SHERKHAN TO PINDIMAL SURI
SHER KHAN SURI , OUR PATRIARCH
OF THE 16th CENTURY
Sher Khan’s paternal grandfather Lakhpat Suri had been a Hindu until converted to Islam by the desire for a male survivor which has dominated the Hindu mind for millenia. That has its own history…..
Numerous factors had conspired to make the 17th century a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress for the patriarch Sheru and his descendants.
Sheru was the son of a first-generation Muslim born in the Deccan. Sheru’s grandfather and all earlier generations had been Hindus of some variety or the other.
Then, in the year 1600, Sher Khan’s father Daler was suddenly transported to Gwalior (plumb in the middle of a strongly Hindu environment). Sher Khan was then a child. But as he grew up, there was a great emotional churning within him which gradually moulded his religious proclivities, first as a hanger-on of the liberal Prince Dara Shikoh, then a devotee of Dara Shikoh’s favourite Yogi Lal Dev, and ultimately a Sikh (due to compulsions of marriage and domicile), as we shall now see.
Daler Khan, neo-Muslim son of Lakhpat, father of Sher Khan, came to Agra with his Hindu uncle Dalpat Suri c.1590 when he was perhaps 15-16 years old; he must surely have wondered where he himself stood in matters of faith.
When Daler married and had children (including Sheru), his religious attitudes must have influenced Sheru one way or the other. They had both learnt Sanskrit at the instance of Abul Fazal. Then, Sheru the child landed up in Gwalior, the ancient city now steeped in a mixture of the ancient Hindu and the modern Muslim culture. The Adi Granth of the Sikhs was becoming known to a wider circle, but so was the conflict between Akbar’s son Jahangir and Jahangir’s son Khusrau which was to land the compiler of the Adi Granth in a fatal struggle.
THE SCHOLAR & THE SCRIPTURES
While Akbar was still alive, Guru Amar Dass had appointed 22 Sangatias to lead various Manjis (congregatious). AT AGRA, the SANGATIA was BHAI GURDAS (1551-1637). In 1596 Guru Arjun Dev had deputed this remarkable scholar-saint, his real maternal uncle, to collect material for the Granth Sahib, then to write down the Gurbani in the reformed Gurmukhi script. Bhai Buddha & Gurdas showed the Granth to Akbar in 1605 at Lahore; it was read out to Akbar by his Munshi (Sarb Dayal). Akbar donated 51 Ashrafis for the project.
WHEN SHERU GREW UP
Jahangir defeated and killed Guru Arjun Mal in the first year of his reign. Arjun’s son Guru Har Govind (1606-45) defeated an imperial army, at Sangrama near Amritsar in the first year of Shah Jahan’s reign. Earlier Jahangir had sent Har Govind to Gwalior Fort for refusing to pay a fine imposed on his father.
Sheru’s most impressionable years were affected by his Hindu ancestry, his Muslim up bringing, the Hindu-Muslim mixture served up by the Din-e-Illahi and the city of Gwalior, and the Sikh factor, as also the father-son relationship seen in the royal conflicts of 1605-1606.
We must also remember that Goswami Tulsi dass and Meerabai were their contemporaries who were as much talked about in Agra and Gwalior as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa were in their times.
Sheru’s father Daler had spent several months with Abul Fazal in the South before being sent to Gwalior Fort. When Jahangir got Abul Fazal assassinated in 1602, it jolted Daler’s intellectual life. His political sympathy for the Akbar-Man Singh axis alienated him from the Agra court after 1606 and he busied himself with the gardens of the Fort at Gwalior. His children found employment in Agra and Delhi in the next two decades.
A PERIOD OF GLOOM
This was the darkest period in the life of Sher Khan and his siblings. Their father was dead, their Deccani patron Malik Ambar was dead, Malik Ambar’s son (their foster-brother) was at odds with his Sultan and in treacherous liaison with the Mughals, and now a new calamity over-shadowed the country, the great famine of 1630-1632. He finally turned to what fanatic Muslims called the Dukaan-I-Baatil (Hinduism & Sikhism).
In the words of Abdul Hamid Lahori, the inhabitants of the Deccan & Gujrat “were reduced to the direst extremity. Life was offered for a loaf, but none would buy; rank was sold for a cake, but none cared for it; the ever-bounteous hand was stretched out to beg for food; and the feet which had always trodden the way of contentment walked about only in search of sustenance. For a long time, dog’s flesh was sold for goat’s flesh, and the pounded bones of the dead were mixed with flour and sold. When this was discovered, the sellers were brought to justice. At length, destitution reached such a level that men began to eat each other; the flesh of a son was preferred to his love. The numbers of the dying caused obstructions on the roads; every man whose sufferings did not bring him death; …. wandered off … to other countries….”.
Sher Khan was deeply affected by what he saw and heard of battles and the famine; he suffered psychological trauma from which he barely recovered his sanity; their sister Dilruba and her husband perished in an equestrian accident. The whole family moved out of their homes in the Deccan between 1620 and 1635, the Ahmednagar dynasty having been extinguished in 1633.
During his nervous breakdown, Sher Khan was taken to numerous holy men in the Deccan and in the North. He found solace and sanity in the ministrations of Yogi Lal Dass. In 1638 he visited Kashmir with his family. Tulsi Dass had died at Benaras in 1623 at a ripe old age. Nearer home, Surdas of Agra (disciple of Vallabh Acharya) was doing for Krishna what Tulsi did for Rama. Sanskrit works were also being written.
One of Daler’s sons, Dilawar, had been put under the command of Guru Hargovind to fight rebels in Punjab. Jahangir had given the Guru about 400 horses and 1000 foot-soldiers. Many of them, including Dilawar, were killed in disorganised fighting. Dilawar’s widow and children were given land to settle down in the Sheikhwara locality in what is now called Faridabad, where Jehangir’s minister Farid had founded a housing colony for his favorites.This area, on the outskirts of the Capital, has always been a favourite with colony-developers.
Another significant death around the same time was that of Shaikh Ahmed Farooqi Sirhindi (1563-1625) which brought to an end a raging controversy which had fascinated Sheru’s youthful years.
Ahmed was a leader of the Naqshbandi sect which claimed that 1000 years after Mohammed, Ahmed Farooqi was the “Prophet” for the next 1000 years - the “Qayyum” (Deputy). Nobody’s prayer would reach Allah without his intercession. He was also called Mujaddad Alf Sani (Controller of the Universe - the Second). Ahmed incited Jahangir against the Sikh Guru Arjun Dev, whose own brother Prithi was also his sworn enemy.
“In 1635, it was reported to Shah Jahan that a Muslim girl, Zenab, had been converted, given the new name of Ganga and taken as a wife by DALPAT, a Hindu of Sirhind. The woman, along with her seven children, one son and six daughters, was taken away and DALPAT was executed.
“Kaulan, a daughter of Rustam Khan, the Qazi of Lahore and a disciple of MIAN MIR, had run away from home at the age of 17, become a SIKH and taken shelter with Guru HARGOBIND who immortalised her by constructing a new tank at Amritsar, named after her KAULSAR.”
THE FIRST PUNJAB CONNEXION
As soon as peace returned to the Punjab (after the 1635 battles of Kartarpur, Phagwara, etc., between the imperialists and the Sikhs), when Har Gobind took the Ropar ferry across the Satluj and took refuge with Raja Tara Chand of Kahlur early in May 1635, Sher Khan/Sher Mal began moving on the Agra-Delhi-Lahore-Kabul route, as employee/partner of Fateh Khan, son of the late Malik Amber. I have recorded elsewhere how Malik Amber’s son Fateh Khan spent his last years in “exile” in Punjab. When Fateh Khan took up trading with central Asia, he had offered shares to Dildar & Sheru, shortly after Aurangzeb’s marriage to Dilras Bano d/o Shahnawaz Safavi on 8-5-1637 at Agra.
In the next few years the whole family (Dildar being the head) had to move from Akbarabad to the new Shahjahanabad where they were housed in Koocha Ghasiram, when Aurangzeb’s daughter Zeb was about five years old (1643; she was born 16-2-1638).
Within two decades, Sheru was to follow the same path to Kiratpur as Guru Hargobind did.
SHERU’S RELIGIOUS WANDERINGS
We have seen that Sher Khan was the son of a first-generation Muslim (Daler Khan) who was himself the descendant of Deccani Hindus.
Then Sher Khan became a Nanak Panthi and fathered Vaishnavite progeny (simultaneously with the transition from plainsmen to hillmen) whose descendants we are. Another branch of his progeny (from an earlier unidentified wife) were Chatar Mal and Bhola Nath who became Muslims again under Aurangzeb and the later Mughals. Both Chatar Mal and Bhola Nath held very influential and sensitive posts in the intelligence branch & secret service (strongly documented in the standard histories of the 17th & 18th centuries).
According to the family traditions which they left behind, Sher Khan was a Sufi at heart, a believer in the faith of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and a long line of his distinguished predecessors who were the nearest to what is called secular today, respecters of all religions as pathways leading to the same goal.
