Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh Dhanju

Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh Dhanju

Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh Dhanju (1875 – Feb 20, 1921) played an important role in awakening the Sikh masses during Gurdwara Reform Movement in the early quarter of the 20th century as also for the liberation of Sikh Gurdwaras from the corrupt Mohants. He is the leading Sikh figure among the list of Sikh martyrs who struggled for and volunteered the liberation of Gurdwara Nankana Sahib from the clutches of Mahant Narain Das on February 20, 1921. The supreme sacrifices made by Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh and his other companions have been acknowledged by the grateful Sikh nation. From that day onwards, the Sikh nation remembers these brave Sikhs in their daily ardas (prayer). Every year on 21 February at this Shaheedi Asthan, Guru Granth Sahib’s Swaroop with Bullet marks is brought to Deewan (assembly hall) from 2 pm to 4 pm for darshan of the Sikh Sangat.

Family background and early life

Bhai Tehal Singh was born on Diwali Night of 1875, Dhanju (Kamboj) family of village Nizampur, District Amritsar. His father was Sardar Chanda Singh Dhanju and mother Sardarani Rukman Kaur Dhanju. The family moved to Chak No 38, Village Nizampur Deva Singh Wala, District Sheikhupur during the colonization of Lower Chenab Bar in the early years of the 19th century. Bhai Tehal Singh went to Malaya in 1902 and for some time he worked as a watchman in Kualalumpur but had to return to India in 1909 due to some family issues. He again left for Malaya in 1911 but due to the death of his father in 1915, he had to come back again in 1915.

In the cause of Sikhism

Soon after his second return from Malaya, Bhai Tehal Singh took Amrit-pan and jumped into the Sikh Gurdwara Reform Movement. He played a very active role to awaken the migrant Sikh farmers of the Canal Colony, Sheikhupura, and spread the message of Sikh Gurus in numerous villages around Nizampur Deva Singh Wala. He participated in the Political Conference of Dharowal as well as in the Movement started by the Sikh Community to liberate Gurdwara Sacha Sauda Chuharkana and Gurdwara Tarn Taran from the control of Mohants. Bhai Tehal Singh had joined the squad which went to liberate Gurdwara Tarn Taran from the Mahant control on January 26, 1921, and was badly injured in the brick-bats thrown at the Jatha volunteers by the pujaris. He also volunteered in the morcha launched by Sikhs in connection with the Gurdwara Rikab Ganj wall in Delhi.

Libration of Gurdawara Nankana Sahib

But his most active and memorable contribution is noticeable in the liberation of Gurdwara Nankana Sahib from Mahant Narain Dass. On January 24, members of the Akali Dal including Master Tara Singh, Harbans Singh Attari, Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri, Teja Singh Samundari, Harchand Singh, Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Bhai Dalip Singh Lyallpuri, Jaswant Singh Jhabal, Sardul Singh Kavishar, etc. convened a meeting in the “Akali” office, Lyallpur [4] and decided to hold a Panthik Diwan on March 4, 5, and 6, 1921 in Nankana to take control of the Gurdawara complex from Mahant Narain Das. The Akali leaders got the news through their detectives that the Mahant had devised a murderous plan to invite the Akali leaders at Gurdawara Nankana Sahib on March 5 and have them all killed. This news incensed the Sikhs greatly. To foil Mahant’s foul designs, hot-blooded Sikh leaders including Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Bhai Buta Singh Lyallpuri, Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali, Bhai Tehal Singh Nizam Deva Singh wall, etc. held a meeting on February 17, 1921, at Gurdawara Sacha Sauda and decided to lead a Shaheedi Jatha to Gurdawara Nankana Sahib on February 29, 1921, and seize its control from the Mahant prior to the Panthik Diwan. The planning to send Bhai Buta Singh Lyallpuri directly to Nankana Sahib on February 19, 1921, while two Jathas would be organized under Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali and Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar which would meet and unite into a single Jatha at Chandar kot jhal on February 19, 1921 (evening). From there onwards, the unified Jatha would proceed to Nankana Sahib in the pal of night and reach Gurdawara Nankana Sahib early morning (nectral hours) of February 20 and seize control of the Gurdawara.

