BOTA SINGH (d. 1739), an eighteenth century martyr of the Sikh faith who belonged to the village of Bharana in Amritsar district. In those days of dire persecution, he along with many fellow Sikhs had sought the safety of wastes and jungles. At nightfall, he would come out of his hiding place and visit some human habitations in search of food. Occasionally he would come to Amritsar by night to have a dip in the holy tank, spending the day in the wilderness around Tarn Taran. One day he was noticed by some people who thought he was a Sikh.
But one of the party said that he was not a Sikh, for had he been one he would not conceal himself thus. The taunt cut Bota Singh to the quick. Accompanied by his companion Garja Singh, a Rarighreta Sikh, and with a bamboo club in his hand, he took up position on the grand trunk road, near Sarai Nur udDin, near Tarn Taran. To announce his presence and proclaim the sovereignty of the Khalsa, he started collecting toll from the passersby. Finding everyone submitting tamely to his authority, he sent a communication to the provincial governor himself.
The words of the letter, as preserved in Punjabi folklore, were:
- Chitthi likhi Singh Bota : Hath hai sota, Vich rah khalota Anna laya gadde nu, Paisa laya khota. Akho Bhabi Khano nu, Yon akhe Singh Bota.
Bota Singh writes this letter as:
- With a big club in hand, On the road do I stand. I levy an anna on a cart And a pice on a donkey. This, tell your sister, Khano, who is my sister-in-law, Is what Bota Singh declares.
The wife of the Mughal governor is burlesqued here using her popular name "Khano." Bota Singh calls her his bhabi, i.e. brother's wife with whom one could be familiar (see without Purda, etc.).
Zakariya Khan, the governor, sent a contingent of one hundred horse under Jalal Din to arrest Bota Singh alive and bring him to Lahore. Jalal Din asked Bota Singh and Garja Singh to surrender and accompany him to Lahore, promising to secure them the governor's pardon. Bota Singh and his comrade spurned the offer and fell fighting valiantly against heavy odds. This happened in 1739.
Bhai Bota Singh Garja Singh, the Story Recounted in Depth
Many of us are familliar with the story of Bhai Bota Singh & Bhai Garja Singh. The fact is however, that the true details of their heroic and bloody shaheedee are not commonly known. The details are shocking and awe-inspiring. How with smashed bones they crawled towards the enemy is ignored by most history books. Here is the most puraatan account of their Shaheedee.
Are not all the Sikh Singhs Dead?
It had been four months since a Singh had been seen in the Punjab. Hundreds if not thousands of Singhs had been martyred and people began to say that all the Singhs have been killed. They would say, "The Mughals have defeated the Sikhs. They totally eliminated them. The Singhs no longer attack the Mughals nor do they battle. Four months have passed and there has been no word from the Khalsa. It seems the Khalsa has been totally killed off."
Bhai Bota Singh
Bhai Bota Singh was from the Taran Taaran area and had been separated from the main Jatha of Singhs. Bhai Bota Singh was an unmarried Singh who was very strict in his rehit. He was a sevak of the Satguru and in his heart he was a true warrior with absolutely no fear. He was true to every word that he spoke.
It was amrit vela and Bhai Bota Singh had left his hiding place in the jungle and was quietly walking out. The day had not dawned yet and two travellers on the road saw this solitary Singh. They wondered aloud if he was truly a Singh. They were stunned to see a Singh after such a long time and one of posed the questian, "How did this Singh remain alive? How did he survive this long? No, he must be a fake. No Singhs can be found anywhere now, since the Mughals wiped them out."
The second traveller replied, "It must be some coward, who is weak and afraid. The Singhs were a very proud people and didn't go about in hiding. The Khalsa used to fight the Mughals everyday. The Khalsa was never afraid of death. How could this man be a real Khalsa if he has been hiding for so long, in the fear of being killed? The real Khalsa used to cause havoc and chaos for the enemy and would sacrifice his head for the sake of others. This can be no Khalsa."
Sacrifice to Awaken the Panth
Bhai Bota Singh heard these words and stopped in his tracks. His feet were planted firmly in the ground. He had heard this entire conversation with close attention. Their words were like the bite of a snake for him. Hearing these words, Bhai Bota Singh reached a firm conclusion: "There is no option now, but for me to sacrifice my head. If I sacrifice my head the people will again say "Indeed! The Singhs live!" and news of my battle will travel across the Punjab. The world will know that the Khalsa lives and the Khalsa too will be inspired to re-start its battle against the enemy. I will fight my battle on the main road. When I give my head, the Mughals will be disgraced for having attacked a lone Singh with such cowardice and the talk of the Khalsa will start and the Khalsa will rise again! Once the Khalsa lays its claim to the rule of this land and we will seize this land back from the enemy."