When Malik Ambar came to power at Ahmednagar around 1610, Daler’s elder son ( the architect) had sent for Sheru and got him married. (Both Jahangir and Shah Jahan, father and son, had also married around the same time, Jahangir in 1611 and Shah Jahan in 1612.)
Sher Khan had a large number of children by several wives. Three of them were officers in the Mughal administration. Chatar Mal (1620-1698) was Aurangzeb’s Director of Intelligence during the years of fighting in the South.. Chatar Mal’s son, Bhola Nath, held a similar post under two kings. Bhukan Mal (1630-1699) was a senior bureaucrat.
One of Sher Khan’s Muslim sons was Sarfraz who was a Naib-Bakhshi (or Disbursing officer in modern parlance). in 1638 (most probably). He was with prince Murad when they captured Balkh and Badakhshan in 1646. Murad became homesick and came away - only to be publicly scolded by Shah Jahan. In his place Aurangzeb was deputed; he had to return defeated by the Begs just north of the Hindukush.
Sarfraz was killed in the next attempt on Qandhar which was made by Dara Shikoh (“Shah Buland Iqbal”) in 1653 at a cost of Rs. Three Crores.
STORY AFTER SHAHJAHAN’’S ILLNESS
In September 1657, Shah Jahan fell ill. His sons (Dara 43, Shujah 41, Aurangzeb 39 and Murad 33) made it an occasion to fight among themselves for supremacy. Their sisters Jahanara (who sided with Dara) and Roshanara (Aurangzeb’s supporter) watched with horror as the tragedy unfolded.
The story of Sheru’s escape to Kiratpur after the defeat/death of Dara has been told elsewhere.
After the death of Aurangzeb, Bhola Nath Hidayetkesh ( son of Chatar Mal; both of the Mughal intelligence branch) seriously considered turning a Christian, just as his father had turned a Muslim some decades earlier, and his grandfather a Sikh or Hindu half-a-century earlier.
Bhola Nath had been in liaison with a woman named Juliana or Julaina whom Aurangzeb had granted a piece of land near Okhla in outer Delhi; she donated it to her Christian co-religionists to secure absolution for some sin. Her padre built a church there for his flock and named the locality as Masihgarh (as it is still called in the Survey of India maps).
This action started Bhola Nath’s alienation from his Mughal patrons; he became embroiled in a factional intrigue and was eventually executed. It will be remembered that Bhola Nath’s uncle Dilawar had been living in the Lashkar colony (later called Urdu Bazar) when he was fighting under a Sikh Guru (see previous chapter). This was near Okhla and Qila Tughlaqabad. When he died, his family were shifted to the upcoming town of Faridabad, further south-west.
Sher Mal was by no means an innovator when he (a South-Indian born Muslim) retreated into the Kangra hills, leading to the Nurpur branch of the SURI clan.India’s oldest historical chronicle, RAJATARANGINI, tells us that (a few generations after the Mahabharat war) Arjun’s grandson Parikshit had a son called Janmejaya. Janamejaya’s brother Haran Dev challenged sovereignty over Hastinapur; the latter was defeated and fled to Chamba.
Kashmir was then ruled by an infant (Gonanda II, son of Damodar & Queen Yashovati; Damodar himself was the son of Gonanda I, a relation of Jarasandha) who was left out of the Mahabharat carnage because of his tender age.
Haran Dev eventually become the child Gonand’s Prime Minister. He and his generals staged a coup, killed the child and founded the Pandav dynasty’s rule in Kashmir. Haran ruled for 30 years.
AFTER DARA SHIKOH
Sher Mal and his son Ram Dass were in Dara Shikoh’s camp when the Prince was being hounded to his death by his younger brother Aurangzeb who had imprisoned their own father Shah Jahan in the Red Fort at Agra, across the Jamuna from the Taj Mahal.
Sher Mal escaped to Kiratpur across the river Satluj after the Battle of Ropar. His son, an active soldier, went underground and surfaced in the entourage of Raja Jai Singh several years later.
Sher Mal (aged about 65) accepted as his guru the youthful Har Rae (aged about 30) who had just returned to Kiratpur after about 12 years at Nahan because (i) the Mughals were invading Kahlur, (ii) his elder brother Dhir Mal had set himself up as the 7th Guru at Kartarpur and (iii) Pirthi Mal’s son Meherban had taken over Harmander Saheb (he too claimed to be the 7th Guru.
Only Guru Nanak’s son Sri Chand had accepted Hargobind’s pontificate in 1628-29 and asked his Udasin followers to act as Sikh missionaries - shortly before his own death.
Talking about ages, Dara Shikoh had visited Har Rae when the former was double the age of the latter. There was also the legendary nomination of the aged Amar Das Bhalla as the 3rd Guru by the much younger 2nd Guru Angad who died aged 48 only.
Guru Har Rae had come back to Kiratpur in the winter of 1657 when Dara called for his help against Aurangzeb, says H.R. Gupta. After being defeated, Dara fell back on Ropar and “ Har Rae joined him at the head of 2000 troops,” says Gupta, quoting J.N. Sarkar. The elderly Sher Mal’s son Ram Dass was involved in this action, as recorded elsewhere.
THE ROLE OF RAM DASS
Shortly before the civil war, Ram Dass had come into contact with Baba Bidhi Chand, leader of the Handali sect.. Bidhi Chand was the successor of Baba Handal Nirayania, a Jat, claiming superiority over Nanak (according to Baba Bala’s Janam Sakhi, at least), although a disciple of Amar Das. Handal died in 1648 (leaving a Muslim widow who got married to Sheru’s cousin, already a Nank Panthi).
According to Dr. Trilochan Singh’s book on Nanak (published by SGPC, Delhi, in 1969), the Handalis destroyed nearly all older accounts of Nanak’s life, or made changes at will. This continued right down to the time of Gobind Singh. A more reliable work is the Puratan Janam Sakhi written in 1635 but it has no mention of our ancestors, although many pages of Mss are known to be missing and the author’s name is not known. Many editions exist.
THE VAISHNAV GENERATIONS
Islam itself was in a churning process in India and in the world when Sher Khan was born. Akbar promulgated his Deen-e-Elahi in the North, then known only as Hindostan.
Akbar himself was dubbed a Hindu, an apostate Muslim, by many people. But the policies of his successors gradually gave rise to a militant approach among the hitherto peaceful and non-violent Nanak Panthis (the Sikhs). Sher Khan was a witness to this development. Then, when Akbar’s great-grandson, Aurangzeb hounded and killed his own brother Dara Shikoh , Sher Khan (then in his early sixties) was forced to seek asylum in Sikh territory (as we shall see). His numerous children (including step-children by various marriages) led very different lives, some of which will be briefly mentioned below.
However, our main interest lies in his children by his Nanak-Panthi wife. Three generations of them (spanning the 17th century) were Vaishnavite Hindus . And some kind of Hindus their successive generations have remained ever since. The Muslim interlude of the 16th century was but a historical aberration.
Let us now tell the story in the chronological order.
Sher Khan Suri came from the Deccan (almost exactly at the start of the 17th century) and lived a long and eventful life, ending up as Sher Mal. The story of his life has been told above.
Between him and our 18th century ancestor Pindimal Suri were four generations who had the word “Ram” as part of their names. Ram Dass Suri (courtier and soldier) was Sher Mal’s son by a Nanak-Panthi wife. Sant Ram (son of Ram Dass) turned from trade to religion in his later life. Sant Ram’s son was (rightly)called Ram Dayal Bairagi. All three (Ram Dass, Sant Ram and Ram Dayal Bairagi) had a strong streak of religion in their lives. In the next few pages, we tell their story (sufferers all of them under Aurangzeb).
All our ancestors named above were in the direct line of descent, but none of them was either a historian or even a good diarist, though some had literary tastes, and some did attempt religious poetry—now lost to us. For historical detail and for archival material about the Suri clan, we are indebted to cognate branches of the larger family. Many of them had the word “Mal” in their names.
The earliest was Chatar Mal, son or step-son of SHER MAL, our Deccani ancestor, by one of his numerous wives (some of them Muslims). Chatar Mal figures in history as Aurangzeb’s intelligence chief in the Deccan. Chatar Mal’s son Bhola Nath was also in the same profession; he became a Muslim, served many masters and ultimately over - reached himself; he was executed after a coup d’etat in the Mughal royal family. Another cousin of our ancestors was Bhukan Mal; he and his sons Nath Mal & Shri Mal figure in the detailed records of Mughal history up to the early 18th century.
“Many details are from the Appendix to Vol.I of Sohan Lal Suri’s UMDAT-UT-TWARIKH under the title “Zikr-e-Guruwan wa Ibteda-e-Singhan wa Mazhab-e-Eshan”. He says it is a reproduction from the MSS of Ahmed Shah Batalvi’s TARIKH-E-PUNJAB written in 1820, in Persian.” Prof : Hari Ram Gupta’s compendious Bibliography of Persian sources(in History of the Sikhs, Vol.IV) should be consulted (after learning Persian)!
