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Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Hari Singh Nalwa (1791–1837) was Commander-in-chief of the Khalsa, the army of the Sikh Empire. He is known for his role in the conquests of Kasur, Sialkot, Attock, Multan, Kashmir, Peshawar and Jamrud.

Hari Singh Nalwa was responsible for expanding the frontier of Sikh Empire to beyond the Indus River right up to the mouth of the Khyber Pass. In 1831, he opposed moves by Ranjit Singh to appoint Kharak Singh as his successor as Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. At the time of his death, the western boundary of the empire was Jamrud. He served as governor of Kashmir, Peshawar and Hazara. He established a mint on behalf of the Sikh Empire to facilitate revenue collection in Kashmir and Peshawar.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa single handedly fought a tiger

The family originally came from Majitha, near Amritsar. His grandfather, Hardas Singh, had been killed fighting against Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1762. His father, Gurdial Singh, had taken part in many of the campaigns of the Sukkarchakkias Charat Singh Sukkarchakia and Mahari Singh.

Hari Singh Nalwa was the Commander-in-chief at the most turbulent North West Frontier of Ranjit Singh's kingdom. He took the frontier of the Sarkar Khalsaji to the very mouth of the Khyber Pass. For the past eight centuries, marauders, who had indulged in looting, plunder, rape, and forcible conversions to Islam had used this route into the subcontinent.

In his lifetime, Hari Singh became a terror to the ferocious tribes inhabiting these regions. He successfully thwarted the last foreign invasion into the subcontinent through the Khyber Pass at Jamrud, permanently blocking this route of the invaders. Even in his death, Hari Singh Nalwa's formidable reputation ensured victory for the Sikhs against an Afghan force five times as numerous.

Hari Singh Nalwa's performance as an administrator and a military commander in the North West Frontier remains unmatched. Two centuries on, Britain, Pakistan, Russia and America have been unsuccessful in effecting law and order in this region. Hari Singh Nalwa's spectacular achievements exemplified the tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh such that he came to be hailed as the "Champion of the Khalsa".

Early Life

Hari Singh's ancestors came from Majitha and served the Sukerchakia Misl. His grandfather, Hardas Singh, was killed in action in 1762. His father, Gurdas Singh, served under Charat Singh and Maha Singh and received the Jagir of Balloki, a village in the modern day Kasur District of Pakistan.

Hari Singh Nalwa was born into an Uppal Khatri family, in Gujranwala, Punjab to Gurdas Singh and Dharam Kaur. After his father died in 1798, he was raised by his mother. In 1801, at age ten, he took Amrit Sanskar and was baptised as a Sikh. At the age of twelve, he began to manage his father's estate and took up horse riding.

In 1804, at the age of fourteen, his mother sent him to the court of Ranjit Singh to resolve a property dispute. Ranjit Singh decided the arbitration in his favour because of his background and aptitude. Hari Singh had explained that his father and grandfather had served under Maha Singh and Charat Singh, the Maharaja's ancestors, and demonstrated his skills as horseman and musketeer. Ranjit Singh gave him a position at the court as a personal attendant.

Military career

During a hunt in 1804, a lion attacked him and also killed his horse. His fellow hunters attempted to protect him but he refused their offers and killed the lion by himself with a shield and dagger, thus earning the cognomen Baagh Maar (Tiger-killer). Whether he was by that time already serving in the military is unknown but he was commissioned as Sardar, commanding 800 horses and footmen, in that year.

The twenty major battles of Hari Singh Nalwa (either participated or was in command):

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Battle of Kasur (1807) Hari Singh's first significant participation in a Sikh conquest on assuming charge of an independent contingent was in 1807, at the capture of Kasur. This place had long been a thorn in the side of Ranjit Singh's power because of its proximity to his capital city of Lahore. It was captured in the fourth attempt. This attack was led by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Jodh Singh Ramgarhia. During the campaign the Sadar showed remarkable bravery and dexterity. The Sardar was granted a jagir in recognition of his services.

Battle of Sialkot (1808) Ranjit Singh nominated Hari Singh Nalwa to take Sialkot from its ruler Jiwan Singh. This was his first battle under an independent command. The two armies were engaged for a couple of days, eventually seventeen year old Hari Singh carried the day.

