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Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837)

Admin Singh

Jun 1, 2004
The Kingdom of the Sikhs, or the Sarkar Khalsaji, was a manifestation of the spiritual path initiated by Guru Nanak that was eventually crystallized into the tradition of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh. In 1799, the Sikhs established their kingdom in that part of the Indian subcontinent most traumatised by the invaders.

The Sarkar Khalsaji stretched from the banks of the Satluj to the very foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains in the trans-Indus region. Hari Singh Nalwa was the Commander-in-chief at the most turbulent North West Frontier of Ranjit Singh's kingdom. He took the frontier of the Sarkar Khalsaji to the very mouth of the Khyber Pass. For the past eight centuries, marauders, who had indulged in loot, plunder, rape, and forcible conversions to Islam had used this route into the subcontinent. In his lifetime, Hari Singh became a terror to the ferocious tribes inhabiting these regions. He successfully thwarted the last foreign invasion into the subcontinent through the Khyber Pass at Jamrud, permanently blocking this route of the invaders. Even in his death, Hari Singh Nalwa's formidable reputation ensured victory for the Sikhs against an Afghan force five times as numerous.

Hari Singh Nalwa's performance as an administrator and a military commander in the North West Frontier remains unmatched. Two centuries on, Britain, Pakistan, Russia and America have been unsuccessful in effecting law and order in this region. Hari Singh Nalwa's spectacular achievements exemplified the tradition established by Guru Gobind Singh such that he came to be hailed as the 'Champion of the Khalsaji'.

YouTube - Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa and Bibi Bano : Khyber Pass (Part 1 of 2)
YouTube - Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa and Bibi Bano : Khyber Pass (Part 2 of 2)

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)

Sardar Hari Singh 'Nalwa'

Hari was born in CE1791 at Gujranwala (now Pakistan), the capital city of the Sukharchakias before Lahore came into Ranjit Singh's possession. Hari's family was of 'Khatri' origin belonging to the Uppal tribe and had migrated from Majitha, north of Amritsar.

On conclusion of Khande-da-Pahul, the ceremony of initiation, ten-year-old Hari came into the fold of the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh at which time his surname became 'Singh'.

In 1804, at the age of thirteen, Hari was given the title of 'Sardar', or Chief, and was placed to command 800 soldiers. Hari Singh became 'Nalwa' after the Sardar "had killed a tiger single-handed on horseback, with the sacrifice, however, of his horse" (Prinsep, 1834: 99).

Hari Singh went on to participate in many glorious victories of the Sikhs and became the Commander-in-Chief of the army along the North Western Frontier of the Sikh Kingdom. He was appointed Governor of various provinces and was one of the wealthiest jagirdars of the Kingdom.

Prinsep, H.T. (1834) 1970. Origin of the Sikh Power in the Punjab and Political Life of Muha-raja Runjeet Singh, rpt, Punjab: Languages Department, p. 99.


Kashmir (1820-21)
Greater Hazara (1822-37) Chhachch Hazara, Pothohar plateau, (Rawalpindi), Salt Range (Katas)
Trans-Indus' Viceroy on the Western Frontier' (1822-31) & Governor of Peshawar (1834-37)

Governor of Kashmir(1820-21)
Hari Singh Nalwa was appointed the first Khalsa Governor of Kashmir in 1820. He governed the province for a little over a year when the pull of the Sikh Forward Policy compelled his recall from the province.

Hari Singh Nalwa was remembered in Kashmir for something he least expected. The currency minted while he was the governor had been the subject matter of much speculation (Surinder Singh 2001: 81-8). Following his departure from this subah, all the coins minted under the Sikhs in this province were called the 'Hari Singhee'. Thereafter, no matter who was the governor all coins minted in Kashmir continued to be called the 'Hari Singhee' even following Hari Singh's death (Ganeshi Lal 1846: (4) 23).

Muslim and British historians criticised Hari Singh's tenure as the Governor of Kashmir. Archival records, however, show that their assessment was based on an incomplete understanding of the situation.