RECAP OF SHER KHAN & SHER MAL IN BRIEF
Sheru (as Sher Khan was known to his many friends) was neither a Muslim nor a Hindu by conviction during the first four or five decades of his life. His ancestors had all been Hindus of various hues, devotees of various gurus and Sampardayas in the South, until his father Daler was converted to Islam by the charismatic Changez, the preceptor of Malik Ambar in the later 16th century.
Sheru came to Gwalior Fort with his father , from the Deccan, while he was still a child. Gwalior Fort was for several centuries (before and after Sheru’s time) a VIP prison, but also a strong centre of Hindu pride.
Sheru’s father Daler was brought to Gwalior Fort as the Ataleeq or tutor of the child Nizam Shah, deposed and jailed by Akbar. The prison staff were mostly Hindus—and their sons must have predominated among the playmates of Sheru.
Even in nearby Agra, the imperial capital, Akbar’s Din-I-Ilahi was a far cry from an orthodox Islam. By the time Sheru grew upto manhood, the Hindu influence in the royal family and the region was quite strong. As he passed his middle age, he fell under the influence of Dara Shikoh—the most powerful man in Agra after the emperor—and Dara’s preceptor Yogi Lal Das. The Granth Sahib had just become known as a repository of excerpts from some Muslim Sufi saints also. And Guru Hargovind had spent 12 years under restraint at Gwalior Fort (with wife Nanaki).
THE LIFE & TIMES OF SANT RAM SURI
Guru Hargobind breathed his last in March 1644. He had been on good terms with the Mughal Durbar until a dispute with a minor functionary led to his incarceration for about 12 years in the Gwalior Fort. When he was released, he went back to his native hills, founded the town of Kiratpur (originally Kirtanpur), and lived long enough to see a further aggravation of the factionalism in the Sikh polity which had begun immediately after the death of Guru Ram Das Sodhi, the founder of Amritsar (and, incidentally, the son-in-law of the third guru Amar Das Bhalla in the 16th century).
Further research may well confirm my suspicion that Sher Khan must have come into contact with Guru Hargovind at the Gwalior Fort where Hargovind was a political detenu and Sheru’s father was the Ataleeq (or Tutor) of another important detenu, the deposed child-king of Ahmednagar.
It was around the time of Guru Hargovind’s death that Sher Khan had become Sher Mal, married a Sikh widow and fathered Ram Dass Suri just before the shift to Shahjehanabad. The life of the Suri family at Koocha Ghasi Ram in Shahjehanabad (Delhi) has been described elsewhere. There Ram Dass married and fathered Sant Ram.
The happy circle of the Suri family around the benevolent Dara Shikoh was rudely broken up when Aurangzeb imprisoned Shah Jahan in 1658 and caused a brief civil war. The period under the shadow of Dara Shikoh ended with the death of the Prince in 1659, when Ram Dass Suri (aged about 29) retreated to Kiratpur, as we shall see in the next few pages.
Guru Hargovind had an ardent disciple called Manohar Das (1581 - 1640). Although Manohar Das was the son of Pirthi Mal, the brother and enemy of the previous Guru Arjun Mal, he was loved by Arjun Mal and reciprocated the sentiment. His brothers Harji and Chaturbhuj had literary tastes and Harji even called himself the 6th Guru after Pirthi Mal who called himself the 5th Guru after the death of his father Guru Ram Dass. He continued to intrigue against Hargovind too.
The sons of Harji and Chaturbhuj were playmates of Sheru’s son Ram Dass Suri for a few years when Guru Hargovind was on good terms with the Mughals. Then, during Har Govind’s insurgency, they ran away to the jungles south-west of Ferozpur (now called Guruharsahai in Bikaner Distt). Sher Mal brought the POTHI HARJI and the POTHI CHATURBHUJ to the notice of his children before he died. The MSS were published by KhalsaCollege, Amritsar, and should help in fixing some dates.
Sher Mal’s interest in the Sikh community probably began in his childhood when he played with the children of Hargovind’s entourage in the Gwalior Fort, but his interest in the Sikh scriptures dated definitely from the time when Dara Shikoh was presented a set of the works of Bhai Gur Das (1551 - 1637), a nephew of Guru Amar Das. Sheru’s thoughts were already turning to the next world when the civil war of 1658 took its toll and drove him to the hills of Kiratpur where he became nominally a disciple of Guru Har Rai, who had succeeded to the Sikh pontificate while still in his teens, superceding several of his uncles.His own father, the eldest son of Guru Hargovind, had pre-deceased his father.
Guru Har Rai died in 1660 and his successor Guru Har Kishan was but a child who spent most of his very brief life at Delhi, dying in 1664 at the age of about 8. (Eight years of age). But Sher Mal died even earlier, around 1662.
Meanwhile, Sher Mal’s son Ram Dass Suri and grandson Sant Ram were in Bihar, as was the future Guru Gobind Singh.
All our knowledge of Sant Ram comes from the fact that he was the son-in-law of Diwan Dayal Das of Kiratpur (whose own story is known only from the sect of the Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das, a sect which is now on its last legs. For the two main centres of the Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das (at Karyala & Kunjah), see District Gazetteers (Gujarat 1883-84 & 1892-93), (Jhelum 1883-84 & 1904)--as also Captain A.C. Elliot’s “The Chronicles of Gujrat (Punjab),” 1902 (Reprint 1970).
(1) Mati Das was a Mohyal Brahmin of Kariala village in Jhelum Distt, 10 miles from Chakwal on the road leading to Katas Raj. (S/O Hira Mal Chhibber) He was a member of Har Kishan’s Regency Council.
(2) His brother Sati Das was also a member of what was called the Panchayat.
(3) Their uncle Diwan Dargaha Mal Chhibber was Chairman of the Panchayat & Finance Minister. This involved superintendence and control of the Masands—Revenue Collectors spread all over India.
(4) Diwan Dayal Das was Law Minister.
(5) Gurditta S/O Bhai Buddha was Ecclesiastical Minister.
Many details of this period are in “Mukhtasar Sawaneh Hayat Syed Badr-ud Din alias Budhu Shah Pir,” by Gur Charan Singh & V.S. Suri, published at Sadhura, the Pir’s home - town in Ambala Distt.,on the Chandigarh Jagadhari road. V.S. Bhatnagar’s LIFE & TIMES OF SAWAI JAI SINGH also has sidelights.
Sant Ram’s Marriage
Sant Ram had come to the notice of Diwan Dayal Das in the course of a trade dispute in which his father Ram Das sought the intervention of the Diwan and swore his “affidavit” by the head of the child. He won the case. Later, Dayal Das gave a daughter in marriage to Sant Ram.
Sant Ram’s father-in-law Dewan Dayal Das Kohli belonged to Alipur (in Multan District now), and was the eldest brother of Bhai Mani Singh Shahid. He became a member of the Sikh Panchayat which was functioning even after the death of Guru Har Kishan because they supervised the installation ceremony of Tegh Bahadur at Bakala on 11th Aug. 1664.
Besides Diwan Dayal Das as Law Member, Gurditta Randhawa S/O Bhai Buddha was High Priest; Diwan Dargaha Mal S/O Dwarka Das Chhibber, a Mohyal Brahmin of Jhelum Distt, was Finance Minister and president of the council meetings; his nephews Mati Das & Sati Das were in charge of the Guru’s Bodyguards and the Guru’s Correspondence respectively.
All of them went to Kiratpur on 21/8/64, and Harmandir Dahib (Amritsar) on 22/11/64. The 6th 7th & 8th Gurus had not visited Amritsar where Pirthi Mal, his son Manohar Das Mehuban and his son Harji’ had held sway.
Tegh Bahadur was at Kiratpur & Bilaspur in May 1665 with all the VIPs. Then he toured Malwa region of Punjab.
Before arriving at Patna in Aug 66, Tegh Bahadur had been joined at Gaya by Raja Ram Singh of Amber. This Ram Singh was the person from whose custody at Delhi (12/5/66 to 19/8/66) Shivaji had escaped. Ram Singh had been disgraced by Aurangzeb, then exiled to fight insurgents in Bengal where Shaista Khan was Governor of Dacca. Both Ram Singh & Tegh Bahadur went to Dacca.
Tegh Bahadur, his mother, wife, brother-in-law Kripal Chand, as also Dyal Das, Mati Das, Sati Das, Gurditta and others left Punjab on 22nd Nov 1665 in a huge caravan for Pehowa, Kurukshetra (avoiding Delhi) Mathura, Brindaban, Agra, Etawah, Kanpur, Allahabad (Prayag) (Feb 66).
At Allahabad, Tegh’s wife Gujari conceived for the first time in 33 years of married life”HRG I/195
They stayed these for 2 months, then toured Bihar and reached Patna in Aug’ 66
.SOURCES: Several BHAT BAHIs are mentioned by Sikh historians covering many areas and castes. Research needed. Some of these have been printed in Devanagri by PUNJABIUNIVERSITY, PATIALA.
