Got this from facebook. Really an interesting read
The Great Game -The British & Their Men and The Sikhs
The Punjab was situated between Afghanistan and Hindoostan and the British feared the Russian advance to strip them of their glorious empire and so they let Ranjit Singh keep the frontier areas even as the wily Sikh ruler kept on his ever lasting wars with the Afghans in which the imperialists on paper supported the Sikhs in their quarrel with the Afghans but behind the facade of friendship encouraged Afghans against the Sikhs .This meant that the Sikh Kingdom was all the time engaged on the western frontier and the British while keeping them occupied with the Afghans immediately post demise of the Lion of the Punjab occupied Sindh whose occupation the Sikhs had been eyeing for over a decade then .
It is ironic that before and during the annexation of the Sikh Kingdom the British assiduously sent their intelligence officers in various garbs but of whom and whose activities very little has been written and uncovered .
I believe this is a great subject on which reams of files can still be accessed in Indian Office and the Punjab Archives( Lahore) as also archives of Sindh , Afghanistan , Russia and Iran .
Several men of the intelligence in various garbs visited the Punjab to keep first tab on activities of the formidable Ranjit Singh and later of his successors as also to instil antagonism between contending parties as also through their men of the Dogra clan embroiled as they were in and around the Lahore Durbar .
So we find Alexander Burnes visiting the Durbar by the Indus bringing in 1831 five dray horse from King William IV .Mohan Lal the english speaking assistant of his was at hand too .Of course we all know of Shahamat Ali who was in pay of the British secret service .Some of these went on to write books that showed Ranjit Singh in poor light which later served the occupiers , the British in keeping warring communities busy amongst themselves with their well known policy of divide and rule.
Earlier a veterinarian William Moorcroft in the service of the East India Company, and his companion George Trebeck visited Lahore en route to Ladakh .Moorcroft, a surgeon, the first Englishman to qualify as a professional veterinarian, and Superintendent of the Hon’ble East India Company’s military stud farm, travelled supposedly in search of breeding stock for the stud.Though he was mapping the route as also keeping an eye on the riches earned through Pashmina trade and he stayed for nearly two years fermenting trouble for the Lahore Durbar and inciting the rulers of Leh to revolt against the Sikh Durbar to whom they paid annual tribute .There was also Charles Masson the intelligence agent who pretended to be a numismatic and archaeologist unearthing ancient roots while reporting to his employers the activities of the rulers of the land he was exploring both in the Punjab and Afghanistan .
American mercenary donning Tartan turban had enamoured the Maharajah and though later earned his , the Maharajah’s, wrath he at the turn of the First Anglo-Sikh War chose to side with the Dogras and took service with them where he died in Jammu in 1849 .How the Dogras managed to win him over to their side and work towards their objective in fermenting internal squabbles is another piece of study .
There is much to be unearthed about Jean-Baptiste Ventura and his involvement with the British and the riches he earned with the demise of Maharajah Ranjit Singh who trusted him.There were many more but one man who through history has had himself concealed in his travels and books is Sir Richard Burton -English Explorer, Scholar, Soldier and Diplomat .The man who wrote innumerable books including The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night .
Burton enlisted in the army of the East India Company and posted to the 18th Bombay Native Infantry based in Gujarat and under the command of General Charles James Napier who put him later on Sindh Survey .
It was while reading “Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton” by Edward Rice that I came upon such hitherto unknown aspects of Burton’s tryst with Sikhism that are apparently perquisites of the work he was assigned while working under -cover “Burton’s adult life passed in a ceaseless quest of the kind of secret knowledge he labeled broadly as “Gnosis” by which he hoped to uncover the very source of existence and meaning of his role on earth.This search led him to investigate the Kabbalah , alchemy , Roman Catholicism , a Hindu snake caste of the most archaic type , and the erotic Way called Tantra , after which he looked into Sikhism and passed through several forms of Islam before settling on Sufism , a mystical discipline that defies simple labels.”
Exactly when Napier took Burton into his immediate circle of trust worthy officers is a matter of conjecture and has not been documented though it would be available in archive files .
