: the Khalistan Commando Force, the 
Khalistan Liberation Force, the Bhindranwale Tigers Force and the 
Babbar Khalsa. Early in August 1987, Professor Darshan Singh 
(Acting Jathedar of the Akal Takht since 1986) organized a World 
Sikh Convention. Its main resolution asked for an area in the north 
where the Sikhs could have ‘a glow of freedom’. This ambiguous goal 
was actually a reminder of what Jawaharlal Nehru had said in 1946. 
It failed to impress the militants because it appeared to fall short of 
Khalistan. Jathedar Darshan Singh was obliged to leave the Golden 
Temple. In September the Panthic Committee (of the militants) got 
Khalistan declared as the goal of Sikh politics. 

The report of the Sarkaria Commission came out in October 1987. 
No change in the Constitution was recommended but the Commis- 
sion did hammer the point that its provisions had been misused by 
the ruling party at the Centre in its own interests. The report was 
shelved to gather dust. By this time Rajiv Gandhi had abandoned his 
political approach in favour of a law-and-order solution. Siddhartha 
Shankar Ray as the Punjab Governor and Julio F Ribeiro as the 
Director General of Police adopted an aggressive policy of repression. 
Fully armed squads were let loose on the people in the form of 

? The Tribune, 24 July 1987, editorial. 10 Indian Express, 3 July 1987, 6 


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vigilante, consisting of dismissed policemen and militant approvers. 
This opened the door to misuse of police power. It was openly 
justified by Ribeiro and approved by Ray on the plea that the police 
all over the world used ‘undercover people’. The militants were 
gaining ground nonetheless. In December 1987 they passed a resolu- 
tion in support of Khalistan at Fatehgarh Sahib, not far from the 
state headquarters in Chandigarh. 

Amidst a great spurt in militancy in early 1988, Bhai Jasbir Singh 
Rode was released from detention in March to work for a settlement 
short of Khalistan. He failed to persuade all the groups and there was 
a split among the militants. Arms were smuggled into the Golden 
Temple, giving the opportunity to K. P. S. Gill, the Director General 
of Police, to organize ‘Operation Black Thunder’. The ‘militants’ 
who surrendered to the security forces were disowned by others and 
denounced as ‘agents’ of the government. K. P. S. Gill looked upon 
this operation as the high point of his career. But he was yet to 
struggle hard against the militants. Armed stalemate was to continue 
for a few years more. Even in 1991 a journalist observed that there 
was no government in the Punjab: there were either the militants or 
the police. 

Meanwhile, V. P. Singh, as leader of the Janata Party, came into 
power at the Centre as Prime Minister of the National Front. He 
visited the Golden Temple in a gesture of goodwill towards the Sikhs 
and repealed the 59th Amendment to the Constitution which had 
provided for President’s rule in the Punjab beyond three years and for 
declaring an ‘emergency’ if necessary. He announced speedy trial of 
the accused in the Delhi massacres, promised to rehabilitate the army 
deserters of 1984, and agreed to review the case of every Sikh detenu. 
Above all, he organized all-party meetings to evolve a reasonable 
political settlement. 

The parliamentary elections of November 1989 had brought 
Simranjit Singh Mann to the fore in Sikh politics. Though still under 
detention, he was put up as a candidate by the United Akali Dal 
which won eight seats. The UAD victory was a reflection of the 
strength of the militants who looked upon Simranjit Singh Mann as a 
suitable leader. When he came out of jail, Sikhs thronged his meet- 
ings, journalists sought his views and politicians courted him. 
Knowing little about the political aspirations of the militants, he 
asked for autonomy within the Indian Union in terms of the 


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Anandpur Sahib Resolution. But the minority government of V. P. 
Singh was not in a position to concede any major concession. The 
militants stepped up their activities. By 13 April 1990, Mann was 
supporting plebiscite for self-determination as the only solution. 
Despite V. P. Singh’s declaration and intentions, President’s rule was 
extended for six months more and the elections due in May were 
postponed to October 1990. V. P. Singh’s helplessness was demon- 
strated further by the postponement of elections due in October and 
the extension of President’s rule in the Punjab by another six months. 
All the ‘national’ parties — the Congress, the BJP and the Communists 
— were opposed to the elections. They were afraid that the militants 
would win and resolve in favour of Khalistan in the Punjab 

Chandra Shekhar, who replaced V. P. Singh, was the leader of a 
splinter group of the Janata Party and, therefore, even more depen- 
dent on the Congress. He offered to discuss political settlement with 
all the Sikh leaders. Simranjit Singh Mann presented a memorandum, 
asking for the right of self-determination. The Prime Minister started 
secret negotiations with some of the militant groups to explore the 
possibilities of a solution within the framework of the Indian 
Constitution. The former Akali leaders were in favour of elections 
but the Congress threatened to revoke the elections if it came into 
power. Scheduled for 21 June 1991, the elections were postponed in 
the early hours of the polling day. The Union Home Minister said 
later that neither he nor Chandra Shekhar knew anything about it. 
The results of the Parliamentary elections were going in favour of the 
Congress and the Chief Election Commissioner ‘bent backwards to 
please his new masters’: on his own he stopped the polls. The 
Governor of the Punjab, General O. P. Malhotra, sincere in his 
commitment to hold elections, resigned on the same day. 

The new Congress Prime Minister, P. V. Narsimha Rao, was in no 
hurry to introduce constitutional procedures. The elections in the 
Punjab were delayed and were held actually in February 1992. The 
Communist leader Satya Pal Dang remarked that there was heavy 
rigging in favour of the Congress. And yet, only about 22 per cent of 
the total votes were polled. In 70 (out of 117) constituencies, polling 
was extremely low. These were the constituencies where the Akalis 
had their roots and support. They had boycotted the elections and 
non-polling was virtually a referendum against the ruling party. 


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Nevertheless, the leader of the Punjab Congress, Sardar Beant Singh, 
claimed that he had got popular mandate. 

Beant Singh pursued three interrelated objectives in his tenure of 
over three years: to suppress militancy, to prove his legitimacy, and to 
undermine the Akalis. The first three months of his Chief Minister- 
ship made no difference to the perilous phase through which the 
Punjab was passing. The media, the bureaucracy, the educational 
institutions, and the Panchayats felt obliged to follow the diktat of 
the militants. They evolved a five-point programme to subvert the 
banking system, to stop work on the SYL canal, to force intellectuals 
to sign support for Khalistan, to force Sarpanches to resign so that 
‘Khalsa Panchayats’ were formed, and to target the media officials if 
they infringed the code imposed on them. 

In the summer of 1992, the security forces succeeded in killing 
some important militant leaders: Rachhpal Singh and Surjit Singh 
Behla of the Bhindranwale Tigers Force, Amrik Singh Kauli and 
Sukhdev Singh of the Babbar Khalsa. The founder of the Babbar 
Khalsa, Talwinder Singh, was eliminated in October. At the end of 
the year, the editor of The Tribune was talking of an ‘atmospheric 
change’ in the Punjab. Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, one of the top 
leaders, was killed early in 1993. The area of Tarn Taran was 
‘recaptured’ by the security forces. By the middle of 1993 the Punjab 
was relatively calm. Before the end of the year K. P. S. Gill could talk 
of the Punjab as ‘the most peaceful state’. The return of normalcy 
brought the shocking surprise of 31 August 1995 into sharp relief: 
Beant Singh was killed by a human bomb which took more than a 
score of other lives. The Babbar Khalsa maintained that he had 
earned this punishment for betraying the Sikh community. The 
Congress Party honoured him as a ‘martyr’. 

Acutely conscious of a dubious mandate to the Congress, Beant 
Singh had ordered elections to municipalities in September 1992 with 
the first appearance of some relief from the militants. Victory of the 
Congress candidates in the cities and towns of the Punjab was a 
foregone conclusion: these were the traditional strongholds of the 
Congress. Elections to Panchayats in the villages were held in 1993 
when the militants were ‘retreating’. A massive rigging in favour of 
the Congress candidates was reported. Nevertheless, pro-Akali candi- 
dates formed the majority of over 2,400 candidates elected un- 
opposed. In order to create the impression that all the elected 


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Sarpanches supported the government, a swearing-in ceremony was 
held at Fatehgarh Sahib. The media made much of Beant Singh’s 
‘success’. But the people of the villages felt merely amused. 

