Banda Singh Bahadur: Revolutionary founder of First Sikh Republic

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, June 26: Banda Singh Bahadur can be categorized as the founder of the First Sikh Republic who was a revolutionary ruler, perhaps only ruler in the Indian sub-continent to have this distinction. It is only now that  this aspect of his personality has come under focus. He was the man who ended Zamindari system in the territories he conquered and  bestowed ownership rights on the cultivators of the lands. This was the most revolutionary step at that time by any ruler, much before the French revolution. At the socio-economic level, this was his single most stellar contribution. He worked for the social uplift of the oppressed sections of the society. Religion persecutions apart, religions in India are known to be oppressive so far as have-nots are concerned.

Banda Singh Bahadur, born as Lachhman Das on October 16, 1670 in Rajouri area in Kashmir, turned ascetic at an early age and adopted the name of Madho Das. He finally settled down at Nanded on the banks of Godavari. It was here that his encounter with Guru Gobind Singh took place and he embraced Sikhism. He was chosen by the Guru to fight for the suffering people in Punjab who were being subjected to religious intolerance and iniquities.

Guru Gobind Singh assigned five Panj Piaras from among his close associates to assist him in his mission. They included Bhai Binod Singh, Kahan Singh, Baj Singh, Daya Singh and  Ran Singh. He was also given a Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag) and a Nagara as symbols of temporal authority. According to one account,  about 20 other Sikhs accompanied him from Nanded. He was given a letter addressed by Guru Gobind Singh to the Sikhs in Punjab to assist him to achieve the objective for which he had been chosen.

He started with his small campaigns from the areas surrounding Delhi that was the Mughal capital. Sirhind was the seat of power between Delhi and Lahore. It was the Sirhind Governor Wazir Khan who had ordered two younger sons of Guru Gond Singh, Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Sahibzada Fateh Singh, aged 9 and 7, to be bricked alive. This was cruelty to the extreme.  Part of his mission was to end this cruel and oppressive regime.

He exhibited socio-economic revolutionary aspect during his early victories itself when he started distributing land among the  peasants making them the owner. Punjab is the only state in which land relations came to be defined by owner-cultivator at that early stage. It was Baba Banda Singh Bahadur who was the pioneer. Maharaja Ranjit Singh carried forward this system to perfection.

He established his capital at Lohgarh between Sadhaura and Nahan. He hoisted the flag of the First Sikh Republic at this place and issued coins and seal. Here was  the sovereign rule of the Sikhs, the government of the Khalsa based upon egalitarianism and social justice. The Sikh doctrine was being given the practical shape. Egalitarianism is fundamental to the Sikh faith. For the fiurst time in the history of the region, the oppressed had become the rulers in their lands, a state where the mind is without fear. Here was the first ever elevation of the people who were considered to be down-trodden, the present day dalits.

Here was a ruler who created a buffer state that was the Sikh Republic between Lahore and Delhi, the seats of Mughal power.

These are the aspects of the rule of Banda Singh Bahadur that needs to be the focus areas of research on that period. Raising his memorial is a commendable job but the basic issue is that of the framework that he provided to serve the people, not to just rule over them. He was the ruler with the most forward looking vision during his time, the first revolutionary and the founder of the Sikh Raj.

Punjab today observed 300th anniversary of his martyrdom. He was finally captured by the Delhi Saltanat and tortured to death in the most cruel way.

At the function on June 25 evening at Chappar Chirri memorial organized by the Parkash Singh Badal government, the only leader who laid emphasis on his revolutionary character was Anandpur Sahib MP Prem Singh Chandumajra. The decisive battle of Chappar Chirri led to the fall of Sirhind where the two sons of Guru Gobind ingh had been bricked alive.

There are several aspects of the history of Punjab that need to be revisited like  deeper research on the period of the First Sikh Republic. Badal  is credited with raising a number of memorials including Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib. More important is the content that is missing from the entire narrative. Raising these physical symbols is just one aspect. The government should consider setting up a research institute focusing on Punjab’s history, culture and economic relations. The research should be without boundaries. That would be the real contribution to the rich Virasat of this region.

 

Editor-in-Chief

Jagtar Singh

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