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We, The Shakurchakias

The ancestors of the Sukerchakias marched out of the mists of time moving eastwards into India and then northwards up the river valleys of the Punjab. Halted by the lower Himalayas this nomadic, martial tribe settled in a land inhabited by the indigenous Dasyus people with whom they lived in conflict for years before assimilation blurred tribal, social and cultural distinctions. They then experienced the Persian and Macedonian invasions followed by years of Mauryan peace. The Sukerchakia forefathers absorbed all these experiences and some more. They witnessed the Huns incursion into the Punjab, the advent of the Ghaznavid Turks, the rise and fall of the Khaljis, the repressions of the Tughluqs and the Lodhis and then three centuries of Mughal rule. How these tides of history influence the Sukerchakia ancestors, here after referred to as the Ancestors?how were the Ancestors shaped by centuries of alien influences, diverse customs and different creeds?


The Ancestors, stopped by the lower Himalayan ranges, abandoned their nomadic ways and no doubt pleasantly surprised at the bounty potential of the rich cultivable river valley lands of the Punjab became an agricultural people. This tribe, which originally respected no territorial confinement or fixed geographical boundary and moved from place to place, now claimed its own lands and own settlements and fought to hold them. They tilled their farms and benefited from the development of iron implements for their cultivation and the introduction of artificial irrigation using wells with Persian wheels. They were a hard working lot toughened by the nature of their work and the extremes of heat and cold in the summer and winter months and they had to be an aggressive group to live through the vicissitudes of invasion that followed one after the other. They imbibed to some extent the virtues and the vices of the different culture that flowed and ebbed across their land, even as they retained a few characteristics of their origin.

The religious beliefs of the people evolved from the simple worship of the sum by the Persian solar faith to the cult of Gods and Goddesses and the Buddhism. The Brahmins largely replaced the Buddhist faith in Punjab but the Ancestors were probably not enthused by the Brahminical concept of renouncing ‘tan, man, dhan’ and remained fond of the good things of life. However in this diluted About the year 1578  ancestor called kiddoh died in Sukarchak, a small village a little south of Gujranwala, where by dint of hard work he had increased his farm holdings to some extent. [for kiddoh’s lineage see family Tree1. On this basis, the Sukerchakias claim to be descendants of Maharaja Shal Bhan.] Kiddoh’s son Rajdah not only continued his father’s efforts in the field but also learnt to read and write. He was thus exposed to the preaching’s of the Sikh Gurus and become a part of the Sikh community which by then had its own ideology and its own distinct customs and ceremonies. The Sikhs rejected the traditional. it sit and Muslim modes of worship, abandoned renunciation to combine piety with worldly activity and reinforced the concept of community through corporate worship with meals for all out of contributions in cash, kind and/ or service. In the.ruled Punjab, the sikh socio-religious community of the Guru’s followers gradually became a state within the state.

 Akbar’s catholicity had protected the Sikhs but Jahangir could not tolerate Guru Arjun Dev’s “shop where ignorant Muslims or foolish Hindus purchased falsehood.” He accordingly directed the 5th Guru to close his shop and embrace Islam. Guru Arjun Dev’s torture and death took place in an era in which the Sikhs started experiencing both state repression and internal disunity. Rajdah died in 1620 and was survived by his son Ch Takhat Mal. The title of Choudhary was given by emperor Jahangir with power to collect revenue in the ilaqa of Yusufpur.He also increased his agricultural land holding around Sukarchak to have become by the time of his death in 1653, a man of some influence and importance in the area. Ch.Takhat Mal’s successors were his sons Boloo and Bara. Boloo died at the age of eighteen in a night attack upon a village but Bara continued to work on his family lands, although he kept no shop. The Punjab was then experiencing an expansion of agriculture, the Shah Nahar had started irrigating thousands of acres, and in spite of difficult times for the Sikh faith, individual  wealth could still be accumulated by hard work. Bara lived dangerously. Work wise, he concentrated on his agricultural activities to become the sole possessor of nearly half the land in Sukarchak and also earned the title of Chaudhary of the village. Faith wise he often went surreptitiously from village to village preaching the precepts of Guru Nanak. He advised his son Budh to read the Holy book daily and to lead a religious life.

