Saturday, January 22, 2011

Banda Bahadur’s understanding and interpretation of the concept of sovereignty

[I am before the public again after a brief interval. This was necessitated by several factors. I had gone to Thailand for about two weeks. Thereafter, I had to attend two important seminars at Punjabi University, Patiala. For one of them I was required to write a paper.
The paper I wrote is presented below. I hope it will be of some use to those keen to know about Sikh polity and about Banda Singh Bahadur.]

1) Fragments clinging to fragments may have made it possible for Lucretius to identify objects, to “know and name them.” But slicing history into neat portions and trying to understand it fragment by fragment is perhaps not the best method of doing so. The Guru himself indicated that the effort of ten Nanaks has to be looked upon as inspired by unity of thought when he laid down the doctrine that all Nanaks in their ten human forms were to be regarded as one single Guru. The non-acceptance of the thesis is the single element that has marred understanding of the true import, purpose, direction and content of Sikh history. The tendency to interpret events in isolation, to consign them to carefully crafted niches, has marred the appreciation of the contribution of Banda and his companions.

2). On account of this, ever since his sudden appearance on the Punjab scene and his equally dramatic exit from the world, Banda Singh Bahadur has remained an enigmatic figure defying comprehension. To add to it, even the conventional sources of history have not been properly mined to yield information about him and his work in the six years of intense activity allotted to him by history. The total disorientation of modern historians regarding the ethos of the Sikh movement, has taken its own toll. This has rendered them incapable of drawing conclusions from the clear messages emanating from the period. The expressive symbolism and rich imagery, that has fortunately been passed down fully intact, has not been adequately interpreted. This includes very expressive legends on the coins and official seal of the period, graphic description of Banda’s battles, new trends in the exercise of sovereign power, rather broad hints about hitherto unheard of power relationships in society and the palpable sympathy for the lowly and the abandoned sections as depicted in many contemporary documents that survive. Not the least is the spiritual inspiration of the movement that nudged everything rationally inexplicable into the realm of reality.

3). Difficulties and mental reservations that impeded the objective assessment of Banda and his times also deserve mention. Contemporary Muslim historians use language that indicates the total frustration and shock at the enormity of unfolding events. Despite the intense admiration for Banda, which they expressed in equally intense hatred, they aligned themselves with the Mughal state which they further identified closely with Islam and wrote from the perspective of rulers and their faith. Their influence has corrupted the vision of modern historians like Syad Muhammad Latif. Taking his cue from them, Latif, tried to weave the private purpose of demonising Banda with the presentation of history. The contemporary Hindu historians are conspicuous by their absence. Those of the later period (except perhaps Ganesh Das Wadhera) surrendered to the convenient dynastic ambitions of the Sikh rulers and the imperialistic demands of the British. The natural reluctance of patronage seekers to annoy people in authority for the sake of propagating the truth has not been pronounced in this part of the world. The Sikhs themselves had no use for the self-denying theory of polity propounded by the Guru and practiced by Banda. Rattan Singh Bhangu who alone could appreciate it, unfortunately betrays signs of succumbing to official propaganda unleashed by the state. To this he added a prejudice against Banda for his failure to establish a long lasting State. They chose the easy path of blaming him although the blame lay squarely at the door of those who deserted him at the crucial time. It went unnoticed that the dissenting Sikh leaders had cast away the collective success of the Sikhs in exchange for dreams of personal fulfilment, hoping to pass off desertion as better strategy. The Sikh historians were, clearly not attuned to making an objective assessment of Banda. For the Sikh potentates of the later period Banda was a revealing mirror and therefore an embarrassment.

4). To believe that Banda came with just five arrows, five companions, only twenty-five soldiers and that the legacy of two and a half centuries did not travel with him to the Punjab from Nanded, is to completely go astray. The teachings, the spiritual training and examples set by the Gurus had yielded a plentiful harvest of honourable, autonomous individuals profoundly ‘ignorant of the rules of slavish behaviour’1. They had been organised into the close-knit, militarily trained Order of the Khalsa which had been charged with extending God’s domain beyond the self. To those who ignore the magnitude of Banda’s epic performance and its worldwide ramifications, it becomes a mere expression of revenge, an orgy of violence by a vicious character and the macabre play of forces starved for political prominence. To ignore the ameliorating philosophy that Banda and his companions came with is to fall straight into the lap of motivated Mughal news-writers and to be reduced to the level of biased, short-sighted historians like Latif.