Battle of Attock (1813) The fort of Attock was a major replenishment point for all armies crossing the Indus. In the early 19th century, Afghan appointees of the Kingdom of Kabul held this fort, as they did most of the territory along this frontier. This battle was fought and won by the Sikhs on the banks of the Indus under the leadership of Dewan Mokham Chand, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's general, against Azim Khan and his brother Dost Mohammad Khan, on behalf of Shah Mahmud of Kabul. Besides Hari Singh Nalwa, Hukam Singh Attariwala, Shyamu Singh, Khalsa Fateh Singh Ahluwalia and Behmam Singh Malliawala actively participated in this battle. This was the first victory of the Sikhs over the Durranis and the Barakzais. With the conquest of Attock, the adjoining regions of Hazara-i-Karlugh and Gandhgarh became tributary to the Sikhs. In 1815, Sherbaaz Khan of Gandhgarh challenged Hari Singh Nalwa's authority and was defeated.

Abortive attempt on Kashmir (1814) The Sikhs made an attempt to take Kashmir soon after the Battle of Attock. The army was under the general command of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who camped at Rajauri. The troops were led towards Srinagar by Ram Dayal, grandson of Dewan Mokham Chand, while Jamadar Khushal Singh commanded the van, Hari Singh Nalwa and Nihal Singh Attariwala brought up the rear. Lack of provisions, delay in the arrival of reinforcements, bad weather and treachery of the allies forced the Sikhs to retreat. The next few years were spent in subduing Muslim chiefs within the Kashmir territory, en route Srinagar Valley. In 1815–16, Hari Singh Nalwa attacked and destroyed the stronghold of the traitorous Rajauri chief.

Conquest of Mahmudkot (Mehmood Kot, Muzaffargarh) (1816) In preparation of the conquest of the strongly fortified Mankera, Ranjit Singh decided to approach it from its southern extremity. After the Baisakhi of 1816, Misr Diwan Chand, Illahi Bakhsh, Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, Nihal Singh Attariwala and Hari Singh Nalwa accompanied by seven paltans and the topkhana went towards Mahmudkot. When news of its conquest arrived, it left the Maharaja so elated at the success of Sikh arms that he celebrated this victory with the firing of cannons. Two years later, on their way to Multan, the Sikhs captured the forts of Khangarh and Muzzaffargarh.

Battle of Multan (1818) The winter of 1810 saw a jubilant Sikh army stationed near Multan in the Bari Doab. They were riding high on the success of having conquered the Chuj Doab. The possession of the city of Multan was taken with little resistance; however, the fort could not be captured. The fort was bombarded and mined without effect. Sardar Nihal Singh Attariwala and the young Hari Singh Nalwa were seriously wounded. A fire pot thrown from the walls of the fort fell on Hari Singh and he was so badly burnt that it was some months before he was fit for service. Ranjit Singh was disconcerted beyond measure at the length of the siege and perforce had to abandon the attempt. Multan was finally conquered under the nominal command of Kharak Singh and the actual command of Misr Diwan Chand. It was a fiercely contested battle in which Muzzaffar Khan and his sons defended the place with exemplary courage, but they could not withstand the onslaught of the Sikhs. Hari Singh Nalwa was "chiefly instrumental" in the capture of the citadel.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Painting of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Peshawar becomes tributary (1818) When Shah Mahmud's son, Shah Kamran, killed their Barakzai Vazir Fateh Khan in August 1818 the Sikhs took advantage of the resulting confusion and their army formally forded the Indus and entered Peshawar, the summer capital of the Kingdom of Kabul (modern-day Afghanistan), for the first time. Thereafter, Hari Singh Nalwa was deputed towards Peshawar in order to keep the Sikh dabdaba kayam — maintain the pressure.

Mitha Tiwana becomes his jagir (1818) In the beginning of 1819, Hari Singh accompanied Misr Diwan Chand to collect tribute from the Nawab of Mankera. On completion of the mission, Diwan Chand crossed the river Chenab along with his topkhana and set up his camp in Pindi Bhattian near Chiniot. He was asked to leave Hari Singh stationed in the suburbs of Nurpur and Mitha Tiwana. Hari Singh must have achieved significant success for soon thereafter the Maharaja bestowed all the possessions of the Tiwana chiefs in jagir on the Sardar.

