Bhai Bota Singh Ji and Bhai Garja Singh Ji
1739 was a testing time for the Sikh community. The Mughal rulers of the time vowed to exterminate the Sikhs. Orders were issued to this effect and handsome cash rewards were promised to anyone and every one who provided information leading to the arrest of a Sikh, arrested or killed a Sikh. Sikhs were hunted down like jungle animals. Their properties were looted, confiscated and set on fire. Thus there was no place or person to whom they could turn for seeking justice.
Fanatic Muslims and bigoted Hindus took full advantage of the situation. They became informers, and killers, ten rupees was a very handsome reward in those days.
Taking advantage of disappearance of Sikhs from plains of Punjab, into hills, river banks and desert areas of bordering States, the Governor of Punjab, Nawab Zakariya Khan pronounced that the Sikh community had been completely decimated. Inspite of such tall claims made by the ruling community Sikhs, in ones and twos, still visited their most sacred Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar to pay their respects and to bathe in the Sarover. This occured, even at the cost of their lives, at times.
Once two Sikhs, Bhai Bota Singh and Bhai Garja Singh were proceeding from Taran Taran to Amritsar to visit Sri Harmandir Sahib. They travelled by night and kept themselves hidden in bushes during the day. One day, two Muslim travellers noticed them hidden behind bushes on the Lahore-Delhi G.T. Road near Sarai Nuruddin and started talking about them. One of them said, "It seems I have seen two Sikhs hidden behind those bushes." The other Muslim fellow said, "No, It can't be, because the Sikhs are a brave people. They do not hide. They'd rather die fighting than hide like cowards." The first one said, "Why not go and see for ourselves, whether those are Sikhs or not." The second one said "Aren't you aware of the announcement made by the Governor Zakariya Khan that throughtout Punjab the Sikhs have been wiped out." Thus talking, the two Muslim travellers proceeded on towards their destination, not taking the risk of verifying the identity of persons hidden behind bushes.
However the talk about the false claim of Governor Zakariya Khan about him being successful in completely finishing the Sikhs disturbed Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh who happened to overhear every word uttered by the two Muslim travellers. They decided to upstage Zakariya Khan's propaganda and came out of the bushes after planning their strategy.
With strong wooden sticks in their hands, they occupied the small abode known as Sarai Nuruddin on the road side and started levying and collecting tax money from travellers at the rate of one anna per cart load and one paisa per donkey load, as road tax. They pronounced the place as part of area ruled by Sikhs. This went on for a number of days, without opposition from Government agencies. Travellers kept paying road tax to the two Sikhs, without any questions. They also spread the word that Zakariya's propaganda about decimation of the Sikhs was false.
Getting no response from the government of their revolting act, the two Sikhs decided to hasten the pace of events to prompt reaction from the government.
Bhai Bota Singh wrote a letter addressed to Zakariya Khan and gave it to a traveller proceeding to Lahore for handing it over to Zakariya Khan, Governor of Lahore.
He thus wrote on the letter :
"Chithi Likhtam Singh Bota
Hath hai sota, wich rah khalota
Anna gadda, paisa khota
Jaa Akhee Bhabo Khano Noo
Aaon Akhe Singh Bota"
The content of the letter was: This letter is written by Bhai Bota Singh. He is armed with a strong wooden stick and standing on the road side collects road tax at the rate of one anna per cart-load and one paisa per donkey load; Go and tell my sister-in-law (Governor Zakariya Khan - thereby insulting him). Thus says Bota Singh.
Zakariya Khan received the letter sent by Bhai Bota Singh and was shaken to the hilt on reading it. He sought more information from the traveller (who delivered the letter and had paid the two Sikhs the road tax) asking him about the number of Sikhs involved in tax collection and the nature of arms in their possession. The messenger told Zakariya Khan that there were only two tax-collecting Sikhs at Sarai Nuruddin and that the arms in their possession were wooden sticks.
Zakariya Khan immediately summoned the Army General Jalaluddin and said "Take two hundred armed horsemen, capture the two Sikhs and produce them alive before me so that I can punish them." The reason for dispatching two hundred armed soldiers to capture just two Sikhs was because of the fear of the Sikhs and what they were capable of.
General Jalaluddin proceeded towards Sarai Nuruddin, accompanied by two hundred armed horse riding soldiers.
The sound of horses and the rising dust fast approaching, alarmed Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh to the approach of the soldiers. They sensed the approaching danger and were ready to face it.
While the band of two hundred soldiers under the command of Jalaluddin were preparing to encircle Sarai Nuruddin, Bhai Bota Singh shouted loudly at the soldiers.
"If you are really brave come forward for one to one combat and test your bravery." Jalaluddin ordered two of its soldiers to take on the two Sikhs. No sooner had the two soldiers stepped forward Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh attacked them with electrifying speed and beat them to death with their sticks. Jalaluddin sent another two soldiers forward who too were dispatched by the brave Sikhs. In a similar fashion, General Jalaluddin lost eight of his soldiers. The Sikhs then challenged, "now send four soldiers at a time, to fight two to one with us." Three batches of four soldiers were dispatched in the same manner by the Sikhs.
Seeing bodies of twenty of his dead soldiers scattered on ground before him, Jalaluddin lost patience and ordered his remaining 180 soldiers to mount a lightening attack to over-power the two Sikhs. The two Sikhs stood back to back and faced the soldiers. The soldiers moved swiftly forward and managed to encircle the two Sikhs. The Sikhs on the other hand shouted their battle cry. "Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal" and with the aid of only wooden sticks dispatched another ten soldiers to death before finally laying down their lives as martyrs. They foiled the attempt of the Muslim forces to capture them alive.
Against heavy odds, Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh kept up the honour of Khalsa Panth high. They set an example of fearlessness, courage and defiance in the face of certain death and against heavy odds.