Punjab is the home of one the oldest and most glorious civilisationsof the world. It is the zoom-in point of strength, the land of gurus, great learned saints who have showered their blessings to this land. This is the main reason that the state is very prosperous and in early days was the crown of India. Todaythe Punjabis need to understand their history, culture and sacrifice and must learn from the past and to build role models for the future generations
The Quest for the Past-Retracing the history of Seventeenth-century Sikh Warrior, Iqbal Singh Iqbal Singh, Publishing, pp 195, Rs 1499.00
The book under review, “The Quest for the Past - Retracing the history of Seventeenth-century Sikh Warrior,” written by Iqbal Singh, a veteran Colonel of the Indian Army, chronicles the history of his family, the Ramgarhia Sardars (leaders) of Punjab. Its latest edition has been self-published by the author in 2021. The 195-page book has been introduced by Dr Purnima Dhavan, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Washington.
It covers the period from the tenth Sikh Guru. Gobind Singh, in the late seventeenth century (he anointed Guru in 1676) to the present, covering nine generations of the family up to the author.
The period of almost two and a half centuries from the first Sikh Guru, Shri Guru Nanak Dev, to the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji, brought the Sikh religion into direct conflict with the ruling Mughal dynasty. The Gurus realised the need to build a Nation on the strength of military might so as to stand up to the atrocities of despotic rulers. This marked unprecedented sacrifice by the Gurus and their families and witnessed the rise of the Sikhs despite great odds and challenges.
“The Quest for the Past” records the life and times of those who took the legacy of the Gurus forward. It covers the period when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, a community baptised to the ideology of standing for justice and righteousness to the extent of picking up arms against the oppressor and beyond.
Bhai Hardas Singh, the first protagonist in the book and elder of the Ramgarhia family, was baptised a Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh ji. He was a literary person who functioned as a scribe for Guru Gobind Singh ji and, in the true spirit of the Khalsa, also fought many battles alongside the Guru.
When Guru Gobind Singh ji passed away in 1708, Bhai Hardas Singh joined Baba Banda Bahadur to carry forward the legacy of his Guru. He was a part of the process whereby the roots of the Sikh Nation were laid by Baba Banda Bahadur. He laid his life to the cause while fighting for Banda Bahadur in the Battle of Bajwara, Hoshiarpur, in 1716.
Bhagwan Singh, the son of Bhai Hardas Singh, also remained wedded to the cause of the Khalsa and the Sikh Nation. He fought under the banner of Baba Banda Bahadur. Later he witnessed the bloody invasions by Nadir Shah and political machinations of Mughal officials like Adina Beg and Zakariya Khan. Bhagwan Singh also fell heroically in a battle against the overwhelming forces of Nadir Shah. Thus, was laid, with the sacrifice of blood, the foundation of the Ramgarhia family.
Despite its roots of a great civilisation, Punjab has greatly erred in recording its glorious history. Probably, the Punjabi ancestors were too busy fighting and surviving to devote time to the recording of history. Under these circumstances, reading a personalised record of a family as in "The Quest for the Past" brings forth a very poignant and sentimental emotion
The mantle of leadership then fell on the shoulder of Sardar Jassa Singh, who created a very strong Misl and named it Ramgarhia in remembrance of the Ramgarh fort built by him in Amritsar. The family made a considerable contribution towards defeating the weakened Mughals and the barbaric Afghan, Ahmed Shah Durrani, simultaneously. Their thirst for blood and loot marred the military genius of the latter. At its prime, the RamgarhiaMisl under Jassa Singh Ramgarhia controlled vast territories in Punjab and modern-day Himachal Pradesh. The family stood tall all through the making of the Sikh Empire and served the Sarkar Khalsa (reign of the Khalsa) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with utmost loyalty, winning great honour and accolades. This period marked the presence of Sardar Jodh Singh, son of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, who fought the famous siege of Multan and completed the construction of the Bunga Ramgarhia in the vicinity of Shri Harmandir Sahib.
The direct descendent of the author Sardar Diwan Singh, son of Sardar Tara Singh, ruled over Baramullah in Jammu &Kashmir on behalf of Sarkar Khalsa. The next generation, Sardar Mangal Singh, remained dedicated to the Sikh Empire and fought on the side of Hari Singh Nalwa in Peshawar.
The family, all through, remained deeply involved in the development and beautification of Amritsar and Shri Harmandir Sahib, for which it donated considerable wealth. When the British took over Punjab, Sardar Mangal Singh was appointed manager of Shri Harmandir Sahib and honorary Magistrate. This service continued by succeeding generations.
Despite its roots of a great civilisation, Punjab has greatly erred in recording its glorious history. Probably, the Punjabi ancestors were too busy fighting and surviving to devote time to the recording of history. Under these circumstances, reading a personalised record of a family as in “The Quest for the Past” brings forth a very poignant and sentimental emotion. The author has, very gracefully, connected the history of the times with the story of his family, which makes the book a very interesting read. The book has a number of old black and white pictures which arrest the interest of the reader.
Certain aspects like the Misl Sardars making alliances against each other even with the Mughals but getting together when the Afghans posed a common threat has been well elucidated in the book. One is left wondering how a Khalsa faced another Khalsa in such battles and later fought side by side.
The handing over of Bunga Ramgarhia by the family to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and the inability of the latter to maintain the heritage structure generates a feeling of dismay at how heritage has been replaced by marble due to the blinkered approach of those who have become guardians of our faith in the present times. Obviously, the disregard for history, legacy and culture continues to be prevalent in the Sikh/Punjabi thought process now more than ever. It seems that good sense has finally prevailed, and the SGPC has approved the renovation of Bunga Ramgarhia.
I would take this opportunity to recommend to the author that, if feasible, the subsequent editions of the book see the addition of socio-cultural aspects of those times–the dress, language, meetings, marriage alliance, anecdotes etc. Most importantly, the larger-than-life personality profile Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and other chiefs could be added.
(The writer is a political analyst and an expert on Punjab affairs)