Ancestors and Childhood
There is a popular Punjabi folk song
"Do per ghat turna, par tuma Madak de naal"
live for two years less, but live with pride and dignity)
Living with pride
and dignity-this is the special characteristic of every Punjabi, man or woman,
whatever be the caste or creed. This characteristic is bequeathed to every Punjabi
by the land, the climate and the geographical conditions that exist in Punjab.
Punjab is a land of rivers, mountains and plains. The adjective Shosya Shyamala
(verdant and dark) truly applies to Punjab. By Punjab, we mean the undivided Punjab.
The picture of that Punjab is still fresh in the minds and hearts of its people
and can never be erased. That Punjab has ever been the beneficiary of nature's
bounty. Even the truncated pan of Punjab retains its old glamour. It was in this
sacred land that the hymns of the Vedas came to be revealed and was later carried
to different parts of India. In every particle of Punjab's land, history has been
In olden days, the Khyber pass used to be the gateway to India.
All the caravans which came to India entered through this pass and first came
to Punjab. Everything healthy, clean and beautiful brought by these caravans,
was welcomed and absorbed in Punjab. All the invaders-the Greeks, the Persians,
the Afghans, the Turks and the Mughals-also entered through the Khyber pass and
passed through .Punjab. Punjabi warriors boldly faced them; they preferred death
to surrender before the invaders; surrender was against their tradition and alien
to their pride and dignity. Even in defeat, they maintained their
When Porus was asked by Alexander, "How would you like to be treated?"
the reply was, "As a king would be treated by another king." A king
was supposed to be the protector of the nation. When Jaipal failed to protect
the nation against the invasion of Subuktghin, he consigned himself to flames'.
He was too proud to live a life of defeat The Punjabi farmer always carried a
sword in one hand and the plough in the other. He always faced the enemy squarely
and never turned his back on him.
The fertile land of Punjab not only produced
warriors but great thinkers, philosophers, poets and artists. The graduates of
the University of Taxila, whether in philosophy, ethics or agriculture, were famous
all over the world for their great intellect and their creative talent. Chanakya,
Chandragupta and Charak, who still shine like stars in the Indian firmament were
great sons of vthis land. Not only did Punjab never shed its dignity and honour,
it protected and guarded the honour and dignity of the entire country.
which is a land of conflicts, the process of shedding whatever is old and redundant
and adopting whatever is new and invigorating, has been an unceasing one, like
the continuous flow of its rivers. Under the impact of .this swift current of
life, all false beliefs and practices and hypocrisy get wished away. New beliefs
and new practices have ever been sprouting in the fertile soil of Punjab. The
hallmark of the folk literature of Punjab is not merely satire, humour and romance
but also patriotism, fearlessness and opposition to hypocrisy and tyranny-evidence
of all that is new. The young six-footer Punjabi men with their broad chests and
wide shoulders, and the Punjabi young women, who never tire of dancing the Bhangra
dance, have always been defying death.
Shachindranath Sanyal described the
revolutionaries of Punjab, most of whom were Sikhs, in the following words:
Sikhs had great courage and enthusiasm. Moreover, they had great capacity to endure
pain. Their well built bodies attracted everyone. Their faces, adorned with beards
and moustaches, wore a determined look which was enough to put fear in the hearts
of many an oppressor. Their deportment conveyed a special feeling and when they
walked, it was evident that they were walking with a firm step. ...."*
five hundred years ago, when the country was groaning under the tyranny and slavery
of Turks and Mughals and when the nation had
been enfeebled by old Hindu religious
customs, Guru Nanak founded a new religion to infuse fresh life into the nation.
Those who had put their faith in the teachings of this new religion were known
as Shishya (disciple) or Sikh. In this new religion, Guru Nanak incorporated two
new concepts of God which were named Nirbhay and Nirvair. The concept of Nirbhay
contained the message, "God is fearless, you are also a part of Him, so be
fearless and shed the fear of Turks and Mughals." The concept of Nirvair
carried the injunction, "Shed all discrimination based on caste, high or
low, think of man as man and get united."
Guru Nanak showed the true path
of the new religion to the young generation which was frustrated and misguided,
and was renouncing the world and taking to the woods and jungles as ascetics in
search of God. The new religion of Guru Nanak ordained, "Earn your own bread,
do not eat it by yourself, share it with others and chant the name of God. God
is in your own home, within your own heart; you need not look for Him elsewhere."
In order to give wide publicity to his teachings and help in the emergence of
a new society from within the old, Guru Nanak established four institutions called
Langar, Pungut, Sangat and Guru Gaddi (Community kitchen, community, association
and seat of the Guru). The intention was, regeneration of man, transforming of
man, who was a 'Manmukh', into a 'Gurmukh.' 'Manmukh' was supposed to be a person
who served his own selfish ends and wasted his life in a futile search for salvation.
'Gurmukh' was the man who knew what his duty was and who dedicated his life to
the service of the people. For Gurmukh, it was ordained:
ho raho, jaise nanhi doob,
Aur ghaas jar jaye hai, doob khoob ki khoob"
Nanak, be as small as the small grass is. The taller grass is consumed by fire
but the smaller grass remains unscorched)
Nanak advised the Gurmukh to forsake
his ego and become an ''integral pan of the multitude which is unconquerable and
In those days, wars were fought in the name of religion. The
protection of religion meant the protection of honour, nationality and culture.
