Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Day 30,000 Sikhs Were Killed

Taken from “Khalsay Di Vasi” by Pr. Satbir Singh


Sikh history is filled with martyrdom and martyrs. The Sikhs have produced every type of martyr. There is the shahadat of young Baba Fateh Singh and the elderly Baba Deep Singh. In those days, there were a total of 18 ways used to kill the Sikhs. The following are some examples:

1) Boiled alive in a pot
2) Being made to sit on hot iron plates
3) Having the skin ripped off
4) Being cut, piece by piece
5) Being scalped
6) Beheading
7) Being broken on the wheel

These methods were used from 1716 until 1763. There are so many amazing episodes in Sikh history. There are those days when Sikhs fought hundreds of thousands in batches of five and ten. The 22nd of December 1704 is a witness to this.

Those days also came when Sikhs were killed in the thousands. The 5th of February, 1762 is one such day when 30 000 Sikhs were killed. We remember that day as the “Vada Ghalughara.”

From Nadar Shah to Abdali

Nadar Shah, in 1739 hit the Mughal power in Delhi so hard that it would never stand again. In Punjab, three powers were fighting for supremacy: The Mughals were trying to maintain their slipping power; the Afghans wanted to annex Punjab to Kabul; and the Sikhs were fighting to ensure that Punjab never fell to any foreign power. With Nadar Shah’s attack, the struggle became all the more intense.

After Nadar Shah returned to Afghanistan, a new period of oppression came for the Sikhs. But just as the Sikhs were oppressed, they continued to grow in strength. Special armies were created with the sole purpose of hunting Sikhs. There were prices on the heads of Sikhs and the rates would change like a commodity. At one point the rate went as high as Rs. 80. But the government did not know that just as a rose bush prospers when it is trimmed, the Sikhs grow when faced with adversity.

After the Chhota Ghalughara or “Smaller Genocide” in which 10 000 Sikhs were killed, the world saw that on Vaisakhi Day, 1748, the Singhs did a Gurmatta that they would fight every invading force with all their strength. They declared that Punjab was theirs and they were the Sardars of the land.

This was the scene when Abdali was about to invade and news reached the Sikhs.

Abdali’s Background

Ahmed Shah Abdali was associated with the Sadzai area. The people of that area were called “Abd-Ali” which soon became “Abdali”.

The Afghans tried to revolt against Nadar Shah but they were defeated and severely punished. He imprisoned many Afghans. Amongst the prisoners were two brothers: Zulfikar and Ahmed. Zulfikar was killed in a fight with the Galzais but Ahmed was able to win Nadar Shah’s confidence with his intelligence. Nadar Shah told his desires openly: “I have not found a more capable person than Ahmed Abdali in Iran, Turaan or Hind. No one’s character matches his.”

Nadar Shah was murdered in June 1747 by conspirators and the Afghans unanimously made Abdali their leader and gave him the title “Durrani Emperor.” Abdali began to repeatedly invade Punjab.

From 1748 to 1761, Abdali attacked Hindustan via Punjab five times. The fifth invasion was only to fight the Marhatthas. The Marhattas were in total control over Delhi and thinking of taking Punjab. In the Third Battle of Panipat, Abdali badly defeated them. On January 13, 1761 after his victory, Abdali began his return and in March as he moved through the Punjab, the Sikhs took their share of his booty and pursued him all the way to the Attock River (in the Northwestern Frontier).

Taking Lahore

Now in the Punjab, only two powers remained: the Afghans and the Sikhs. Because Abdali had returned to Kabul, the Sikh were in effect the rulers of Punjab. Abdali’s designated governors, Khawaja Mirza Khan, Aabad Khan, Sadat Khan and Sadak Khan Afridi were not able to control the Sikhs. Ahmed Shah sent Nur-Ud-Din to fight the Sikhs. Chhart Singh Sukherchakia defeated him and forced him to flee. Lahore’s governor, Aabad Khan also fled.

The Sikhs, under Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia seized Lahore and issued coins of “Deg Teg Fateh Nasrat Bed Rang. Yaaft Az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh”.

To incite Abdali, the defeated Afghans and Aakal Das Naranjaniya sent the coins to Kabul. Ahmed Shah began to prepare to defeat the Sikhs.

On October 27, 1761 the Sikhs had passed a Gurmatta at Sri Amritsar that they would destroy the forces that opposed them. Aakal Das was asked to repent his sins against the Sikhs but instead of being subdued he called on Abdali. Abdali met Aakal Das’s messenger at Rohtas (West Punjab). The Sikhs too heard of Abdali’s arrival.

