The image of Ahmad Shah Durrani is largely shaped and dominated by 20th century Indian writings. Indian writers portrayed the Sikh misls as dauntless heroes and Ahmad Shah Abdali as a hideous villain. One of the historical events that they have distorted, is a battle referred to as “Vadda Ghallughara” by Sikhs. The Indian editors of Wikipedia have described it as follows: “Vadda Ghalughara was the mass murder of unarmed Sikhs by the Afghan forces of the Durrani Empire”. I looked into the original 18th century sources and discovered that ‘Vadda Ghallughara’ as described by Indians, is nothing more than misinformation. It was actually a battle between two armies on a battlefield. The ‘foreign invasion’, as described by Indian and Punjabi historians, was actually a military expedition by Ahmad Shah Durrani to one of the provinces of his empire in 1762, to restore law and order which was disrupted by the Sikh marauders.
The war of Panipat (1759-1761) and the growth of Sikh marauders in that period
In March-April 1758, Marathas expelled Afghans from Punjab and appointed Adina Beg Arain as their governor of Punjab. The latter initiated a military expedition against Sikh marauders and killed a very large of number them to restore peace in Punjab (for details about Adina Beg, read this article). In October 1759, Ahmad Shah Durrani re-took Punjab from Marathas and remained busy in war with them for next 15th months. The absence of Afghans and Marathas from Punjab in that period, provided great opportunity for Sikhs to recover from their losses and get strength. Since Sikhs were highly associated with loot and plunder, a large number of highway robbers, thieves and other criminal elements of Punjab joined their ranks and converted to Sikhism merely for plunder. Thus, their numbers grew exponentially. When Ahmad Shah Durrani won the war of Panipat and returned to Punjab, Sikhs hid in the Shiwalik hills and Malwa desert. When Ahmad Shah Durrani returned to Afghanistan, Sikhs came out of their hiding places and engaged in killings and plunder in Punjab.
Sikh marauders besieges the town of Jindiala to punish a Sikh ally of Ahmad Shah Durrani
In January 1762, about 80 thousand Sikh warriors besieged the fortified village/town of Jindiala. Jindiala fort was located 12 miles east to Amritsar. Its chief Guru Aqil Das belonged to the Niranjani sect of Sikhs. As this particular sect believed in peace and friendship with Muslims, they earned the wrath and enmity of Khalsa Sikhs. This minority sect of Sikhs had owed allegiance to Ahmad Shah Durrani for protection. Khalsa Sikhs viewed them as traitors for their friendship with Muslims and for allying themselves with Afghans.
Ahmad Shah Durrani sets out from Afghanistan to put things in order in Punjab
Ahmad shah Durrani set out from Afghanistan when he received news about disturbances created by Sikhs and defeat of some of his officers at their hands in Punjab. When he arrived near the vicinity of Lahore, he came to know about the situation of Jindiala. When Sikhs got wind of Ahmad Shah Durrani’s arrival near Lahore, they lifted the siege of Jindiala and fled away. Ahmad Shah Durrani reached Jindiala and found that Sikhs had already fled the place. From Jindiala Ahmad Shah dispatched his spies to acquire information about the destination and movements of that large Sikh army. He stayed for three days in Jindiala.
From Jindiala, the fleeing Sikh marauders reached in the vicinity of Maler Kotla and started pillaging all the villages in that area. The author of Tahmas-nama, who was present in Sirhind city when these events were taking place, writes that the Sikh army comprised of 150,000 cavalry and infantry. While according to the author of Tarikh-i-Husain Shahi, the Sikh army was around 80,000 strong. When Zain Khan Mohmand, the governor of Sirhind, was informed that Sikhs were engaged in looting and bloodshed near Malerkotla, he set out from Sirhind with 10 or 15 thousand horse and foot to stop them. Bhikhan Khan, the Nawab of Maler Kotla (who was a descendant of Pashtuns), also joined Zain Khan. They encamped at Malerkotla while Sikhs encamped at a distance of 7 kos from them.
