Bhai Taru Singh, (c. 1720 - 16 July 1745), a Sikh martyr was a Sandhu Jatt of Puhia village, now in Amritsar district of the Punjab. He was a pious Sikh who following the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, worked hard tilling his land diligently and lived frugally; although not a rich man, he was always happy and did much for his Sikh brothers and sisters. Whatever he saved went to his Sikh brethren forced into exile by government persecution. He was spied upon by Akil Das (also known as Harbhagat Niranjania) of Jandiala, a government informer and subsequently, Taru Singh was hauled before Zakariya Khan, the governor of Punjab who was based at Lahore.Born in Punjab during the reign of the Mughal Empire, Bhai Taru Singh was raised as a Sikh by his widowed mother. During this time, Sikh revolutionaries were plotting the overthrow of the Khan and had taken refuge in the jungle. Bhai Taru Singh and his sister gave food and other aid to these Sikh fighters. Akil Das, having informed the authorities about both of them to Zakaria Khan, the two of them were arrested for treason. Though his sister's freedom was bought by the villagers, Bhai Taru Singh refused to seek a pardon.
Zakariya Khan's mission against Sikhs
As the Prachin Panth Prakash narrates the story, Zakariya Khan once asked his men, "From where do the Sikhs obtain their nourishment? I have debarred them from all occupations. They realize no taxes. They do not farm, nor are they allowed to do business or join public employment. I have stopped all offerings to their gurdwaras, their places of worship. No provisions or supplies are accessible to them. Why do they not die of sheer starvation?"Harbhagat, a sworn foe of the Sikhs, remarked, "There are Sikhs in this world who would not eat until they have fed their brethren. They may themselves go without food and clothing but cannot bear their comrades' distress. They would pass the winter by fireside and send them their own clothes. They would sweat to grind corn and have it sent to them. They would do the roughest chore to earn a small wage for their sake. They migrate to distant places to eke out money for their brothers in exile.""In the village of Puhia in Majha," continued Harbhagat, "lives one Taru Singh. He tills his land and pays the revenue to the officials. He eats but little and sends what he saves to his brothers in the jungle. His mother and sister both toil and grind to make a living. They eat sparingly and wear the coarsest homespun. Whatever they save, they pass on to their fellow Sikhs."
Bhai Taru Singh arrested
Following the report by Akil Das, Bhai Taru Singh was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. Eventually, when presented before the governor, he defiantly greeted him with the Sikh salutation: Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh. When charged with sedition, he stated :
"If we till your land, we pay the revenue. If we engage in commerce, we pay taxes. What is left after our payments to you is for our bellies. What we save from our mouths, we give to our brethren. We take nothing from you. Why then do you punish us?"
The governor was in a rage and pronounced the usual alternatives, Islam or death. To quote again from the Prachin Panth Prakash, Taru Singh calmly asked, "Why must I become a Mussalman (a Muslim person)? Do not the Mussalmans ever die?"
The exact method of his execution is somewhat ambiguous. However, it is believed that after a short period of imprisonment and torture, Singh was brought before the Khan and given the choice of converting to Islam or being executed. As a symbol of his conversion, Singh would have to cut off his Kesh and present it as an offering to the Khan. Upon his refusal, and in a public display, Bhai Taru Singh's scalp was cut away from his skull with a sharp knife to prevent his hair from ever growing back. This torturous act is believed to be carried out on 25 June 1745.
Bhai sahib left to bleed to his death
Sikhs believe that once Bhai sahib had been returned to prison to await a slow death, Zakaria Khan was stricken with unbearable pain and the inability to urinate. He consulted his advisers about this sudden illness and he was told that this illness was due to his maltreatment of the Sikhs. Due to the unbearable pain and as a last resort, he sent an apology to the Khalsa Panth for his persecution of the Sikhs and begged for their forgiveness.It was suggested by his advisers that if Zakaria Khan had his own scalp hit with Bhai Taru Singh's shoes, his condition might be lifted. Although the shoe cured the Khan's condition, he died 22 days later. Upon hearing that he had miraculously outlived the Khan, Bhai Taru Singh died as well on 16 July, 1745.Taru Singh was then barely 25 years of age. His dead body was cremated outside Delhi Gate at Lahore, where a "Shahidganj", or martyrs' memorial, was later constructed. It became a place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs.