A few years after the marriage of Sant Ram, his trading activities in India suffered a set-back, because of the political involvement mentioned above.
IN THE FOOT-STEPS OF GURU NANAK
Guru Nanak had travelled widely in Central and West Asia. Arjun Dev had advised Sikhs to do likewise, not only for religious but also for economic pursuits.
Sant Ram extended his trading activities to Central Asia. These took him on well-established caravan routes which were also pilgrimages to places Nanak had visited (These were followed, decades later by Chet Ram). See BERNIER’s remarks on trade in this region, especially Kashmir exports. An idea of the route and the staging points can be obtained from Chapter 19 of Hari Ram Gupta’s “History of the Sikhs”, Volume IV:”Ahmad Shah (Abdali)’s Road From Delhi to Kabul,” although this was a century later. William Finch, an Englishman, had travelled in the same region during Akbar’s last years; Hawkins of England did the same in Jahangir’s time. For Ram Dass Suri or Sant Ram, it was no novel or adventurous idea, just routine.
OFF TO BOKHARA
Shortly after his marriage (or his bride’s Muklawa) , Sant Ram was sent on a foreign tour by his father-in-law Dayal Das Kohli. Bokhara had received a demand from Czar Alexis of Rus (as it was then called by the natives of the present-day Russia) for seeds and trained gardeners to start orchards in and around Muscovy (as Moscow was then called). The Czar “attempted to introduce on his estates cultivation of melons from Bokhara, almonds, figs…..Astrakhan pepper, cotton and mulberries to feed silkworms…”
Trouble began in 1667 when theYusufzai rebels under Bhagu crossed the Indus above Attock and invaided Hazara distt. This lasted only a few months. But the 1672 the revolt of the Afridis lasted upto 1675 when Aurangzeb’s personal intervention restored peace.
Then came Sant Ram’s personal problems on the home front. He was abroad and only a teen-ager when his influential father-in-law was executed by Aurangzeb (with Tegh Bahadur).
Sant Ram’s father appears to have established ties with the Ram Rayyas while at Delhi (on his way to Bihar in the 1660s - when he was a refugee). This paid off when Ram Rai (elder brother of Guru Har Kishen) was granted seven villages near Garhwal by Aurangzeb. When Sant Ram returned to India, he became one of Ram Rai’s Masands (Revenue Collectors) and did not join a group of Masands who withheld Ram Rai’s Daswandh around 1686 when Gobind had established himself at Paonta. Ram Rai was assassinated by his rebels in September 1687 but Sant Ram helped Ram Rai’s widow Punjab Kaur to some extent.
We devote some space below to the sect called “THE SEWADARS OF BHAI MATI DAS” who have given us all the material about Ram Dass Suri, his son Sant Ram and his revered grandson Ram Dayal Bairagi.
BHAI MATI DAS - THE MARTYR
Tegh Bahadur had returned from Bihar in 1670; he was arrested at Agra in June & brought to Delhi on 20/6/70. After two months and 13 days of Shahi Nazarbandi, he reached Punjab in Sept. and resumed family life. He received some money through Darshani Hundis (Demand Drafts) issued by Jagat Seths of Bihar & Bengal.
Aurangzeb was busy with the Afridis in 1673-74 while Tegh toured among the Malwa Sikhs. He repeated this tour in 1674-75 after which he was arrested and executed in Delhi’s Kotwali (adjacent to the site where Gurudwara Sisganj now stands), along with others including Sant Ram Suri’s father-in-law.(HRG I/205-208) et seq.
This may have been one of the atrocities which Aurangzeb regretted all his life.
Historical records contain two very significant letters which Aurangzeb wrote to his sons during the days before his death. To Prince Azam (the next king) he wrote: “I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing.I have not been the protector or the guardian of the empire. Life, so valuable, has been squandered in vain. I fear for my salvation. I fear my punishment. I believe in God’s bounty and mercy, but I am afraid of what I have done.”
Some followers of Guru Tegh Bahadur had set up a separate sect called the Sewadars of Bhai Mati Dass. His birth - place Karyala (atop the Surla Hills), a few miles from the Salt Mines (and coal mines) of DANDOT, near the KatasLake, was the venue of a memorial fair every year until 1947.
Mati Das was the son of Hira Nand (a devotee and soldier of Hargobind, who fought in many battles). He died leaving his sons in the care of Guru Har Rai in whose household they were brought up at Kiratpur. They grew up to be the child-Guru Har Kishan’s guardians (along with three others) at Delhi.
Later, at Bakala, they installed Guru Tegh Bahadur and became his Cabinet. Only Dargaha Mal Chhibber did not go to Delhi when Tegh Bahadur was arrested. Then Gurditta managed to escape.
Tegh Bahadur, Dayal Das Kohli, Mati Das & Sati Das were executed. First Mati Das was sawed from head to loins; Dyal Das was boiled in oil, then set afire; Sati Das was then hacked to pieces. Then Tegh Bahadur was beheaded.
Dargaha Mal Chhibber is believed to have set up a Manji at Karyala after the Martydom of Bhai Mati Das with his son as the Sangatia (or Head Priest). Then the Mati Das loyalists who found themselves unequal to the mainstream struggle of Gobind Singh called themselves the “Sewadars of Bhai Mati Dass” and set up Chhoti Sangats at Kunjah and other places far removed from Gobind Singh’s battle fields in South - East Punjab. The movement gained strength in the years when Gobind Singh was away from the Punjab twice or thrice. None of the Sikh Gurus had hereditary Sangatias, but the Chhibers made it so (copying the Guru’s succession).
THE LURE OF MAMMON
The 3rd Guru Amar Das had divided his Sangats into 22 Manjis (1552-74). Guru Ram Das (1574-81) said all his Sangatias (representatives preaching to these Sangats) were to be called “Ram Das” (see note above). Arjun Dev (1581-1606) gave them the title of “Masannads” (Persian for Chairmen) with authority to collect the Daswandh (Tithe) and present it to the Guru at Baisakhi & Diwali.
Hargobind had iron discipline but Har Rai and Harkishan had very short tenures and lived very little at Kiratpur HQ. Tegh & Gobind lived a lot outside Punjab, leaving the Masands often with large accumulations of cash and the temptation to use it wrongly. In fact, they adopted all the attitudes and malpractices of the Mughal tax-collectors.
The Masands (collectors of the Daswandh or tithe which was supposed to be sent to the Gurus for community welfare) had soon become wealthy due to corrupt practices and were repeatedly disciplined by Diwan Dargaha Mal Chhibber.
SANT RAM’S BUSINESS
Ram Rai, the eldest son of Guru Har Rai, who had been forced to settle down in the Dehra Dun valley (as explained earlier, yielding the Gaddi to the 4-year old Har Kishen) had given Sant Ram access to Oudh’s goods which he sold to Central Asia. For the trade in general, this was a long era of peace in this region. Amin was the governor upto 1698. But for Sant Ram personally, things began to hot up much earlier. Even so he earned enough to pay his way.
Beginnings of the Bairagi
The Jaziya was reimposed in 1679. Sant Ram kept himself away from the Kiratpur Sikhs as long a he could in the interests of his children but his third child Ram Dayal was taken away by his mother’s people to Paonta and made a Sikh. (1685 - 88?)
The rapprochement between Garhwal & Nahan implict in or promoted by Tegh Bahadur’s rescue of Punjab Kaur did not last long. Tegh Bahadur was attacked repeatedly by a dozen hill Rajas (Vide details in HRG I/230 - 45).
A LOSING GAME
Sant Ram desperately tried to salvage his trade by contracts at the marriage of Ajmer Chand (S/O Raja Bhim of Kahlur) to a daughter of Raja Fateh Shah of Garhwal (1688), gifts to the army of Alif Khan sent by Governor Mian Khan of Jammu to help the Rajas against Tegh at Nadaun (on the Beas, 1690), and later expeditions from Lahore (1691, 93, 94-96).
Prince Muazzam (later Bahadur Shah) had been released by Aurangzeb in 1691. At the age of 53, he was made viceroy of Punjab & Afghanistan (1696 - 1699) with HQ at Kabul. Sant Ram must have made some contacts here which resulted in his grandson’s marriage to an official’s daughter .
BEREAVEMENTS & OTHER LOSSES
Sant Ram’s elder sons died in 1687, leaving him sad, and he turned to religion (Tegh Bahadur went back to Anandpur in December 1688).
The “Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das” attracted his allegiance and he rose to be their leader (around 1698 when Kashmir Governor FAZAL relaxed action against Hindus? Two sons of Shaista Khan were Governors of Kashmir ; Muzaffar 1690-92 & Abul Nassar 1692-98; they had to be removed by Aurangzeb because they were too fanatic even for him).
