SIKHS & JATS OF BHARATPUR – brief history on their political association in late 18th century and an incident that alarmed the British
By Inderjeet Singh (Nottingham)*
Most of us are well aware of the exploits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh however we are ignorant of Sikh status as regional power in later 18th century. Sikhs captured Sirhind in 1764 and Lahore, the next year1 which they held till British annexed Punjab in 1849. Sikhs were the sovereign rulers of Punjab, the territory between Indus & Yamuna and were neighbours with among others Jat rulers of Bhartapur.
Background & early engagement against Sikhs
Most historians believe that Hindu Jats have ethnic affinity with the Sikh Jatts of the Punjab. They share some surnames which donates the common tribal heritage at some stage. The Jats emerged as a new political power in Bharatpur, Rajasthan just south of Delhi. The harsh religious policies of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb led to an agrarian revolt in 1669 under their leader Gokul which was ruthlessly suppressed by the Mughal authority. Another leader emerged in Raja Ram who continued the struggle till his death in July 1688. Churaman (1695 -1721), his younger brother and successor to leadership, was an astute politician. He professed allegiance to Emperor Bahadur Shah I (1707-12) who has tried to reverse of some his father’s policies and reconciled with lot of adversaries. Churaman received a mansab of 1500 zat (infantry) and 500 sowar (cavalry) from the Mughal Emperor. He joined the imperial campaign against Banda Singh Bahadur at Sadhaura and Lohgarh in 1710.
Suraj Mall (1707 – 63) was the real founder of the Jat state of Bharatpur. He was killed on 25 December 1763 in a battle near Delhi against Najib ul Daulah, the Ruhilla chief (Western Uttar Pradesh) who had been appointed Mir Bakhshi and Regent at Delhi by Ahmad Shah Durrani after the battle of Panipat (1761).2
Cooperation of Sikhs, Jats (& Maratha) – defeat of Najib ul Daulah
Suraj Mall’s son and successor Jawahar Singh (d. 1768), appealed to the Sikhs for help. The latter responded immediately, 40,000 of them under the overall command of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia crossed the Yamuna on 20th February 1764 and plundered the country around it. Najib ul Daulah rushed back to save his own territories and the immediate pressure on the Jats was removed.3
Jawahar Singh now made preparations to avenge his father’s death. Besides his own army, he hired 25,000 Maratha cavalry and decided to engage some Sikhs also, and fixed an interview with the Sikh Sardars encamped at Barari Ghat on the east bank of the Yamuna, 20 km north of Delhi. He crossed the Yamuna on an elephant and was led on foot into an assembly of about 100 Sikh Sardars. A Gurmata was held and it agreed to help the Jawahar Singh who enlisted 15,000 Sikhs soldiers.
The fighting went on for 20 days. Najib was defeated and forced to retire into the Red Fort on 9 January 1765. Within a month the Ruhillas of Najib ul Daulah suffered another defeat at the hands of the Sikhs in the Nakhas or horse market and in Sabzi Mandi. Just at this time news arrived of a fresh invasion of the Punjab by Ahmad Shah Durrani, the Sikhs hastening back to protect their own homeland. Jawahar Singh’s Maratha allies later went over to aid his western neighbour, Raja Madho Singh of Jaipur, taking sides also with his stepbrother, Nahar Singh, who was in independent possession of Dholpur (Eastern Rajasthan)
Sikhs and Jats fight against Maratha & Rajputs
Jawahar Singh engaged 25,000 Sikhs under the command of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia to help him in his campaign against Jaipur, but the Rajput ruler made his peace with him. He then took into his pay a fresh force of 7,000 Sikhs and attacked Nahar Singh, who called in the Marathas to his help. The Sikhs defeated the Marathas in a fierce battle fought on 13/14 March 1766. Nahar Singh took refuge with Madho Singh of Jaipur. Jawahar Singh seized Dholpur and the Sikhs captured several hundred horses of the defeated Marathas. Madho Singh of Jaipur attacked Bharatpur in December 1767. Jawahar Singh again engaged 10,000 Sikhs to fight for him, but was defeated on 29 February 1768 with a heavy loss of life. He enrolled another 10,000 Sikhs making a total of 20,000 at 7,00,000 rupees per mensem. As he again advanced to meet Madho Singh, the latter retired without giving a fight.
