Banda Singh Bahadur and his relations with Muslims
Banda Singh Bahadur has been accused for inflicting severe atrocities and killing Muslim population including children and pregnant women during the sack of Sirhind in 1710. Contemporary Muslim historians have painted him as a blood thirsty monster. Based on them, Mohd Latif (1889) in his account has blamed Banda for the destruction of Sirhind and the bloodbath of Muslims. In my previous article I have uploaded pictures of almost a dozen Islamic structures namely mosques and tombs which were built prior to 1707 and are still standing in decent condition after 300 years in present day Sirhind. Banda and his troops may have destroyed the official residence of the condemned Wazir Khan, Subedar of Sirhind and other official building but to state that Banda destroyed Sirhind is a myth. The town simply lost it royal patronage. When Sardar Ala Singh got the town in 1764 he built Patiala as his capital and Sirhind became just one of towns in his state. Clearly Latif got this bit wrong.
Massacre of Muslims?
Today I am going to discuss the second part of the accusation that Banda indiscriminately killed Muslims men, women and children during the sack of the Sirhind in May 1710. Let us examine the Mughal News-letters, properly called the Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla. Dr Ganda Singh studies them in 1944-45 and brought them in public forum. Then in 1984 Dr Bhagat Singh translated and edited Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla which was published by Punjabi University, Patiala.
What is Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla?
Dr Bhagat Singh has explained that they were Mughal Court bulletins in Persian language which included provincial newsletters and reports of generals and governors, orders, activities and observations of the Emperors, appointments, promotions, transfers, dismissals and references to other matters of State. Copies of these bulletins were kept by feudatory chiefs, officers and governors through their vakils or agents stationed at the capital. This invaluable stock of such news bulletins is in Jaipur, now partly transferred to Bikaner covering the period from 1650 to 1730 with some gaps. Dr Ganda Singh and later Dr Bhagat Singh studied these news bulletins of Punjab from 1708 to 1716 which corresponds to the uprising of Banda Singh Bahadur.
Banda and Muslims
The Persian accounts contain details of atrocious’ deeds of the Sikhs’ during the sack of Sirhind in May 1710. Every kind of cruelty has been ascribed to Banda and his troops. They are said to have ‘torn open the wombs of pregnant women, dashing every living child upon the ground.’ Such statements were blindly repeated by later writers like Mohd Latif. Thomas Henry Thornton (1846) wrote that “a Mohammedan writer is not to be implicitly trusted upon such a point.”
|Banda Singh and Wazir Khan hunt. Forground are Chotte Sahibzadey bricked alive. Art by Bhagat Singh Bedi|
Dr Ganda Singh rightly points out that the Sikhs and their leader Banda had a deep-rooted hatred for Wazir Khan, the Subedar of Sirhind for the murder of the young sons of Guru Gobind Singh. Otherwise, Banda Singh had no hatred for the Muslims as such. Except those killed in the battle of Sirhind, including Wazir Khan and or some of the associates of Wazir Khan, no one else was touched. Banda was well aware of Peer Budhu Shah, his 4 sons and 700 of his followers who fought from Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s side in the battle of Bhangani (1688). The Peer and two of his sons were later killed by Usman Khan the chief of Sadhaura for supporting Guru Ji. Banda attacked Sadhaura to chastise the chief.
The very next month after the sack of Sirhind, we have a newsletter on how Banda has captivated the hearts of Hindus and Muslims. It does not say that Muslims were forced to convert. It seems strange that the ‘after killing all the Muslim population of Sirhind’, Banda was able to captivate the hearts of Muslims within few weeks!
The newsletter in June 1710 reports that “the authority of that deluded sect (of the Sikhs) had reached such extremes that many Hindus and Muhammedans adopted their faith and ritual. Their chief (Banda Singh) captivated the hearts of all towards his inclinations and, whether a Hindu or a Mohammedan, who soever came into contact with him was addressed as a Singh. Accordingly Dindar Khan, a powerful l ruler of the neighbourhood was named Dindar Singh and Mir Nasid-ud-Din, the official reporter of Sirhind, became Mir Nasir Singh. In the same way a large number of Mohammedans abandoned Islam and followed the misguided path (of Sikhism) and took solemn oaths and firm pledges to stand by Banda.”
