During the above post Guru period, the Sikhs have had the fortune of having saint-soldier leaders to guide the destinies of the Sikh people. These leaders were spiritually intoxicated and had undeterring faith in God and the teachings of the Gurus. They were ideal examples of the Khalsa, the saint-soldiers created by the tenth Guru. They were the fearless and selfless leaders, who, even during the darkest of the period through which the Sikhs had to pass, continued to fight against the tyrant oppressors and eventually led the Khalsa Panth to such a glory that the Khalsa rolled the invading Mughals and Afghans out of India and became the master of Greater Punjab. The names of these leaders of Khalsa panth are: Banda Singh Bahadur, Bhai Tara singh, Bhai Darbara singh, Nawab Kapur Singh, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Baba Deep Singh. These were the Sikh leaders who fought for the freedom of faith and dignity, equality and brotherhood of mankind. They placed the honour, respect and freedom of the Khalsa Panth first and foremost always and everytime; the safety welfare and comfort of the men they led came next; their own comfort and safety came last always and everytime. They never fought for their own self-aggrandizement and gains; they always fought for the freedom and honour of the Khalsa Panth.
We will very briefly discuss the leadership and personality traits of these shining stars of Sikh history.
Banda Singh Bahadur (1708-1716)
Banda singh Bahadur was a great Sikh leader and martyr. He was commissioned by Guru Gobind Singh to be the commander the Khalsa. He was to liberate the country from the tyrannical rule. Even though Banda Singh started with 25 Sikh companions but because he was looked up be the defender of the faith and champion of the oppressed, he was joined by thousands of the Sikhs to punish the tyrant Nawabs and their forces. Banda Singh fought bravely and created such a will in the ordinary masses to resist tyranny that he defeated the Mughal forces in battle after battle and laid the foundation of the Sikh empire. and in 1710 established the Knalsa Raj in the Punjab East of Lahore and he struck the coin in the name of his masters Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh. He abolished the Zimindari system and treated everybody justly and equally. This was the government of the people and for the people.
Enraged by the successes and popularity of Banda Singh the Mughal emperor ordered the governors of Lahore and Faujdars of Gujrat, Eminabad, Aurangabad, Pasrur, Batala, Patti, Kalanaur and the Hindu Rajas of Katauch and Jasrota to collectively organize themselves and to destroy the power of Banda Bahadur. The Sikhs under Banda Singh fought so daringly and bravely that they inflicted heavy casualties on the imperial forces in various battles, but being greatly outnumbered and besieged for long time, the Sikh enclosure at Gurdas Nangal fell in the hands of the besiegers on 17th December 1715.
Banda Singh along with 700 Sikhs was captured and taken to Delhi where all the captured Sikhs were brutally put to death publicly over a period of few days. Banda Singh was executed on 9th June 1716. Heart rending details are given regarding the execution of the prisoners After he accepted death out of the usually given choice between Islam and death, his seven year old son Ajai Singh was placed in his lap, and he was asked to kill him, which he refused to do. The boy was taken and dashed against the ground by the executioner, his quivering heart was taken out and thrust into Banda's mouth. After this Banda Singh's hands and feet were cut off one by one, his eyes were removed and rest of his body was then torn to pieces with red hot iron. Thus this man of undaunted valour and bravery met his death with an exemplary cool of mind. It is said that not even one Sikh out of those who were brought as prisoners, deterred from his faith or accepted conversion to Islam. Like their masters, Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Teg Bahadur, they laid their lives for the freedom of faith and dignity of man; they were cast in the image of their Gurus.
