Dr. Jagtar Singh Grewal is an internationally recognized Sikh scholar. His books on Sikh Gurus and Sikh history have been widely acclaimed as accurate and perceptive. He is a Professor of History at the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. He also served as Vice-chancellor of this University. This paper was read at the Berkeley Conference on Sikh Studies.

THE raison d’etre of Ratan Singh Bhangu’s work was to demonstrate how the ruled destroyed the rulers, how the subjects became kings, how the Sikhs became sovereign. This development is traced to the mission of Guru Nanak who made it possible for “the sparrows to kill the hawks”, and for “the lambs to kill the lions”. Guru Nanak was the only saviour of the Kalyuga, his position being comparable to that of NarSingh in the Satyuga, of Rama in the tretayuga and of Krishna in the Dwaparyuga. He was the saviour both of Hindus and Muslims. His message was meant in fact for the entire world. The faith he promulgated was worth fighting for. That was how the struggle of the Khalsa became a war in the cause of faith. Ratan Singh Bhangu makes it very clear that the Singhs who were fighting against the contemporary rulers belonged to the Panth of Guru Nanak. This indeed is built into the very title of his works: Guru Panth Parkash.

This did not mean, however, that the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh had no special role to play. According to Ratan Singh Bhangu the Khalsa was instituted by Guru Gobind Singh to raise the Sikh and to destroy the unSikh. The latter were equated with the Mughal rulers and their supporters. It was necessary to prepare the Sikhs to take up arms against their rulers. That was why charanpahul was replaced by khandekipahul. The Khalsa was made manifest to fight and to rule. This idea was embodied in the very form of greeting, that is Gurfateh. The Khalsa were convinced that collectively they were invincible and they were bound to establish sovereign rule.

This conviction was based, among other things, on a decision attributed to Guru Nanak. When Babur approached him for blessings, the throne of “Hind” was bestowed upon him on the condition that he would not oppress the followers of Guru Nanak. This pact ended when Jahangir got Guru Arjan executed through his subordinates. The fall of the Mughal empire after the seventh emperor was believed to be imminent. A prohecy attributed to Guru Gobind Singh specifically made every Khalsa horseman a potential ruler. One of the charges against Banda Bahadur is precisely this that he wanted to appropriate rulers ship for himself alone. In any case, Ratan Singh Bhangu refers to situations in which the Khalsa refuse to accept a subordinate position whatever its importance in terms of political power and economic advantage. From the very beginning the Khalsa was meant to be sovereign.

This conviction was supported by incessant action. Armed struggle was raised into a principle: danga was the got and the jat of the Singhs. Armed action against the rulers of the day and their supporters was regarded as an assertion of sovereignty.

In this context the decision of a single Singh to levy an anna from every cart and a paisa from every donkey on the highway to Lahore was meant to be a challenge to the supremacy of the Mughal governor of Lahore. The Singh who did this was also inviting martyrdom. Sovereignty thus demanded its price. The example of Guru Gobind Singh who sacrificed all his four sons served as a source of inspiration. At any rate the Khalsa were prepared to make sacrifices and to undergo suffering in the hope of their sovereign rule, Ratan Singh Bhangu makes the explicit statement that Khatris, Jats, Tarkhans and Kalals attained to ruler ship because they did not deviate from the goal of sovereign rule in the face of unbearable suffering.

Ratan Singh Bhangu evolves a metaphysics of martyrdom. He has great appreciation for Tara Singh who defied the Mughal authorities and died fighting. But admiration for Bhai Mani Singh and Bhai Taru Singh is much greater; their’s was a passive resistance and their martyrdom was almost deliberate, like that of Guru Tegh Bahadur. They both became deodidars of the sons of Guru Gobind Singh in heaven. The roots of the mughal empire withered upon Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom: The Pirs and Paigambars of the Turks were removed from Sachkhand to a backyard, and they were no longer able to intercede. The mundane events became a reflection of decisions taken in Sachkhand. The idea of sovereignty was closely linked’ with the mataphysics of martyrdom. Those who die in the cause of the Panth go to paradise Or they are reborn to become rulers. Ratan Singh Bhangu attaches great significance to the martyrdom of Gurbakhsh Singh Nihang who died fighting against the Afghans to protect the Har mandir: he was reborn as Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Notwithstanding the metaphysics of martyrdom, the political struggle of the Khalsa is waged on solid ground. Ratan Singh Bhangu attaches crucial importance to the guerrilla tractics of the Khalsa. To offer a running fight, or to attack and retreat, was an essential feature of their tactics. Out of the two and a half points of battle, Ratan Singh gives one point each to “attack” and “retreat” but only half a point to “fight un to death”. He invokes the authority and example of Guru Gobind Singh for this. The number of the Khalsa increases due to the oppression of the peasantry by the Mughal administrators. Many others join them in the hope of plunder. After the initial success of the leaders of. the Singhs, soldiers and servants are employed by them for the occupation of territories. The KhaIsa gets support from the non Singhs just as the Mughal administrators get support from the non-Sikhs. Ratan Singh Bhangu clearly states that the Mughal governors of Lahore did not get any support from Delhi. They were weakened by the invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali, while the governors of the latter were weakened by the invasion of the Punjab by the Marathas. Ratan Singh Bhangu does not ignore the effect of the heat of the sun on the Afghans of Ahmad Shah Abdali or that of fasting during the month of Ramzan; nor does he ignore the effect of hashish and opium on the Singhs when they fight their battles.


