Bhai Mani Singh and His Caste

Bhai Mani Singh and His Caste

Bhai Mani Singh (Hindi: ??? ??? ?????, Punjabi: ??? ??? ???) was a great Sikh personality of eighteenth century and occupies a very esteemed position in Sikh history. He assumed the control and steered the course of the Sikh destiny at a very critical stage in their history. A great scholar, a devoted Sikh and a courageous leader, Bhai Sahib willingly laid down his own life to uphold the dignity of the Sikh nation and religion. Bhai Mani Singh is a Martyr par excellence in Sikh history and his name has become an integral part of daily Sikh Ardas (prayer).

After the departure of the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh from this world, two personalities emerged in Sikh society - Banda Bahadur, who militarily shook the roots of the Mughal Empire in Panjab and Bhai Mani Singh, who took care of its social, religious and spiritual organization. An idea of the importance of Bhai Mani Singh can be had from the fact that he is remembered daily in every prayer by all the Sikhs as a person whose body was cut to pieces at every joint by the Mughal rulers.

Bhai Mani Singh was related to Bhai Dyala Ji, who was killed at Delhi by the Mughal administration by boiling in the hot water, when the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur and others were executed at Chandni Chauk Delhi in 1732 B [1].According to Satbir Singh [2] Bhai Dyala was born in village Kakru in Ambala district and his parents, Kalu and Daya migrated to Sunam area. If so ,he was the brother of Bhai Mani Singh because he was the son of Kalu. Since Bhai Dyala was an associate of the ninth Guru, it is probable that Bhai Dyala was an uncle of Bhai Mani Singh and brother of Kalu as stated by Sher Singh Sher [3]. Thind [4] also holds that Bhai Dyala belonged to the Kamboja caste.

The Life of Bhai Mani Singh

Mania/ Mani Singh was born at village Kambowal/Kaimbowal, now uninhabited.near Sunam, where his parents might have settled after migrating from Ambala. These villages were destroyed by the invading Muslims according to one [5] opinion and by the Bhatties or floods by an other [6]. Now the site of Kambowal lies in the jurisdiction of the village Laungowal. According to Kohli [7] and Dardi [8] Bhai Mani Singh was born in a Kamboja family of the village Kambowal in 1669 C.E, but Satbir Singh [9] stated that he was born at village Kakru in 1629 b/1672 C.E., which was destroyed by the Gilzais and now is just a mound called Theh, in Ambala district . Several other authors [10] have stated that he was born in Kambowal, and Gazetteer of India, Panjab, Sangrur [11] describes his birth at Laungowal, which is understandable because the village Kambowal had long ceased to be. Mani Singh is stated to have been retained by the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur, when the family visited Anandpur to see him, and may be Bhai Dyala also. He was four years younger to Guru Gobind Singh. They grew together, played together, studied Persian and Arabic from Munshi Pir Mohammad [12] and the art of fighting in routine. Bhai Mani Singh remained celibate throughout his life, but his brother Nighahia had seven sons, three of whom got their names registered in Sikh history[13]. During Guru Gobind Singh's stay at Paunta, Bhai Mani Singh accompanied him, where he used to take part in literary activities. He also fought in the battles of Bhangani etc [14]. In 1699 he was baptized by the tenth Guru along with 161 others[15].

After the death of Sodhi Harji in 1696, he was sent to Amritsar to take charge of Harmander Sahib, but was called back in 1700 to take part in the battles with the hill Rajas[16]. When the Guru had to leave Anandpur on 5th December 1705, the family got separated while crossing the river Sirsa, which was in spate, and he escorted the wives of the Guru to Delhi, where he lodged them in the house of Darbara Singh. They travelled in the guise of Muslims [17]. When in 1706 they learnt that the Guru was at Talwandi Sabo, he escorted his wife, Mata Sundri to that place. During their stay there for about a year they prepared four copies of the Guru Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs, which as per tradition was dictated by the tenth Guru and written by Bhai Mani Singh. It is however, probable that since Bhai Mani Singh was a Musaddi, who used to prepare the copies of the Granth Sahib for distribution among the Sikhs, he might have procured one from somewhere and prepared other copies from that. Here the writings of the ninth Guru were included in it, and this work was authenticated by Guru Gobind Singh and declared the eleventh and the last Guru for the Sikhs. In October 1706 he accompanied Guru Gobind Singh to Daccan to meet Aurangzeb, but on learning at Baghaur that the king had died, they diverted to Delhi ,and after staying there for a month they reached Agra to meet Bahadur Shah, who had taken over as the new king, He accompanied the tenth Guru to Daccan but after the his death he came back to Delhi along with the wife of the Guru. Here Mata Sundri, wife of the Guru asked Bhai Mani Singh to collect the writing of the tenth Guru and his poets and compile them[18].

