This week marks the birth anniversary of Baba Ajit Singh (11 February 1687 – 7 December 1705), the eldest of the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh. The title ‘Baba’ was, in Sikh tradition, reserved for the sons of the Gurus.
In keeping with the famous pronouncement of his father, Ajit Singh (and his three brothers) was raised as the ‘son of a warrior, not a priest’. In fact, as well as their father their grandfather, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and great-grandfather, Guru Hargobind, had all been renowned warriors before them.
Even from the young age of 12, Ajit Singh’s mettle was tested in numerous encounters with those who stood against the Sikhs, including Ranghars, Gujjars, Pathans and Mughals, usually supported by veteran warriors appointed by his father to guide the youngster.
Following a prolonged siege of the fort of Anandpur by a combined Mughal-Rajput force in 1705, Ajit Singh was given command of the rearguard after the fort was finally vacated. As the besiegers betrayed their solemn oaths of safe conduct to the evacuees and attacked the column, Ajit Singh and his warriors engaged them on a hillock called Shahi Tibbi until relieved. He then crossed the Sarsa River, along with his father, a younger brother, Baba Jujhar Singh, and some fifty Sikhs.
After suffering further casualties at the hands of a pursuing force from Ropar, the Guru and his warriors reached Chamkaur on the evening of 6 December 1705 and took up a defensive position in a high-walled fortified house (‘haveli’). Their pursuers, their numbers swelled by reinforcements from Malerkotla, Sirhind and from among the local Ranghars and Gujjars, soon caught up with them and encircled their position.
The following sunrise, a grim but unequal battle commenced. In his Persian composition ‘Zafarnama’, Guru Gobind Singh wrote:
‘When famished what can forty males [= braves] do as a million pounce upon them without warning, who promptly arrive in breach of the oath, who arrive in the midst of swords, arrows and guns?’ (Couplets 19-20.)
The besieged, after they had exhausted their remaining stock of ammunition and arrows, sallied forth in batches of five to engage the enemy with their edged weapons. Ajit Singh and his brother Jujhar Singh asked their father for permission to engage, which was duly granted. Ajit Singh led one of the sallies followed by Jujhar Singh, who led the next.
The Sikhs are said have employed a group-fighting tactic that allowed the seasoned fighters to merge and coordinate their movements and engage the enemy as one single multi-limbed, death-dealing entity.
According to military oral tradition, the besiegers are said to have suffered rapid and heavy losses, in the hundreds, to Ajit Singh’s band of five ‘fighting-as-one’. As they could not be specifically targeted in the melee nor otherwise stopped, the ranks of opposing marksmen were ordered to train all weapons on the general area of the five and reign down fire in the general vicinity, without regard for their own men.
Baba Ajit Singh once more lived up to the epic poetry of his father, dying in mighty strife in the thick of battle. He was barely 18 years old at the time.
1. Article discussing the Zafarnama – ‘The Shah-Name Echoes in Sikh Poetry and the Origins of the Nihangs’ Name’
2. New book – The Sikh Zafar-namah of Guru Gobind Singh: A Discursive Blade in the Heart of the Mughal Empire by Louis E. Fenech
Mural from Gurdwara Baba Atal, Amritsar
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