The battle of green leaves
Ahmad Shah Durrani was informed by his spies that all the Sikhs marauders who fled from Jindiala, have gathered at the Kup village of Malerkotla and they have besieged Zain Khan Mohmand, Bhikhan Khan, Muraza Khan Barech and other chieftains. Sikhs never engaged in a pitched battle with Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Sikh army near Malerkotla was sure that Ahmad Shah Durrani would either return to Afghanistan from Jindiala or if he moves in the direction of Sirhind, then they will get wind of his movements and they will flee on time like in the past. But Ahmad Shah had decided that he wont let Sikhs get away this time. He decided to launch a surprise attack on Sikhs. He covered the distance of 240 kms and crossed two rivers in only 36 hours and caught the Sikh army at Malerkotla by surprise. Before the attack, Ahmad Shah had sent some of his men to Zain Khan to inform him that next day he will attack the Sikh army, therefore he (Zain Khan) should launch attack on Sikhs in morning and entangle them in the battle till his arrival on the scene. Furthermore the Hindi soldiers of Zain would place green leaves or grass on their heads so that the Uzbek soldiers of Durrani could distinguish them from Sikhs and avoid killing them by mistake. In reference to that, this battle is known as ‘da shne panray jagara’ (the Battle of Green Leaf) among Pashtuns.
Ahmad Shah Durrani sudden appearance on the scene struck fear into the hearts of Sikhs and they turned tail. Even though Afghans were exhausted from covering the distance of 240 km without any rest, they kept chasing and attacking Sikhs. The author of Tahmas-nama who was an eye-witness to these events, writes that Sikhs were either trying to escape or were reciting Kalima of Islam and were begging for their lives. Afghans pursued them up to the fort of Barnala and managed to dispatch about 30 thousands Sikh warriors to afterlife. Because the evening and darkness had fallen, Afghans did not pursue Sikhs beyond Barnala. Therefore majority of the Sikh warriors managed to escape with their lives.
“Vadda Ghallughara”: Sikh army or ‘unarmed Sikhs’?
Sikh refer to this battle as ‘Vadda Ghalughara meaning ‘the great killing’. The modern Sikhs have started claiming that 30 thousand Sikhs who got killed in this battle, were mostly women, children and unarmed aged men. It is a false claim. There is no mention of presence of Sikh women and children in any of the 18th and early 19th century sources. Tahmas Khan, the author of Tahmas-nama, who participated in this battle, mentions only the presence of Sikh cavalry and infantry on the battlefield. His book does not mention anywhere that Sikh women and children were also present in that battle. Similarly, the author of Siyar al-Mutakhireen (written in 1780) mentions only the presence of Sikh cavalry and infantry in that battle. In 1787 James Browne translated a Persian manuscript into English which was written in 1784. That book also only refers to the presence of a Sikh army on that battlefield. To support their claims that there were a large body of Sikh women and children on that battlefield, Sikhs writers give reference from ‘Pant Prakash’ which was written in poetry form in 1841 by a Sikh Ratan Singh in 1841. Firstly, Pant Prakhash is filled with inauthentic and fictitious details and is not utilized as authentic and reliable source of history for 18th century events other than by Sikhs. Moreover Panth Praskash clearly says that Sikhs left their families at Malwa (desert) before confronting Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1762. Panth Prakash only talks about attack of Afghans on the ‘baheer’ (بہیر) of the Sikhs.’Baheer’ means baggage-train. Usually weapons, equipment, food, loot, servants and artisans were placed in the baggage-train of an army. Sikhs have interpreted ‘Baheer’ as families but that’s not correct and is misquoting of the text. As I have already mentioned, Pant Prakash, on which Sikhs are relying so much for their claim, clearly says that Sikhs had left their families at Malwa. It should be kept in mind that Sikhs’ warfare against Afghans in 18th century was based on hit and run tactics. Their women and children did not accompany them to the battlefield, or any place which could turn into battlefield. Sikhs were not on picnic with their families at Jindiala and Sirhind. The speed at which Sikhs fled from Jindiala towards Malerkotla clearly shows that they were not encumbered by their families. Sikhs knew that Afghans would not kill Sikh women and children but would capture them alive as slaves and would take them to Afghanistan and Turkistan (for sale). Therefore, they always left their families either in Shiwalik hills or Malwa desert whenever they used to go warring against Afghans. If there had been Sikh women and children on that battlefield near Malerkotla, then Afghans would have enslaved them and it would have been mentioned 18th century contemporary historians, just like some of them (for example the author of Siyar al-Mutakhirin) mentioned enslavement of Maratha women after the battle of Panipat.
1- “Sikh History from Persian Sources: Translations of major texts”, edited by: J.S. Grewal & Irfan Habib
2- ”The Siyar-ul-Mutakherin, a history of the Mahomedan power in India during the last century”.
3- ”Fall of the Mughal Empire” Vol.2., by Jadunath Sarkar
4- ”Panth Prakash” By Rattan Singh Bhangu (translated Into English By Kulwant Singh)
5- ”History of the Origin and Progress of the Sikhs” by James Browne.
6- “Waqiat i Durrani”