Nankana massacre

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The massacre took place at Gurdwara Janam Asthan, in modern-day Pakistan.

The Nankana massacre (or Saka Nankana) took place in Nankana Sahib gurdwara on 20 February 1921, at that time of British India, in modern-day Pakistan.[1] more than a dozen Sikhs were killed by the Mahant and his mercenaries.[2] The event forms an important part of Sikh history. In political significance, it comes next only to Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 1919. The saga constitutes the core of the Gurdwara Reform Movement started by the Sikhs in early twentieth century.

Historical background[edit]

The Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak in fifteenth century and his divine torch was carried on by nine gurus who had followed in succession. The concepts of Sangat, Pangat, Dharamshala (Gurdwara) and Kirtan took firm roots during this period and became important constituents of Sikhism. Congregations in Gurdwaras had played crucial roles in the religious and social affairs of the early Sikhs. Later, they assumed wider dimensions by transforming into religio-political organisation. The peaceful and non-political budding Sikh brotherhood was transformed into a proud and fiercely martial nation through the baptismic process of Amrit-pan. After a long and continuous resistance of several decades against the tyrannies of Mughal rule, the brave Sikhs finally emerged victorious and succeeded in carving out 12 Khalsa principalities in Punjab which soon led to the creation of a unified Khalsa kingdom with Ranjit Singh at the helms. Maharaja Ranjit Singh reconstructed the Gurdwaras earlier destroyed by the Moghuls and also raised many new ones at the sacred places connected with the Sikh Gurus. For the sustenance of the Mahants, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had attached handsome landed properties with many of these Gurdwaras. The earlier Mahants were devoted Sikhs and true missionaries who did a lot for the spread of Sikhism. As the times rolled by, the Gurdwara incomes swelled enormously and the enormous money corrupted and degenerated the later-time Mahants into loose lived individuals. They started treating the Gurdwara properties as if they were their personal fiefs. This changed the things for Sikh Panth.

Objectionable activities within Nankana[edit]

Gurdwara Nankana Sahib was managed by Mahant Narayan Das, a Punjabi Brahmin in the early 20th century. This Gurdwara had a huge property of over 19000 acres (77 km²) of highly fertile land attached to it which yielded enormous income per year.

Dance girls were allegedly brought to the Gurdwara and dances were held and obscene songs were sung within the holy premises.[citation needed] In 1917, he is said to have arranged a dance-show by a prostitute near the holy Gurdawara.[citation needed] In 1918, a retired A.A.C. officer paid visit to the Gurdwara with his 13-year-old daughter to offer prayers to the Guru. As the Rehraas was being read in the Gurdwara, the mahant was allegedly raping the minor girl in another room within the Gurdwara premises.[citation needed] When the father lodged a complaint with the mahant to take action against the rapist, Mahant is said to have ignored his request. In the same year, six young female devotees from Jaranwal village (modern Faisalabad, Pakistan) visited the Gurdawara on Puranmashi (full moon) to pay their offerings at Gurdwara and they too were similarly raped by the mahant in that gurdwara.[3]

Protests by Akalis[edit]

All this went on before the very eyes of the Sikhs which had sent shock waves across Punjab. The issue was effectively raised in The Akali (Punjabi), published from Lahore by Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri (q.v.), father of the Akali movement and Shiromani Akali Dal.[4] Lyallpuri belonged to Bohoru village close to Nankana Sahib and he personally preached against the supposed debauchery of the Mahant in the nearby villages and also continued to organize the Sikhs for a movement to bring reforms into the Gurdwaras.[5]

In October 1920, a congregation was held at Dharowal in Sheikhupura (modern day Pakistan) for reform in Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. The supposed actions committed within Gurdwara by Mahant were revealed to the Sangat. On January 24, Shiromani Committee held a general meeting and took decision to hold a Dewan in Nankana Sahib on March 4, 5 and 6 and advise Mahant to mend his ways.

Mahant's reaction[edit]

According to some, the Mahant was a shrewd politician who publicly impressed that he was anxious to settle the issues with the Panth. On February 14, Mahant held a meeting with his associates to chalk out a plan to kill the opposing Sikh leaders on March 5 at Nankana Sahib.[citation needed] Mahant recruited 400 mercenaries, including Pashtuns paid at twenty Indian rupees per month to oppose the Sikhs. With government's help, Mahant also collected guns, pistols and other arms and ammunition. He also arranged and stored fourteen tins of paraffin and further strengthened the Gurdwara gate and carved out shooting galleries.

Mahant Narayan Das had the backing from the Mahants of other Gurdwaras in Punjab. The Bedi Jagirdars who had received Jagirs from the English Government by virtue of their past connections with Guru Nanak also supported the Mahant. Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia also maintained double standards.[citation needed] But Maharaja of Patiala flatly refused to back Mahant and offered him a healthy advice not to rebel against the Panth. He further advised the Mahant to create a committee of prominent Sikhs and hand over the Gurdwara charge to them. But Mahant ignored the advice of Patiala Royal house.