Assassination of Jats Chiefs & fight for the throne
Jawahar Singh was assassinated in June 1768. His younger brother, Ratan Singh, was also murdered in April 1769. Kehri Singh, the two year old son of Ratan Singh was put on the throne. His two uncles, brothers of deceased king, Nawal Singh and Ranjit Singh, contested to be the regent & guardian of the ruler. The former occupied Bharatpur while the latter invited the Sikhs for help. The Sikhs arrived near Aligarh on 26 January 1770. Nawal Singh proceeded to check their advance, but fled in panic without firing a shot.
The Sikhs chased him as far as Chunar where Walter Reinhard (1720-78), a German adventurer with his own mercenary army and ruled Sardhana commonly known as Samru, tried to bring about peace. A fortnight`s negotiations commencing on 8 February 1770 ended in smoke. Nawal Singh, regrouping his troops, followed them. The Sikhs suddenly turned back on 24 February 1770 and surrounded the Jat advance guard under Rene Madec (1736-84), French adventurer, and Gopal Rao Maratha. In the battle that followed, almost the entire Maratha cavalry was cut to pieces and Gopal Rao was wounded. Three of Rene Madec’s six companies were completely wiped out. On the approach of the main body of the Jat army, the tired and outnumbered Sikhs without artillery withdrew and Nawal Singh won the war. He became to ruler of Bhartpur and continued to rule till his death in 1776. He was succeeded by his brother Ranjit Singh whom Sikhs has supported during the Jat civil war.
When Nawal Singh attacked his brother Ranjit Singh and later in exasperation invited the Sikh chiefs of the Cis-Satluj territory to his assistance. Nawal Singh sought help from the Marathas. Just at this time by mere accident, Mir Qasim, the deposed Nawab of Bengal, reached Agra. Samru was already with the Jats. The presence of all these hostile elements in one place raised strong apprehensions of a combined attack in the minds of the British agents of the neighbourhood. 4
On the 16th February, 1770, the Nawab Wazir of Oudh’s letter was received by the Governor of Bengal saying: “Mir Qasim has nefarious projects in his mind, and after uniting the Sikhs and Marathas in his cause, he proposes to invade Bengal.”
Richard Barwell in a letter to Thomas Pearson, dated Calcutta, the 20th February, 1770, wrote about Delhi “The whole country about Delhi is up in arms: the Sikhs, Rohillas, Marathas are all in motion.”
The Governor of Bengal wrote on the 24th February, 1770, to Pundi Khan, a cousin of Hafiz Rahmat Khan and the father-in- law of Najib-ul-daulah “It is necessary for the well-being of Hindustan that the Sikhs should not be allowed to cross the frontier of Sirhind nor the Marathas the river Narbada. To admit these people into the heart of Hindustan would be to cherish a snake in one’s bosom. It is better to awake to the danger before it is too late.” 5
The alliance between all formidable and hostile parties against British never materialized. We are not aware about the details if it was formally pursued by Mir Qasim with one party or both Marathas and Sikhs. The British in 1770 were a very much a regional power confined to Bengal & Bihar only. Nevertheless they were farsighted and it seem already had a plan to take the county. The Sikhs, Jats and Marathas were equally matched, if not better than British during this time. However they did not had astute leadership or the vision. Both Sikhs and Marathas were fighting on the payroll of opposing brothers in Jat civil war. Bengali historians like RC Majumdar have propounded that nationalism came among Indians only in late 19th century & early 20th century when people of the country were exposed to modern education and world history holds much weight.
The history of Sikh Misl period is generally neglected and even Sikhs are unaware of the achievements perhaps due to the legendary status of Maharaja Ranjit Singh & Hari Singh Nalwa.
The author has not been able to find any information on further direct association of Sikhs and Bharatpur State beyond this period which has been covered in this write up. Dr Hari Ram Gupta has written 3 volumes on History of Sikhs between 1708 & 1803 remains the most exhaustive work for this period. This is a fascinating period and the author hopes that through this article some interest will generate and someone will study and try to explore the relations with Sikhs and Jats of Bharatpur beyond this period.
*Sikhism does not believe in caste and the article does not promote it. The intention is to share the relatively unknown political association between two regional powers.
1. Dr Ganda Singh & Teja Singh: A Short History of the Sikhs (1469-1765)
2,3 Dr Harbans Singh: Sikh Encyclopaedia
4,5 Dr Hari Ram Gupta: History of the Sikhs Vol. III Sikh Domination of the Mughal Empire (1764-1803)