Friday, March 4, 2011

The Sikh Confederacy- The Thundering Horsemen of the ‘Lakhi Forest'.

The Thundering Horsemen of the ‘Lakhi Forest' .

The Thundering Horsemen

World History is an enduring and lasting record of the times and men of yore...All good histories are written on the basis of verifiable facts. Now, if you enjoy legends …This is an unfolding saga you will enjoy in the History of Punjab, for it is not just an ephemeral transition of events……It is our story….Your story and mine.

 Simply said, it is an imaginative stitching of many stories into a heroic saga in historical context, making it an elegant exploration of our community that defines its culture, and sheds light on its past. 

However, we need to learn the importance of evidence, so that we can distinguish it in a wider perspective without biases and typecast opinions.

Believe you me, there is a relationship between our past story and our present reality …The after effects resonate strongly in the present state of affairs of a community or you could say, even a country. I am not an historian…and this is not an analytical expose….so ….let us just ramble on as a story as it unfolded centuries ago.
Khalsa Coinage

If we look at Punjab and ‘The Sikh History’ through the centuries ….broadly we can tag it in three.

The Era of Spiritual wisdom of our Gurus                      1469-1708

The Sikh Confederacy                                                     1716-1799

The Sikh Empire                                                               1801-1849

The period from 1716 to 1799 in Punjab was decidedly the most turbulent time politically and militarily. This came to be as a result of the disintegrating Mughal Empire and weakening law and order…..thus the fertile plains of northern India and Delhi once again were a plum attraction for marauding armies from the west …who were  looking to loot and scoot. The power vacuum that was created was eventually filled by the Sikh Confederacy which in early 19th century   in due course  would give way to ‘The Sikh Empire’…. But, it must be said that in some ways the Sikh Confederacy's  influence  would still remain strong throughout the Sikh Empire's history.

Let me put chronological history on pause for a moment and tell you about “The Confederacy’….

What was this confederacy?
The Sikh Confederacy is a description of the political structure, of how all the warlords  with independent fiefdoms interacted with each other on inter related political, economical and defense matters  in Punjab of the 18th century..
These fiefdoms were called Misls ..… Misl is a Persian word meaning ‘similar’ or ‘alike’….

These Misls were made up of Sikh fighting clans. The Sikh Confederacy had twelve Misls and each was a self-governing  state. All the Heads of the Misls were a sort of nobility ….They were like ‘Barons’ of medieval Europe, and usually came from a family with long and prestigious history in the Sikh religion and Punjab's history in general.….Illustrious names are seen in the annals….To name a few
*      Bhai  Nawab kapur Singh Virk of Singhpuria Misl
*      Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, of Ramgarhia Misl
*      Baba Deep Singh of Shaheedan Misl
*      Bhai Hari Singh Dhillon of Bhangi Misl
*      Bhai Buddh Singh of Sukerchakia Misl ( Great grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit 
       Singh)……and many more.
nawab Kapur Singh Virk

Heroes stood tall, and the era is recorded by Sikh historians as the "Heroic Century"…… Primarily because of the meteoric rise of Sikhs to gain political power against great odds, in spite of the miniscule numbers.
History is always shrouded in layers of obscured  factors …thus sadly, many men have remained the unsung heroes ….All the same there were many who had imprinted glory  for posterity .These men went on to become  larger than life figures….and their acts of valour sing its own saga.   Nawab Kapur Singh Virk was one of the most respected, pivotal legendary figures in Sikh Confederacy ……Along with Banda Bahadur he dominated the events of the then tiny Sikh community which went through some of the darkest periods of its history under his leadership. We can concede in retrospect that as a Supreme commander he took decisions that were marked with exemplary courage…. And these  warlords…The ‘Misldars’ changed the course of history…It would be quite in form to say that they were the founding fathers of Sikh Confederacy and if truth be told, they set cornerstone of the Sikh Empire.
 After the massacre of Banda Singh Bahadur, his sons and thousands of Sikhs in 1716 this fight against the vicious Mughal oppression was strategically planned and led by Nawab Kapur Singh Virk. It is said by some Sikh scholars that if it was not for him…. the tiny Sikh community of the time would not have survived and would have been completely decimated.
The Misldars

It was during these trying times that the Misls came together  organizationally ,This formed the hierarchy of the ‘The Confederacy’ ….To begin with leaders of the Sikh Confederacy were very genial and generous with each other….There was a kind of idealism. However, during the later stages of the Sikh Confederacy, they had lost most of their idealism and rivalries and self interests gave way to competing alliances.