Kashmir becomes a part of the Punjab (1819) In April 1819, the Sikh army marched towards Kashmir. On this occasion, Prince Kharak Singh held nominal command. Misr Diwan Chand led the vanguard, while Hari Singh Nalwa brought up the rear for the support of the leading troops. The third division, under the personal command of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, expedited supplies and conveyed these to the advance troops. On the morning of 5 July 1819, the Sikh columns advanced to the sound of bugles. A severe engagement took place between the two armies and the Sikhs captured Kashmir. Great rejoicing followed in the Sikh camp and the cities of Lahore and Amritsar were illuminated for three successive nights. Thus came to an end the five centuries of Muslim rule in Kashmir. Two years later, as Governor of Kashmir, Hari Singh Nalwa put down the rebellion of the most troublesome Khakha chief, Gulam Ali.

Battle of Pakhli (1819) Under the Afghans, Hazara-i-Karlugh, Gandhgarh and Gakhar territory were governed from Attock. Kashmir collected the revenue from the upper regions of Pakhli, Damtaur and Darband. Numerous attempts by the Sikhs to collect revenue from Hazara-i-Karlugh not only met with failure, but also the loss of prominent Sikh administrators and commanders. Following the Sikh conquest of Kashmir, tribute was due from Pakhli, Damtaur, and Darband. On his return to the Punjab plains from the Kashmir Valley, Hari Singh and his companions followed the traditional kafila (caravan) route through Pakhli hoping to collect tribute from the region. The Sikh request for Nazrana resulted in the usual "fighting and mulcting"; the party however, was successful in their mission.

Battle of Mangal (1821) Hari Singh's most spectacular success in the region of Pakistan's Hazara came two years later. On the successful conclusion of his governorship of Kashmir, he departed from the Valley and crossed the river Kishenganga at Muzaffarabad with 7000 foot soldiers. Hari Singh Nalwa traversed the hazardous mountainous terrain successfully, however when his entourage reached Mangal (Mangli, Pakistan) he found his passage opposed. Mangal, the ancient capital of Urasa was now the stronghold of the chief of the Jaduns who controlled the entire region of Damtaur. Hari Singh requested the tribesmen for a passage through their territory, but they demanded a tax on all the Kashmir goods and treasure he was taking with him. All trade kafilas routinely paid this toll. Hari Singh's claim that the goods he carried were not for trade purposes was not accepted. When parleying produced no result, battle was the only option. A combined tribal force numbering no less than 25,000 gathered from all the adjoining areas and challenged Hari Singh and his men. Despite being completely outnumbered, the Sardar stormed their stockades and defeated his opponents with a loss to them of 2,000 men. Hari Singh then left to join forces with the Sikh army poised for an attack on Mankera, but after he had collected a fine from every house and built a fort in this vicinity.

Battle of Mankera (1822) The Sindh Sagar Doab was chiefly controlled from Mankera and Mitha Tiwana. Nawab Hafiz Ahmed Khan, a relative of the Durranis, exerted considerable influence in this region. Besides Mankera, he commanded a vast area protected by 12 forts. With the weakening of Afghan rule in Kabul, the governors of Attock, Mankera, Mitha Tiwana and Khushab had declared their independence. Ranjit Singh celebrated the Dussehra of 1821 across the river Ravi, at Shahdera. Hari Singh, Governor of Kashmir, was most familiar with the territory that the Maharaja had now set his eyes on. Nalwa was summoned post-haste to join the Lahore Army already on its way towards the river Indus. The Maharaja and his army had crossed the Jehlum when Hari Singh Nalwa, accompanied by his Kashmir platoons, joined them at Mitha Tiwana. The Sikhs commenced offensive operations in early November.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

The Sword of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa - kept at the Sikh Regimental centre Ramgarh

Nawab Hafiz Ahmed's predecessor, Nawab Mohammed Khan, had formed a cordon around Mankera with 12 forts—Haidrabad, Maujgarh, Fatehpur, Pipal, Darya Khan, Khanpur, Jhandawala, Kalor, Dulewala, Bhakkar, Dingana and Chaubara. The Sikh army occupied these forts and soon the only place that remained to be conquered was Mankera itself. A few years earlier, the Nawab of Mankera had actively participated in the reduction of Mitha Tiwana. The Tiwanas, now feudatories of Hari Singh Nalwa, were eager participants in returning that favour to the Nawab. The force was divided into three parts—one column being under Hari Singh—and each column entered the Mankera territory by a different route; capturing various places enroute all three columns rejoined near Mankera town. Mankera was besieged, with Nalwa's force being on the west of the fort.

