Saka Nankana forms a very important part of Sikh history. The saka constitutes the core of the Gurdwara Reform Movement started by the Sikhs in early twentieth century. The interesting part of this saka is the unprecedented discipline, self-control and exemplary patience displayed by the peaceful Sikh protesters even in the face of extreme barbarism. Even the national leaders like Mahatama Gandhi had to acknowledge in no ambiguous terms the glory and the prestige which the peaceful and passive resistance of the Sikhs had brought to the India's Struggle for freedom.
The concepts of Sangat, Pangat, Dharamshala (Gurdwara) and Kirtan took firm roots during this period and became important constituents of Sikhism. Congregations in Gurdwaras had played crucial roles in the religious and social affairs of the early Sikhs. Later, they assumed wider dimensions by transforming into religio-political organisation. The peaceful and non-political budding Sikh brotherhood was transformed into a proud and fiercely martial nation through the baptismic process of Amrit-pan. After a long and continuous resistance of several decades against the tyrannies of Mughal rule, the brave Sikhs finally emerged victorious and succeeded in carving out 12 Khalsa principalities in Punjab which soon led to the creation of a unified Khalsa kingdom with Ranjit Singh at the helms. Maharaja Ranjit Singh reconstructed the Gurdwaras earlier destroyed by the Moghuls and also raised many new ones at the sacred places connected with the Sikh Gurus. For the sustenance of the Mahants, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had attached handsome landed properties with many of these Gurdwaras. The earlier Mahants were devoted Sikhs and true missionaries who did a lot for the spread of Sikhism. As the times rolled by, the Gurdwara incomes swelled enormously and the enormous money corrupted and degenerated the later-time Mahants into loose lived individuals. They started treating the Gurdwara properties as if they were their personal fiefs. This changed the things for Sikh Panth.
Depraved activities within Nankana Sahib
Gurdwara Nankana Sahib was managed by Mahant Narayan Das in early 20th century. This Gurdwara had a huge property of over 19000 acres of highly fertile land attached to it which yielded enormous income per year. Money-power made the Mahant corrupt and he started using the Gurdwara money for wrongful deeds. Mahant was a very desolute and wicked person who also used Gurdwara premises for immoral and highly objectionable activities. He had kept a Muslim girl as his mistress and all kinds of imaginable debauchery was committed within the Gurdwara premises. Dance girls were brought to the Gurdwara and dances were held and obscene songs were sung within the holy premises. In 1917, he arranged a dance-show by a prostitute near the holy Gurdawara. In 1918, a retired A.A.C. officer paid visit to the Gurdwara with his 13 years old daughter to offer prayers to the Guru. As the Rehraas was being read in the Gurdwara, a Pujari rogue was raping the minor girl in another room within the Gurdwara premises. When the father lodged a complaint with the Mahant to take action against the Pujari rogue, Mahant simply ignored his request. In the same year, six young female devotees from Jaranwal village (Lyallpur) visited the Gurdawara on Puranmashi (full Moon) to pay their offerings at Gurdwara and they too were similarly raped.
Sikhs Nation awakens
All this went on before the very eyes of the Sikhs which had sent shock waves across Punjab. The issue was effectively raised in the The Akali (Punjabi), published from Lahore by Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri (q.v.), a true patriot and the founder-father of the Akali Movement and Shiromani Akali Dal. Lyallpuri belonged to Bohoru village close to Nankana Sahib and he personally preached against the debauchery of the Mahant in the nearby villages and also continued to organise the Sikhs for a dynamic movement to bring reforms into the Gurdwaras.
In October 1920, a congregation was held at Dharowal in Sheikhupura for reform in Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. The misdeeds committed within Gurdwara by Mahant were revealed to the Sangat. On January 24, Shiromani Committee held a general meeting and took decision to hold a Dewan in Nankana Sahib on March 4, 5 and 6 and advise Mahant to mend his ways.
Mahant was a very shrewd and cunning person. He tried to play politics. Publicly, he wanted to leave the impression that he was very peace-loving person and anxious to settle the issues with the Panth. On February 14, Mahant held a secret meeting with his associates to chalk out a secret plan to kill the Sikh leaders on March 5 at Nankana Sahib. Mahant recruited 400 hooligans including fierce Pathans paid at twenty Indian rupees per month to oppose the Sikhs. With government’s help, Mahant also collected guns, pistols and other arms and ammunition. He also arranged and stored fourteen tins of paraffin and further got the Gurdwara gate strengthened and the holes made in it so that he could use them for firing bullets at the Sikhs.
Mahant Narayan Das had the full backing from the Mahants of other Gurdwaras in Punjab. The Bedi Jagirdars who had received Jagirs from the English Government by virtue of their past connections with Guru Nanak also supported the Mahant. Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia also maintained double standards. But Maharaja of Patiala flatly refused to back Mahant and offered him a healthy advice not to rebel against the Panth. He further advised the Mahant to create a committee of prominent Sikhs and hand over the Gurdwara charge to them. But Mahant ignored the well-intentioned advice of Patiala Royal house. The Shiromani Committee extended invitation to Mahant for talks at Gurdwara Khara Sauda to resolve the issue but he did not show up at the given time. Then he offered to hold talks with the Sikh leaders in Sheikhupura on February 15, 1921, but again he failed to show up. Third time he promised to meet the Shiromani Committee leaders at the residence of Sardar Amar Singh Lyall Gazette on February 16, but once again he failed to turn up.
