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Misl Reference

Misl generally refers to the sovereign states of the Sikh Confederacy, that rose during the 18th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent.

The misls formed a commonwealth that was described by Antoine Polier as an “aristocratic republic”.

Although the misls were unequal in strength, and each misl attempted to expand its territory and access to resources at the expense of others, they acted in unison in relation to other states.

The misls held biannual meetings of their legislature, the Sarbat Khalsa in Amritsar.

In order to withstand the persecution of Shah Jahan and other Mughal rulers, several of the later Sikh Gurus established military forces and fought the Mughal Empire and Hindu hill chiefs[5] in the early and middle Mughal-Sikh Wars.

Banda Singh Bahadur continued Sikh resistance to the Mughal Empire until his defeat at the Battle of Gurdas Nangal.

For several years Sikhs found refuge in the jungles and the Himalayan foothills until they organized themselves into military bands known as jathas.

List of Misls

List of Misls

Founding Clan
Key Leaders
Strength in Regular Horseman (1780)
Misl Period Territory by 1759
Corresponding Current Area
1. Phulkian Misl Sidhu Jat Sikh Patiala
Phul Singh Sidhu, Ala Singh and Amar Singhu 5,000 Barnala, Bathinda,Sangrur Patiala, Nabha, Jind,Kaithal, Barnala,Bathinda, Sangrur
2. Ahluwalia Misl Kalal/Walia Kapurthala Jassa Singh Ahluwalia 10,000 Nurmahal,Talwandi,Phagwara, Kana Dhillon. Jalandhar district,Kapurthala district
3. Sukerchakia Misl Jat Sikh Sandhu Gujranwala Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Duleep Singh 5,000 Qila Didar Singh,Qila Mihan Singh,Ladhe Wala Waraich, Ferozewala, Butala Sham Singh,MaraliWala,Eminabad,Kalaske, Mughal Chak. Amritsar, Karnal, Sarahli & Tarn Taran district
4. Kanheya Misl Sandhu Jat Sikh Sohian Jai Singh Sandhu 8,000 Ajnala, Gurdaspur,Dera Baba Nanak,
Kalanaur,Pathankot,Sujanpur, Hansi,Hisar
Gurdaspurdistrict,Pathankotdistrict,Hisar district
5. Ramgarhia Misl Ramgarhia/Tarkhan Sri Hargobindpur Jassa Singh Ramgarhia,Jodh Singh Ramgarhia,Tara Singh Ramgarhia andMangal Singh Ramgarhia 5,000 Batala, Mukerian,Ghoman, etc. Hoshiarpurdistrict,Gurdaspur district
6. SinghpuriaMisl Virk Jat Sikh Jalandhar Nawab Kapur Singh 5,000 Singhpura,Amritsar,Sheikhupura etc. Amritsar district,Sheikhupura District, Pakistan
7. Panjgarhia Misl
(KarorSinghia Misl)
Virk Jat Sikh Shamchaurasi,Hariana, etc. Sham Singh Sandhu andKaram Singh Sandhu 10,000 Gurdaspurdistrict,Hoshiarpur,Hariana Gurdaspurdistrict,Hoshiarpur district
8. Nishanwalia Misl Shergill Jat Sikh Ambala,Firozpur Dasaunda Singh Shergilland Sangat Singh Shergill 2,000 Ambala, Roparand Anandpur Sahib Ambala district, Ropardistrict, Panchkuladistrict,Yamuna Nagar district
9. Bhangi Misl Dhillon Jat Sikh Amritsar Bhuma Singh Dhillon, Hari Singh Dhillon,MaiBhago 10,000 Tarn Taran, Lahore Tarn Tarandistrict,Lahore
10. Dallewalia Misl Rathore Rajput Rahon Gulab Singh Rathore and Tara Singh Ghaiba 5,000 Nakodar, Ambala, Talwan, Badala, Rahon, Phillaur, Ludhianaetc. Ludhiana district,Jalandhar district
11. Nakai Misl Nakai Jat Sikh Chunian Hira Singh Sandhu and Nar Singh Sandhu 7,000 Baherwal, Khem Karan, Khudian,Gogera, Depalpur,Okara, Pakistanetc. Okara district, Pakistan
12. Shaheedan Misl Sandhu Jat Sikh Shahzadpur Baba Deep Singh 5,000 Talwandi Sabo, Northern Ambala. Bathindadistrict,Panchkula district

Each Misl was made up of members of soldiers, whose loyalty was given to the Misl’s leader. A Misl could be composed of a few hundred to tens of thousands soldiers. Every soldier was free to join any Misl he chose and free to cancel his membership of the Misl to whom he belonged. He could, if he wanted, cancel his membership of his old Misl and join another. The Barons would allow their armies to combine or coordinate their defences together against a hostile force if ordered by the Misldar Supreme Commander. These orders were only issued in military matters affecting the whole Sikh community. These orders would normally be related to defense against external threats, such as Afghan military attacks. The profits of a fighting action were divided by the misls to individuals based on the service rendered after the conflict using the sardari system.

