Sardarni Sharnagat Kaur

Dr. Kulwant Singh Khokhar

Sardarni Sharnagat Kaur

The sakhi of this great Sikh woman starts from the very day of her marriage. She was born in a Hindu family in the Pathan country on the west of the Punjab. The area was under the Sikh Raj and ruled by General Hari Singh Nalwa.

After a happy marriage, she was going along with her groom and the marriage party to the village of her in-laws. On their way, dacoits ambushed them. Waving their arms, the dacoits ordered all the people to surrender their cash and valuables. The helpless party gave everything to the robbers to save their lives. The dacoits, however, also demanded the newly married bride and took her with them.

The poor groom went straight to General Nalwa, the governor of the Pathan province. While the general sitting in his court was listening to the complaint of the groom, he observed two persons behaving suspiciously near the door. He suspected them to be friends of the dacoits. After the man had completed the story of the marriage party being waylaid by the dacoits and the loss of his wife, the general ordered aloud to be heard by those suspects, "Put this man in prison. He did not care to protect a helpless woman, who was his own wife."

The two suspects were actually the associates of the dacoits and had come there to know the reactions of the general. Both were pleased to hear the orders. Having been relieved of the fear of any policemen going out in search of the dacoits to catch them, they could not conceal their happiness. The vigilant eyes of the general observed the smiles on the faces of the suspects when they heard his decision. This assured the general of their complicity in looting the marriage party and carrying away the bride. The general secretly ordered ten Sikh horsemen to take the husband of the abducted woman with them and follow the suspects.

Having been satisfied that the general was angry with the cowardly behavior of the groom, the associates of the dacoits assumed that the whole episode was over and forgotten. Therefore, they decided to go to the dacoits immediately and tell them the good news of the decision of the general. When they reached the house where the dacoits held the bride, they told them about the reactions of the general. They were talking joyfully when the horsemen surrounded the dacoits and ordered them to put their hands up. The dacoits wondered about the smart move of the general.

When the bride was brought before Sardar Nalwa he asked her, "What is your name?" She replied, "I am nobody. I would have been dead had you not saved my life. Now I am under your 'sharan' (protection). The word 'sharan' voluntarily coming out of the mouth of a helpless, scared woman gave her the popular name Sharanagat Kaur.

When everything including the robbed ornaments was restored to them, the general asked the bride and groom to go home. Both begged the Sardar to admit them to the Khalsa Panth. They wanted to enjoy the honor of living as Sikhs and dying as Sikhs. On their very firm resolve to become members of the Khalsa Panth, they were given Amrit and allowed to stay there.

Once Hari Singh Nalwa was visiting Jamrod Fort. He fell seriously ill there. The area was surrounded with the Pathan population unfriendly towards him. Knowing that the general was sick and not physically in condition to engage himself in battle, they all rebelled against his rule. To send the message that he was hale and hearty, the general went up to the upper story of the fort from where he could be seen by all the people outside the fort. Seeing him moving about on the fort, the rebels retreated quickly. However, one of them aimed his gun at him and shot him. Unfortunately, the general was hit and died of the bullet wound.

The situation in the fort became very tense and everyone was depressed finding their general dead, and with no one there to replace him. Bibi Sharanagat Kaur kept her composure, thought for some time and said, "This is not the time to feel worried or to get scared. Let us face this critical moment with courage and confidence. I have a plan to save the situation. You drop me behind the fort by a long rope. I, disguised as a Pathan woman, will reach Peshawar as soon as possible and inform the army there".

She had to travel through a hilly route that covered twenty miles, swarming with Pathan rebels. There were wild animals in the forest through which she had to walk at night, and she could easily become their prey. It was a very risky journey. It looked impossible for a woman to reach Peshawar alive under those conditions and give the sad news to the army and request their help.

The brave, daring young woman did reach there by walking and running through dense forest the whole night. Without losing any time, she asked the best horsemen to get ready quickly and ride their horses. Sikh soldiers under the guidance of Bibi Sharanagat Kaur traveled as fast as they could to reach Lahore. They covered their long arduous journey quickly and reported the episode to Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.

After hearing of the death of a great general who raised the honor of the Khalsa army to the skies, he felt very sad. Assessing the situation to be critical, he himself left for Peshawar. Knowing that the Maharaja had personally come to punish the rebels, the Pathans immediately surrendered without fighting and promised to remain friendly thereafter.

The Khalsa Raj of Punjab, founded with the statesmanship of a woman, Sardarni Sada Kaur, was thus saved from being dismembered, by the bravery of another woman, Bibi Sharanagat Kaur. She was honored by the Khalsa Panth with the title of "Brave daughter of the Punjab."

Sikh women can successfully face all kinds of critical and risky situations, like any good general and statesman.