5). Banda’s supposed deviation from the path of the Guru, also appears to be a fall-out of the sustained propaganda of the Mughal state. The strategy appears to have been finalised by Aurangzeb who assigned a pacifist role to the earlier Gurus. He is already on record as having asked Guru Gobind Singh to adopt the pacifist ways of the elders of his faith, He asked Wazir Khan to remind the Guru to avoid the trappings of political power and to shun deviation from the path of “other recluses and his own ancestors.”2 Banda was accused of having become the head of the ‘harmless sect’ of Nanakpanthis by ‘deception,’ of ‘collecting malcontents around him’ and of persuading them by ‘misrepresentation and deception to light the fires of discontent in Hindustan, the Punjab and the world.’ He was supposed to have ‘defiled the places of worship’ to have raised ‘the sword of oppression.’3 This official propaganda was fully or partially imbibed by later historians in varying degrees according to their persuasions. Latif finds Banda’s “policy (to be) directly opposed to Nanak and Govind Singh –.” He thereafter finds it safe to characterise him as a “wild beast -- a monster—(with) blood-thirsty propensities.”4 His conclusion is based on the perception that Banda’s revolution was merely a ‘Muslim-Sikh conflict.’5

6). H. R. Gupta’s bold attempt to project Banda’s struggle as a Hindu led, Hindu supported “nationalist movement” appears untenable.6 Ahmed Shah Batalvi understood that the Guru administered amrit to Banda before bringing him to join the Khalsa at his camp in Nanded.7 Banda’s ‘revolt’ was characterised as the ‘Khalsa revolt.’8 Fugitives, who represented to the emperor to implore intercession, identified Banda as a ‘Sikh of the Guru.’ Banda used the Sikh terminology in addressing strangers. To him everyone was a ‘Singh.’ He urged the Hindus and the rulers of the hills to merge with the Khalsa. There is strong contemporary evidence that Banda was a follower of the Udasi order ‘founded’ by Baba Sri Chand son of Guru Nanak. This would make him fully aware of the Sikh mission and tenets even before he met the Guru. He always invited his visitors to take the pahul and to join the Khalsa.9 Several persons received the Khalsa pahul from him. The three prominent persons who accepted his invitation were Dindar Khan son of Jalal Khan Rohilla a minor ruler, Mir Nasiruddin a news-writer and Chhajju a Jat from Panjwar. He himself presided over the religious ceremonies of initiation.10 Banda’s state papers bear ample evidence of their origin in the Sikh establishment. At Amritsar, Banda invited young men to embrace Sikhi, promising remission of land revenue and other rewards. Thereupon the people of Majha joined the Khalsa.11 Ganda Singh quotes a dated Punjabi manuscript to affirm that not only was Banda strictly following the instructions laid down in the Guru Granth but was also meticulously following the direction of Guru Gobind Singh.12 This evidence is sufficient to characterise Banda’s political undertaking as a revolution led by the Khalsa.

7). Banda’s struggle was not against the Muslims or Islam as he himself stated in one of his official pronouncements.13 He had to overcome a grave provocation to make this declaration of intent. The pronouncement came within months of the general order of extermination issued against the Sikhs by the emperor.14 He was waging a war to empower the ordinary people. He aimed at establishing a state which was not faith specific. It belonged to all who lived within its territories. This makes him the head of a ‘People’s Republic.’ The most important institution that sustained the medieval state was the army. He recruited his army from amongst the Sikhs as well as the Muslims.15 It possibly had a sprinkling of Hindus also though that cannot be readily ascertained as a fact. The ‘low-caste’ people who joined Banda were living on the fringes of Hindu society and had no love for it and readily became an integral part of the Society of the Khalsa by accepting the pahul.

