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When Sikhs Went South

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
It is said speculation fuels the joys of life and even politics and makes the world go round.But,speculating history distorts history and education of future generations.That is a point where repetative sad irony begins for any history of any race.The issue of how the Sikh Army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh Ji came to Hydrabad has created more speculation than usual; with individuals who have not read correctly making uneducated conclusions and creating a thousand more speculative conclusions.

Let me share something over the subject in the discussion. I maintain categorically that is a beautifully illustrative illusion to claim and for many to believe that the Nizam of Hydrabad "invited"the Army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh- Shere- ee- Punjab to' put down rebellions in Hydrabad', South India.That is not entirely true, nor anywhere near the truth.However, after the Sikhs arrived he learnt to appreciate their energy, bravery and fighting skills and discipline, thanks to one of his ministers by the name of Chandu Lal, a sehajdhari Sikh.

It becomes a deeper conspiracy to then pass this on, considering that the Army of the Sikh state would have marched on a long and arduous journey through BRITISH INDIA; whose armies had closed the borders of the Sikh Raj from east of Satluj for as far as it was considered safe for them to do so. The British had not only feared but were anxiously uncertain of the capability of the mighty power of the Sikh Raj and had taken every action to weaken, check and undermine the Sikh Raj, while Ranjit Singh Ji was still alive; would then
allow a powerful force of their adversary to march through their territory; into a state[Hydrabad] where they had just snatched away the last relics of independence from Nizam Mir Akbar Ali Khan Sikander Jah Asaf Jah ll and make it an improvised British dependency; after Munir -ul-Mulk had led anti british wave and hostility against the east India company's influence in the state.

It was during these times the Karora,a Minister of Hydrabad, a Chandu Lal came to the attention of the British and effectively was encouraged to excercise his power.Even when another Nizam tried to excercise his own power, Chandu Lal effectively sidelined him. But like the Mughal army, Hydrabad's army was not centralised. It consisted of Arab units, African, Pathan and Rohillas and other Muslims.

The Arabs were a troublesome lot and had often open fights in the streets of Hydrabad where much bloodshed was let loose. They also terrorised the countryside and farmers if their wages ever fell in arrears.

Chandu Lal was aware of his precarious position in these circumstances, and driven by the need for an effective counterpoise to the Arabs and doubtful of the religious loyalty of the Muslim troops in general, Chandu Lal placed his faith in the men drawn from the thriving Sikh colonies of Hazoor Sahib.His own army consisted of over a thousand Nihangs-traditional Sikh warriors.

Later, more Sikhs arrived from the Punjab into Hazoor sahib for one reason or another and many who were or had served in the armies of the Sikh misls etc.They found employment with Chandu Lal.Chandu also encouraged them to join the regular forces of Hydrabad.As such there came to exist a Sikh unit known
as Jamiat- I -Sikhan.Soon many more thriving colonies of these Sikhs came to exist around Hydrabad and Nanded.

Sandwiched by the British,Maharajah Ranjit Singh was at a loss of what course of action he should pursue also wanted to understand their military style and art of administration made contact with Chandu Lal, who was a sahajdahri Sikh himself.He sent a Goor Singh, with a letter to Chandu Lal.However, Chandu Lal knew what could happen if he operated without the agreement of the British, therefore he sought advice from the British at Madras.

Thomas Sydenham, the British officer in charge, reported the matter to the Imperial Government.Sydenham knew Chandu Lal wanted to give the Sikh Raj a reply in such terms as may give the Lahore Darbar, a favourable opinion of their[british] character and power and may incline Maharajah Ranjit Singh to court their friendship.Whatever the contents of the letter sent, it convinced Ranjit to remain faithful to his treaty obligations with the British.It was this increasing diplomatic contact between Chandu Lal and Maharajah Ranjit Singh that changed the future history of Hazoor sahib, and eventually brought more Sikhs into Hydrabad.

During the 3rd Anglo Maratha war, in 1818, a British military officer stopped at Nanded,wrote that the Sikh colony in Nanded housed just about 4000 people.It had a flourishing student population and a well run teaching establishment.Talking of the Sikhs in Nanded at that time, he describes them as
"tall, of elegant symmetry and in their countences alone carry an expression of superiority and manlines far above any other tribe around them or in india I have seen so far"

At Rajoora, a town of 500 houses situated on the road from Hydrabad to Jaulnamhad had 200 Sikhs in its garrison.