Surinder Singh, ‘Coinage: Sovereignty to the Guru’, in Maharaja Ranjit Singh — Commemoration volume on Bicentenary of his Coronation 1801-2001, eds Prithpal Singh Kapur and Dharam Singh, Patiala: Punjabi University, 2001.
Ganeshi Lal. Siyahat-i-Kashmir (Kashmir Nama or Tarikh-i-Kashmir) by March-June 1846, tr. Vidya Sagar Suri, 1955, Simla: The Punjab Government Record Office Pub. Monograph No 4.

Jagirdar-Governor Greater Hazara (1822-37)
The possibility of consolidating the North West Frontier of the Indian sub-continent into a province was presented by the relentless efforts of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa. What he achieved in this region in a span of 15 years with limited resources and in the midst of a turbulent population, was nothing short of a miracle. Hazara, the crown of the Sindh Sagar Doab, was the most significant of all the territories under his governance. His proceedings in this area present the finest example of his skill as a military commander and as an administrator. The compiler of the Hazara Gazetteer acknowledged that Hari Singh Nalwa left his mark upon this district, which at that time only a strong hand like his could effectively control. "Of unbounded energy and courage, he was ruthless towards those who opposed his path. The town of Haripur fittingly perpetuates his name and the fort of Harkishangarh forms an enduring monument of his power." (Hazara 1907: 130)

NWFP Gazetteers - Gazetteer of the Hazara District 1907. London: Chatto and Windus, 1908.

'Viceroy on the Western Frontier' (1822-31) & Governor of Peshawar (1834-37)
In the early years, Ranjit Singh requisitioned all his fighting men when he proposed a conquest. In the later years, apart from the garrison manning the forts, the Kampu-i-mu'alla or the State troops continued to be stationed in Lahore under the Maharaja's command. The Kampu-i-mu'alla was dispatched as reinforcement when requested for by Hari Singh Nalwa. More often than not, however, the fate of the battle had been decided before these could arrive. Hari Singh Nalwa and his Jagirdari Fauj, together with the two battalions of the Fauj-i-Khas raised by him, were largely responsible for guarding the western frontier of the kingdom. In case of an invasion from the west, the British saw the Sikhs as their Forward Post. The Sikhs, in turn, saw territory under Hari Singh Nalwa's jurisdiction and command as the ****hest extent of the Sikh Kingdom.

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)

Military Commander

• Early participation in the conquest of cis-Satluj territories, e.g. Bhadowal; trans-Satluj regions in the Rachna and Bari Doabs
• Kasur (1807)
• Khushab (Sindh Sagar Doab) & Sahiwal (Chaj Doab) (1810)
• Gandhgarh (Hazara) (1815)
• Mahmudkot (Sindh Sagar Doab) (1816)
• Multan (Bari Doab) (1818)
• Peshawar becomes tributary (trans-Indus) (1818)
• Kashmir (1819)
• Pakhli & Damtaur (Hazara) (1821-2)
• Naushehra (trans-Indus) (1823)
• Sirikot (Hazara) (1824)
• Wahhabi (trans-Indus) (1826-31)
• Occupies Peshawar (1834)
• Jamrud (Khyber Pass) (1836)

Kingdom of the Sikhs


• Gujranwala (Rachna Doab)
• Haripur, Pakhli & Damtaur, Khanpur, Dhanna (Hazara)
• Warcha (Salt Range)
• Kachhi, Mitha Tiwana, Nurpur (Sindh Sagar Doab)
• Tank & Bannu (Trans-Indus)
• Hassan Abdal, Kalargarh, Pindi Gheb (Pothohar plateau)

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)


Meeting with the British Governor-General

Mission to Simla (1831)
In 1831, Hari Singh was deputed to head a diplomatic mission to Lord William Bentinck, Governor-General of British India. The Ropar Meeting between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the head of British India followed soon thereafter. The British desired to persuade Ranjit Singh to open the Indus for trade. Hari Singh Nalwa expressed strong reservations against any such move. The most compelling reason for the Sardar’s scepticism was the scenario visible across the Satluj — namely, the proceedings in British Hindustan. As a “wide awake” military man and an efficient administrator, Hari Singh Nalwa clearly understood both the military and trade designs of the British.