When religion was in danger, the ninth guru, Teg Bahadur, sacrificed his life
for its protection. It has been said in this context: "Bahn jina di pakadiye,
sar deeje bahn na chhodiaye, Guru Teg Bahadur Boliya, dharti per dharam na chhodiaye"
you hold the arm of one, do not let it go even if you have to lose your head.
Teg Bahadur enjoins on you never to forsake Dharma while you are in the world).
this context, an incident involving the Kashmiri Pandits is well-known. A situation
of confrontation with the Mughal Empire had developed. It was now time to take
up arms. Guru Nanak had added the concept of Nirbhay and Nirvair to the concept
of God in view of the then prevailing situation. In the same way, in the new situation
that had now developed, Guru Govind Singh developed the concept of Sarvaloha,
which suggested that God should be worshipped in the form of steel, i.e. arms.
Therefore, on Baisakhi day in 1699, he established the Khalsa sect. Khalsa meant
something that was pure and unalloyed. Guru Govind Singh purged the Sikh religion
of Guru Nanak of the evil practices that had taken root in it and the vested interests
that had developed therein. He transformed the old religion into a new religion.
The 'seat of the Guru' (guru gaddi) as an institution, had served its historical
purpose. Hence, it was abolished and religion was given a democratic basis and
the Khalsa was told, "Now the Panth (sect) is your Guru. Obey the commands
of the Panj Pyare (Five Disciples)". He further said, "By making you
Khalsa, I have made your responsibility heavier. Now you have the responsibility
of protecting the religion and the country." The discharge of this responsibility
was not an easy task-in fact, it was a very very difficult task. Hence, it was
enjoined upon the Khalsa:
"Jo tohe prem khelan ka chao.
Sir dhar tali
galimeri aao" '
(If you fancy the game of love, enter my lane with your
head on your palm).
By offering his friends, sons and himself as sacrifice,
Guru Govind Singh laid the tradition of placing one's head on one's palm. It was
in this tradition that Banda Bairagi put to death the enemies of the country and
the religion, created an upheaval in Sirhind and boldly suffered the pain of his
flesh being torn piece by piece by red hot tongs. If he suffered defeat, it was
because he disobeyed the command of 'Panj Pyara' and acted arbitrarily. Arbitrary
behaviour was supposed to lead to narrowness of thinking.
This was followed
by manhunt and killing of Sikhs organised by the Nawab of Lahore. The Sikhs, to
protect their lives, had to flee and take shelter in the jungles of Lakhi, Shivalik
mountain ranges and the deserts of Rajasthan.
After indulging in the cruel
genocide, the officials of the Nawab reported to him that all the Sikhs had been
annihilated. During this period, a farmer happened to see Bhai Buta Singh and
his Sikh companion Garja Singh. The farmer asked his companion whether the two
were not Sikhs, whereupon his companion replied, "How can they be Sikhs?
Had they been Sikhs, they would not have hid themselves like Jackals." Buta
Singh was greatly hurt by this remark. In order to prove that Sikhs had still
not been eliminated. Buta Singh and his companion came out from their hideout
in the jungles. They stationed themselves at the royal highway near Sarai Nooruddin
and started collecting taxes from the travellers, using that highway, at the rate
of one anna per cart and one paisa per donkey. In this way, they sought to establish
the authority of a Sikh State. This practice continued for a while and nobody
questioned their authority. But the real intention of Buta Singh was not to realise
taxes but to challenge the regime. When no one questioned him on his right to
collect taxes, he himself wrote a letter in a couplet form and sent the same to
Nawab Zakaria Khan of Lahore.
"Chithi likkhe Singh Buta, . .
hai sota, ,
Ana laaya gadde noon ' '
te paisa laaya khota ' ' .
Akho Bhabho khan noon, youn akhe Singh Buta"
(Buta Singh hereby informs
the Nawab through this letter that with only a staff in his hand, he has been
realising tax at the rate of one anna per cart and one paisa per donkey).
Zakaria Khan received this letter, he sent an army officer Jalaaluddin with a
hundred soldiers to apprehend Buta Singh. This was what Buta Singh wanted. He
got ready along with his companion, to offer fight to the contingent sent by the
Nawab. Here were two Sikhs owith staffs in their hands, ready to give fight to
the 100 strong contingent of the Nawab's army. They stood back to back and started
moving around and warding off the attacks of the enemy. They fought. valiantly
till their last breath. After all, how long could they go on fighting such a big
army, contingent? They died as martyrs, after inflicting grievous wounds to many
soldiers of the Nawab's army. Their martydrom created a great impact and laid
the foundation of the future Sikh empire. Sikh warriors again started mobilising-
themselves. The repeated invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali had weakened the Mughal
power; this gave them adequate opportunity to aggrandise themselves. Every time,
when Ahmad Shah Abdali returned after plundering Delhi, he was ambushed by Sikh
guerrillas while crossing the Beas and Sutlej rivers and was deprived of the plunder
brought by him. The women brought by Abdali as pan of plunder, were freed by the
Sikh guerrillas and restored to their homes. People voluntarily paid them protection
taxes and the eldest son of every family would embrace Sikhism. Gradually, their
strength grew, Misals were formed and ultimately, a vast Sikh empire was founded
under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
It is wrong to say that the
British power came to be established India, displacing the Mughals. It was the
Sikhs and the Marathas who gave a fight to the British. The emperor of Delhi was
a mere puppet in the hands of the Marathas. He did not wage a single war against
the British. It was not the Mughals but the Marathas who fought against Abdali
in the third battle of Panipat in 1761.