“Prince Muzzam was married in 1661 to the daughter of Raja Rup Singh”—HRG I/251. Strange?Considering what Aurangzeb had been doing to Hindus since 1644 when he was only Governor of Gujarat. In the 1670s & 80s, it was much worse (details in HRG I/249-58).
MORE ABOUT THE MASANDS
Some of the Masands (see details given earlier) became rebellious when asked to account for the cash and/or their misdeeds. Most of the Masands were Jats—a tribe with a history of turbulence and wayward individualism. The Khatri Masands were always loyalists. Devotees of the first Gurus were mostly Khatris & Aroras. The Jats came in only with the militarisation forced on the Sikhs by Jahangir and Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan was tolerant.In almost all his Hukumnamas. Gobind Singh urged the Sangats NOT to route any offerings through the MASANDS.Instead he suggested Hundis for cash and self - presentation for kind.
Originally the Masands were appointed only by the Guru but later they began to nominate a trusted person as Deputy wherever the jurisdiction became crowded, or due to sheer sloth. They began to fancy their own status like the earlier Afghan nobles who were all designated “Mussannad-e-Aali.
Some of the Masands were implicated in causing the death of Bhai Mati Das. The loyal and honest Masands formed themselves into a protective cadre called the “Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das” with Headquarters at Karyala.
SANT RAM SURI TURNS TO RELIGION
Sant Ram Suri gave up worldly life to join the Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das and rose to be the leader of their branch (Manji) at Kunjah. Sant Ram was in his teens when Gobind Singh abolished the Masands. Battles followed at Anandpur in 1699, 1701, 1702, 1703, 1704 and the place had to be evacuated in Dec; 1704.  The Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das had been active at Karyala for about 20 – 22 years and had established branches in Jhelum & Gujarat districts. Gobind married a third time in 1700 (Sahab Dei).
Leadership of the Kunjah branch must have come to Sant Ram by virtue of being the son-in-law of the martyr Diwan Dayal Das Kohli. If his father Ram Das ever led the Kunjah or any other Manji of the Sewadars, we have not yet seen any record or heard any legend to that effect.
BACKGROUND MATERIAL: PATNA COLLECTION OF HUKUMNAMAS
Tegh Bahadur left his family at Patna in the care of Dayal Das, Gurditta and Kripal Chand. (Here Ram Dass Suri would have close contact with them).
In a Hukumnama sent from Munghyr (160 Km from Patna), the Guru ordered the Sikhs of Bihar to obey Dayal Das. (HRG Vol I/page 196). This would give Dayal Das the magisterial powers which covered the trade dispute of Ram Dass Suri mentioned above which led to the marriage of Sant Ram Suri.
Mati Das & Sati Das went to Dacca with their “superiors”. Many more “hukumnamas” record their progress in the rainy season & later. At Dhaka in Jan 67, Harkaras brought news of Gobind’s birth. Tegh & Co. were in Assam (1667-70), amidst growing reports of anti -Hindu acts of Aurangzeb, all over India (Details in HRG I/198-200).
This must have ruined Ram Dass and the prospects of his now adolescent son, Sant Ram.
Sant Ram spent his last few years as the head of a group of the “Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das.” He was succeeded by his son, Ram Dayal.
SANT RAM’S SONS
Ram Dayal was not the first child. He was the eldest surviving son, born “before the end of the royal family”. Evacuation to Paonta (1685)?
Gobind Das (who later became Guru Gobind Singh) had come to Punjab in 1672. Married Jito in 1677, at the age of 10-1/2 (compare marriage of Sant Ram, mentioned earlier). She was seven and her Muklawa was in 1688 (at the age of 18). She died in the year 1700 (age 30), mother of three sons.
Sahabzada Ajit Singh was born of Sundari in 1686 (after Gobind’s 2nd marriage in 1685). She was 18 then. Gobind Singh annoyed the Raja of Bilaspur (Bhim Chand 1667 - 1712) by his activities at his HQ. Anandpur. Mughal governors of Sirhind, Lahore, Jammu also.
DUNI CHAND, a Kabuli Sikh, brought a Durbar Tent for Gobind Singh. This led to Bhim Chand’s attack in 1682; and again in 1685, with the help of the Rajas of Kangra & Guler. Gobind moved to Nahan where the Raja (Medni Prakash, 1684-1704) was friendly (his state, SIRMAUR, had hosted Har Rai for 12 years), a month after his 2nd marriage. Ajit was born at Paonta (now HQ).
Next door was Garhwal whose Raja had betrayed Dara Shikoh’s refugee son Sulaiman Shikoh to Aurangzeb. Garhwal coveted Sirmaur territory. Medni Prakash disliked the Ram Rayyas of Dehra Dun who were with Garhwal; so he used the Gobind Sikhs as a buffer.
Ram Dass Suri in 1658 (after the Battle of Ropar) could possibly have gone with Dara’s son and later to Kashmir. Or the Kashmir story could be guesswork for a hill retreat. Compare with the Nepali invasions in the next century. Study the routes and the trade between Nepal, Garhwal, Kangra, Kashmir.
THE LIFE & TIMES OF RAM DAYAL BAIRAGI
One of Sant Ram Suri’s sons was born around the time when a Raja granted land at Paonta to Gobind Das (who later became Guru Gobind Singh, son of the executed Guru Tegh Bahadur) 43 km. from Nahan, 50 km from Dehra Dun) and a Fort was “ founded” on 22 July 1685. (22 Sawan 1741). This should determine the approximate birth-year of RAM DAYAL BAIRAGI .
THE RELIGIOUS CLIMATE
When Ram Dayal (born in the 1680s) was a teen-ager, Gobind Singh was fighting the Mughals, but not the Muslims, as we shall see. Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa in 1699 but in the battle of Anandpur in 1702, Mir Beg and Mamoon Khan commanded the Guru’s forces fighting the Mughal troops. At the same place in 1704 General Sayyad Khan of the Mughal Army considered it improper and unjust to wage a war against the Guru and joined the forces of the Guru. Nabi Khan and Ghani Khan saved him from capture by the Mughal army…… H.R. Gupta, Vol.I, p 259.
Gobind Singh was at Dhilwan in 1705. Here began the Nihangs. The year 1706 was spent in and around Bhatinda district, especiallyDamdama which he founded and fortified.
Aurangzeb had invited Gobind for talks. The guru left Damdama in Oct 1706 and went via Churu, Hissar, Sarsa, Sadulpur, Sikar towards the South (leaving his wives at Delhi) but he learnt that Aurangzeb had died at Ahmednagar on 20/2/1707. So he returned to Delhi & stayed near Humayun’s Tomb (back side), shifted to Mochi Bagh and called it Motibagh.
RAM DAYAL BECOMES A GURU
Ram Dayal Bairagi used to say that “the whole world changed” and forced on him the leadership of the local Sewadars of Bhai Mati Das (Kunjah Manji or a sub-group). This is traditionally believed to refer to the death of Aurangzeb (1707), Gobind Singh (1708) & Sant Ram Suri within a few months of each other.
The 64-year old Muazzam succeeded his father on the throne of Delhi. Ram Dayal’s father Sant Ram Suri had seen his most affluent years when Muzzam was viceroy of the region where the Sewadars had their Manjis. Sant Ram must have been only 48 or 50 if his death occurred around this period.
Ram Dayal became head of the Kunjah branch at the age of about 25, by virtue of his father’s reputation. Probably there was also a feudal factor, because his family were comparatively better off than their rustic followers who had been tenants of Dewan Dayal Das Kohli and the Chhibbers. It was almost a relationship between Zamindars & farm labour, accentuated by religious overtones. The Sikhs were seen as protectors of the local peasantry against the rapacious Mughal & Pathan officials.
RELATIONS WITH THE MUGHALS
Many of Ram Dayal’s elder relations were in the Kabul-Lahore sector as government employees or licensees for trade, salt-mining, etc. His very young children were at Jammu with their mother’s people. Most of the government employees were dismissed by the new Emperor and became sympathisers or devotees of Ram Dayal within a few years.
Bahadur Shah crowned himself on 14/3/1707 and came from Kabul to Lahore, reaching Delhi on 20/5/07. Gobind was staying at MOTI Bagh in Delhi and was persuaded to fight for Muazzam against Prince Azam (54) “whom Gobind shot down with a gold-tipped arrow” at Jajau (Agra - Dholpur) on 8/6/1707. Gobind met Bahadur Shah and was honoured, by the new Emperor on 23/7/1707 . The Emperor & the Guru left Agra on 28 Oct 1707 to fight Prince Kam Baksh (40); at Chittor in April 1708; at the Tapti in July 1708,the Godavari in August 1708. Gobind Singh met MADHO DAS BAIRAGI & “Banda Bahadur” in Sept 1708;he deputed Banda Bahadur to fight his enemies in the Punjab; Gobind was attacked by a Pathan on 20-9-1708. By 3rd Oct 1708, his condition became grave & he died on 7th Oct 1708 (before dawn).
THE BANDA BAHADUR STORY
Banda Bahadur was a resident of Nahan state (Sirmaur). He conquered south Punjab in the years following the death of Gobind Singh, with the killing of Wazir Khan to begin with.
