The paragraph which refers to the arrest and massacre of the Sikhs
at Delhi in 1716 is extracted from a letter dated Delhi, March 10,
1716, written by Messrs. John Surman and Edward Stephenson to the
Hon'ble Robert Hedges, President and Governor of Fort William, etc.,
Council in Bengal. These gentlemen and their Secretary, Hugh Barker,
were then present in the Mughal capital as ambassadors of the East
India Company's Council in Bengal to the Court of Emperor Farrukh-Siyar.
Under instructions of their principals, the ambassadors maintained
a regular Diary of the events and transactions at the royal court,
and wrote to Calcutta to keep the headquarters informed of the political
and other developments there. This letter of March 10, 1716, was
read at a consultation at Fort St. George on Tuesday, 5th June,
1716, and is to be found in the Madras Diary and Consultation Book
for 1715 to 1719, No. 87, Range 237, in the India Office (now Commonwealth
Relations Office), London. It is also reproduced in C. R. Wilson's
The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, volume II, part
II (Calcutta, 1911), pp. 96-98, and in J. T. Wheeler's Early
Records of British India, p. 180.
The chief of the Sikhs, Banda Singh, referred to in the letter as
'the great Rebel Gooroo', was originally an ascetic sadhu of the
bairagi order. He was initiated into the Sikh order of the Khalsa
in September 1708 by Guru Gobind Singh at Nander in the Deccan where
he had gone in connection with the negotiations that had been going
on with Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707-12) since July 1707. There the
Guru was stabbed by a Pathan from Sirhind in the last week of September
1708, and he died of his wound on October 6-7. The line of the Sikh
Gurus that had begun with Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of
Sikh religion, came to an end with the tenth and the last Guru Gobind
Singh who bequeathed spiritual heritage of Sikhism to the Sikh holy
book, Guru Granth Sahib, and the temporal leadership of the
Sikhs to the general body of the Khalsa.
Before the death of the Guru, however, Banda Singh, with the renewed
zeal and vigour of a new convert, had left for the Panjab, not as
Guru or the Sikhs but as commander of the forces of the Khalsa.
Here the Sikhs gathered round him in large numbers and in the summer
of 1710 he was soon able to carve out a small Sikh kingdom which,
later, paved the way for the freedom of the country from under the
Mughal yoke. But the Mughal empire was too strong for the infant
power of the Sikhs under Banda Singh. He was captured in December
1715, during the reign of Emperor Farrukh-Siyar, under whose orders
he was carried to Delhi as a prisoner along with 694 other Sikhs.
Here they were all, with exception of Banda Singh and a few chosen
leaders, executed in the maidan opposite the Chandni Chauk Kotwali
at the rate of a hundred a day beginning on March 5, 1716. The turn
of Banda Singh himself and his associates came three months later
on June 9, when he was taken out to the Qutb Minar and torn to pieces
near the tomb of Emperor Bahadur Shah.
C. R. Wilson, the author of the 'Early Annals of the English
in Bengal', has given in the volume II, part II, pp. xlii-xliii,
the following description of the entry of Banda Singh and his fellow
captives into Delhi on February 27, 1716, based on the articles
of William Irwine on the 'Political History of the Sikhs'
(Asiatic Quarterly, January 1894, pp. 420-31 ) and 'Guru Gobind
Singh and Bandah' (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal
for 1894, part I, pp. 112-43). He says:
The ceremonial on this occasion
was copied from that observed after the capture of the Maratha
Sambhaji. Malice did its utmost to cover the vanquished with
ridicule and shame. First came the heads of the executed Sikhs,
stuffed with straw, and stuck on bamboos, their long hair
streaming in the wind like a veil, and along with them to
show that every living creature in Gurdaspore had perished,
a dead cat on a pole.
The teacher himself dressed out of mockery in a turban of
red cloth, embroidered with gold, and a heavy robe of brocade,
flowered with pomegranates, sat in an iron cage, placed on
the back: of an elephant. Behind him stood a mail-clad officer,
with a drawn sword. After him came the other prisoners, seven
hundred and forty in number, seated two and two upon camels
without saddles. Each wore a high fool's cap of sheepskin
and had one hand pinned to his neck, between two pieces of
wood. Many were also dressed in sheep skins with wooly side
turned outwards. At the end of the procession rode three great
nobles, Muhammad Amin Khan, sent by the emperor to bring in
the prisoners, (From Agharabad to the Lahori gate of the palace]
Kamr-ud-Din, his son, and Zakariya Khan, his son-in-law, who
being also the son of Abd-us-Samad
Khan had been deputed to represent his father at the ceremony.
The road to the palace, for several miles, was lined with
troops and filled with exultant crowds, who mocked at the
teacher and laughed at the grotesque appearance of his followers.
They wagged their heads and pointed the finger of scorn at
the poor wretched as they passed. 'Hu! Hu!, infidel dog-worshippers,
your day has come. Truly retribution follows on transgression,
as wheat springs from wheat, and barley from barley.' Yet
the triumph could not have seemed complete. Not all the insults
that their enemies had invented could rob the teacher and
his followers of their dignity. Without any sign of dejection
or shame, they rode on, calm, cheerful, even anxious to die
the death of martyrs.
Life was promised
to any who would renounce their faith, but they would not
prove false to their Guru, and at the place of suffering their
constancy was wonderful to look at. 'Me, deliverer, kill me
first' was the prayer which constantly rang in the ears of
One there was, a young man, an only son, whose widow mother
had made many applications to the Mughal officers, declaring
that her son was a Sikh prisoner, and no follower of the Guru.
A release was granted and she hastened to the prison-house
to claim her son. But the boy turned from her to meet his
doom crying, 'I know not this woman. What does she want with
me? I am a true and loyal follower of the Guru.' For a whole
week the sword of the executioner did its butcher's work.
Every day a hundred brave men perished and at night the headless
bodies were loaded into carts, taken out of the city, and
hung upon trees.
It was not till June 19 [Sunday, the 29th Jamadi-ul-Akhir,
1128 A.H., June 9, 1716 O.S.] that Banda himself was led out
to execution, all efforts having failed to buy him off. They
dressed him, as on the day of his entry, set him again on
an elephant, and took him away to the old city, where the
red Qutb Minar lifts its proud head of white marble over the
crumbling walls of the Hindu fortress. Here they paraded him
round the tomb of the late emperor Bahadur Shah, and put him
to a barbarous death. First they made him dismount, placed
his child in his arms and bade him kill it. Then, as he shrank
with horror from the act, they ripped open the child before
its father's eyes, thrust its quivering flesh into his mouth
and hacked him to pieces limb by limb.
The authors of the despatch John Surman
and Edward Stephenson (and the Secretary, Hugh Barker) were, evidently,
eyewitnesses of the dreadful massacre of the Sikhs at Delhi in March
recorded by them. The executions began on March 5, five days before
the date of the despatch, March 10, when a few hundred Sikhs had
yet to be executed. This paragraph of the despatch, therefore, is
of great historical value to the students and scholars of history.
The last sentence regarding the unflinching devotion of the Sikhs
to their faith under the severest of trials is very significant.
Except for the number of the Sikh prisoners, which Muhammad Hadi
Kamwar Khan gives as 694 in his 'Tazkirat-us-Salatin', the
despatch of the English ambassadors is in full agreement with the
writings of the other eye-witnesses and contemporaries. The reader
interested in futher study of the exploits and achievements of Banda
Singh is referred to 'Life of Banda Singh Bahadur' published
in 1935, and the bibliography appended to it.
Dr Ganda Singh