8). The ideological basis as well as the sheer enormity of the political strife needs to be fully imbibed. It was noticed as early as 1723 by the author of the Ibratnama that the happenings had been of an extraordinary nature and had constituted a formidable event.16 Somewhat exaggerating the initial stages of the campaign, Asrar-e-Samadi, would have us believe that the Sikhs had defeated every noble of the empire.17 They had defeated the Governor of Sarhind, the Faujdar of Ambala (Latif, 278) as also the Governor of Jalandhar. Muhammad Qasim, a contemporary and an eye-witness, is aghast at the “exiling of persons of status.” He finds the occurrences “strange, astonishing things that defy imagination.”18 Latif quotes Iradat Khan, a contemporary, who appears to discern the deep ideological conflict that “determined to shake to very basis the true religion of Islam.”19 The politically conscious Mughal subjects decided that the happenings merited immediate declaration of jehad against the Sikhs.20 The Hindu subjects, not wanting to be left behind in patriotic fervour, liberally financed the jehadis. Description of the ‘holy warriors’ is available. All kinds of people, “learned men, mystics, scholars and pious men” who perceived a threat to the “pure community and the luminous Muslim law” made a common cause with the Lahore administration, put together a “godly army—a divine army.”. For the same author, Banda was an “anarchist.”21 Ostensibly, a handful of “badly armed peasants,”22 volunteers, without the means of fighting even a pack of dacoits, arrayed themselves against the most powerful empire of the times that had been ruling over them for eight centuries. The empire fielded, “Wazir Khan’s artillery, Mughal cavalry and cohorts of volunteer Muslim ghazis” against them.23 Even then the Sikh intervention did not prove to be a Quixotic venture, like charging at a windmill.

9). Banda and his companions appear to have been fully determined and amply equipped morally and intellectually to establish a new kind of a polity (a people’s republic) to replace the ‘unjust and oppressive’ medieval Mughal state. They had carefully cultivated ideas and had fully worked out the proposition that they sought to implement. The coin, with profoundly meaningful inscription was struck immediately.24 The wording of the official seal was finalised without delay. At the very outset, the monarchical tendencies were discouraged. Banda appointed administrative functionaries. The concept of more than one person jointly governing an area was initiated. All notions of heredity were done away with and symbols of royalty were abandoned. Banda claimed no status higher than that of a leader without a specific territory to govern directly – assuming almost the position of a constitutional head of modern times. His model was copied copiously by the Sardars and misaldars of the early misal period. They dispensed with kingship, became indifferent to territorial possessions and abandoned the hereditary principles. Express consent of the governed became necessary to claim dominion over a territory.25 Ranjit Singh, popularly considered an absolute ruler, had to keep up appearances of abiding by Banda’s ideal.26 Leadership among Sardars went by merit and not by hereditary succession. 27

10). Objective of the Gurus is clear from their pronouncements, conduct and the nature of the institutions that they established. They sought to bring about a total change in the human character, the environment and the mode of governance. Though India was the centre of their activity, their concerns transcended borders and ignored barriers of all kind. They aimed at so arranging the spiritual, social, economic, political and psychological environment of human habitats so as to bring about a tension free and peaceful society in which human beings lived in perfect harmony, enjoyed an honourable existence enabling them to make limitless spiritual progress. The ever increasing desire to take humankind on that road becomes more and more pronounced with every successor Guru. Banda gives priority to the mission stipulated by the Guru when he emphatically announces in one of the few documents still in existence: ‘I have brought into existence the idyllic age of Truth (satyug).’28 If this element is missed in the making of Banda and the original nature of polity he created is ignored, the historian is likely to end up without a proper frame of reference in which to place his life and achievements.

11). Integral to the understanding of Banda’s concept of sovereignty is also the interpretation of the emblems of authority used by him, Also relevant is the language of the state papers, the inscriptions on the official seal and the coins struck by him. These need to be understood in the context of the Sikh movement of which he was the most prominent political leader. It is not enough to attribute his style of exercising political authority to his being “unique, unpretentious and selfless” as has been done by one of our greatest historians.29 The inscription on the official seal as reported to Bahadur Shah on July 6, 1710,30 that is within about thirty-six days of the assumption of sovereign power, reads, ‘the manifest and the un-manifest glory of Guru Nanak (lies in insisting that) the True Lord Himself is the King in the spiritual world as also in the temporal.’ This sentiment finds ample support in the bani of Guru Granth.31 Banda is thereby repudiating the conventional theory of sovereignty and is promulgating a new doctrine whereby the sovereign power inheres in God and by derivation vests with the people. He follows up the pronouncement by abolishing monarchy. The Sikh political leaders of the misl period belonged to or at least were descendants in interest of those who had deserted Banda. Even then they had to tread cautiously in the matter of defying Banda’s political formulation. Later on Ranjit Singh had to wage a heavily veiled ideological war of sorts to scuttle the theory and to pave the way for hereditary succession.

