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Baba Maharaj Singh Ji

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(Late) Prof. Gobind Singh, MA LLB PhD LONDON

The aggressive and imperialistic policy of the British government in India left no

stone unturned to annex the Sikh empire after obtaining a foot-hold therein as a

consequence of the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1846. Naturally the Sikhs, Hindus and

Muslims of the Punjab were scared by the unfair tactics of the British government in

accepting Maharaja Daleep Singh as the nominal head of an administration virtually

under the control of the British Resident. In this patriotic struggle against the

occupation of the Punjab and the subservience of the Lahore Darbar, Bhai Maharaj

Singh, a Sikh preacher and saint, played a vital and heroic role.

Very little is known about the early life of Maharaj Singh who was previously known

as Nihal Singh. In his boyhood, he got his education in the Dera of Sant Tota Singh

Thhikriwalla. Here he came in contact with Baba Samund Singh who recognised his

patriotic fervour and religious zest and predicted that one day Maharaj Singh would

become a leader of the Sikh community. He taught him the basics of the Sikh faith

and encouraged him to take an active part in the running of the Lanqar (free kitchen).

Later he sent Maharaj Singh for further training to the Dera of Baba Bir Singh of

Marhana Nagar.

Baba Bir Singh maintained a big Ashram and supplied free food to many people

daily. Impressed by the sincerity and sense of responsibility, he gave Nihal Singh the

new name of Maharaj Singh and put him in sole charge of the Langar. Maharaj Singh

not only looked after the cooking arrangements, but also procured supplies of foodgrains

and vegetables from the neighbouring villages. For 12 years he served at this

place and enhanced the reputation of this Ashram as a model hospice and community

welfare centre.


During the interim between the First and the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1846-1849)

there were lots of intrigues in the Lahore Darbar affecting Maharaja Daleep Singh's

minority administration. Hira Singh Dogra, a minister of the Lahore Darbar wanted

to punish Attar Singh Attariwalla, Prince Kashmira Singh and Prince Pishora Singh

for their rebellious activities. These persons had taken shelter in Baba Bir Singh’s

Ashram. The Darbar army decided to attack the Dera of Baba Bir Singh to arrest the

above so-called ‘rebels’. Baba Bir Singh ordered Maharaj Singh to purchase food and

Karah Parshad for thousands of people. So large quantities of cooked food were kept

ready for the soldiers coming with artillery and cavalry to arrest the wanted persons.

Baba Bir Singh told the attacking force that these persons had taken sanctuary in his

hospice but they were free to go if they wanted to. The commander ordered the attack

and bombarded the place on 6 May 1844. Before his death, Baba Bir Singh appointed

Maharaj Singh as his successor and caretaker of his Ashram.1 Bir Singh who was

regarded as a saint, and many others, were killed, but Maharaj Singh survived the


1 Mehar Singh Giani: Nav-Ratan (in Punjabi) p.121

Bhai Maharaj Singh became the head of a popular movement against the British

occupation of the Punjab. As the grip of the British power over the Punjab tightened,

Maharaj Singh became suspect in the eyes of the British officials. At this time (1847)

some Sikh sardars and demobbed soldiers of the Lahore Darbar made a plot to murder

the British Resident - Lt. Col. Henry Lawrence. Prema and Sardar Lal Singh

conspired to attack him at a meeting fixed for 21 April 1847, in Shalimar Gardens,

Lahore. This is known as the Prema conspiracy case. It was alleged that Maharaj

Singh had given moral support to the conspirators and as such the authorities ordered

his arrest. He was so much respected and honoured as a saint that no one dared to

disclose his whereabouts in spite of the award for his arrest. However, his property"

whatever it was, was confiscated. For three years, he moved about in the Punjab and

yet the police and the military forces could not capture him. This fact is supported by

the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie in a note dated 30 September 1848,

mentioning: “The Zamindars (land-owners), the people and the Chiefs openly

displayed entire sympathy in the cause, and the Darbar officials and the 'Kardars'

who were ordered to pursue him, followed him tranquilly and remained on the best

terms with him.”2 Fearlessly, Maharaj Singh moved from one village to another and

even military areas stirring the masses to revolt against British rule and to save the

Khalsa Darbar and the remnants of the Sikh army from destruction.