The Shiromani Committee extended invitation to Mahant for talks at Gurdwara Khara Sauda to resolve the issue but he did not show up at the given time. Then he offered to hold talks with the Sikh leaders in Sheikhupura on February 15, 1921, but again he failed to show up. Third time he promised to meet the Shiromani Committee leaders at the residence of Sardar Amar Singh Lyall Gazette on February 16, but once again he failed to turn up.

Counter-response of the Sikhs[edit]

The Shiromani Committee decided of its own to meet the Mahant on 3 March 1921 to advise him to hand over the charge to the committee. But the Committee got the information from its own intelligence that Mahant was planning to invite the Sikh leaders at Nanakana Sahib and have them killed from hired gundas. This greatly angered Kartar Singh Jhabber and others. A meeting of the Sikh leaders was called at Gurdwara Khara Sauda on 16, 1921 to chalk out the future course of action. It was decided that Sangat would go in Jathas (squads) and take charge of the Gurdwara. Sikh leaders learnt that Mahant was going to Lahore on 20 February 1921. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar and Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali decided to take their jathas to Nanakana Sahib on 20 February.

On the evening of February 19, 1921, Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali reached Nizam Deva Singhwala with his jatha of 8 Singhs (6 males and two females). At Nizam Deva Singh wala, Jathedar Tehal Singh (Kamboj Sikh) had already arranged a Jatha of about 150 Singhs, majority of them belonging to the Kamboj community. All these Singhs came from nearby Kamboj villages of Nizampur Moola Singh wala, Nizampur Chelewala, Dalla Chand Singh, Bohoru, Thothian and Nizam Deva Singh wala etc, all falling in District Sheikhupura (now Pakistan).

Peaceful Khalsa on the march[edit]

The combined Jatha took a Hukamnama and started for the Gurdwara at about 10 PM on that night so as to reach there by early morning at Amrit vela (nectral hours). On the way 50 more Sikhs joined the Shaheedi Jatha and total number swelled to about 200. At Chanderkot Jhal, Jathedar Lachhman Singh decided to wait for Kartar Singh Jhabber and his Jatha. They waited for a while in vain and finally Jathedar Dharowali decided to cancel the plan for further march to Nankana Sahib. But at this very moment, Jathedar Tehal Singh came forward and addressed the Shaheedi Jatha not to vacillate even for a moment from forward march since "the prayers having already been said and the action plan having already been decided with Guru's word, it is now imperative for now to move forward". Advising further that "all the members shall keep cool even under extreme provocations". From here-onwards, Jathedar Tehal Singh took over the supreme command of the Shaheedi Jatha and resumed the march to Nankana.[6] By almost at Amritvela, the Shaheedi Jatha reached the Railway-crossing near Nankana Sahib. Some of the Jatha members raced towards Darshani Deori to take possession of the Gurdawara, but at this very moment, Chaudhury Paul Singh Lyallpuri showed up with the latest decision of Shiromani Committee advising to postpone the action for taking possession of the Gurdwara. Having conveyed the information, Bhai Paul Singh grabbed Jathedar Lachhman Singh from his waist behind and persuaded him not to proceed further. Once again, Jathedar Tehal Singh took the initiative and shaking Chaudhury Paul Singh forcefully off from the person of Jathedar Lachhman Singh, he once more challenged the Shaheedi Jatha to get ready for the sublime action. He once again spoke: " Khalsa ji, the time is not to stop now, but to act. We have come here to achieve martyrdom under Guru's word. This is very un-Sikh-like to backout [sic] from one's commitment at the last moment" [7] Saying this, Tehal Singh walked with the Jatha towards the Gurdwara. Lachhman Singh and others repeatedly requested him to relent, but Tehal Singh stuck to his Ardās.[8]

Massacre of Khalsa[edit]

Enthused by the speech of Jathedar Tehal Singh, the entire Shaheedi Jatha followed him. By this time, another horseman messenger, Bhai Ram Singh, arrived. In vain did he too try to persuade Jathedar Tehal Singh and the Jatha to return. The Jatha soon entered Darshni Deohri of the Gurdwara and shut the main door from inside. While some of the devotees took their seats inside the Prakash Asthan, others sat on the platform and the Baran dari. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali sat on Guru's tabia. Mahant Narayan Das came to know of the situation through the Jaikaras (victory slogans) of the Shaheedi Jatha. At first, he was utterly shocked thinking that the game was over but he soon recovered and ordered his mercenaries to kill everyone in the Jatha. They fired bullets at the Sangat in Gurdwara hall. Several bullets pierced through Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The hired gundas wielded swords, spears, hatchets and other lethal weapons to mercilessly slaughter the peaceful and unprovocative Sikhs within the very premises of the Gurdwara. The dead and dying Singhs were then dragged to a pile of logs which had been collected earlier and consigned to flame. By the time the police and local Sikhs came on the scene, all the dead men had been consumed by the fire. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali who was wounded with a gunshot was tied to a Jand tree and burnt alive. It was a butchery at its worst form.