12). An attempt may be made to understand the legends on Banda’s coins and the official seal. One on the coin appears to state the general approach of the Khalsa Order, ‘the Sikhs assert that the central import of the doctrine of Nanak bears fruit in both the worlds. By the Grace of the True Master, victory belongs to Guru Gobind Singh, the King of Kings.’32 The one on the seal is more specific and relates to the business of the government ‘Victory flows effortlessly to the concepts of power relationships and the management of resources, formulated by the ever victorious Guru, Nanak, Gobind Singh.’ 33

His letter to the Khalsa of Jaunpur may be translated as follows: 34

God is 1. (May you always) behold victory!35

It is the order of the True Master that the Sarbat Khalsa of Jaunpur be saved by the Guru. For redeeming the (human) birth, contemplate upon the Guru and repeat his name. You are the Khalsa of the respected Akalpurakh (the Immortal Being). Wear five weapons on seeing this order and be immediately seen in the presence. Abide by the code of conduct of the Khalsa: do not consume any cannabis, tobacco, opium, poppy husk, alcohol or intoxicant. Do not eat fish or onions. Shun extra-marital affair and do not steal. I have provided for the ‘age of Truth’ to prevail. Maintain mutual affection. The Guru shall reach out to him who obeys my direction to conform to the Khalsa code of conduct. The date is the 12th of Poh, the 1st year. Lines: ten. [December 12, 1710 CE]

13). In the above letter and legends Banda is conveying that he is a supporter of a new revolutionary theory of polity and favours a complete change in the political, economic and social relationships. The legend on Banda’s seal of office implies: triumph attends upon Guru Nanak’s and Gobind Singh’s formulations that generously dispense political power and resources (means of subsistence).’ This, he believes, is the import of the central doctrine of the faith of the Guru grounded in the Will of the Immortal Being. The basic postulates impinging upon the primary human concerns are to be translated into workable principles benefiting the entire humankind under the guidance of the strictly disciplined and fully armed (and therefore, sovereign) Khalsa. This, he claims, is capable of transforming all kinds of human relations that are henceforth to be based on complete tolerance and mutual understanding. Such a world, he feels, is so radically different from the one in existence that it can be described as the ‘age of Truth’ or a revolutionary era wherein human affairs are regulated strictly according to Truth (justice) leading to the elimination of conflict. He believes that implementing these postulates is the purpose of life, the very goal of spiritual striving. In the other letter to the congregation of Bhai Rupa, he specifically promises ‘everlasting felicity’ (nihal hovega) to those who would give armed support to the sovereignty of the common people initiated by him.

14). At the earliest the Sikh administration dismissed the oppressive revenue collectors, the very face of the Mughals to the people. They overturned the Zamindari system, 36 the cornerstone of the Mughal administration. It changed the mode of revenue collection, making it more humane. This fact alone continued to draw a large number of adherents to the society of the Khalsa that led the Sikh movement until it permanently overthrew the Mughal state at the end of the 18th century.

15). At the centre of Banda’s scheme of governance were the ordinary people whose express consent in respect to their governors became necessary for the first time in history. Besides drawing high officials from amongst them, the administration was required to integrate their concerns with the philosophy of governance and the policy of the state. Political and administrative power was used to elevate the humble and to empower the lowest amongst the low. Since it was the people’s government, persons of humble origins were appointed to prestigious posts neglecting the aristocratic and the supposedly high born individuals.37 Consequently came about a revolutionary change in the power relationship, thus earning for the Sikh people the epithet of “topsy-turvy sect” from Warid writing in 1734.38 The basic principles of polity then propagated remained in vogue until the very end of Ranjit Singh’s rule.

16). Far reaching reforms did not remain confined to politics and administration only. A complete change was brought about in the social relations. Centuries old prejudices were eliminated and religious injunctions emanating in the ancient scriptures were rendered inoperative.39 Gupta projects Banda as a “great reformer,” who “broke down the barriers of caste.”40

17). All accounts agree that Banda and his companions exhibited extreme bravery in the grossly unequal battles they fought.41 They without doubt believed that they were a people charged by their Guru with bringing the fire of liberty, the warmth of human dignity and the supreme comfort of honourable existence to the people of the world. After their Guru, they were the first promoters of self-rule. They took up the serious business with missionary zeal and on expectation of the ultimate reward: that of supreme spiritual satisfaction (achieving the state of ‘nihal’ or eternal bliss).