During the years of Napier in Sindh Burton was called upon from his job of mapping the canals of the Indus to Karachi where Napier needed him to report bazaar gossip .” With the assistance of Mohammad Hussain , Burton opened , “on the sly” three shops in Karachi “ where cloth , tobacco , and other small matters were sold exceedingly cheap to those who deserved them.” And all the gossip was passed onto Napier including of boys and eunuchs who were visited in bordellos by the British troops posted there .
He had earlier assisted Napier when Sindh was to be annexed when Burton was asked to find answers to ;”Would the amirs revolt ,would the Sindhis , forgetting traditional enmities , ally with the Sikhs , the Persians , the Afghans in a massive uprising What native agents , and who among his own officers could be counted on to bring back information that would forestall a revolt , a mutiny , or even a full- blown war ?”
This reveals Burton’s unknown work as undercover for he was well versed in both Sindhi and in Punjabi as also Pashto and Persian language which was the need of the hour to understand the communities the British feared would join hands to thrown them out and a wedge needed to be created between the two .Actually both the Afghans and the Sikhs had long taken tribute from the unhappy land-Sindh The British feared the Russians would come down through the Indus into Sindh and consequently plains of India and so this vital information was needed before the plans to annexe Sindh was accomplished .
It is notable that Burton had melted into the Punjab incognito before he could pick up Punjabi .Thus “ Burton’s reference to picking up Punjabi as “spoken in the wilder parts of the province “ meant that not only had he gone into the wild and rough hills west of the Indus plain on secret missions but also that he had penetrated the ferocious back country of Ranjit Singh’s former kingdom , where a new generation of Sikh leaders was busily planning anti-British activities of a most hostile nature .So it seems Burton was ranging far and wide and , from the brief references that continually surface in his writings , often under cover .”
By 1845 there was talk of war in the air and in country side of the Punjab and the British needed to keep their ears to the ground to hear the murmurs amply to take steps to outsmart their new subjugates .”The single most effective power in the Punjab by 1845 was the well-trained Sikh army , the Khalsa ,numbering some 89,000 warriors and a formidable artillery .The Sikhs , with some justification , suspected the British of planning annexation of the Punjab ...In a series of artillery and infantry battles in the eastern Punjab both sides lost heavily .By middle of February 1846 the British were able to force the Khalsa to meet at Lahore for a treaty .The Sikhs agreed both to limit the strength of their army and to pay indemnities .An amended treaty with the Sikh leaders in December made the English the true rulers of the Punjab . But the Sikhs were not happy with their new masters , and the sirdars , the noblemen , continued to agitate for action .”
“Even before the first move by the Sikhs , the bazaars , as Burton wrote , were rife with reports of the coming war .”The news made me go wild to go.”He persuaded his immediate boss in the Sindh Survey , Scott much against the Major’s wishes, to release him for active duty .Finally after fighting through bureaucratic red tape , Burton and other officers eager for action were released and allowed to join their regiments .The 18th Bombay Native Infantry , with Burton ready to fight , marched off for war on February 23 , 1846.They went up the Indus Valley and entered Bahawalpur ,once the centre of a Gypsy kingdom and in Burton’s time the capital of the largest of the Punjab states .Here they got “heart-chilling order to retire and march home ” and after a few weeks of slogging through the deserts , Burton and his regiment were back in the old quarters in Mohammad Khan Ka Tanda on the Phuleli .”
This episode brought Burton very close to actual fighting with his regiment and would have earned him medals for action which eluded him through out the rest of life .
Part-II : Burton’s initiation into Sikhism Sir Richard Francis Burton Singh
The Great Game -The British & Their Men and The Sikhs Part-II
How Sir Richard Francis Burton was made a Sikh
When Edward Rice in 1990 published “Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton” it was the first time the role of this man noted as one of the greatest travellers of his time , the first white man to travel and write on visit to Mecca , in the Great Game was alluded to .Rice also makes a vast amount of stew from the small oyster of Burton's account of his India service and implies that Burton was an active spy for much of his Army career and perhaps most of his life. His role in Anglo-Sikh Wars has been pointed out and makes an interesting read .
It is quite noteworthy that none of the books have ever accepted that the British intelligence officers and men had penetrated the Sikh faith by becoming Sikhs to gather information about inner going-ons within the Sikh ruling hierarchy.When Sir Richard Francis Burton died in Trieste , Italy where he was honorary counsel , his wife Isabel for couple of days locked herself in and burnt Burton’s papers .All along Burton was writing unabashedly including his personal affairs and affairs of the State for which he had taken during his career many roles .
