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Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia

Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783) was a prominent Sikh leader during the period of the Sikh Confederacy. He was democratically elected as the supreme military commander of the Sikh Confederacy on March 29, 1748 - on Baisakhi, this appointment is considered to be one of the greatest honours ever bestowed, in the 18th century, to any Sikh.

He was further honoured by the Sikh Confederacy with the title of 'Nawab', at Amritsar in 1754, after the passing of Nawab Kapur Singh in 1753.

He was also the Misldar (Chief/ Sardar) of the Ahluwalia misl or army group. This period was an interlude, lasting roughly from the time of the death of Banda Singh Bahadur in 1716 to the founding of the Sikh Empire in 1801. The period is also sometimes described as the Age of the Misls. He was the fourth jathedar (leader) of Buddha Dal.

Early Life

Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia

Sultan ul Quam Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was born at the village of Ahlu, in Lahore district of Punjab, (Majha region), in the year 1718. Ahlu village was established by his ancestor, Sadda singh, a disciple of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Har Gobind. Hence, the name Ahluwalia (meaning from Ahluwal). His forefathers were Kalals (wine merchants) and hence, he is also sometimes referred to as "Jassa Singh Kalal".

At the tender age of 4, Jassa Singh's father, Sardar Badar Singh passed away (1723 A.D). There after his mother moved them to Dehli where they stayed and performed Kirtan of the highest order. Mata Sundri Kaur ji was much pleased with the young Singh and bestowed upon him great blessings. After seven years in Dehli, at the age of 12, Jassa Singh and his mother moved back to Punjab at the insistence Jassa Singh's uncle – however not before Mata Sundri would make a prophecy – that Jassa Singh would become a ruler of men.

Sardar Jassa Singh and his mother settled in the vicinity of Jalandhar and began performing Kirtan in the early mornings (Jassa Singh was a great Rabab instrumentalist and 'Kirtan Kaar', who later patronised the Kapurthala Rababi Gharana). On one Gurpurb, along with Singh's uncle, mother and child went to visit Nawab Kapur Singh in Kartapur. While singing the hymns of Asa di Var in the early morning, the Nawab Kapoor Singh was so impressed with the melody of Kirtan, that he persuaded them to stay for one month. After this period, the Nawab recognised the conduct and potential of Jassa Singh, hence requested the uncle and mother that they leave the boy with him to adopt. It should be noted, that Nawab Kapoor Singh was the leader of the Khalsa Panth for a reason; he was a true Sikh of the Guru; both incredibly brave and spiritual while remaining humble. From this moment, Jassa Singh's tutelage began under the great Nawab Kapoor Singh.

Jassa Singh undertook each task designated to him with commitment like no other. One account recites that on one stormy night in torrential rain, the Nawab would call out to the watch guards, asking who was on duty – on each occasion, the steadfast Jassa Singh's voice that was heard alone. Jassa Singh also began his training in the art of war, and became adept in horse riding, sword play and archery.

Reclaiming the honour of the Golden Temple

Sikhs were under great pressure because of government violence against them. They became enraged when they found that Massa Rangar, the official in charge of the Amritsar region, drank alcohol and smoked in the Golden Temple. Two Sikhs, Sukha Singh and Mehtab Singh, came disguised as revenue collectors and cut off his head. It was a signal to the government that the Sikhs would never tolerate any disrespect to their sacred Harimandar Sahib.

The Governor of Lahore sent military squads to kill the Sikhs. When Jaspat Rai, brother of Lakhpat Rai, the Dewan (premier) of Lahore, faced the Sikhs in a battle, one of the Sikhs held the tail of his elephant and got on his back from behind. With a quick move, he chopped off his head, giving another blow to the government's image.

Lakhpat Rai, after this incident, committed himself to destroying the Sikhs. In 1746, a new wave of violence was started against them with all of the resources available to the government. The army was sent to destroy the Sikhs. All of the village officials were ordered to cooperate in the expedition. About 15,000 Sikhs including Jassa Singh and other important leaders were camping in riverbeds in the Gurdaspur district (Kahnuwan tract). Local people were forcibly employed to search for the Sikhs to be killed by the army. An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Sikhs were thus murdered. Those Sikhs who were arrested alive were taken to Lahore, tortured and executed near the Horse Market. There now stands a Gurdwara called Shaheed Ganj. Even the Sikhs living in peace in the city were arrested without any reason. They were also butchered. This first massacre of 1746 is known as the Chhota Ghalughara (the small massacre) of the Sikhs.