According to records by 1812, a few hundered Sikhs had been drafted into the two regiments of the Russel brigade, which Raja Chandu Lal and his brother Raja Govind Baksh raised.

There was also a Sikh settlement at Amraoti, in the district of Berar;who had been given land by the Raja Govind Baksh.

A Major Bevan passed through this town in 1818 found its habitants to be"a fine race of atheletic and turbanned men" and was treated to a demonstartion of their military skills.He also notes a college existed for the sect of Sikhs.This indicates a substantial population of Sikhs existed there.

To the north of Amraoti but within the Berar province is Ellichpur under the responsibility of another relation of Chandu Lal called Rao Raja Ram.A European, who was there in 1817 could not help note that there were "Sikh soldiers in their elegant turbans and peculiar dress and armed with their chakrahs".

When Appa Sahib, ex raja of Nagpur escaped to the Punjab, Maharajah Ranjit Singh prompty asked him to leave the Sikh territory as he did not want to upset the British, but timely intervention by Akali Phoola Singh granted him protection and allowed Appa Sahib to stay with him.

In 1829, Ali Khan Nasir -ud-Daula became the Nizam and tried to curtail Raja Chandu Lal's power.But that did not last long and he was outwitted by Chandu Lal.During this time to release the state from revenue responsibilty a large number, about 25,000 men consisting of Rohilla and Arabs were released from formal service of Hydrabad state.These people irritated and disturbed by their dismissal took to causing mayhem in and around the city of Hydrabad.Many a time becomming involved in skirmishes with groups of Sikhs, who
they knew harboured no love for the muslims.

It was the result of one of these clashes that sat the ball rolling for the arrival of the 1400 Sikhs plus 300 Nihangs from the Army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh into Hazoor sahib, and Hydrabad.

A mutual loathing always existed between the Arabs and Sikhs in the Nizam's employ, so a major clash was long over due.

In October, 1829 the Sikhs and the Arabs had come to blows outside Raja Chandu Lal's residence.The Raja had just managed to bring them to reconcile after strenous efforts.But two years later a far more serious fight took place at Nanded.It was triggered by a party of Arabs, who passing by the Sikh colony in may1831;shouted their Huzzahs, or religious exclamations with so much unction and vociferous zeal as to offend the Sikhs mortally.After a prelude of mutual hard words , they came to harder blows; where about 30 Arabs were lost their lives, and many more were hurt.Those who survived then went off to Hydrabad proclaiming Islam was in danger , collected all the Arabs and marched to to Raja Chandu Lal's mansion demanding he hand over all the Sikhs in the house to the insulted true faithfuls!

On refusal, they stormed the house, Chandu Lal just managed to escape,but several Sikhs were put to sword.About 50 others escaped and took up a strong position in a street and barricaded it.The Arabs rushed to it with fierce shouts,but lost 31 of their body, who tasted the blisful cup of martydom.But in the end, their repeated attacks and larger numbers carried the position, and they slaughtered all the Sikhs who could get their hands on.

According to reliable records,the Sikhs who occupied one of the gardens in the city lost a hundered men, including two jathedars, while the Arabs lost 400 men.

The British authorities vainly warned both parties to desist from fighting.The British resident general Col. Josiah Stewart anounced on behalf of the Nizam that "if they wanted to test their might, both parties should go out of the city"

Every Sikh was ordered to leave the city at once;while the Arabs were to 'remain in quiet within the walls'.The Sikhs disobeyed the command,expecting the Arabs to resume their attack at any moment.For several days ,Sikhs took up arms and a strong position outside the city , awaiting for any Arab
to come out.

The press took Raja Chandu Lal to task , for his sympathies and support of the Sikhs and his connection with Nanded.Even though the Sikhs stood their ground and came off better than the Arabs, their overall numbers were low compared to the Arabs in the area.The Arabs were trying to enlist the help of other Muslims in the area by crying out Jihad against the Sikhs

A Sikh jathedar, Jassa Singh and other Pujaris of Takhat Hazoor Sahib despatched three horsemen to the Punjab with Hukamnamas from Takhat Hazoor Sahib appealing for assiatance in the crises from Maharajah Ranjit Singh, and the Sikh Maharajas of Patiala, Jind, Nabha and Kaithal.