Fortunately for Beant Singh, the first by-election to a seat in 
Parliament took place in Jalandhar, a relatively strong constituency 
of the Congress. The seat was won by the Congress candidate, Sardar 
Umrao Singh. However, more than 80 per cent of the Sikh votes went 
to the Akali candidate, Sardar Kuldip Singh Wadala. In the by- 
election to the Punjab Assembly from Nakodar in 1994, despite 
rigging in favour of the ruling party, the Congress candidate won 
only by a narrow margin. The by-election from Ajnala was actually 
won by the Akali candidate. Beant Singh’s credentials were at stake 
when he fought the last battle of his life in Gidderbaha, the home 
constituency of Sardar Parkash Singh Badal. All the Congress legisla- 
tors and many bureaucrats worked in the field for weeks. Money 
flowed like water. The Akali candidate won by a narrow margin. But 
this was enough to indicate that Beant Singh did not rule on popular 

Furthermore, the Gidderbaha battle demonstrated that Beant 
Singh had failed to undermine the Akalis. He had pursued this 
objective from day one. As a former editor of The Tribune recalled, 
Beant Singh’s relentless campaign against the Akalis was buttressed 
by a ‘ruthless use of government forces’. In 1993 he was actually 
talking in terms of abolishing the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925. 
Towards the end of the year he addressed Sikh gatherings at 
Fatehgarh Sahib and Muktsar to convey his message to the audiences 
that the Akalis were responsible for all their ills. They were respon- 
sible for militancy in which innocent Sikhs lost their lives and 
suffered many other atrocities. Till he death in August 1995 Beant 
Singh lost no opportunity to assert that the Akalis were responsible 
for the decade-long turmoil in the state. However, this assertion did 
not carry much conviction with the people. 

In his anxiety to curb and contain militancy, Beant Singh had not 
cared about the means and methods employed by the security forces. 
Along with the militants, innocent persons were killed. Human 
shields were used by the security forces and the innocent persons 
killed in the process were declared to be ‘terrorists’. In the summer of 
1992 it was reported that police excesses and high-handedness 
continued unabated. In September, some women were kicked to 


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death, apparently to extort information. In transgressing all legal 
limits the security personnel found the easy way out in blaming all 
their acts on ‘the terrorists’. The lure of rewards induced them to 
take the chance of killing innocent persons. The relatives of wanted 
militants were tortured to death. Persons were picked up by the 
police but in the police records they were neither wanted nor 
arrested. The ‘undercover agents’ of the security forces had no regard 
for life; they had great hunger for property. Early in 1993, villagers 
were discovering that among the men who plundered, raped or killed 
were actually policemen, including officers of the rank of Super- 
intendent. It began to be aired that the ‘super-cop’ Gill was closing 
his eyes to police illegalities and atrocities. In retrospect this appears 
to have been an understatement. Such reports continued to pour in. 
The Chief Minister was either unable or unwilling to rein in the 
security forces. Peace returned but the people in the countryside 
remained frightened: they had to reckon with the police. Sad to say, 
but there were not many mourners in the Punjab at the news of Beant 
Singh’s death. 

The return of constitutional politics created some space for the 
political activity of the Akalis. Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra was 
re-elected President of the SGPC in November 1992 and the SGPC 
paid tribute to a few militants as ‘martyrs’ in the cause of Sikhism. 
The House demanded the release of Bhai Ranjit Singh who was 
under detention due to his alleged involvement in the murder of the 
Nirankari Baba Gurbachan Singh and who had been made Jathedar 
of the Akal Takht by the SGPC. Resolutions were passed also with 
regard to the victims of the Delhi massacres of 1984, the second- 
language status for Punjabi in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi 
and Rajasthan, and visas for Sikh pilgrims to Pakistan. Before the 
end of 1992, the SGPC asked for an investigation into the violation 
of human rights in the Punjab by a team from Amnesty International. 
The Akalis began to condemn the Congress government for its 
excesses and institutionalized corruption. A number of Akali leaders 
were arrested in December 1993. The police entered the Gurdwara at 
Gujjarwal and disrupted an akhand path. The Akalis launched a 
campaign of protest. In September 1994, Jaswant Singh Khalira was 
picked up by the police to vanish into thin air like thousands of 
others. But, unlike others, he had exposed violation of human rights 
in the Punjab as Secretary of the Human Rights Committee of the 


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Shiromani Akali Dal. The Akalis launched a morcha and many of 
them were put behind bars. 

Gradually, but surely, the Akalis were picking up the old political 
threads. Before the end of 1993 Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi 
declared that the aim of the Akalis was to get the demands of the 
Anandpur Sahib Resolution conceded and implemented, and not to 
establish Khalistan: the opponents of the Akalis were falsely bracket- 
ing them with the militants. In the summer of 1995, even Beant 
Singh felt impelled to declare that the Punjab could not spare a single 
drop of water for any other state. Sardar Parkash Singh Badal laid 
increasing emphasis on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution as the 
charter of Akali politics, and Jathedar Tohra laid increasing emphasis 
on Akali unity. The choice was between the political objectives 
formulated by the Akali leaders before 1984 and the post-BlueStar 
aspirations expressed by Simranjit Singh Mann. Eventually, the 
majority of the Akalis opted for their earlier moorings under the 
leadership of Parkash Singh Badal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra. They 
launched a sustained campaign of mobilization for elections early 
in 1996. 

In the elections held in February 1997, the Shiromani Akali Dal 
won two-thirds of the total number of seats. Their unprecedented 
success can be taken as a measure of the alienation from the Congress 
of the people of the Punjab villages. The Sikhs of the Punjab feel 
gratified that they have survived the gravest crisis of their history since 
1947. The Akalis are groping for solutions to the problems created for 
the Punjab since 1966. Many people in the country entertain the hope 
that the leaders of the so-called ‘national’ parties will learn to 
accommodate ‘regional’ aspirations and to move towards a genuinely 
federal system of polity. The future of the Sikhs of the Punjab is 
closely linked up with the nature and functioning of the Indian 
federation in the future. 


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1§39-155§2 Guru Angad (b.1504) 
1§§2-1574 Guru Amar Das (b.1479) 
1574-1581 Guru Ram Das (b.1534) 
1581-1606 Guru Arjan (b.1563) 
1606-1644 Guru Hargobind (b.1595) 
1644-1661 Guru Har Rai (b.1630) 
1661-1664 Guru Har Krishan (b.1656) 
1664-1675 Guru Tegh Bahadur (b.1621) 
1675-1708 Guru Gobind Singh (b.1666) 


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PrithiChand -~«-Mahadev.==S=*=*é<C*é« UR ARAN 
Gurditta Ani Rai Atal Rai GURU TEGH BAHADUR Suraj Mal 
Ram Rai GURU HAR KRISHAN Ajit singh Jujhar Singh Zorawar Singh Fateh Singh 

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Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur 

Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayan* 
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar 

Nuruddin Jahangir 
Shihabuddin Shah Jahan (dethroned) 
Muhiyuddin Aurangzeb 

Muhammad Mu‘azzam Shah Alam Bahadur Shah 
Muhammad Muizzuddin Jahandar Shah 
Jalaluddin Muhammad Farrukh Siyar 
Shamsuddin Muhammad Rafi ud-Darajat 
Neko Siyar 

Nasiruddin Muhammad Shah 

Abu al-Nasir Muhammad Ahmad Shah 
Muhammad Azizuddin Alamgir II 

Jalaluddin Ali 

Gohar Shah Alam II (blinded in August 1788) 
Muhiyuddin Akbar Shah II 

Abul al-Zafar Muhammad 

Sirajuddin Bahadur Shah II (banished) 

* After Humayun’s defeat in May 1540 and his eventual expulsion from 
India, Sher Shah Suri and Islam Shah ruled over northern India till 
April 1554, and then their successors Muhammad Adil Shah, Ibrahim 
Shah and Sikandar Shah till July 1555. 


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FROM 1708 TO 1997 

October 7 Guru Gobind Singh’s death 

November 26 Samana sacked by Banda Bahadur 

May 14 Sarhind occupied by Banda Bahadur 

December 10-11 evacuation of Lohgarh by Banda Bahadur 
February 22 Abdus Samad Khan made governor of Lahore 
December 7 surrender of Banda Bahadur at Gurdas Nangal 
June 9 execution of Banda Bahadur at Delhi 

February occupation of Gujarat by the Marathas 
establishment of the Nizamat of Hyderabad 

Zakariya Khan made governor of Lahore 

February occupation of Malwa by the Marathas 

jagir given by Zakariya Khan to Kapur Singh with the title of 

- Nawab to conciliate the Sikhs 

death of Abdus Samad Khan 

March the province of Qandahar taken over by Nadir Shah 
June the province of Kabul taken over by Nadir Shah 
November martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh 

invasion of India by Nadir Shah: sack of Delhi; the four 
parganas of the province of Lahore and the Mughal territories 
west of the Indus ceded to Nadir Shah 

May Nadir Shah’s baggage plundered by the Sikhs 

August Massa Ranghar murdered by Mahtab Singh and Sukha 

foundation of the Nizamat of Bengal 

foundation of the kingdom of Awadh under Safdar Jang 

July 1 death of Zakariya Khan 

January 3 Yahiya Khan made governor of Lahore 

May 1 the first carnage (chhota ghallughara) 

