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Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia

Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia

Jassa Singh Ramgarhia (1723 - 1803) was a prominent Sikh leader during the period of the Sikh Confederacy. He became the Misldar (Chief/Leader) of the Ramgarhia Army (misl). 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.

Jassa Singh Ramgarhia is not to be confused with Jassa Singh Ahluwalia; both were prominent Misldars of separate powerful Sikh army groups, called Misls. Ramgarhia's father was called Giani Bhagwan Singh.

Early Life

Ramgarhia was born Jassa Singh Thoka at Ichogil village in 1723, near the city of Amritsar into a Tarkhan family of the Sehmi Clan.

His grandfather, Baba Hardas Singh was a resident of Sur Singh, a large village in the Lahore district. He took Pahul (the Sikh baptismal oath) from the hands of Guru Gobind Singh, the initiator of the Pahul tradition who bestowed the original Panj Piares.

Giving up his work as a ploughman, he became one of the Guru's personal attendants. Baba Hardas Singh was only five years old when Guru Tegh Bahadur and his three brave companions bravely faced their tortuous executions in defence of the threatened Hindu Pandits of Kashmir, in Chandi Chowk at the order of Aurangzeb.

Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia

Baba ji served the Sikh panth under the guidance of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. He was responsible for many Birs (hand written copies of the Holy Granth. He worked with one of the famous Sikh martyr and scholar Bhai Mani Singh. After the death of the Guru, he joined the forces of Banda Bahadur and took part in almost every battle for religious freedom, under the Sikh Jathedar's (commander's) flag, against the Mughal Empire's forces. In 1716 his grandfather, Baba Hardas Singh died in a skirmish.

His only son, Bhagwan Singh then became the head of the family. He was of a still more adventurous disposition. He shifted to village Ichogil which lay about twelve miles east of Lahore. He preached the Sikh faith in the neighbouring villages. He was an intrepid soldier and with two hundred followers entered the Imperial Mughal forces under the Governor of Lahore — Khan Bahadur. Where, owing to his abilities, he became a distinguished officer. He was appointed a Risaldar (a Commander of a Calvary unit) by Khan Bahadur.

Bhagwan Singh had five sons, named Jai Singh, Jassa Singh, Khushal Singh, Mali Singh and Tara Singh. In 1739 during the invasion of Nadir Shah, Bhagwan Singh saved the life of the governor of Lahore at the cost of his own. Khan Bahadur surrendered to the Persian invader's forces and was left in place as Governor. To reward Bhagwan Singh's brave deed the governor gave a village each to all of his five sons. The villages gifted were Valla, Verka, Sultanwind, Tung and Chubhal. All of these are now in the Amritsar district. Of these villages Valla came to the share of Jassa Singh.

On the death of Khan Bahadur in 1746, Jassa Singh, together with his followers, joined their Sikh brethren at Amritsar. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia was one of the closest friends of Jhanda Singh Dhillon.

The Dal Khalsa: the Buddha Dal and the Taruna Dal

In 1733, the Mughal government decided, at the insistence of Zakarya Khan, to stop the persecution of the Sikhs and made an offer of a grant to them. The title of Nawab was conferred upon their leader, with a jagir consisting of the three parganas of Dipalpur, Kanganval and Jhabal.

After some mutual discussion, (five revered Sikhs) - Baba Deep Singh, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Hari Singh Dhillon, Bhai Karam Singh and Bhai Buddh Singh decided to make Kapur Singh the Supreme Leader of the Sikhs. Kapur Singh was thus chosen for the title and became Nawab Kapur Singh.

Word was sent round to Sikhs living in distant jungles and deserts that peace had been made with the government and that they could now return to their homes. Nawab Kapur Singh undertook the task of consolidating the disintegrated fabric of the Sikh Jathas. They were merged into a single central fighting force (The Dal) divided into two sections - The Budha Dal, the army of the veterans, and the Taruna Dal, the army of the young. Hari Singh Dhillon was elected leader of the Taruna Dal. The former was entrusted with the task of looking after the holy places, preaching the word of the Gurus and inducting converts into the Khalsa Panth by holding baptismal ceremonies.

The Taruna Dal was the more active division and its function was to fight in times of emergencies and fighting the Afghan armies of Ahmed Shah Abdali. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia were then youngsters who led regiments under Hari Singh Dhillon in the Taruna Dal, reporting to Nawab Kapur Singh at Diwali and Vaisakhi.