In 1747, Shah Nawaz took over as Governor of Lahore. To please the Sikhs, Lakhpat was dismissed by the new Governor. Having been removed from office, Lakhpat received severe punishment and was killed by the Sikhs.

The Formation of the Dal Khalsa and the Misls

Until 1745, the Sikh forces were divided into 65 jathas(bands). Sardar Nawab Kapur Singh reorganised them into eleven bands, each of with its own name, flag and leader. These Armies or jathas, which came to known later on as Misls (literally "equal", also "an example") together were, however, given the name of the Dal Khalsa (or the Army of the Khalsa). Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was nominated as the Supreme Commander of the Sikh Confederacy in addition to being Sardar of the Ahluwalia Army (misl). Nawab Kapur Singh appointed him as his successor on the eve of his death in 1753. Elated at his successful helmsmanship, the Khalsa honoured Jassa Singh with the title of Sultan-ul-Qaum (King of the nation), when they captured Lahore in 1761. He has been credited for rebuilding the present day holy Harmandir Sahib, in the year 1764, which was destroyed, during the Afghan Invasions.

The first Sikh Fort, Ram Rauni

In 1747, Salabat Khan became the commander. He placed police around Amritsar and built observation posts to spot and kill Sikhs coming to the Amrit Sarovar for a holy dip. Angered by this, the Sikhs decided to free Amritsar. Even though Sikhs were given a very heavy blow only a year before, Jassa Singh and Nawab Kapoor Singh lead the Sikhs to Amritsar. Salabat Khan was killed by Jassa Singh and his nephew was killed by the arrow of Nawab Ji. After great sacrifices, the Sikhs freed the holy city of Amritsar and celebrated their Diwali gathering there.

Crumbling Haveli of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, In Kapurthala. The Indian government are allowing historic Sikh sites to fall into ruin.

By the year 1748, the Khalsa had many brave Jathedars. They decided to reorganize themselves under one command. On the advice of their aging Jathedar, Nawab Kapoor Singh, the Khalsa chose Sardar Jassa Singh as their supreme leader. They also decided to declare that the Punjab belonged to them and they would be the sovereign rulers of their state. It was at this time that Sikhs built their first fort, called Ram Rauni, at Amritsar. Its construction was a clear message to the government that their end had come and Sikh rule over Punjab would soon be a reality.

However, a new wave of state terrorism against the Sikhs was soon started. Adina Beg, the Faujdar (commander and administrator of a tract under a Governor) of Jallandar, sent a message to the Dal Khalsa chief to cooperate with him in the civil administration, and he wanted a meeting to discuss the matter. But in essence, this was only a trick to disarm the Sikhs and keep them under government control. Jassa Singh replied that their meeting place would be the battle ground and the discussion would be carried out by their swords.

Beg attacked the Ram Rauni fort at Amritsar and besieged the Sikhs there. Dewan Kaura Mal [Kaura Mal was called "Mitha Mal" by the Sikhs because of his friendship with them. In Punjabi, "Kaura" means bitter and "Mitha" means sweet.] advised the Governor to lift the siege and prepare the army to protect the state from the invader, Ahmed Shah Abdali. To win the good will of the Sikhs, Kaura Mal got a part of the revenue of Patti area allocated for the improvement and management of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Kaura Mal had to go to Multan to quell a rebellion there. He asked the Sikhs for help and they agreed to join him. After the victory at Multan, Kaura came to pay his respects to the Darbar Sahib, and offered 11,000 rupees. He also spent 3,000,000 rupees to build Gurdwaras at Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Sahib.