The messengers arrived at the court of Shere -EE- Punjab at Lahore in June 1831 and informed of the Sikh Arab collision.They also communicated that the Arabs who greatly outnumbered the Sikhs were trying to provoke the local Muslims and might 'injure the sanctity of the sacred Gurduaras'.

Ranjit Singh directed his Vakeel- agent, based at Ludhiana, Lala Kishan Chand to contact Capt.Wade, the British political agent and impress strongly upon him that sanctity of the Gurduara Abchal Nager must be protected , and also ask the Nizam to ensure its safety and allow Sikhs to conduct their religious rites in peace and safety.

Maharajah sahib also instructed "if Capt Wade was not available, to the go
straight to the Governer General of India."

Chandu was forced into temporarily ejecting the Hazoori Sikhs from Hydrabad; and was fearful about loosing his own Sikh body guards.But on learning about the concerns of the Lahore Darbar, Chandu formulated a plan that would ensure both his and the security of the Takhat Hazoor Sahib.Accordingly, in the name of the Nizam of Hydrabad, Chandu requested the induction of the troops from Lahore into Hydrabad army,ostensibly to counter act the unrelenting Arab and Rohilla menace.He proposed that once the immediate troubles had subsided, they could be employed to protect the Sikh colony at
Nanded and rebuild the takhat.

The first part of the agreement was agreed by the Brtish government in India through Josiah Stewart.Maharajah Ranjit Singh had met the governor general William Bentinck at Ropar in 1831 to reaffirm the long standing friendship betwen the two nations.The Maharajah sahib raised the issue of the Takhat at Nanded.The Governor general agreed that a small contigent of troops should be allowed to defend the takhat.

To open the negotiations, Chandu Lal sent costly gifts to the Lahore darbar in the name of the Nizam.Fine jewellary and diamonds and a chandani - a canopy used over the Guru Granth sahib was sent among many other presents.

Before sending the Lahori troops to Hydrabad, many conditions had to be met;including their numbers, pay and land for their residence, and their duties primarily to defend the Gurduaras and Sikh colonies and NOT to return to Punjab unless recalled by the Darbar.A force of 1400 men plus 300 Akali Nihangs of the Akal Regiment was assembled hastily under the command of General Chanda Singh.The Lahori troops sat off from Lahore in 1832.

On arrival at Hydrabad they were stationed by Chandu Lal at Mir Alam Tank near the heart of the city.An area of 200 acres was allocated to them.Colonies sprung up at Anantgiri, Rambagh, Kishanbagh and Attapur.Many families were also housed in the large gardens of Chandu Lal's house.The Nizam's Government helped build a Gurduara at Gowliguda.

Once settled, the deras were mobilised.Each of the 14 districts of Hydrabad had a dera.Their presence offered a sembelance of peace in the nizam's realm.They then started helping in collection of revenues for the public purse.Their large presence compelled Chandu Lal to create a special administrative office[MINISTRY] called Mahikama- I- Sikhan- or department of Sikhs.Through Chandu they won more of the Nizam's favour and aquired the privilege of purchasing and inheriting property in the state and of joining government service in other departments;later many of the Sikhs enrolled into the state army.Eventually Sikhs attained all rights of local laws and spread into other areas of the state and became ethnic "local Hydrabadi Sikhs".These Sikhs have helped build and maintain the sanctity of Takhat Hazoor Sahib Sachkhand ever since.

[In an incident in 2008, some muslim miscreants tore off the Nishan sahib of a local Gurduara, these Sikhs took to the streets, and in a clash with muslims killed one with their Kirpan.Their reputation standing for the values of Sikhisim stands strong, if sometimes very hot headed, like when they took to burning a Union Jack at the British Library, in Bangaglore, after hearing a Gurduara in London had caught fire and was burnt out, although the British government had nothing to do with it].

May, I point out a fact often missed and little known by many, Chandu Lal was the gentleman who built the Gurduara in memory of Guru Nanak's visit to Rameshvarram in south Tamilnadu.This Gurudwara stands today, looked after by the Singh Sabha, Chennai.


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