BANDĀ SIṄGH BAHĀDUR (1670-1716), eighteenth-century Sikh warrior who for the first time seized territory for the Khālsā and paved the way for the ultimate conquest of the Punjab by them, was born Lachhmaṇ Dev on 27 October 1670 at Rājaurī in the Puñchh district of Kashmīr. according to Hākim Rāi, Ahwāl-i-Lachhmaṇ Dās urf Bandā Sāhib, his father Rām Dev, a ploughman, came of the Soḍhī sub-caste. Lachhmaṇ Dev had a very tender heart and the sight of a dying doe during one of the hunting excursions proved a turning-point in his life. So strong was his sense of penitence that he left his home to become an ascetic. He was then fifteen years of age. He first received instruction from a mendicant, Jānakī Prasād. At the shrine of Rām Thamman, near Kasūr, he joined Bairāgī Rām Dās and was given the name of Mādho Dās. Roaming about the country for some years, he settled down in the Pañchvaṭī woods, near Nāsik. He learnt yoga from Yogī Aughaṛ Nāth and, after his death, left Nāsik and established a maṭh (monastery) of his own at Nāndeḍ on the left bank of the River Godāvarī. Here he had an encounter with Gurū Gobind Siṅgh who happened to visit his hermitary on 3 September 1708, at the end of which he, as the chronicler records, fell at his feet, pronouncing himself to be his bandā or slave. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh escorted him to his own camp, administered to him the vows of the Khālsā and gave him the name of Bandā Siṅgh, from the word bandā he had used for himself when proclaiming his allegiance to the Gurū. Blessed by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh who bestowed upon him a drum, a banner and five arrows as emblems of authority, and accompanied by five Sikhs - Binod Siṅgh, Kāhan Siṅgh, Bāj Siṅgh, Dayā Siṅgh and Rām Siṅgh, he set out towards the north determined to chastise the tyrannical Mughal faujdārof Sirhind. As he reached the Punjab, Sikhs began to rally round his standard, amongst the first to join him being Bhāī Fateh Siṅgh, a descendant of Bhāī Bhagatū, Karam Siṅgh and Dharam Siṅgh of Bhāī Rūpā and Ālī Siṅgh, Mālī Siṅgh and other Sikhs of Salaudī. Rām Siṅgh and Tilok Siṅgh, the ancestors of Phūlkīāṅ rulers, provided material help. On 26 November 1709, Bandā Siṅgh attacked Samāṇā, the native town of Jalāl-ud-Dīn, the executioner of Gurū Tegh Bahādur, and of the two executioners who had volunteered to behead Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's two young sons, at Sirhind. After the sack of Samāṇā, Bandā Siṅgh occupied Ghuṛhām, Ṭhaskā, Shāhābād and Mustafābād. The town of Kapurī, whose faujdār, Qadam ud-Dīn, was notorious for his debaucheries and persecution of Hindus and Sikhs, was razed to the ground. Next came the turn of Saḍhaurā, whose chief, 'Usmān Khān, had not only oppressed the Hindus but had also tortured to death the Muslim saint, Sayyid Buddhū Shāh, for having helped Gurū Gobind Siṅgh in the battle of Bhaṅgāṇī. Bandā Siṅgh took this long circuitous route awaiting Sikhs from the Doābā and Mājhā areas to join his force before he attacked Sirhind where two of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's sons had met with a cruel fate at the hands of Wazīr Khān, the Mughal satrap. Wazīr Khān was killed in the battle of Chappar Chiṛī on 12 May 1710, and on 14 May the city of Sirhind was captured and given over to plunder. Bāj Siṅgh, one of Bandā Siṅgh's companions, was appointed governor of Sirhind. Bandā Siṅgh was now the virtual master of territories between the Yamunā and the Sutlej, yielding an annual revenue of thirty-six lacs of rupees. He made the old Fort of Mukhlisgaṛh, in the safety of the Himalayas, his headquarters, renaming it Lohgaṛh. He assumed the style of royalty and introduced a new calendar dating from his capture of Sirhind. He had new coins struck in the name of Gurū Nānak-Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. Besides the names of the Gurūs, the inscription of his seal contained the word deg (the kettle in Gurū kā Laṅgar signifying charity) and Tegh (the sword of the Khālsā signifying victory). Bandā Siṅgh's rule, though short-lived, had a far-reaching impact on the history of the Punjab. With it began the decay of the Mughal authority and the demolition of the feudal system of society it had created. Bandā Siṅgh abolished the Zamīndārī system and made the tillers masters of the land by conferring upon them proprietory rights. He was liberal in his treatment of Hindus and Muslims many of whom joined the Sikh faith and took up arms under him.