Sardar Jassa Singh atop an elephant with his generals

The Rise of the Misls

The Taruna Dal rapidly grew in strength and soon numbered more than 12,000. To ensure efficient control, Nawab Kapur Singh split it into five parts, each with a separate command. The first group was led by Baba Deep Singh, the second by Karam and Dharam Singh, the third by Kahan singh and Binod Singh of Goindwal, the fourth by Dasaundha Singh of Kot Budha and the fifth by Vir Singh Ranghreta and Jivan Singh Ranghreta. Each group had its own banner and drum, and formed the nucleus of a separate political state. The territories conquered by these groups were entered in their respective papers at the Akal Takht by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. From these misls (documents), the principalities carved out by them came to be known as Misls. Seven more groups were formed subsequently and, towards the close of the century, there were altogether twelve Sikh Misls ruling the Punjab.

The Ramgarhia Misl

In 1716 Ahmed Shah Durrani left Lahore, Adina Beg the Afghan Governor of Punjab was hunting for the heads of the sikhs, they dispersed and scattered in all directions. Jassa Singh and others in the band took refuge in the mud fort of Ram Rauni near Amritsar where they were surrounded and attacked during the ensuing period. In 1758 Adina Beg died and there was a power vacuum in Punjab and those who escaped from the fort of Ram Rauni assumed the name of Ramgarhias and Jassa Singh became its head. The Misal (Confederacy) was called Ramgarhia.

The main concentration of the Misl was in and around the Riarki area of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Batala (in Majha). The Ramgarhia constructed and fortified the mud fortress of Ram Rauni just outside Amritsar. It was named in honour of the founder of the city, the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das. His Misl contained more than 10000 cavalry who were always on the move, helping the Dal Khalsa whenever the Mughals or Afghans attacked. Whilst the Mughal administration controlled the cities, it was the Sikhs who were in control of the villages. Twenty years earlier, Banda Bahadur had wreaked havoc on the Mughal administration by abolishing all taxes and the Zamindari system. Now only a "dasvand" (10% of income) was levied on the Sikhs - as protection tax to pay for the armies.

Father of Maharaja Jassa Singh, Bhai Bhagwan Singh and grandfather Baba Hardas Singh presenting guns and arrows made by them to Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Mir Mannu becomes the new Subedar of the Punjab

Mir Mannu became the new governor of the Punjab on April 9, 1748. He appointed Kaura Mal as his new Diwan (minister). After taking control of the administration of the provinces, he employed his army to fight the Sikh misls or fighting orders. The Sikhs left the territory and moved to other states. The Sikh Chiefs asked Jassa Singh Ramgarhia to liaise with the subedar (governor) of the Jullundur Doab, Adina Beg Khan. While drawing his salary from the Mughals, Adina Beg Khan joined forces with the Jassa Singh Ramgarhia against the Mughals.

The Siege of Ram Rauni

The Sikhs gathered in Amritsar on Diwali,1748. Adina Beg proceeded towards Amritsar and besieged Ram Rauni. Mir Mannu came down from Lahore with an army to assist Beg in the siege.

Jassa Singh used the good offices of Diwan Kaura Mal and had the siege lifted. The fort was strengthened and re-named Ramgarh. Jassa Singh, having been designated the Jathedar of the fort, became popular as Ramgarhia.

A rare file photograph of Qila Ram Rauni at Ramgarh

Fighting Tyranny

Mannu intensified his violence and oppression against the Sikhs. There were only 900 Sikhs when he surrounded the Ramgarh fort again. The Sikhs fought their way out bravely. The army demolished the fort. The hunt for and torture of the Sikhs continued until Mannu died in 1753.

Manu's death left Punjab without any effective Governor. It was again an opportune period for the Sikhs to organize themselves and gain strength. Jassa Singh rebuilt the fort and took possession of some areas around Amritsar. The Sikhs took upon themselves the task of protecting the people in the villages from the invaders. The money they obtained from the people was called Rakhi (protection charges).

The new Governor, Prince Timur, the son of Ahmed Shah Abdali, despised the Sikhs. In 1757, he again forced the Sikhs to vacate the fort and move to their hiding places. The fort was demolished, the Harimandir was blown up, and the sacred pool was filled with debris. The Governor decided to replace Adina Beg. Beg asked the Sikhs for help and they both got a chance to weaken their common enemy. Adina Beg won the battle. The Sikhs rebuilt Ramgarh and repaired the Harimandir. Beg was well acquainted with the strength of the Sikhs and he feared they would oust him if he allowed them to grow stronger, so he lead a strong army to demolish the fort. After fighting valiantly, the Sikhs decided to leave the fort. Beg died in 1758.


A historic drawing of Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia in the Lahore museum

The Ramgarhia Misl Estate

Jassa Singh Ramgarhia occupied the area to the north of Amritsar between the Ravi and the Beas rivers. He also added the Jalandhar region and Kangra hill areas to his estate. He had his capital in Sri Hargobindpur. The large size of Jassa Singh's territory aroused the jealousy of the other Sikh Misls.


