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 History of The Sikhs - Book By Hari Ram Gupta

History of The Sikhs-Book By Hari Ram Gupta


Professor Hari Ram Gupta's thesis on the Evolution of the Sikh Confederacies (i.e., misls), which I examined, along with Sir Edward Maclagan, the scholarly ex-Governor of the Panjab, for the Ph.D. degree of the Panjab University,-struck me as a work of outstanding merit which competently fills up a gap in our knowledge of modern Indian History. I have, therefore, urged the author to print it and have put on the way to securing financial assistance for the purpose.

As Dr. Gupta has pointed out, while the history of the Sikh Gurus (terminating in 1715, if we include Banda) has been repeatedly worked over, and that of Ranjit Singh is still better known, the intervening period of the rise of the misls and their occupation of the Panjab has not been studied bny scholars. And yet this period is one of absorbing interest and historical importance, because it represents the formative stage of the Sikhs as a political power.

The subject, at the outset, presented difficulties only commensurate with its attractivenesss and importance. How the evidence lay scattered mostly in manuscript sources in more than half a dozen languages and the manuscripts could be consulted only in several libraries, - in one case more than a thousand miles distant, -has been described by the author. I have seen this thesis when under construction and also in its finished state, and can testify to the industry and success with which Dr. Gupta has utilsed an immense number of scraps of information and pieced them together into a compact readable whole. The necessity of reducing the cost of printing has forced him to cut out all oriental quotations and even "justificative pieces" in English, and also to compress the foot-notes with extreme severity, and hence there is some danger of the reader underestimating the author's erudition and the reliability of his narrative. But I who went through his history in its original complete form in manuscript, feel confident that it stands in an unassailable position. The long critical bibliography first written by him has been similarly cut down, in printing, to a bare list of names, but it proves that the author has left no sources untapped and taken nothing without a critical examination.

One period of Panjab history-and that of the Delhi Empire, too,- has thus been set up on a granite foundation. It ought to serve as a model to other workers on Indian history.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          JADUNATH SARKAR

Preface to the First Edition

Of all the provinces of India, the Panjab - the point of impact between India ane ever moving peoples of the North -Wets-must always have a peculier interest to a student of Indian history. Similarly, in the history of the Panjab, there is no other features so interesting as the history of the Sikhs. Some aspects of the history of these people have been pretty fully treated by previous writers. For instance, the history of the Sikh Church and the early struggle between this community and the Mughal Government (1469-1715) have been very well described by European and Indian scholars. Again, the history of the Sikh monarchy under Ranjit Singh and his successor (1799-1849) has also been ably dealt with by standard writers.

The intervening period (1716-1799), however, if not altogether neglected, has not recieved the attention it deserves. This period forms one of the most important chapters of Sikh history. It was during this time that the Sikhs evolved themselves, by the strength of their own arms, into one of the finest military peoples of the world. It was now that the Sikhs entered on their meteoric career by availing themselves of the many opportunities open to genius and ambition, for carving out independent principalities on the ashes of the Mughal Empire. It was then that they developed the germs of a worthier political existence and began to make themselves fit for the task of building up a kingdom. It was at this time that they played the most important part in the politics of Northern India, during the whirlwind incursions of foreign holders from 1739 to 1799. It was in these days that the Sikhs rendered the most invaluable services to the cause of our country by putting a dead stop to all foreign invasions from the North-West.

It was this importance of the period that induced the present writer to take up this subject, which proved in the end to be the most fascinating field that was ever found waiting for exploration by a student of history. How far he has succeeded in his attempt it is for the reader to judge.