Bhai Tara Singh was a GurSikh resident of village Van, in the district of Amritsar. He was truly a saint-soldier. He was a highly religious man, with a kindly, generous heart. At the same time, he was a strong, brave, and fearless fighter. He was very popular with the Sikhs. He was always in the forefront of every Panthic undertaking. He had already won laurels in the campaign of Baba Banda Singh. He was most energetic and fearless in helping his brothers in faith, as well as others in need. His doors were open to receive everyone in need or trouble. He ran a free kitchen for all. Sahib Rai, Lambardar of Naushera, was proud, cruel, and haughty. He was a tyrant. He used to let loose his horses in the green field of the Sikhs. No one dared to drive them out. The Sikh peasants bore this quietly for a long time. Then they decided to meet him and request him to give up letting loose his horses in their fields. they said, 'Your horses eat away our crops. We have no other means of making a living. We are being driven to starvation. If you desire, we shall supply green fodder for your horses every day. Please don't let them loose in our crops.'
The Lambardar became furious. 'What is all this nonsense ?' said he. 'You are really an ungrateful lot. Don't you know what attitude the Muhammedan rulers have towards you Sikhs ? It is indeed risky for me to let you live in my village. I give you shelter in spite of the risk. What thanks do I get from you ? Be careful. My horses will go about at their free will. If you misbehave again, I shall report against you to the Mughal authorities. Then you will learn what it means to insult a Lambardar of their. You talk of my horses trespassing into your fields. Take care lest my scissors should trespass into your beards and long hair.' By this he meant that he would cut off their hair and beards. The poor Sikh peasants were convinced that the Lambardar would not change his ways. He would not let them live in peace. They felt that continued stay in village meant want, hunger and starvation. He might even do something far worse. So they decided to leave the village. Bhai Tara Singh heard of their sad plight. He sent for them. He undertook to give them food and lodging until they could make some suitable arrangements for themselves. They readily accepted his invitation and hospitality. They came to live in his village.
Sahib Rai's horses continued to graze freely in the peasants' green fields. But peasants did not dare complain. Some daring Sikhs from Bhai Tara Singh's village decided to punish the haughty Lambardar. They drove away his horses in broad daylight. They sold them in a far off place. The money so obtained was used towards meeting at expenses of feeding the refugees from Naushera. Thereupon, Sahib Rai lodged a complaint with Mirza Jaffer Beg, Faujdar of Patti. He said to him, Tara Singh is an old rebel. He is very dangerous. He gives shelter to thieves, dacoits, and bad characters. The commit raids all over the land. The lives and property of the people are insecure. An example must be made of this dangerous rebel. Otherwise others will begin to imitate him. A widespread unrest will be the result.' The faujdar chose to believe every word spoken by Sahib Rai. He was a cruel, fanatic Muslim. He was always on the look out for an excuse and opportunity to haul up and punish Sikhs. He sent a detachment of 25 mounted soldiers and 80 foot soldiers to proceed against Bhai Tara Singh. They intended to take the village by a surprise attack at dead of night. But their plan was foiled by a brave saint-soldier, Bhai Baghel Singh.
This brave Khalsa happened, at that hour, to be out in the jungle near the village. He saw the soldiers approaching the village. He immediately understood what their mission was. He decided to block their way so that Bhai Tara Singh and his companions should not be taken by surprise. With a shout of 'Sat Sri Akal,' he suddenly fell upon the advancing soldiers, as a tiger would fall upon a flock of sheep. With a one stroke he cut off the head of a nephew of Jaffer Beg. Other nephew met the same fate. Many more soldiers were cut down by him before he was overpowered. He died fighting like a true saint-soldier. The noise of fight roused Bhai Tara Singh and his companions. They rushed out to meet the invaders. But the latter took to their heels before Bhai Tara Singh could give them battle. Mirza Jaffer Beg hurried to Lahore and reported the whole matter to Khad Bahadur Zakriya Khan, governor of Lahore. The latter at once dispatched a strong force against Bhai Tara Singh. It consisted of two thousand and two hundred fully armed horsemen. They had forty cannons and five elephants. The force was under the command of Momin Khan. With all that force, Momin Khan was to proceed against Bhai Tara Singh and his 22 companions. Such was the terror which the brave Sikhs inspired in the Mughal rulers' hearts. The news of this expedition was conveyed to Bhai Tara Singh by a secret messenger from the Sikhs of Lahore. Another man, named Ghumanda, offered to act as a scout for the Lahore army. At the same time, he sent information to Bhai Tara Singh.