18). A glimpse of the captured Sikh soldiers has been afforded to us by history. Their demeanour, their morale under extreme stress and in the face of certain death betrays the mettle of highly spiritualised voluntary soldiers leading a liberation struggle. It sees them mocking their captors and executioners.42 They stood by their convictions to the end and their pride in the loftiness of their cause was not diminished.43 A foreign Embassy present in Delhi found it “remarkable” that the Sikhs underwent their fate with equanimity and that none apostatised from their religion.44 “Before execution an offer was made to spare their lives if they could become Musalman. None volunteered to do so.” 45 A newly married young man, the only son of a widow was inspired to adopt the Sikh way on seeing the suffering of the captives. He was pardoned on the intercession of his mother and wife who claimed that he was not a Sikh. He declined to avail the reprieve,46 Whosoever he was, this young man appears to have had a better understanding of the Sikh faith and the purpose of Banda. His sacrifice was symbolic. There is little doubt that he wished his example to find many takers. Even Latif feels compelled to acknowledge the fortitude of Banda and his companions in extremely trying circumstances.47 Such loftiness of spirit is not the equipment of a people motivated by mundane considerations. The reaction betrays a people more divinely inspired than highly motivated in the mundane sense. They claimed to be God’s army and supported their claim with their conduct.

Assessment of Banda’s role, contribution and importance in history

19). The high minded Banda was one of the noblest idealists thrown up by the Sikh movement in the post-Guru period. His life is but a philosophical treatise that the Guru ‘wrote’ to preserve his vision of ideal human society of the future thereby recording the contribution of the Sikh movement to the slowly emerging new world civilisation of the Guru’s conception. His emphasis on making the people’s concern the basis of political action, his insistence on drawing no distinction between citizens on the basis of religion, rank or caste, his stress on the importance of the individual and above all his successful attempt at organising the world’s first people’s party for political action, of rooting it in non-denominational popular ideology and of accepting it as the true essence of spiritual striving, is remarkable by any standards of any age. He is the greatest person of modern times; in fact, his career bids good-bye to the dark ages and ushers in the modern times. If a Mozart of the future ever composes a symphony depicting his career, it will have the most elevating effect on the human spirit. He must be regarded as a remarkable man who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the noblest of any culture of any region of any age. In their martyrdom which they courted so enthusiastically, Banda and his companions immortalised themselves, not only as the champions of people’s causes but also placed themselves amongst the most pure minded of martyrs. Together they make the most awesome seven hundred that the world has ever seen and constitute a befitting tribute to their Guru. They did not ride “into the valley of death” mindlessly and in pursuance of an erroneous mortal command but consciously chose to fulfil a spiritual purpose.

To some 48 believers in the largely Judeo-Christian concept of millennialism, which also finds reflection in Islamic thought, Banda proposed a revolutionary solution to all the spiritual, personal, social and political predicaments of humankind. Muslim chroniclers of Banda are also apparently overwhelmed by the salvationary content of his assignment. They unwittingly cast him into the role of a Mahdi. The spontaneity, the egalitarian character, the total revolution it brought about in power relations, the firm grounding in spiritualism and the intense desire to establish an idyllic socio-political order dreamt of by some of the greatest benefactors of humankind, all combine to characterise Banda’s effort as an expression of an aspect of “progressive millennialism.”