The news spread and Sikhs from all parts of Punjab started their march towards Nankana Sahib. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber reached next day with 2200 Singhs armed with shastras (arms). Fearing more trouble, Mr King, Commissioner Lahore, handed over the keys of Nankana Sahib to Shiromani Committee and arrested Mahant Narayan Das and his Pashtun mercenaries and charged them with murder, but only Das and some of the mercenaries were sentenced to death.

Statistics on fatalities[edit]

A total of 86 Sikhs officially died.[9] According to Giani Partap Singh, out of a total figure of 86 Sikh Shaheeds of Nankana saka, the Kamboj community alone shared 31.[10][11][12][13]

Mahatma Gandhi in Nankana Sahib[edit]

Mahatma Gandhi visited Nankana Sahib on March 3, 1921. Addressing the gathering, Mahatma said: "I have come to share your anguish and grief. It is interesting indeed to note that the Sikhs in this drama remained peaceful and non-violent from the start to the end. This (role of the Sikhs) has greatly added to the glory and prestige of India "[14]..... "All indications point to the fact that the cruel and barbaric action is the second edition of Jallianwala Bagh massacre; rather more evil and more invidious than even Jallianwala" .[15] Gandhi further spoke: "the action of these dimensions could not be perpetrated by Mahant alone. The government officers are also involved in this heinous crime. Where had the authorities gone when the Mahant was making preparations for murderous plans?"


The supreme sacrifices made by these Sikhs Shaheeds have been acknowledged by the grateful nation. From that day onwards, the Sikh nation remembers these brave Sikhs in their daily ardas (prayer). Every year on 21 February at this Shaheedi Asthan, Guru Granth Sahib's Swaroop with Bullet marks is brought to Deewan (assembly) from 2pm to 4pm for darshan of the Sikh Sangat.


  1. ^ "95th Anniversary Of Nankana Massacre Observed At Gurdwara Nankana Sahib". 23 February 2016. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Teja Singh, The Gurdwara Reform Movement and the Sikh Awakening, Amritsar, 1984, p 154; Kambojjas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 298, S Kirpal Singh
  4. ^ Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri was from Sandha clan and Kamboj lineage
  5. ^ The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 298-99.
  6. ^ Kamboj Itihaas, 1972, p 183, H. S. Thind; These Kamboj People, 1979, p 277, K. S. Dardi cf [1]
  7. ^ Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 303, S Kirpal Singh; These Kamboj People, 1979, p 277, K. S. Dardi
  8. ^ Sikh Gurdwaras in History and Role of Jhabbar, Karnail Singh See Link Archived 2007-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Shamsher Gurbakash Singh, Shaheedi Jeewan, 1938, p 356; Sher Singh Sher, Glimpsaes of Sikhism and Sikhs, 1982, p 207; H. S. Thind, Kamboj Itihaas, 1971, pp 181- 205.
  10. ^ Akali Lehir, pp 104-106, Giani Pratap Singh.
  11. ^ H. S. Thind, Kamboj Itihaas, 1971, pp 181-205.
  12. ^ Kirpal Singh, Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 298-312.
  13. ^ S Kirpal Singh, These Kamboj People, 1979, pp 275-279 .
  14. ^ Sahni Ruchi Ram, Struggle for Reforms in Sikh Shrines (Ed Ganda Singh), p 81
  15. ^ The Times, March 11, 1921 (A History of the Sikhs, Vol II, p 200, Khushwant Singh)

Books and periodicals[edit]

  • Gurdwara Reform Movement, and The Sikh Awakening, 1984, Teja Singh
  • Akali, Lahore, October 8, 1920
  • Akali Morchian Da Itihaas, 1977, Sohan Singh Josh
  • Meri Aap Beeti, Master Sunder Singh Lyalpuri (unpublished)
  • Gurdwara Arthaat Akali Lehir, 1975, Giani Pratap Singh
  • Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines, (Ed Dr Ganda Singh)
  • Khushwant Singh: A History of the Sikhs, 1966.
  • Kamboj Itihaas, 1972, H. S Thind
  • These Kamboj People, 1979, K. S. Dardi
  • Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, S Kirpal Singh
  • Shaheedi Jeewan, 1938, Gurbaksh Singh Shamsher
  • Glimpses of Sikhism and Sikhs, 1982, Sher Singh Sher
  • Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol I, II, Harbans Singh

External links[edit]