On June 23, 1710, five weeks after the victory and occupation of Sirhind, it is reported that Banda told Jan Muhammad, the Zamindar of Gulab Nagar (the new Sikh name given to the town of Buriya)
“I have forgiven your crime and made you the Zamindar of the whole paragannah. You should proceed with your men and bring in Sardar Khan of Chundla. Then you will accompany me for the chastisement of Jalal Khan Afghan.”
Jalal Khan Afghan was harassing Sikhs and Hindus in his region. Banda went there with his Muslim supporters to chastise him.
5000 Muslims join Banda
Banda was not against Muslims but against oppression. He gave good treatment of anyone who joined him. People from poor segments of the society from all communities joined him. Most of them were farmers but they were others as well.
On 14 April, 1711 it is reported
“The wretched Nanak-worshipper has his camp in the town of Kalanaur up to the 19th instant. During this period he has promised and proclaimed. ‘I do not oppress the Muslims’. Accordingly for any Muslim who approaches him, he fixes a daily allowance and wages, and looks after him. He has permitted them to read khutba and namaz. As such, five thousand Muslims have gathered round him. Having entered into his friendship, they are free to shout their call and say their prayers in the army of the wretched (Sikhs)”
On 20 May, 1711, it is reported
“Whosoever from amongst the Hindus and Muslims comes to him for service is looked after and fed. He has granted the right of booty to them. It is decided that if the (Imperial) forces come, he will oppose them; if not, they (Banda & his troops) will move towards Ajmer via Lakhi Jungle and go to Shahjahanabad (Delhi)”
Banda continued his struggle against the oppression. The response from Mughal authorities was harsh and severe. Orders were given to kills Sikhs wherever they were found. This did not change Banda’s attitude towards Muslims. Banda was clearly able to draw a distinct line between the tyrannical officials and the general mass of the Muslims who were as much the part of the country as Sikhs and Hindus.
On 8th September 1710, Akhbar reported that Bahadur Shah has issued an order that all Hindus employed in the imperial offices should get their beards shaved. This was perhaps done to distinguish any Sikh sympathiser among them.
On 10 December, 1710 it is reported
“Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707- 12) from his Camp in the neighbourhood of Lohgarh near Sadhaura, directed Bakhshi-ul-Mumalik Mahabat Khan to issue edicts to the faujdars in the neighbourhood of Shahjanabad “to kill the worshippers of Nanak (the Sikhs) wherever they were found”. This order was repeated again after few years by Emperor Farrukh Siyar in almost the same words.
According to newsletter, dated 20 October 1710, Firoz Khan Mewati chopped off 300 heads of the rebel Sikhs and made a gift of these to the Emperor.
According to the newsletter of 6 December 1710, Amin Khan Bahadur wrote to the Mughal Emperor that he had killed 1000 Sikhs at Sirhind. He sent 500 heads of the Sikhs to the Emperor who ordered them to be publically displayed. As per the newsletter of 29 November 1713, Abdus-Samad Khan carried 900 heads of Nanak worshippers to Delhi. The heads were exhibited in the Chandni Chowk Bazar.
Agrarian & downtrodden revolt
The Akhbar reveals that the Sikh movement under Banda had a strong base in the villages. During the entire period of their struggle against the Mughals, Banda and his troops could move almost unchecked in the eastern part of the Punjab. The zamindars of Punjab mainly from the north eastern districts supplied arms and horses to Banda. However, this does not mean that there was no opposition from any of the zamindars. The Zamindars of Saharanpur and out of Punjab were hostile towards him.