It is ironic that in the Foreword of the book “The Life of Captain Sir Richard F.Burton “ By his wife Isabel burton , she quotes "No man can write a man down except himself." , yet it was she who obliterated several hundred written papers of this many faceted man when he passed away and thus what role he actually played in Sikh Wars by masquerading as a Sikh has been forever lost to history buffs.
Isabel vetted the information and with the burning of these papers burnt details of his Sikh name and the exact place where he had been inducted into the Sikh faith and a suffix “Singh” was added to his name. So we do not know how “Singh” was suffixed to which name he had taken when he became Sikh to get intelligence of Sikh plans and movements or how he engineered disaffection within the Sikh ranks .
Isabel was rewarded for keeping the curtains down later in life for forever destroying written evidences that Burton had left behind .
In a letter dated January the 3rd , 1846 John Napier wrote to the Sind Survey boss , Scott from Karachi says “The General says you may allow as many assistants as you can spare to join the regiments , if going on service , with the understanding that they must resign their appointments , and will not be re-appointed, etc”.The Sindh Survey had it’s headquarters in Karachi where Burton had been taken in as an apprentice under Colonel Walter Scott .
In Life , Isabel quotes , “ This , beyond bazar gossip , was our first notice of the great Sikh War , which aded the Punjab to Anglo-India .This news made me wild to go.A carpet-soldier was horror to me , and I was miserable that anything should take place in India without my being in the thick of the fight .So after a visit to Sahkar Shikarpur and the neighbourhood , I applied myself with all . my might to prepare for the Campaign .After sundry small surveying and levellings about Sahkar ( Sukur) , I persuaded Scott , greatly against the grain, to send in my resignation , and called upon General James Simpson , who was supposed to be in his dotage , and was qualifying for the Chief Command in the Crimea.
My application was refused .Happily , for me however , suddenly appeared an order from Bengal to the purport that all we assistant surveyors must give sureties .This was enough for me .I wrote officially , saying that no man would be bail for me , and was told to be off to my corps , and on February 23rd I marched , with the 18th from Rohri.”
In The true life of Capt. Sir Richard F. Burton ..by Sisted Georgiana M writes , “ We know Richard Burton was a most unwilling carpet soldier ,so ,although the good appointment in the Survey would have to be given up , the news made him wild to take part in the fighting :not even the advise of his practical Scotch friend could restrain him from a step which , while plucky and chivalrous , seemed somewhat imprudent .He applied himself at once to preparations for the campaign , persuaded Colonel Scott , after some difficulty to send in his resignation , and , on 23rd February 18146 , marched with his corps from Rohri .
Unfortunately his post was sacrificed for no purpose .The Battle of Sobraon had already been fought and a patched up peace which divided the Sikh State , depleted the Sikh treasury , but left intact the Sikh army , was most unwisely concluded .”
Burton writes , “ At times when overstrung , I relived my nerves with a course of Sikh religion and literature , and , at last , the good old ( Sikh) priest , my instructor , solemnly initiated me in the presence of the swinging ‘Granth’ ,or Nanak Shah’s scripture.”This excursion into Sikhism had almost nothing to do with Burton’s religious enthusiasm .The bazaars were filled with rumours that the brilliant Sikh queen Rani Jindan and her chieftains feared further English expansion into the Punjab , and war seemed imminent .Burton apparently hoped that by studying Sikhism at this time he would be able to go in disguise into the Punjab as an agent .His initiation into Sikhism smacks solely of political opportunism ....The Sikhs accepted any sincere petitioner -Muslims , Christians , or Hindu of any caste -and so Burton was not forced to pretend that he was anything but Englishman seeking the “pure” religion .
