There were many warriors who kept high the symbol of unflinching will of Khalsa. There were yet many who were went to Khalsa for personal glory, to win estates, etc. But, we are yet to find an example whose only and only purpose was to serve Khalsa and to keep the Nishan Sahibflying high. He was Nihang Akali Phula Singh. Nihang, the word is derived from persian which means ‘crocodile’. Nihangs, were created byDasam Pita Guru Gobind Singh ji , to serve the Khalsa Community. Nihangs do not marry, and their only purpose is to live and die for Khalsa. Many historians call Nihangs as “Suicide squads”, this is utterly wrong, suicide is a sin in Sikhism. Nihangs only purpose is to fight for the Khalsa’s defense. Akali Phula Singh was born January 14th 1761 in a Village named Shinh, in Amritsar. He joined an order of Nihangs at Golden Temple at an early age where he got all the martial training. Later, when he was 18 years old he shifted to the fort of Gobindgarh became a leader of one of the band of fighters who formed a squad of Sikh army. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh consolidated Amritsar into his empire by defeating number of families who were ruling this city, Akali Phula Singh, joined Maharaja Ranjit Singhin this noble cause. Due to this very reason he was made the Jathedar of Akal Takth in 1807.
He was born leader, outspoken such that he would even spoke to Ranjit Singh of his problems. When Ranjit Singh married to a Muslim woman, named Moran of Lahore, Akali Phula Singh, as he was the Jathedar of Akal Takth declared that Maharaja Ranjit Singh is not a Sikh anymore and is aTankhaiya which means out of Sikhism. He ordered the defendant to be at Golden Temple before the community. Ranjit Singh came and admitted that he had made a mistake. Akali Phula Singh ordered him 50 lashes for Maharaja Ranjit Singh right there. Ranjit Singh took off his shirt and bowed down to receive his punishment, at such Akali Phula Singh asked Community (Sadh Sangat) to forgive the Maharaja who has bowed down in front of the Sadh Sangat for this mistake. And thus Maharaja was pardoned, but not before he promised that he will not marry again.
There is another intersting incident of this times, reason which made Maharaja to upgrade his forces to European style. On the day of Muharram on February 25, 1809 A.D., Shia Muslims of Britsh army under Metcaulf, a British general who was visiting Amritsar along with his forces, decided to take out a procession in the streets of Amritsar, even though in Amritsar among Muslims, majority were Sunni muslims. It also happened to be the day of Holi, when Nihangs were celebrating Hola Mohalla along with their celebrated leader and Jathedar of Akal Takth, Akali Phula singh. The Shia procession wended its way through the streets of Amritsar, beating their breasts to the chants of “Hasan, Hussein, Ali” They came in front of Golden Temple, where the Akalis were in prayer. The Akalis remonstrated with the processionists to go elsewhere. Arguments led to scuffle and Shia Seopys under General Metcaulfe came to a head on collision with Akalis. It is not known who were the aggressors. Even Metcalfe was doubtful and conceded that the first shot was probably fired by one of his Shia escorts (Metcalfe No. 72, of 7.3.1809). There were about 50 casualties on both sides. In the end this riot stopped when Ranjit Singh who happened to be in the city personally came forwarded and helped to quell the riot. He also went to Metcalfe and apologized for this riot. Ranjit Singh was immpressed by the discipline shown by the Shia Sepoys under Metcalfe and Ranjit Singh promptly decided to Europeanise his Army.
Akali Phula Singh was against to Europeanise the Khalsa Forces, he believe more in the fighting qualities of Khalsa blessed by Guru Gobind Singh. Ranjit Singh was a statesman who foresaw that he could utilize a well disciplined army to subdue the whole of Punjab and to face British. Then in the same year of 1809, at Ropar Maharaja Ranjit Singh signed a treaty with British to make Satluj a permanent border between the Sarkar Khalsa and British. Akali Phula Singh wanted Maharaja to tore this treaty, he even threat to quit. Maharaja Ranjit Singh explained him that first they will subdue whole of Punjab, and then later they will confront British. This treaty was to make the permanent boundries between Sarkar Khalsa and British territory. Satluj was made a border.
