The first Chōṭā Ghallūghārā was a dramatic and bloody massacre during the campaign of Afghanistan's (Durrani Empire) provincial government based at Lahore to wipe out the Sikhs, an offensive that had begun with the Mughals and lasted several decades.
Sikhism began in the days of Guru Nanak (1469–1539) and grew to be a distinctive social force especially after the formation of the Order of Khalsa in 1699. The Khalsa was designated to oppose the tyranny of the Mughal Empire and any other form of injustice. Through much of the early eighteenth century, the Khalsa was outlawed by the government and survived in the safety of remote forests, deserts, and swamplands of the Punjab region and neighbouring Kashmir and Rajasthan.
Zakaria Khan, the Governor of Lahore, offered lucrative rewards for the discovery and killing of Sikhs. A blanket was offered to anyone who managed to cut off the distinctive mane of a Sikh or Khalsa. A substantial monetary reward was offered for information on the whereabouts of a Sikh, and a larger sum for the delivery of a Sikh scalp. The plunder of Sikh homes was made lawful and anyone giving shelter to or withholding information about the movements of the Sikhs was liable to themselves being executed. Zakaria Khan's police scoured the countryside and brought back hundreds of Sikhs in chains. They were publicly executed at the horse market of Lahore, since renamed "Shahid ganj", "place of the martyred".
This period pitted the might of the intolerant Islamic state against the plucky and fiercely independent Sikhs. Aligned with the Mughal, then Afghan, rulers were the members of the Muslim ruling caste who maintained their privileges by cooperating with the government. The Sikhs, for their part, often enjoyed a good deal of support from the rural hindu population.
In those days of dire persecution, Bhai Bota Singh lived in the forest by day and would come out in search of food from sympathizers under the cover of darkness. Occasionally, he would visit Amritsar by night and take a dip in the sanctifying waters of the holy pool around the temple. One day, he was noticed from afar by some people who thought he was a Sikh. But a member of the party objected he could not have been a Sikh, for had he been one, he would not have concealed himself so.
Vexed by the observer's remark, Bhai Bota Singh set on a plan whereby he and his companion Bhai Garja Singh took up a position on the main highway. There, they proclaimed the sovereignty of Khalsa and collected a small toll from each passerby. For maximum effect, he sent a notice with a traveler for the governor. One hundred horsemen came to apprehend the two Sikhs, but they spurned the offer to surrender and died instead fighting.
Bhai Mani Singh was a respected Sikh scholar and teacher who lived in the city of Amritsar, founded by Guru Ram Das and holy to the Sikhs. For many years, Sikhs had customarily gathered at Amritsar in the spring and fall for the holidays of Vaisakhi and Diwali. Under the persecution of the Mughals, these festivals had been disrupted.
Bhai Mani Singh sought and obtained Zakaria Khan's permission to hold the Diwali celebration in Amritsar on payment of a tax of 5000 rupees. When Mani Singh found out that the governor had dispatched a large number of soldiers to annihilate the Sikhs gathered at Amritsar, he sent word out to the Sikhs in their forest and desert hideouts, forbidding them from coming.
In consequence, no money was collected and Bhai Mani Singh was prosecuted for not paying the stipulated sum. After a summary trial, he was given the choice of embracing Islam or facing death. Bhai Mani Singh chose the latter and as his punishment was cut to pieces, limb from limb.
To prevent the Sikhs accessing the holy shrine of Amritsar, built in the time of Guru Arjan, and known as the Harmandir Sahib or "Golden Temple", a Mughal military officer named Massa Ranghar was stationed there. Massa Rangar was physically very strong. He was a fit man with 5'11" height. Ranghar not only occupied the holy place, but committed sacrilege by carousing with dancing girls and consuming meat and alcohol in the Sanctum Sanctorum situated in the midst of the sacred pool.
This offense continued until news of it reached an isolated band of Sikhs in Rajasthan. Two of them, Mehtab Singh and Sukkha Singh set off to cross the distance to Amritsar. Finding the city strongly guarded, the two disguised themselves as revenue officials. In this guise, they entered the Harimandir, cut off Ranghar's head and escaped before the Mughal soldiers could realize what had happened. This took place on 11 August 1740.
Sukkha Singh was wounded in the defensive action involving the first Sikh massacre and later died in battle with the invading Afghan army of Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1752.