Some men went to Bhai Tara Singh. They advised him to go away and take shelter in the jungle. But he refused to save his life by flight. He thought that to run away would be a cowardly act, unbecoming of a Khalsa. He was determined to face death with boldness, and sell his life very dearly. The invaders came at nightfall. They surrounded the village. As they advanced to attack, they were greeted with a rain of shots and arrows. Bhai Tara Singh and his 22 companions held the army at bay during the night. They were able to inflict heavy losses on the enemy. The invaders were very near losing their hearts. They got the impression that Bhai Tara Singh had a very large force with him. They began to doubt their own power to succeed against him. But the rising of the sun betrayed the true number of Bhai Tara Singh's men. The invaders regained courage. They renewed their attack. Bhai Tara Singh and his men fought with wonderful bravery. One by one, his men fell martyrs after performing wonderful feats of valor and swordsmanship. At length, Bhai Tara Singh was left alone. He sprang to the enemy's ranks, roaring like a lion. With his sword he cut his way to the spot where Momin Khan was. The latter was riding on an elephant. Bhai Tara Singh aimed a heavy blow at Momin Khan. But as he leapt up to reach the man, he surrounded by a large number of Mughal soldiers. They fell upon him from all sides and cut him to the ground. Thus did Bhai Tara Singh die gloriously after a valiant fight against heavy odds. He fell in a noble cause. He sacrificed his life in order to serve and save his brothers in faith. He was thus a true martyr. His memory is cherished by the Sikhs, as of course, it richly deserves to be.
Baba Banda Singh was born on October 27, 1670 at Rajauri, in the Poonch district of western Kashmir. His father, Ram Dev, was a Rajput farmer. He was called Lachman Dass in the childhood. His father gave him training in farming, riding, shooting, swordsmanship, and hunting. From his early days, he was tender-hearted. Once, while hunting, he shot a female deer. He saw it dying before his eyes. He also saw two young ones fall from its womb and die in pain. The sight had a very deep and lasting effect on his tender heart. He resolved to become a Sadhu. He left home. He met Janki Das Bairagi and became his disciple. He became a Bairagi. He took the name of Madho Das. He wandered from place to place with a band of Bairagis. He came to the Punjab. Then he met a Sadhu named Ram Das near Kasur. Madho Das became a disciple of Sadhu Ram Das. But he did not obtain peace of mind. He again began to wander from place to place. Thus wandering about, he came to Nasik, on the banks of the river Godavari. There he entered the hermitage of an old Jogi named Aughar Nath. He became his disciple. From Aughar Nath he learned the art of working magic and miracles. After his teacher's death, he moved on to Nander. There he establish a dera or monastery of his own. He spent his time in practicing Jogic exercises and developing magical powers. He took delight in practicing tricks of magic on his visitors. Guru Gobind Singh visited his monastery in September 1708. He tried to practice his tricks of magic on the Guru. But he failed miserably. He concluded that he had found his master, at last. He fell at the Guru's feet and said, 'I am your Banda or slave. Pardon me. Save me. I shall act as your Banda. I shall carry out your orders whatever they be.' Guru Gobind Singh converted Madho Das Bairagi to his faith. He baptised him as a member of the Khalsa. Madho das ceased to be a Bairagi. He became a Singh (Lion) of the Guru. He called himself the Guru's Banda. He wanted Banda to be his name. Hence, he came to be addressed as Banda. After Baptism, his name was changed to Banda Singh. He is generally known as Banda Singh Bahadur, or simply Banda Bahadur. The Guru instructed him in the principles of his faith. He became acquainted with the history of the Sikhs and their lives. He learnt about the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and the Sahibzadas; Guru Gobind Singh's four sons. He learnt about the terrible hardships which the Guru and his Sikhs had suffered. On learning all this, he was filled with righteous indignation. The Guru's amrit aroused the Rajput spirit in him. He yearned