The fort of Mankera stood in the middle of the Thal. It was built of mud with a citadel of burnt brick surrounded by a dry ditch. To make the central fortress inaccessible, no wells were permitted by the Nawab to be sunk within a radius of 15 kos. During the night of 26 November Hari Singh Nalwa, together with other chiefs and jagirdars, established their morchas (batteries) within long gunshot of the place. They found old wells, which their men cleared out and fresh ones were dug. On the nights of 6–7 December, they approached closer to the ditch. The ensuing skirmish was ferocious and resulted in considerable loss of life. The siege of the fort of Mankera lasted 25 days. Finally, the Nawab accepted defeat and the last Saddozai stronghold fell to the Sikhs. The Nawab was allowed to proceed towards Dera Ismail Khan, which was granted to him as jagir. His descendants held the area until 1836.

Battle of Nowshera (Naushehra) (1823) The Sikhs forayed into Peshawar for the first time in 1818, but did not occupy the territory. They were content with collecting tribute from Yar Mohammed, its Barakzai governor. Azim Khan, Yar Mohammed's half-brother in Kabul, totally disapproved of the latter's deference to the Sikhs and decided to march down at the head of a large force to vindicate the honour of the Afghans. Azim Khan wanted to avenge both, the supplication of his Peshawar brethren and the loss of Kashmir. Hari Singh Nalwa was the first to cross the Indus at Attock to the Sikh post of Khairabad; he was accompanied by Diwan Kirpa Ram and Khalsa Sher Singh, the Maharaja's teenaged son, besides 8,000 men.

The Kabul Army was expected near Nowshera, on the banks of the river Kabul (Landai). Hari Singh's immediate plan was to capture the Yusafzai stronghold to the north of the Landai at Jehangira, and the Khattak territory to its south at Akora Khattak. The latter was taken with out difficulty however Jehangira was a masonry fort with very strong towers and the Yusafzais offered tough resistance. Hari Singh entered the fort and established his thana there. The remaining troops re-crossed the Landai River and returned to their base camp at Akora. Mohammed Azim Khan had encamped about ten miles north-west of Hari Singh's position, on the right bank of the Landai, facing the town of Nowshera, awaiting Ranjit Singh's approach. The Sikhs had scheduled two battles – one along either bank of the Landai.

After Hari Singh had successfully reduced the tribal strongholds on either side of the river, Ranjit Singh departed from the fort of Attock. He crossed the Landai River at a ford below Akora, and set up his camp near the fort of Jehangira. The famous army commander Akali Phula Singh and the no less renowned Gurkha commander Bal Bahadur, with their respective troops, accompanied the Maharaja. The Barakzais merely witnessed the main action from across the river. Hari Singh Nalwa's presence had prevented them from crossing the Landai. Eventually, the inheritors of Ahmed Shah Abdali's legacy fled the scene in the direction of Jalalabad chased by Hari Singh Nalwa and his men to the very mouth of the Khyber Pass.

Battle of Sirikot (1824) Sirikot lay less than ten miles to the north-west of Haripur. This Mashwani village was strategically placed in a basin at the top of the north-east end of the Gandhgarh Range, which made its secure location a haven for the rebellious chiefs in the entire region. Hari Singh Nalwa went towards Sirikot before the rains of 1824. It was another six months before the attempt produced conclusive results. The Sardar almost lost his life in the course of this expedition. Ranjit Singh's military campaign for the winter of 1824 was scheduled towards Peshawar and Kabul. While stationed at Wazirabad, he received an arzi (written petition) from Sardar Hari Singh informing him that he and his men were overwhelmingly outnumbered – one Sikh to ten Afghans. Ranjit Singh marched to Rohtas, from there to Rawalpindi and via Sarai Kala reached Sirikot. The news of the approach of the Sikh army led to an instant dispersal of the insurgents.