March Yahiya Khan ousted from Lahore by Shah Nawaz Khan 
January 12 Lahore occupied by Ahmad Shah Abdali 

March Ahmad Shah Abdali’s defeat at Manupur near Sarhind 
April Ram Rauni built by the Sikhs at Amritsar 


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April Muin-ul-Mulk, known as Mir Mannu, made governor of 

Mir Mannu defeated by Ahmad Shah Abdali but retained as the 
governor of Lahore; conquest of Kashmir by Ahmad Shah 

October death of ‘Nawab’ Kapur Singh 

November 4 death of Mir Mannu 

occupation of Fatehabad by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia 

Prince Timur Shah made the governor of Lahore by Ahmad 
Shah Abdali 

March Sarhind occupied by the Marathas 

April Lahore occupied by the Marathas 

January 14 the Marathas defeated by Ahmad Shah Abdali in the 
battle of Panipat 

March Ala Singh recognized as a vassal chief by Ahmad Shah 

September Khwaja Abed, the Afghan governor of Lahore, 
defeated by the Sikhs near Gujranwala 

February 5 the great carnage (waddha ghallughara) 

April the Golden Temple destroyed by Ahmad Shah Abdali 
May Qasur sacked by the Sikhs under the leadership of Hari 
Singh Bhangi, Charhat Singh Sukarchakia, Jassa Singh Ramgar- 
hia and Jai Singh Kanhiya 

January the Afghan governor Zain Khan killed and the terri- 
tories of Sarhind occupied by the Sikhs. 

May Lahore captured by Gujjar Singh, Lehna Singh and Sobha 
Singh; Gobind Shahi coin struck at Lahore 

occupation of Gujrat by Gujjar Singh Bhangi; death of Hari 
Singh Bhangi 

death of Ala Singh of Patiala 

Rai Ahmad Manj, the Rajput chief of Nakodar, ousted by Tara 
Singh Dallewalia 

Pind Dadan Khan, Ahmadabad, Jehlam and Rohtas occupied by 
Charhat Singh Sukarchakia in concert with Gujjar Singh Bhangi 
the Gakkhar chief Muqarrab Khan ousted from Rawalpindi by 
Milkha Singh Thehpuria in association with Gujjar Singh 
Bhangi and Charhat Singh Sukarchakia 

occupation of Bhera by Dhanna Singh with the assistance of 
Jhanda Singh Bhangi 


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October 23 death of Ahmad Shah Abdali 

occupation of Multan by Jhanda Singh Bhangi 

occupation of Sultanpur by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia 

death of Charhat Singh Sukarchakia and Jhanda Singh Bhangi 
Jassa Singh Ramgarhia dislodged from his territories by Jassa 
Singh Ahluwalia and Jai Singh Kanhiya 

November 13 birth of Ranjit Singh 

Rai Ibrahim Bhatti ousted from Kapurthala by Jassa Singh 

Multan recovered by Timur Shah; Muzaffar Khan Saddozai 
appointed as its governor 

October 20 death of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia 

occupation of the Kangra fort by Jai Singh Kanhiya 
occupation of Alipur and Manchar by Mahan Singh Sukar- 

territory lost in 1775 recovered by Jassa Singh Ramgarhia 
recovery of the Kangra fort by Sansar Chand 

death of Gujjar Singh Bhangi 

occupation of Malka Hans by Bhagwan Singh Nakkai 

death of Mahan Singh Sukarchakia 

death of Jai Singh Kanhiya 

death of Timur Shah 

death of Lehna Singh Bhangi of Lahore 

November occupation of Lahore by Zaman Shah 

July 7 occupation of Lahore by Ranjit Singh 

tribute paid by Muzaffar Khan of Multan and Ahmad Khan Sial 
of Jhang to Ranjit Singh. 

tribute paid by Fateh Khan Baloch of Sahiwal and Jafar Khan 
Baloch of Khushab to Ranjit Singh 

occupation of Amritsar by Ranjit Singh 

January treaty of the East India Company with Ranjit Singh and 
Fateh Singh Ahluwalia 

occupation of Qasur, Dipalpur, Hujra Shah Muqim, Pathankot 
and Sialkot by Ranjit Singh 

occupation of the fort of Shaikhupura by Ranjit Singh 

April 25 the Treaty of Amritsar signed by Ranjit Singh alone 
with the East India Company 

August 24 occupation of the fort of Kangra by Ranjit Singh 


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occupation of Philaur, Adina Nagar and Sujanpur by Ranjit 

occupation of Sahiwal, Khushab, Kusak, Khari Khariali and 
Gujrat by Ranjit Singh 

October 7 occupation of Jalandhar by Ranjit Singh 

occupation of-Akhnur by Ranjit Singh 

occupation of Shamsabad, Pindi Gheb and the fort of Attock by 
Ranjit Singh 

occupation of Jammu and Rawalpindi by Ranjit Singh 
occupation of Jhang and the territories of the Ramgarhias by 
Ranjit Singh 

occupation of Nurpur Tiwana by Ranjit Singh 

June 2 occupation of Multan by Ranjit Singh 

June 23 occupation of Rajauri by Ranjit Singh 

July conquest of Kashmir by Ranjit Singh 

December 14 occupation of Mankera by Ranjit Singh 

March Ventura and Allard employed by Ranjit Singh 
December Fateh Singh Ahluwalia seeks protection with the 
British across the Satlej 

return of Fateh Singh Ahluwalia to vassalage under Ranjit Singh 
March the title of Raja-i-Rajgan conferred on Dhian Singh by 
Ranjit Singh 

the territory on the west of the Satlej allowed earlier to remain 
under Bahawal Khan now taken over by Ranjit Singh 

October 25 meeting between Ranjit Singh and William Bentinck 
at Ropar 

December 26 the Indus Navigation Treaty signed by Ranjit 
Singh with the East India Company 

occupation of Peshawar by Ranjit Singh 

occupation of Dera Ismail Khan by Ranjit Singh 

April 30 the battle of Jamrud 

October death of Fateh Singh Ahluwalia 

June 25 the Tripartite Treaty signed by Ranjit Singh with the 
British and Shah Shuja 

June 27 death of Ranjit Singh 

September 1 investiture of Kharak Singh as the ruler of Lahore 
occupation of Mandi, Suket and Kulu by Kharak Singh 

May Iskardu made tributary by Kharak Singh 


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November 5 death of Kharak Singh and Prince Nau Nihal Singh 
December 2 Rani Chand Kaur proclaimed Regent of the Punjab 
January 17 Maharani Chand Kaur removed from the palace and 
given a jagir 

January 20 Prince Sher Singh invested as the Maharaja 

June 12 Maharani Chand Kaur murdered by her female 

September 15 Maharaja Sher Singh and Raja Dhian Singh 
assassinated by the Sandhanwalias 

September Dalip Singh proclaimed Maharaja with Raja Hira 
Singh as the Prime Minister 

May 21 Raja Hira Singh and Pandit Jalla assassinated by the 
army Panchas 

September 21 Jawahar Singh, brother of Rani Jindan, murdered 
by the army Panchas 

December 11 the Satlej crossed by the Lahore army 

December 13 war declared by the British against the rulers of 

December 18 the battle of Mudki 

December 21-22 the battle of Pherushahr 

January 21 a skirmish near Baddowal 

January 28 the battle of Aliwal 

February 10 the battle of Sabraon 

March 9 the Treaty of Lahore 

March 16 a separate treaty signed by Raja Gulab Singh with the 
British by which he was made the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir 
in subordination to the British 

December 22 the Treaty of Bhayirowal 

April 20 murder of Vans Agnew and W. Anderson at Multan 
September 4 siege of Multan 

November 22 the battle of Ramnagar 

January 13 the battle of Chillianwala 

January 22 fall of Multan 

February 21 the battle of Gujrat 

March 11 Chattar Singh and Raja Sher Singh surrendered to 
Major Gilbert near Rawalpindi 

March 14 arms laid down by the supporters of Chattar Singh 
and Raja Sher Singh 

March 29 annexation of the Punjab 


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1857-58 uprisings in India and at a few places in the Punjab; 











Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab support the British 
Baba Ram Singh institutes the Sant Khalsa 

Baba Ram Singh ordered not to leave his village 

Baba Ram Singh’s Kakas (Namdharis) strike at Malaud and 
Malerkotla; sixty-five of them are blown from guns 
foundation of Sri Guru Singh Sabha at Amritsar 

the Brahmos start their monthly Hari Hakikat; Swami 
Dayanand visits the Punjab 

foundation of the Singh Sabha of Lahore 

publication of Giani Gian Singh’s Panth Parkash 

the Punjab University is established at Lahore 

the Aryas of Lahore found a college in commemoration of 
Swami Dayanand’s death 

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advises Muslims to remain aloof from 
the Indian National Congress 

