BANDA SINGH BAHADUR or VEER BANDA BAIRAGI
By Inderjeet Singh (Nottingham) Originally Published on Sikhnet
We are commemorating 300 years of martyrdom of Banda Singh Bahadur and 700 Sikhs who had been declared ‘rebels and criminals’ by the imperial government. They were given the choice to embrace Islam or death by the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar at Delhi in 1716. Every one of them preferred martyrdom.
Case against Banda
Banda is an enigma and intriguing character for all his ‘virtues’ and ‘sins’. Early Sikh historians accuse him of going against Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s instructions namely to remain single and no to style himself as a king. Dr Ganda Singh (1900 -87), one of the most celebrated Sikh historians of last century has rejected these accusations. He says that Sikhs are not forbidden to marry hence it is not possible that Banda received any such command. Banda may have styled himself as a King but the coins issued by him, which are considered signs of sovereignty, were in name of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This practice was followed by Misls Sardars and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. However Banda introduced a new salutation ‘Fateh Darshan’ to replace, as per old Sikh historians, the Khalsa salutation of ‘Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa! Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh!’ Dr Ganda Singh is of the view that Banda did not replace the Khalsa salutation but ‘Fateh Darshan’ was an additional one. Needless to say this did not go down well at least with early Sikh historians. Banda has also been criticised for being a vegetarian!
Ratan Singh Bangu the author of Prachin Panth Prakash (1843) who was the one of the early Sikh historian who stated these allegations against Banda. Successive historians like Giani Gian Singh (1822-1921) simply copied him and did not questioned or probe the accusations till Dr Ganda Singh wrote his monumental work ‘Life of Banda Singh Bahadur’ in 1935. Just because we do not agree with Giani Gian Singh on some aspects of his writing on Banda Singh Bahadur we cannot ignore this important work.
Banda Singh Bahadur or Veer Banda Bairagi?
Banda was a Hindu ascetic, a bairagi before he took Amrit and became Khalsa. He came to be known as Banda Singh Bahadur. It seems strange when some people and institutions prefer him to call him Bairagi as acetic are wonderers and remain single throughout their life. After becoming Khalsa, Banda married twice and had children.
Let’s examine an existing case. In 1989 a 23 years old young man and budding musician by the name of Dileep Kumar who belonged to Hindu religion embraced Islam and change his name to Allah Rakha Rahman. The young man then achieves success and fame as a film music scorer across India and rest of the world. Would we call AR Rahman by his old name Dileep Kumar, 100 years from now?
Did Banda Bairagi took Amrit and became Sikh?
Dr Hari Ram Gupta (1902 -92) another celebrated Sikh historian who wrote 5 volumes on History of Sikhs has written that Guru Gobind Singh made Banda his disciple but did not administered him Amrit or made him Khalsa. This is in sharp contrast to Dr Ganda Singh who has provided names of 35 different historians from Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian background who wrote that Banda became a Sikh. Surprisingly and disappointingly Dr Gupta gives only one name to back his claim. He states that Giani Gian Singh of Guru Panth Prakash (first edition 1880) wrote that Banda was not made a Khalsa. I checked Guru Panth Prakash written by Giani Gian Singh, it is clearly stated in it that Banda was made a disciple and Sikh by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
Shahr Nanded Godavari Tat,
Othare Joi Jay
Bande Ko Nij Sikh Kar
Pathae Punjab Desaye (Guru Panth Prakash)
Banda was not a Sikh hero till recent past. John Malcolm in his book ‘Sketch of Sikhs’ written in 1810 states that Sikhs do not cherish the memory of Banda and he is considered as heretic for going against their Guru’s commands. This changed only many years after Dr Ganda Singh’s work. Sikhs themselves did not objected for many years when certain institutions called him Banda Bairagi. Dr Gupta clearly got it wrong but this error does not diminish his contribution to the Sikh history.
What was Banda’s background?
Banda was born as Madho/Lachman Das in a humble background and little is known about his childhood or youth. Most historians like Dr Gupta consider him from a Rajput background. Dr Ganda Singh has written that he belonged to ‘Bhardwaj’ clan of Rajputs but Bhardwaj are Brahmins. As he was said to be born in Rajouri district 155 kms from Jammu he is also referred as Dogra.
Banda was a Punjab Khatri Sodhi
Hakim Rai in book ‘Ahwal I Lachhman Das urf Banda Sahib Chela Guru Govind Singh Sahib’ has mentioned that Banda was Sodhi Khatri of Punjab. HA Rose who wrote ‘A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province’ in 1911 has also stated that Banda was a Punjabi Khatri.
According to Dr Ganda Singh, Sahib Kaur, the second wife of Banda and his son Ranjit Singh survived him. The Gurdwara Dera Baba Banda Singh Bahadur at Reasi, 75 kms from Jammu is headed by Baba Sardul Singh a descendant of Banda Singh Bahadur. Mahant/Baba Fateh Singh was contemporary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who bestowed 4 jagirs to him.
The current Dera head is Baba Sardul Singh Sodhi who is a direct descendant of Baba Ranjit Singh Sodhi who was the son of Banda Singh Bahadur. The logical conclusion would be that Banda was Sodhi. They are all Keshdhari Sikhs hence we should stop referring Banda as Rajput or Dogra.
If individual Sikhs look at their ancestry, one of our ancestors took Amrit and became Khalsa same as in the case of Banda Singh Bahadur’s family line. The Sikh religion does not believe in divisions on the basis of caste but this discussion also proves that Banda took Amrit and became Khalsa and all the anecdotes like Guru Ji reminded Banda the duties of Rajput are incorrect. Most probably Guru Ji knew Banda before he met him at Nanded in Maharashtra and enrolled him to an important mission to Punjab.