The increasing success of the Sikh arms greatly disappointed the Yusafzai and other tribes inhabiting the trans-Indus region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Battle of Nowshera convinced them of their extreme vulnerability. Not only had the Kabul Barakzais let them down, but their subsequent application to the British for help had also met with little success.

Battle of Saidu (1827) The redeemer of the Yusafzais came in the form of one Sayyid Ahmad, who despite being a 'Hindki' was accepted as a leader by them. Budh Singh Sandhanwalia, accompanied by 4,000 horsemen, was deputed towards Attock to assist in suppressing the Yusafzai rebellion. The Maharaja's brief required him to thereafter to proceed towards Peshawar and collect tribute from Yar Mohammed Khan Barakzai. Budh Singh first heard of the Sayyid after he had crossed the Indus and encamped near the fort of Khairabad. Ranjit Singh was still on the sickbed when the news of the Sayyid's arrival, at the head of a large force of the Yusafzai peasantry, reached him. The gallantry of the Yusafzai defence in the Battle of Nowshera was still vivid in his mind. On receiving this news, he immediately put into motion all the forces that he could muster and immediately dispatched them towards the frontier.

The Barakzais in Peshawar, though outwardly professing allegiance to the Sikhs, were in reality in league with the insurgents. The Sayyid marched from Peshawar in the direction of Nowshera. Sardar Budh Singh wrote to the Sayyid seeking for a clarification of his intention. The Sayyid haughtily replied that he would first take the fort of Attock and then engage Budh Singh in battle.

Hari Singh Nalwa stood guard at the fort of Attock with the intention of keeping the Sayyid and his men from crossing the river until reinforcements arrived from Lahore. News had reached the Sikhs that the jihadis accompanying the Sayyid numbered several thousand. The battle between the Sayyid and the Sikhs was fought on 14 Phagun (23 February) 1827. The action commenced at about ten in the morning. The Muslim war cry of Allah hu Akbar, or "God is the greatest", was answered by the Sikhs with Bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal, or "they who affirm the name of God, the only immortal truth, will find fulfilment". Ironically, the opposing forces first professed the glory of the very same God Almighty, albeit in different languages, before they commenced slaughtering each other. The cannonade lasted about two hours. The Sikhs charged at their opponents, routed them, and continued a victorious pursuit for six miles, taking all their guns, swivels, camp equipage, etc. The number of killed was not mentioned, but blood was said to have flowed in torrents. The Sayyid sustained a complete defeat despite his vastly superior numbers. He was compelled to retreat to the Yusafzai Mountains. It was reported that 8,000 Sikhs had defended themselves against an enraged population of 150,000 Mohammedans. A salute was fired, illumination was ordered by drumbeat in the city of Lahore in honour of the victory.

Occupies Peshawar (1834) The actual occupation of the great city of Peshawar and its ruinous fort, the Bala Hisar, by the Sikhs was quite a comedy and a total anti-climax. It was a reflection of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa's formidable reputation in ‘Pashtunistan'. Masson arrived in Peshawar just in time to see the Sikhs take control of the city. His eyewitness account reports that the Afghans simply fled the place and Hari Singh Nalwa occupied Peshawar without a battle.

Dost Mohammad Khan flees (1835) Hari Singh Nalwa was the governor of Peshawar when Dost Mohammed personally came at the head of a large force to challenge the Sikhs. Following his victory against Shah Shuja at Kandahar, in the first quarter of 1835, Dost Mohammed declared himself padshah (king), gave a call for jihad and set off from Kabul to wrest Peshawar from the Sikhs. Ranjit Singh directed his generals to amuse the Afghans with negotiations and to win over Sultan Mohammed Khan. He directed them that on no account, even if attacked, were they to enter into a general engagement until his arrival.