Abolishment of Zamindari System
Under Mughal regime the zamindars or landlords were responsible for a payment of fixed amount of land revenue from the villages entrusted to them. However they extorted from the farmers any amount they liked but the government did not interfered. Consequently the poor farmers were reduced to the position of slaves. These poor farmers were from all communities namely Hindu, Sikh and Muslims. Under Banda’s regime the tillers of soil ejected the landlords and the farmers themselves became the masters of their lands. Large estates were broken into smaller holdings in the hands of the farmers. These agrarian changes improve the living standards of farmers and they readily joined him.
Support from the mendicants
Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla contains news items about help rendered to Banda by Banjaras and Grain Carriers, who moved about in all parts of the country plying their trade. It is recorded in the Akhbar that on 11 October 1711, forty banjaras who were Nanak worshippers, were brought to Delhi and on their refusing to accept Islam were executed under the orders of the Emperor. In a newsletter of 28 October 1711, it was reported to the Emperor that the Hindu faqirs, yogis, sanyasis and bairagis conveyed the news of the Imperial court to Banda.
During the short span of Banda’s rule, there was both a political as well as social revolution in the Punjab which has been well summed up by William Irvine (based on Persian accounts) saying that, “In all the parganas’ occupied by the Sikhs the reversal of the previous customs was striking and complete. A low scavenger or leather dresser, the lowest of the low in Indian estimation had only to leave home and join the Guru (meaning Banda) when in a short time he would return to his birthplace as its ruler with his order of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot within the boundaries the well born and wealth went out to greet him and escort him home. Arrived there, they stood before him with joined palms, awaiting his orders. Not a soul dared to disobey an order and men who had often risked themselves in battlefield become so cowed down that they were afraid even to remonstrate.”
|Banda Singh Bahadu marches to victory Art by Bhagat Singh Bedi|
The abolishment of Zamindari system and social revolution by Banda meant that he got support from farmers and poor sections of the society irrespective of their religious affiliation. Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla is a very important source in Persian which should not be ignored. These are the official news bulletins from the Mughal Court. They provide insight how news was reported at the time and gives a more balanced view of the events between 1708 -16. If Banda had committed Muslim carnage in Punjab he would not had got support from Punjabi Muslims. We tend to generalise and treat Muslims as homogenous group but in early 18th century there was a clear class distinction between the ruling Turkish (Mughal) regime and poor local Muslims who had small land holdings. Similarly Hindus were not a homogenous group by any stretch of imagination. Banda got some support initially from Shivalik range chiefs. The Sadhus, Faqirs, Yogis and Bairagis provided news of Imperial Court to Banda but Rajput, Jaat and Bundela rulers and chiefs who were all Hindus fought against Banda. There was no pan-Indian loyalty. Zamindars in Punjab were with Banda but those outside were hostile towards him. I hope at least some historians in Pakistan will revisit Banda Singh Bahadur’s sack of Sirhind and take into account the Muslim participation in Banda’s struggle against oppression. He would not have got Muslim support if he had slaughtered them.
I would like to thank my Amritsar based friend Damandeep Singh Sandhanwalia for bringing Dr Ganda Singh’s paper on Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla to my attention.
- Dr Ganda Singh’s paper “The Punjab News in the Akhbar-I-Darbar-I-Mualla” was published in Indian Historical Records Commission Proceedings of Meetings Vol. XXIV. The meeting was held at Jaipur in February 1948.
- Akhbar-i-Darbar-i-Mualla: translated & edited by Dr Bhagat Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1984
- Life and times of Banda Singh Bahadur by Dr Ganda Singh, 1935
- History of the Panjab by Syed Mohd Latif, 1889
- History of the Punjab, and of the Rise, Progress & Present Condition of the Sect and Nation of the Sikhs: Thomas Henry Thornton, 1846
- Sikh History from Persian Sources edited by JS Grewal & Irfan Habib, 2001
- The Later Mughals by William Irvine, edited and published by Jadunath Sarkar, 1922
Banda Singh Bahadur: Persian Sources (in Punjabi) by Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon published by Singh Brothers, Amritsar 2011