It was a strange feuding brotherhood…..Yet they would meet twice a year in Amritsar for a Sarbat Khalsa ….under the command of a Misldar …The Supreme commander.
Though it must be said that when it came to external hazards, all peril was perceived as a common threat and they banded together to negate the intent of the aggressors. The hierarchy was very military in structure hence it was easy for strong collaborations to be put in place for defensive and offensive actions against foreign incursions by invaders such as Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. The raiders of the Sikh Confederacy made sure that it was not a cake walk for them…

Such were the circumstances that even Amritsar was attacked numerous times….and the confederates ganged up to protect their combined heritage.
Many of us have heard of Robin Hood and his ‘Merry men’ of Sherwood Forest…..the atmosphere must been quite akin to that for the Sikhs band of fighters living in camps  in the outlying jungles and deserts.
Nawab Kapur Singh headed one of the Misls  with many bands of Sikh warriors who, struck at precision points  to paralyse  the failing Mughul administration and raid for food  and arms for their companions. Like Robin Hood they were forced to seek shelter in the ‘Lakhi’ jungles of Central Punjab…so called as it was the forest of a hundred thousand trees.
Sikhs in the Lakhi Forest
From here, they launched a series of rapid surprise attacks on government treasuries and caravans moving from one place to another. The success of strategic strikes and a result of these campaigns, had such an effect that the Governor was soon compelled to come to terms with them and a call for amnesty was sent out.
 It was sometime around this time the word spread through the jungles,that peace had been brokered with the government and that they could return to their homes. Nawab Kapur Singh saw an opportunity and undertook the task of consolidating the fragmented fabric of the Sikh Misls  and was able to merge into a single central fighting force ….The Dal…
BUDDHA DAL divided into two sections.
The Budha Dal.... the army of the veterans,
 TARUNA DAL ... the army of the young Baron Hari Singh Dhillon was elected its leader of the younger warriors.
The Dal
The Misls were primarily a cavalry centric force and relied very little on artillery
Each Misl was made up of number of soldiers, whose loyalty was given to the Misl's leader….We could call it a Sardari  system.
 A Misl could be composed of a few hundred to tens of thousands soldiers….. Although they varied in strength, they all had one commonality, the use of Light Cavalry with a minimal support of heavy cavalry.
If you read carefully the names of the Misls and the territory they occupied, it will give you an idea ….perhaps it may be interesting for you to trace your lineage and forefathers to one of these Misls….