Intra Misl Wars

Although Jai Singh Kanhaiya and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia were once close friends, their rivalries led to a pitched battle between them and their allies. The chiefs of the Bhangi Misls joined the Ramgarhias and their associates. Jai Singh Kanhaiya was joined by Charhat Singh Sukerchakia and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. The Ramgarhia side lost the battle.

Later, Ahluwalia while hunting one day, happened to enter Ramgarhia territory where Jassa Singh's brother arrested him. Jassa Singh apologized for the misbehavior of his brother, and honorably returned Ahluwalia with gifts. However, their old differences increased further. The other chiefs also took a grim view of this act.

Due to mutual jealousies, fights continued among the Sikh Sardars. In 1776, the Bhangis changed sides and joined Jai Singh to defeat Jassa Singh. His capital at Sri Hargobindpur was taken over and he and his forces were pursued from village to village. Finally he lost all his territory. He choose to cross the river Satluj, going over to Amar Singh, the ruler of Patiala.

After saving the hindu girls from the clutches of the Muslims, Sardar Jassa Singh returned them to their parents. Hence he was called 'Bandi Chhod'

Amar Singh welcomed the Ramgarhia sardar in order to make use of his bravery, fighting skill, and ruling experience. He gave him the areas of Hansi and Hissar which Jassa Singh handed over to his son. He himself joined Amar Singh to take control of the villages on the west and north of Delhi, now forming parts of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Jassa Singh Ramgarhia entered Delhi in 1783. Shah Alam II, the Mughal emperor, extended him a warm welcome. Ramgarhia left Delhi after receiving gifts from him.

Meanwhile to the north, differences over how to divide the Jammu state revenues, resulted in long time friends and neighbours Maha Singh, Jathedar of the Sukerchakia Misl and Jai Singh, Jathedar of the Kanahya Misl, becoming enemies. This rancor resulted in a war which would change the course of Sikh history.

Maha Singh requested Jassa Singh Ramgarhia's aid. In the ensuing battle, Jai Singh Kanahya lost his son, Gurbaksh Singh in the fighting with the Sukerchakias and the Ramgarhias.

The Unification of the Misls

Sada Kaur, the newly widowed daughter-in-law of Jai Singh, proved to be a great statesperson. Though very young she could see the end of Khalsa power if such internescine battles continued, she now worked to unite the waring misls in order to form a united, formidable force. She was able to convince Maha Singh to adopt the path of friendship by offering the hand of her daughter, then only a child, to his son, himself just a young boy, Ranjit Singh the future Maharaja of the Punjab. The balance of power now shifted in favor of this united Misls as other sardars also joined the union. Ranjit Singh was now the leader of the most powerful Sikh Misl ever.

Establishment of the Sikh Kingdom of the Punjab

Sardar Jassa Singh on his death bed surrounded
by his brothers Alli Singh, Malli Singh, Tara Singh
and his son Jodh Singh

When the Afghan invader, Shah Zaman, came in 1788, the Sikhs, however, were still divided. The Ramgarhia and Bhangi Misls were not willing to help Ranjit Singh to fight the invader, so the Afghans took over Lahore and looted it. As soon as the Afghans went back, Ranjit Singh occupied Lahore in 1799 but the Ramgarhias and Bhangis did not accept him as the leader of all the Sikhs. They got the support of their friends and marched to Lahore to challenge Ranjit Singh. The forces, who were 12 miles outside the city, were finalizing their plans to attack, when the Bhangi leader died. This discouraged Jassa Singh and he returned to his territory.

Demise

Jassa Singh was eighty years old when he died in 1803. His son, Jodh Singh, developed good relations with Ranjit Singh and they never fought again.

Because of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia's Tarkhan roots, Tarkhans who became Sikhs, came to be known as Ramgarhias.

Unfortunately, some of these Sikhs consider themselves apart from mainstream Sikhs and maintain a seperate identity against Guru's teachings.

Jassa Singh left behind two sons Jodh Ramgarhia and Bir Ramgarhia. His four brothers Mali Singh Sehmi, Jai Singh Sehmi, Khushal Singh Sehmi and Tara Singh Sehmi. There are over 215 direct descendants.

The Ramgarhia Bunga

The Ramgarhia Bunga at Sri Harmandir Sahib

The history of the Bunga (Punjabi word for quarters) is inseparable from the history of the Golden Temple because its very existence is dependent on the latter. During the reign of the Mughal Emperors the temple was blown up with gunpowder or destroyed by other means no less then seven times. But each time it was rebuilt by the Sikhs. When it was demolished the last time, and the Sardars of the 12 Misl assembled at the Akal Bunga (situated in the front of the temple) to consult about the reconstruction of the fane (temple) it was rightly thought that it would be no use to rebuild the temple unless some of the Khalsa leaders remained in it for its protection against their enemies.