At this time (September 1848) occurred the Multan Revolt in which Diwan Moolraj

and some Sikh sardars like Sher Singh and Attar Singh protested against the

aggressive and anti-Sikh policies of the British administrators. Bhai Maharaj Singh

wanted to join the agitation led by sardar Chattar Singh Attariwalla in Hazara against

the British occupation of the Punjab. Maharaj Singh went to Rawalpindi by a

circuitous route to get assurances of help in terms of men and money before the

outbreak of this revolt, and he was fairly successful in this task.

Later Maharaj Singh went to Ram Nagar exhorting the Sikh soldiers to be vigilant

against the plots of the British to divide the Sikh community and to annex the Punjab

to their own territories. It is uncertain whether he took any part in the actual fighting

in the battles of Chillianwalla and Gujrat. However, there is no doubt that he gave a

lot of support to the Sikh cause. The greatest need of the Sikh army during these

battles was the shortage of food and fodder. Maharaj Singh procured adequate

supplies of these things from the neighbouring villages and arranged for their

transport to the ‘rebel’ army. Finding stay in the Punjab difficult after its occupation

by the British forces in 1849, Maharaj Singh moved to Jammu. From Chambi he sent

messengers to different parts of the Punjab asking the people to sabotage the British

administration. He was equally keen on securing the person of Maharaja Daleep

Singh, fearing that he might be exiled and then it would be difficult to continue the

struggle for the liberation of Punjab. He made a plan for the abduction of Daleep

Singh from Lahore, but it did not succeed. The British authorities knew his great

influence on the Sikh soldiers who might be tempted to revolt. In this connection Sir

Henry Lawrence, President of the Board of Administration of Punjab wrote: “Bhai

Maharaj Singh, a Sikh priest of reputed sanctity and of great influence, the first man

who raised the standard of rebellion beyond the confines of Multan in 1848 and the

only leader of note who did not lay down his arms to Sir Walter Gilbert at

2 Secret Consultations, 7 October 1848 No.621

Rawalpindi, was tampering with the Sikhs of the Punjab Cavalry corps at Lahore.”3

The Authorities therefore promptly exiled Maharaja Daleep Singh to Farukhabad in

United Provinces in April 1849.

Then Bhai Maharaj Singh planned a general revolt in the Punjab. He moved to

Sajuwal from July to October 1849, to organise attacks on the cantonments at

Jullandar and Hoshiarpur. For this purpose, he motivated the local priests to persuade

the people to help the rebel cause for the liberation of Punjab. He sent his personal

friends like Bhai Kishan Singh and Nihal Singh to Kabul for obtaining assistance

from the Amir of Afghanistan, Jwala Singh Rarewalla and Mitha Singh to Anandpur,

Hari Singh to Ambala, and Dharam Singh and Kahn Singh to Lahore.4 Attar Singh, a

descendent of the erstwhile rulers of Kangra, promised to supply armed soldiers and

adequate food-grains. Maharaj Singh contacted many influential persons in Hajipur.

He visited the Sikh soldiers at Hoshiarpur to reassure himself of their help. He

checked the arrangements for assembling of sufficient forces at specified places in

Mahjha, Malwa and Hazara. He fixed 3 January 1850 for attack on the Jullandar and

Hoshiarpur cantonments. He collected stocks of weapons and grains near Tanda. For

checking all these centres, he used to hold meetings at night in secret spots.


Maharaj Singh reached Adampur on the night of 28 December 1849 to hold a meeting

with his trusted friends in a garden in the suburbs. Unfortunately a Muslim informer

happened to see him pass by, and he immediately contacted Mr. Vansittart, Deputy

Commissioner of Jullundar. The latter reached the spot with 20 soldiers and

surrounded the garden. After arresting Bhai Maharaj Singh, his personal Kharag

Singh and other associates, he lodged them in the local jail. Many people gathered

near the jail to hold a protest demonstration. Fearing public disturbance, the

authorities placed Maharaj Singh and Kharag Singh under heavy guard. Then they

were sent to Allahabad under military escort and sometime later to Calcutta where

they reached on 12 March 1850. The Governor General decided that Maharaj Singh

be deported to Singapore along with his attendant Kharag Singh. Under a special

British guard, Maharaj Singh and Kharag Singh reached Singapore on 14 June 1850.