In 1752, Kaura was killed in a battle with Abdali and state policy towards the Sikhs quickly changed. Mir Manu, the Governor, started hunting Sikhs again. He arrested many men and women, put them in prison and tortured them. In November 1753, when he went to kill the Sikhs hiding in the fields, they showered him with a hail of bullets. He fell from his horse and the animal dragged him to death. The Sikhs immediately proceeded to Lahore, attacked the prison, and got all the prisoners released and led them to safety in the forests.

There were twelve Misls of the Sikhs and Jassa Singh was the head of the Ahluwalia Misl and the leader of all the Misls, jointly called Dal Khalsa. It was with his guidance and brave handling of the leadership that the Khalsa got nearer to their goal of self-rule in the Punjab.

The Raids of Ahmed Shah Abdali

Ahmed Shah Abdali, Nadir Shah's senior most general, succeeded to the throne of Afghanistan, when Shah was murdered in June, 1747. He established his own dynasty, the Sadozai, which was the name of the Pashtun khel to which he belonged to.

Starting from December, 1747 till 1769, Abdali made a total of nine incursions into India . His repeated invasions destroyed the Mughal administration of the Punjab and the rest of Northern India. At the Third Battle of Panipat, he dealt a drippling blow to Maratha pretensions in the North. Thus he created a power vacuum in the Punjab, which was filled by the Sikhs.

Khalsa as Rulers

In May 1757, the Afghan General Jahan Khan attacked Amritsar with a huge army. The Sikhs were not prepared to face the army at that time. Therefore, they decided to withdraw to the forests. Their fort, Ram Rauni, was demolished. Harimandar Sahib was blown up, and the army desecrated the Sarovar by filling it with debris and dead animals. Baba Deep Singh Shaheed made history when he attacked Jahan Khan to recover Amritsar from army control. Fatally wounded, Baba Ji cut through the army column to reach the Harmandir Sahib.

Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia after the capture of Lahore

Some unexpected developments took place in the state which proved favorable for the Sikhs. Adina Beg did not pay revenues to the government. The Governor dismissed him and appointed a new Faujdar in his place. The army was sent to arrest him and this prompted Adina to request Sikh help. The Sikhs took advantage of the situation and to weaken the government, they fought against the army. One of the commanders was killed by the Sikhs and the other deserted. Later, the Sikhs attacked Jallandar and thus became the rulers of all the tracts between Satlej and Beas rivers, called Doaba. This raised the political status of the Khalsa. Instead of roaming in the forests, now they were ruling the cities.

After this, the Sikhs started bringing more areas under their control and realizing revenue from them. In 1758, joined by the Marhattas, they conquered even Lahore and arrested many Afghan soldiers who were responsible for filling the Amrit Sarovar with debris a few months earlier. They were brought to Amritsar and made to clean the Sarovar. After the cleaning of the Sarovar, the soldiers were allowed to go home with a warning that they should not do that again – which was a novel and humane punishment, all things considered.

Abdali came again in October 1759 to loot Delhi. The Sikhs gave him a good fight and killed more than 2,000 of his soldiers. Instead of getting involved with the Sikhs, he made a rapid advance to Delhi. This meant that the Khalsa were considered a formidable power in the Punjab. They decided to collect revenues from Lahore to prove to the people that the Sikhs were the rulers of the state. The Governor of Lahore knew that he could not face the Sikhs, so he closed the gates of the city and did not come out to fight against them. The Sikhs laid siege to the city. After a week, the Governor agreed to pay 30,000 rupees to the Sikhs.

Khalsa, The Saviors of the Innocent

Abdali returned from Delhi in March 1761 with lots of gold and more than 2,000 beautiful, young girls as prisoners. The Sikhs decided to save these innocent girls. Jassa Singh formulated a strategy. When Abdali was crossing the river Beas, the Sikhs swiftly fell upon them. They freed the women prisoners and escorted them back to their homes. The people felt that the Sikhs deserved to be the rulers of the Punjab. They alone could protect the people and their honor from the invaders.

The Sikhs took over Lahore in September of 1761, after Abdali returned to Kabul. They parceled it up among themselves and minted their coins in the name of Guru Nanak Sahib. Sikhs, as rulers of the city, received full cooperation from the people. Jassa Singh was given the title of Sultanul Kaum.