“ After a ritual bath of his entire body , Burton was brought into the Sikh temple , the gurudvara , where its most precious object , the Sikh scripture , the Adi Granth ( or Primodal Book ) , lay on a low cot , the work was not mere a symbol but enshrined the mystic personalities of the Ten Gurus of the Sikhs . But approached it with covered head and bare feat ,rubbing his forehead on the ground in obeisance .He was then given some sweetened water , amrt or nectar , in his palms and told to recite a mantra , the Jap-ji , in praise of the Almighty .The amrt was stirred by a double -edged dagger, the Khanda ; next he was given a
new name with the suffix Singh , lion , and swore to wear the five K’s -unshorn hair and beard ( kes) , a comb in the hair ( Kangh) , a steel bangle ( kara) on the right wrist , short drawers (kacch ) , and a sword ( Kirpan ) .Four rules of conduct ( rahat) were also enjoined .Burton had to refrain from cutting his hair , from tobacco and alcohol , from adulterous relations with Muslim women , and from meat not slaughtered according to the Sikh practices , all proscriptions he could not have followed for too long .
This “ conversion” meant not only an intense period of studying some very difficult mystical writings but a new name ( which he did not mention ) and a promise to follow some very strict , formal rules .That Burton might have had serious intentions at first is possible .Sikhism promises serenity and repose , meditation on God’s name , purification , and yearning for the Eternal Formless One .But little remained in Burton’s memory of his conversion except to recall that the bangle ,Kara, “ made of Amritsar iron.....is supposed to have the property of causing sleep .”
Thus his period as a Sikh was short-lived and opportunistic , and he passed it by offhandedly in various autobiographical fragments except to say that “ my experience of Eastern faiths became phenomenal” and quickly , returning to Islam , “I became a Master-Sufi.” .From the vague references in Life , he was still living in Karachi , and the time of initiation would have been late 1847 or 1848 .”
Now there was war in the offing to distract Burton . The Sikh chieftains were restless .Throughout the spring of 1848 rumours of an armed uprising flooded the bazaars , and it appeared but a matter of time before war broke out .Finalyl , in what seemed like a testing of British nerve , the Sikh general at Multan , a hot ,dusty city in the southernmost Punjab murdered two English officers .The incident inflamed both sides .Because of the heat , which was overwhelming the Punjab , the English took no immediate action ,but on August eighteenth aided by some turncoat Sikhs , they laid siege to Multan .By the fall , the campaign against the Sikhs had increased in intensity , and officers were called up from all the various branches , including the Survey ...Burton had applied for a post as official translator .He had already passed the official examinations in six native languages and was studying two more and was eminently qualified .” A few days more will decide the business of going on active service - and I am not a little anxious for it , for though still suffering from my old complaint-ophthalmia -yet these opportunities are too far between to be lost .”It had been a short but brutal war , and the bitterness that resulted was to effect Edward Burton ( Richard’s brother ) directly .
While he, Burton , was waiting for this chance to earn some medals he wrote dejectedly to Sarah on November 25 ,1848 ,” I am not going up to the siege of Mooltan , as the General with whom I had expected to serve was recalled .”That was not the full story .Burton , who was so proficient in so many languages , was passed over in favour of a man who spoke only one ( probably Hindustani ) , certainly not the most important one for the post,Panjabi .
years later he confided that the principal reason of his being overlooked for this post was his in the face official reports from Karachi about indulgences of the soldiers posted there .
It transpires , what I had for many years from my readings assumed , there was no holds barred even to the extent of religious conversion for achieving political ends in the Punjab where fellow religion people could get access to the inner circle that surrounded the Maharajah . Richard Frances Burton the intrepid traveller and seeker of knowledge was chosen for this task and he seems to have made his conversion more useful to serve the British interests when the siege of Mooltan started and he was overlooked for deployment in and around Mooltan and serve more in the guise of being a Sikh by gathering inside information .
Maharajah Ranjit Singh had during his time mercenaries from far and wide who rose to prominent position in the Khalsa Army . When skirmishes between the British and the Khalsa Army started these people never opposed the British and on the contrary they openly joined the British betraying the Khalsa Army . Some were initiated to join the Khalsa Army so they could serve the British interests which they did admirably by winning the confidence and keeping their master abreast of day to day activities .
Many of them men working forthe Sikh Fauz ( Army ) had over the years first transferred large sums of money to Ludhiana across the Sutlej , which was the last British town of importance near Lahore .Some when on leave to the continent would stop on either way in London to keep their investments as also take instructions from Leadenhall Street , the headquarters of the East India Company .