There was no dearth of warriors in
the Sikh and the Maratha states who were ready to lay down their lives in a war.
However, the two courts lacked culture, which had been the hallmark of Guru Govind
Singh's court. Both the courts continued the use of Persian which had been forced
upon the people by the Mughals. Lack of culture, ultimately, led to the downfall
of the two courts.
War between the Sikhs and the British broke out and the
first battle was fought on 22nd December, 1845, at a place called Mudki. There
was a 29 years old Sikh soldier on whom the realisation had dawned on the basis
of his experience that although the Punjab army consisted of soldiers who had
the courage of a tiger, it was being led by people who were no more than jackals.
Consequently, he threw his gun into the river, went back to his village and engaged
himself in agriculture.
This young man later came to be known as Baba Ram Singh
"Wamdhari. He devoted 20 years of his life to the task of mobilising the
peasants. His followers were knwon as Namdhari or Kuka. They were called Namdhari
(one who carries the name of the Lord) because the preaching of the Guru was based
on the name of the Lord. Hence, every one after being ordained was supposed to
carry the name of the Lord in his heart and was thus known as a Namdhari. They
were also called Kuka because they made strange joyous sounds. The movement started
by Baba Ram Singh Namdhari itself came to be known as Namdhari or Kuka movement.
first war of independence was fought in 1857. The exploited masses of the country
had risen to drive the Britishers out of the land. But at that time, the leadership
of Punjab (particularly of the Sikhs) was in the hands of Rajas and Jagirdars
who did not want freedom and only wanted to safeguard their personal interests.
Instead of joining the war of independence, they helped the British and thereby
they sullied the reputation of Punjab. Even so, the Punjabi contingents mutinecd
at several places and they were ruthlessly crushed. The martyrdom of such soldiers,
to some extent, removed the blot that had come on Punjab. They kept alive the
Punjabi tradition of living the life of dignity and pride.
The British authorities
did, in fact, concfess that it would not have been possible for them to stay on
in India had they not received help from Punjab. After the mutiny, the atrocities
that were perpetrated by the British were, perhaps, without parallel in human
Countless people were blown to pieces with guns at short range; people
were made to crawl on their bellies; village after village were burnt down; Punjab
was continuously put under repressive laws like the curfew and the Martial Law.
There was so much fear that the entire area was engulfed in an eerie silence.
Obviously, the main objective was to instil so much fear in the minds of people
that they may never think of raising their heads again. This objective had been
But the eerie silence that settled on Punjab was soon broken by the
Kuka wave of Baba Ram Singh. Initially, his movement was religious in nature.
But freedom was an integral part of his concept of religion. So, just as Guru
Govind Singh transformed the Sikh religion into the 'Khalsa' sect, in the same
way, Baba Ram Singh transformed the old Khalsa into the Namdhari sect as warranted
by the new situation. For anyone to become a Namdhari, it was essential to shed
the fear of losing one's life, and follow the tradition of being ready to forfeit
For fighting a war of independence, it is necessary to create mass
consciousness and to have powerful organisation. Guru Nanak achieved this through
social reform; Baba Ram Singh did likewise. After his movement had spread among
the masses and after the number of his followers increased, he took up the task
of social reform. Namdharis hated the evils of thieving, adultery, consumption
of liquor and animal flesh and they wanted to free the society of such evils.
They were also
opposed to idol worship. They were of the view that except
for reading the holy Guru Granth Sahib, no other religious practices should be
observed. They had their own gurudwaras. Baba Ram Singh had divided Punjab into
22 Subas (Provinces) and appointed a head (governor) for each Suba. These governors
used to collect donations and enlist new recruits. They had their own code language
which they alone could understand.
It was in this way that Baba Ram Singh's
religious movement gradually changed into a social and later into a political
movement. This happened because it was the need of the hour. The organisation
grew rapidly and within a few years, people in thousands joined the movement.
Baba Ram Singh toured over Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya
Bharat to enlist new recruits. In the secret reports reaching the government,
he was described as revolutionary who spoke a language which was easily understood
by the people, who talked about water tax and land tax and who was spreading disaffection
and sedition among the people and was arousing patriotic feelings among them.
Singh Josh writes, "The British were much ahead of us in education and knowledge
of history. They very well knew that the Protestant waves that came after the
Catholic movement were initially religious in form but later on they soon became
political in character. They had this constant fear for their government in Punjab.
