The Guruís brave Banda

The battle of Chapper Chiri is a daring saga of Sikh valour, which broke the myth of
invincibility of the Mughal army. Banda Singh Bahadurís triumph was the victory
of the good over the evil, writes Maj-Gen (retd) Kulwant Singh 

DURING the very first meeting with Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded in 1708, Madho Dass, then 38, declared: "O Master, I am thy slave (banda)." The Guru soon saw the immense loyalty and potential in him, and baptised him into Sikhism, renaming him Banda Singh Bahadur. He was chosen to lead an important military mission to Punjab to punish Wazir Khan, Subedar of Sirhind, who had bricked alive two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh ó Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Sahibzada Fateh Singh ó aged 9 and 7, as they had refused to be converted to Islam, and preferred to die instead.

Banda Singh Bahadur was chosen to lead an important military mission to Punjab to punish Wazir Khan, Subedar of Sirhind
Banda Singh Bahadur was chosen to lead an important military mission to Punjab to punish Wazir Khan, Subedar of Sirhind

The Guru briefed Banda Bahadur on the situation in Punjab, blessed him for success, and gave him his own sword, a hukamnama instructing Sikhs to join Banda Bahadur in his struggle against the Mughals, specially to punish Wazir Khan, Nishan Sahib, five arrows and a nagara. Five prominent devoted Sikhs as advisory council members and 20 soldiers were to accompany him.

Guru Gobind Singh wanted his conduct during the war to remain of a very high standard, and, hence, gave him certain instructions. These were to stay humble, disciplined, chaste and God fearing even after being victorious and attaining power. He directed him to wage a war the Sikh way, the traditions set by Guruji himself in his 17 wars, mostly against the Mughals. Bandaís mission included to collect war-like resources and mobilise the maximum Sikhs to join him in his struggle against the tyrannical rule of the Mughals.

Banda took almost a year to cover a distance of 1,600 miles without attracting the attention of the Mughals. He camped about 35 miles from Delhi, and started preparations for his task ahead. He sent the Guruís hukamnama to prominent Sikh leaders. On hearing about Bandaís mission, a lot of Sikh volunteers from Majha, Malwa and Doaba started joining him.

Banda moved northwards, and the first attack was in early November, 1709, at Sonepat, where he looted the royal treasury; no resistance could match his 500 brave soldiers whom he commanded at that time. He distributed the looted money among the soldiers, and moved further north and captured Kaithal without much resistance. By now many large numbers had joined Banda, obeying Gurujiís hukamnama.

Banda rightly chose his next target Samana, a rich town, where the executioners of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singhís two sons lived. Samana was a Muslim stronghold with a sizeable army supported by artillery. Banda and his army, with their loud war cries, overcame the resistance and pounced on the Mughal troops. The fight carried on for almost three days, leading to total destruction of the town with almost 10,000 dead. This was the first major victory of Bandaís troops against the well-equipped Mughal force.

Banda was stronger than ever before, as a lot of wealth resources, including much-needed horses, were captured. The victory at Samana unnerved the Subedar of Sirhind, who knew he would be the next target of Banda.

Banda went into a consolidation phase to take stock of his territorial gains, rest his troops and train them. He established his base at Muklishgarh situated in the foothills near Nahan. It was named Lohgarh, city of steel, and became the first capital of the Sikh state.

A worried Wazir Khan started to seek help from all quarters, including Emperor Bahadur Shah, who was fighting the Rajput rebels in Rajasthan. Banda wanted to attack Sirhind after he was reinforced from central Punjab. Meanwhile, he did not sit idle; he captured and plundered Ghuram, Shahjabad, Mustafabad, Kapuri and Sadhaura, one after the other. Seeing Bandaís success and his action of abolishing the zamindari system prevalent under Mughal rulers and declaring the actual tiller as owner, which made him very popular among the peasants, thousands poured in to fight the tyrannical Mughal rulers.

Wazir Khan decided to take on Bandaís army near Chapper Chiri (just outside of present day Mohali), 20 km from the fortress of Sirhind, and proclaimed jihad against the Sikh army. He sent a contingent of 1,000 trained soldiers under the command of the son of Dewan Suchanand (who was one of the perpetrators in the killing of the Guruís sons), pretending to be deserters. They were tasked to win Bandaís trust, create confusion in Bandaís army at a crucial time and murder him.

The Mughal army was well trained, comprising approximately 20,000 trained soldiers, including 6,000 musketeers, 5,000 to 6,000 horsemen, numerous artillery guns and elephants. There were 10,000 Ghazis grouped with the Mughal force, making its total strength of 30,000.

The Subedar of Malerkotla and other chieftains, including Ranghars, joined Wazir Khan in large numbers. Banda had perhaps the equal numbers, but the bulk of his troops was not so well trained and not regular soldiers. What this army had in abundance was raw courage, along with the spirit to avenge the atrocities committed on the Sikh Gurus. The battle commenced on May 12, 1710.

Banda Bahadur, along with his reserves, occupied a high mound from where he could get a panoramic view of the battle. Initially, the Mughals fought valiantly, causing heavy causalties on the Sikhs due to accurate artillery fire. Banda saw a large number of his troops deserting the battlefield, including 1000 troops sent as a ploy. At this stage Banda, with his well-trained and chosen reserves, moved from the vantage point with lightning speed, hitting at the very guts of the Mughals. His mere presence sent the Mughals in panic. In a hand-to-hand fight, the valiant Sikhs fearlessly overpowered many horsemen and elephants by skilful use of swords, spears and arrows.

The Mughal army was completely routed and Wazir Khan was killed. The Sikhs relentlessly pursued the fleeing Mughals till the gates of Sirhind, which they reached at nightfall, killing most of the fleeing Mughal soldiers. The gates of Sirhind were closed; the guns mounted on the high walls of the fort started firing at the Sikh soldiers, who laid siege of the town. By the next day, the Sikhs forced their way into Sirhind, and a carnage followed. The victory was complete by May 14. The Sikh army had about 5,000 dead, whom they cremated before entering Sirhind.

This battle of Chapper Chiri is a daring saga of Sikh valour, which broke the myth of invincibility of the Mughal army. Bandaís triumph was the victory of the good over the evil.