Misl Bhangian

Lahore fort Hazuri Gate

BHANGI MISL was one of the twelve misls or eighteenth-century Sikh principalities acquired its name from the addiction of its members to a drug called bhang or hemp. The founder of the jatha, i.e. band of warriors, that later acquired the dimensions of a misl was Chhajja Singh of Panjvar village, near Amritsar who had converted to Sikhism. He was succeeded by Bhuma Singh, a Dhillon Jatt of the village of Hung, near Badhni in present day Moga district, who won a name for himself in skirmishes with Nadir Shah's troops in 1739. On Bhuma Singh 's death in 1746, his nephew and adopted son, Han Singh, assumed the leaderhip of the misl. At the formation of the Dal Khalsa in 1748, Hari Singh was acknowledged head of the Bhangi masl as well as leader of the Taruna Dal. He vastly increased the power and influence of the Bhangi misl which began to be ranked as the strongest among its peers. He created an army of 20,000 dashing youths, captured Panjvar in the Tarn Taran parganah and established his headquarters first at Sohal and then at Gilvah, both in Amritsar district. Hari Singh kept up guerrilla warfare against the invading hosts of Ahmad Shah Durrani. In 1763, he along with the Kanhaiyas and Ramgarhias, sacked the Afghan strong hold of Kasur. In 1764, he ravaged Bahawalpur and Multan. Crossing the River Indus, he realized tribute from the Baluchi chiefs in the districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan. On his way back home, he reduced Jhang, Chiniot and Sialkot. Hari Singh died in 1765, fighting against Baba Ala Singh of Patiala.

Hari Singh was succeeded by Jhanda Singh, his eldest son, under whom the Bhangi misl reached the zenith of its power. In 1764, Jhanda Singh had invaded Multan and Bahawalpur, but failed to drive out the Durrani satrap Shuja Khan Saddozai. Jhanda Singh marched on Multan again in 1772 forcing the Nawab to flee. Multan was declared Khalsa territory and the city was parcelled out between Jhanda Singh and his commander Lahina Singh. Jhanda Singh next subdued Jhang, Kala Bagh and Mankera. He built a brick fort at Amritsar which he named Qila Bhangian and laid out fine bazars in the city. He then proceeded to Rasulnagar, where he recovered from the Muhammadan Chattha rulers the famous gun Zamzama which came to be known as Bhangian di Top. But Jhanda Singh was soon involved in the internal feuds of the warring misl. He was killed in 1774 in a battle with the Kanhaiyas and the Sukkarchakkias at Jammu where he had marched to settle a standing succession issue. He was succeeded by his brother Ganda Singh who, dying of illness at the time of a battle with the Kanhaiyas at Dinanagar, was in turn succeeded by his minor son, Desa Singh, under whose weak leadership began the decline of the dynasty.

Several Bhangi sardars set themselves up as independent chiefs within their territories. Desa Singh was killed in action against Mahan Singh Sukkarchakkia in 1782. A leading Bhangi sardar now was Gurbakhsh Singh Rowranvala who had fought hand in hand with Hari Singh Bhangi in several of his battles. After his death, his adopted son Lahina Singh, and Gujjar Singh son of his daughter, divided his estates. In 1765, they had joined hands with Sobha Singh Kanhaiya and occupied Lahore. The city was partitioned among the three sardars who though temporarily driven out in 1767 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, had continued in authority.

In January 1797 Ahmad Shah's grandson, Shah Zaman, led out an expedition and seized the city. But soon after the departure of the Durrani Shah for Kabul, Lahina Singh and Sobha Singh (Gujjar Singh had died in 1791 ), returned and reestablished their rule. The same year, 1797, Lahina Singh died and was succeeded by his son Chet Singh and about the same time Sobha Singh died and was succeeded by his son Mohar Singh. But the new rulers failed to establish their authority.

People groaned under oppressive taxes and extortions and local Muhammadan Chaudharis and mercantile Khatris made a common cause and invited Ranjit Singh and Sada Kaur to come and occupy the city. On 7 July 1799, Ranjit Singh arrived with 5,000 troops at the Shalamar Gardens. The Bhangi sardars left the town hastily and Ranjit Singh became master of the capital of the Punjab, laying the foundation of Sikh monarchy.

Reverting to the main branch of the Bhangi misl Desa Singh, son of Ganda Singh, was succeeded by his minor son Gulab Singh, who administered the misl through his cousin Karam Singh. Gulab Singh enlarged the city of Amritsar where he resided, and, on attaining years of discretion, overran the whole Pathan colony of Kasur, which he subdued, the Pathan chiefs of Kasur, Nizamuddin and Qutb-ud-Din Khan, brothers, entering the service of the conqueror. In 1794, however, the brothers, with the aid of their Afghan countrymen, recovered Kasur. Gulab Singh died in 1800 and was succeeded by his son, Gurdit Singh, a 10-year old boy who conducted the affairs of the misl through his mother and guardian, Mai Sukkhan. Maharaja Ranjit Singh who after having taken possession of Lahore in 1799 was launched on a career of rapid conquest had his eyes on Amritsar where Bhangis still held their sway. On the excuse of taking from them the famous Zamzama gun, he marched with a strong force in 1802, Gurdit Singh, along with his mother, Mai Sukkhan, fleeing without resistance. The last Bhangi chief to fall was Sahib Singh of Gujrat who was dismissed with a grant of a few villages. By 1810 all Bhangi territories Lahore, Amritsar, Sialkot, Chiniot, Jhang, Bhera, Rawalpindi, Hasan Abdal, Gujrat—had merged with the kingdom of Ranjit Singh. The descendants of Bhangi sardars are today concentrated mainly in the Amritsar district of the Punjab.


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