Nurmahal, Talwandi, Phagwara,Kana Dhillon, Hariana
Ajnala,Sohiau,Nag,,Surdaspur, Dera Baba Nanak,
Kalanaur, Pathankot, Sujanpur
Nawashahr,Burka,Bassisn, Pindorian,Hoshiarpur,
Nakodar,Talban,Badala, Rahon, Philluar
1.Ahluwalia Led by Sardar Jassa singh ahluwalia , area of Jullundar Doab and army of 10,000 regular horsemen. Their held territory in the neighborhood of Kapurthala, in the Jalandhar doab, and some villages in Majha such as Sarhali, Jandiala, Bundala, Vairowal and Fatehabad. Click here to read more about Ahluwalia Misl
2.Bhangi Led by Sardar Hari singh Bhangi, so called Bhangi as they liked Bhang. ( They were also called Dhillon Sardars) Area between Beus and Ravi and Ravi and Chenab, so called Bari and Rachna Doabs. Approximately,  10,000 regular horsemen.  The Bhangis, owned Sialkote, Gujrat, Multan, Amritsar, Tarn tarn and Lahore. Here are some interesting stories about the Dhillon Sardars. During his eighth invasion of India Ahmad Shah Abdali was forced to retreat from the battle at Amritsar. Then, he offered the governor ship of Lahore to the Bhangi Sardar Lahna singh Dhillon, but the latter declined the proposal. He returned to the Shah the fruit he had sent him, saying that such delicacies were meant for royalty. The Sikhs, he told the messenger, lived on parched gram. Of this he gave a quantity to the messenger to be presented to Ahmad Shah on his behalf. Then Ahmad Shah Abdali's son Zaman Shah prepared to attack India, he collected a large army and got made special Alloy guns. But he was defeated in a battle with Dal Khalsa forces in-between Lahore and Amritsar. Then Sikh forces pursued him to snatch his guns and ammunition. They followed them all the way to Jhelum river when Zaman Shah could not take his guns across the rivers in a hurry he threw them in river. Sahib Singh Bhangi and his men took out the several guns out of the river. One such gun was called Zamzama. ( This picture on left is Zamzama Gun as it is in Lahore city today. ) Click here to read more about Bhangi Misl
3.Dalewalia Led by Gulab singh Dalewalia. Later under their leader Tara Singh Ghaiba they held Rahon, Mahatpur, Nawanshaher and Phillaur. Approximately 5000 regular horsemen. They were always ahead of others. Dalewalias were continuously moving and helping other Misls on the command of supreme commanders Nawab Kapur Singh and later Sardar Jassa
4.Faizalpuria. Led by Nawab Kapur singh virk . Approximately 5,000 horsemen. The territories held were Jalandhar, and the villages of Banur, Ghanauli, Manauli and Bharatgarh, in the Malwa. Click here to read more about Singhpuria Misl
5.Kanaihya. Led by Jai singh Kanaihya. This regiment ruled the area of riarki around Batala approximately 8,000 horsemen. Click here to read more about Kanhaiya Misl
6.Karor singhia. Karora singh Dhaliwal established this Misl, Their territory was Hoshiarpur and its surrounding areas. His successor Baghel singh Dhaliwal subdued the force less Mughal Emperor Shah Alam I of Delhi, and located and constructed the Gurudwaras in Delhi, in the memory of Seventh Guru, Ninth Guru and others. A special note is made here by a late historian Hari Ram Gupta that contrary to what happened in raids by other powers which were frequent in those uncertain times, during those  attacks by Sikhs there was not a single instance of woman having been molested. Later when Shah Alam gave him 2 Lakh tribute Baghel Singh vacated Delhi on the condition that his 30,000 forces will stay in Delhi, Where his forces stayed, it is still known as Tees Hazari in Delhi. Approximately 10,000 horsemen, many other irregular forces. Their forces combined with Ahluwalia misl crossed Jamuna and captured Saharanpur in Feb 20, 1764. The Sikhs overran the territory of Najib-ud-daulah the Rohilla Chief, and returned after realizing from him a tribute of eleven lakhs of rupees. Click here to read more about KaroraSinghia Misl
7.Nakai Led by Hari singh Nakai. This band ruled the area between Ravi and Ghara, Naka Area. Approximately 7,000 horsemen. They ruled over the country South of Lahore, between Ravi and the Sutlej. Click here to read more about Nakaii Misl
8        Nishanwala Led by Dasaundha singh. So called Nishanwala cause they carry the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag in the battle. Approximately 2,000 horsemen. Their territory was Ambala, Ropar, Anandpur Sahib, several hill chiefs paid tribute to this misl. Click here to read more about Nishanwala Misl
9        Ramgarhia Led by Nand singh Sanghania, so called as they extended fort of Ram Rauni at Amritsar which was later called Ramgarh. Riarki Area around Batala Approximately 5,000 horsemen. Their territory was parts of Amritsar, Qadian, Batala and Sri Hargobindpur, in the Bari doab and Miani, Sarih, and Urmur Tanda in the Jalandhar Doab. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia was a great Sikh warrior of times of Nawab Kapur Singh and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. He led Khalsa army in many battles. In command of Dal Khalsa he was just behind Jassa Singh Ahluwalia after the retirement of Nawab Kapur Singh. Click here to read more about Ramgarhia Misl
10    Sukerchakia Led by Nodh Singh, Ranjit singhs Misl. Area of Gujranwala, they often carried their arms beyond Jhelum. Approximately 5,000 horsemen. Their territories were Gujranwala and parts of Pothohar (currently Rawalpindi, Islamabad, etc.) Charat Singh, Ranjit singh's grandfather was one of the commanders with Nawab Kapur singh and then with Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. Ranjit Singh's father Mahan Singh also led Sikh forces to many victories. Once Charat Singh Sukarchakia and Gujar Singh Bhangi of Bhangi misl secured a crucial victory over Sarbuland Khan, the Afghan faujdar of Rohtas. Sarbuland Khan fell a captive into the hands of the Sikhs who treated him with magnanimity. So deeply was he impressed with consideration shown to him by Charat Singh Sukkarchakkia that he offered to serve as a governor under him if the Sardar proclaimed himself king. "The kingship is already conferred on us by the Guru," said the Sardar, "but we want to keep you a prisoner so that the world may know that Charat Singh has captured the uncle of Ahmad Shah Abdali." "There is still a greater distinction in releasing me," said Sarbuland Khan. "For, they will say that Charat Singh captured the uncle of Ahmad Shah and, then, set him at liberty." The Khan paid the tribute and was allowed to return to his country. Click here to read more about Shukarchakia Misl.
11    Shaheed. They drew their name from their Baba Deep Singh ji Shaheed , custodian of Damdama Sahib Gurudwara. This misl was in charge of Malwa part of Punjab which is current day Ludhiana. Approximately 5,000 horsemen. Their territories were also in some districts in Ambala (parganah of Shahzadpur) and district of Saharanpur. Click here to read more about Shaheed Misl
12.Phulkian. Misl is the only misl that was kicked out of the Dal Khalsa due to its anti Sikh policies in the time of Baba Deep Singh and Nawab Kapur Singh. This misl was founded by Baba Ala Singh. Click here to read more about Phulkian Misl