1) Asrar-e-Samadi, (tr.) Janak Singh, Punjabi University Patiala, 1977, p. 13.
2 )J. S. Grewal and Irfan Habib, Sikh History from Persian Sources, Tulika, New Delhi, 2001, p. 113.
3 )Asrar-e-Samadi, Op. Cit., p. 7.
4 )Syad Muhammad Latif, History of the Punjab, (1889), (Reprint) Sang-e-Meel Publication, Lahore, 1997, p. 280.
5 )Latif, Ibid., p. 279.
6 )Hari Ram Gupta’s attempt to pass off hearsay as evidence does not appear to work. Such is the intensity of his nationalistic fervour that he brushes aside the need to cite a source for this branch of ‘evidence,’ thereby risking his own reputation as a historian. Against ample available evidence he pits his bare assertion that Banda did not receive pahul. He represents even Guru Gobind Singh, who pulled him out of complete obscurity to the centre stage of history, of conspiring against Banda to prevent his becoming popular among the Sikhs. In his opinion, Tara Bai inspired him at least as much as the Guru. For him Malerkotla was spared from ravage, not by the Guru’s blessing, but on the intervention of one Kishan Das Bania a fictitious character. Gupta even assigns a language (Hindvi) to Banda that supposedly charmed the Hindus into supporting him. History of the Sikhs, vol.ii, (1978), Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi.1992, pp. 8, 4, 7 and 3. He exaggerates the welcome that Banda received in the ‘Haryana’ region, whereas it is known; “it was not surprising that in some areas the zamindars apparently Jats, who had supported Banda were unable to accept pahul, turned against the Sikhs. Towards the south-east of Sirhind, in the plains of Ambala, Thanesar and Karnal, Banda’s success was transient. In 1712 only seventeen persons of the entire non-Muslim population of Thanesar could be identified as Sikhs. Fourteen of them were willing to become Muslims to avoid torture and death.” Muzafar Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997, p. 154; Rattan Singh Bhangu goes to the extent of saying that the Hindu recipients of Banda’s military favours in the vicinity of Delhi invited and joined the Mughal faujdar of Kaithal in curbing Banda’s insurgency.(See, Sri Gur Panth Parkash, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar, 1984, p. 132; The Hindus (apparently the Khatris and other trading communities) of Lahore financed the voluntary effort of the Saiyids to fight against the Sikhs. They joined hands with the Muslims in according a welcome to such Mughal forces as could score victories over the Sikhs. Muzafar Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, p. 152..
7) Tarikh-e-Punjab, (tr.) Gurbaksh Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1969, p. 30.
8) Sikh History from Persian Sources, Op. Cit., p. 19.
9 )Ganda Singh, “The Punjab News,” The Punjab Past and Present, Punjabi University, Patiala, October 1970, p. 241 citing Ruqqa-i-Amin-ud-Daulah, of June 1710; The following two statements about him unmistakably point to Banda being an Udasi mendicant, ‘his mode of worship otherwise conforms to the doctrine of Guru Nanak’ and also, ‘his seat rivalled the royal throne in opulence’ see, Nathmal Dhadi, Amarnamah, (tr.) Gurtej Singh, Chakravyuh, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 2000, p. 10.
10) Batalvi, Op. Cit. p.39 states that he personally administered amrit to Chajja Singh who later became the head of the Bhangi misal.
11 )History of the Sikhs, vol. ii, Op. Cit., p. 15 quoting Gian Singh and Yar Muhammad, Dastur-ul-Insha as quoted by Karam Singh.
12) Ganda Singh quotes a Punjabi MS Pothi (dated 1779 CE, p. 292a.) According to it Banda says, “best worship for a king is to be just, is written in the Holy Granth. Those who do not administer justice are cast into hell. – Thus spoke to me the Great Man [Guru Gobind Singh]. If you call yourselves the Sikhs of the Great Man, do not practise sin, adharma and injustice. Raise up true Sikhs and smite those who do un-Sikh like acts. Bear the saying of the Great Man in your hearts,” Ganda Singh, Life of Banda Singh Bahadur, (Reprint), Punjabi University, Patiala, p. 168. An echo of these instructions imparted to Banda can also be heard in Kesar Singh Chibbar, Bansawalinama Dasan Patshahian ka, (ed.) Rattan Singh Jaggi, and reproduced in Parakh, vol. ii, Panjab University, Chandigarh, 1972, see p. 174. Ganeshdas also sees “intimate connection between the activity of Guru Gobind Singh and Banda and the Sikh struggle for independence.” J. S. Grewal, “Ganesh Das on Sikh Polity” From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Guru Nanak University, Amritsar, 1972, p. 103.
13 )Ganda Singh, “The Punjab News,”The Punjab Past and Present, vol. iv, Punjabi University , Patiala, October 1970, p. 228.