Setting up of a Checkpoint
Near Taran Taaran there is a place called Noordeen Dee Saraa(n). Many travellers, businessmen and merchants used to come to this place and on the way there was a major intersection which all had to pass through. Bhai Bota Singh went to this intersection and planted some logs in the ground and made a checkpoint. He announced that no traveller could pass through this place without first paying him the Khalsa's Royal Tax.
Another Singh name Bhai Mota Singh (known in other places as Bhai Garja Singh) also joined in with Bota Singh. The two Singhs, with not a Sikh having been seen for months now, made their checkpoint and began to create a commotion by yelling at travellers, "OI!!! STOP!! You have to pay the Khalsa's tax!" Everyone was shocked to see Singhs standing out in the open after such a long time. The travellers would rudely reply that they paid their taxes only to the government and who were they (the Singhs) to take money from them?
After all, the Singhs were now a powerless bunch with no authority over them. The Singhs hearing these words would punish the travellers' insolence by beating the travellers with their massive sticks. "Now tell us! Will you pay or not?" The travellers would be forced to pay the tax. Chaos erupted all around the main road and news began to spread about the two Khalsas and their roadblock and claims of authority.
The two Singhs thus made extra efforts to cause a commotion so that news of their tax-collection would be sure to reach the Mughal government. But quite some time passed and no Mughal army came. Many people came and paid their taxes and some even came to make requests like they would to a genuine ruler. When no reply came from the government, the Singhs decided to write a letter to the Governor, which would cause him to burn with fury.
Bhai Bota Singh was from the same village as Navaab Kapoor Singh jee and in this village, the Governor's older sister Khaano was married. She was married to Farzulla Khan who intensely hated the Khalsa. What better way to irk the Governor than to mention the name of his sister? In an insult to the governor, Bhai Bota Singh decided to call Khaano "Bhabee" i.e. sister in law since she was married into his village. Bhai Bota Singh wrote to the Governor, "I have a big stick in my hand and stand on the road to Noordeen Dee Saraa(n). I charge one paisa for a donkey and 4 paisas (one anna) for a cart. Tell Bhabee Khaano, Bota Singh says this."
The Army Arrives
The mention of the Governor's sister of course infuriated him. He immediately dispatched the army. When the army arrived, one Singh was manning the checkpoint and the other was walking towards the jungle with a gaRvaa in his hand. Seeing the army approach, he turned back right away.
The Singhs yelled a loud Fateh to the army and challenged them. "OI! Come here! Where are you going? Make sure you pay the tax!"
The Singhs had kirpaans in their gaatraas and big sticks in their hands. The left their checkpoint and stood on the road now. The Commander of the army saw them and yelled back, "Singhs! Don't fight and die today. Come with us to Lahore. Bota Singh! Come with us and we'll arrange a meeting with the Governor for you. The Governor will spare your life and release you."
The Singhs replied, "When did we ever want to save our lives? We want to battle! You say you'll spare our lives, but we stand here prepared to die. We are anxious for death today. Stop with your talk, get off your horses and fight us so we can be martyred. You can use whatever weapons you want, we'll use our sticks only. Don’t worry, what harm can we do to you with our sticks? We just want to know how much courage you will show on the battlefield and how much courage we have to fight you."
The Commander again tried, "Why bother with all this Bota Singh? There is no need for any of this, just come with us. We'll have the Khan Bahadur speak with you in his court."
The Singhs replied, "There is no talk left between us and you. There is no compromise between us. We're not here to negotiate. We'll go to the court of Dharam Rai and say what we want there. We don't have any need for your court. The only relationship we can have now is of exchanging weapon blows. "
The Battle Begins
The Singhs were anxious for martyrdom and could wait no longer as the Commander thought of a reply. They called out, "If you will not make any attack, then we are coming to you. Don't say we didn’t warn you. Prepare yourselves!" And with this, the Singhs fell upon the Mughals like lions. They sprinted towards the army and began to swing their weapons.
