Battle of Bhangani : Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Sayyid Budhu Shah returned to Sadhaura after a fairly long stay at theGuru’s darbar at Paunta. A few days after his return, there came to Sadhauraa band of five hundred Patterns of village named Damla. They said tothe Pir, “Our profession is military service. We have been turned out ofthe imperial army by Aurangzeb for some petty fault. He has issued ordersthat none should employ us. If we remain unemployed for long, we shallbe reduced to extreme straits. Help us, O Pir. Find us some employmentsomewhere. We shall be faithful servants and shall bring no discredit toyou.” Sayyid Budhu Shah was greatly touched. He took them to the-Guruat Paunta Sahib and told him their whole story. He requested the Guru toemploy them in his army.

The Guru agreed. He took them into his service and fixed fiverupees a day as the salary of each of five Sardars (Commanders) andone rupee a day, as that of the soldiers. The names of the five Sardarswere : Hiyat Kahan, Kale Khan, Najabat Khan, Umre Khan, and BhikhanKhan.

Soon after, Raja Fateh Shah invited the Guru to his daughter’swedding with Bhim Chand’s son. The Guru felt that his presence atthe same place as Bhim Chand might spoil the marriage festivities. Sohe sent Diwan Nand Chand with costly marriage gifts for the princess.

Raja Fateh Shah received him most ceremoniously and offered himsuitable quarters within the city.. But the Diwan thought it prudent toput up outside the city, so as to be better able to escape, if treacherouslyattacked.

Raja Bhim Chand now decided to play a ruse upon the Guru. Hesent the following message to the latter: “You know that my son’smarriage party has to proceed to Srinagar. You also know that the mostconvenient route from Bilaspur to that place passes by Paunta. Themarriage party, quite large by itself, will be accompanied by a largearmy. It may happen that some dispute might arise between your armyand mine at Paunta and it might lead to an open conflict. Or my army,getting out of restraint, might loot your camp and the city. In order toaviod these mishaps, it will be advisable for you and your army to getaside from the route for the time. If my advice is not heeded, theresponsibility for what may happen will rest on your shoulders. Youhave been warned.”

The Raja’s design was this. After prevailing upon the Guru toleave his fort and defences and encamp in the open, the Raja wantedto take him by surprise and to wreak his vengeance.

The Guru was far-sighted enough to see through the design. Sohe replied that it was not at all necessary for the marriage party to beaccompanied by an army. He would not, therefore, permit the army topass that way, except in such numbers as might be absolutely necessaryto ensure a safe journey on the rest of the route. As far as the Guruand his people were concerned, there would not be the least violenceor attempt at creating trouble. The Raja should have no fears on thatscore. He would be allowed to pass in perfect peace. If, however, itwas deemed altogether necessary for the army to be at Srinagar on theoccasion of the marriage, it could take a different route, or it cold fightits way through Paunta.

But that did not suit the Raja’s plans. At the same time, he thoughtthat his prestige would suffer if, after all that fuss, he agreed to theGuru’s suggestion. If he had no evil designs, he would not have hesitatedto accept the Guru’s proposal. That he feared no treachery from theGuru’s side, is proved by his subsequent decision to send the bridegroomwith a small party by way of Paunta and to take the main party andthe army by a longer route. He meant trouble. We shall see that hesoon managed to create it.

If the bridegroom were to take the longer route, he was sure tobe too late for certain essential preliminary ceremonies. Hence, afterdue deliberation, it was decided that the bridegroom, with a ministerand a small party, be sent via Paunta. The rest of the marriage partywould go by the longe route.

When the bridegroom and his party reached Paunta, they askedthe Guru’s permission to pass. He smiled and said, “Well, prince, if Iwere to act on the policy pursued by your father, and take you captive,what would be the good of sending the army and the rest of the marriageparty by the longer route ?”

The bridegroom and the minister said with humility, “We havefull trust in you. You always help those who seek refuge at your feet.”

The Guru had no enmity with any man as such; he wanted never toengage in any offensive war and his wars had to be for the defence.and help of the poor and the weak. Hence, he not only permitted themto proceed unhampered, but also gave some suitable gifts to the prince,and treated him as his guest.

When the bridegroom and party reached Srinagar, they told RajaFateh Shah how they had come via Paunta, whereas the rest would becoming by the longer route. Raja Fateh Shah was sorry, no doubt, atthis, but he felt that what the Guru had done was perfectly legitimate,wise, and with in the accepted rules of policy. He, therefore, did notfeel annoyed. That he did not consider the Guru to have acted wrongly,is shown by his acceptance and public announcement of the Guru’sgifts to his daughter.

The Guru’s gifts to the bride were announced. They exceeded inprice and excelled in quality and magnificance the presents from allthe hill-chiefs put together. Raja Bhim Chand was enraged. He said,”What is all this ? The Guru refused to let me pass by Paunta. He ismy enemy. But Raja Fateh Shah is accepting his gifts !”