Akali Phula Singh and his command helped Maharaja in the campaigns of Kasur, Multan, and all over Punjab. Nihangs under his command at Multan surpass all bravery when they bowed down one by one to support one side of a Gun to be used to break through the fort and attained martyrdom.Then by 1822 all the regiments of Sarkar Khalsa were Europeanised. Akali Phula Singh was given new arms as well as trained of new tactics by the French General Ventura. Maharaja Ranjit Singhdecided to turn towards North West Frontier province. In 1815 A.D., Maharaja attacked NWFP and levied tribute on number of principalities. Since 10 centuries Pathans and tribesman had plundered Punjab and India, this was the first time that any Punjabi took the battle to their homes. Then in 1823, the Governor of Peshawar did not give tribute to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sarkar Khalsa forces led by Akali Phula Singh, General Hari Singh Nalua, Fateh Singh Attariwala, and other General of Sarkar Khalsa marched towards Peshawar.
Battle of Naushera in 1823 A.D., in which thousands were killed was fought with the tribes of Yusufzais, Khattaks and Afridi tribes of Pathans. Prince Sher Singh and Hari Singh Nalua led the advance columns early in 1823. They spanned the river Attock by the means of a pontoon bridge and occupied the fort of Jehangiria. Then Maharaja Ranjit singh along with Akali Phula Singh led the rest of forces upto the Eastern bank of River Attock, but by this time. Tribals had destroyed the pontoon bridge and had besieged Prince Sher Singh and Hari Singh Nalua in the fort. Hastingly, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had crossed this river umpteen number of times, decided to cross it and came to the rescue of his son and Hari Singh Nalua just in time.
Khattaks and Yusufzais were pushed back and they entrenched themselves one an eminance called Pir Sabak or Tibbi Tiri on the plains between Jehangiria and Peshawar. The main Afghan force under Azim Khan’s brother was separated from the tribal ghazis by a small but swift-running stream, the Landai. The Khalsa Artillery, led by Mian Ghausa bypassed the tribesmem, and reached the bank of Landai, and trained its heavy guns on the opposite bank. Azim Khan made a dash from Peshawar and joined the forces of Afghans on the opposite Bank of Landai. He could not cross the stream due to the heavy bombardment by Khalsa forces from this side of Landai. On the other front of war, Sarkar Khalsa launched an offensive at Pir Sabak Hill. This war was not evenly matched, but Khalsa was outnumbered by the sheer number of Afghans, Khalsa forces made up this by their disciplined and well trained army. Tribal forces fought desperately but were overcome by Sarkar Khalsa’s Gurkhas and Mussalman Najibs. Then Akali Phula Singh and his nihangs moved up to give them the coup de grace . They drove the Khattaks and Yusufzais before them, four thousand Afghans were left dead on the field. Sarkar Khalsa’s fatilities were in hundreds, but still this was too much, cause in those 500 or so soldiers there was one who equalled 125,000, Akali Phula Singh. While pursuing Afghanis, Akali Phula Singh’s horse was shot under him. He took an elephant and pressed on. The error cost him his life. Afghanis saw the man who has so often humbled them, and trained their muskets on him.
Picture of Sikh nobles, from right Faqir Azizudeen, Hari Singh nalwa, Akali Phoola Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Prince Sher Singh.
Phula Singh was riddled with bullets. He collapsed in his howdah, exhorting nihangs with the last breath of his body not to give way. Mohammad Azim Khan retreated to Peshawar but was too ashamed to face h is people and thus he returned to Afghanistan and died soon.
Eventhough Sarkar Khalsa paid a heavy price in great warrior like Akali Phula Singh, but it was a crushing defeat for Afghans, and it convinced the Pathan tribesmen of the superiority of Punjabi soldiers. Three days later Maharaja entered Peshawar at the head of his victorious troops. The citizens welcomed him and paid homage withnazaranas.