He was lodged in the New Jail, but his solitary cell was completely bricked so as to

prevent light and ventilation. He was not allowed to move out of this. For this reason,

his health deteriorated. After a few months, he lost his eyesight. Later he developed

throat cancer and could not eat anything. Maharaj Singh felt resigned to the Will of

God and spent most of his time in prayer and meditation. For six years, he had not

moved out of the cell or seen the sun or the sky. The end came on 5 July 1856. His

last message to his compatriots was: “Never submit to injustice, never surrender your

arms, never compromise on principles.” He gave up his life in the cause of holy war

against the treachery and aggression of the British rulers who had destroyed and

dismembered the Sikh empire. The British had thus deprived the Sikh nation of its

freedom and its future. Some of his letters addressed to Sikh soldiers show his fearless

spirit and faith in the ultimate freedom and moral victory.

3 Calcutta Review: Vol. XXII, 1854

4 Secret Consultations, 31 January 1850, 20-31 Sikh Review, Calcutta - December 1990, p.43


Seldom has an outstanding patriot and freedom fighter suffered so much persecution

and yet won compliments from his captors as Maharaj Singh did. His courage of

conviction, his valour, his devotion to the freedom of the Punjab and his zeal for

selfless service of the masses were admired even by his enemies. Mr Vansittart, who

arrested him, later wrote: “The Bhai is not an ordinary man. He is to the natives what

Jesus Christ is to the most zealous of Christians. His miracles were seen by tens of

thousands, and are now implicitly believed than those worked by ancient prophets."

As such, he recommended “special treatment to be given to him on political


Bhai Maharaj Singh was a true Khalsa. He bore no ill will to the British officials.

Before his arrest, he warned his friends, not to injure any British administrator. When

one of his supporters shouted that he would kill the Deputy Commissioner of

Jullandar, Maharaj Singh rebuked him, saying, "You want to defame us. We shall

never capture or harm unarmed people. Bring the Deputy Commissioner to me, and I

shall tell him that the Sikhs are not the enemies of the British people. All that we want

is the sovereign right to freedom, and if we get it, we shall have no grudge against

your community."

Mr. McLeod, later Commissioner of Jullandar Division, paid a tribute to the wisdom,

resourcefulness, courage and devotion of Bhai Maharaj Singh. He wrote: “The Bhai

alone was never found without resources. Any number of persons who might resort to

him, and hundreds and sometimes it is said thousands, did so, being quite sure of

obtaining from him their daily meal, for the purpose of providing which, he carried

about him scores of cooks and langris (chefs) and the requisite materials.” His life is

an outstanding example of a martyr, a devoted Khalsa, who lived up to the Guru's

ideal of the saint-soldier and gave up his life for the cause of freedom, justice and

human dignity.

5 Sikh Review, Calcutta – December 1990, p.43

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A person I know who had access to this picture analysed it and it appeared to him that this was created in the 1880's and was backdated. Baba Jagjit Singh Harkowal wallay also discussed this picture with the family members who had the pic and it appeared to be a different maharaj singh. N30 can comment better on it.

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yes drawrof is right. Sant jagjit singh harkhowale himself confirmed that picture above is not of baba maharaj singh ji nuranbagad. However they are picture of another baba maharaj singh ji i think he said - amritsar wale i spoke to him about this last year.

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On the subject of Bhai Maharaj Singh you can read:

Ahluwalia, M.L.1972.Sant Nihal Singh alias Bhai Maharaj Singh, Patiala: Punjabi University.


Mehar Singh, Giani.n.d. Nau Ratan, Ludhiana: Lahore Book Shop. pages:123 to 163.

They shouldn't be too difficult to find.

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  • 4 years later...

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