Afghan soldiers of the Durrani Empire
Between the years 1747 to 1769, the Emperor of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali of the Durrani dynasty invaded India nine times, majority of the time entering through the Punjab. A member of Abdali’s entourage was the Qazi (Muslim religious judge) Nur Muhammad.
Qazi Nur Muhammad has documented the invasions of Abdali in the “Jangnama”. During one of the war councils of the Shah’s, a member of the Baluchistan troops rode on horse back to report a surprise attack by the Sikhs. Qazi Nur Muhammad has written this about the war tactics of the Sikhs ”A troop advances and, firing a shot from some distance, retires to reload their muskets while another troop starts firing from another point. Thus, while they can relax somewhat by turns, they do not allow any respite to their enemy.”
Jathedar Baba Gurbakhsh Singh Ji Shaheed
After one days rest, a group of thirty Sikhs surprised the invaders again, as Qazi Nur Muhammad has written “These dogs (as the author has called the Sikhs) were only thirty in number. They were not in the least afraid. They had neither the fear of slaughter nor the dread of death. They grappled with the ghazis (Muslim suicide squads) and, in the engagement, spilt their blood and sacrificed their lives for their Guru” ( This attack was headed by Baba Gurbakhsh Singh Ji of the Tarna Dal and his jatha). Ahmad Shah returned to Lahore where he held another council of war at which Mir Muhammad Nasir Khan expressed the opinion that they should advance to Sirhind where they should stay awaiting further news from Najb ud Daulah, who had been besieged in Delhi by Raja Jawahar Singh of Bharatpur and his Sikh allies of the Budha Dal under Jathedar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. Ahmad Shah Durrani resumed his march but, conscious as he was of the might of the roving Sikh bands, he followed a circuitous route through Batala, Hoshiarpur and Ropar and, avoiding Sirhind altogether, proceeded via Pirijore, Naraingarh and Jagadhri reaching Kurijpura, near Karnal, by the middle of February 1765 after meeting with stiff resistance at many places en route.
After this attack Abdali decided to return back to Afghanistan, but the Sikhs were not ready to let the invaders off so easily. The Dal Khalsa blocked the passage of the Shah and his army at Phillaur. Abdali tried to bypass the Sikhs and tried crossing the river Satluj, the Khalsa caught up to Abdali and his men quite quickly.
A seven day battle ensued between the Dal Khalsa (Budha Dal & Tarna Dal) and the army of Ahmad Shah. Abdali’s army suffered heavy losses of men, materials and animals. Qazi Nur Muhammad has written “When I recall that day, I tremble with the fear of the Doomsday.”
The Qazi has further written about the Sikhs that he encountered “Do not call the dogs (the Sikhs) dogs, because they are lions (and) are courageous like lions in the battlefield. How can a hero, who roars like a lion be called a dog? (Moreover) like lions they spread terror in the field of battle. If you wish to learn the art of war, come face to face with them in the battlefield. They will demonstrate it (art of war) to you in such a way that one and all will shower praise on them.
If you wish to learn the science of war, O swordsman, learn from them. They advance at the enemy boldly and come back safely after action. Understand, Singh is their title, a form of address for them. It is not justice to call them dogs; if you do not know Hindustani language, then understand that the word ‘Singh’ means a lion.”Truly, they are lion in battle, and at times of peace, they surpass “Hatim” (in generosity ).
When they take the Indian sword in their hands they traverse the country from Hind to Sind. None can stand against them in battle, howsoever strong he may be. When they handle the spear, they shatter the ranks of the enemy. When they raise the heads of their spears towa-rds the sky, they would pierce even through the Caucasus (in the process). When they adjust the strings of the bows, place in them the enemy killing arrows (and) pull the strings to their ears, the body of the enemy begins to shiver with fear. When their battle axes fall upon the armour of their opponents, their armour becomes their coffin.
“The body of every one of them is like a piece of rock and in physical grandeur everyone of them is more than fifty men. It is said that Behram Gore killed wild asses and lions. But if he were to come face to face with them even he would bow before them (Singhs). Besides usual arms, they take their guns in hand (and) come into the field of action jumping (and) roaring like lions and raise slogans. They tear asunder the chests of many and shed blood of several (of their enemy) in the dust. You say that musket is a weapon of ancient times, it appears to be a creation of these dogs rather than Socrates. Who else than these (dogs) can be adept in the use of muskets. They do not bother (even if) there are innumerable muskets. To the right and the left, in front and towards the back, they go on operating hundreds of muskets angrily and regularly.”
If you do not believe in what I say, you may enquire of the brave swordsmen who would tell you more than myself and would praise them for their fighting. This bears witness to (my statement) that they faced thirty thousand heroes in the battlefield. If their armies take to flight, it is a war tactics of theirs. They resort to this deception in order to make the angry army grow bold and run in their pursuit. When they find them separated from the main body and away from help and reinforcement, they at once turn back and fight more ferociously (literal translation – they set fire even to water).
“Did you not see that while fighting the Pathans, they took to flight which was deceptive. A world famous wrestler wielding high esteem and respect alight-ed from his horse and showed his great style as if he were Tuhmatan ( a great warrior of Iran). O valiant fighter, do justice to their (act of ) war. One of their armies invaded Multan and put the city to plunder and devastation and killed many of its inhabitants and carried away an immense booty. I am not sufficiently strong in mind to express what the dogs did there. But as God willed it, each of us has to submit to His Will.”
Besides their fighting, listen to one more thing in which they excell all other warriors. They never kill a coward who is running away from the battlefield. They do not rob a woman of her wealth or ornaments whether she is rich or a servant (“Kaneez”). There is no adultry among these dogs, nor are they mischieveous people. A woman, whether young or old, they call a “Burhi”. The word Burhi, means in Indian language, an old lady. There is no thief amongst these dogs, nor is there amongst them any mean people. They do not keep company with adulters and house thiefs though all their acts may not be commendable.”
If you are not acquainted with their religion, I tell you that the Sikhs are the disciples of the Guru – that pious Guru lived at Chak (Amritsar). The ways and manners of these people were laid down by Nanak who showed these Sikhs a separate path. He was succeeded by Guru Gobind Singh from whom they received the title of Singh. They are not part of the Hindus, who have a separate religion of their own. “Now that you have familiarised yourself with the behaviour of the Sikhs, you may also know something about their country. They have divided the Punjab amongst themselves and have bestowed it upon every young and old.”
Painting of an armed Sikh chief from the Misl period (late 1700's)