The great Sikh warrior Sardar Jassa Singh, who was called “Bandi Chhor” (the redeemer) for having rescued 2200 women imprisoned by Ahmad Shah Abdali for his harem, seems to have been forgotten today. Sardar Ahluwalia was acclaimed as the supreme leader of the Khalsa Panth and awarded the title of “Badshah” (king) or “Sultan-ul-Quam” (Emperor of the Sikh community) after the conquest of Lahore by Sikhs in November 1761, and the death of Nawab Kapur Singh Faizullapuria.
Sardar Ahluwalia successfully led the Sikh warriors against frequent foreign invasions of the Afghans and the tyrannical rule of Mughal administrators during the 18th century.
In fact, Ahluwalia laid the foundation of self-rule and changed the map of the then Punjab from Khyber Pass to Jammu and Sindh to Tibet. Before succumbing to an old bullet injury on October 7, 1753, Nawab Kapur Singh called Jassa Singh and entrusted to him the job of serving the Khalsa. Thus, he became the acknowledged leader of the Khalsa of the Budha Dal.
Famous historian Ganda Singh in his book “Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia” mentioned that the warrior was of tall stature and well built. This is corroborated by the fact that no horse could serve him for more than six months. He was fluent in Urdu and Persian. He said the torch of the Khalsa Panth, which was lit by Guru Gobind Singh, was kept burning by Baba Banda Bahadur and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. About the valiant acts of Sardar Ahluwalia, a Muslim scholar Qazi Noor Mohammad, wrote in 1764-65, “When the Singhs lift the Indian sword, they cause destruction from Hind to Sindh trampling down everything under their foot. No warrior could resist them.”
The indifference shown by the SGPC towards Sardar Ahluwalia can be gauged from the fact that Qila Ahluwalia, a few yards away from Harmandar Sahib, auctioned in the beginning of the 20th century by the British Government, is hardly visited by any official or Sikh leader. The site of the Qila has emerged as a big shopping hub even as no one has bothered to preserve this heritage building belonging to the Sikh warrior.
Shockingly, a random survey showed that many senior SGPC officials were unaware of the existence of the Qila. The historical well on the Qila premises is in bad shape. While a major portion of the fort has already been demolished by shopkeepers after its auctioning, the remaining parts of the historical building have started crumbling. However, one of the gates, well and certain parts of the building are intact. These could be preserved if the state government pays proper attention.
According to historians, the fort was intact till 1850, as Sardar Ahluwalia used to stay there. However, during the British regime, Marwaris purchased it in an auction. The wall paintings on windows of the building seem to be the works dating back to the 19th century.
“There seems to be a clear impact of the European school of art, style and technique on the art work. Except one painting, which is of Lord Shiva, all others are European paintings”. There are mostly landscapes in which beautiful English women with fairies and angels, children and couples are shown in English dresses. However, the fine colour used in this artwork is fading.
The Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia Memorial Society Punjab (SJSAMSP), headed by Mr Jagjit Singh Walia, organised the visit of Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Vice-Chairman, Planning Commission of India, and his wife, Isher Judge Ahluwalia, to Ahluwalia Qila. These visitors were shocked to see its condition. They said the immediate preservation of this “national heritage” was imperative. They said Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia did not belong to one caste or community, but to the entire countrymen who had fought against the foreign invaders.
Mr Onkar Singh Sandhu, patron of the Ramgharia Federation and Sikh scholar, said it was a matter of great concern that the condition of the fort was pitiable.
Born with the blessings of the tenth Sikh Master and brought up under the tutelage of the Guru’s wife Mata Sundri, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia played a pivotal role during the turbulent period following the demise of Guru Gobind Singh and fiercely fought against invaders. This ultimately paved the way for the establishment of the Sikh rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
A devout follower of Gurbani and fierce soldier on the battlefield, Jassa Singh epitomised the message of Miri Piri given by Guru Hargobind. However, members of the SJSAMSP lament that the great Sikh warrior, who worked tirelessly and selflessly throughout his life for the Panth, has not been accorded due recognition. His name was hardly mentioned during the tercentenary celebrations of the birth of the Khalsa. There were twelve misls of the Sikhs, and Jassa Singh was the head of the Ahluwalia Misl and leader of the Dal Khalsa.
Jassa Singh, who was also called Jassa Singh Kalal, came to be known as “Guru Ka Lal” (the beloved son of Guru). Son of Badar Singh, Jassa Singh was hardly five years old when his father died (1723 AD). His mother pleaded with Mata Sundri, widow of Guru Gobind Singh, to take him under her care. Mata Sundri showered affection on him, instructing him carefully in the arts of war and peace. He studied Sikh scriptures under Bhai Mani Singh. Later, Mata Sundri asked Nawab Kapur Singh to take charge of the promising youth.
Under the leadership of Jassa Singh, once again the Khalsa army took control of Lahore in 1760. After eleven days, the Durrani Governor, Mir Mohammed Khan, surrendered, and paid Rs 30,000. After subduing the Durranis, the Sikhs returned to Amritsar. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia avenged the desecration of the Golden Temple and Gurdwara Thum Sahib at Kartarpur by the Durranis by defeating their leader Sadat Khan at Jalandhar. His persistent military pursuits forced the Mughal rulers to recognise the authority of the Sikhs over a number of cities of Punjab.
In the year 1762, Punjab was fighting for its freedom. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan, Persia and parts of Central Asia and India, one of the supreme conquerors of his time, was pitted against Ahluwalia. Earlier that year, Ahmad Shah had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Sikhs. About 25,000 Sikhs, including women and children, were slaughtered at Kup, near Malerkotla. Ahmad Shah had then blown up the Harmandar Sahib and filled the holy tank with the carcasses of cows.
Earlier in March 1761, Ahmad Shah Durrani was returning home victorious. He had destroyed the Maratha power in Punjab at the Battle of Panipat and then looted Delhi. His booty included the Hindu women to be taken to Afghanistan for selling. The Sikhs were at their bi-annual Baisakhi meeting at Amritsar when relatives of the captive women came and pleaded for succour. Jassa Singh left immediately with a volunteer force, rescued the women and had them escorted to their families.
In 1764, Jassa Singh marched at the head of the combined Khalsa armies and conquered Sirhind province, one of the richest in the Empire. The cash spoils amounted to Rs 900,000 and Jassa Singh gave the entire amount for the rebuilding of the Harmandar Sahib that had been destroyed by Ahmad Shah.
The liberation of Amritsar from the rule of Slabat Khan was one of the earliest battles of Jassa Singh. He completed this task in 1747 under the supervision of senior generals Nawab Kapur Singh, Taru Singh Waraich and Chattar Singh. That year, Baisakhi was celebrated in Amritsar after a long time with great zeal.
In September 1761, when Khawaja Ubed Khann was the administrator of Lahore, Sardar Charat Singh attacked him, and Sardar Jassa Singh reached there and occupied Lahore. The latter was honoured with the title of “Sultan-ul-Quam” .
To commemorate, and designate the victory as the Guru’s boon, Sardar Jassa Singh issued coins in the name of Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh. With the following inscription on the coins, he dedicated the victory to his Guru:
“Victory to degh (living) and teg (protection/struggle) are celestial benedictions, And are ordained by Guru Nanak through Guru Gobind Singh”