Arya ‘fire-brands’ of Lahore attack Sikh Gurus; Bhai Jawahar 
Singh and Bhai Ditt Singh leave the Arya Samaj and join the 
Singh Sabha; the Sikh leaders of Lahore submit to the 
Governor General that the Sikhs should be treated as a 
community separate from the Hindus 

the first Khalsa College is founded at Amritsar; the Kanya 
Maha Vidyalaya is founded at Ferozepore; Giani Gian Singh’s 
Tawarikh-i Guru Khalsa is published 

Khalsa Diwan is founded at Amritsar; split in the Arya Samaj 
The Punjab National Bank is founded at Lahore 

Khalsa Diwan is founded at Lahore 

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s Ham Hindu Nahin is published 
some Rehtia Sikhs are shaved by the Arya leaders of Lahore in 
a ceremony of purification (shuddhi) 

Chief Khalsa Diwan is founded at Amritsar 

Sant Badan Singh’s commentary on the Adi Granth is published 
agitation over water tax and proprietary rights 

membership of the Punjab Council raised from nine to thirty 
and election partially introduced; the first Hindu Conference is 
held; the Anand Marriage Act is passed 

for the first time anyone claiming to be a Sikh is returned as 
such in the census 


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outer wall of Gurdwara Rakabganj is demolished; the Sikh Re 
view is launched as a part of Sikh agitation 

the Ghadarites resort to robberies for raising funds 

the Ghadarites approach army units for armed revolt; the Chief 
Khalsa Diwan publishes a comprehensive code of conduct as 
Gurmat Parkash Bhag Sanskar 

a Sikh deputation meets the Punjab Governor for separate 

representatives of the Sikh community impress upon the 
government the need to implement the principle of weightage 
and reservations enunciated in the Montford Report 

formation of Central Sikh League is announced at Lahore in 
March; it is inaugurated at Amritsar in December 

the Government reconstructs the wall of Gurdwara Rakab- 
ganj; Singh reformers take over the Golden Temple and the 
Akal Takht; Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and 
the Shiromani Akali Dal are formed 

Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran is taken over by the Akalis; over a 
hundred Akalis are massacred at Nankana Sahib before its 
Gurdwaras are taken over by the SGPC; Sunder Singh Ram- 
garhia is asked to hand over the keys of the Golden Temple 
Complex to the SGPC President, Baba Kharak Singh 

keys of the Golden Temple are handed over to Baba Kharak 
Singh; Guru ka Bagh morcha begins; the Babbar Akali Jatha is 
formed and the Babbar Akali Doaba is launched; Gurdwara 
Guru ka Bagh is handed over to the SGPC 

Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha is forced to abdicate; 
Akalis are arrested at Jaito and akhand path is interrupted; the 
SGPC and the Shiromani Akali Dal are declared to be un- 
lawful associations; the Babbar Akalis are declared to be 

21 February, a special jatha of 500 Akalis reaching Jaito is 
fired at; 300 are injured and 100 killed 

Sikh Gurdwaras Bill is introduced in the Punjab Legislative 
Council and passed, coming into force on 1 November; the 
Kirti is launched 

six Babbar Akalis are hanged to death; Bhagat Singh founds 
the Naujawan Bharat Sabha 


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Akali and Central Sikh League leaders attend the All-Parties 
Conference at Delhi; Mangal Singh Gill of the Central Sikh 
League is made a member of Moti Lal Nehru Committee; the 
Kirti Kisan Party is founded at Amritsar; protest against Simon 
Commission is made at Lahore; J. P. Saunders is murdered 

the Congress declares ‘complete independence’ as its goal and 
gives assurance to minorities that no constitution for India 
would be accepted without their consent 

the Central Sikh League, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the 
SGPC join the Civil Disobedience launched by Mahatma 

Master Tara Singh presents a memorandum to Mahatma 
Gandhi as representative of the Sikhs at the Round Table 

23 March, execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru; 
formation of Khalsa Darbar to oppose the ‘communal award’ 
the Kirti Kisan Party is declared unlawful 

the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal contest the Sikh 
seats in the elections; Sikandar and Jinnah sign a pact 

All-India Akali Conference is held at Rawalpindi 

Outbreak of the Second World War 

Master Tara Singh resigns from the Congress Working Com- 
mittee due to basic differences with Mahatma Gandhi on the 
issue of recruitment; All India Muslim League passes what is 
popularly known as the Pakistan resolution; V. S. Bhatti 
publishes his Khalistan 

formation of Khalsa Defence League under the Maharaja of 

Baldev Singh joins the ministry; Master Tara Singh presents a 
memorandum to Sir Stafford Cripps, asking for reorganization 
of the Punjab province; the Akalis put forward the Azad 
Punjab Scheme 

Sadhu Singh Hamdard publishes his Azad Punjab 
Rajagopalachari’s formula and Gandhi—Jinnah talks impel the 
Akalis to ask for a Sikh state as an alternative to Pakistan 
Failure of the Simla Conference 

the Akalis win twenty-three out of thirty-three Sikh seats in 
the elections; Khizr Hayat Khan forms a coalition ministry; 
the Cabinet Mission proposals are rejected by the Akalis; 


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Baldev Singh is allowed by the Panthic Pratinidhi Board to join 
the Interim Government as Defence Minister 

Khizr Hayat resigns; Lord Mountbatten replaces Lord Wavell; 
non-Muslim legislators of the Punjab resolve in favour of its 
partition; India is divided into two sovereign states, each 
having truncated Bengal and Punjab 

the Congress constitutes a committee to consider the recom- 
mendations of the Dar Commission; Akali legislators join the 
Congress Assembly Party and Giani Kartar Singh is inducted 
into the cabinet; Hindi and Punjabi replace Urdu as the 
medium of education in schools; PEPSU is inaugurated by 
Sardar Patel and a caretaker government is formed by Gian 
Singh Rarewala; the Shiromani Akali Dal resolves in favour of 
separate representation to the Sikhs; the Minority Committee 
formed by the Punjab Chief Minister recommends weightage 
for the Sikhs and formation of a new province of six districts 
as an alternative 

1949 Jalandhar Municipal Committee makes Hindi in Devnagri 




script the medium of school education; the Senate of the 
Punjab University rejects Punjabi even in Devnagri script as 
the medium of school education; Bhim Sen Sachar evolves a 
language formula to give due recognition to Punjabi; he is 
replaced by Bhargava as Chief Minister; the Congress 
Working Committee adopts the report of the committee on the 
recommendations of the Dar Commission 

The Constitution of India remains unsigned by the Akali 
members of the Constituent Assembly; the Working Com- 
mittee of the Akali Dal resolves in favour of a linguistic state 
in the Punjab, and revokes merger of the Akali legislators with 
the Congress Assembly Party 

Raghubir Singh becomes Chief Minister of PEPSU; the Arya 
leaders ask Hindus to return Hindi as their ‘mother-tongue’; 
Bhargava resigns as Punjab Chief Minister and President’s rule 
is imposed without any constitutional justification 

the Akalis win only thirteen seats; the Congress forms 
the ministry; the United Front ministry under Gian Singh 
Rarewala displaces the Congress ministry in PEPSU; a Telugu- 
speaking state is announced after fast unto death by Potti 


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President’s rule is imposed in PEPSU; the State Reorganization 
Commission is formed 

the Akalis win only twelve seats in the mid-term polls in 
PEPSU and the Congress forms ministry 

Master Tara Singh replaces Ishar Singh Majhail as the SGPC 
President; Sachar apologizes for police entry into the Golden 
Temple complex; the State Reorganization Commission recom- 
mends merger of PEPSU and Himachal Pradesh with the Punjab 
Hukam Singh works out a ‘Regional Formula’ which is 
acceptable to the Congress as well as to the Akalis; only 
PEPSU is merged with the Punjab and the new state is 
inaugurated on 1 November 

the ‘save Hindi’ agitation in the Punjab 

Master Tara Singh loses SGPC Presidentship to a candidate 
supported by Partap Singh Kairon 

all the 132 Akali members of the SGPC take pledge at the Akal 
Takht to work for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state; 
Sant Fateh Singh goes on fast unto death 

Sant Fateh Singh is persuaded by Master Tara Singh to give up 
fast on the basis of his talks with Jawaharlal Nehru; Sant 
Fateh Singh’s talks with Nehru fail; Master Tara Singh goes on 
fast; he is persuaded by Hardit Singh Malik to give it up; the 
S. R. Das Commission is appointed 

the Punjabi University is inaugurated at Patiala; report of the 
Das Commission finds no injustice in the delay to implement 
the Regional Formula; the Congress wins 90 out of 154 seats 
in the elections 