The author very much wished that he could have dealt with the whole of this intervening period . But with great disappointment, he had eventually to excise the earlier portion of it (namely the years 1716-1738), as there was very scanty material available. Whatever materials exists, comes from Sikh sources, is based on tradition alone, with no contemporary  evidence on record. Hence he has found 1739 as his most suitable starting point. It was in this year that terrrible Nadir, at the head of a numerous sturdy race of warriors, swept down the unprotected plains of India with irresistible violence. Not only did his campaign give the finishing stroke to the crumbling house of Babar, but it also brought to perfection the confusion and chaos prevailing in the country. It was now that the Hindu peasantry, crushed under the oppression of centuries was disillusioned of the greatness of the mighty Mughals and as a consequence rose up in arms, out  of sheer exasperation, against the Mughal Government. They joined the ranks of the Khalsa because they knew that these were the only people in the Panjab who could offer stout opposition to their oppressors. Consequently, the whole country between the Ravi and the Jumna was turned into a theatre of ceaseless struggle by a people fighting for independence. The present outbreak of the Sikhs differed from those perceding it under Guru Hargobind, Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Bahadur, in this that whereas the latter were religious outbursts which had sprung up out of hatred and vengeance for the loss of their leader and their own oppression at the hands of the Government, the present struggle was a fight for the ideal of independence and sovereignty which the Sikhs had now placed before themselves.
The reason for selecting 1768 as the other limit of my enquiry is that this year witnessed the establishment of the Sikhs as a political and territorial power. They had successfully repelled the last invasion of Ahmad Shah Abdali in the previous year. They had become undisputed masters of Lahore, the capital of the Panjab and exercised sovereign power in the major portion of the province. They, therefore, stood between the Mughal Empire of Delhi and the Durrani kingdom of Kabul, and not only prevented the mutual contact of these two empires, but also starved the Indian Muslim potentates by stopping the importation of fresh blood from the North-Western regions to replenish their exhausted forces, and thus brought about their speedy death. This period, therefore, is the point of division between the disruption of the old Empire and the formation of the new kingdoms.

A word of explanation about the sources of this work seems desirable at this place. It is no doubt true that the documentry materials for this period are rather scanty. The court annals of Delhi refer only sparingly to Panjab affairs on account of the political and economic upheaval brought about by constant foreign invasions, Maratha incursions and revolts of provincial governors. Continuous disturbances made memoir writing either by the governors of provinces or by high officials during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and such works are often genuine human documents vividly lighting up the atmosphere of social, economic and political conditions of the age. The most notable of them are Tazkirah Tahmas Khan Miskin and Nur-ud-din's Life of Najib-ud-daulah.

Some writers and poets followed occasionally in the train of invaders with a view to compiling accounts of their master's brave deeds. While doing so they throw a flood of light on the condition of the country. The most important example of this class is Qazi Nur Muhammad's Jang Namah, presented in a unique manuscript, - which has unfolded for the first time the full details of the seventh Durrani invasion of 1764-65.

The Marathi newsletters and reports, written by the Peshwas' officials in the Panjab and Delhi, are also of the highest value as showing the other side of the shield. They are profuse in the wealth of details with absolutely correct dates and thus help to fill in the gaps in the existing Persian histories of the period. The letters sent by Antaji Mankeshwar and the Hingne family are indispensable. They have been printed by Parasnis and in the Bombay Government's admirable series of Selections from the Peshwas' Daftar, edited by Rao Bahadur G.S. Sardesai.

After the battle of Plassey (1757) the English became masters of Bengal and since then they evinced a keen interest in the affairs of Northern India. Numerous Persian letters were conseuently addressed to the British Governor of Fort William by the Hindu and Muslim chiefs of note, and they supply us with valuable information and exact dates. At the time of Durrani campaigns, numerous were appointed to convey full details about the daily progress of the invader and of other events. Very minute and copious details are available about the last Durrani invasion of 1767. These letters have been translated and published by the Imperial Record Departmant (now known as the National Archives of India).

A brief survey of all the works used in the compilation of these pages, is given in the Bibliography.