They even suspected the loyalty of those who were most loyal to them because they
knew that such people would never shed the memory of their old Sikh kingdom and
would be, tempted to re-establish that kingdom. Therefore, the British asked for
a strict watch to be kept on all movements whether they were religious or social,
educational or economic and for secret agents to be made to infiltrate into such
movements and reports of their secret activities obtained and all activities smacking
of disloyalty to be nipped in the bud."
And Bhagat Singh also wrote: "T.
D. Farmick, who was the Chief Secretary of Punjab in 1863, has written in his
biography that he had already realised in 1863 that this religious movement would
one day acquire fearful political dimensions. For this reason, he had stopped
the entry of too many people in the Bhaini Gurudwara. Consequently, the assembly
of people was banned. As a consequence, Baba Ram Singh changed his tactics. He
divided Punjab into 22 districts and appointed a chief for each district who was
called Suba. In this way, propaganda and organisation work was started and secret
propaganda for freedom was also carried on. The organisation continued to grow.
Every Namdhari. Sikh started donating the tenth part of his income for the cause
of religion. When the government did not notice any outward activity, its suspicious
were allayed and in 1869, all restrictions were withdrawn. As soon as the restrictions
were withdrawn, there was a great resurgence of zeal and activity." ( Documents
of Shahid Bhagat Singh and his Comrades (Punjabi), p. 77).
Baba Ram Singh
channelled this zeal in the right direction: He launched a non-co-operation movement
in 1871, which was based on the following programme:
1. Boycott of government
2. Boycott of government schools.
3. Boycott of government courts.
Boycott of foreign cloth.
5. Disregard of laws which were against one's conscience.
took up this programme fifty years later in 1921.
Baba Ram Singh was a carpenter
by caste. His disciples too were poor peasants or people of oppressed classes.
They believed that Baba Ram Singh was the reincarnation of Guru Govind Singh;
that Punjab would again be free and its old glory would be restored. The non-cooperation
movement filled the Namdharis with a new zeal and they became ready to forfeit
their lives in fighting against the British Government. The Subas displayed extraordinary
competence and enthusiasm in implementing the non-co-operation programme. They
established their own courts and Panchayats for resolving all disputes. They set
up a postal system under which mail was delivered uncensored in a much shorter
time than by the government postal service. The Namdharis took to wearing hand
spun and hand woven Khadi. They wore white clothes and the style of their turban
was also unique. They wore a knotted rope round their neck and carried a staff.
They made use of code words which they alone could understand.
Ram Singh visited Anandpur Sahib, Amritsar and Lahore, he was accompanied by a
large contingent of disciples carrying white flags on horse-back, singing and
marching like a disciplined army. The Namdharis used to call Ram Singh 'Satguru
The British officers took all this to mean that the Namdharis had
set up a parallel government of their own. The non-co-operation movement
the increasing popularity of Namdharis was causing them great concern. They could
not at all tolerate the use of the title 'Padshah' for Ram Singh. They considered
it to be a challenge to their authority. They had also received information that
Ram Singh had recruited his men in the armies of Kashmir and Nepal, where they
were being trained in warfare and that Kukas were establishing contact with the
Czar of Russia for getting his help. The British were already living under the
fear of a possible Russian attack. This piece of information shocked them and
they started looking for an opportunity to crush the Kuka movement.
the Kukas commenced their historic work. An extensive plan was prepared to launch
an attack on the States of Malerkotla, Patiala, Nabha and Jind who had helped
the British in 1857 and who were still taking every opportunity to crush every
patriotic movement in order to prove their loyalty to the British. It was decided
that the rail connection between Ambala and Ludhiana should be cut off. But before
this plan could be put through, certain incidents took place which derailed the
Kuka movement and provided an opportunity to the enemy to strike at it.
it was the declared policy of the British that they would not interfere with religion,
they did in actual practice, interfere a lot in the sense that they always conspired
to set one religion against the other. In 1857, they secured the help of the Sikhs
by reminding them of the atrocities committed by the Mughals upon the Sikhs and,
later on, they incited the Muslims. While in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time, cow
slaughter was not allowed anywhere in the State, slaughter houses were now opened
at several places and cows began to be slaughtered openly to tease and insult
the Sikhs and Hindus. This was intolerable for the Kukas who worshipped the cow.
In 1871, they attacked slaughterhouses at Amritsar and Raikote and put to death
all the Muslim butchers. The Kuka warriors were hanged for this crime.
Sikhs felt that innocent people had been hanged. They were greatly agitated and
wanted to avenge this. The following incident that took place in Malerkotla added
fuel to the fire.
On the 13th January, 1872, there was a religious gathering
at Bhaini as usual in connection with the Maghi celebrations. Thousands of people
were pouring in to participate in the festival. A Kuka warrior was passing through
the city of the same name in Malerkotla. He saw a bullock carrying a heavy burden
with a Muslim sitting on its back and beating it. He said to the owner of the
bullock, "Brother, do not be
cruel. The bullock is already carrying a
heavy burden. What harm is there if you alight from the bullock?" The Muslim
retaliated by abusing the Kuka warrior, which led to the two coming to blows.
