Down memory lane Metroplus

Bahadur deserves better

Sketch of Banda Bahadur   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

The renaming of the Barapullah, a kilometre or so from Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan’s tomb in Nizamuddin as Banda Bahadur Bridge leaves certain questions unanswered. The 12-pier bridge was built in the reign of Jahangir by a eunuch, Mihr Banu in early 17th Century and was a sort of counterpart of the Athpula eight-pier bridge constructed by Nawab Bahadur during the time of Akbar. Banda Bahadur was martyred in the reign of Mohammad Farrukhsiyar in 1716. Then how can a construction of Jahangir’s time, 100 years earlier, be a memorial to him? Unfortunately, not many notable buildings were built by Farrukhsiyar and the Delhi Gate on the Delhi-Agra Road was the most prominent of them. Had that been renamed after Banda Bahadur it would have been more appropriate. And in any case there are too many Delhi Gates so one less with this nomenclature wouldn’t have made much difference. Conversely, since the execution took place in Mehrauli some latter-day Mughal construction there could have honoured the Sikh hero and not raised eyebrows.

Mehrauli is the site of many a monument which is the abode of history. Every lane and stone in it is historical, for here flourished many Sultans, wazirs, generals, warriors, saints and mendicants. Prehistoric tales associate Mehrauli with the descendants of the Pandavas. Later it saw the building of Quila Rai Pithora which bears witness to the glory of Prithviraj Chouhan. But after Chouhan’s defeat in the Second Battle of Tarain at the hands of Mohammed Ghori, his general Qutubuddin Aibak made Mehrauli his capital and the Slave kings who followed him continued to rule from there.

The Mughals too built monuments in Mehrauli as they were also great devotees of the saint Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki after whom the Qutb Minar is named. Bahadur Shah I found his last resting place in Mehrauli and Bahadur Shah II also wanted to be buried there but unfortunately his wish was not fulfilled. Pleasure gardens once abounded in Mehrauli and became the picnic spots for the royal families residing in the Red Fort. Came the British and things changed, but they too liked Mehrauli. Sir Thomas Metcalfe, the British Resident at the court of Akbar Shah II, built his retreat here and also a lighthouse, perhaps the only landlocked one. But near the post office in Mehrauli used to be a rugged, nondescript building giving the impression of a small fortress, which marked the site where Banda Singh was executed. It has now been renovated and converted into a gurdwara.

Perhaps this could have continued to be the best memorial, instead of an outlandish bridge quite far away. Even so it’s worth recounting the exploits of Banda, originally a Yogi, who was also a magician. When Guru Gobind Singh, the last of the Sikh gurus, visited Nanded, he was accosted by the Yogi who tried to prove that he was superior. His name was Madho Das and some people regarded him as a man who could perform miracles. Madho Das tried his best to overawe the guru. But all his efforts, lasting several days, came to nought and even his occult powers could not help him. Acknowledging defeat he prostrated himself before Guru Gobind Singh as his banda or slave. The guru lifted him up and embraced him. Madho Das became a Sikh and came to be known as Banda Singh.

The guru sent him all the way to Punjab where, along with other soldiers of the panth, he fought those who were persecuting the Sikhs. In 1709 Banda launched his campaign, taking over from Bhai Mani Singh, the high priest. He and his Tak Khalsa of 40,000 men subdued a vast part of Punjab after defeating Wazir Khan, Governor of Sirhind. Eventually Emperor Bahadur Shah I himself led the royal forces against him and Banda had to retreat to the fort of Lohargarh and later to the hilly tract. From here he made lightning raids on the Mughals and resisted all their attacks for five years. At last his valiant force was surrounded by imperial troops and he had to surrender in 1715. That was in December that year and he was brought to Delhi on the assurance that he would be treated with respect.

However, the promise was not kept by Emperor Farrukhsiyar who put him in an iron cage. From March the next year, his followers began to be executed. Within seven days hundreds of them met their death with a smile on their lips. Eventually Banda’s turn came and he was taken in a procession around the Qutb Minar. Farrukhsiyar asked him what sort of death he preferred and the brave Banda replied the type that the Emperor himself would wish to die. He also predicted that it would be cruel too and come sooner than later. Banda was at first tortured and then killed. His little son was also executed along with him. It is said that the child’s heart was wrenched out and he was made to swallow it. Banda and his son met their end in June 1716. But his prophecy came true three years later when Farrukhsiyar was murdered by the Sayyid Brothers of Barha, who have come to be known as the “King Makers”. After more than 250 years of Banda’s martyrdom a shrine was built in his memory. Few know its history and most people just pass by it, taking it for another gurdwara. But the memorial deserves better appreciation and perhaps a better construction than Barapullah (or its flyover) to honour a valiant soldier.

The author is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:29:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Bahadur-deserves-better/article14492763.ece

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