14) Ibid., p. 227.
15 )He is reported to have recruited 5, 000, Muslims in his army in April 1711. See Akhbar-i-Darbar-e-Mualla, (Jaipur) report dated April 28, 1711, quoted by Ganda Singh in A Short History of the Sikhs, 1950, pp. 104-05.
16 )It is acknowledged that his revolt, being grounded in a distinct political ideology, was the very first one of its kind. Asrar-e-Samadi, Loc. Cit., p. 7; see also, Ganda Singh, Banda Singh Bahadur, Khalsa College, Amritsar, 1935, p. 256.
17 )Asrar-e-Samadi, pp. 7-8; Latif, depending upon contemporary records states, that “there was no nobleman daring enough to march from Delhi against them:” p. 277.
18) Ibratnama , Sikh History from Persian Sources, Op. Cit., pp. 111.
19 )Latif, writes,“the course of the decay of the imperial authority was largely determined by the nature of the Sikh movement which challenged the very basis of the Mughal power structure and had its own concepts of the ruler and rulership.” History of the Punjab, p. 276; Muzafar Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, p. 134.
20 )Irvine, Later Mughals, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, New Delhi, 1971, p. 105.
21 )Sikh History from Persian Sources, Op. Cit., pp. 118-119; p. 123.
22 )John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Fourth Reprint of the First Asian Edition, 1998, p. 257.
23 )Ibid., p. 257.
24 )Irvine’s doubt about Banda’s poetical accomplishments is based upon an inept translation of the legends on his coins. See Later Mughals, Op. Cit., p. 110.
25 )Tarikh-e-Punjab, (tr.) Gurbaksh Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1969, p. 24; Both Bhangu and Ahmed Shah Batalvi, agree that the governed people had an important say in who would rule over them.
26 )The more the matter is probed, the more it reveals that every notion associated with hereditary kingship was deliberately thrown overboard. Ahmed Shah Batalvi, mentions the similar example of Nawab Kapur Singh who was a supreme leader but had no territory under his own governance, p. 45. There were territories that belonged to no one in particular but collectively to all. Bhangu mentions the Malwa country in that context. (Both Bhangu and) Batalvi, p. 38 point out Amritsar as another such area. In imitation of Banda’s arrangement, there were areas that were ruled jointly by several Sardars. For instance Lahore was ruled jointly by three Sardars, p. 37. Kanheyias and Ramgarhias jointly ruled territories for many years. Multan was ruled jointly by Sardar Jhanda Singh Bhangi and his misaldar Lehna Singh. After its conquest, Kasur was divided into four parts; two went to the Bhangis, and one each to Ramgarhiyas and Kanheyias p. 55. Ranjit Singh “refrained from setting up institutions which might appear monarchical. In the first public Darbar held for the purpose of raj tilak in 1802, Ranjit Singh declared that his government will be styled ‘Sarkar Khalsa’ meaning the government of his people collectively.” See V. S. Suri, “General Preface” to Sohan Lal Suri’s, Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, Punjab Itihas Prakshan, Chandigarh, 1972, p. xvii.
27 )Batalvi, Op. Cit., p. 22.
28 )For ‘Satyug’ see Kahan Singh, Mahankosh, Bhasha Vibhag, Patiala, 1974, pp.146 and 1009; it appears to be in order to translate it into ‘God’s Kingdom’ as Truth is a synonym for God in the Sikh scripture.
29 )See, Ganda Singh, The Punjab Past and Present, Op. Cit., p. 229.
30 )Ibid., p. 230.
31 )kouoo har samaan nahi raja, eh bhoopati divas char ke jhoothe karat diwaaja.
32 )The translation is based on Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1988, p. 233.
33 )The terminology ‘Degh Tegh’ appears to have been in common use at Banda’s time. It was perhaps used to connote concepts governing the power relations in a polity and the distribution of resources. A contemporary Persian work, Asrar-i-Samadi, p. 9, affirms that these are ‘twin’ concepts and have been in vogue from ‘time immemorial.’ The context in which the author uses it makes it further clear that these are related to the function of the state. This translation has been attempted in that light.
34 ) For photocopy of the original see Ganda Singh, Hukamnameh, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1967, p. 194.
35 ) The term fateh darshan appears to have been better understood by Irvine, Later Mughals, p. 110. It has to be read as the desire of a general in the field to hope and pray that his associates are always victorious in the battles they undertake.
36; ) Ganda Singh, Banda Singh Bahadur, pp. 85-86; “To the Sikhs the Mughal state was the source of all tyranny, since the state not only had the largest share in the social surplus but it also legitimised the and sustained the existing power structure in the locality.” Muzafar Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, Op. Cit., p. 134.