The mindless officials of the State caught the Kuka warrior and look him to the
Police station where he was severely beaten and insulted and the bullock was killed
in his presence. After being released, the Kuka warrior reached Bhaini and related
the incident before the entire gathering. The Kukas were greatly agitated and
they decided to take revenge. This greatly perturbed Ram Singh. He requested them
to have patience and not to act out of excitement as it would upset their plans.
of the people present there calmed down on the advice of Ram Singh. However, there
were 150 people who would not listen lo him. They marched upon Malerkotla under
the command of two Jats of Sakraunda Village with sticks and spears.
Singh thought it best to inform the Police about it so that the movement could
be saved even though 150 out of thousands of Kukas would be arrested.
Government, instead of stopping them, allowed them to march up to Malerkotla.
In fact, it wanted some provocative incident to take place which would give it
an excuse to crush the entire movement.
The Kuka warriors occupied the fort
of Malandh without much effort, on 14th January. This fort belonged to a Sikh
Jagirdar named Badan Singh. The Kukas wanted Badan Singh to lead the religious
war that they were fighting. On his refusal, a fight ensued. Two warriors on ench
side were killed in the fight and some were injured. The Kukas left the place
after taking some horses and a gun along with them.
On the second day, 15th
January, 1872, they advanced towards Malerkotla. The British Government had already
informed the State Government about this development. The State Government had
made great preparations. However, the Kuka contingent fought with such ferocity
that the state police and the state army could not face them. The Kukas straightaway
entered the palace and tried to loot the treasury. However, they wasted their
time in trying to break open a wrong door. In the meantime, they were attacked
by the State army with greater force. The Kukas killed four enemy soldiers and
wounded 15 others. They also lost seven of their men. Taking some horses and arms
with them, they made good their escape. Even while they were retreating, they
were giving fight to the enemy and carrying their wounded companions. They reached
Roor village in Patiala State and hid themselves in the dense forest.
the Deputy Commissioner of Ludhiana, Coban Cozan, came to know of these developments,
he arrived there with a contingent of Gorkha soldiers. In the meantime, the Patiala
State army also reached there. The Kuka warriors could not fight for long as they
were already exhausted and were starving. Sixty-eight of them, including two women
belonging-to Patiala State, were arrested. The women were handed over to the Patiala
State and the rest of them were brought to Malerkotla.
17th January, 50 of the arrested persons were brought to an open field in the
presence of thousands of spectators, to be blown to pieces by a cannon in order
to teach the Kukas a lesson. On this occasion loo, the Kukas displayed exemplary
courage. Each one of them, in turn, walked up to the cannon with measured steps,
raised the slogan of 'Sat Shree Akaal' and placed his head before the cannon to
be killed. In this way, 49 of them were killed. The last person to be executed
was a boy of thirteen years. Mr. Cozan's wife felt pity for the boy and asked
her husband to release him. Cozan went to the boy, bent down to him and said:
"Disown the fool Ram Singh and you will be pardoned." The boy got enraged
on hearing his Guru being abused. He jumped up, caught hold of the beard of Cozan
and did not let it go till both his hands were severed. His body was cut to pieces
and he became a martyr. (BELOW)
remaining 16 persons were taken to Malaudh and hanged the next day. All this was
done without any trial and the foreign government did not follow its own legal
procedure in this case.
The above incidents were followed by a spate of repressive
measures; the kukas were hunted down in Gurudwaras and Temples and mercilessly
killed. Even the old and ailing father of Baba Ram Singh was not spared. He himself
was arrested and sent to Rangoon. He died 13 years later in 1885 in Bhagoi prison.
But his followers refused to believe that he was dead just as the followers of
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose did, in later years. There was a rumour that he had
gone over to Russia and was preparing for an attack.
Even though the Kuka wave
was suppressed, stories of the great valour of the Kuka warriors still enthuse
those sons of Punjab who value dignity and honour.
Baba Ram Singh had become
a symbol of revolution and the call that was given by him has been echoing and
will continue to echo in the land of Punjab as a source of strength and inspiration.
It was the echo of this voice which led to historical feats of patriotism and
martyrdom and which was summed up by Bhagal Singh in the following words:
the movements that took place since the Kuka rebellion led by Guru Ram Singh brought
about an awakening among the people so that they became prepared to sacrifice
everything for the sake of the freedom of the country, and the life and martyrdom
of every person who sacrificed his life for this cause would give courage to every
man and woman and people would be in a position to carry on their movements in
a better way in the light of the knowledge and experience gained from them. I
am not writing this history to suggest that future movements should also adopt
the same pattern. My only aim in writing this is to say that we should take inspiration
from and emulate the sacrifice of these martyrs. It will be for the persons concerned
to decide, when the time comes, what course of action they would adopt considering
the prevailing circumstances."
In the following pages, we shall see
how this tradition was carried forward and what shape was given to it by Bhagat
Singh and his comrades.
Man likes to develop his individuality, and this
is possible only in a free society. Therefore, it is but natural for a slave nation
to long for freedom. This longing cannot be curbed by any kind of suppression.