to be in the battle-field as Guru Gobind Singh's Saint-Soldier. He said to the Guru, 'O true King, permit me to go to the Punjab. Permit me to punish those who committed such cruel deeds.' His wish was granted. He was appointed the leader and commander of the Khalsa. The Guru gave him a drum and a banner. They were to serve as emblems of secular authority. He bestowed on him five arrows from his own quiver. They were to serve as a pledge of victory. He deputed five Sikhs to accompany him. They were to help and advise him. He also gave him a number of Hukamnamas. They were letter addressed to leading Sikhs in the Punjab and to the general body of the Khalsa. They called upon all Sikhs to help Banda Singh in every way. When they parted, the Guru said to him,' Remain pure in conduct. Never touch another's wife. Be true in word and deed. Look upon yourself as a servant of the Khalsa who will be the Guru after my return to the Almighty Father's presence. Always act on the advice of the five Sikhs who will go with you. Never think of declaring yourself as a Guru. Do not set up a sect of your own. Always help the poor and the needy. Never harm the innocent. Have full faith in God and Guru Nanak. Always act on the tenets of the Sikh religion. As long as you act upon these instructions, victory will ever wait on your standard. If, at any time, you find yourself in some hopeless situation, pray to God and shoot one of my arrows. God will help you.' Thus raised to the position of the commander of the Khalsa, Banda Singh proceeded to the north, On approaching Sehri and Khanda, he dispatched Guru Gobind Singh's Hukamnamas to the leading Sikhs in the Punjab. He called upon them to join him. He told them that he had come to punish Wazir Khan and his assistant Sucha Nand for having killed The Guru's younger sons. He added that he would also punish the hill-rajas who had ill-treated the Guru. The Sikhs flocked to him from all places. He marched towards Sarhind. More and more Sikhs joined him on the way. He went along punishing tyrants in various places. On November 26, 1709, early in the morning, he fell upon Samana. Sayyid Jalal Din of this city had beheaded Guru Tegh Bahadur. Two other Pathans of the same city had cut off the heads of the younger Sahibzadas at Sarhind. The Mughals, Sayyids, etc., of the place opposed him. But Banda and his Sikhs killed them all. Then he fell upon other centers of Muslim oppression and tyranny, and punished the tyrants there. Such centers included Kanjpur, which was Nawab Wazir Khan's village. Then he attacked the town of Kapuri. The commander of that place, Qadam Din, was a notorious bad character. He used to forcibly take away young and beautiful Hindu women and girls, and keep them in his harem. Qadam Din was suitably punished. His places were burnt. Baba Banda Singh then turned his attention to Sadhaura. That was another centre of Muslim oppression. The Hindus of that place were permitted to cremate their dead. They were not permitted to perform any religious ceremony. Cows were killed before their houses, and cows, blood and intestines were left in the streets. The ruler of that place, Usman Khan, was an object of special anger and hatred for the Sikhs. There was a special reason for this. A great Muslim saint of that place, Sayyid Budhu Shah, had helped Guru Gobind Singh in the battle of Bhangani. Later, Usman Khan had, tortured and killed Sayyid Budhu Shah on the account. Sadhaura was attacked. A severe battle was fought. Usman Khan was defeated. He and his agents were hanged. In this way he went on capturing all centers of Muslim oppression. Then he advanced towards Sarhind. This city and its governor, Wazir Khan, were most hateful to the Sikhs. It was here that the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh had been bricked up alive and murdered. It was Wazir Khan who had subjected the Guru to many hardships at Anandpur. He had attacked the Guru at Chamkaur where the latter's two elder sons had been killed. He had pursued him to Muktsar, where the forty Saved ones were martyred. Again, it was Wazir Khan who had sent the Pathan who killed the Guru himself at Nander. On account of all this, the Sikhs were burning with rage to wreak vengeance on the hateful ruler of this hated city. Sikhs from all parts from the Punjab