Bara died in 1679  and Budh extended his father’s zest for dangerous living by not only looking after his interests in Sukarchak but also becoming acquainted with a band of Sikhs who, in defence of the Mughal law enforcers, rode far and wide carrying off cattle and resorting to other predatory acts. Budh built a large house in Sukarchak and became one of the headmen of the area. In 1699 he was baptized as a Sikh and changed his name from Budh Sansi to Budh Singh. He also won himself the reputation of being the boldest and most fearless of raiders. To quote Smyth:

Budh Singh was distinguished for the intrepid courage, for his sagacity and shrewdness which bore him successfully through all his schemes and for his ready wit and good humour. He was also famed for his regard to the rights and property of the poor. As an instance of this it is told that having once carried away more than hundred head of cattle from about Nunkhona, in the south, he some days afterwards met a poor widow, who ignorant of whom she was speaking to, told him that she had come a long way to petition Desoo (Budh Singh’s nickname) for the return of five head of cattle belonging to her and her fatherless children, which had been stolen. Budh Singh told her that it would be useless to go to Desoo, as he was a hard hearted inexorable man. He said however that he in consideration of her poverty and her loss would give her twenty head of cattle. He kept his word  the story goes and actually sent the cattle by some of his own people, further promising to afford her and her property protection ever after. Budh Singh according to tradition, swam the Jhelum the Chenab and the Ravi, fifty times on his piebald mare. He has twenty seven sword cuts and nine matchlock wounds in different part of his body.

To understand Budh Singh’s forays into cattle lifting and similar activity it is necessary to understand the socio-political conditions then current in the Punjab. Aurangzeb was not an enlightened, benevolent ruler. His aggressive social and political policies led to the destruction of Hindu temples, cancellation of all grants of revenue free land given to non Muslims and the reimposition of jizya. His Deccan campaigns and his struggles with Guru Gobind Singh affected the general administration of the Mughal empire as adversely as they affected his finances. The peasantry was urged to contribute more without caring for the future of the land or its cultivators. The state employed all the measures available to a despotic ruler to persecute the ruled and succeeded in driving the Sikhs to arms. “persecution as will ever be the case, gave strength to that which it meant to destroy.” Guru Gobind Singh’s campaigns and Banda Bahadur’s battles had taken place and even though the blood of martyrs had strengthened and sublimated the Sikh faith, the Sikhs were left without a spiritual or secular leader. They had a choice, they could either live in their villages as second class citizens of the Mughal empire or they could rebel by taking to the roving life of outlaws in small brands. Budh Singh probably made the best of both options.

By the time Budh Singh died  in 1718, our ancestors had fully embraced all tenets of the warrior brotherhood called the Khalsa which had been summarised by Guru Gobind Singh in his address at Anandpur as:

“From now on you have become casteless. No ritual, either Hindu or Muslim, will you perform, and believe in superstition of no kind, but only in the one God who is the master and Protector of all, the only creator and destroyer. In your new order, the lowest will rank equal with the highest and each will be to the other a brother. No pilgrimages for you anymore, nor austerities, but the pure life of the household which you should be ready to sacrifice at the call of Dharma. Women shall be the equal of men in every way. No purdah for them any more, nor the burning alive of the widow on the pyre of her spouse. He who kills his daughter, the khalsa shall not deal with him. You will wear your hair unshorn (kes) like the ancient sages or kshatriyas (warriors), a comb (kanga) to keep it clean, a steal bracelet (kara) to denote the universality of God, an underwear (kachha) to denote the chastity and a steel dagger (kirpan) for your defence. Smoking being an unclean habit and injurious to health you will forswear. You will love the weapons of war, be excellent horsemen, marksmen and wielders of the sword, the discus and the spear. Physical prowess will be as sacred to you as spiritual sensitiveness. And between the Hindus and Muslims, you will act as a bridge, and serve the poor without distinction of caste, colour, country or creed. My khalsa shall always defend the poor and deg (the community kitchen) will be as much as essential part of your order as teg (the sword). And from now on Sikh males will all call themselves ‘Singh’ and women ‘Kaur’ and greet each other with ‘waheguru ji ka Khalsa: waheguru ji ki fateh’ (the Khalsa belongs to God: victory be to God).

Budh Singh has two sons, Nodh Singh and Chanda Singh. The Sandhawalia clan flow from Chanda Singh, who continued the family tradition of cultivation, his more aggressive and ambitious brother Nodh Singh the Shakurchakian sought quicker wealth by first joining and then leading a band of highway robbers. His major success was at the time of first Afghan invasion, when he and his group amassed considerable wealth by the plunder of baggage and arms of the stragglers of the Afghan army. These spoils were not quickly dissipated but carefully stored in Sukarchak where Nodh Singh also built a big house in a spacious compound and in 1748, he became the First head of the Shakurchakia Misl.