Jawaharlal Nehru recommends inquiry into charges against 

Nehru dies; Kairon resigns before he is indicted by the Enquiry 

Sant Fateh Singh wins majority in the SGPC elections against 
Master Tara Singh; Kairon is assassinated; Sant Fateh Singh 
postpones fast unto death in view of the outbreak of war with 
Pakistan and gives support to the government; a Parliamentary 
Committee and a cabinet subcommittee are formed to create a 
Punjabi-speaking state 

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri dies and his place is taken by 


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Indira Gandhi; the Congress Working Committee recommends 
creation of a Punjabi-speaking state; a Commission is appointed 
(bypassing the Parliamentary Committee) with new terms of 
reference; the Punjabi-speaking state is created and inaugurated 
on 1 November despite protests from the Akalis; Sant Fateh 
Singh goes on fast to get Chandigarh included in the Punjab and 
Hukam Singh persuades him to give it up 

the Congress wins only forty-eight seats in the elections and 
the Akalis form a coalition government with ‘Justice’? Gurnam 
Singh as the Chief Minister; his ministry falls due to defection 
by Lachhman Singh Gill who is supported by the Congress 

the Congress withdraws support to Gill; the Akalis resolve in 
favour of a genuinely federal system 

Jathedar Darshan Singh Pheruman goes on fast and dies for 
getting Chandigarh included in the Punjab; Sant Fateh Singh 
announces his resolve to immolate himself on 1 February on 
the same issue; Guru Nanak University is inaugurated at 

Indira Gandhi awards Chandigarh to the Punjab and a part of 
the Fazilka Tehsil to Haryana (with effect from 1975); Sant 
Fateh Singh is persuaded to give up his fast; Sardar Parkash 
Singh Badal becomes the Chief Minister in place of ‘Justice’ 
Gurnam Singh 

the Akalis win only one seat in the Parliamentary elections; 
President’s rule is imposed on the Punjab after Badal’s advice 
to the Governor to dissolve the Assembly 

the Congress wins 64 out of 104 seats of the Punjab Assembly 
and Giani Zail Singh becomes the Chief Minister 

the Working Committee of the Akali Dal passes a set of 
resolutions known collectively as the Anandpur Sahib Resolu- 

Indira Gandhi is legally unseated 

Indira Gandhi declares ‘internal emergency’; Akalis launch the 
‘save democracy’ morchd 

Indira Gandhi awards only 3.5 maf of water to the Punjab 

the Akalis win 58 out of 117 seats in the Assembly elections 
and Parkash Singh Badal heads a coalition ministry 

the All-India Akali Conference at Ludhiana passes the 


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Anandpur Sahib Resolution as endorsed by the Akali Dal in 
1977; a number of Sikhs are killed in a clash with the armed 
Sant Nirankaris in Amritsar; the Dal Khalsa is founded at 
Chandigarh to fight the Nirankari menace 

Candidates of the Dal Khalsa and Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindran- 
wale contest elections to the SGPC 

Lala Jagat Narain is murdered; Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindran- 
wale is arrested and released; Akalis meet the Prime Minister 
Indira Gandhi gives 0.72 maf more of water to the Punjab, 
0.60 maf more to Rajasthan, and decides to complete the SYL 
canal for Haryana; the Akalis start the nabar roko agitation 
first and then dharmyudh for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution 
President’s rule imposed on the Punjab; violence escalates 
violence escalates still further; the Akal Takht is destroyed in 
Operation BlueStar and Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is 
killed; Indira Gandhi is assassinated; the Sikhs are massacred 
in Delhi and some other cities 

Akali leaders are released from detention and Sant Longowal 
signs an agreement with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi; Sant 
Longowal is assassinated; Sardar Surjit Singh Barnala becomes 
Chief Minister after the September elections 

Police action in the Golden Temple; Jathedar Gurcharan Singh 
Tohra is re-elected as SGPC President against the candidate of 
the ruling Akalis 

Barnala ministry is dismissed and President’s rule is imposed 
on the Punjab; a World Sikh Convention asks for an area of 
freedom for the Sikhs; resolution for Khalistan is passed at 
Fatehgarh Sahib 

Operation Black Thunder obliges some militants to surrender 
Simranjit Singh Mann is catapulted by the November elections 
as a militant leader; asks for autonomy in terms of the 
Anandpur Sahib Resolution 

Mann declares plebiscite for self-determination as the only 

February elections are boycotted by the Akalis; less than 22 per 
cent of the votes are polled; Beant Singh becomes the Congress 
Chief Minister; Jathedar Tohra is re-elected SGPC President 
Akali leaders are arrested 


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1994 by-elections in Nakodar and Ajnala take place; Jaswant Singh 
Khalra is picked up by the police and the Akalis launch an 

1995 by-election in Gidderbaha is won by the Akalis despite an all- 
out effort by Beant Singh; a human bomb blasts Beant Singh 

1997 the Akalis win two-thirds of the seats in the February elections 


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Board of Administration: Henry Lawrence, John 
Lawrence and Charles E. Mansel (replaced by Robert 
Montgomery in 1851) 

John Lawrence as Chief Commissioner 

John Lawrence as Lieutenant Governor 


Robert Montgomery 

Donald McLeod 

Henry Marion Durand 

Robert Henry Davies 

Robert Eyles Egerton 

Charles Umphreston Aitchison 
James Broadwood Lyall 
Dennis Fitzpatrick 

William MacWorth Young 
Charles Montgomery Rivaz 

E. J. Denzil Ibbetson (for a few months Thomas Gordon 
Walker acted in his place) 
Louis William Dane 

Michael O’Dwyer 

E. D. Maclagan 


E. D. Maclagan 

Malcolm Hailey 

Geoferrey Fitzbervey De Montmorency 
H. W. Emerson 

H. D. Craik 

B. J. Glancy 

E. M. Jenkins 


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This essay is by no means exhaustive. It is meant to serve as a guide to some of 
the best material on Sikh history, but the omission of a work is no reflection on 
its character. What is included is sufficiently representative of historical 
writing and major categories of source materials on the subject. The essay is 
divided into five parts. The first four cover the four distinct periods of Sikh 
history mentioned in the Preface. The last contains a few general observations. 


After the classic work of Joseph Davey Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs 
(London, 1849), Gokal Chand Narang picked up the threads more than six 
decades later in his Transformation of Sikhism (4th edn, New Delhi, 1956) to 
be followed by J.C. Archer, The Sikhs in Relation to Hindus, Moslems, 
Christians and Ahmadtyas: A Study in Comparative Religion (Princeton, 
1946); Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, A Short History of the Sikhs (Bombay, 
1950); Indubhusan Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa (and edn, Calcutta, 
1962); and Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs (Oxford, 1963). More 
analytical than these general histories is Niharranjan Ray’s The Sikh Gurus 
and Sikh Society: A Study in Social Analysis (Patiala, 1970). W. Owen Cole 
attempts to place the Sikh movement in a broad context in Sikhism and its 
Indian Context 1469-1708 (New Delhi, 1984). For ideas and institutions, the 
trail was blazed by Teja Singh in Sikhism: Its Ideals and Institutions (Bombay, 
1937), to be followed much later by W. H. McLeod, The Evolution of the Sikh 
Community (Oxford, 1975). A few critical essays on the period by J.S. 
Grewal, From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (2nd edn, Amritsar, 
1982) provide some new insights. 

Besides general histories, a number of scholars have written monographs on 
the Sikh Gurus, notably on the first and the last, and on Guru Tegh Bahadur: 
Teja Singh, Guru Nanak and His Mission (6th edn, SGPC, 1984); Harbans 
Singh, Guru Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith (Bombay, 1969); Gurbachan 
Singh Talib, Guru Nanak: His Personality and Vision (Delhi, 1969); and 
Surinder Singh Kohli, Philosophy of Guru Nanak (Chandigarh, 1969). The 
most critical in terms of Guru Nanak’s biography and the most comprehensive 
in terms of the exposition of his ideas is W. H. McLeod, Guru 
Nanak and the Sikh Religion (Oxford, 1968). In J. S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in 
History (2nd edn, Chandigarh, 1979) his mission is sought to be understood in 
terms of his response to his historical situation. A philosophic interpretation 
of Guru Gobind Singh’s mission was given by Kapur Singh in his Prashar- 
prasna Or the Baisakhi of Guru Gobind Singh (Jullundur, 1959); a critical 


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biography is presented by J.S. Grewal and S.S. Bal, Guru Gobind Singh 
(Chandigarh, 1967); and an interesting narrative by Harbans Singh, Guru 
Gobind Singh (New Delhi, 1979). A biography of Guru Tegh Bahadur was 
first attempted on an elaborate scale by Trilochan Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur: 
Prophet and Martyr (Delhi, 1967), to be followed by Fauja Singh and 
Gurbachan Singh Talib, Guru Tegh Bahadur: Martyr and Teacher (Patiala, 
1975), and Harbans Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur (Delhi, 1982). 