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)

Sikhs & Afghans (1813-37)

The story of Hari Singh Nalwa’s life is an account of Sikh-Afghan relations in the first half of the nineteenth century (Nalwa, 2009: 42). The Sardar interacted with three Pashtun dynastic representatives of the Kingdom of Kabul. The first was Ahmed Shah Abdali’s grandson, Shah Shuja of Saddozai Popalzai; second, Fateh Khan, Dost Mohammed Khan and his sons, of Mohammedzai Barakzai; third, Sultan Mohammed Khan, also Mohammedzai Barakzai, ancestor of Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan (1933-73).

So successful was Hari Singh Nalwa in relieving the painful memories of torture and misery inflicted upon his compatriots and ancestors by the Afghans that they “considered him the most formidable enemy they had amongst the Sikhs” (NAI/ fsc 29-5-1837: 59).

Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar.
National Archives of India (New Delhi). Foreign Secret Consultation dated 29 May 1837, number 59.

Final Frontier—Jamrud (1837)

The Battle of Jamrud (30 April, 1837) was a milestone in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It not only reflected how far the power of the Sikhs had progressed in 38 years of Ranjit Singh’s rule, but was a complete reversal of eight centuries of its history. This battle confirmed the new boundary of the Sarkar Khalsaji at the mouth of the Khyber Pass, the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains — striking terror in the heart of the Kingdom of Kabul.

When Hari Singh Nalwa was born, the word ‘Afghan’ was a terror in the Punjab. At the time of his death, each Sikh was a match for a multitude of Afghans. Following Hari Singh Nalwa’s demise, despite the paucity of troops, the terror of Hari Singh Nalwa’s name alone had kept the entire army of the Kingdom of Kabul at bay for over a week — the time it took reinforcements to reach Jamrud from Lahore.

The Afghans retreated from Jamrud without achieving any of their stated objectives.
“Even if the victory had been more decided”, observed the author of the British Peshawar Gazetteer 60 years later, “it would have been dearly purchased by the Sikhs, with the loss of so brave a warrior as Hari Singh” (Peshawar 1897-98: 73-4).

Gazetteer of the Peshawar District 1897-98, Lahore: Punjab Government.

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)

Towns, Forts, Gardens & Shrines

Some of the more famous towns, gardens, fort and shrine associated with Hari Singh Nalwa include —

The ‘new’ town of Gujranwala (Punjab, Pakistan)

(Nalwa, 2009: p. 240)

Haripur (Hazara, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan) was a planned town built by Hari Singh Nalwa in 1822-23, in the North West Frontier tribal belt.

Peshawar (North West Frontier Province, Pakistan) Hari Singh built the fort that dominates the city of Peshawar in the twenty-first century. He called his fort 'Sumergarh', however, this fort is today more popularly known as the 'Bala Hissar'.

Katas (Salt Range, Pakistan) Hari Singh Nalwa built two enormous havelis on the pool side at this famous place of pilgrimage.

Hari Singh ka Bagh

Amritsar (Punjab, India)

(Nalwa, 2009: p. 235 )

Srinagar (Kashmir, India)

(Nalwa, 2009: p. 238)

Panja Sahib Gurdwara in Hassan Abdal (north of Rawalpindi, Pakistan)

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)

About Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa
“…champion of the Khalsaji”
Lepel Griffin in The Panjab Chiefs, 1865
(Bengal Civil Service, Assistant Commissioner, Lahore)
“…builder of the Sikh Empire”
A.S. Sandhu in General Hari Singh Nalwa 1791-1837, 1935
(Sikh historian)
On being asked about the Sikh Kingdom, Mohan Lal informed Abbas Mirza— the Persian Qajar crown prince and military commander during wars with Russia and the Ottoman Empire:
“…if Sardar Hari Singh were to cross the Indus, his highness would soon be glad to make good his retreat to his original government in Tabriz.”
Mohan Lal Kashmiri in Travels in the Panjab, Afghanistan, and Turkistan, etc., 1846
(In service of the East India Company)
“The noblest and the most gallant of the Sikh generals of his time, the very embodiment of honour, chivalry, and courage…”
K.M. Panikkar in The Founding of the Kashmir State, 1930
(Historian, Author, Diplomat and Editor Hindustan Times in 1925)

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)

Mistaken Identity!

