Diwan Mulraj Chopra

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Portrait by Colesworthey Grant of Diwan Mulraj held captive in Calcutta (1851)

Diwan Mulraj was the leader of the Sikh rebellion against the British from Multan. He was son of Diwan Sawan Mal who was appointed as governor of the city of Multan by the Sikh Emperor, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His territory included Southern Punjab region of Jhang. After the annexation of Lahore palace by the British, the Sikh Army fought valiantly in the two Anglo-Sikh wars. Diwan Mulraj was part of the last Sikh stand against the British and was supported by Sikh Saint Bhai Maharaj Singh, Sikh Sardars from West Punjab, and Punjabi Muslims. After British captured Multan, Diwan Mulraj was imprisoned and died in a jail near Calcutta, India.


Conquest of Multan[edit]

In the 19th century, the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh conquered Multan. The Afghan ruler of Multan, Muzaffar Khan Saddozai was defeated and killed. His death marked the end of Afghan rule in Multan. Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed Diwan Sawan Mal, a Punjabi Khatri, who was known to be one of the most able administrator of the Sikh empire. He is well known for agricultural reforms and spread of Sikhism in Multan. His first son, Mulraj, became the Governor of Multan, after the assassination of Sawan Mal at the hands of Afghans.

The Sikh Revolt[edit]

On 18 April 1848, Patrick Vans Agnew of Bengal Civil Service and another officer, Lieutenant William Anderson from the East India Company's Bombay Fusilier Regiment, arrived outside Multan with a small escort of Gurkhas to take control of Multan from the Sikhs. The next day, Mulraj was to present the keys of the city to the two British officers. As the two officers began to ride out of the citadel, a soldier from Mulraj's army attacked Vans Agnew. This may have been the sign for a concerted attack, as a mob surrounded and attacked them. Mulraj's troops either stood by, or joined the mob. Both officers were wounded, and took refuge in a Mosque outside the city, where Anderson wrote a plea for help. Mulraj had probably not been a party to the conspiracy among his own troops. He nevertheless regarded himself as committed to rebellion by their actions. The poet Hakim Chand recites, "Then the mother of Mulraj spoke to him reminding him of the Sikh Gurus and martyrs: "I will kill myself leaving a curse on your head. Either lead your men to death or get out of my sight; (and) I shall undertake the Khalsa army and go to the battle ...". She tied a bracelet on his wrist and sent him to the battle. Next morning, the mob hacked the two British officers to death. Mulraj presented Vans Agnew's head to Khan Singh and told him to take it back to Currie at Lahore.

Meanwhile, Mulraj was reinforced by several other regiments of the Khalsa, the former army of the Sikh kingdom, which rebelled or deserted. A Sikh saint Maharaj Singh played a key role in directing deserted Khalsa soldiers to Multan in support of Mulraj. He also took other measures to strengthen his defences, digging up guns which had previously been buried and enlisting more troops.

In early June, Edwardes began to lead an army against Multan. On 18 June, his leading troops (Pashtun irregulars) crossed the Chenab River on a ferry boat. They were engaged by Mulraj's artillery and forced to take cover for several hours. Mulraj's infantry and cavalry began to advance but Edwardes was reinforced by two regiments under Colonel Van Cortlandt[disambiguation needed], an Anglo-Indian soldier of fortune. Van Cortlandt's artillery caused heavy losses among the Multani troops and Edwardes's Pashtuns counter-attacked. Mulraj's forces retreated to Multan, having suffered 500 casualties and lost six guns.

The Siege of Multan[edit]

The East India Company's Bengal Army under General Whish began the siege of Multan. but it was too small to encircle the city, Currie decided to reinforce them with a substantial detachment of the Khalsa under Sher Singh Attariwalla. Sher Singh's father, Chattar Singh Attariwalla, was openly preparing to revolt in Hazara to the north of the Punjab. On 14 September, Sher Singh also rebelled against the East India Company and joined the revolt. However, Dewan Mulraj and Sher Singh could not agree to combine their forces and fought separately against the British.

On 27 December, Whish ordered four columns of troops to attack the suburbs of the city. Mulraj's forces were driven back into the city, and Whish's force set up batteries 500 yards from the city walls causing great damage in the city. On 30 December, the main magazine in the citadel exploded, killing 800 of the defenders. Mulraj nevertheless maintained his fire and sent a defiant message to Whish, stating that he still had enough powder to last a year. He attempted to mount a sortie against the besiegers on 31 December but this was driven back.

The Surrender[edit]

In a cell with a companion. Painting by Colesworthey Grant c. 1850

Whish ordered a general assault on 2 January 1849. The attackers successfully scaled the breaches, and the battle became a bloody house-to-house fight in the city, in which many defenders and civilians were killed indiscriminately. Mulraj offered to surrender if his life was spared, but Whish insisted on unconditional surrender, and on 22 January, Mulraj gave himself up, with 550 men. The British gained vast quantities of loot. Mulraj's treasury was worth three million pounds, a huge sum for the time. There was also much looting in the town, by both British and Indian soldiers. With the fall of Multan, Whish's army was able to reinforce the main Bengal Army force under Sir Hugh Gough. Whish's heavy guns were decisive at the Battle of Gujarat, which effectively broke Sher Singh's and Chattar Singh's armies and ended the Second Anglo-Sikh War.

Mulraj was placed on trial for the murders of Vans Agnew and Anderson. He was cleared of premeditated murder, but was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact that he had rewarded the murderers and openly used the deaths as pretext for rebellion. Mulraj was sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to exile for life. He died in the Buxor jail near Calcutta, Bengal from an ailment.

See also[edit]


  • Allen, Charles (2000). Soldier Sahibs. Abacus. ISBN 0-349-11456-0.
  • Farwell, Byron (1973). Queen Victoria's Little Wars. Wordsworth Military Library. ISBN 1-84022-216-6.
  • Hernon, Ian (2002). Britain's Forgotten Wars. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-3162-0.