The Khalsa Panth, according to Ratan Singh Bhangu, was meant to be egalitarian. Guru Gobind Singh deliberately turned to the lower castes because he felt convinced that the Rajputs would not be willing to carry out his mission. More than a score of social groups are mentioned in this connection: Brahmans, Bhatts, Khatris, Aroras, Banias, Bakals, Karars, Suds, Jats, Gujjars, Kambohs, Sainis, Labanas, Lohars, Tarkhans, Kumhars, Sunars, Shiwars, Nais. Chhimbas, Kalals, Behrupiyas, Churahas and Chamars. They obviously include not merely the low caste but also the outcaste. the dregs of the Contemporary social order. Among “the cherished five”, Ratan Singh mentions a Khatri. A Jat, a Chhimba, a Nai and a Shiwar to underline that persons from all the varnas were included in the Khalsa Panth. He states explicitly that all distinctions were abolished when the Singhs drank from one vessel, when the notion of varanas and ashramas was discarded’ and when the sacred thread and the sacred mark were put aside. When the fortress of Ram Rauni was constructed at Ramdaspur, all the Singhs contributed their Labour irrespective of their importance in the Panth. The rational given for egalitarianism is significant: the differences of caste and the notion of ritual purity did not suit the conditions of war, defense, hardship and hunger.

Among those, who died fighting by the side of Tara Singh, there were Brahmans, Nais, Trakhans, as well as Jats; there were also Multani and Peshawari Singhs, who were presumably Khatris or Aroras. The leaders of the five jathas constituted by “Nawab” Kapur Singh in the 1730s consisted of two Jats, two Khatris and one Ranghretta. Bir Singh Ranghretta is mentioned elsewhere also as the leader of 1300 horsemen always fighting in the fore. Throughout the period of political struggle, were find incidental references to Khatris, Jats, Tarkhans, Lohars, Ranghrettas and Mazihabis as active members of the Khalsa Panth. The preponderance of Singhs from the countryside is implied in the tendency among the leaders of the Khalsa to occupy their own villages and the surrounding territory first. The preponderance of Jats. among the Singhs is evident from a casual remark of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia that their number was hundred times more than that of the Tarkhans. Jat preponderance is assumed in fact by Ratan Singh Bhangu when he says that the provinces wrested from the Mughals by Ahmad Shah Abdali were in turn wrested from him by the Jats.

Nevertheless, the difference of caste was discounted by the Jats themselves. Sukha Singh, a Tarkhan, was “brought up” by Shiam Singh a Sandhu Jat. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, a Kalal, was similarly “brought up” by Kapur Singh, a Virk Jat. Just as the service of the Panth led Charhat Singh Sukerchakia to the pinnacle of eminence among the Khalsa, so did the service of the Panth make Jassa Singh Kalal the Patshah of the Panth. However. the differences of caste were not completely abolished. particularly the differences between the “caste” and the “outcaste” groups. Ratan Singh Bhangu admires Sardar Shiam Singh for giving pahul to everyone who came to him for this purpose. Also, he ate with them all. But one distinction remaind: whereas he ate with those who had the “Hindu” background, he simply patronized and protected those who had the rich background.

In the work of Ratan Singh Bhangu, the egalitarianism of the Khalsa Panth is matched by the absence of ideological differentiation in the Sikh Panth, The Khalsa, the Panth and the Singh stand equated. From the very beginning Guru Gobind Singh had excommunicated the Minas, the Masands, the Ramraiyas and those who smoked or killed their infant daughters. The Khalsa were instructed not to have any connection with them. The Khalsa were not to wear the sacred thread and they were not to wear dhoti. They were to worship the Akal Purkh alone, not ghouls and ghosts, Gugga or Sakhi Sarwar; they were not to visit graves or cremation grounds, There are seveal other items of the Khalsa code of conduct which are mentioned by Ratan Singh Bhangu. Ina reference to preparation for the ceremony of marriage there is an indication that the services of Brahmans were not required and the Holy Granth occupied the central place in the ceremony.

The bonds of faith were more important than the ties of caste or class for the Singhs. Ratan Singh Bhangu refers to the traditional animosity between the Jats and the Rajputs but the Rajputs in question are outside the Panth. The Singhs who are praised as good Singhs attend to worship regularly, render personal services to others and remain ready to fight. Distinguished further are the Nihangs who remained celibate and did not acknowledge anyone as their leader. They wore blue dress. Praised also are those who take initiative in construction of Gurdwaras at places associated with the Sikh Gurus, particularly with Guru Gobind Singh and his family.