In the summer of 1710, Bandā Siṅgh crossed the Yamunā and seized Sahāranpur. On his arrival at Nanautā on 11 July 1710, crowds of Gujjars, who called themselves Nānakpanthīs swelled his ranks, but he had to return to the Punjab, without making any further conquest in the Gangetic valley. In the Punjab, he took Baṭālā and Kalānaur, marched towards Lahore, while a contingent proceeded to occupy the city and parganah of Paṭhānkoṭ. Seized with terror, Sayyid Aslam, the governor of Lahore, shut himself up in the Fort. Cries of jihād or religious war against the Sikhs proved of little avail and Bandā Siṅgh inflicted a crushing defeat upon the gathered host at the village of Bhīlovāl. Except for the city of Lahore, the whole of Mājhā and Riāṛkī had fallen into his hands. On 3 October 1710, he occupied Rāhoṅ in the Jalandhar Doāb.
Bandā Siṅgh's increasing influence roused the ire of the Mughal emperor Bahādur Shāh, who came northwards from the Deccan, and commanded the governors of Delhi and Oudh and other Mughal officers to punish the Sikhs. The order he issued on 10 December 1710 was a general warrant for the faujdārs to kill the worshippers of Nānak, i. e. Sikhs, wherever found (Nānak-prastān rā har jā kih ba-yāband ba-qatl rasānand). Even in face of this edict for wholesale destruction of the Sikhs, Bandā Siṅgh maintained towards the Muslims generally an attitude of tolerance. A report submitted to Emperor Bahādur Shāh stated that as many as five thousand Muslims of the neighbourhood of Kalānaur and Baṭālā had joined Bandā Siṅgh and that they were allowed the fullest liberty to shout their religious call, azān, and recite khutbāandnamāz, in the army of the Sikhs and that they were properly looked after and fed.
In 1710, a massive imperial force drove the Sikhs from Sirhind and other places to take shelter in the Fort of Lohgaṛh in the submontane region. Here Bandā Siṅgh was closely invested by sixty thousand horse and foot. For want of provisions, the Sikhs were reduced to rigorous straits but on the night of 10 December 1710, Bandā Siṅgh made a desperate bid to escape and hacked his way out of the imperial cordon.
Bandā Siṅgh was far from vanquished and, within a fortnight of his escape from Lohgaṛh, he began to send out hukamnāmās exhorting the people to carry on the fight. He ransacked the sub-mountainous state of Bilāspur; Maṇḍī, Kullū and Chambā submitted to his authority of their own accord. In June 1711, as he descended towards the plains he was engaged in an action at Bahrāmpur near Jammū, in which the Mughal troops were worsted. Bandā Siṅgh was, however, forced in the end again to retreat into the hills.
After the death, on 28 February 1712, of Emperor Bahādur Shāh, the war of succession for the imperial throne and the disturbed state of affairs in Delhi brought Bandā Siṅgh some respite, but Farrukh-Sīyar who ascended the throne of Delhi in 1713 accelerated the campaign against the Sikhs. They were hounded out of the plains where Bandā Siṅgh had reoccupied Saḍhaurā and Lohgaṛh. Their main column, led by Bandā Siṅgh, was subjected to a most stringent siege at the village of Gurdās-Naṅgal, about six kilometres from Gurdāspur. The supplies having run out, the Sikhs suffered great hardship and lived on animal flesh which they had to eat raw owing to lack of firewood. To quote the Muslim diarist of the time, Khāfī Khān, "Many died of dysentery and privation. . . . When all the grass was gone, they gathered leaves from the trees. When these were consumed, they stripped the bark and broke off the small shoots, dried them, ground them and used them instead of flour, thus keeping body and soul together. They collected the bones of animals and used them in the same way. Some assert that they saw a few of the Sikhs cut flesh from their own thighs, roast it, and eat it. "
For eight long months, the garrison resisted the siege under these gruesome conditions. The royal armies at last broke through and captured Bandā Siṅgh and his famishing companions on 7 December 1715. They were at first taken to and paraded in the streets of Lahore and then sent to Delhi where they arrived on 27 February 1716. The cavalcade to the imperial capital was a grisly sight. Besides 740 prisoners in heavy chains, it comprised seven hundred cartloads of the heads of the Sikhs with another 2, 000 stuck upon pikes. By Farrukh-Sīyar's order Bandā Siṅgh and some two dozen leading Sikhs were imprisoned in the Fort, while the remaining 694 were made over to the kotwāl, Sarbrāh Khān, to be executed at the Kotwālī Chabūtrā at the rate of a hundred a day. Then Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur and his remaining companions were taken to the tomb of Khwājā Qutb ud-Dīn Bakhtiyār Kākī, near the Qutb Mīnār. There he was offered the choice between Islam and death. Upon his refusal to renounce his faith, his four-year-old son, Ajai Siṅgh, was hacked to pieces before his eyes. He himself was subjected to the harshest torments. His eyes were pulled out and hands and feet chopped off. His flesh was torn with red hot pincers and finally his body was cut up limb by limb. This occurred on 9 June 1716.