As to the scope of the subject, we may say that this short period of nearly 30 years is fraught with the most important and epochmaking events which ever took place in the history of the Land of the Five Rivers. It witnessed as many as nine foreign invasions from the dreaded Nadir Shah and his general Ahmad Shah Durrani, one Maratha incursion , the gradual but total collapse of Mughal rule in the province, the rapid growth of the newly formed Durrani empire, the life and death struggle of the two most eminent powers of the day, the Durranis and the Marathas, over the spoils of the once mighty empire of the Mughals, the sudden and serious setback of the Maratha power at Panipat in 1761, and finally the rise of the insignificant Sikhs from nothingness into a sovereign power.

The story told in the following pages, therefore, is on the one hand, one of the marchings and countermarchings, and of extremely painful and horrid deeds ever done by man to man; and on the other hand, it is also a wonderful record of the sufferings and hardships endured by the Sikhs in the cause of faith and freedom.

In the compilation of these pages the author has always kept in view the principal of going back to the original. He has made use of all the contemporary materials as well as secondary sources of trust and value, available chiefly in unpublished Persian works and Marathi, Gurmukhi, Urdu, English and French records, mostly unused by any previous writer on the subject. No second-hand authority, however, has been given preference over a contemporary write. The original authorities, on the other hand, have been subjected to a careful examination as far as possible. No pre-concieved notions have been allowed to interfere in  the interpretation of facts. As a consequence of his researches, carried on for full four years, the writer has tried not only to supply a lost chapter of Indian history, but also to correct several prevalent errors and to establish a correct chronology.

The Sikhs seldom wrote their histories and the Hindus did not care much to record their doings. The Muslims took rather a prejudiced view of the Sikh deeds which mainly went against them.

Secondly, where old records exit, they are not always made available to the research student. Some of the material is in the possession of persons and Indian States who, for one reason or another, do not like it to be utilized by the student of history.

Then comes the difficult question of interpretation. In cases where complete histories are already available, new materials can be easily utilized; but where the annals are meagre and fragmentary, as in the case of Sikh history in the eighteenth century, the task of the historian is extremely difficult. Moreover most of his authorities are neither printed nor edited. He is expected to correct the wrongly spelt proper names, without having a second manuscript to collate with the one lying before him. Survey maps also fail him in many cases in removing this difficulty , because the places once of note have fallen either into ruin or into insignificance.

Still more formidable was the lack of expert guidance, and so the author was almost entirely thrown on his own resources. There was the minor difficulty of languages, too. The materials lie spread over a wide range of languages, Persian, Marathi, Urdu, Hindi, English and French, and it was with some trouble that the writer managed to use the various works written in these languages. In the words of Sir Jadunath Sarkar it is quite proper to say that "to expect perfection in such a branch of study is hardly more reasonable than to ask a goldsmith to give a proof of his professional skill by prospecting for gold, digging the mine , extracting and refining the ore, and then making the ornament".

In coclusion, it is the author's most pleasant duty to express his feelings of gratitude to his revered teacher, Professor Sita Ram Kohli, the veteran scholar of Sikh history at whose suggestion and with whose valuable assistance he undertook and completed this task. The author owes a haeavy debt of obligation to Sir Jadunath Srakar, for his very kindly permitting him the use of his extremely valuable and rare manuscripts, most of which are either rotographs of British Museum manuscripts or copies of those in the India Office Library. He also generously placed at his disposal all other books he needed including his pencil translations of Father Wendel's History of the Jats and many Marathi records. His ungrudging help in discussing some of the topics with the writer proved of  great use in clearing up many obscure points. His thanks are also due to Professor Sri Ram Sharma of the D. A. V. College, Lahore, for helping him on many occassions; to Principal Jodh Singh of the Khalsa College, Amritsar, for making Nur Muhammad's Jang Namah accessible to him, to Bhai Takhat Singh of Ferozepur for permission to use the Bhai Dit Singh Library, and to Sardar Hira Singh Dard, Editor of the Phulwari, for lending him a copy of Prachin Panth Parkash and the old issues of his own journal.

February , 1937                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            H. R. GUPTA


Author Hari Ram Gupta
Cover Hardbound
Volumes 5
Language English

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