Banda Bahadur escaped from Lohgarh and passed through Nahan, whose Raja Bhoop Prakash, was therefore arrested by Bahadur Shah and taken to the Red Fort at Delhi in an iron cage.
Diwan Moti Ram, Governor of Kashmir (1819) (S/O General Mohkam Chand) named one son after our Bairagi ancestor who was an active supporter of the Kashmiri Pandits against the Afghan and Mughal tyrants. This later RAM DAYAL was killed at Hazara in 1820 following which Moti Ram retired to Benaras.
(See Bhai Parmanand’s Hindi book “BIR BAIRAGI” published in 1925 at Lahore).
For research into the period after Ram Dayal Bairagi, one must sift through the AKHBARAT-E-DURBAR-E-MUALLA, collection of Newsletters (in Persian) during the reign of Bahadur Shah (1707-12) full of details, names, places, incidents and orders.
These would explain (inter alia) the career of Dhani Ram Suri’s father-in-law, chief secretary at Kabul until 1712 when Dhani Ram was still a child.
AFTER RAM DAYAL
Ram Dayal Bairagi’s almost father-less children were greatly helped by Nand Lal Goya (born at Ghazni in 1633; died at Multan in 1715). Himself the son of Diwan Chhajju Ram, Mir Munshi or chief secretary to the Governor of Ghazni, Nandlal was a secretary to two Emperors, Bahadur Shah and Jahandar Shah (1707-1713). Then he had to escape from Farrukh Siyar to Multan. He had been Guru Gobind’s admirer for a few years (1789-1704), a friend of the Guru’s family at Delhi (1704-5), earlier a courtier at Delhi of Prince Muzzam (who later became Bahadur Shah) until the Prince’s arrest in 1686, and so on. His father had died around 1652; he moved to Multan, married a Sikh and became Mir Munshi to the Nawab until he moved to Delhi.
Ram Dayal Bairagi’s three sons were brought up by their mother’s people at Jammu in fairly affluent circumstances. The story of their lives, spanning the 18th century, has been told elsewhere.
THE SURI FAMILY IN THE 18th CENTURY
When Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed in Chandni Chowk in 1675, it was but the beginning of a long story of persecution of the votaries of Guru Nanak, leading to the emergence of Guru Gobind Singh as a towering militant leader of the Khalsa.
Our ancestor of the late 17th century, Ram Dayal Bairagi, was a by-product of that conflict between a tottering Mughal empire and a resurgent Sikhism. But after three generations of struggling against the Mughals, circumstances forced a compromise on his family.
Ram Dayal died a Bairagi but his children, brought up in the peaceful seclusion of the affluent kingdom of Jammu by their mother’s people, led more mundane and normal lives.
An Influential Relative
Dhruv Dev was Raja of Jammu since 1703 (when these children began to look around - perhaps as infants). Dhruv Dev’s eldest son Ranjit had been born in 1700; later came Ghan Shyam, Surat Singh and Balwant Singh. Surat Singh was named after a powerful relation of the family who was Chief Secretary to the Governor of Kabul under the Mughal administration.
The Mughal Emperor of India, Aurangzeb, died in 1707. The 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, was assassinated in 1708.
Living in Jammu around this time (as already mentioned above) was the wife of Ram Dayal Bairagi, one of our direct ancestors whose life-story has been given elsewhere. The beginning of the 18th century saw the birth of her children, the death of her Bairagi (Mendicant) husband and her own death.
Jammu an Oasis
Jammu, at that time, was the capital of a conglomeration of hill states (Mandi, Suket, Basohli, Nurpur, etc.) whose chiefs accepted the Raja of Jammu as their overlord. The adjoining territory of Kashmir was politically in a mess, only nominally under Delhi.
Situated 35 Kms north of Sialkot on the right bank of the river Tawi, Jammu was a cosmopolitan place in those days with people of all religions and races living in peace under an able, secular and impartial ruler. This was so for almost the whole of the 18th century.
THE THREE sons of the BAIRAGI
Ram Dayal Bairagi’s wife could hardly have been expected to accompany her itinerant husband and share in his many religious and political embroilments. Her parents in Jammu were well-to-do traders and were related to the ruling family. They brought up her children along with others in a sprawling Haveli which was the ancestral home of a large joint family.
Three of her sons survived her into manhood. They were Basant Ram, Chet Ram and Dhani Ram. The first two were named after the seasons of their birth; the third one’s name had a double significance as we shall see in due course.
Basant Ram remained all his life a shop-keeper in Jammu. He was the eldest child of Ram Dayal Bairagi.
Chet Ram, another son of Ram Dayal, entered the ranks of those who travelled in caravans on the ‘Pindi - Peshawar - Kabul - Tashkand route. He met a tragic end at Isfahan in 1747, in the prime of manhood (as we shall see in the next few pages). Chet Ram left behind him a ten year old son - Pindimal Suri - to continue the family tree leading to us.
The youngest child of Ram Dayal Bairagi, Dhani Ram, became an infant son-in-law of Surat Singh Khatri, the bureaucrat mentioned above, and rose to be a middle-rung courtier of the Mughal durbar, living to a ripe old age, spanning the eighteenth century.
THE LIFE & TIMES OF DHANI RAM
Dhani Ram was still a child when his father-in-law died in 1712, trying to escape from Kabul with some treasure. His father was also dead. However, a chance acquaintance of Surat Singh was to prove a benefactor of Dhani Ram in later life. This was Abdus Samad, an immigrant from Samarkand, later Governor of Punjab..
Dhani Ram and his fiancee (the daughter of the late Surat Singh Khatri) were married in due course in straitened circumstances, at Jammu, where brothers Basant Ram and Chet Ram had already been set up in business by friends and relations. “Gauna” must have been years later.
The chief protector and patron of the family after the death of Surat Singh Khatri was Shiv Das Khatri who was PA to the famous Mirza Rustam and very influential at Delhi even during the reign of Farrukh Siyar.
Shiv Das Khatri’s protégé of this period, a Kashmiri named Mohammed Murad Khan, became Darogha of Harkaras (like today’s Director of the Intelligence Bureau or the R.A.W) on 17 January 1718. Murad was also Faujdar of Jammu (additional charge, with HQ at Delhi, ruling by proxy). In February 1719, he was thrown out of court.
Shiv Das Khatri has left a valuable source-book, his diary, under the title “Munnawar-ul-Kalaam”.
Another patron was the influential bureaucrat Chhabeela Ram, who died in October 1719. A smaller man, Ratan Chand, was beheaded on 15 Nov 1719.
Abdus Samad, the immigrant from Samarkand, mentioned above, who had casually met Surat Singh Khatri in the early years of the century, fought for Jahandar Shah in January 1713, but soon became Governor of Punjab under the next Emperor Farrukh Siyar.
Early in the 1720s, Dhani Ram got his first job in Samad’s administration as a courier for Defence Department Communications between Kabul and Lahore (both under the Delhi Durbar) as also between Lahore and Isfahan (which belonged to Persia). On this job, Dhani Ram had a grand-stand view of the rise and fall of Nadir Shah. This was also the last phase of the life of his elder brother Chet Ram, as we shall see in due course. King Tamhasp II of Persia (1722) & Mahmood Ghilzai (1722-31) were not interested in extending their rule into Afghanistan or India. But a boy, Ahmed, born around 1723-24, was to dominate India in his youth. Ahmed was born in the Sadozai family of the Abdali clan. Even from Persia, Nadir Quli & Shah Abbas (1731-36) cast longing glances at India.
One friend of Dhani Ram at this time was Subeg Singh, a clerk whom Governor Zakarya Khan sent to the Sikh leader Kapur Singh with gifts and an offer of the title of Nawab, in 1733. Unfortunately,the title (and the accompanying Jagir) had to be confiscated in 1735, because Kapur Singh could not control his boisterous young followers, nor accept an offer of their recruitment into the Mughal army.
The Mughal troops on the frontier under Nasir Khan had not been paid for five years (1733-38). See HRG (III/16). Nadir Shah of Persia decided to benefit from the resultant unrest and invaded India. Meanwhile Ahmed Sadozai, a boy of 14 (mentioned above), having lost his father and grandfather in battles, took refuge with the Ghilzai tribe. When Nadir Shah took Qandhar, shortly after becoming King in 1736 in Persia, Ahmed Sadozai joined his service. Within years, this teen-ager was leading 6000 Abdalis in plundering raids into India and other countries. Meanwhile, tributes and gifts were regularly going to Nadir Shah from Delhi, Lahore and the 4 Mahals (the districts on the frontier).
John Malcolm translated some of the letters of Nadir Shah and got these published in “Asiatic Researches”. Some names appearing in these letters should be of interest to us (See Vols. X & XI).