Ratan Singh Bhangu refers to the tradition of awarding punishment (tankhah) to those of the Khalsa who deviated from the code in any way. Iv is interesting to note in this connection that Sukha Singh was excommunicated by the Khalsa at one time on the suspicion that this wife had killed their infant daughter. It is even more interesting to note that Diwan Kaura Mal used to pay five rupees a day as a fine (tankhah) for smoking hukka, This was a special concession. The non Singhs were regarded as members of the Khalsa Panth only if they did not infringe certain basic norms, It is obvious that the sehjdhari Sikhs, as much as the keshdhari Singhs, were regarded as members of the Sikh Panth, Unlike Kesar Singh Chhibber, Ratan Singh Bhangu  shows a clear preference for the Singhs. His identification with them is almost complete. But his freedom from prejudice against any category of Singhs or Sikhs is equally remarkable.


In sum, we notice first the emergence of a new Kind of literature in response to the establishment of Sikh rule. The qasihistorical or historical form of this literature is closely connected with contemporary politics. This literature was important for new self-images and their social influence. The liberal polity of the Sikh rulers can be seen partly as the result of historical momentum and the small number of Sikhs, particularly in terms of employment and the use of Persian in administration. The number of Sikhs was increasing during this period, largely due to the mundane self-interest of individuals and due to state patronage. Direct or indirect and present or past claims of service to the Sikh Panth were relevant for seeking and receiving patronage. The entity of the Sikh Panth was clearly recognized. There were a few basic norms to which every Sikh was expected to subscribe, like faith in Guru Nanak, the authority of the Adi Granth and refraining from smoking.

However, the distinction between the Singh and the Sikh member of the Panth was equally clear. The differences between the keshdhari Singh and the sehjdhari Sikh was partly a reflection of the difference between the country and the town. The Singhs came largely from the countryside, consisting not only of agriculturists like the Jats, the craftsmen like the Tarkhans, the service performing groups like the Nais and the Jhiwars, the outcaste groups like the Ranghrettas and the Mazhabis but also of Khatrisand Brahmans who

formed an integral part of the rural society of the Punjab. The non-Singh members came largely from the trading communities and shopkeepers of the towns and cities, notably Khatris and Aroras. This is not to suggest, however, that no Singhs lived in cities and towns or no nonSinghs lived) in the villages. In fact, many of the sehjdhari followers of the Udasi Mahants had asrural background and many Bhai and Granthi Singhs had an urban background.

The increasing number of Singhs was regretfully noted by Kesar Singh Chhibber; their preponderance was taken for granted by Ratan Singh Bhangu. Sikhi for the Singhs was subsumed by Singhi. Guru Nanak was the source ultimately of both. Political activity, government and administration and fighting on behalf of the state were some of the important concerns of the Singhs. They subscribed to the doctrine of Guru Panth, but the days of the gurmata were over. However, the importance of “the five” was still there in various situations. The most important legacy of the idea of sovereignty was not the establishment of a large number of Sikh principalities in the late 18th century but also the establishment of a Sikh empire in the early 19th. After all, the prophecy of Guru Gobind Singh justified the ruler ship of a single Singh. Ratan Singh Bhangu legitimizes the empire of Ranjit Singh on the basis of a posteventum prophecy as well.

The Singhs were expected to follow the Khalsa code of conduct. The Akalis and the Nihangs were the most meticulous about many of the injunctions, particularly with reference to their appearance and the wearing of arms. The Singhs who were serving in the army and many others who were associated with government and administration were also very particular about the wearing of arms. An ordinary Singh, however, was content to wear kesh and turban, besides of course bearing the epithet Singh and refraining from smoking. The Singhs subscribed to the idea of equality, particularly in the realm of religion and politics. For matrimony and commensality, the basic distinction was between the “caste” and “outcastes” groups. The notion of ritual status was discarded and so was the notion of ritual purity. However, the traditional ties of caste groups remained in existence for several purposes.

The non-Sikhs thought of Sikhi as distinct from Singhi, regarding the rehat as of no consequence. They thought of politics as an accretion. They compromised the unity of God by subscribing to belief in gods and goddesses. Their notion of incarnation, karma and transmigration were traditional. The Adi Granth was for them the most important religious scripture but not necessarily the only one. They could reinterpret the Adi Granth in support of “unorthodoxy” or “reform”. The doctrine of Guru Panth had no meaning for them and “the five” had no importance. They were much more meticulous about caste distinctions and ritual purity than the Singhs. No attempt appears to have been made to ensure religious or social conformity, surely because the non Singhs did not subscribe to the idea and probably because the Singhs did not feel its need due to their association with government and administration.

Article extracted from this publication >>  March 13, 1987