Ahmed Shah Abdali had been very much agitated for having to yield the share of the looted wealth to the Sikhs and for having lost the young women whom he would have sold to the Afghans in Kabul.

The Sixth Afghan Invasion, 1762: The Great Holocaust

During the winter of 1762, Ahmad Shah Abdali brought a big, well equipped army to finish the Sikhs forever. Sikhs left the cities and were near Ludhiana on their way to the forests and dry areas of the south, when Abdali moved from Lahore very quickly and caught the Sikhs totally unprepared. Marching with alacrity, he overtook the Sikhs as they were withdrawing into Malwa after crossing the Satluj.

The moving caravan comprised a substantial portion of the total Sikh population and contained, besides active fighters, a large body of old men, women and children who were being escorted to the safety of the interior. Surprised by Ahmad Shah, the Sikhs threw a cordon round those who needed protection, and prepared for the battle. In this formation and continuing their march, they fought the invaders and their Indian allies (The Nawabs of Malerkotla, Sirhind, etc.) desperately. Sardar Charhat Singh Sukerchakia (the grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit Singh), Sardar Hari Singh Dhillon and Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia led their forces with skill and courage. Jassa Singh sustained sixty-four wounds on his body, but he survived. Sardar Charhat Singh rode to exhaustion, five of his horses one after another.

Ahmad Shah succeeded, in the end, in breaking through the cordon and carried out a full scale massacre. His orders were for everyone in native dress to be killed at sight. The soldiers of Malerkotala and Sirhind were to wear green leaves of trees on their heads to distinguish themselves from the Sikhs. Near the village of Kup, in the vicinity of Malerkotla, about 30,000 Sikhs died at the end of a single day's action (February 5, 1762). This battle is known in Sikh history as the Wadda Ghalughara (The Great Holocaust). During the course of the Battle, Jassa Singh was reported to have had 64 wounds on his body but still survived, as did his counter paths from the other Sikh misls; Charat Singh Sukerchakia for example rode five horses one after the other to exhaustion and Jassa Singh Ramgharia sustained injuries to his body. Upon verbally challenging Ahmed Shah Abdali himself, Jassa Singh is known to have almost killed the Shah, narrowly missing him and killing his horse instead.

Abdali, fearing Sikh retaliation, sent messages that he was willing to assign some areas to the Sikhs to be ruled by them. Jassa Singh, the leader of the Khalsa, rejected his offers and told him that Sikhs own the Punjab and they do not recognize his authority at all. Abdali went to Amritsar and blew up the Harimandar Sahib, hoping to destroy the source of "life" of the Sikhs. However, within a few months, the Sikhs attacked Sirhind and moved to Amritsar. Abdali was still in Lahore and was surprised to find the Sikhs so close to him within such a short time of having been dealt the greatest blow of their history. He felt forced to fight them.

The Battle of Amritsar

Despite the Ghalughara disaster, by the month of May, the Sikhs were up in arms again. Under Jassa Singh, they defeated the Afghan faujdar of Sirhind, Zain Khan at Harnaulgarh in revenge for aiding Ahmed Shah Abdali in the holocaust. Instead of killing him, thy accepted his tribute of a large sum of money as they desprately needed the money to repair the Harimandir Sahib, however they promised the faujdar that his time would come (Zain Khan was later killed by Jassa Singh's men in a battle under the ramparts of the Sirhind citadel.) By autumn, the Sikhs had regained enough confidence to foregather in large numbers at Amritsar to celebrate Diwali. Abdali made a mild effort to win over them and sent an envoy with proposals for a treaty of peace. The Sikhs were in no mood for peace and insulted the emissary. Abdali did not waste any time and turned up at the outskirts of Amritsar.

The Second Battle of Amritsar, was a terrible battle was fought between the Sikhs and the invaders on 17 October 1762. Abdali knew that if he lost that battle to the Sikhs, he could not dare to come again to the Punjab. Sikhs were angered not only because of the heavy loss of lives, but also because of the destruction of the Harimandar Sahib. It was the day of the solar eclipse, and the Sikhs fought a fierce battle with the Afghans. Finding the Sikhs taking the upper hand, the Afghans took advantage of the darkness and fled back to Lahore. [The third Ghalughara took place in June 1984 when the Indian army stormed the Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar and murdered about 10,000 Sikhs. The Prime Minister of India was shot dead in October of the same year. It is noted that anyone who ordered the murder of Sikhs received due punishment from them.