Hari Singh Nalwa and the other Sikh chieftains requested Ranjit Singh to permit them to engage with the Kabul Afghans. On 30 Baisakh (10 May 1835), Sardar Hari Singh, Raja Gulab Singh, Misr Sukh Raj, Sardar Attar Singh Sandhanwalia, Jamadar Khushal Singh, the Raja Kalan (Dhian Singh), Monsieur Court, Signor Avitabile, Sardar Tej Singh, Dhaunkal Singh, Illahi Bakhsh of the topkhana, Sardar Jawala Singh and Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia were ordered to move. The troops fanned out over five kos, forming a semicircle in front of the Amir's encampment. Sardar Hari Singh proposed that the water of the stream Bara, which flowed in the direction of Dost Mohammed Khan's camp, be dammed. When the Ghazis appeared, Sardar Hari Singh commenced firing his guns. The Maharaja, however, prohibited him from indulging in battle and dispatched his Vakils to negotiate with the Amir.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Once Dost Mohammed Khan was assured that the Sikhs would affect a truce until their Vakils were in his camp, he let them know what he really felt. Harsh words were exchanged. He accused Fakir Aziz-ud-din of making "use of much language, having plenty of leaves but little fruit". On finding both his step brothers, Jabbar and Sultan, irredeemably lost to him, Dost Mohammed decided to retire from the field with the whole of his army, armament and equipage. He left at night, making sure that the Fakir did not return to the Sikh camp until after he had gone through the Khyber Pass.

Takes Jamrud (Khyber Pass) (1836) In October 1836, following the Dussehra celebrations in Amritsar, Hari Singh made a sudden attack on the village of Jamrud, at the mouth of the Khyber Pass. The Misha Khel Khyberis, the owners of this village, were renowned for their excellent marksmanship and total lack of respect for any authority. Hari Singh Nalwa's first encounter with this tribe had taken place following the Battle of Nowshera when he had pursued the fleeing Azim Khan; and once again, when he chased Dost Mohammed Khan in 1835.

The occupation of Jamrud was rather strongly contested, but it appeared that the place was taken by surprise. On its capture, Hari Singh Nalwa gave instructions to fortify the position without delay. A small existing fort was immediately put into repair. News of this event was immediately transmitted to Kabul. Masson informed Wade of the passage of events along this frontier in a letter dated 31 October 1836. With the conquest of Jamrud, at the very mouth of the Khyber, the frontier of the Sikh Empire now bordered the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

Panjtaar defeated(1836) The defeat of the Khyberis sent shock waves through the Afghan community. However, more was to follow. Hari Singh Nalwa accompanied by Kanwar Sher Singh, now proceeded towards the Yusafzai strongholds, north-east of Peshawar, which had withheld tribute for three years. The Sikhs completely defeated the Yusafzais, with their chief, Fateh Khan of Panjtar, losing his territory. It was reported that 15,000 mulkia fled before the Sikhs like a herd of goats, many being killed and the remaining taking refuge in the hills. After burning and levelling Panjtar to the ground, Hari Singh returned to Peshawar realising all the arrears of revenue. Fateh Khan was obliged to sign an agreement to pay tribute on which condition Panjtar was released. When news of the conquest of Panjtar reached the Court of Lahore, a display of fireworks was proposed.

Battle of Jamrud (1837) The news of the conquest of Jamrud put Dost Mohammed Khan into a state of greatest alarm. General Hari Singh's latest possession gave the Sikhs the command of the entrance into the valley of Khyber. "If this was a prelude to further aggressive measures," the Amir "saw in the intimation and submission of the people of Khyber, the road laid open to Jelalabad." Were the Sikhs to take Jalalabad, their next stop would be Kabul. This information was followed by the intelligence of the defeat of the Panjtaris.

The Maharaja's grandson, Nau Nihal Singh was getting married in March 1837. Troops had been withdrawn from all over the Punjab to put up a show of strength for the British Commander-in-chief who was invited to the wedding. Dost Mohammed Khan had been invited to the great celebration. Hari Singh Nalwa too was supposed to be at Amritsar, but in reality was in Peshawar (some accounts say he was ill) Dost Mohammed had ordered his army to march towards Jamrud together with five sons and his chief advisors with orders not to engage with the Sikhs, but more as a show of strength and try and wrest the forts of Shabqadar, Jamrud and Peshawar. Hari Singh had also been instructed not to engage with the Afghans till reinforcements arrived from Lahore.