By far the most important source of early Sikh history is the Adi Sri Gura 
Granth Sahib Ji (Sri Damdami Bir, various printed editions, standard pagi- 
nation) which becomes easier to understand with the help of Sabdarth Sri 
Guru Granth Sahib Ji (text and commentary, 1936-1941). An early English 
translation was attempted by Ernest Trumpp, The Adi Granth (London, 1887) 
to be replaced by Max Arthur Macauliffe’s selected translations in The Sikh 
Religion (Oxford, 1909); a full translation by Gopal Singh, Sri Guru Granth 
Sahib (Delhi, 1962), has run into several editions. Next in importance to the 
Sikh scriptures is Varan Bhai Gurdas, not yet translated into English. The 
janamsakhi literature has been thoroughly analysed by W.H. McLeod, Early 
Sikh Tradition: A Study of the Janam-Sakhis (Oxford, 1980). One of the 
earliest works in this genre has been translated into English by McLeod, The 
Bgo Janam-Sakhi (Amritsar, 1981). Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, edited by Bishan 
Singh, provides the major source for Guru Gobind Singh; it is discussed 
in C. H. Loehlin, The Granth of Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa 
Brotherhood (Lucknow, 1971). The extremely valuable letters of Guru 
Gobind Singh as well as Guru Tegh Bahadur are collected in Fauja Singh, 
Hukamnamas of Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib (Patiala, 1976) and Ganda 
Singh, Hukamnamay (Patiala, 1967). J.S. Grewal, Guru Tegh Bahadur and 
the Persian Chroniclers (Amritsar, 1976), reveals primarily the uselessness of 
this evidence on the times of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Senapat’s Sri Gur Sobha (ed. 
Shamsher Singh - Amritsar, 1967) is the best evidence on the last decade of 
Guru Gobind Singh’s life. Covering the entire period from Guru Nanak to 
Guru Gobind Singh, W. H. McLeod has given a good selection of texts in 
Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism (Manchester, 1984). For a historical 
analysis of Sikh literature, Surjit Hans, A Reconstruction of Sikh History from 
Sikh Literature (Jalandhar, 1987). 

There is some useful information in Persian works like the Baburnama, 
the Akbarnama, the Tuzk-i-Jahangiri, the Dabistan-i-Mazahib, the Ma‘asir-i- 
Alamgivi, the Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh and other contemporary works, which 
have been put together by Ganda Singh, Makhiz-i-Tawarikh Sikhan 
(Amritsar, 1949). Much of the contemporary evidence makes better sense in 
the light of general studies like W.H. Moreland, The Agrarian System of 
Moslem India (2nd edn, Delhi, 1968), and India at the Death of Akbar (reprint, 
Delhi, 1962); Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India (Bombay, 
1963); Nurul Hasan, Thoughts on Agrarian Relations in Mughal India (New 
Delhi, 1973); Tapan Raychaudhari and Irfan Habib, Cambridge Economic 
History of India (Hyderabad, 1984); Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the 
Mughal Empire (Oxford,1987); Ibn Hasan, The Central Structure of the 


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Mughal Empire (reprint, New Delhi, 1970); Ahsan Raza Khan, Chieftains in 
the Mughal Empire During the Reign of Akbar (Simla, 1977); Athar Ali, The 
Mughal Nobility Under Aurangzeb (reprint, Bombay, 1970); Athar Abbas 
Rizvi, Muslim Revivalist Movements in Northern India in the Sixteenth and 
Seventeenth Centuries (Agra, 1965); Chetan Singh’s Region and Empire: 
Punjab in the Seventeenth Century, New Delhi, 1991. 


Some of the general histories mentioned in the previous section cover partly or 
wholly the period from Guru Gobind Singh’s death to the annexation of the 
Punjab by the British. N. K. Sinha’s Rise of the Sikh Power (reprint, Calcutta, 
1973), however, relates to the eighteenth century, followed by H. R. Gupta’s 
three volumes of the History of the Sikhs (vol. 1 2nd edn Simla 1952 and vols. 
2 and 3 Lahore, 1944) before 1947. Recently the ground has been covered 
more thoroughly by Veena Sachdeva’s Polity and Economy of the Punjab 
During the Late Eighteenth Century (New Delhi, 1993). Individual leaders 
and rulers have been treated in Ganda Singh, Life of Banda Singh Bahadur 
(Amritsar, 1935) and Ahmad Shah Durrani (Bombay, 1959); Kirpal Singh, A 
Short Life Sketch of Maharaja Ala Singh (Amritsar, 1953); Henry T. Prinsep, 
Life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (reprint, Patiala, 1970); N. K. Sinha, Ranjit 
Singh (Calcutta, 1968); Khushwant Singh, Ranjit Singh: Maharaja of the 
Punjab (London, 1962); Waheeduddin, The Real Ranjit Singh (4th edn, 
Karachi, 1965). The army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors is 
covered by Fauja Singh, Military System of the Sikhs (Delhi, 1964). For the 
early nineteenth century, Lepel Griffin, Rajas of the Punjab (reprint, Patiala, 
1970); Gulshan Lal Chopra, The Punjab As a Sovereign State (Lahore, 1928); 
Indu Banga, Agrarian System of the Sikhs (New Delhi, 1978); J. S. Grewal, 
The Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Structure of Power, Economy and 
Society (Patiala, 1981). 

The decade from the death of Ranjit Singh to the annexation of the Punjab is 
well covered by Sita Ram Kohli, Sunset of the Sikh Empire (New Delhi, 1967); 
Fauja Singh, After Ranjit Singh (New Delhi, 1982); Barkat Rai Chopra, 
Kingdom of the Punjab, 1839-1845 (Hoshiarpur, 1969); S.S. Bal, British 
Policy Towards the Punjab 1844-49 (Calcutta, 1971); N. M. Khilnani, British 
Power in the Punjab 1839-1858 (New York, 1972); for the Anglo-Sikh Wars 
Charles Gough and Arthur D. Inns, The Sikhs and the Sikh Wars (reprint, 
Patiala, 1970). For some other aspects of the period see J.S. Grewal, The City 
of the Golden Temple (Amritsar, 1986); W.G. Archer, Paintings of the Sikhs 
(London, 1966); Sulakhan Singh, ‘Udasis Under the Sikh Rule (1750-1850)’ 
(doctoral thesis, Amritsar, 1985); Daljinder Singh Johal, ‘Society and Culture 
As Reflected in Punjabi Literature (1750-1850)’ (doctoral thesis, Amritsar, 
1985); Indu Banga, ‘State Formation Under Sikh Rule’ Journal of Regional 
History (1980), and ‘The Ruling Class in the Kingdom of Lahore’, ibid. (1982); 
B. N. Goswamy, ‘The Context of Painting in the Sikh Punjab’, ibid. (1981); 
Reeta Grewal, ‘Polity, Economy and Urbanization’, ibid. (1983). 


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Important among the contemporary Persian works are, Tahmas Beg Khan’s 
Tahmas Namah; Qazi Nur Muhammad’s Jang Namah; Khushwaqt Rai, 
Tawarikh-i-Sikhan; Ahmad Shah’s Tarikh-i-Hind; Ganash Das’s, Char- 
Bagh-i-Panjab; Sohan Lal Suri’s Umdat-ut-Tawarikh. For contemporary 
Persian documentary evidence and chronicles translated into English, B. N. 
Goswamy and J.S. Grewal, The Mughals and the Jogis of Jakhbar (Simla, 
1967) and The Mughal and the Sikh Rulers and the Vaishnavas of Pindori 
(Simla, 1969); J.S. Grewal, In the By-Lanes of History (Simla, 1975); V.S. 
Suri, Umdat-ut-Tawarikh (New Delhi, 1961, 1972); J.S. Grewal and Indu 
Banga, Early Nineteenth-Century Punjab (Amritsar, 1975); H. L. O. Garrett 
and G.L. Chopra, Events at the Court of Ranjit Singh 1810-1817 (reprint, 
Patiala, 1970); J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga, The Civil and Military Affairs of 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Amritsar, 1987). For information on the voluminous 
records of the government of Ranjit Singh and his successors now lodged in 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum and Archives at Amritsar see Sita Ram Kohli, 
Catalogue of Khalsa Darbar Records (Lahore, 1919, 1927). There are some 
useful documents in J. Ph. Vogel, Catalogue of Bhuri Singh Museum at 
Chamba (Calcutta, 1909). For contemporary works in Punjabi see Kesar Singh 
Chhibber, Bansawalinamah (Chandigarh, 1972); Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima 
Parkash (Patiala, 1971); Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Parkash (5th edn, 
Amritsar, 1972); Shah Muhamnmad, Var (Ludhiana, 1972); Ram Sukh Rao, 
Fateh Singh Partap Parbhakar (Patiala, 1980). 