now joined Baba Banda Singh's forces. He advanced toward Sarhind. Wazir Khan came out with all his army to meet the Sikhs. In addition to his own forces, he had with him the forces of Lahore, Eminabad, Hissar, etc. A severe and bloody battle was fought on the plain of Chapper-Chiri, about 15 kilometers from Sarhind. Wazir Khan was killed. His forces ran away. Sarhind was taken two days later. The city was plundered and mostly destroyed. People like Sucha Nand were also punished. The wall where the two younger Sahibzadas had been bricked up was also pulled down. Baba Banda Singh continued his conquests. Soon, he became master of the Punjab, east of Lahore. For his headquarters he selected Mukhlispur, which was a pleasant hilly place near Sadhaura. He repaired its old fort and renamed it Lohgarh or Iron Castle. Emperor Bahadur Shah heard the news of Baba Banda Singh's successes. He was then in Deccan. At once he returned to the capital. He sent a huge army against Baba Banda Singh. The latter waited for it at Lohgarh. The imperial forces arrived and encamped near Sadhaura. The Sikhs fell upon them with showers of arrows and musket-balls. The imperial army suffered heavy losses. it was about to retreat. But then fresh forces came to its help. The Sikhs retreated into the fort of Lohgarh. The imperial forces, more than sixty thousand strong besieged Lohgarh. But the place was so well fortified that the imperial army dared not attack it for some time. The Sikhs were short of provisions. They had no hope of standing a long siege. They became desperate. They decided to rush out and cut their way through the army's ranks. Accordingly, Baba Banda Singh rushed out of the fort one night. He disappeared with his men into the hills of Nahan. Soon after his escape from Lohgarh, Baba Banda Singh issued circular letters, called Hukamnamas, to the Sikhs of various places. He called upon them to join him at once. In response to this call, Sikhs from all directions joined him at Kirtarpur. He decided to attack and punish some of the Hindu hill chiefs who had been troubling Guru Gobind Singh. Raja Bhim Chand of Kahlur was the first to attract his attention. He was ordered to submit. But he chose to offer resistance. He was defeated. The other rajas submitted without resistance. The raja of Chamba became Baba Banda Singh's friend and ally. He gave the Sikh leader in marriage a beautiful girl from his own family. For some time, Baba Banda Singh stayed in northern hill. Occasionally, he came down to extend his influence in the plains. He conquered some places like Rajpur, Brahmpur, Kalanpur, and Batala. But then very strong Mughal armies pushed him. He had to retire to the hills again. Then an imperial order was issued, commanding all government officials to kill Sikhs wherever they were to be found. The orders were strictly enforced. Sikhs and their sympathizers were slaughters in large numbers. The Emperor then issued another order. All Hindus were ordered to shave off their beards. That would enable them to be distinguished from the Sikhs. The emperor knew that Sikhs would never, even under pain of death, cut or shave their beards, or any hair whatever from their bodies. Baba Banda Singh was obliged to evacuate Lohgarh. He took refuge in the Jammu hills where he married a second time and found a settlement of his own, now called dera Baba Banda Singh. After a stay of over one year in the hills, Baba Banda Singh reappeared in the plains. He conquered Kalanpur and Batala once more. Then he was attacked by a huge army. The army was helped by a number of Hindu rajas. In the first encounter with the imperial forces, Baba Banda Singh fought so heroically that he was nearly defeated them. But the odds were too heavily loaded against him. He retreated to the village of Gurdas-Nangal about six kilometers to the west of Gurdaspur. The imperial forces laid siege to the village. Provisions were soon exhausted. The besieged soon began to suffer extreme hunger. In the absence of grain, the flesh of horses, asses, and other animals had to be used as food. They ate grass and leaves of trees. Then they removed the bark of trees and broke of their small shoots. They dried and grounded them., and used them in place of flour. Some Sikhs cut flesh from their own thighs, roasted it, and ate it.