The Bhangi's, the Ahluwalia's and the Ramgarhia's were selected to dwell in the sacred precincts with their forces as the guardians of the temple. They were directed to call the other Sardars for help in case of any great danger, each of the six great Misls gave also one man to serve the temple. The present Pujaris are descendants of those six men. The income of the temple after deducting other expenses is divided and sub divided, and distributed in due proportion among the descendants of the six Pujaris.

The Pujaris had some fixed duty to perform and were called according to their duties, e.g., the man who lighted the lamp was called charagi (charag, lamp in Punjabi) and so on. Their descendants still retain the old designations. The duty of the person given by the Ramgarhia Misl was to perform the ardaas (offering ceremony), his descendants are also called ardasias. The ceremony is thus performed, the ardasia stands respectfully with his face to the Granth and distinctly repeats the name of the ten Gurus in the prescribed manner and then says that such a person has brought such and such a thing as an offer to the Guru, may the Guru purify his soul and grant his prayer.

The present day picture of the Ramgarhia Bunga

The Bhangis built two forts, one called fort Bhangian to the south and the other called fort Gujar Singh to the west of the temple. They also built a Bunga to the west of the temple. The Ahluwalias built one fort called the Ahluwalia fort for their army and one Bunga called the Ahluwalia Bunga for their own residence both to the north of the temple.

The Ramgarhias, likewise, rebuilt the old fort Ram Rouni for their forces and named it Ramgarh. They also built a Bunga called Ramgarhia Bunga for their own residence to the east of the temple. Thus the temple was protected on all four sides by these Sikh Sardars. The very structure of this Bunga shows the special purpose for which it was built. The two lofty towers were obviously built to espy the enemy from a distance. The Bunga is the largest of all the mansions. The towers are each three storied and nearly 156 ft. high from the ground. No wood is used anywhere in the construction. Besides numerous masonry arches, there are 44 marble and red stone pillars (very beautifully ornamented with engraved designs) supporting the roof of the upper storey of the Bunga.

The front part is highly decorated with delicately chiselled patterns of unrivalled excellence. Here the ancient Coronation Stone of the Grand Mughals (which Sardar Jassa Singh brought from Delhi) is fixed, having three pillars on each side, the priest every day recites the holy Granth on this historic slab. The dimensions of the stone are 6'-3" X 4'-6" X 9." The length of the frontage of the Bunga is nearly 150 ft. One can have a very good view of the city from the storeys of the towers, many European visitors come to enjoy the sight and many take photographs of the extensive view below their feet. These towers are visible from many miles, and add to the beauty of the city. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh took possession of the territory of the Misl, the Bunga also went to him.

The view of Harmandir Sahib from the Ramgarhia Bunga. The 'sill' (coronation stone used by the Mughal Emperors) can be seen in the forefront, which was brought by Sadar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia after the conquest of the Red Fort Delhi.

The Bunga for some reason or other was only half finished and the towers were not yet domed, because it was the intention of the Sardars to raise them higher. But Ranjit Singh at once ordered that the towers be raised no higher and all the materials and many pillars and pieces of stone and marble very beautifully engraved he sent to Ram Bag (now called Company Gardens) which he was preparing as a pleasure ground. There was such a large stock of building material that after using all that was required for the garden the remainder were stocked and employed afterwards in the preparation of the last bed for the Lion of the Punjab in the Guru Garden where free from the anxieties of the world he sleeps calmly and quietly under the serene shadow of the lofty Ramgarhia towers. By comparison also many of these pieces are found of the same pattern and sculptured by the same hand.

Afterwards the Bunga was given to Sardar Mangal Singh Ramgarhia for his personal services by the Maharaja and from that time the Bunga became the property of Sardar Mangal Singh alone. Since that time the Bunga is used as a place of residence by the male members of the family. There is built a large house, 3 storied and 140 ft. long for the female members of the family in the Katran Ramgarhian. The street in which this house is built is called Koocha Sardar Mangal Singh Ramgarhia and a board is set up there by the Municipality which the above inscription.

The fact that the family has fixed its abode in the proximity of the Bunga with temple is one of the chief causes that enabled the members of this family to manage the affairs of Harmandir Sahib so well. This family has been connected with the temple from the very beginning, and thus its members know the whole process of its evolution, and the principles required to manage its affairs. The members of this family, besides, consider it a religious duty to look after the shrine. For Harmandir Sahib, their ancestors gladly risked and laid down their lives. It is for these reasons that Sardar Mangal Singh was appointed the President of the managing committee of the temple consisting of all the Sikh Sardars of the Punjab.

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