Times were bad and the Sikhs were far fewer in number to the ‘sarkari soldiers’ and the formidable invading armies of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. The Sikh band of horsemen calculated their tactics more on their strength of thundering cavalry charges and superior horsemen ship and downplayed their weakness of their reliance on artillery. 

Once the weaknesses are identified the best option is to push the strengths. So ,what happened was …All head long pitched clashes were painstakingly avoided . These heroic and ferocious posse of Sikh horsemen fought battles in a series of skirmishes….. A tactic which gave them an advantage in mounting raids on elephant and camel caravan,…. and strike with a lightning ability, to deliver lethal blows and bleed the enemy in number of places.
Sikh Musketeers
Now …Just imagine, what it must be like to mount a nocturnal attack…In the cover of darkness the Sikh fighter would mount his steed armed with a Spear, a Scimitar and a Musket which were given by his warlord ….The horsemen would get as close as possible in the quiet of the night and suddenly break its cover with loud and deafening war cries resonating with the thunder of the hooves of the charging cavalry. They would attack a position…… retreat…. reload their muskets, and return to attack it again.
This reminds me of the lyrics of a song, written for Mohammed Ali the famous heavy weight boxing champ… ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’.
The tactics applied by  the young  field commanders  included flanking the enemy, though sometimes they  would lay a siege ….obstructing river passages, cutting off a unit from its supplies, intercepting messengers, attacking isolated units like foraging parties. They perfected the ‘hit and run tactically ….. over running camps, and attacking arms laden camel trains.
The a running skirmish was a tactic unique to the Sikh cavalrymen who were notable for its effectiveness and they had a soaring skills required to execute it.
 George Thomas and George Forster…. contemporary writers of that time  witnessed the Sikh Cavalry charge…… and George Forster described
“A party from forty to fifty, advance in a quick pace to a distance of carbine shot from the enemy and then, that the fire may be given with the greatest certainty, the horses are drawn up and their pieces discharged, when speedily, retiring about a 100 paces, they load and repeat the same mode of annoying the enemy. Their horses have been so expertly trained to a performance of this operation that on receiving a stroke of hand, they stop from a full career.”

One day sitting with some learned scholars we were discussing the tactical wiliness  of these young social bandits of ‘Lakhi Forest’……Cleverly they would completely evacuate the areas in front of the massive advancing  enemy' forces …. I can just imagine what the generals of this huge trained force would be thinking… ‘ Ahh!! The natives….the sheer size  has scared then into their rabbit holes’…..but  that was not to be …The crafty bands of Sikhs would loop to the rear of the  marching army and re-conquer areas the enemy had just captured, The enemy spies and agents would be arrested and threatened with retribution. This was a bloodless sweep over the countryside in the wake of the enemy's withdrawal.
By the end of the century these Sikh confederate states were disbanded following the Coronation of Maharajah Ranjit Singh at Lahore, 1801 AD, and the era changed…..It was creation of the Sikh Empire.
Guru Gobind singh had visited Lakhi Jungle in 1762 Bikrami.
Here guru ji also held a kavi darbar and said the following lines:
Lakhi Jungle Khalsa Aan didar ditoo nae| Sun kae sadd mahi da mehin pani ghao muto nae||
Kisey naal na raleya kaayi koyae jo sauk peoo nae| Gaya Firaak milya mit mahin tahin sukar kito nae.

1 comment:

  1. Davinder Kumar Malhotra SINGH IS KING.RAJ KAREGA KHALSA
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