It is like the grass, which grows on the earth; the roots of this grass cannot
be dt Jtroyed by the ravages of weather; it becomes green and acquires a lush
growth every time the weather is favourable. Although the revolt of 1857 had been
suppressed by the British in a cruel and barbaric manner, it was not possible
for them to root out the feelings of patriotism and the urge for freedom. Around
1870, these feelings again emerged and the silence that had set in was broken,
not only in Punjab but in every part of the country. Peasants and the suppressed
classes rose in rebellion just as the Kukas had done. These rebellions were so
widespread that thousands of people participated in them and the rebellions continued
for several years at a stretch. These rebellions brought about a new consciousness,
which gave birth to social reform organisations. Among them, we shall only refer
to the Arya Samaj because of its special relation to Punjab and the life of Bhagat
The founder of Arya Samaj, Rishi Dayanand, was born in Gujarat. His
original name was Mool Shanker. He came to be known as Dayanand after he became
a Sanyasi and dedicated his life to social service. He toured the country, mci
the scholars and thinkers of his time and had an exchange of views with them.
He spent some time in the company of theosophists. They wanted to make him their
leader. But Dayanand had a sharp mind and at once understood that although they
professed to be well-wishers of India, their intentions were not honest; that
they were trying to deceive the superstitious and tradition-bound people, by administering
to them the opiate of mysticism and divine incarnations that they were seeking
to poison the atmosphere of new-consciousness and were, in fact, well-wishers
of imperialism. He, therefore, parted company with them.
He met Ramakrishna
Paramahansa and Keshav Chandra in Bengal and proceeded to Punjab. He heard the
clarion call of Baba Ram Singh and the stories of his valour. He had observed
and studied the various organisations devoted to social reform and wished to set
up a different organisation of his own. For this, he found the land of the five
rivers most fertile and favourable and in 1875, he planted the sapling of Arya
Samaj at Lahore. One of the persons who received initiation and the sacred thread
from him was Arjun Singh, the grandfather of Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh's niece,
Virendra Sindhu, has written:
"When Sardar Arjun Singh met Rishi Dayanand,
he was charmed by him and after listening to his speech, he joined the army of
reawakening. He became an Arya Samajist. He was among those few people who were
personally initiated by Rishi Dayanand and given the sacred thread to wear. This
was the cultural reincarnation of Sardar Arjun Singh."( Yugdrishta Bhagat
Singh, p. 23.
The ancestors of Sardar Arjun Singh were also in Maharaja Ranjit
Singh's army like Baba Ram Singh. The deceitful manner in which the Sikh state
was destroyed by the Britishers, the atrocities that were perpetrated after the
annexation of Punjab, the treatment that was meted out to Maharani Jinda and Kunwar
DaJeep Singh, had created a feeling of rebellious hate against the British; this
feeling had grown stronger from generation to generation. It was this feeling
of hatred which led Sardar Arjun Singh to leave Sikhism and enter the folds of
Arya Samaj. Sikh religion and Arya Samaj had many similarities. Both were monotheistic,
both were against idol worship, superstition, obscurantism and untouchability
and both were based on patriotism. But, as stated earlier,
of the Sikh religion was now in the hands of Rajas and Jagirdars who were loyal
to the British and were serving their own interests.
Sikh educational institutions
were also under the control of Rajas and Jagidars. Therefore, Arjun Singh admitted
his eldest son Kishcn Singh, father of Bhagat Singh, and the middle son, Ajit
Singh, to the Saindas Anglo Sanskrit High School at Jalandhar and he himself settled
down there as a Munshi (Clerk) of Raizada Bhagat Ram an advocate. He did not rest
satisfied with being initiated into the Arya Samaj; he made himself worthy of
initiating others too. He fully understood the mission of Rishi Dayanand and moulded
his own thoughts accordingly. He had made a deep study of the Arya Samaj literature
which is obvious from the fact that in many debates with Sanatanist Pandits concerning
subjects like idol worship and performance of Shradha Ceremony, he was the chief
spokesman of Arya samaj and went to distant places to speak at Arya Samaj functions.
He was considered to be one of the most prominent leaders of Arya Samaj in his
Arjun Singh's chief quality was that he exhibited extraordinary talent
while being an ordinary man. He was greatlty opposed to static and stagnant life
and was a supporter of progress. It is really remarkable that he acquired a good
knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Persian and Gurumukhi through his own labours
and while attending to personal work and working for Arya Samaj, he also became
a successful Hakim, i.e. a physician, in the Unani system of medicine. It was
his nature to take quick decisions and to firmly adhere to them.
did not remain confined to Arya Samaj or practice of medicine. When the annual
session of Congress was held at Lahore in 1893 under the Presidentship of Dadabhai
Nauroji, Arjun Singh, along with his elder brother Surjan Singh, attended the
session as delegates from Jalandhar. All other delegates were dressed in Western
style, because Congress in those days was an organisation of those who used to
wear Western dress and sing 'God save the King'. Both the brothers were, however,
wearing purely rural dress. Raizada Bhagat Ram introduced them to Dadabhai Nauroji.
It was for the first time that two Kisan delegates were attending the Congress
session. Dadabhai was very happy to meet them and looked after them throughout
Surjan Singh, Arjun Singh and Mohan Singh were the three sons
of Khem Singh. The youngest son, Mohan Singh, led the life of an ordinary peasant.
