Bhai Bota Singh & Bhai Garja Singh :
BOTA SINGH (d. 1739), an eighteenth century martyr of the Sikh faith who belonged to the village of Bharana in Amritsar district. In those days of dire persecution, he along with many fellow Sikhs had sought the safety of wastes and jungles. At nightfall, he would come out of his hiding place and visit some human habitations in search of food. Occasionally he would come to Amritsar by night to have a dip in the holy tank, spending the day in the wilderness around Tarn Taran. One day he was noticed by some people who thought he was a Sikh.
But one of the party said that he was not a Sikh, for had he been one he would not conceal himself thus. The taunt cut Bota Singh to the quick. Accompanied by his companion Garja Singh, a Rarighreta Sikh, and with a bamboo club in his hand, he took up position on the grand trunk road, near Sarai Nur udDin, near Tarn Taran. To announce his presence and proclaim the sovereignty of the Khalsa, he started collecting toll from the passersby. Finding everyone submitting tamely to his authority, he sent a communication to the provincial governor himself.
The year 1739 signifies the worst testing time for the Sikh community. The Mughal rulers of the time had vowed to exterminate the Sikhs. Orders were issued to this effect and handsome cash rewards were promised to anyone and every one who provided information leading to the arrest of a Sikh, arrested or killed a Sikh. Sikhs were hunted down like jungle animals. Their properties were looted, confiscated and set on fire. Thus there was no place or person to whom they could turn for seeking justice.
Communal minded Muslims and bigoted Hindus took full advantage of the situation. They became informers, and killer, there by getting day by day richer and closed to rulers. Ten, fifty or eighty rupees was a very handsome reward in those days.
Taking advantage of disappearance of Sikhs from plains of Punjab, into hills, river banks and desert areas of bordering States, the Governor of Punjab, Nawab Zakaria Khan got it pronounced through out the state that Sikh community had been completely decimated. Inspite of such tall claims made by the ruling community. Sikhs in ones and twos still visited their most sacred Shrine Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar to pay their respect and to bathe in the Sarover even at the cost of their lives at times.
Once two Sikhs, Bhai Bota Singh and Bhai Garja Singh were proceeding from Taran Taran to Amritsar to visit sacred Harimandir Sahib. They travelled by night and kept themselves hidden in bushes during the day. One day, two Muslim travellers noticed these two hidden behind bushes besides Lahore-Delhi G.T. Road near Sarai Nuruddin and started talking about them. One of them said, “It seems I have seen two Sikhs hidden behind those bushes.” The other Muslim fellow said, “No, It can’t be, because the Sikhs are a brave people. They do not hide. They rather die fighting than hiding like cowards.” The first one said, “why not go and see for ourselves, whether those are Sikhs or not, behind bushes.” The second one said “Aren’t you aware of the announcement made by the Governor Zakaria Khan throughtout Punjab that he had decimated the Sikhs completely.” Thus talking, the two Muslim travellers proceeded on towards their destination, not taking the risk of verifying the identity of persons hidden behind bushes.
However the talk about the false claim of Governor Zakaria Khan about his being successful in completly finishing the Sikhs gave a big jolt to Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh who happened to overhear every word uttered by the two Muslim travellers. They decided to falsify Zakaria Khan’s propaganda and came out of the bushes after planning their strategy.
With strong wooden sticks in their hands, they occupied the small abode known as Sarai Nuruddin on the road side and started levying and collecting tax money from traveller at the rate of one anna per cart load and one paisa per donkey load, as road tax. They pronounced the place as part of area ruled by Sikhs. This went on for a number of days, without opposition from Government agencies. Travellers kept paying road tax to the two Sikhs, without any questions. They also spread the word that Zakaria’s propaganda about decimation of the Sikhs was false.
Getting no response from the government of their revolting act, the two Sikhs decided to hasten the pace of events to prompt reaction from the government.
Bhai Bota Singh wrote a letter addressed to Zakaria Khan and gave it to a traveller proceeding to Lahore for handing it over to Zakaria Khan, Governor of Lahore.
He thus wrote on the letter :
"Chithi likhi Singh Bota,
Hath hai sota, Vich rah khalota,
Anna laya gadde noo, Paisa laya khota,
Akho Bhabi Khano nun, Eeun akhe Singh Bota"
In English the words would read:
"Thus writes Bota Singh a letter,
With a big stick in hand, on the road I stand,
Levying an anna for a cart, And pice for a donkey load.
Tell sister-in-law Khano,
That this is a message from Bota Singh."
The content of the letter was that : This letter is written by Bhai Bota Singh. He is armed with a strong wooden stick and standing on the road side collects road tax at the rate of one anna per cart-load and one paisa per donkey load; Go and tell my Sister-in-law (Governor Zakaria Khan). Thus says Bota Singh.
Zakaria Khan got the letter sent by Bhai Bota Singh and was shaken to the hilt on reading it. He sought more information from the traveller (who delivered the letter to him and had himself paid the road tax to the two Sikhs) asking him about the number of Sikhs involved in tax collection and the nature of arms in their possession. The messenger told Zakaria Khan that the tax-collecting Sikhs at Sarai Nuruddin were only two in numbers and that the only arms in their possession were thick strong wooden sticks.
Zakaria Khan immediately summoned the Army General Jalaluddin and siad “Take two hundred armed horse riding soldiers, capture the two tax collecting defiant Sikhs and produce them alive before me so that I could impart exemplary punishment to them.” The reason for dispatching two hundred armed soldiers to capture only two un-armed Sikhs was his knowledge that these brave Sikhs were capable of springing surprises on much stronger adversaries.
Taking urgent orders from Zakaria Khan, General Jalaluddin hurriedly proceeded towards Sarai Nuruddin, accompanied by two hundred armed horse riding soldiers to achieve his objective of capturing the two Sikhs alive.
The sound f horse hoofs and the rising dust fast approaching there alarmed Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh of coming events. They sensed the approaching danger and got ready to face it since they had themselves invited it.
While the band of two hundred soldiers under the command of Jalaluddin were preparing to encircle Sarai Nuruddin, Bhai Bota Singh Shouted loudly on soldiers.
“If you are really brave come forward for one to one combat for testing acts of bravery to-day.” Jalaluddin ordered two of its soldiers to take on the two Sikhs. No sooner had the two soldiers stepped forward Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh attacked them with electrifying speed and beat them to death with their sticks. Jalaluddin sent forward another two soldiers who too were dispatched to hell by the brave Sikhs. In a similar fashion General Jalaluddin lost eight of his soldiers. Just then, the Sikhs shouted “Now send four soldiers at a time to fight two to one with us.” Three batches of four soldiers each were done to death by the smart and brave well trained Sikhs.
Seeing bodies of twenty of his dead soldiers scattered on ground before him, Jalaluddin lost patience and ordered his remaining 180 soldiers to mount a lightening attack to over-power the two Sikhs. The two Sikhs stood back to back and faced the soldiers. The soldiers moved swiftly forward and managed to encircle the two Sikhs. The Sikhs on the other hand shouted their battle cry. “Bole So Nihal Sat Sri Akal” and with the aid of only wooden sticks dispatched another ten soldiers to death before finally laying down their lives as martyrs. They failed the attempt of the Muslim forces to capture them alive.
Against heavy odds, Bhai Bota Singh and Garja Singh kept up the honour of Khalsa Panth high. They set an example of courage fearlessness and defiance in the face of certain death and against heavy odds-Thus they enriched the Sikh heritage by enacting a rare feat