Dal Khalsa (Sikh Empire)

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Dal Khalsa was the name of the Sikh army that operated in the 17th and 18th centuries (1660–1780) in the Punjab region.


Mughal Rule of Punjab[edit]

The religion of Sikhism began at the time of the Conquest of Northern India by Babur. His grandson, Akbar supported religious freedom and after visiting the langar of Guru Amar Das had a favorable impression of Sikhism. As a result of his visit he donated land to the langar and had a positive relationship with the Sikh Gurus until his death in 1605.[1] His successor, Jahangir, saw the Sikhs as a political threat. He arrested Guru Arjun Dev because of Sikh support for Khusrau Mirza[2] and ordered him to be put to death by torture. Guru Arjan Dev's Martyrdom led to the sixth Guru, Guru Har Gobind, declaring Sikh sovereignty in the creation of the Akal Takht and the establishment of a fort to defend Amritsar.[3]Jahangir attempted to assert authority over the Sikhs by jailing Guru Har Gobind at Gwalior and released him after a number of years when he no longer felt threatened. Sikhism did not have any further issues with the Mughal Empire until the death of Jahangir in 1627. His successor, Shah Jahan "took offense" at Guru Har Gobind's sovereignty and after a series of assaults on Amritsar forced the Sikhs to retreat to the Sivalik Hills.[3] Guru Har Gobind's successor, Guru Har Rai maintained the guruship in the Sivalik Hills by defeating local attempts to seize Sikh land and taking a neutral role in the power struggle between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh for control of the Timurid dynasty. The ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, moved the Sikh community to Anandpur and traveled extensively to visit and preach in Sikh communities in defiance Aurangzeb, who attempted to install Ram Rai to the guruship. He aided Kashmiri Brahmins in avoiding conversion to Islam and was arrested and confronted by Aurangzeb. When offered a choice between conversion or death, he chose to die rather than compromise his principles and was executed.[4] Guru Gobind Singh, assumed the guruship in 1675 and to avoid battles with Sivalik Hill Rajas moved the gurship to Paunta. He built a large fort to protect the city and garrisoned an army to protect it.The growing power of the Sikh community alarmed Sivalik Hill Rajas who attempted to attack the city but the Guru's forces routed them at the Battle of Bhangani. He moved on to Anandpur and established the Khalsa, a collective army of baptized Sikhs, on March 30, 1699. The establishment of the Khalsa united the Sikh community against various Mughal-backed claimants to the guruship.[5] In 1701, a combined army composed of the Sivalik Hill Rajas and the Mughal army under Wazir Khan attacked Anandpur and, following a retreat by the Khalsa, were defeated by the Khalsa at the Battle of Muktsar. In 1707, Guru Gobind Singh accepted an invitation by Bahadur Shah I, Aurangzeb's successor to meet in southern India. When he arrived in Nanded in 1708, he was injured by agents of Wazir Khan, the governor of Sirhind.After this incident his wounds were stitched and he began to recover.Few days after, some Sikhs brought a very stiff Bow to present to Guru Gobind Singh. As they were discussing if anybody will ever be able to put a string on the bow, Guru Gobind singh accepted the challenge. Though the bow was stringed,due to the force applied on the bow the wounds which were still fresh started bleeding profusely.Guru Gobind singh then declared that he would be leaving for heavenly abode and asked his Sikhs to prepare for the crematorium

Banda Singh Bahadur[edit]

"It is singular that these people not only behaved firmly during the execution, but they would dispute and wrangle with each other who should suffer first; and they made interest with the executioner to obtain the preference"
-Seir Mutakherin by Seid Gholam Hossein Khan

Banda Singh Bahadur was an ascetic who converted to Sikhism after meeting Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded. A short time before his death, Guru Gobind Singh ordered him to reconquer Punjab and gave him a letter that commanded all Sikhs to join him. After two years of gaining supporters, Banda Singh Bahadur initiated an agrarian uprising by breaking up the large estates of Zamindar families and distributing the land to the poor Sikh, Hindu,and Muslim peasants who farmed the land.[6] Banda Singh Bahadur started his rebellion with the defeat of Mughal armies at Samana and Sadhaura and the rebellion culminated in the defeat of Sirhind. During the rebellion, Banda Singh Bahadur made a point of destroying the cities in which Mughals had been cruel to Sikhs, including executing Wazir Khan in revenge for the deaths of Guru Gobind Singh's sons after the Sikh victory at Sirhind.[7] He ruled the territory between the Sutlej river and the Yamuna river established a capital in the Himalayas at Lohgarh and struck coinage with the faces of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh.[6] In 1716, his army was defeated by the Mughals after he attempted to defend his fort at Gurdas Nangal. He was captured along with 700 of his men and sent to Delhi where he was tortured and executed after refusing to convert to Islam.