In spite of all this, the Sikhs withstood the huge imperial forces for eight long months. But how long could this continue ? About eight thousand Sikhs had died. The remaining were reduced to mere skeletons. They had become too weak to wield any weapons. The imperial army entered the fortress. Baba Banda Singh and his famished followers were taken prisoner. Baba Banda Singh's wife and his three year old son were among the prisoners. From Gurdas Nangal Baba Banda Singh and his companions were taken to Lahore. There they were paraded in the streets. Then they were dispatched to Delhi. Baba Banda Singh was bound in chains in four places and put in an iron cage. The cage was placed on an elephant's back. His companions, about two hundred in all, were also in chains. Zakriya Khan, son of the governor of Lahore, was in charge of these prisoners. He thought that the number of prisoners was too small to present to the Emperor. Hence he caught every Sikh he could find in the villages on the way. The number of prisoners finally was seven hundred and forty. Thousands more were killed. The heads of two thousand Sikhs were hung on spears and carried along with the prisoners. In addition to these, seven hundred cartloads of Sikhs' heads also accompanied the horrible show. If one cart be supposed to contain fifty heads, 700 carts must have contained 35,000 heads ! On reaching Delhi, Baba Banda Singh and the other Sikh prisoners were taken in the procession through the main streets of Delhi. at the head of the procession were carried two thousand heads of the Sikhs. They were raised on bamboo poles. Their long hair waved in the wind. Then came Baba Banda Singh, seated in an iron cage placed on the back of the elephant. After his elephant, came the other Sikh prisoners. They were tied two and two on saddle less camels. For miles and miles, the route was lined on both sides with troops and filled with merry crowds. They had gathered to enjoy the 'tamasha'. They were beside themselves with joy. A Muhammedan writer saw the whole scene. He calls it a tamasha. He writes, 'The Musalmans were dancing with joy. The unfortunate Sikhs were happy. They were contented with their lot. There was not the slightest sign of sorrow or dejection on their faces. In fact, most of them seemed to be happy and cheerful. They were merrily singing their sacred hymns. About two weeks later, began the murder of the Sikh prisoners. One hundred of them were killed everyday. Every batch was told, 'Those of you who embrace Islam will not be killed.' But not even a single Sikh thought of saving his life in that way. They had no fear in death. They called the executioner Mukt or the Deliverer. They cried out to him joyfully, 'O Mukt ! Kill me first.' They even disputed and argued with each other for priority in death. This work of butchery went on until all the prisoners were beheaded.
Among the Sikh prisoners was a tender aged newly married youth. He had been arrested from a village on the way. His widowed mother had followed the prisoners to Delhi. She wanted to save her son's life. She was told, 'Go and tell the emperor that your son is not a Sikh. The emperor will spare his life.' She went to the emperor and said, 'My youthful son id not a Sikh. He is a prisoner in hands of Baba Banda Singh's men. Kindly order his release.' The widows appeal moved the emperor. He ordered her son's release. She hurried with order, and gave it to the officer in charge of the executions. He called up the youth and said to him, 'As you are not a Sikh, you are free.' The boy said, 'Who says I am not a Sikh ?' The Mughal officer said, 'Your mother, there, says so.' The boy said, 'She is telling a lie. I am heart and soul a Sikh. Send me quickly after my comrades.' He ran back to the place of execution where he was beheaded. He joined his martyred comrades. These murders took place in March 1718. Baba Banda Singh and his leading companions were kept alive for about three months. His turn came in first week of June, 1718. He and his 26 companions were taken in procession thorough the streets of the old city. He was taken to the tomb of emperor Bahadur Shah, near the Qutab Minar. There he was paraded round the tomb. He was then offered the usual choice between Islam and death. He chose to die rather than give up his faith. Then began his torture. His baby son was placed in his lap and he was attacked to kill him. He refused to do so. The executioner then cut the child into pieces. Pulling out the dead child's palpitating heart, he thrust it into Baba Banda Singh's mouth. Baba Banda Singh stood calm and unmoved like a statue. He was completely resigned to the Will of God. He was reciting sacred hymns and repeating God's name all the time. Then the executioner began the horrible deed of executing Baba Banda Singh. First of all his right eye was taken out, and then, his left. Then his hands and feet were cut off; his flesh was torn with red hot pincers, and finally, his head was chopped off. Baba Banda Singh remained calm and composed to the last. Thus did he achieve martyrdom and life everlasting on June 9,1718.