Abdali’s Attack

The Sikhs focused their attempts on taking their families to safety. Bhai Sangu Singh, Baba Ala Singh’s representative, Bhai Sukh Singh and Bhai Buddha Singh of Kaithal were giving the Sikhs directions. The Sikhs and their families began to gather in Malerkotla. Malerkotla’s Nawab, Bhikan Khan called on Zain Khan for help.

Ahmed Shah arrived in Lahore on February 3, 1762. The Sikhs estimated that it would take him 10 days to arrive and by then their families would be safe. But the Sikhs were taken by complete surprise when on February 5th, Abdali arrived with 10 000 soldiers and began his slaughter.

Giani Gian Singh writes that the Singhs had not even tied proper dastaars for battle. They quickly tried to mobilize to fight but the first attack had cost thousands of lives. The Sikh families, with the elderly and children were under attack and Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia managed to surround the families with a wall of Sikh fighters. The strategy was to try to keep moving and fight at the same time.

Sardar Chhart Singh proposed that the individual Misals fight under their own banners but Sardar Jassa Singh replied, “Don’t even think of such a thing. We will not allow the Misals to be divided. We will stand together and protect the Panth.”

The convoy slowly moved towards Barnala. The Singhs tried to protect the families in the centre of their convoy but were suffering serious losses. But Abdali was taken aback by the ferocity of the Sikh defence. He asked his companions about the Sikhs and just like Nadar Shah had once praised the Sikhs, Abdali too was forced to say, “We will never destroy them. First the Mughals killed them. Then we killed so many. We have made every effort to finish them but they are still growing.”

A Second Attack

Abdali asked his commanders to intensify the attack. They attacked with 8000 soldiers. Countless Singhs were martyred. The wall around the convoy was broken and the families once again fell under the Afghan sword. Abdali wanted to go into the middle of the convoy and inflict such a horrible blow that the Singhs would never rise again. The Singhs however were trying to regroup. The Misal Sardars were all united and all the Singhs were fighting together regardless of their affiliation. The way the Singhs were able to once again form the wall and continue moving is a glorious moment in not just Sikh history but of battle strategy in general. Even Abdali was compelled to praise them. In whatever direction the Singhs would focus their attack, the enemy was forced to flee.

Zain Khan advised Abdali that it was impossible to surround and kill the Sikhs now. They were few but they were fighting desperately and much beyond their numbers.

Sd. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sd. Sham Singh, and Sd. Chhart Singh all fought remarkably. Sd. Jassa Singh just managed to save himself on many occasions. The Afghans continued to try to break the Singhs’ wall and get to the families. The convoy moved a total of 10 miles.

The Wall Breaks and Massacre

Finally however, Abdali managed to break the Singhs away from the families and began to mercilessly slaughter the Sikh women, children, and elderly. Giani Gian Singh writes that there literally was a river of blood that began to flow. The Sikhs managed to travel 20 miles by the time night fell. Abdali and his solders were all tired from the 150 mile journey that had made and the entire day of fighting. The Afghans reached village Kuttub and began to drink water from the village’s pond. An amazing sight was to be seen: on one end of the pond the Afghans were quenching their thirst and on the other, the Sikhs. A battle took place at this place as well.

The Sikhs continued moving through the night and reached Barnala. This event is remembered as the “Vadda Ghalughara” and various sources confirm that 30 000 Sikhs were martyred that day. This was a massive blow to the Sikhs as almost half of their numbers had been destroyed.

Historians and observers were all amazed at the Sikh reaction to this tragedy. In May 1762, the Sikhs surrounded Zain Khan in Sirhand and were ready to fight again. After such a great loss, the Sikhs remained thankful to God. The Sikhs did an ardaas, “Sachay Patshah! The weak and irresolute have all been shed. All that is left is the Tat Khalsa and we will be able to handle this situation ourselves.”

There was not even one Sardar who was not injured in this battle. Sd. Jassa Singh had a total of 22 wounds.


The Sikhs did indeed handle the situation now. Historians like the Marhattha Bapu and Tamhimsap Maskin write that the Sikh strength was growing day by day and they began to attack the outskirts of Lahore.

The account “Tarikh-e-Sultane-Afghan” writes of one incident: Abdali was in his fort across the Satluj smoking the Hukkah when one Sikh came before him and attacked. The Sikh was killed by an arrow on the spot but Ahmed Shah decided he could no longer stay in Punjab and turned back to Afghanistan.

Three months after the Ghalughara, the Sikhs defeated the Afghans at Amritsar and used the Afghan prisoners to clean the Sarovar and surrounding premises they had defiled.

The Sikhs celebrated Divali that year at Sri Amritsar. The Sikhs had suffered a great loss but they now had such power that no one could even look towards the Punjab again.

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