Bhai Maharaj Singh, the spiritual leader and fervent Sikh nationalist, after the defeat of the Sikhs. First freedom fighter of India who took up weapons against the British rule in 1847, ten years before the First war of Independence of 1857. He was the first freedom fighter of India who took up weapons against the […]

Bhai Maharaj Singh, the spiritual leader and fervent Sikh nationalist, after the defeat of the Sikhs.

First freedom fighter of India who took up weapons against the British rule in 1847, ten years before the First war of Independence of 1857.

He was the first freedom fighter of India who took up weapons against the British rule in 1847, ten years before the First war of Independence and fought fervently till he was arrested on December 29, 1849 and imprisoned in Outram Jail Singapore where he died on 5th July 1856.

Bhai Maharaj Singh(d. 1856), a saintly person turned revolutionary who led an anti-British movement in the Punjab after the first Anglo-Sikh war, was born Nihal Singh at the village of Rabbon, in Ludhiana district. He had a religious bent of mind and came under the influence of Bhai Bir Singh of Naurangabad. After the latter’s death in 1844, he succeeded him as head of the Naurangabad dera and was held in high esteem by a vast following, including most of the Sikh chiefs and courtiers.

Maharaj Singh’s revolutionary career started with the Prema conspiracy case involving him in a plot to murder the British resident, Henry Lawrence, and other pro-British officers of the Lahore Darbar. Maharaj Singh, whose movements were restricted to Naurangabad by the British, went underground. The government confiscated his property at Amritsar and announced a reward for his arrest.

Bhai Maharaj Singh intensified his activities against the British when he came to know that Diwan Mul Raj had in April 1848 raised a standard of revolt against them at Multan. He left for Multan with 400 horsemen to join hands with Mul Raj. But soon differences arose between the two leaders, and Maharaj Singh left Multan for Hazara in June 1848 to seek Chatar Singh Atarivala’s assistance in his plans to dislodge the British.

In November 1848, he joined Raja Sher Singh’s forces at Ramnagar and was seen in the battlefield riding his black mare and exhorting the Sikh soldiers to lay down their lives for the sake of their country. Thereafter he took part in the battles of Chelianvala and Gujrat, but, when Raja Sher Singh surrendered to the British at Rawalpindi on 14 March 1849, he resolved to carry on the fight single-handed.

He escaped to Jammu and made Dev Batala his secret headquarters. In December 1849, he went to Hoshiarpur and visited the Sikh regiments to enlist their support. Bhai Maharaj Singh, who carried on his head a price of 10,000 rupees was arrested on 28 December 1849 at Adampur.

Bhai Maharaj Singh’s other name was Bhai Nihal Singh. His belonged to a line of Sikh revolutionaries who wanted to return to the creed of the Gurus. The pinions of this movement were Baba Bhag Singh of Pothohar, his worthy and more popular disciple Bhai Bir Singh of Naurangabad in Amritsar and the latter’s successor Bhai Maharaj Singh.
Bhai Maharaj Singh plan of action against the vastly superior British was framed in the jungles of the Chumb Valley.

1. To rescue Maharajah Dalip Singh from Lahore Fort.
2. To organize a United Front of all anti-British forces.
3. Organized disruption by subversion and suprise attacks on British treasuries and cantonments.

When Bhai Maharaj Singh learned that Maharaja Dalip Singh was being removed from Lahore, he thought it would be a setback to the freedom struggle. Therefore, he sent to Lahore six persons where Mian Ganesh was to assist the party in the project. The plan was to bring the Maharaja to Jammu hills, from where they would start regular operations relating to the freedom struggle. These five or six persons always resided near the palace walls with a view to abduct the Maharaja.

Bhai Maharaj Singh himself set out to make arrangements for the general rebellion. From July to October, 1849, he stayed at Sajuwal (Batala district), where he decided to attack the cantonments at Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar. It was also decided to persuade people to give men and money for this plan. Some men were sent to Kabul and Kandahar. Amir Dost Mohammad Khan and Sultan Mohammad Khan, the Afghan rulers, were contacted to implement the plan.

In the Punjab hills, Bedi Bikrama Singh, son of Bedi Sahib Singh, joined the movement. A descendant of Kangra rulers along with some other families were to supply 1,000 matchlockmen, Rs 10,000-20,000, and nearly 10,000 maunds of grain for the cause. After this arrangement, Bhai Maharaj Singh left Sajuwal and went to Hoshiarpur district, where he contacted influential people. They told him that in accordance with the plan, arrangements were made to loot the government treasury at Bajwara and attack the New Hoshiarpur cantonment.

Bhai Maharaj Singh personally visited Sikh Lions and secured promises of assistance from the officers of the regiment — Prem Singh, Sukha Singh, Fateh Singh, Zai Singh Havildar, etc. In the meantime, information was received that arrangements were complete for assembling nearly 4,000 men at Datarpur near Hajipur and similar preparations were also complete in Majha, Malwa and Hazara.

The date of rising and attacking the cantonments of Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar was fixed as January 3, 1850. As the day of attack drew near, Maharaj Singh paid hurried visits to many centres in Jalandhar Doab, where his agents were secretly working.

After completing the survey, he reached Adampur on December 28, 1849, where on the report of a Muslim informer, he was arrested in a sugarcane field along with his followers by Mr Vansittart. He was kept in the Jalandhar jail and then sent to Allahabad along with followers.

Within a month or so, he was shifted to Calcutta. From there, the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, issued orders to shift him to Singapore. The party reached Singapore on June 14, 1850. Bhai Maharaj Singh was lodged in one of the upper rooms. Two windows in his cell were walled up and a strong iron gate was put up in the verandah. He was the first Indian freedom fighter to be sent to Singapore jail.

Three years of solitary confinement later, Bhai Maharaj Singh not only turned blind, but also developed rheumatic pains and was reduced to a skeleton. In view of his ill-health, the Civil Surgeon recommended in 1853 that he be allowed an occasional walk in the open, but unfortunately this suggestion was turned down by the government for security reasons.

Bhai Maharaj Singh’s health continued to deteriorate. This divine patriot’s soul left for its heavenly abode on July 5, 1856. Mr McLeod, Commissioner of Jalandhar division, praised him by saying: “It appears to be certain that the Bhai was in some respects a very remarkable man. He possessed very great sagacity and self-reliance.”

Bhai Maharaj Singh was a pioneer freedom fighter. He continued his efforts to free the country despite adverse circumstances. For his supreme suffering and sacrifices, his memory will ever remain enshrined in the hearts of all — because he had a noble cause for which he fought and died.