In 1739, Dhani Ram was deputed to collect arrears of revenue from the Zamindar of Benares, one MANSA RAM’s son BALWANT SINGH, who had been granted a Sanad of Zamindari by Emperor Mohammed Shah in 1730, allowing him to set up a mint and courts of justice. The old Zamindar Mansa Ram was dead or dying and the son said he was remitting revenue to the Nawab of Avadh, thus foiling Dhani Ram’s mission, but this contact came in handy, years later, when Dhani Ram went there again with a prince-in-exile (in the 1760s), who later became the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. THIS IS A LONG STORY WHICH SHOULD BE ADDED HERE.
The news of Chet Ram Suri’s death in 1747 was delivered to his brother Dhani Ram Suri by an aide of Jahan Khan Bamzai, the Governor of Peshawar.
Some time in the next few years, Jammu also became a tributary of Abdali, probably in 1752. Dhani Ram was deputed to Delhi. He was a widower when he came to Delhi, still a mere courier and no longer the son-in-law of an influential bureaucrat. He was now about 50 years of age.
THE DELHI PERIOD: (1749-1758)
Circumstances brought Dhani Ram from Lahore to Delhi where he lived from 1749 to 1758 and again from 1772 to the end of his days. But it was no improvement so far as the quality of life was concerned.
The eminent historian, Sir Jadunath Sarkar says. “Delhi history (during these decades) is a sickening and monotonous tale of sack by Afghans and Marathas, Sikhs & Jats, even Gujjars and Pindaris; frequent panic among the citizens whenever any such attack was expected, the flight of the rich, the closing of the shops, the looting of the unprotected houses by ruffians who took advantage of the public alarm and confusion; the utter spoliation of the peasantry and ruin of the surrounding villages by organized bands of brigands or soldiers out foraging, and consequent famine, price rise in the capital; the incurable intrigue, inefficiency and moral decay of the imperial court…”
Beginning of a New Career
In Delhi, Dhani Ram was attached to Shahabuddin, succeeding Chandra Kant Yadav (1752). After the Civil War in Delhi (1753) and the Coup d’etat of 2nd June 1754, Dhani Ram was appointed to the staff of Prince Ali Gauhar in 1756. Historians give details of the pitiful plight of the numerous princes from many wives and concubines (all impoverished and confined).
An Afghan envoy Qalandar Beg’s visit (1756) was the first occasion for Dhani Ram Suri to dabble in politics (say diplomacy) in a small way.
In 1757, Ahmed Shah Abdali appointed his own 11-year old son Taimur Shah as Viceroy of the Punjab with C.-in-C. Jahan Khan as his guardian. Jahan Khan asked Ranjit Dev of Jammu to ferret out the rebel Adina Beg from the nearby hills; but Ranjit Dev failed to act and Jahan Khan detained him at Lahore for eight months.
Here, Mughlani Begum helped him to escape . He regained Jammu and expanded into Sialkot in the following year. Dhani Ram’s nephew, Pindimal Suri (our direct ancestor), was closely associated with these events, as we shall see in his life-story.
Meanwhile, Prince Ali Gauhar—and Dhani Ram – were exiled by the Mughal Prime Minister Imad.
THE RAPE OF DELHI
Seeing the chaos at Delhi, Ahmed Shah Abdali launched a series of raids into India, interfered in Indian politics and (incidentally) plundered Delhi. “Shahr-e-Aashob”, a poem by Rafi Ahmed “Sauda”, the poet, is a description of the desolation that befell Delhi which ultimately forced the poet to migrate to Lucknow in 1760.(Extensive quotes in HRG III/369-71).
Imad assassinated Ali Gauhar’s father (Emperor Alamgir II) in 1759. The Afghans came back in October. The Marathas decided to fight them back and assume control of Delhi. But the Battle of Panipat on 14th January 1761 was a disaster for them and Abdali became the dispenser of India’s destiny for the next few years.
Meanwhile, Ali Gauhar had been sheltered for some time by the Nawab of Avadh but later left to his own devices in Bihar. His wanderings and dealings with the Marathas, the Mughals in Delhi, the British in Bengal under Clive and others are well documented in history.
By now, Dhani Ram Suri, in exile, was close enough to Ali Gauhar ( the future Emperor Shah Alam) to know him as a man. Shah Alam is described as “robust, about six feet high, rather darker in complexion than others of the House of Taimur.” Again, “he bears his adversity with calm courage, hardly ever expressing any determination or even desire to regain the power of his ancestors….”
Much of our material comes from the memoirs of Pindimal Suri transmitted through Sohan Lal Suri. Dhani Ram Suri was a long-lived and widely-travelled bureaucrat of the Mughal administration. During the exile of his patron-prince, he married once in Bihar and again in Bengal. From his last wife (not necessarily a Bengali), he had two sons, Asa Ram and Sukhjiwan.
It is quite likely that most Muslim Suri or Sur families in Bengal and Bangladesh are descendants of the Sher Shah Suri group of families, while the Hindu Suri and Sur families of Bengal are allied to the Ray Choudhari families which now number about 5000 in Calcutta and another few thousands in the rest of India.
THE LAST PHASE OF EXILE
During the course of the Emperor’s “exile” in Bihar, Dhani Ram came into frequent contact with the British, many of whom employed Indians to manage financial affairs, interpret the local languages and even teach Persian, Urdu & Hindi to them.
At least two of Dhani Ram’s sons found their careers in Bihar which had a leavening of Punjabi residents ever since the birth of (Guru) Gobind Singh there. At least one of them was teaching Englishmen in Bengal in the 1770s. “When Warren Hastings took charge of Bengal in 1772…with a regular classical education…he acquired a proficiency in Persian,” says the Cambridge History of India, Vol. VI Page 95.
Prince Ali Gauhar, now Shah Alam, entered Delhi with Mahadji Scindia on 6th Jan 1772. The capital had earlier been under the control of the Rohilla sardar, Najib-ud-daulah, as representative of Ahmed Shah Abdali. Shah Alam’s step-mother (Zeenat Mahal) and his son (Prince Jawan Bakht) were in residence.
Dhani Ram saw with dismay the decline of the imperial palace since he had seen it last. “Wood and coarse cloth has replaced pillars of silver and Qanaats and Shamianas of embroidered velvet. Ceilings of silver and gold-leaf have given way to painted wood. Even the walls of marble have gaps where there used to be flowers and leaves of agate, jasper & onyx.”
Dhani Ram himself was given an out-house of a mansion which had once been built by Wazir Qamruddin; the late Wazir’s only surviving son occupied another out-house, while the main portion of the palace was in possession of one Major Polier (quoted in The Asiatic Annual Register, 1800, pp. 29-30) who wrote that he had the company of bats, owls, swallows and pigeons. “I have nothing to be proud of,” he wrote, “ since I only share the habitation with them.”
As soon as he could assemble the resources, Dhani Ram bought some land in village Khekra (half-way to Baghpat Tehsil which is 20 miles north of Delhi) and built himself a farm house which he shared with one Hakeem Ajmal Hussain (who was needed as a full - time aide for the old courtier’s aging frame).
Death of Dhani Ram (1783)
In March 1783, more than 40,000 Sikhs encamped at Burari Ghat (only 10 miles North of Delhi). From this place, they raided Malkaganj and Sabzimandi (old). Both were set on fire. Dhani Ram was then at Mughalpura staying with colleagues on royal business. Prince Mirza Shikoh was fighting the Sikhs near Qilla Mahtabpur. He was beaten and fled. Many people were killed at Mughalpura and Dhani Ram was probably wounded and held for ramson or killed.
On 9th March, the Sikhs broke through the Ajmeri Gate and looted Hauz Qazi. Refugees streamed into the Red Fort, but this was also attacked and taken on the 11th.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia ascended the throne in the Diwan-e-Aam and was hailed as “Badshah Singh.” But his jealous rival Jassa Singh Ramgarhia forced him to “abdicate”.
Later, the Mughal Emperor bought off the Sikhs with much bullion & jewellery, including whatever had not been stripped off the walls & ceilings already by the Jats & Rohillas.
Baghel Singh was allowed to build seven Gurdwaras (many sources add details). Sikh agents were appointed at Delhi to collect Rakhi of crown lands and city “chungi”.
We hear no more of Dhani Ram after Tamhasp Maskeen saw him at Mughalpura (among high-ranking courtiers busy with the fighting).
THE LIFE & TIMES OF CHET RAM SURI
Chet Ram was brought up at Jammu during the reign of Raja Dhruv Dev (1703-1725). His father Ram Dayal Bairagi was already dead and forgotten when the family fortunes reached a nadir with the murder of Surat Singh Khatri (father-in-law of Dhani Ram and Chief Secretary at Peshawar under Deputy Governor Nasir Khan) around 1712; and the capture of another influential relation, Rai Sambha Chand Khatri in 1713 following the Mughal royal family’s battle for succession after the one year reign of Jahandar Shah.
A new chapter had just begun for Jammu in 1714 when Dhani Ram was brought there from Kabul, to be with his brothers and their maternal relations.