Surjan Singh and Arjun Singh both remained active in public life. Meanwhile, there
was an incident, which led the two to
choose different paths. There was a
plague epidemic in the village. The British Collector ordered that all the houses
from which cases of plague had been reported should be demolished. Arjun -Singh
opposed this arbitrary order. His contention was that before destroying the houses,
the Government should give an assurance that the houses would be rebuilt. Otherwise,
the peasants would be uprooted, as they would not be able to afford to rebuild
their houses. But Surjan Singh supported the action of the Collector and was so
taken up by his stand that he became a loyalist. Later on, he got due reward for
this in the shape of high posts and wealth. His son, Sardar Bahadur Dilbagh Singh,
was awarded the title of OBE (Order of the British Empire) which was the highest
reward in those days for being pro-government which he continued to remain.
this way, the family got divided into two branches which adopted opposite paths-one
was lured by loyalty to the British government and the other became part of history
as patriots and martyrs.
Towards the end of nineteenth century, in 1900 to
be precise, it was announced that every family settling down in the wild tracts
in Bar Region would be given 50 acres of land. Although Arjun Singh was well off
in Jalandhar and had a good income from court work and practice of medicine, he
was an enterprising man. He had the daring to experiment and achieve something,
in life. He settled down in Banga village of Lyalpur and continued the practice
of medicine alongside agriculture. His knowledge was not shallow. He was a man
who was always investigating; it was his nature to delve deep in to every subject.
Virendra Sindhu has referred to an incident which provides an insight into his
knowledge of the science of healing.
"When the Maharaja of Kapurthala
fell ill, Hakim Ajmal Khan was summoned from Delhi for his treatment. He was a
famous Hakim of his time. Arjun Singh was curious to find out whether he was really
a great Hakim or had become famous only because he treated Rajas and Nawabs. He
went to Kapurlhala and held discussions with Hakim Saheb, about various diseases
continuously for two days. The discussions several times led to arguments. However,
Hakim Saheb had developed an interest in him, therefore, the discussions continued.
On the third day, Arjun Singh acknowledged to Hakim Saheb, 'You really are the
king of physicians, I bow before you!"
The land of Lyalpur was very fertile,
and Arjun Singh was a hard worker. Therefore, he achieved great economic progress
and could have achieved much more. But earning wealth was not the only aim of
life: He was not acquisitive by nature; he was more inclined to renunciation.
He devoted most of his time to public work and spent most of his money for philanthropic
purposes. He not only treated the poor free of charge, he even provided them milk
from his own house if it was necessary. If he happened to go to the city to plead
for a poor person involved in litigation, he used to carry his meals with him
so as not to put any burden on the poor man. In these days, labourers were not
paid in cash; they used to be given bread in exchange for their labour. But Arjun
Singh always put some coins on the bread that he gave to the labourers. About
him, it was quite a popular saying, "the Elder Sardarji puts vegetable in
the form of coins on the bread that he gives."
In Banga, he got two wells
sunk and built an inn and a Gurudwara. Whenever he visited the Gurudwara, he never
touched the ground with his head by way of obeisance before the Granth Saheb because,
he thought, it amounted to book worship just like idol worship. Reading the book
and bcnefitting from its teachings was indicative of faith but Iworshipping it
was only superstition. Despite such Arya Samajist * views, he got the Gurudwara
constructed considering the need of the majority of the people. When a movement
was started to take the Gurudwaras out of the hold of obscurantist Mahants, he
donned a black turban like others to demonstrate his sympathy for the movement
and his condolence for those who had become martyrs in that movement. Once he
sowed tobacco in his fields. The Sikhs objected to it on the grounds of its being
against their religion. His explanation was : "Tobacco is a safe crop because
even the donkeys do not eat it. It involves less investment and gives more profit
than other crops. This is why I have sown tobacco." This reasoning was correct.
But when he found that his action had hurt the feelings of the people, he did
penance and never sowed tobacco again.
When the sacred thread ceremony of his
two grandsons, Jagat Singh and Bhagat Singh was held, both of them had long hair
on their heads. According to the Hindu custom, their heads were required to be
shaved. However, his wife Shrimati Jai Kaur had great faith in the Sikh religion
and, therefore, she attached religious sanctity to the hair. She asked her husband
to not get the heads of the two boys shaved to which he agreed and said, "It
is faith that really matters."
He had become quite popular on account
of his tolerance and generosity. Thus Banga village became the meeting place of
the Sikh religion and Arya Samaj. On matters of principle and those involving
discipline, he was very strict. But he was very soft when it came to serving others.
People had respect for him and often came to him for his advice in matters concerning
their personal affairs. Every year he used to organise a Yajna on a large scale.
It was attended by a great number of singers of Bhajans, preachers and scholars.
It used to be an occasion for much activity, when patriotism was preached as much
as religion. The great past of the country was recalled with nostalgic feelings
of admiration and the desire to make its future great was also felt.
of national pride which was being created and developed by Arya Samaj, was a challenge
to the foreign rulers' intention of keeping the country in perpetual slavery.
For this reason, the Arya Samaj movement, like the Kuka movement, was an eyesore
to them from the very beginning. They were becoming more and more uneasy with
its growing influence. However, instead of launching a direct attack against the
movement, they hatched a conspiracy to make one religion fight with the other.