The Mughals were mounted on horses and retreated away from the Singhs. Seeing the retreat, the Singhs began to throw rocks at the soldiers. The Mughals were anxious to save their lives and had taken their horses far away and were terrified to see how fearlessly the two Khalsa stood before them. The Mughals began to fire arrows and bullets from far away, but the Singhs would run towards them caring nothing for their own bodies. Bhai Bota Singh and Bhai Mota Singh were suffering many injuries but not slowing down. As arrows and bullets hit their bodies, they became even more excited. They kept charging at the retreating Mughals. Sometimes they would make a small leap forward and sometimes make a giant leap.
The Mughals then decided to run the Singhs down with their horses. They made a charge towards them and as the horses threw the two Khalsa down, they would immediately rise again. Seeing that the Singhs were still not using any dangerous weapons, the Mughals grew more confident and their fear lessened. They were now eager to kill the Singhs.
As weapons struck their bodies, Bhai Mota Singh and Bhai Bota Singh showed no pain. Their bodies had become hardened because of their time in the jungles and their skin was as taut and strong as a shield. Only when a blow would fall upon a bone and break it would they feel some fatigue. When an arrow would pierce their bodies, the Singhs would pull it out and throw it aside with disgust. Making sure the Mughals could clearly see them, they would tear out the arrow and yell "Your arrows are useless! They cannot pierce our bodies!"
The Mughals now drew their swords and attacked. The Singhs stopped the sword blows with their staffs and stood back to back to face the enemy. As the enemy ran horses upon them, they would hit the horses with their massive sticks and turn them away. The Mughals were forced to abandon their horses and advance on foot. The enemy would try to block the staff blows with their shields but were growing tired from the force. The ornamental flowers and markings on their shields had all been smashed off. The Mughals were beginning to see that their attempts were futile.
The Mughals again retreated and this time drew their guns. They fired burst upon burst at the two warriors and wherever the bullets hit, they would smash a bone. The Mughals fired at the Singh's hands and broke the hands they held their staffs with. The Singhs then grabbed their staffs with their left hands. The Mughals managed to break the Singhs' hips with their bullets and made them lame. The bullets then broke the Singhs' legs and they fell to the ground.
The Mughals now called out, "Now put your hands together and beg for forgiveness! Admit you have made a mistake! We will spare your lives and not kill you if you stand with your hands clasped together. You'll have to become Muslims, but we will spare you."
The Singhs heard these words and looked at each other. They grabbed a hold of the other's shoulder and rose. They now stood back to back on one leg. They again called out a challenge to the Mughals.
The Mughals were confused. There stood two utterly smashed bodies, standing on only one leg each. What were they thinking? The Mughals again approached and their commander who ordered them not to fire. "They only have one leg and one hand each. Tackle them to the ground and subdue them!"
As the Mughals came near, the Singhs forcefully began to swing their heavy staffs with their left hands and smashed the enemy's heads. Blood poured from the Mughal soldiers' noses and mouths. Streams of blood began to flow. They smashed many enemy soldiers' heads and again fell exhausted to the ground.
The Mughals had run back in retreat once again. The two Khalsa were lying on the ground with no bone intact. And then the unimaginable happened. The Singhs propped themselves up and on their knees and elbows began to advance towards the enemy again. They glared at the Mughals and would not look away or blink. With their intense gaze they continued their approach. They had no hope for life any longer. Their faces were glowing red. The Mughals were terrified that these two beasts may stand again. The entire army fell upon them and cut their bodies into pieces. The two Singhs were martyred and joined their brothers and sisters in SachKhand.
The news of the Khalsa's bravery again spread across the Punjab. The people began to remark that perhaps the Khalsa had not been finished after all. Who could finish warriors like this? The bravery of Bhai Bota Singh and Bhai Mota Singh shocked not only the people but also the Mughals. News spread to the Khalsa in hiding and they too were inspired to rise again. Bhai Bota Singh and his tax collection was a reminder that Punjab was the Khalsa's land. They would seize it back from the enemy. The Khalsa began to regroup again and prepare for battle.
Bhai Bota Singh and Bhai Mota Singh's Shaheedee inspired the entire Panth and struck fear into the heart of the enemy. Are there not any Bhai Bota Singh or Bhai Mota Singh today who will wake up the Panth from its slumber again?
- 1. Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Sikh Martyrs. Madras, 1928
- 2. Chhibbar, Kesar Singh, Bansavalinama Dasan Patshahian Ka. Chandigarh, 1972
- 3. Bhahgu, Ratan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash. Amritsar, 1914