Hari Singh's lieutenant, Mahan Singh, was in the fortress of Jamrud with 600 men and limited supplies. Hari Singh was in the strong fort of Peshawar. He was forced to go to the rescue of his men who were surrounded from every side by the Afghan forces, without water in the small fortress. Though the Sikhs were totally outnumbered, the sudden arrival of Hari Singh Nalwa put the Afghans in total panic. In the melee, Hari Singh Nalwa was accidentally grievously wounded. Before he died, he told his lieutenant not to let the news of his death out till the arrival of reinforcements, which is what he did. While the Afghans knew that Hari Singh had been wounded, they waited for over a week doing nothing, till the news of his death was confirmed. By this time, the Lahore troops had arrived and they merely witness the Afghans fleeing back to Kabul. Hari Singh Nalwa had not only defended Jamrud and Peshawar, but had prevented the Afghans from ravaging the entire north-west frontier. The Afghans achieved none of their stated objectives. The loss of Hari Singh Nalwa was irreparable and this Sikh victory was as costly as a defeat.

Victories over the Afghans were a favourite topic of conversation for Ranjit Singh. He was to immortalise these by ordering a shawl from Kashmir at the record price of Rs5000, in which were depicted the scenes of the battles fought with them. Following the death of Hari Singh Nalwa, no further conquests were made in this direction. The Khyber Pass continued as the Sikh frontier till the annexation of the Punjab by the British.


Hari Singh's administrative rule covered one-third of the Sikh Empire. He served as the Governor of Kashmir (1820–21), Greater Hazara (1822–1837) and was twice appointed the Governor of Peshawar (1834-5 & 1836-his death). In his private capacity, Hari Singh Nalwa was required to administer his vast jagir spread all over the kingdom. He was sent to the most troublesome spots of the Sikh empire in order to "create a tradition of vigorous and efficient administration". The territories under his jurisdiction later formed part of the British Districts of Peshawar, Hazara (Pakhli, Damtaur, Haripur, Darband, Gandhgarh, Dhund, Karral and Khanpur), Attock (Chhachch, Hassan Abdal), Jehlum (Pindi Gheb, Katas), Mianwali (Kachhi), Shahpur (Warcha, Mitha Tiwana and Nurpur), Dera Ismail Khan (Bannu, Tank, and Kundi), Rawalpindi (Rawalpindi, Kallar) and Gujranwala. In 1832, at the specific request of William Bentinck, the Maharajah proposed a fixed table of duties for the whole of his territories. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa was one of the three men deputed to fix the duties from Attock (on the Indus) to Filor (on the Satluj).

In Kashmir, however, Sikh rule was generally considered oppressive, protected perhaps by the remoteness of Kashmir from the capital of the Sikh empire in Lahore. The Sikhs enacted a number of anti-Muslim laws, which included handing out death sentences for cow slaughter, closing down the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, and banning the azaan, the public Muslim call to prayer. Kashmir had also now begun to attract European visitors, several of whom wrote of the abject poverty of the vast Muslim peasantry and of the exorbitant taxes under the Sikhs.

The Sikh rule in lands dominated for centuries by Muslims was an exception in the political history of the latter. To be ruled by ‘kafirs' was the worst kind of ignominy to befall a Muslim. Before the Sikhs came to Kashmir (1819 CE), the Afghans had ruled it for 67 years. For the Muslims, Sikh rule was the darkest period of the history of the place, while for the Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) nothing was worse than the Afghan rule. The Sikh conquest of Kashmir was prompted by an appeal from its Hindu population. The oppressed Hindus had been subjected to forced conversions, their women raped, their temples desecrated, and cows slaughtered. Efforts by the Sikhs to keep peace in far-flung regions pressed them to close mosques and ban the call to prayer because the Muslim clergy charged the population to frenzy with a call for ‘jihad' at every pretext. Cow-slaughter (Holy Cow) offended the religious sentiments of the Hindu population and therefore it met with severe punishment in the Sikh empire. In Peshawar, keeping in view "the turbulence of the lawless tribes ... and the geographical and political exigencies of the situation" Hari Singh's methods were most suitable.

Diplomatic mission

In 1831, Hari Singh was deputed to head a diplomatic mission to Lord William Bentinck, Governor-General of British India. The Ropar Meeting between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the head of British India followed soon thereafter. The Maharaja saw this as a good occasion to get his son, Kharak Singh, acknowledged as his heir-apparent. Hari Singh Nalwa expressed strong reservations against any such move. The British desired to persuade Ranjit Singh to open the Indus for trade.