Some numismatic evidence and travel literature is available in C.J. Rodgers, 
‘On the Coins of the Sikhs’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Benegal, vol. 1 
(1881); Ganda Singh, Early European Accounts of the Sikhs (reprint, Calcutta, 
1962); W. Moorcraft and G. Frebeck, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of 
Hindostan and the Punjab, in Ladak and Kashmir in Peshawar, Kabul and 
Kunduz and Bokhara from 1819 to 1825 (London, 1837); H.L.O. Garrett, 
The Punjab a Hundred Years Ago, as Described by V.Jacquemont and 
A. Soltykoff (reprint, Patiala, 1971); G.T. Vigne, A Personal Narrative of a 
Visit to Ghazni, Cabul and Afghanistan and of a Residence at the Court of 
Dost Muhammad With Notices of Ranjit Singh, Khiva and Russian Expedition 
(London, 1840); Baron Charles Hugel, Travels in Cashmere and the Punjab 
(London, 1845); W.G. Osborne, The Court and Camp of Ranjeet Singh 
(London, 1840); Alexander Burnes, Travels in Bukhara (London, 1834); 
Major Hugh Pearse, Memories of Alexander Gardner Colonel of Artillery in 
the Service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (reprint, Patiala, 1970) and Sir Lepel 
Griffin, The Punjab Chiefs: Historical and Biographical Notices of the 
Principal Families in the Lahore (Lahore, 1865). 

For some general developments during the period see Sir Jadu Nath Sarkar, 
Fall of the Mughal Empire in four volumes (Calcutta, 1932); Satish Chandra, 
Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court (1707-1740) (2nd edn, New Delhi, 
1972), Zahir-ud-Din Malik, The Reign of Muhammad Shah (Bombay, 1977); 
Noman Ahmad Siddiqi, Land Revenue Under the Mughals (1700-1750) 
(Bombay, 1970); J. Hutchison and J. Ph. Vogel, History of the Punjab Hill 
States in two volumes (Lahore, 1933). 


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General histories by Khushwant Singh, Gopal Singh and Sangab Singh cover the 
period of colonial rule. There are several good monographs which add detail 
and depth, like Dolores Domin, India: A Study in the Role of the Sikhs in 
1857~59 (Berlin, 1977); John C.B. Webster, The Nirankari Sikhs (Delhi, 
1979); Fauja Singh, Kuka Movement: An Important Phase in Punjab’s Role in 
India’s Struggle for Freedom (Delhi, 1965); Richard Fox, Lions of the Punjab: 
Culture in the Making (Berkeley, 1985); Mohinder Singh, The Akali Move- 
ment (Delhi, 1978); Sukhmani Bal, Politics of the Central Sikh League (New 
Delhi, 1991). Kailash Chander Gulati, The Akalis: Past and Present (New 
Delhi, 1974); K. L. Tuteja, Sikh Politics (1920-1940) (Kurukshetra, 1984); 
Ethne K. Marenco, The Transformation of Sikh Society (New Delhi, 1976); 
Tom G. Kessinger, Vilyatpur 1848-1968: A Study of Social and Economic 
Change in a North Indian Village (California, 1974). There are a few 
biographical studies like Durlab Singh, The Valiant Fighter: A Biographical 
Study of Master Tara Singh (Lahore, nd) and Sikh Leadership (Delhi, 1950); 
G.S. Deol, Shahid Ajit Singh (Patiala, 1973) and Shahid Bhagat Singh (Patiala, 
1973); K.K. Khullar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh (New Delhi 1981); Gurcharan 
Singh, Jiwani Sardar Sewa Singh Thikriwala (2nd edn, Patiala 1974). 

Quite a few studies, though not directly on Sikh history, have a close 
bearing on the subject, like Harish K. Puri, Ghadar Movement: Ideology, 
Organization and Strategy (Amritsar, 1983); Hugh Johnston, The Voyage of 
the Komagata Maru (Delhi, 1979); Ramesh Walia, Praja Mandal Movement in 
East Punjab States (Patiala, 1972); Kamlesh Mohan, Militant Nationalism in 
the Punjab 1919-1935 (New Delhi, 1985); P.R. Uprety, Religion and Politics 
in Punjab in the 1920s (New Delhi, 1980); Bhagwan Josh, Communist 
Movement in Punjab (1926-47) (Delhi, 1979). 

There are several works on the history of the Punjab which remain relevant 
for an understanding of Sikh history: P. H. M. van den Dungen, The Punjab 
Tradition (London, 1972); Norman Gerald Barrier, Punjab History in Printed 
British Documents (Missouri, 1969); N. Gerald Barrier and Paul Wallace, The 
Punjab Press, 1880-1905 (Michigan, 1970); Himadri Banerjee, Agrarian 
Society of the Punjab (1849-1901) (New Delhi, 1982); Sukhwant Singh, 
‘Agricultural Development in the Punjab 1849-1947’ (M.Phil. dissertation, 
Amritsar, 1980); Sukhdev Singh Sohal, ‘The Middle Classes in The Punjab 
(1849-1947) (doctoral thesis, Amritsar, 1987); Harish C. Sharma, Artisans 
of the Punjab (New Delhi, 1996). Sri Ram Sharma, Punjab in Ferment 
(Delhi, 1971); Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th 
Century Punjab (London, 1976); Spencer Lavan, The Ahmadiyah Movement: 
A History and Perspective (New Delhi, 1974); Emmett Davis, Press and 
Politics in British Western Punjab 1836-1947 (Delhi, 1983); Satya M. Rai, 
Legislative Politics and the Freedom Struggle in the Punjab 1897-1947 
(Delhi, 1984); Kirpal C. Yadav, Elections in Punjab 1920-1947 (New Delhi, 

The Jallianwala Bagh happenings are well covered in V. N. Datta, Jallian- 


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wala Bagh (Ludhiana, 1969); Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: A 
Premeditated Plan (2nd edn, Chandigarh, 1978); Alfred Draper, Amritsar: 
The Massacre that Ended the Raj (Delhi, 1981). On the partition, Penderal 
Moon, Divide and Quit (London, 1961); Kirpal Singh, The Partition of the 
Punjab (Patiala, 1972); Satya M. Rai, Partition of the Punjab (Bombay, 1965). 
There is a useful biographical study, Fazl-i-Husain: A Political Biography 
(Bombay, 1946), by Azim Husain. 

The works of contemporary British administrators have their own merit in 
spite of their limitations: James Douie, The Punjab, North Western Province 
and Kashmir (Cambridge, 1916); S.S. Thorburn, Musalmans and the Money- 
Lenders in the Punjab (reprint, Delhi, 1983); S.S. Thorburn, The Punjab in 
Peace and War (reprint, Patiala 1970); H. K. Trevaskis, Punjab of Today: An 
Economic Survey of the Punjab in Recent Years 1890-1925 in two volumes 
(Lahore, 1931) and The Land of the Five Rivers: An Economic History of the 
Punjab from the Earliest Times to the Year of Grace 1890 (Oxford, 1926); 
H.Calvert, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab: Being Some Studies in 
Punjab Rural Economics (Lahore, 1922); Malcolm Lyall Darling, The Punjab 
Peasant in Prosperity and Debt (London, 1928). 

There are some works on Indian history which provide a useful context for 
the Punjab and for Sikh history: Percival Spear, India: A Modern History 
(Michigan, 1972); A.R. Desai, Social Background of Indian Nationalism 
(Bombay, 1954); Sumit Sarkar, Modern India 1885-1947 (Delhi, 1983); 
K.M.L. Saxena, The Military System of India (New Delhi, 1974); 
G. Macmunn, The Armies of India (reprint, Delhi, 1980); John C. B. Webster, 
The Christian Community and Change in Nineteenth Century North India 
(Delhi, 1976); J.N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India 
(London, 1924); Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge, 
1972); Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman Jinnah: The Muslim League and the 
Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge, 1985); V.P. Menon, Transfer of Power in 
India (reprint, New Delhi, 1979). 

Some easily available contemporary evidence on Sikh history during this 
period is in Attar Singh, Sakhee Book (Benaras, 1873); Ganda Singh, Kukiyan 
di Vithya (Amritsar, 1944 for the letters of Baba Ram Singh); N. Gerald 
Berrier, The Sikhs and Their Literature (Delhi, 1970); Bhagat Lakshman 
Singh, An Autobiography (Calcutta, 1965); Some Confidential Papers on the 
Akali Movement (SGPC, 1965), edited by Ganda Singh; Ruchi Ram Sahni, 
Struggle for Freedom of Sikh Shrines (SGPC, nd); G. R. Sethi, Sikh Struggle for 
Gurdwara Reform (Amritsar, 1927); Bhagat Singh, Why I am an Atheist 
(Delhi, 1979); J.S. Grewal and H. K. Puri, Letters of Udham Singh (Amritsar, 
1974); Swarup Singh, The Sikhs Demand Their Home Land (London, 1946); 
Gurbachan Singh and L. S. Giani, The Idea of the Sikh State (Lahore, 1946); 
Sadhu Singh Hamdard, Azad Punjab (Amritsar, 1943). 