After that he accompanied Guru Gobind Singh's maternal uncle, Kirpal to Amritsar, where he was assigned the duties of the head granthi of Harmander Sahib [19]. In 1709 he participated in the battle against Har Sahae of Patti, who was killed[20]. In 1711 he appointed Sant Gopal Dass in his place, and during 1714-15 he went to Jhang district to deliver lectures on Sikhism and the sixth Guru [21]. After the death of Banda Bahadur the Sikhs were divided into two main factions - may be on the basis of caste - Tatt Khalsa and Bandai Khalsa, and in 1723 Mata Sundri asked Bhai Mani Singh to resolve the conflict. He immersed two slips with the name of the leaders at the Har Ki Pauri and since the slip bearing the name of the Tatt Khalsa came out first, it was declared the leader, but the truce did not last long. The second time the issue was sought to be resolved through a wrestling bout between Miri Singh son of the Tatt Khalsa leader Kahan Singh and Lahora Singh son of Bandai Khalsa leader Sangat Singh, which again went in favor of Tatt Khalsa [22], but the bickering continued and both the parties fought with weapons in which Amar Singh Kamoe leader of the Bandai Khalsa was killed by his opponents [23]. In 1737 when Bhai Mani Singh was managing Harmander Sahib, he sought the permission to celebrate diwali on the promise of paying ten thousand rupees to the state, but the Governor of Lahore, Zakerya Khan decided to send Lakhpat Rai with 10000 men to kill the Sikhs on their arrival. The scheme leaked and the messages were sent advising the pilgrims not to come. This affected the offerings and the ability to pay, with the result that Bhai Mani Singh was taken to Lahore for non-payment of the promised money. He was offered the choice of conversion to Islam or death. He chose the later and was ordered to be killed by dismembering his body on all joints. This punishment was carried on at Nikhasit Khana/Shahid Ganj at Lahore in 1737 [24]. Bhai Mani Singh took his pahul/baptism from the last Guru and himself baptized hundreds including some top leaders of the Sikhs like Darbara Singh, Nawab Kapur Singh, Dan Singh,Tara/Taru Singh etc. He prepared several copies of the holy Granth and smaller ''' pothies''', and also wrote its last and the final version which was authenticated by the tenth Guru. [25] He started the collection of the writings of the tenth Guru and his poets in 1714 and compiled the Dasam Granth in 1734 [26]. It is also stated, which is denied/ignored by most, that he produced a version of the Adi Granth, originally organized according to the musical forms, as per the authors of the hymns - the writings of the Gurus other saints written separately - because of which he was cursed by the Sikhs ,and he had to apologize for that [27]. He was the first prose writer of the Panjabi language, who wrote Gian Ratnavali, Bhagat Ratnnavali or Sikhan Di Bhagat Mala ; and the author of Gur Bilas Patshahi 10 admits that his work is based on the lectures of Bhai Mani Singh. He preached Sikhism through the word of mouth and started Giani Prampra/tradition which meant the interpretation of the Gurbani - writings of the Gurus - in relation to their life stories, in place of just recitation of the Gurbani as done by the Nirmalas and the Udasies After Baba Buddha he was the most renowned Granthi of the Harmander Sahib[29]. He was a great scholar, author, editor, preacher, organizer and a martyr who lived and died for Sikhism.

The caste of Bhai Mani Singh

The caste system is almost a unique Indian institution that forms the basis of the Hindu society. Buddhism was the first to negate it, and it seems that it proved quite effective in doing so. Islam was also opposed to it, but it had a very limited success. Sikhism made special attempts to demolish it by making institutional arrangements of Sangat, collective worship and Pangat, eating together and freedom of occupational choice, and the hold of caste on the Sikh society loosened also, but it is difficult to say that the caste system among the Sikhs was eliminated. In the present context Kesar Singh Chhibber writes the caste of almost every body he mentions, and the division among the Tatt Khalsa and the Bandai khalsa was caste based. When in the twentieth century the Sikhs were organizing for the control over the Gurdwaras and later on in the political process, the caste factor became more prominent, as the people would ask others about their contribution to the Sikh cause. In this context some writers initiated a process to write a history, wrongly associating themselves with the prominent Sikhs with a view to elevating their position in Sikh society.