Raja Kirpal of Katoch added fuel to the fire by saying: “Youranger is justified. An enemy’s friend is always an enemy. If Raja FatehShah is a friend of an enemy of yours, how can he call himself a friendof yours ? Why have relations or ties with him ? You should tell himthat he should lead an attack on the Guru, when you decide to takethe field; otherwise, you would refuse to accept his daughter for yourson.”

Raja Bhim Chand accepted this advice. He sent a message toFateh Shah accordingly. The latter remonstrated: “How can I showenmity against the holy person that the Guru is ? He is my friend. Hehas done me a very good turn. He had effected reconciliation betweenme and Raja Medni Parkash. He wants peace with all. Tell the Rajato have patience. I shall act as a mediator, and remove all misunderstandings between him and the Guru.”

But Bhim Chand did not relish this advice. He ordered his mento prepare for departure. Horses began to be saddled. Raja Fateh Shah’scourage failed him. He thought, “If Bhim Chand Were to leave mydaughter here now, it would be a matter of extreme dishonour andshame for me. He will also become a sworn enemy of mine. Myfriendship with the Guru will prove too costly to me.”

Thinking thus, he sent his minister to Bhim Chand with themessage: “I agree to your conditions. I shall lead the attack on theGuru, if you decide to attack him.”

Diwan Nand Chand heard of all this and made good his escapewith all his things, including the Guru’s unaccepted marriage gifts. RajaBhim Chand sent men to intercept and kill him, but the Sikhs foughtvaliantly, and reached Paunta safely. It was certain that the hill-chiefswould take the offensive without much delay. Preparations were,therefore, made for the coming encounter with the crafty hillmen.

When Bhim Chand heard that Diwan Nand Chand had managed

to defeat his men and escape with all the gifts, he was red with rageand indignation. He addressed his brother-chiefs thus: “Fie upon us,brothers, that we allow ourselves to be thus bearded by these despicablecobblers, sweepers, and peasants. Their audacity is unbearable now. Ifwe do not curb them in time, they will, one day, turn us all out of ourvery homes. We should all combine our forces and either kill the Guruor send him captive to the Emperor. Right glad will he be to smotherthis cobra with the heel of his power.’

All the hill-chiefs unanimously resolve upon immediate war. Theyknew that the Guru’s main army was far off. The bride and thebridegroom were sent to Bilaspur and the chiefs marched upon Paunta.

Bhim Chand, Fateh Shah, Gopal Chand of Guler, Kirpal Chand ofKangra, Bir Sain of Mandi, Kesri Chand of Jaswal, Dial Chand ofKathgarh, Hari Chand of Handur, Karm Chand of Bhambore, UmaidSingh of Jaswan, Daya Singh of Nurpur, Bhag Singh to Tilokpur,Gurbhaj of Indore, Sansar Chand of Nadaun, Hari Chand of Kotiwal,Lachhu Chand of Kasauli etc., all the chiefs marched at the head oftheir armies. The war-drums beat as do thunder clouds before ahail-storm. This was towards the middle of April 1689 A.D.

As stated above, the Guru had, on the recommendation of hisfriend and admirer, Sayyid Budhu Shah, taken in employ five hundredPathan soldiers who had been dismissed by Aurangzeb, and whom noone had the guts to engage because of fear of the Emperor’s wrath.

They were under five officers, namely, Haiyat Khan, Kale Khan, NajabatKhan, Bhikhan Khan, and Umre Khan. When it was announced thatthe Hill-Chiefs were marching against the Guru, the Pathans wantedtheir accounts to be settled, as they had ‘pressing affairs at homerequiring their immediate personal attention’. All counsels proveduseless. They were mere mercenaries, and had no sense of honour orloyalty. In reality, they had secretly made up with the Hill-Chiefs andhad deliberately decided upon this treachery. They had thought thatthey were the only regular soldiers that the Guru had. The rest wereonly a miscellaneous rabble (Sadhus) who had never seen war, andwho would run away at the first shot. On the other hand, they covetedthe wealthy splendour of the Guru’s darbar and intended to plunder it.

One of the officers, Kala Khan, tried vainly to dissuade the rest fromthis faithless action. So they were paid off. The four officers with fourhundred soldiers joined the enemy. When Budhu Shah heard that theGuru was about to be attacked by the treacherous Hill-Chiefs, he hurriedto the Guru’s aid. He took with him his two brothers, four sons, andseven hundred disciples. He heard of the treachery of the Pathan soliders,recommended by him and resolved to wash away that personal disgrace.

Five hundred Udasi Sadhus, who had been fattering themselveson the rich food served in the Guru’s kitchen, were deeply dismayedon hearing the news of the impending battle. They feared that the Gurumight ask them to take the field. So all of them, except Mahant Kirpalof Hehar, ran away during the night. When, in the morning, the Gurusaw the Udasis’ camp deserted by all except Mahant Kirpal, he smiledand said, “It is well and all right. The root of the Udasi Sikhs has beensaved.” The Guru patted the Mahant and said, “You will prove a valiantwarrior.”