It was the first major battle against the Sikhs that the Shah was himself present (excluding the Great Holocaust) and ended in total disaster for the Afghan army, Jassa Singh captured a large portion of Ahmed Shah Abdali's troops and forced the very hands that had caused big damage to the holy Sarovar of the Harimandir Sahib to repair and renovate it. After this Jassa Singh, in the greatest gesture of chivalry released the prisoners, warning them not to return to Punjab, many seeing the high character of the Sikh Nation, many Afghans, became Sikhs.

Army afraid of the Sikhs

The defeat of Abdali at the hands of the Sikhs sent shock waves to Kabul and Delhi. In 1764, the Sikhs punished another commander of the army. Jain Khan was away from Sirhind recovering revenues from different Nawabs, when Sikhs moved in to face him before he could get back into the fort. When encircled by the Sikhs, he tried to slip away leaving his men entangled with the Sikhs. But Jassa Singh had organized the attack very well. When Khan was leaving the battlefield to escape, the watchful Sikhs shot him dead. The regions around Sirhind were divided among the Sikh Misldars and monies recovered from the treasury were used to rebuild the Harimandar Sahib. Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib was built in Sirhind where the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh were murdered. Sikhs took over Lahore again in 1765.

A Typical Misl age warrior, During the Battle of Amritsar, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia would have commanded thousands of these mounted warriors.

In 1767, when Abdali came again, he sent messages to the Sikhs for their cooperation. He even offered them the governorship of Punjab but none of them accepted it. Instead, the Sikhs continued to harass him with repeated guerilla attacks. They took away his caravan of 300 camels loaded with fruits from Kabul. As soon as he crossed the river Satlej on his way to Delhi, the Sikhs were again in control of the areas between Satlej and Ravi.

Jassa Singh had so well prepared his men to fight that Abdali did not dare return to Kabul through Amritsar and Lahore. He took a long circuitous route through Multan. After his departure to Kabul, Sikhs crossed the Satlej and brought Sirhind and other areas right up to Delhi, under their control.

The Emperor of Delhi, Shah Alam II, was staying away in Allahabad; he did not come to Delhi for fear of the Sikhs. Alam ordered his commander Zabita Khan to fight the Sikhs. Zabita, knowing that he could not face the Sikhs, made a truce with them instead. Later, Alam dismissed him from service. Zabita Khan came to the Sikhs' camp and he was welcomed by them. He became a Sikh, and was given a new name, Dharam Singh.

The high character of the Sikhs and their bravery are documented by an eye-witness and translated below:

Sikhs are great experts in the use of the sword and the art of war. Like lions, they jump on the enemy, like foxes they run away and get out of our reach. Their bodies are rock hard and in physical strength, one Sikh is the equivalent of more than 50 men. If they flee in a battle, don't assume that they have been defeated. That is just part of their tactics because they suddenly turn back and murder all those who pursue them. Come and see these lions in the battlefield to learn the art of war from them.

They do not kill a woman, a child or a coward running away from the fight. They do not rob any person nor do they take away the ornaments of a woman, be she a queen or a slave girl. They commit no adultery, rather they respect the women of even their enemies. They always shun thieves and adulterers and in generosity, they surpass Hatim.

These comments are from the pen of Qazi Nur Mohammed, who came to Punjab with Abdali. These words are very significant because the Qazi was present during many Sikhs battles and himself was an enemy of the Sikhs.

Peace in Amritsar

Abdali thought that having demolished their fort and desecrated their holy Sarovar, he had made Sikhs unable to face the Afghans. However, within months, the Sikhs, guided by Ahluwalia, were strong enough to make Afghans their prisoners, and made them clean up the Amrit Sarovar. Within a few years, the same Abdali feared the Sikhs so much that he did not dare follow his normal route through Punjab to return to Kabul. He knew that the Sikhs were ready to tell him that they owned the Punjab and not the Afghans.

