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A Forgotten Battle for Independence

When India got independence on 15th August 1947, everyone thanked the great leaders of the country, who fought throughout their lives for this day. On one hand, people were rejoicing with extreme happiness, and on other hand, they were remembering those, whom they lost in this 100 years long battle for independence. The first major protest, which spread nationwide was recorded in 1857, which is now known as the First was of Indian Independence. After British oppressed this mutiny, they got busy in reorganizing the power and ensuring that such incidents are prevented in future. But the spark of freedom had started in every region of India. Some of the revolutions grew bigger and became famous, while most of them died within small paragraphs of history textbooks.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s royal mansion next to Rashtrapati Bhawan has now been converted into a museum. Several rooms in there are filled with stuff related to Nehru and the Indian Independence. In a corner of one such room, the curator cared to put few pictures of those social reformers, who rose around 1857, but were silenced by the British. This article is about one such social reformer, whose contribution to the society has been forgotten with time. He started his protest in 1857, just a month before the famous mutiny broke and was able to fight till 1872, but his followers continued to obey the commandments even to the present day.

clip_image002The battle of Mudki in Punjab was a major turning point for British and their advance towards North India. A soldier from 12th battalion of Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh’s regiment (Grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab), decided to leave his job as a warrior and take the path of peace. But he was also very much disturbed by the fact that how British had played tricks and bribed the Sikh generals to take over Punjab unethically. He came back to his village near Ludhiana and started meditating. A decade later, he decided to restore the status of Sikhs in Punjab. He found out that there is hardly any person left, who is following the true path of Guru Nanak & Guru Gobind. Hence, in April 1857, he baptised his followers and which later came to be known as the Namdharis, or more popularly, the “Kukas”. A month later, the 1857 uprising started but Kukas continued to meditate and live peacefully. They were now obeying the commandments of this reformer, the saint-soldier, Satguru Ram Singh (as commonly referred by his followers).

Seyi net furi aaye, samvat-e bahattre main,
magh sudi panchami, suvere guruvaar ke,
zila ludhiana, graam bhaini naam jaane aam,
avtare Singh Ram, kalam le taar ke,
Jaat Tarkhaan, Jassa naam ke avasse ghar,
sada maat main prakashe naam prachaar ke,
balak hi pan main thhe, ishvar ko mann main thhe,
dhiyavate se gann main thhe, jano ke sudhaar ke

– Panth Prakash, Giani Gian Singh

Translation:

In samvat 72 (read Samvat Bikri 1872), Ram Singh was incarnated, on the Thursday morning of Magh Sudi Panchami (aka Basant Panchmi) in Bhaini Village of District Ludhiana (Punjab). He was born to (Sardar) Jassa (Singh) of Tarkhan (Carpenter) community. He spread the holy name of god in this mortal world. He was a divine soul since childhood, worshiped god from his heart and always prayed for the betterment of everyone.

Baba Ram Singh ji was born on Basant Panchami in village Raiyan near Bhaini in Ludhiana district. After leaving Sikh Army, he settled in Bhaini Village, which also became the birth place of Kuka Movement sometime later. His village is now converted to a huge Gurudwara Complex, where every building marks some historic event. He established the community kitchen and started spreading his message of love and peace from his house. But things changed as the British was spreading their command deeper into villages of Punjab.

clip_image003Few months before the famous battle of 1857, the Kukas had formed a strong sect. Baba Ram Singh gave them few instructions, from where the “Kuka Movement” started. It also became one of the first boycott movements of India. The commandments clearly stated:

  • We will boycott the British governance & Administration
  • We will boycott the British products
  • No one will ever drink English tea, as it was introduced by the British
  • No one should wear English cloths. Only home-spun white kurta-payjama should be worn
  • No one will use refined sugar from mills setup by British. We shall continue to use jaggery and sugarcane juice
  • No one will use the water of canals established by British. Use water from wells, which community has dug up
  • No one will stand in the shade of trees, that British planted
  • We will not use public transport started by the British
  • The British postal System should be boycotted

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With the above commandments, Kukas established a parallel administration. They had 22 Subas (heads) across 22 zones of Punjab. They started their own transport and postal system. Many Kukas don’t drink tea even till date. They are distinguished by their white cotton/khadi Kurta Payjama and round turban. They also abolished ill practices like Dowry and abandonment of widows. Kukas practice mass-marriages and believe in widow remarriage and are very strictly against dowry.

After the war of 1857, British went back to their thinking desks and started working on a better plan to rule India. They found that this outbreak was due to religious sentiments. The only way to ensure that no such thing happens again is to break the religious backbone of the people of India. The infamous “Divide and Rule” policy of British was tested to its extreme. One major decision taken during this course was to remove the copper plates from Amritsar, which read “Cows are not to be killed in Amritsar. The penalty of killing cow is death”. After removing these plates, a cow-slaughter house was approved in Amritsar, right next to the holy shrine of Sikhs, the Golden Temple. Similar slaughter houses came up in other areas of Punjab as well. The Kuka movement shook the British to an extend but was supressed after a series of incidents at Amritsar, Malerkotla and Raikot, where small batches of Kukas decided to go violent and take revenge on the slaughterhouses, which were butchering cows right next to the religious shrines. British took these incidents as an excuse and arrested Baba Ram Singh. He was sent to various prisons in India before finally being exiled to Burma, from where he never returned. He was kept in the same building, where Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor of India spent his last days. I earlier wrote an article about this Prison Palace of the Last Mughal. In coming days, I shall write about the episodes of Malerkotla and Amritsar, where Kukas went to massacre butchers and destroy slaughterhouses, after which they surrender themselves in courts and not only accepted capital punishments, but also went to fulfil the death penalties without any assistance. The village of Bhaini Sahib was converted into a Jail. The village earlier had a wall around it and there was only one gate to enter the village. The gate was sealed for over a decade and only a handful of people were allowed to go in or come out on a given day. Heavy checking at the entry made life of villagers very difficult and there was a time, when there was no food left and no material was allowed by the British inside the walls. In coming days, I shall write about these incidents in detail.

 

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