Arya Samajists of Patiala were prosecuted on the charge that they were insulting
the Granth Saheb. The clear intention was to incite the Sikhs against Arya Samaj.
However, this plan did not work. People all over the country opposed the prosecution.
Arjun Singh played an important role in the defence committee that was set up
to oppose the prosecution. He, along with other Pandits, reproduced 700 slokas
from a number of Hindu religious books and from the Guru Granth Saheb of the Sikhs,
which were common. In this way he proved that there was no difference between
the two religions and both were equally to be venerated. This not only displayed
his scholarship but also his commitment to society, and gave a new dimension to
his personality.(Yugdrishta Bhagat Singh, pp. 5-6).
He was very studious
and a deep thinker. Writing was his passion. He devoted his free time to writing
and was never distracted by any disturbance while he was writing. He would usually
draft Arya Samaj circulars which were despatched to far off places. He also wrote
a number of books. Much of his writings was taken away by the police during searches
conducted later. However, a lot was still left which was ultimately lost during
the partition. One of his books highlighted the fact that the Sikh gurus had advocated
the study of the Vedas.
He had resolved to take up sanyas after a few years
and devote himself to propagating the principles enunciated by Rishi Dayanand,
and to building national character. He planned to hand over the responsibility
of managing family affairs to his sons. However, the sons, as they grew up, were
swept away by the strong wave of revolution that came upon the country. He was
happy and proud to see his sons moving on the path of revolution and following
his own teachings; the path that they had chosen for themselves was full of danger.
In the circumstances, he continued to manage the family affairs and also faced
the dangers involved. All this he did with a smile considering it his duty. This
was another form of Sanyas, which was giving concrete shape to his own resolution.
had a stout heart which bore the grief of the martyrdom of his youngest son Swarna
Singh at the young age of 22 years; the separation of his middle son Ajit Singh
who evaded arrest and went abroad, and the incarceration of the eldest son Kishan
Singh. In spite of all this, when the sacred thread ceremony of Jagat Singh and
Bhagat Singh was held he had no hesitation in carrying one grandson on left arm
and other on the right and saying, "Standing on the yagna altar, I hereby
offer my two descendants for service of the country. " Soon after the ceremony,
Jagat Singh was taken ill with fever; he was in a state of delirium. As Arjun
Singh was a physician, he himself treated Jagat Singh, but to no avail. Jagat
Singh died. He was so greif-stricken at this that he gave up practising medicine.
It has been said about him:
"We cannot fully understand his life by looking
at it only from one side. In 1920 when the non-cooperation movement started he
put down the red flag inscribed with 'Om' and picked up the tricolour flag inscribed
with the spinning wheel and instead of raising the slogan 'victory to the vedic
dharma' he started raising the slogan 'victory to motherland Bharat.' He jumped
into the movement and went from village to village as a Jathedar. He was not one
of those who were merely ready to go to jail; he was also eager to go to jail.
He reached Jadanwala along with his batch of volunteers and announced his intention
of picketing shops of liquor and foreign cloth. But on that very day the movement
was suspended following the Chauri Chaura incident. He came back with his batch
and for many days was laughing and saying-"Mahatma Gandhi, if only you had
put off the decision on that day, you would not have lost much face". (Yugdrishta
Bhagat Singh, p. 8).
The result of suspending the movement was that the
anger against the British government found an outlet in the form of communal riots.
atmosphere of the country had become vitiated and people became frustrated. The
Revolutionary youth, who had given a chance to Gandhi to continue his movement,
became active again. Arjun Singh also did not fight shy of struggles; he was still
young in heart Under his' guidance his younger brother Mohan Singh's son Hari
Singh and his comrades made a bomb. When they were testing the bomb it exploded
and made a loud noise so that every one came to know about it When the police
got the news, they reached the village. But no one was prepared to give evidence
out of deference to Arjun Singh. Arjun Singh's fearless arguments made the police
officers ineffective and they had to go back empty-handed.
Bhagat Singh was
arrested for the second time and prosecution was launched. It was certain that
he would be hunged. The possibility had broken the spirit of Arjun Singh. He would
lie on his bed with his face turned towards the wall. The stories about Bhagat
Singh were being told and circulated. Arjun Singh used to mumble lines of these
stories with tears coming to his eyes. When family members went to meel Bhagat
Singh 20-22 days before he was hanged, Arjun Singh also went along with them.
But he could not bring himself to speak to Bhagat Singh and remained standing
at some distance, shedding tears.
Arjun Singh was, after all, a human being.
He had become tired of making sacrifices. His life ended in a dramatic manner.
had gone to read the newspaper at a village shop when he had » stroke and
lost his speech. His eldest son Kishan Singh brought doctor Bodhraj. But he expressed
himself by writing that a paralytic stroke ai his age was not curable and medicines
would only prolong his death; that life was worth living only as long as it was
useful, otherwise it was a burden.
Broken in body, he still had an indomitable
will. When Kishan Singh requested him to take the medicine and offered it to him,
he pushed Kishan Singh back. He not only knew what he had to say, he was also
firm on what he said. All through his life, and also when the end came, he remained
true to this.
He died in July 1932, about one and quarter years after the martyrdom
of Bhagat Singh.