Jathedar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, honored as Sultan ul Kaum (King of the Nation) was a devout Sikh. He was not greedy and did not attempt to add more areas to his Misl. Instead, whenever any wealth or villages came into the hands of the Sikhs, he distributed them among the Jathedars of all the Misls. Having lead the Sikhs through very trying times, Jassa Singh passed his last years in Amritsar. With the resources available to him, he repaired all the buildings, improved the management of the Gurdwaras, and provided better civic facilities to the residents of Amritsar. He was a contented man, having given his life for the cause of the Khalsa Panth. He wanted every Sikh to take Amrit before joining the Dal Khalsa. It were his actions as a true Sikhs that kept the Khalsa united and helped them to become a power in the Punjab.

The Eight Afghan Invasion, 1766

In November 1766 Abdali came to the Punjab for the eight time with the avowed object of "crushing the Sikhs". The Sikhs had recourse to their old game of Dhai-phut('hit, run and turn back to hit again') tactics (later made famous at the Battle of Chillianwala against the British). They vacated Lahore, but faced squarely the Afghan general, Jahan Khan at Amritsar. Inflicting a humiliating defeat,and forcing him to retreat, with five thousand Afghan soldiers killed. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with an army of about twenty thousand Sikhs roamed in the neighbourhood of the Afghan camp, plundering it.

Death

Jassa Singh continued with his campaigns. After Abdali's ninth and last invasion in 1769, Jassa Singh wrested Kapurthala in 1774 from Rao Ibrahim Bhatti and made it his headquarters. Jassa Singh died in Amritsar in 1783 AD. Being without a son (but having two daughters), he was succeeded by Sardar Bhag Singh Ahluwalia, whose son, Fateh Singh became a close collaborator of Ranjit Singh. Like the other Misldars, Jassa Singh also established a Katra or colony for his misl in Amritsar, which was later named Katra Ahluwalia in his honor. He, like many other Misldars also fortified the city of Amritsar for protection against the enimies of Sikhism.

Jassa Singh's fort and residence is known as Qila Ahluwalia and had unfortunately today fallen in bad shape. He spent his last days greatly renovating the city of Amritsar and reforming Gurdwara managemnet as well has developing the city greatly. Because of his many sacrifices and his great love for the Sikh nation, he was cremated within the Precincts of the Harimandir Sahib, which he fought so hard to protect (considered a great honor in Sikh tradition). A commemorative postage stamp on 'Baba Jassa Singh Ahluwalia' was issued by Government of India on April 04, 1985. Sardar Sultan ul Quam Nawab Jassa Singh Kalal was also known as 'Guru ka lal' (the beloved son of Guru). Succeeded by Akali Nihang Baba Naina Singh Ji, as the next Jathedar who had lived upto a very old age.

Aftermath

After the death of the great Sultan Al Qaum Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, In the year 1783, The year when the Sikhs marched on Mughal Delhi, capturing the Shahi Lal Qila, the royal palaces of the Mughals, and hoisting the Nidhan Sahib, and throwing the Mughal flag away. It was also the time when the 11 Sikh Kingdoms, known as Misls, started waging war against each other, to take more power for themselves. From 1783 until 1799, the power of the Sikh Sovereignty started declining and dismantling. Zaman Shah, the Afghan ruler of Afghanistan, marched on Sikh territories and took Lahore in 1798 seeing the weakness of the Sikh power.

However, in 1799, Ranjit Singh, a new young Sikh Chieftain, from Gujranwala, marched on Lahore, capturing the city without a fight, Zaman Shah fled back to Afghanistan, fearing he might lose. From 1799-1839, the Sikh power once again was on the increase, which led the Sikhs from 1801-1834, to become the most powerful nation in all of Asia. The borders extended from Khyber Pass, and Sind, to Kashmir and Tibet, and the Hazara province.

In 1846, the Sikh power declined as the Sikhs fought against the invading British, losing many wars, weapons, treasury, territories, mainly due to greed and treachery by Sikh leaders. In 1849, the falling Sikh Empire was annexed to British Empire.

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