Jathedar Darbara Singh (1716-1733)
The period between 1716 to 1733 was the darkest period of the Sikh history The policy of Farrukh Siyar, Abdul Sama and Zakriya Khan was total extinction of Sikhs. The price was laid at the head of Sikhs and the Sikh persecution was to be done most vigorously. But the spiritual message of the Gurus and the stories of the undeterred faith even in the face of tortured deaths, kept their spirits high. Banda Singh had left a lasting mark on the character of the Sikhs. He fanned the fire of independence, ignited by the tenth Guru. They believed that there was no higher cause for a holy man than to destroy the oppressive and tyrant force of the Mughal empire. The Sikhs lived in jungles and deserts under extreme conditions of poverty and helplessness but their spirits were kept high by theit leaders like Tara Singh who with his ill-equipped and half fed men fought like tigers against Zakriya Khan's 4000 strong punitive force under the command of General Moman Khan. Each one of them died fighting a brave man's death but also wrought havoc in the ranks of the enemies.
The Sikhs all over Punjab burnt with the spirit of revenging the death of Bhai Tara Singh and his companions, organised themselves under the command of Jathedar Darbara Singh, and after passing Gurmata at a gathering at Amritsar, started inflicting casualties on the Mughals and looting the imperial treasury. As the number of Sikhs, who plundered the imperial treasuries and destroyed the Government officials, continued to increase, Zakriya Khan realised his utter futility in annihilating the Sikhs and decided to adopt a policy of conciliation by offering them a Jagir with an annual revenue of one lakh rupees and the title of Nawab for their leader. The policy bore the desired fruit; the Sikhs accepted the Jagir and the title. This happened in 1733. And with this ended the darkest period of the Sikh annals and persecution.
Though worst persecutions were to follow, but the later period was not potent with destructive factors as after 1733 Sikhs had a strong, capable and unanimously accepted leader.
Nawab Kapur Singh (1733-1748)
Kapur Singh was chosen for the honour of the title of Nawab and Jagir, after Jathedar Darbara Singh had voluntarily declined to accept the title of Nawab and had suggested that Kapur Singh be made the commander of the Khalsa Panth as a whole because he himself had become too old to carry the weight of such a heavy responsibility which demanded an energetic and strong leader. After a great reluctance Kapur Singh humbly accepted the honour on the condition that the Khalsa would permit him to continue serving in the community kitchen and looking after the horses. From that day onwards Kapur Singh became Nawab Kapur Singh. However Nawab Kapur Singh surrendered all the revenue from the Jagir to the Khalsa.
In 1734 he consolidated the Sikh commonwealth and divided it into two wings; one was named Budha Dal and the other as Taruna Dal. The Budha Da consisted of old Sikhs over forty and was entrusted with the duty of looking afte the Sikh holy places and propagating the Sikh faith. The Taruna Dal, consisting of young Sikhs below the age of forty, was to undertake the defensive and offensive operation for the Sikhs.
In due course, the strength of the two Dals increased to a large extent. It was felt that Khalsa forces should be reorganised so that it might work in unison for the interest of the Panth. Consequently on Diwali day of 1745 the Khalsa Army was divided into 30 Jathas and the earlier division of Budha Dal an Taruna Dal was suspended. Each of the 3 Jathas had a prominent Sikh warrior a their leader and Nawab Kapur Singh was still the leader of the whole Khalsa forces. While normally Jathas operated under their respective leaders, on occasions of common danger or crisis they all were required to operate under the overall commander of the Khalsa forces.
Nawab Kapur Singh continued to be the commander of the Khalsa forces from 1733 to 1748. Sikhs faced severe persecutic under Zakriya Khan and fought many battles against his forces. It was during this time in 1746 that Sikhs suffered heavy losses in Chhota Ghalughara or lesser holocaust which 10,000 to 20,000 Sikhs were martyred.