In the course of this research, the author chanced upon a photograph (left) supposedly showing Hari Singh Nalwa in the company of Ranjit Singh. The legend accompanying this photograph on display in a leading New Delhi gurdwara read, “A rare photograph of AD1808 while doing war between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and British Empire. Standing bodyguard: Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Faqir Azurrudin (Aziz-ud-din) Sitting: Lord Jangi Laat, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lord Ripin (Ripon, Viceroy).” That this was not a photograph of Hari Singh Nalwa was clear from chronology of events. Hari Singh Nalwa died in 1837 at the age of 46. The supposed Hari Singh Nalwa in the picture was a young man. Though the earliest camera adapted to making a permanent image was developed in the 1820s, photography was first used in India in 1840. Moreover, the dress of those featured in the photograph did not bear resemblance to the mode of the Sikhs. The photograph in question features Sher Ali, son of Dost Mohammed Khan, two of his advisors and four firangis. Amir Sher Ali Khan ruled for two spells, from 1863-66 and again from 1868-79. The two Afghans standing next to each other, on each side of and behind Sher Ali were mistaken for Hari Singh Nalwa and Fakir Aziz-ud-din.

Complicity of Gulab Singh

The year Hari Singh Nalwa was killed in the Battle of Jamrud, the author of Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, Giani Gian Singh, was aged fifteen. Ranjit Singh had appointed the young lad to read out the Holy Scriptures to him.

Some people believed that there was antagonism between the Jammu Dogras and Hari Singh. The revenue collection of Peshawar was in the hands of Gulab Singh Dogra. Yar Mohammed of Peshawar owed thirteen and a half lakh rupees to the Lahore Darbar. Gulab Singh colluded with the Khan. In the Battle of Jamrud, when Sardar Hari Singh was driving the enemy ahead of him, one of Gulab Singh’s men in the Sikh Army shot the Sardar in the back, from behind. The Sardar stooped over the neck of his horse. At the time people merely suspected Gulab Singh, but when he forgave Yar Mohammed’s dues — his complicity became more apparent. Bijay Singh Dogra revealed this information. The Sikhs were greatly pained. Following this, at Gulab Singh’s specific request Ranjit Singh granted him Hari Singh’s territory. On seeing the treatment meted out to a great Sardar who had conquered so many lands for the Lahore Darbar, many Sikh Sardars were disheartened. Following the death of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, no further conquest was made in the direction of the North West Frontier.

(Giani Gian Singh 19th cent.: 390)

The Lahore Court chronicle confirmed Gulab Singh’s appointment to collect the revenue of Peshawar in 1835 (Sohan Lal Suri 19th cent.: III (2), f. 253). There was, however, one inconsistency in the Giani’s narrative. Yar Mohammed died in 1828. The author either incorrectly referred to him, or used his name to refer to the Peshawar Barakzais.

Giani Gian Singh. 1892. Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, ed. K.S Raju, Punjab: Languages Department, 1999, (Gurmukhi).
Suri, Sohan Lal. (19th century). Umdat-ut-tawarikh, Daftar III, tr. from Persian by V.S. Suri, Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 2002.

(Source: Nalwa, V. 2009. Hari Singh Nalwa ― Champion of the Khalsaji, New Delhi: Manohar)



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Re: Hari Singh Nalwa

Aman ji

Is there an Internet site for this article -- where other articles can also be located? An excellent research article IMHO.


Jun 13, 2006
Re: Hari Singh Nalwa

There is this really cool contemporary picture of Hari Singh in full chain armour. Tried to find it to post, but couldn't.
Apr 25, 2006
Re: Hari Singh Nalwa

My guess would be 19th century...:33: so couple hundered years old... the website didnt have any info on its age so will need to confirm from elsewhere.


Jun 13, 2006
Re: Hari Singh Nalwa

Dal Singh ji how are you doing?

... makes me want to paint him lol
Bhagat mundeya! O Kiddhaan!

That is a cool pic but the one I was refering to was a side profile of him heavily armoured. I think he is wearing a helmet in it.

BTW, still working on that thing for us. Got slowed down but will get back on to it real soon. Hope you've finished BoC BTW.

Found a poor copy of the image I was talking about. Here it is:


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