The Sikh Confederacy is a description of the political structure, of how all the Barons’ Kingdoms interacted with each other politically together in Punjab. Although misls varied in strength, the use of primarily light cavalry with a smaller amount heavy cavalry was uniform throughout all of the Sikh misls. Cavalrymen in a misl were required to supply their own horses and equipment. A standard cavalryman was armed with a spear, matchlock, and scimitar. How the armies of the Sikh misls received payment varied with the leadership of each misl. The most prevalent system of payment was the ‘Fasalandari’ system; soldiers would receive payment every six months at the end of a harvest.

Cavalry tactics
Fauja Singh considers the Sikh misls to be guerrilla armies, although he notes that the Sikh misls generally had greater numbers and a larger number of artillery pieces than a guerrilla army would.[21] The misls were primarily cavalry based armies and employed less artillery than Mughal or Maratha armies. The misls adapted their tactics to their strength in cavalry and weakness in artillery and avoided pitched battles. Misls organized their armies around bodies of horsemen and their units fought battles in a series of skirmishes, a tactic which gave them an advantage over fighting pitched battles. Bodies of cavalry would attack a position, retreat, reload their muskets, and return to attack it again. The tactics used by misl field armies include flanking an enemy, obstructing river passages, cutting off a unit from its supplies, intercepting messengers, attacking isolated units like foraging parties, employing hit-and-run tactics, overrunning camps, and attacking baggage trains. To fight large armies the misl would completely evacuate the areas in front of the enemy’s marching route but follow in the rear of the opposition and reconquer areas the enemy had just captured, threaten agents of the enemy with retribution, and sweep over the countryside in the wake of the enemy’s withdrawal.

The Running Skirmish was a tactic unique to the Sikh cavalrymen which was notable for its effectiveness and the high degree of skill required to execute it. George Thomas and George Forster, contemporary writers who witnessed it described its use separately in their accounts of the military of the Sikhs. George Forster noted:

“A party from forty to fifty, advance in a quick pace to a distance of carbine shot from the enemy and then, that the fire may be given with the greatest certainty, the horses are drawn up and their pieces discharged, when speedily, retiring about a 100 paces, they load and repeat the same mode of annoying the enemy. Their horses have been so expertly trained to a performance of this operation that on receiving a stroke of hand, they stop from a full canter.”

The Sikh Misls had four different classes of administrative divisions. The patadari, misaldari, tabadari, and jagirdari were the different systems of land tenure used by the misls, and land granted by the misl left the responsibility of establishing law and order to the owner of the land. The land under the direct administration of the chief of the misl was known as the sardari and the tabadari and jagirdari systems used land directly given by the chief from the sardari. The patadari and misaldari systems formed the basis of a misl, while tabadari and jagirdari lands would only be created after large acquisitions of land. The type of system that was used in an area depended on the importance of the chief sardar of the area to the rest of the misl.

The Patadari system affected newly annexed territories and was the original method used by the misls in administrating land.[24] The patadari system relied on the cooperation of surkundas, the rank of a leader of a small party of cavalrymen. The chief of the misl would take his/her portion and divide the other parcels among his Sardars proportional to the number of cavalrymen they had contributed to the misl.[25] The Sardars would then divide their parcels among their Surkundas, and then the Surkundas subdivided the land they received among their individual cavalrymen. The Surkundas receiving parcels of land with settlements were required to fortify them[note 2] and establish fines and laws for their zamindars and ryots.[26] Parcels of land in the patadari system could not be sold, but could be given to relatives in an inheritance.[27] The soldiers who received parcels from the Patadari system held their land in complete freedom.[4]

The Misaldari system applied to sardars with a small number of cavalrymen as well as independent bodies of cavalrymen who voluntarily attached themselves to a misl.[27] They kept the lands they held before joining the misl as an allotment for their cooperation with the misl. The leaders of these groups, called misaldars, could transfer their allegiance and land to another misl without punishment.[27]

The Tabadari system referred to land under the control of a misl’s tabadars. Tabadars served a similar function to retainers in Europe. They were required to serve as cavalrymen to the misl and were subservient to the misl’s leader. Although tabadars received their land as a reward, their ownership was subject entirely on the misl’s leader.[28] The tabadari grants were only hereditary on the choice of the chief of the misl.

The Jagirdari system used the grant of jagirs by the chief of the misl. Jagirs were given by the chief of the misl to relations, dependents, and people who “deserved well”.[28] The owners of jagirs were subservient to the chief of the misl as their ownership was subject his/her needs. Like the Tabadars, jagirdars were subject to personal service when the chief of the misl requested.[28] However, because jagirs entailed more land and profit, they were required to use the money generated by their jagirs to equip and mount a quota of cavalrymen depending on the size of their jagir.[28] Jagirdari grants were hereditary in practice but a misl’s chief could revoke the rights of the heir. Upon the death of the owner of a tabadari or jagadari grant, the land would revert to direct control of the chief (sardari).


The two main divisions in territory between the misls were between those who were in the Malwa region and those who were in the Majha region. While eleven of the misls were north of the Sutlej river, one, the Phulkian Misl was south of the Sutlej. The Sikhs north of the Sutlej river were known as the Majha Sikhs while the Sikhs that lived south of the Sutlej river were known as the Malwa Sikhs. In the smaller territories were the Dhanigeb Singhs in the Sind Sagar Doab, the Gujrat Singhs in the Jech Doab, the Dharpi Singhs in the Rechna Doab, and the Doaba Singhs in the Jalandhar Doab.