It was during the Nawab's Leadership of Khalsa that Punjab was invaded many times by Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. Nawab Kapur Singh was the most distinguished of the Sikh leaders who paved the way for the greatness of the Sikh Nation as an independent ruling power. He brought large number of people of all castes into the fold of Khalsa Panth. The religious respect in which he was held was so great that initiation into the Pahul of the Guru with his hands was considered a great distinction. He was the most illustrious, brave and dreaded of the sikh Sardars before the days of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia
He was a great organiser who organised Sikhs into Dal Khalsa and carved out a national glory for them. Above all the greatest service rendered by him to the Khalsa was that although he ruled their destiny in the most effective manner, yet he did not permit its leadership to become personal and hereditary. Lastly his outstanding and wise contribution to the Khalsa was that he left their command into the most capable hands of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and thus paved the way for their further glory and greatness.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1748-1783)
It was at the Panthic gathering at Amritsar on the day of Baisakhi in 1748 that Nawab Kapur Singh proposed an organisation of a strong Panthic force under one supreme commander. As he was growing old he proposed the name of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia who was a younger and more energetic leader to take his place as commander of the Khalsa forces and Jathedar of the Panth. He agreed to place his services at the disposal of the new leader. His suggestion was accepted. The new Panthic organisation was named as Dal Khalsa and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia became its supreme commander and Jathedar of Khalsa Panth. He was to be helped by advisory council of ten Sardars who in turn were to be the head of the Misals. One of the Misals was supposed to be und the supreme commander. The whole of Dal Khalsa was to be divided into 11 Misals (confederacies). There was a 12th Misl also, but as its activities were general aloof and sometimes even opposed to Dal Khalsa, it was not made part of the Khalsa Dal organisation.
On that day of Baisakhi it was all decided that the aim of the Khalsa was to establish their own state, and therefore the Khalsa was declared a state. The creation of Misals were in fact a step toward formation of a Khalsa state. The Misals were to be free and independent, but on the occasion of combined action in the interest of the Panth as a whole, all the 11 Misals were to operate under the command of the supreme commander.
Every Amritdhari Sikh was considered to be a member of Dal Khalsa. Each member was permitted to join any Misal according to his choice. Before dispensing, the Dal Khalsa made its plan for future a chalked out the spheres of action for the various groups.
It was during the leadership of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia that the Sikhs had to face the persecution by Mir Manu, the governor of Lahore. As a result of merciless persecution started by Mir Manu no men were left in the homes of the Sikhs.
Sikhs had retired into jungles, hills and deserts. Moving military columns were sent to hunt them down. Those who brought Sikhs alive or dead, were rewarded well. When there were no more Sikhs in the homes, Mir Manu ordered his forces to seize Sikh women and children. He gave them the choice to get converted to Islam or face cruel and inhuman tortures and death. But no woman embraced Islam. They were starved and their children were cut into pieces before their eyes. These pieces were thrown in their laps. Their children were killed and hung on the points of the spears. They themselves were subjected to extreme physical and mental torture. But those brave and faithful daughters of Guru Gobind Singh remained firm, steadfast and unshaken. They endured all these tortures without a groan or curse. They preferred death than a life of apostasy. They kept praying and remained firmly committed to their faith.
During the Panthic leadership of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, the Armies of Islam under Mahmud Ghaznwi, Shahab-ud-Din Ghauri, Taimur, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Durrani invaded Punjab with the purpose of religious war against non-Muslims The great holocaust (Wadda Ghulu Ghara) in which over 20,000 to 30,000 Sikhs were killed also took place during the time of his leadership.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was a man of courage, fortitude and kind qualities of heart. From 1748 onwards he was the supreme commander of the Sikh forces and Jathedar of the Panth. He guided and led them through the most difficult period of history and political chaos to freedom and self-government. He brought the Khalsa to a state of statehood from where it was able to take a jump to establish the Sikh kingdom covering the Greater Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was brought up under the personal supervision of Nawab Kapur Singh and therefore grew up as a man of spiritual orientation and socio- political commitment of the Khalsa. Once, prompted by a sense of religious duty, he fell upon Ahmad Shah and rescued 2000 Hindu women from his clutches. He provided them with money and sent all of them under proper escort to their respective homes.
