“Wahe Guruji da khalsa, Wahe Guruji di fateh!”, the war began against an enemy considerably larger in number and infamous for brutality. But the Sikh army was here to taste victory, the war cry from their leader having infused confidence in them. They fought with all their might, and they fought to win.
To put an end the growing Maratha power, Ahmad Shah Abdali – the Afghan king along with his allies – the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, and Shuja-ud-Daula of Awadh – had descended on the Maratha army with all his might in the 3rd battle of Panipat. The Marathas fought bravely but were no match to the combined mighty armies of Abdali and its allies. Abdali had kidnapped 2,200 Hindu women as part of his war spoils and was carrying them to Afghanistan, to be sold there for slavery. The relatives of these women had requested the Sikh forces in Amritsar for rescuing them and ensuring their safety. Jassa Sigh Ahluwalia, the Sikh leader, on learning about this incident, immediately left with a team of his volunteers and caught up with the Afghan forces at River sutlej in Goindwal. It needed great courage to fight the mighty Afghan army who were still high on confidence from their recent victory in the Panipat. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and his men pounced on the enemy with great vigor and took them by surprise. The once outnumbered looking Sikh army was now making the Afghans run for their lives. All the Hindu women were rescued and escorted to their families. Jassa Singh, was now a household name in north India. This incident had now earned him the title of “Bandi Chhor” ( The Liberator. )
Earlier in the same year Abdali had crushed the Sikh uprising, killing 25,000 Sikhs which included children and women as well. He also went ahead and blew up Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar with gunpowder. Nothing remained of Harmandir Sahib, but Abdali was not satisfied with this : He filled the holy tank with remains of dead cows. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was determined to seek vengeance and to rebuild the temple at the first opportunity.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was born on 3rd May 1718 in the village of Ahlo, Lahore. Punjab (then undivided) was in ruins – The fight for Punjab’s freedom was now dying a slow death. Banda Bahadur and his followers had been brutally executed by Abdali and his army. Jassa was just 5 years old when his father passed away. His mother took him to Mata Sundari, the widow of the great Guru Gobind ji, where they lived for next 7 years. One can say that it is these initial years of his life that he spent here that made him so dedicated for the Sikh cause and rise to fight for his people. Emperor Farukh Saiyyar had declared a bounty of Rs.50 per sikh head. The threat of being attacked was now greater than ever but it only emboldened Jassa to raise the battle cry of the Sikh army with greater valor.
In 1764, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia conquered Sarhind, the richest province of the empire. He donated his entire share of the spoils, which amounted to 9 lakh rupees to rebuild the Harmandir Sahib, the one which we see today. This great act of generosity, referred to as ‘Guru ki chaddar’ earned him great popularity and following among his religious-minded followers.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia’s victories include the defeat of Shah Nawaz of Multan, conquest of Khwaspur and Fatehbad in 1753, defeating Aziz Beg and Bakhinda Khan in 1754, Buland khan and Saadat Khan in 1757, Ubaidullah Khan, Hira Mal, Gulsher Khan. Jahan Khan – the outstanding generals of Abdali. In the decisive battle with Ubaid Khan, he proved to be better and captured Lahore. All this made Abdali go defensive, Abdali’s authority was now confined to his own camp. Lahore was now occupied by Dal Khalsa and Punjab had tasted freedom after 700 long years. But Jassa didn’t stop here – Sikh conquests continued, leading to the victory of Delhi in 1783.
However, he sat on the throne of Hindustan for just one day and left shortly but not before entrusting the task of building 8 main gurudwaras of Delhi to his trusted lieutenant, Baghel Singh.
Such was the courage and fighting quality of the Sikh troops that even the Afghans couldn’t help but be in awe. Nur Mohamand, brought along with Abdali to write an account of his 1764-65 campaign initially referred to the Sikhs as dogs but later with great reluctance had to change his mind by the end of the campaign. In his Jungnama he wrote “.. the designation of Singh means lion, and lion indeed they are. Each one of them behaves like a lion in battle.
Known for his courage and fearlessness ( he was reputed to have 32 war-wounds on his body), he was the one who instilled faith in the Sikhs. He united the misl leaders (leaders of different smaller warrior groups) and made them fight for a common, greater cause. An adept warrior who always led his troops to victories, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was hugely respected for this tall moral stand. Most people would have revenge as the only sentiment at their oppressors but Jassa was different. He ensured prisoners of war were treated with dignity and there were no cases of cold blooded murders. In a war, if the enemy soldier laid down his weapons, he was allowed to walk free, unharmed. He never forced religious conversions on his enemies and believed that there are several path that lead to the God and each one should be free to decide and follow his own.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia passed away in the year 1783 and as a mark of his services to the community he was cremated within the precincts of Harmandir Sahib, where his samadh exists today. At this time the combined armies of Dal Khalsa(Sikh Army) totaled approximately 200,000 fighter with 60,000-70,000 horses. Sikh rule extended from Lahore, Multan to Jammu, Kashmir, the Kangra hills to Delhi. Their influence also extended further to the Ganga Doab, Rajashthan, and Agra.
The following lines are attributed to Guru Gobind ji but it would not be unfair to say Jassa Singh Ahluwalia truly lived to these.
Chidya naal main baaz ladava,
Tabhi Guru Gobind Singh naam kahawa
(I will make the sparrows capable of fighting the hawks, for it is only then that i will be able to uphold my name.)
========================- Sunil Pandey
Resources – www.sikh-history.com/sikhhist/events/abdali.html