37 ) “In all the parganas occupied by the Sikhs, the reversal of 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, when in a short space of time he would return to his birth-place as its ruler, with his orders of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot within the boundaries, the well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and to escort him home. Arrived there they stood before him with joined palms, awaiting his orders.” William Irvine, Later Mughals, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, New Delhi, 1971, pp. 98-99.
38 )See, Sikh History from Persian Sources. Pp. 161-162.
39) “Whoever became enrolled among his Sikhs (was) of one body --- and (took) their meals together so that the distinction in honour between the lowly and the well-born was entirely removed--. A sweeper of spittle sat with a raja of great status and they felt no hostility to each other. Banda thus initiated numerous innovations and strange practices and put them into effect---.” Muhammad Shafi Warid, Mirat-i Waridat, Sikh History from Persian Sources, Op. Cit., p. 161.
40 )“Banda was a great reformer. He broke down the barriers of caste, creed and religion. He appointed sweepers and cobblers as big officers before whom high caste Hindus, Brahmins and Kshatriyas stood with folded hands awaiting their orders.” Hari Ram Gupta, History of the Sikhs, vol. ii, (1978),Op. Cit., p. 37.
41 )Asrar-e-Samadi, p. 8; Ibratnama, Sikh History from Persian Sources, Op. Cit., p. 124; Gupta quotes several statements of the contemporary historian, Khafi Khan to the same effect: one such is, “the Sikhs in their faqir dress struck terror into the royal troops. The number of the dead and the dying of the Imperialists was so large that, for a time, it seemed they were losing ground.” Another relevant one is, (that during the siege of Lohgarh 1711) “they over and over and over again -- showed the greatest boldness and daring and made nocturnal attacks on the Imperial forces – the enemy exhibited great courage and daring.” History of the Sikhs, Op. Cit., vol. ii, p. 18 and p. 24; Quoting Muhamad Qasim who fought against the Sikhs, Gupta writes, “the brave and the daring deeds of the infernal Sikhs were wonderful,” p. 29.
42 )They “drowned the mockery by singing in chorus, hymns from the holy Granth.”C. R. Wilsom, Early Annals of the English in Bengal, 96-98, quoted by H. R. Gupta in his History of the Sikhs, Op. Cit., vol. ii, p. 30.
43 )Mirza Muhammad, author of the Ibratnama, says, the Sikh “prisoners in this condition insisted on standing fast by their villainy. There was no sign of humility and submission on their faces. Rather most of them ---kept singing and reciting melodious verses. - –They gave immediate and manly retorts” p.140. “.Let them kill us. We do not fear death. Had we feared it, how could we have fought so many battles with you? We have fallen into your hands because of hunger and lack of provisions; otherwise, you would have come to know of our bravery far more than has been witnessed till now.” Sikh History from Persian Sources, 141.
44 )An Embassy of the East India Company that had witnessed the “Arrest and Massacre of the Sikhs at Delhi” reported to Calcutta on March 10, 1716, “—there are 100 each day beheaded. It is not a little remarkable with what remarkable patience they undergo their fate, and to the last it has not been found that one apostatised from their new formed Religion.” H. R. Gupta, pp. 34-35, quoting Early Records of British India; and Maasir-ul- Umara.
45 )Hari Ram Gupta, Op. Cit., p. 32.
46 )“I do not know whose mother she is and from where she has brought this bride. – My companions have passed off. Now my time is slipping out of my hands, this delay is causing me much trouble.” Khafi Khan, in Sikh History from Persian Sources, pp. 158-159.
47 )“They met their doom with the utmost indifference; nay, they even clamoured for priority of martyrdom.” Syad Muhammad Latif, History of the Punjab, p. 280.
48 )For instance, John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (Fourth Reprint of the first South Asian Edition) 1998.256-8; see also John Keay, India A History, Perennial, London 2004, pp. 361, 364.

(I am indebted to my colleague Harshinder Singh for the references pertaining to millennialism. - Author)


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  2. Great insight on Sikh history and logical counter to the attempts to separate Banda Singh Bahadur's legacy from Sikh mainstream.

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