Updated: May 30, 2021
Initially published in 1915, ‘Life & Exploits of Banda Singh Bahadur’ by Sohan Singh was the first work on Banda Singh Bahadur in English. This followed on from the Karam Singh’s biography of Banda Singh in Punjabi in 1907. This particular edition was published by Punjabi University, Patiala in 2000. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia’s foreword highlights that Sohan Singh’s work displays a high sense of historical enquiry and demonstrates critical examination of a wide variety of sources.
Sohan Singh’s background and ancestral history is incredibly vibrant, with his great-great-grandfather, Bhai Mansa Singh, accompanying Sardar Charat Singh Sukerchakia and his great-grandfather fighting under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sohan Singh discusses this in further detail in the preface of his book, describing the enjoyment he felt when studying the lives of the gurus, Banda Singh Bahadur and Akali Phula Singh.
The opening chapter, ‘Birth, Parentage and Early Life” explores the beginnings of Banda Singh’s life, from his birth as ‘Lachhman Dev’ and his life as the ascetic, ‘Madho Das’. Sohan Singh describes how the initial redirection was brought about following an incident where ‘Lachhman Dev’ had killed a female deer that was had been pregnant.
“Hence, finding no alternative but to pay obeisance, he fell at the Guru’s feet and sincerely apologised for all the mischief he had done, promising solemnly that henceforth he would serve and adhere to His Holiness as his banda or slave. It is since then that Madho Das has been named Banda. The Guru finding him fit for purpose and seeing in him just the person he was in want of, granted him pardon and admitted him to his service” - Page 12, Visited by Guru Gobind Singh
This lead to a feeling of great regret and upon meeting a leading Bairagi, Janki Parshad, ‘Lachhman Dev’ had abandoned his life and followed another path. Sohan Singh then discusses the historical moment at which Guru Gobind Singh had met ‘Madho Das’ and having been administered khande di pahul, Banda Singh Bahadur was born. A topic that Sohan Singh discusses using sources such as Karam Singh, Bhai Gyan Singh Gyani (author of Panth Parkash) and Syad Mohammad Latif. He highlights that Banda Singh had took upon himself the duty of bringing righteous in the Punjab and that Guru Gobind Singh had bless him with the necessary spiritual blessings and temporal resources.
Sohan Singh goes on to discuss the conquests of Banda Singh Bahadur as he made his way to Punjab. Particular elements include the pillage of Samana, conquest of Sadhaura and the battle of Ropar.
“The patience with which Banda and his associates bore all the tortures they were subjected to and their bold refusal to give up their religion in the face of the severest of persecutions show how the Sikhs of yore loved their principle. The history of Sikh martyrdom contains examples of bravery and self-sacrifice which the spartans should covet.” - Page 105, Chapter XIX - Conclusion
‘Life & Exploits of Banda Singh Bahadur’ by Sohan Singh is an excellent summary of the diverse character that was Banda Singh Bahadur. Sohan Singh draws from a number of primary and secondary sources and does not hesitate to highlight controversial elements of history and previous historical analysis.