The cast to which Bhai Mani Singh belonged has been used as a tool for this purpose. Sikh historiography presents three main views on this issue, which need examination and settlement. These are:

  1. Bhai Mani Singh was a Kamboja
  2. Bhai Mani Singh was a Dulat Jatt
  3. Bhai Mani Singh was a Rajput
Several books have been written on these topics, but here only a very brief account of these can be presented.
1. Bhai Mani Singh was a Kamboja
During those days most of the Sikhs did not mention their castes or clans with their names ,though the scholars, who were mostly the Brahmans,did mention the caste/clans of the Gurus and the important Sikhs, they wrote about. That is what Kesar Singh Chhibber does in his Bansavalinama [29], who, while writing about the Sikhs, writes the caste /clan of the persons he is writing about,and if he does not know it he mentions his village, and he writes the first name of the person only if he does not know either of these. This system of writing has a functional value because it tells which of the several Tara Singhs or Parkash Singhs in being referred to. as there used to be many Sikhs with these names. He belonged to a family which had been associated with the Gurus house for the last four generations [30], that had made supreme sacrifices for the Sikh cause, and the author Kesar Singh Chhibber spent the whole of his life( 70 years) in collecting and verifying the facts ([31], and he did all this out of his commitment to the SIkh religion [32]. He had in fact witnessed several incidents, seen some of the persons he wrote about and heard and verified [33] the facts he wrote about. Any serious student of history should think several times before controverting the contemporary evidence recorded by such scholars. Chhibber writes several things about Bhai Mani Singh e.g. his coming to Amritsar along with Mama Kirpal ,staying at Akal Bunga, working as the Granthi of the Harmander Sahib, collecting the writings of the tenth Guru and his poets and preparing the Dasam Granth ,and re-editing the Adi Granth according to its writers, the Gurus and the Bhagatas separately, for which he was cursed by a Sikh and he was killed at Lahore etc. He mentions the caste of Bhai Mani Singh twice. At one place [34]he states-that then Bhai Mani Singh belonging to the Kamboj caste , who had no equal among the Sikhs also reached Amritsar; and at an other [35] writes that Bhai Mani Singh Massaddi from the Kamboj caste got the material of the Granth, Avatar Lila. He is so specific and clear about the caste of Bhai Mani Singh that there is hardly any scope of any doubt in it. However since he writes that he was a child when he met Bhaj Mani Singh the critics [36] of the 'Bhai Mani Singh Kamboja' theory conclude that he being a child made a mistake about his caste. In response to this criticism it has been stated that on two occasions when Chhibber met Bhai Mani Singh, in 1727 and 1736, he was twenty eight and thirty seven years old; he was certainly not a child, and he has said so only to show deference to great man, and made no mistake[37].

Most of the scholars hold that Bhai Mani Singh was born in Kambowal/Laungowal and he belonged to the Kamboj caste. Thus Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha [38], stated that as per traditions and beliefs prevalent in society Bhai Mani Singh belonged to the Kamboja ' Vansh' i.e.caste. Surinder Singh Kohli [390] concluded that Bhai Mani Singh was born in the village Kambowal in a Kambo agricultural family. According to Satbir Singh [40] he was born at village Kakru in Ambala distric, but his family shifted to the Sunam area and in the opinion of Kartar Singh Classwalia [41] he was born at Laungowal. This issue was discussed in length in a conference in Ram Dass Khalsa High School Amritsar under the presidentship of Udham Singh Nagoke,the then president of the S.G.P.C, and an M.L.A., in which a Gurdwara Inspector, Randhir Singh[42], connected with the Sikh History Society, concluded that he was a Kamboja . Giani Thakar Singh ([430] also held that he came from a Kamboja family and that was the view of Harbans Singh also [44]. Several other scholars and historians like Kirpal Singh Narang, Hari Ram Gupta, D.R.Sethi, Giani Lall Singh hold that he was born in Kambowal [45]. Gazetteer of Sangrur District [46], has also noted the birth of Bhai Mani Singh at Laungowal, as the village of Kambowal had ceased to exist long ago. Nayar[47] found no valid reason to disbelieve Kesar Singh Chhibber, a contemporary , that Mani Singh Shahid was a Kamboj, who could be from Kambowal. This is, in fact ,a tradition that has come down the generations -- the tradition so faithfully cherished in the area-and there is no genuine cause to upset it. Major Gurmukh Singh Warraich, [48], a researcher for the Encyclopedia of Sikhism, after examining different viewpoints also upheld the description of Kesar Singh Chhibber ,who himself, being a Brahman from a family of the''' diwan''' of the Gurus, had no parochial or caste motive in stating that Bhai Mani Singh Shahid was a Kamboj from the village Kambowal, that now lies flattened in the revenue limits of Laungowal. It may be mentioned here that none of the above mentioned scholars belonged to the Kamboja caste. As a result of these findings the entry on Bhai Mani Singh Shahid in the Encyclopedia of Sikhism [49] had to be changed accordingly . Findings of the researches of Dardi[50] and Jammu[51] also supported this view point.

This is part of the whole article. Rest of article will be published soon.

Deepak Kamboj

Deepak Kamboj

Deepak Kamboj started and conceptualized the powerful interactive platform - in September 2002, which today is the biggest and most popular online community portal for Kambojas in the world. He was inspired by the social and community work carried out by his father Shri Nanak Chand Kamboj. He has done research on the history, social aspects, political growth and economical situation of the Kamboj community. Deepak Kamboj is an author of various articles about the history of Kamboj community and people.