In the 1740s the Sikhs in Punjab experienced the rigours of increased repression launched by Zakariya Khan. They had no choice but to take up arms when required, to move in small bands with speed and to strike with effect. Thus, it was that even the peaceful Chanda Singh joined his brother Nodh Singh to avenge the forcible conversion of some Sikhs to Islam by Sultan Khan Chatha, Pathan of Rasulnagar. Both brothers and their men attacked Rasulnagar, plundered Sultan Khan’s property, brought back the Sikhs and baptized them again. In similar incidents sometimes later Shahab-ud-din of Firozwala captured a few Sikhs of village Karyala and shaved their heads and beards. Nodh Singh and Chanda Singh and pillaged his village and put Shahab-ud-din and his family to death. The temperamentally different brothers, the farmer and the highway robber, always came together as comrades-in-arms when the cause of Sikhism had to be advanced. Nodh Singh Shakurchakia died in 1752 leaving behind four sons, Charat Singh, Dhal Singh, Jeet Singh, Nanoo Singh and his brother Chanda Singh had two sons named Gulab Singh and Didar Singh  Sandhawalia.

Not much is known about the lives and exploits of Dhal Singh, Jeet Singh, Nanoo Singh, Gulab Singh except that Nanoo Singh being of religious habits studied the Sikh scriptures in detail. Charat Singh and Didar Singh, however “soon became notorious throughout the land for the audacity and success with which they executed their schemes of plunder and rapine.” Charat Singh being the chief of the Shakurchakia Misl, led the band of raiders with his cousin, Didar Singh as his deputy. Their campaigns against Ahmed Shah Durrani are the stuff of legends and it was the acumen and farsightedness of Charat Singh that added greatly to his name and fame and made him one of the most important chiefs of his time. After the intial impetus from his marriage to the daughter of Amir Singh, a powerful Sardar of the Faizalpuria Misl, Charat Singh joined up with other significant sardars like Jai Singh Kanhiya, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sobha Singh and the Bhangi chiefs for the different battles to capture vast territory and arms and ammunition. By 1767 he was a powerful voice in the Khalsa gurmatas held at Amritsar on baisakhi days. Charat Singh further strengthened his position through shrewd matrimonial alliances. He married his sister to sardar Dal Singh Kalianwala, his daughters to Suhel Singh Bhangi and Sahib Singh, son of the Bhangi chief Gujar Singh and his son Mahan Singh, to the daughter of Jai Singh Man. His area of influence included captured territory, areas which he did not fully subdue but from which he extracted tribute, areas that sought his protection and territory that made only nominal submission to him. He appointed his ‘kardars’  in the Rachna Doab, the Chaj Doab, and the Sind Sagar Doab. On his death in 1774, by the accidental bursting of his own matchlock in the hands of one of his retainers, he left an extensive territory with considerable resource to his son and successor Mahan Singh.

Mahan Singh remained the head of the Shakurchakia Misl for sixteen years and in this period he devoted all his energy to the expansion of his dominion and to the accumulation of his wealth. He had inherited a well trained fighting force and adequate war chest and using these and his continued association with Didar Singh, his father’s cousin and co-campaigner, he fought many battles to achieve his aims.

His attacks on Mohammedan chiefs were far out numbered by his forays into territories of sikh neighbours and allies. His single minded pursuit of his ambition to be the sole monarch of the whole of Punjab brooked no consideration of religious or past loyalty or the pledged word. Mahan Singh was an enigmatic personality. For every act of compassion and generosity like the feeding of the poor during the famine of 1783 in the Punjab, there were many acts of greed and avarice like the looting of the merchants, bankers and nobles during the sacking of Jammu in 1784. For every act of religious faith like the recitation of scriptures and distribution of alms, there were various incidents of perfidy and scant regard for the solemn assurance given on the Holy Granth. But he was a good strategist and an excellent leader of men and at his death at the young age of twenty six in 1790 due to an attack of fever, he felt his son Ranjit Singh almost contiguous territory and a military force of 25000 horse and foot.

After Mahan Singh had captured Rasulnagar and Gujranwala, Didar Singh obtained, as his share of the spoils, the villages of Sawakha, Dalot and Sandhanwala. Didar Singh settled an Sandhanwala in 1780 and become the head of the family known as the Sandhanwalias (also spelt as Sandhawal). Village Sandhanwala, a few miles north west of Gujranwala was then strategically important because it commanded the approaches to Wazirabad, Sialkot and Jammu. Didar Singh hoped to emulate his more famous kinsmen Charat Singh and Mahan Singh by launching his forays from Sandhanwala and having established himself there built a fort in this village which till then was largely inhabited by Muslim goldsmith families. There is in some men a burning ambition to excel and lead and it was possibly this desire that forced Didar Singh to move out of Sukarchak and out of the shadows of Charat Singh and Mahan Singh and found his own lineage. The brilliance of Ranjit Singh, who carved out an empire for himself, however thwarted Didar Singh’s push for pre-eminence in the region.