At that time, Abdus Samad Khan was the Mughal Viceroy in the Punjab and his son Zakarya was in charge of relations with Jammu and associated territories. Samad had had to clear the region of numerous robbers and subdue many petty chiefs. Khafi Khan tells of a Zamindar named Isa Khan Munj who was so successful in his highway robberies that the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707-12) made him a Mansabdar; Jahandar Shah (1713) made him a Panjhazari & Faujdar of Lakhi Jungle. Isa Khan then started subduing adjacent parganahs and looting caravans from Kabul & Kashmir on their way to Delhi.
For more robber barons cited by Khafi Khan, see HRG (Vol.III.pp.14-15). These included Sikhs & Gujars also.
MOVING OUT OF JAMMU
Isa Khan’s activities were a great set-back to the traders of Jammu. However, Raja Dhruv Dev of Jammu was kind enough to give Chet Ram Suri a letter of recommendation to Mehta Chhabeela Ram (then administrator of Agra, later Governor of Allahabad) who passed on the recommendation to Rattan Chand Baqqal through a clerk named Karam Chand (both of Delhi).
This earned Chet Ram a small contract for goods from Jammu and Kishtwar to be supplied (for the next Emperor Farrukh Siyar’s wedding in 1715) to the bride’s father, Raja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur. A colleague of Chet Ram was also entrusted with the upkeep of the newly-built Jantar Mantar and other state properties by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh’s Vakil at Delhi. They visited Jaipur frequently in this connection.
Chet Ram was staying a while at the Namak Mandi in Delhi in 1716 when the militant Sikh leader Banda Bahadur was tortured to death there. However, the events of the next few years forced him out of the region East of the Satluj. His “Hindustani” role ended in the 1720s, with the gradual decline or death of all his patrons at Delhi and further East.
Zakarya was transferred to Kashmir in 1720 and in 1726 he became Viceroy of the Punjab, succeeding his father Samad.
The establishment of a stable reign under the next Emperor Mohammed Shah Rangilay (1719-1748) at Delhi did not help Chet Ram. In a customary political move, Chhabeela’s successor (his nephew) Giridhar arranged an additional second marriage for his Emperor. He was married to the late Emperor Farrokh Siyar’s daughter in 1721; Siyar’s father-in-law since 1715 Raja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur refused to recognise the new Emperor, leading to some years of conflict.
Chet Ram fell back on Jammu and Punjab where Samad had become a strong Governor.
Samad gave a small job to Chet Ram’s younger brother Dhani Ram. It involved frequent journeys between Lahore, Kabul and Isfahan. This focussed Chet Ram’s attention on the caravan routes into Central Asia. Having lost all his patrons in “Hindustan”, Chet Ram now took up the exports of Kashmir products to Central Asia (and the countervailing imports) soon after his marriage into a Kangra family. (See below).
Samad’s erstwhile deputy Abul Barkat was very influential under many subsequent governors of Kashmir. Off and on from 1720 to 1739 he was the Deputy Governor of Kashmir and helped Chet Ram. However, after the chaos of 1739 (the arrival and departure of Nadir Shah), Barkat declared himself King of Kashmir; he was arrested in 1741, released in 1745 and spent his last days at the Agra court.
Meanwhile, Chet Ram had married into the family of one Chandan Dev Sohalwala, and was present at the Raj Tilak of Raja Ranjit Dev at Jammu in 1725 (H.R. Gupta says 1730 at page 329 of Vol.IV).
Within two years after his accession, Ranjit Dev subjugated four neighbouring chiefs, including Amrit Pal of Basohli and Daya Pal of Bhadharwaha. Zakaria thereupon arrested Ranjit Dev and jailed him in Lahore for 12 years (1733-45), after which he was let off on the recommendation of Adina Beg, who was Governor of the Jullundur Doab. A “fine” of Rs 2 lakhs was the only punishment.
TRADE & TRAVEL
Samad had already pacified Punjab and his successor Zakaria (1726) had given a fillip to trade on the route to Samarkand. Chet Ram joined the caravans and prospered until a new wave of unrest overtook him a decade later.
(See “Memorandum of Route Between Delhi & Kabul”, by Maulvi Abdul Qadir Khan in the Asiatic Annual Register, VIII (1806, Part II), London 1809).
One friend and cousin of Chet Ram was Wisakhi Mal. They were both together when Pindimal was born to Chet Ram’s wife at Pindi Gheb (near Taxila), shortly before Nadir Shah’s invasion and a 12 year eclipse for Raja Ranjit Dev.
RAWALPINDI THEN & NOW
“The countryside around Rawalpindi (up to the Indus from the Jhelum) was full of ravines and mostly arid. From Rawalpindi to Rohtas, the Gakkhars held the 100 Km. highway with little fortresses at Jagatpur, Perwala, Pakoke Serai and Jherar. The Gakkhars were a hardy race, prolific and valiant. Pindi Gheb was taken away by Adina Beg. The area was famous for a fine breed of horses and mules, as also was the adjoining area called Dhani.”
This was what had apparently brought Wisakhi Mal there with Chet Ram, for the horses and mules were in great demand right down to Lahore, Sirhind and Delhi. It is even probable that Chet Ram’s youngest brother Dhani Ram was also named after this area (once administered by his father-in-law) and not because he had been married (as a child) into a rich family. Wisakhi Ram (of nearby Kunjah) was also interested in the horses and mules, and his son later became an expert horseman before he became a great soldier.
Other tribes around Rawalpindi were the notorious Gulers, Dhands and Awans, all marauders in those times.While Pindi Gheb was a staging point for caravans and an administrative headquarters, Rawalpindi itself was “an insignificant village of a few huts of Rawals”.
Chet Ram was caught (and later released at Lahore) by the Abdali soldiers in 1738-39. His ransom was paid by the Rai of Ludhiana. Such captures were numerous and some of the victims were forcibly converted; others got away and became Sikhs or just enemies of the Durrani Afghans.
(Chet Ram’s father-in-law Chandan Dev Sohalwala became a folk-hero when he organised Jammu’s resistance against a take-over bid by Zakarya and his minister Lakhpat Rai).
POLITICS OF JAMMU
Jammu became a haven of peace after this, while the rest of the Punjab became the cockpit of a struggle between the Mughals, the Afghans, the Sikhs and even the “distant” Marathas. Ranjit Dev had been a detenu at Lahore in 1739 when Nadir Shah had upset all Punjab and Delhi. It was only in 1745 that Adina asked Delhi (as mentioned earlier) to release Ranjit Dev on payment of Rs. 2 lakhs (Rupees one lakh down payment at Jammu and the rest later). Hakeem Khuda Bakhsh (an ancestor of Fakir Azizuddin, the famous Vazir of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 19th Century) went with the Raja to Jammu and got the down payment; he was returning to Lahore when he learnt of Zakaria’s death on lst July 1745; his money was confiscated.
THE LAST PHASE
In 1745, Chet Ram lost his entire assets East of the Yamuna when his patron Raja Haranand Arora, Deputy Governor of Muradabad, was killed by Ali Mohammad Rohilla.
Misfortunes do not come alone, it is said. Zakarya died during 1745, leading to instability at Lahore where Chet Ram’s son Pindi Mal had just joined a Madrasa (with Uncle Dhani Ram as resident local guardian). Nadir Shah, who had been patronising and protecting the caravan trade, became gradually insane. Reportedly under his orders some people were burnt alive at Isfahan in 1747. Among them was Chet Ram.
Chet Ram, son of Ram Dayal Bairagi, son of Sant Ram Suri, son of Ram Dass Suri, son of Sher Khan, was among those who travelled in caravans on the ‘Pindi - Peshawar - Kabul - Tashkand route. He met his tragic end at Isfahan in 1747, in the prime of manhood. Chet Ram left behind him a ten year old son - Pindimal Suri - to continue the family tree leading to us.
Lalajee brought this Family Tree in 1936 from Martand Temple Kashmir ;shows Pindimal Suri's Descendants. Pindimal was among rich citizens of Jammu, wrote Moorcroft in his book published by Asiatic Society, edited by Wilson.
 The 6th Guru Hargovind and Prince Dharam Chand of Hindur (Nalagarh) were prisoners in the fort at Gwalior (1609-20). Hargobind had been spreading Sikhism through the Udasins (founded by Nanak's son Sri Chand). Jahangir released them later and Hindur was restored to Dharam Chand. Mohsin Fani writes in the Dabiston that all Muslims had become Sikhs in the hills upto Tibet & Khotan due to Hargovind's efforts.
Hargovind retired to the Kahlur hills (Bilaspur) in his later years and founded Kiratpur where he lived till his death. The 7th & 8th Gurus also had their HQ at Kiratpur. Tegh Bahadur purchased additional land nearby and called it Anandpur (developed later by Govind Singh).
The details of acquisition of land for Kiratpur by Gurditta from Raja Kalyan Chand of Bilaspur (Kahlur) are given by Hari Ram Gupta .
Nephew and executive colleague of the Finance Minister Chhibber.