Sivalik hills[edit]

The Ganges cutting through the Sivalik Hills

After 1716, the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah began a campaign of genocide against Sikhs through his Governor of Lahore, Abdus Samad Khan. His son and later,successor, Zakariya Khan led a standing army dedicated to eliminating Sikhs, executed Sikhs publicly, and offered monetary rewards for the heads of killed Sikhs.[8] The Sikhs "retaliated by killing government functionaries and plundering Mughal posts, arsenals, and treasuries"[9] but could not assemble an army.[10] The persecution of the Mughal Empire forced some Sikhs to conform to Hinduism or abandon the outward signs of their faith, but "the more sincere had to seek a refuge among the recesses of the hills or in the woods to the south of the Sutlej"[11] The Sikhs went into hiding during this period. From 1718-1738, the Sikhs carried out a guerrilla war against the Mughal Empire in the area around the Sivalik Hills.[10] Historian Josepeh Cunningham writes of the period, "The Sikhs were scarcely again heard of in history for the period of a generation"[11]

Dal Khalsa[edit]

In 1733, Zakariya Khan Bahadur attempted to negotiate a peace with the Sikhs by offering them a jagir, the title Nawab to their leader, and unimpeded access to the Harmandir Sahib. After discussion at a Sarbat Khalsa, Kapur Singh was elected leader of the Sikhs and took the title of Nawab. Nawab Kapur Singh combined the various Sikh miltias into two groups; the Taruna Dal and the Budda Dal, which would collectively be known as the Dal Khalsa. Sikh miltias over 40 years of age would be part of the Budda Dal and Sikh militas under 40 years were part of the Taruna Dal.[12] The Taruna Dal was further divided in five jathas, each with 1300 to 2000 men and a separate drum and banner.[13] The area of operations of each Dal, or army, was Hari ke Pattan, where the Sutlej river and Beas river meet; The Taruna Dal would control the area east of Hare ke Pattan while the Budha Dal would control the area west of it.[14] The purpose of the Budda Dal, the veteran group, was to protect Gurdwaras and train the Taruna Dal, while the Taruna Dal would act as combat troops. However, in 1735, the agreement between Zakariya Khan and Nawab Kapur Singh broke down and the Dal Khalsa retreated to the Sivalik Hills to regroup. Later the command of Dal Khalsa was taken by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia who was an able and powerful administrator, even bought India (Red Fort) under Khalsa Flag. He made the foundation of Khalsa firm for future generations to lead.

Invasion of Nadir Shah[edit]

In 1738, Nadir Shah of the Persian Afsharid dynasty invaded Muhammad Shah's Mughal Empire. Nadir Shah defeated the Mughal Empire in the Battle of Karnal and proceeded to sack Delhi. During the panic before and after the Battle of Karnal important functionaries of the Mughal Empire fled Delhi but were intercepted by small jathas of the Dal Khalsa and relieved of their wealth.[11] Nadir Shah then gave Muhammad Shah back his title of Mughal Emperor but took away his royal treasury, including the Peacock Throne. When Nadir Shah began his retreat, the Sikhs who had been seeking refuge in the Sivalik Hills came down from the mountains and mercilessly plundered the treasure of the Persian Army. Afterwards the Dal Khalsa established a fort at Dallewal near the Ravi river and began levying taxes in the area around Lahore.[10]

Battles fought by Sikhs[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Kalsi 2005, pp. 106–107
  2. ^ Markovits 2004, p. 98
  3. ^ a b Jestice 2004, pp. 345–346
  4. ^ Johar 1975, pp. 192–210
  5. ^ Jestice 2004, pp. 312–313
  6. ^ a b Singh 2008, pp. 25–26
  7. ^ Nesbitt 2005, p. 61
  8. ^ Singh, Patwant (2001). The Sikhs. Image. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-385-50206-1. 
  9. ^ SIngh, Patwant (2001). The Sikhs. Image. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-385-50206-1. 
  10. ^ a b c Browne, James (1788). India tracts: containing a description of the Jungle Terry districts, their revenues, trade, and government: with a plan for the improvement of them. Also an history of the origin and progress of the Sicks. Logographic Press. p. 13. 
  11. ^ a b c Cunningham, Joseph Davey (1918). A history of the Sikhs, from the origin of the nation to the battles of the Sutlej. Oxford University Press. p. 89. 
  12. ^ Singha, H.S. (2005). Sikh Studies, Book 6. Hemkunt Press. p. 37. ISBN 8170102588. 
  13. ^ Narang, K. S.; Gupta, H. R. (1969). History of Punjab: 1500 - 1558. p. 216. Retrieved 15 July 2010. 
  14. ^ Singha, H. S (2000). The encyclopedia of Sikhism (over 1000 entries). Hemkunt Press. pp. 39–. ISBN 978-81-7010-301-1. Retrieved 16 July 2010.