When Jassa Singh Ahluwalia died in 1783, he did not leave behind a supreme commander of Khalsa forces unanimously accepted by the Khalsa Panth. If this had been done, like it was done by Nawab Kapur Singh and Diwan Darbara Singh, the practice of choosing a supreme commander unanimously acceptable to all at a gathering at Amritsar would have become an accepted norm for the Khalsa Panth, and the fall of the Sikh kingdom that followed the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, would not have occured; and the history of Sikhs would have been different.
Leadership Evaluation (1708-1783)
If we evaluate the personality traits of the supreme leaders of the Khalsa Panth during the post Guru period, we find that each one of these leaders possessed certain common characteristics and traits. These may be summarised as follows:
1. Each one of these leaders had a strong religious base. They were devout Sikhs in whom Sikh values as preached by the Gurus had been ingrained. All of them were spiritually awakened Amritdhari Sikhs who strictly lived according to the code of conduct of Khalsa and never committed any Kurehat (cardinal sin) or Tankhaia act.
2. They were ever ready to lay down their lives for upholding the cause of righteousness. They always carried arms and were thoroughly trained in the use of all types of weapons.
3. The Panthic cause was of paramount importance to them. While fighting for Panthic cause or while fighting against a common enemy of the Khalsa, they always sunk their personal differences. They were neither self-seekers nor fought for their self-aggrandizement. They showed a great humility and concern for the Panth; that is why whenever they found that another leader could fulfill the role of commanding the Khalsa forces with better efficiency, they voluntarily suggested his name and relinquished their position as supreme commanders. After that they whole heartedly supported and cooperated with the new commander of the Khalsa forces and Jathedar of the Panth.
4. At no time they worked against the interest of the Khalsa Panth They never did anything which would bring dishonour to the Guru, the Sikh people or the Sikh religion.
5. Though they were the supreme leaders of the Khalsa Panth, yet they had great humility in their spirit and heart. Therefore they always considered themselves as servants of the Khalsa. They never appropriated to themselves the powers and the property of the Khalsa Panth as their personal power or property.
6. They underwent extreme sufferings for the good of the Khalsa, but never yielded to tyranny and oppression. They showed a great fortitude, valour and courage even under extremely difficult conditions of existence in jungles, hills and deserts. Even under these difficult conditions they never forsook their religion; they kept their Bana (form) and recited the Bani (holy word); they lived like the real saint-soldiers.
7. The study of the Jathedars of Khalsa Panth in the Post Guru period shows that they emulated the Gurus to a great perfection in managing the religious as well as temporal affairs of the Khalsa Panth. Just to give an instance Baba Banda Singh, following the footsteps of the fifth and ninth Guru attained martyrdom. He did not waver in his faith even when his son was brutally killed in front of his eyes and his throbbing heart was thrust into his mouth. Even when he was cruelly tortured by various methods, he remained firm and accepted death rather than conversion to Islam. It appears that the chief leaders of the Khalsa Panth were made in the image of the Gurus.
However, it was unfortunate for the Khalsa Panth that Jassa Singh Abluwalia did not leave behind a leader to command the combined forces of the Khalsa and to be the Jathedar of the Panth. Had there been such a leader of the Khalsa Panth, the Sikh Misals could have functioned as confederates of the Khalsa Raj with a central Government under the Jathedar of the Khalsa Panth. The Jathedar could have been assisted by an advisory council constituted of the representatives of confederacies; and if this had happened, the history of the Sikhs would have been entirely different; the fall of Khalsa Raj which came in the middle of 19th century would have been avoided
If we compare our present day Sikh leaders at the Panthic level we find that neither they are spiritually oriented persons nor do they have merits expected of Panthic leaders. They are neither bothered about the honour of the Sikh Panth nor about the dignity and welfare of the Sikh masses. They are the classical examples of self-seekers running after self-aggrandizement and temporary gains. They don't mind selling civil liberties and freedom of the Sikh people if such a selling would bring them and their family members material gains.
[Courtesy : Dr. Santokh Singh Ji]