Zakaria Khan, the governor of Lahore, experienced great frustration in his effort to decimate the Sikhs. He once asked his men, "From where do the Sikhs obtain their nourishment? I have debarred them from all occupations. They realize no taxes, they do not farm, nor are they allowed to do business or join public employment. I have stopped all offerings to their Gurdwaras. No provisions or supplies are accessible to them. Why do they not die of sheer starvation?".
A sworn enemy of the Sikhs directed the governor to the village of Puhla, where lived a young Sikh named Taru Singh. According to the informant,
There are Sikhs in the world who would not eat until they have fed their brothers. They may themselves go without food and clothing, but they cannot bear their comrades' distress. They would pass the winter by fireside and send them their own clothes. They would sweat to grind grain and have it sent to them. They would do the hardest chores to earn a small wage for their sake... (Taru Singh) tills his land and pays the revenue to the officials. He eats but little and sends what he saves to his brothers in the forest. His mother and sister both toil and grind to make a living. They eat sparingly and wear the coarsest homespun cloth. Whatever they save, they pass on to the Sikhs.
On hearing this, the governor sent a detachment of soldiers to Bhai Taru Singh's village to arrest him and bring him to the provincial capital of Lahore. The year was 1745. When the Sikh heard of their approach, he came out of the village. Wishing to spare his neighbours any sort of hardship, the 25-year-old Taru Singh surrendered peacefully to the governor's men.
When Mehtab Singh, who had dispatched Masse Khan Ranghar at the Harimandir with Sukkha Singh, heard of Bhai Taru Singh's arrest, he surrendered himself so that he might die by his side. The two Sikhs had their bodies broken on the wheel of torture. When only Taru Singh survived, he was given the choice of Islam or death. When he refused to convert, his distinctive long hair was painfully scraped from his scalp and the young Sikh left to die. Young Taru Singh was given over to a gracious sikh family who tended to him for his remaining days.
It was in this atmosphere of persecution that the Chhōṭā Ghallūghārā took place in 1746. Early in that year, Jaspat Rai, a hindu military commander was killed in an encounter with a roving band of Sikhs. Jaspat's brother, Lakhpat Rai, who was a revenue minister at Lahore, vowed his revenge.
With the help of the new governor, Yahiya Khan, Lakhpat Rai mobilized the Lahore troops, summoned reinforcements, alerted the dependent rulers of the kingdoms in the Himalayan foothills, and roused the mostly Muslim population for a genocide of the "infidel" Sikhs. All the Sikh inhabitants of Lahore were first rounded up, then executed on 10 March 1746.
Lakhpat Rai next set out for the swampy forest of Kaahnoovaan, near the town of Gurdaspur, about 130 kilometers (81 mi) to the north-east of Lahore, where Sikhs were reported to have concentrated. Lakhpat had with him a with a large force of mostly cavalry, supported by cannon, with which he surrounded the forest and began a systematic search for their prey.
The Sikhs held out for some time and struck back whenever they could. Heavily outnumbered and under-equipped, they decided to escape to the foothills of the Himalayas to the north. The Sikhs crossed the River Ravi and came in sight of the foothills, a 65-kilometer (40 mi) trek with the enemy in pursuit, only to find the armies of the hill rajas arrayed to oppose them.
Caught between these two armies and running out of food, the Sikhs suffered heavy casualties. At last, they managed to break through the encirclement and to recross the River Ravi in a desperate attempt to reach the safety of the Lakhi Jungle, near Bathinda, some 240 kilometers (150 mi) to the south. In the river crossing, many of the weakened Sikhs were swept away by the current. With Lakhpat Rai's forces still in hot pursuit, they crossed two more rivers, the Beas River and Sutlej, before finally arriving at the sanctuary of the Lakhi Jungle.
An estimated 7,000 Sikhs were killed and 3,000 captured during this operation. The captives were marched back to Lahore, paraded in the streets and publicly beheaded. Given the small numbers of the Sikhs in those days of persecution, the losses will have been a very substantial proportion of their population, perhaps a quarter to a third of the total.
Lakhpat Rai went on to order Sikh places of worship destroyed and their scriptures burnt. He went so far as to decree that anyone uttering the word "Guru" be put to death. Even saying the Punjabi language word for sugar, "gur", which sounded like "Guru", could be cause for the death penalty.
Associated with Sikh Genocide.
Gurdwara Sri Chota Ghalughara Sahib marks the location, where the Chota Ghalughara began in 1746, where a third of the Sikh population was exterminated by muslims.
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