Nalwa was also a builder. At least 56 buildings were attributed to him, which included forts, ramparts, towers, gurdwaras, tanks, samadhis, temples, mosques, towns, havelis, sarais and gardens. He built the fortified town of Haripur in 1822. This was the first planned town in the region, with a superb water distribution system. His very strong fort of Harkishengarh, situated in the valley at the foothill of mountains, had four gates. It was surrounded by a wall, four yards thick and 16 yards high. Nalwa's presence brought such a feeling of security to the region that when Hügel visited Haripur in 1835-6, he found the town humming with activity. A large number of Khatris migrated there and established a flourishing trade. Haripur, tehsil and district, in Hazara, North-West Frontier Province, are named after him.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Nalwa contributed to the prosperity of Gujranwala, which he was given as a jagir sometime after 1799, which he held till his death in 1837.

He built all the main Sikh forts in the trans-Indus region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — Jehangira and Nowshera on the left and right bank respectively of the river Kabul, Sumergarh (or Bala Hisar Fort in the city of Peshawar), for the Sikh Kingdom.

In addition, he laid the foundation for the fort of Fatehgarh, at Jamrud (Jamrud Fort). He reinforced Akbar's Attock fort situated on the left bank of the river Indus by building very high bastions at each of the gates. He also built the fort of Uri in Kashmir.

A religious man, Nalwa built Gurdwara Panja Sahib in the town of Hassan Abdal, south-west of Haripur and north-west of Rawalpindi in Pakistan, to commemorate Guru Nanak's journey through that region. He had donated the gold required to cover the dome of the Akal Takht within the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar.

Following Hari Singh Nalwa's death, his sons Jawahir Singh Nalwa and Arjan Singh Nalwa fought against the British to protect the sovereignty of the Kingdom of the Sikhs, with the former being noted for his defence in the Battle of Chillianwala.

For decades after his death, Yusufzai women would say "Raghe Hari Singh" ("Hari Singh is coming") to frighten their children into obedience.

A commemorative postage stamp was issued by the Government of India in 2013, marking the 176th anniversary of Nalwa's death.


In the two and a half centuries that Afghanistan has existed as a nation, three super powers — the US, Russia and Britain have attempted to subdue the Afghans with little or absolutely no success. The Sikhs won the only real victories against them. Hari Singh Nalwa's success has remained unmatched.

This was stated by Dr Vanit Nalwa, psychologist-turned-historian based in Delhi and a seventh generation descendant of the Sikh folk hero.

Delivering the talk, Dr Vanit Nalwa, stated that Hari Singh was called Nalwa after he killed a tiger with a dagger. He joined the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as a lad, participated in the battle of Kasur and rose to become the Governor of Kashmir in 1820 and the Viceroy on the Western Front (1822-31). In 1834 Nalwa became the Governor of Peshawar.

Hari Singh Nalwa effectively reversed the entire courSe of history of Afghan Sikh relations. Afghans, who had been invading, looting and plundering the territory saw for the first time a reversal when Hari Singh established the Sikh kingdom in their domain. He effectively stopped the invasions forever.

While the Maharaja was busy with preparations for the marriage of his son, Nau Nihal Singh, Hari Singh Nalwa was guarding the North-West Frontier. He had a handful of forces with him when the entire Afghan army attacked them at Jamrud.

Nalwa was fatally wounded in the battle but his death was kept a secret till the arrival of reinforcements. The fear of his presence kept the Afghan army at bay for almost ten days. The delay in sending reinforcements is attributed to a conspiracy in the Court of Lahore about who would succeed an ailing Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

As a distinguished warrior, Nalwa commanded the respect of even his enemies, the Pathans. Ballads were composed in celebration of his bravery.

Nalwa also had a highly developed aesthetic sense. He built gardens in Sri nagar and Amritsar. A town, Haripur (near Hazara, now in Pakistan), was planned and built by him. The various temples, gurdwaras and mosques he built bear testimony to his secular outlook.

He had four sons and he did not try to promote any of them at the court of Lahore. When he died, very little money was found in his toshakhana. It is said he gave most of his wealth in charity. He was cremated in the Jamrud Fort built at the mouth of the Khyber Pass in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Babu Gajju Mall Kapur, a Hindu resident of Peshawar, commemorated his memory by building a memorial in the fort in 1892.

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