Enthused and imbued by the spirit to do something for the Sikh Panth, Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh extensively toured numerous villages of Chak No 80, No 38, No 18 and No 10 comprising Nizampur Deva Singh Wala, Mula Singh Wala, Chelewala, Dalla Chand Singh, Thothian, Dhanuwal, Bohoru, etc. which were all inhabited by the Kamboj colonists from district Amritsar. He was able to collect a Jatha (squad) of about 150 Sikh recruits, majority of whom from the Kamboj community of the region. This Jatha was merged with the Jatha of 23 Sikhs brought by Jathedar Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali. After performing Ardas (Sikh prayer) on February 19, 1921, the combined Jatha set on march towards Gurdawara Nankana Sahib under the overall commandership of Jathedar Lachhman Singh Dharowali. When the Jatha reached Chandar kot jhal, some of the volunteers decided to stop and wait for the other Jatha from Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar to join as decided in on February 17 meeting. At this very moment, Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh thrust himself forward saying: “Dear Khalsa ji, we don’t want to wait for anybody. We have taken our resolve at the prayer (Ardaas) and it is imperative for us to move forward now.”. The Jatha resumed its journey thence-afterward following Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh and continuing its onwards march reciting Shabad Gurbani all through the night. On February 20, 1921, early morning when the Jatha had just entered the outer skirts of Nankana City near Brick-kilns (Bhattha), Chaudhury Pal Singh Layalpuri brought and conveyed a message from Bhai Dalip Singh Sangla to Jathedar Lachhman Singh Dharowali urging him to suspend the march. Chaudhury also gripped Jathedar Bhai Lachhman Singh from behind to stop him. Jathedar Lacchman Singh had great regard for Bhai Dalip Singh Sangla and thus agreed to disband the Jatha but Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh once again thrust himself to pull Chaudhury Pal Singh away from Jathedar Lachhman Singh’s body and spoke thus: “Khalsa Ji, it is time not to stop but to move now. We started from our homes with commitments made under Ardas (prayer) to achieve martyrdom. It is very un-Singh-like to suspend the march and return home…..Today is also a very special day for us since it coincides with the birthday of Guru Har Rai Ji who, though possessed army and weapons, yet did not use them in spite of numerous provocations from his enemies……The worst the Mahant could do is kill us, but who is afraid of death?”. And he further reminded the volunteers to remain peaceful and avoid any provocation and act of retaliation.

Enthused by the speech of Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh, the entire Shaheedi Jatha including Jathedar Bhai Lacchamn Singh Dharowali resumed the march following Bhai Tehal Singh. At about 5.00 AM when the Jatha was quite close to the Gurdawara complex, another horseman messenger, Bhai Waryama Singh (Ram Singh?), arrived with a letter from the Akali leadership. In vain did he too try to persuade Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh and the Jatha to return. Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh continued to lead the Jatha and walk towards the Gurdwara. Bhai Lachhman Singh and others repeatedly requested him to relent but determined Bhai Tehal Singh stuck to his Ardas. The Jatha soon entered Darshni Deohri of the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib at about 6.00 AM, February 20, 1921. While some of the devotees from the death squad took their seats inside the Prakash Asthan, others sat on the platform and the Baran dari. Jathedar Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali sat on Guru’s ’Taabiya’ (Behind Guru Granth Sahib).

The Mahant had got the news of the Jatha’s arrival at Chander kot on the 19th February evening. He had gathered his men at night and briefed them about their duties. After the Jatha had sat down, the Mahant signaled his men to carry out the predetermined plan. They closed the main gate and started firing from rooftops. Twenty-six Singhs became martyrs to those bullets in the courtyard while another sixty or so sitting inside the Darbar Sahib became targets of bullets. When the Mahant’s men saw no one moving, they came down with swords and choppers. Any Singh they found breathing was cut to pieces. Thus 86 Jatha Singhs including Jathedar Bhai Tehal Singh of Nizam Deva Singh Wala and Jathedar Bhai Lachhman Singh of Dharowali achieved supreme martyrdom for the glory of the Sikh Panth. The next day, February 21, 1921, Mr King, Commissioner Lahore handed over the keys of the Gurdawara complex to Sardar Harbans Singh. Thus, the peaceful Sikhs had won a decisive and glorious battle against the corrupt Mahant backed by a powerful British Imperialist bureaucracy.

Statistics on fatalities

There are different versions on the number of fatalities in this holocaust. Some writers put the death figures at 120, 150, or even 200. The government reports placed the death figures at 126. Police inspector Bachan Singh had put the number at 156. The report by Nankana Sahib Committee published in Shaheedi Jeewan however, placed the deaths at 86 and also listed the strength of the Shaheedi Jatha at 200. It seems that, besides Shaheedi Jatha Singhs, many non-participant devotees and others staying within Gurdwara also fell victim to Mahant’s barbarism.

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