Counter-response of the Sikhs
The Shiromani Committee decided of its own to meet the Mahant on 3rd March 1921 to advise him to hand over the charge to the committee. But the Committee got the information from its own intelligence that Mahant was planning to invite the Sikh leaders at Nanakana Sahib and have them killed from hired gundas. This greatly angered Kartar Singh Jhabber and others. A meeting of the Sikh leaders was called at Gurdwara Khara Sauda on 16, 1921 to chalk out the future course of action. It was decided that Sangat would go in Jathas (squads) and take charge of the Gurdwara. Sikh leaders learnt that Mahant was going to Lahore on 20th of February 1921. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar and Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowal decided to take their jathas to Nanakana Sahib on 20th February. They decided to take charge of Gurdwara in his absence as they had come to know of his wicked plan.
On the evening of February 19, 1921, Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali (Jat Sikh) reached Nizam Deva Singhwala with his jatha of 8 Singhs (6 males and two females). At Nizam Deva Singh wala, Jathedar Tehal Singh (Kamboj Sikh) had already arranged a Jatha of about 150 Singhs, majority of them belonging to the Kamboj community. All these Singhs came from nearby Kamboj villages of Nizampur Moola Singh wala, Nizampur Chelewala, Dalla Chand Singh, Bohoru, Thothian and Nizam Deva Singh wala etc, all falling in District Sheikhupura (now Pakistan).
Peaceful Khalsa on the march
The combined Jatha took a Hukamnama and started for the Gurdwara at about 10 PM on that night so as to reach there by early morning at Amrit vela (nectral hours). On the way 50 more Sikhs joined the Shaheedi Jatha and total number swelled to about 200. At Chanderkot Jhal, Jathedar Lachhman Singh decided to wait for Kartar Singh Jhabber and his Jatha. They waited for a while in vain and finally Jathedar Dharowal decided to cancel the plan for further march to Nankana Sahib. But at this very moment, Jathedar Tehal Singh came forward and harangued the Shaheedi Jatha not to vacillate even for a moment from forward march since "the prayers having already been said and the action plan having already been decided with Guru’s word, it is now imperative for now to move forward". Advising further that "all the members shall keep cool even under extreme provocations". From here-onwards, Jathedar Tehal Singh took over the supreme command of the Shaheedi Jatha and resumed the march to Nankana. By almost at Amritvela, the Shaheedi Jatha reached the Railway-crossing near Nankana Sahib. Some of the Jatha members raced towards Darshani Deori to take possession of the Gurdawara, but at this very moment, Chaudhury Paul Singh Lyallpuri showed up with the latest decision of Shiromani Committee advising to postpone the action for taking possession of the Gurdwara. Having conveyed the information, Bhai Paul Singh grabbed Jathedar Lachhman Singh from his waist behind and persuaded him not to proceed further. Once again, brave Jathedar Tehal Singh took the initiative and shaking Chaudhury Paul Singh forcefully off from the person of Jathedar Lachhman Singh, he once more challenged the Shaheedi Jatha to get ready for the sublime action. He once again harangued: " Khalsa ji, the time is not to stop now, but to act. We have come here to achieve martyrdom under Guru’s word. This is very un-Sikh-like to backout from one’s commitment at the last moment" Saying this, Jathedar Tehal Singh walked with the Jatha towards the Gurdwara. Bhai Lachhman Singh and others repeatedly requested him to relent, but the Singh Surma stuck to his Ardas.
Slaughter of peaceful Khalsa
Enthused by the speech of Jathedar Tehal Singh, the entire Shaheedi Jatha followed him. By this time, another horseman messenger, Bhai Ram Singh, arrived. In vain did he too try to persuade Jathedar Tehal Singh and the Jatha to return. The Jatha soon entered Darshni Deohri of the Gurdwara and shut the main door from inside. While some of the devotees took their seats inside the Prakash Asthan, others sat on the platform and the Baran dari. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali sat on Guru’s tabia. Mahant Narayan Das came to know of the situation through the Jaikaras (victory slogans) of the Shaheedi Jatha. At first, he was utterly shocked thinking that the game was over but he soon recovered and ordered his hired gundas to kill all the Sikhs in the Jatha. They fired bullets at the Sangat in Gurdwara hall. Several bullets pierced through Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The hired gundas wielded swords, spears, hatchets and other lethal weapons to mercilessly slaughter the peaceful, unarmed and unprovocative Sikhs within the very premises of the Gurdwara. The dead and dying Singhs were then dragged to a pile of logs which had been collected earlier and consigned to flame. By the time the police and local Sikhs came on the scene, all the dead men had been consumed by the fire. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali who was wounded with a gun shot was tied to a Jand tree and burnt alive. It was a butchery at its worst form.
The Jand tree where Bhai Lachman Singh Ji's Martyrdom occured.
The news spread like wild fire and the Sikhs from every part of Punjab started their march towards Nankana Sahib. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber reached next day with 2200 Singhs armed with shastras (arms). Fearing more trouble, Mr King, Commissioner Lahore, handed over the keys of Nankana Sahib to Shiromani Committee and arrested Mahant Narayan Das and his hired gundas including Pathans and charged them with murder, but only Mahant Narayan das and a couple of Pathans got the death sentences for this heinous crime for over 86 barbaric murders.
Stastistics on fatalities
There are different versions on 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 victims to Mahant's barbarism. In this tragedy a total of 86 Sikhs achieved martyrdom.
The supreme sacrifices made by these Sikhs Shaheeds have been acknowledged by the grateful nation. From that day onwards, the Sikh nation remembers these brave Sikhs in their daily ardas (prayer). Every year on 21st February at this Shaheedi Asthan, Guru Granth Sahib's Swaroop with Bullet marks is brought to Deewan (assembly) from 2pm to 4pm for darshan of the Sikh Sangat.