Apart from gazetteers, reports and other government publications there is 
published official evidence having a direct bearing on Sikh history in Gooroo 
Ram Singh and the Kuka Sikhs (New Delhi, 1965) edited by Nahar Singh; 
Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence (Patiala, 1977) edited by Ganda 


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Singh; David Petrie’s report of 1911, Developments in Sikh Politics (Amritsar, 
1911); Confidential memorandum on the Akali Dal and the Shiromani 
Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, 1921-22 (The Punjab Past and Present 
1967, 2§2-311); John Maynard ‘The Sikh Problem in the Punjab, 1920-23’ 
(The Punjab Past and Present 1977, 129-141). There is some important 
contemporary evidence, though not exclusively on Sikh history, in Lepel 
Griffin and C. F. Massy, Chiefs and Families of Note in the Punjab (Lahore, 
1891, 1909 and 1940); N. Gerald Barrier, The Punjab in Nineteenth Century 
Tracts (East Lansing, 1969) and Banned Controversial Literature and Political 
Control in British India (New Delhi, 1976); Larry Collins and Dominique 
Lapierre, Mountbatten and the Partition of India March 22 — August 15, 1947 
(Delhi, 1982). 

There are some useful articles on the different aspects of Punjab and Sikh 
history during this period: Reeta Grewal ‘The Pattern of Urbanization in the 
Punjab Under Colonial Rule’, Journal of Regional History (1984) 69-81; J.S. 
Grewal, ‘Business Communities of the Punjab’, (:bid. 1984); Richard Fox, 
‘Urban Class and Communal Consciousness in Colonial Punjab: The Genesis 
of India’s Intermediate Regime’, Modern Asian Studies (1984), 459-89; Paul 
Wallace, ‘Communalism, Factionalism and National Integration in the Pre- 
Independence Punjab’, Punjab Past and Present (1975), 389-405; Ian J. Kerr, 
‘The British and the Administration of the Golden Temple in 1859’, Punjab 
Past and Present (1976), 306-21; W.H. McLeod, ‘The Kukas: A Millenarian 
Sect of the Punjab’, The Panjab Past and Present (1979), 164-87; ].S. Grewal, 
‘The Emergence of the Punjabi Drama: A Cultural Response to Colonial 
Rule’, Journal of Regional History (1984), 115-55; Fauja Singh, ‘Akalis and the 
Indian National Congress (1920-1947), The Panjab Past and Present (1981), 
453-70; Barbara N. Ramusack, ‘Punjab States: Maharajas and Gurdwaras: 
Patiala and the Sikh Community’ (Oxford, 1978), 170-204; Harjot Singh 
Oberoi, ‘From Gurdwara Rakabganj to the Viceregal Palace - A Study of 
Religious Protest’, The Panjab Past and Present (1980), 182-98; Harbans 
Singh and N. Gerald Barreir, Punjab Past and Present: Essays in Honour of Dr 
Ganda Singh (Patiala, 1976). 


Satya M. Rai’s Partition of the Punjab (Bombay, 1965) actually covers the 
history of the Indian Punjab up to 1956. Stephen L, Keller discusses the role of 
refugees in the development of the Punjab in his Uprooting and Social Change 
(Delhi, 1975). On the green revolution there are two books: Partap C. 
Aggarwal, The Green Revolution and Rural Labour (New Delhi, 1973) and 
M.S. Randhawa, Green Revolution (Ludhiana, 1974). In the Political Dyna- 
mics of Punjab (Amritsar, 1981), edited by Paul Wallace and Surendra Chopra, 
there are some good articles on the post-independence politics of the Punjab. 

Baldev Raj Nayyar has studied Sikh politics before the creation of the 
Punjabi-speaking state in his Minority Politics in the Punjab (Princeton, 1966). 
Ajit Singh Sarhadi traces the background as well as the creation of the 


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Punjabi-speaking state in his Punjabi Suba (Delhi, 1970). Sikh politics in 
relation to language and religion finds good coverage in Paul Brass, Language, 
Religion and Politics in North India (London, 1974). The political system of 
the Sikh Jats is studied by Joyce Pettigrew in her Robber Noblemen (Boston, 
1975). Pandit Mohan Lal’s Disintegration of Punjab (Chandigarh, 1984) 
contains detailed information on the Politics of the Punjab, particularly during 
the 1960s. M.S. Dhami’s Minority Leaders Image of the Indian Political 
System (New Delhi, 1975) is based on interviews with important Akali leaders. 
Some useful information is given by Gur Rattan Pal Singh in The Illustrated 
History of the Sikhs (1947-78) (Chandigarh, 1979). A.S. Narang discusses 
Akali politics after 1947 in his Storm Over the Sutlej (Delhi, 1983). The 
history of the SGPC after independence too is given by Gobinder Singh, 
Religion and Politics in the Punjab (New Delhi, 1986). 

A considerable number of monographs and articles have been written on the 
crisis of the 1980s, particularly after Operation Bluestar: Parmod Kumar, 
Manmohan Sharma, Atul Sood and Ashwani Handa, Punjab Crisis: Context 
and Trends (Chandigarh, 1984); V.D. Chopra, R. K. Mishra and Nirmal 
Singh, Agony of Punjab (New Delhi, 1984); Kuldip Nayyar and Khushwant 
Singh, Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar and After (New Delhi, 1984); 
Chand Joshi, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality (New Delhi, 1984); Mark 
Tully and Satish Jacob, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle (London, 1985); 
Abida Samiuddin, The Punjab Crisis: Challenge and Response (Delhi, 1985). 
Satya M. Rai has extended her earlier work to the 1980s in Punjab Since 
Partition (Delhi, 1986). Rajiv A. Kapur’s Sikh Separatism: The Politics of Faith 
(London, 1986) too, brings the narrative to the 1980s. The Punjab in 
Prosperity and Violence. Ed. J. S$. Grewal and Indu Banga (New Delhi, 
1998). There is useful information in Anup Chand Kapur, The Punjab Crisis: 
An Analytical Study (New Delhi, 1985), though the title hardly fulfils its 


There are some useful bibliographies: Ganda Singh, A Bibliography of the 
Punjab (Patiala, 1966); Ikram Ali Malik, A Bibliography of the Punjab and its 
Dependencies (1849-1910) (Lahore, 1968); W. Eric Gustafsan and Kenneth W. 
Jones, Sources on Punjab History (New Delhi, 1975). Useful for biographical 
references are: Fauja Singh’s Eminent Freedom Fighters of Punjab (Patiala, 
1972) and Who is Who: Punjab Freedom Fighters (Patiala, 1972); Jagdish Saran 
Sharma, The National Biographical Dictionary of India (Delhi, 1972); S.P. 
Sen, Dictionary of National Biography, four volumes (Calcutta, 1974). Equally 
useful for reference are: H. A. Rose, A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the 
Punjab and North-West Frontier Province (reprint, Patiala, 1970); H.H. 
Wilson, A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms, (Delhi, 1968); B.H. 
Baden-Powell, Handbook of the Economic Products of the Punjab, with a 
Combined Index and Glossary of Technical Vernacular Words (Lahore, 1869 
and 1872). 


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Articles on Sikh history appear from time to time in the Proceedings of the 
Indian History Congress, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 
Modern Asian Studies, Journal of Asian Studies and Journal of the Asiatic 
Society of Bengal. More important though recent, however, for articles on the 
Punjab and Sikh history are the Proceedings of the Punjab History Conference 
(Patiala), the Journal of Regional History (Amritsar), the Punjab Journal of 
Politics (Amritsar) and the PSE Economic Analyst (Amritsar). The most 
important periodical, particularly for the reprints of old and new articles, is 
The Panjab Past and Present (Patiala). 


The past decade was marked by controversies in Sikh studies, involving all 
major themes of the Sikh tradition. This protracted debate has been analyzed 
in J. S. Grewal, Historical Perspectives on Sikh Identity (Patiala, 1997) and in 
J. S. Grewal, Contesting Interpretations of the Sikh Tradition (New Delhi, 
1998). Notable among the works which figure in these analyses are the recent 
publications of W. H. McLeod as well as his earlier works. With these stand 
bracketed the works of Piar Singh, Harjot Oberoi, Pashaura Singh and 
Gurinder Singh Mann. On the other side of the debate are mainly the works 
of Daljeet Singh, Jagjit Singh and G. S. Dhillon. There are other contestants, 
too numerous to be listed here. 


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