The news of the coming battle spread like wild fire and Sikhsthronged from all sides, rejoicing at the prospect of winning the Guru’spleasure and eternal happiness. Several Rajputs, royal rebels, had takenshelter with the Guru. They remained true. The Guru’s army was fivethousand strong. The enemies far outnumbered them. But they had notthe same spirit of sacrifice, the same enthusiasm for the nobility oftheir cause, not the same devotion to their leaders, as the Sikhs had.

The Guru stationed his troops on an eminence seven or eightmiles north of Paunta and near the village Bhangani. 1 A severe andbloody battle was fought there in which many brave soldiers werekilled on both sides. The Sikhs did wonders on that day. The treacherousPathans were astounded to see confectioners and cattle-grazers, whohad never handled sword or shield, fighting like trained soldiers andkilling many a haughty Pathan and hill-man. Mahant Kirpal killedHaiyat Khan with no weapon but a club. Several of the hill-chiefs were1. The Gum’s choice of his ground shows his skill in the craft of war. The eminenceon which he stationed his troops to receive the enemy was at the farther end of alevel stretch of ground beside the river Jamuna, and commanded the field overwhich the enemy had to advance. His skill in the choice of his ground and in theuse of his bow, as also the firm devotion of his followers and their adament resolve”to win or die but never to fly”, enabled him to rout an army which was far superiorto him in both number and strength. That formidable soldiers armed cap-a-pie werevanquished by mere ‘laymen’ with such ‘weapons’ as clubs, shows what successthe Guru had achieved in a short time in revolutionzing the whole life and characterof his people. We should remember that he was a little above twenty two years ofage at that time.

either killed or wounded. After three days’ bloody fight, the Hill-Chiefstook to their heels. The Guru has secured a complete victory over thecombined armies of the Hill-Chiefs. This was on Baisakh 18, 1746BK. April 16, 1689 A.D. 1

.As the Guru saw the field strewn with the dead and the dying,his heart melted in divine compassion. His men went about the fieldpicking up and nursing the wounded of both sides. The Ranis of theHill-Chiefs approached the Guru with the prayer that their husband’scorpses might be made over to them for cremation. He accepted theirrequest on the condition that they should not burn themselves as satis.

They undertook to obey him, but the force of custom and their misguidedsense of honour and marital fidelity proved too strong for their feebleresolves. They perished in the flames, thus committing a sin whichwith the Sikhs was, and has always been, “the murder of the soul”.

1. Some writers, like Gian Singh, Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, are of the viewthat the battle of Bhangani took place “towards the end of February, 1686”. Insupport of this date the latter two advance the argument, “The Suraj Parkash saysthat, nine months after the return of the Guru from Paunta to Anandpur, his firstson, Ajit Singh, was born. The date of Ajit Singh’s birth is accepted on all handsunanimously to be Magh Sudi 4, 1743 BK/ Nov, 9, 1686. This would place thebattle in the month of February, 1686. Further evidence may be adduced from aletter of appreciation given by the Guru to Pir Budhu Shah of Sadhaura. This letteris dated Phagun Sudi 12, 1742 BK., which corresponds to Feb. 25, 1686. This lettermust have been given soon after the battle.” (A Short History of the Sikhs, p.64)If Baba Ajit Singh was born nine months after the Guru’s return to Anandpur andon November 9, 1686, the Guru must have returned in the first week of February1686. Admittedly, the battle was fought before the Guru’s return. It could not havebeen fought “towards the end of February, 1686”.

Moreover, the writers say that the battle took place about nine months beforethe birth of Baba Ajit Singh on Magh Sudi, 4, 1743 BK. But Magh Sudi 4, 1743corresponds not to Nov. 9, 1686, but to January 7, 1687.

That would place the battle in April, 1686. The letter of Feb. 25, 1686 cannothave any connetion with a battle fought in April 1686; it could not have been given”soon after the battle”.

But we possess far more, rather absolutely, reliable evidence in favour of the dategiven’ above, i.e. April 1689. According to the Guru’s own words (vide Krishna Avtar,2390), the tenth chapter of Bhagvat was completed at Paunta on Sawan Sudi 7, 1745BK., or some time in July 1688. As the Guru returned from Paunta to Anandpur soonafter the battle of Bhangani, and did no literary work at Paunta after the battle, thebattle must have been fought after Sawan Sudi 4, 1745 (July 1688). The date givenby Kahan Singh in his Mohan Kosh Encyclopedia of Sikh Litterature is Baisakh 18,1746 or about April 16, 1689. Sukha Singh’s Gurbilas also gives the year 1689 as theyear of the battle.

It may be added that when this view was placed before Dr Ganda Singh, co-authorof the above-said book, in October 1958, he agreed with this view and wrote thatthe date given by Kahan Singh ‘may be taken as correct.’