Sardar Ratan Singh Bhangu: The Warrior Historian Who Shaped Sikh Identity

by Saloni Poddar

Sardar Ratan Singh Bhangu reiterates that all power belongs to God who is the Sovereign. God entrusted this power to Guru Nanak Devji. Bhangu’s book, ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’ is considered one of the most authoritative and comprehensive accounts of Sikh history covering the period from Guru Nanak’s birth to the formation of the Sikh Misls in the 18th century.

Sardar Ratan Singh Bhangu was a prominent Sikh writer and warrior. He was born in the late 1700s in the village of Phulkian in present-day Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab), India. He was born into a family of warriors; his father, Sardar Rai Singh served as a commander in the Sikh Army, and his grandfather, Sardar Mehtab Singh, was a famous Sikh warrior who was instrumental in saving the Golden Temple from marauders. Bhangu is best known for his work ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’ which he began writing in 1809 and completed in 1841. The original manuscript was discovered and published in 1914.

The British East India Company was very keen to understand how Sikhs came to control political power in Punjab. Since Bhangu was a member of the ruling Sikh aristocracy, he had first-hand information about the struggle and success of the Khalsa, so he set out to record the Sikh rise to political power in Punjab through oral histories and data collected from family histories and interviews of British and French officers in Punjab because he wanted to prove that Sikh political power was absolutely legitimate. Although Bhangu was not a trained historian and written records were unavailable during that time, his work is considered authentic because it is in accordance with the religious text. It was a formidable task, he wrote it in old Punjabi verse and Bhai Veer Singh, the great Sikh savant got it printed at Vazier Hind Press, Amritsar in 1914.

The book itself is divided into 8 parts, each covering a different period of Sikh history, and is written in simple and lucid language to narrate the historical events. With reference to Guru Nanak, he stresses that the Guru was an essence of all incarnations, a special representative of God. In the section about Guru Teg Bahadur, he establishes that the Guru’s martyrdom was for the general cause, to bring about a far-reaching political aim to end the oppression of people. Bhangu understands and propounds the ‘Order of Khalsa’ as a successor of the Guru. His history of the rise and spread of the Khalsa Parth is quite accurate and unique.

Sardar Rattan Singh Bhangu’s contribution to Sikh literature and histography has been significant as he wrote through eye-witness accounts, narrating the most important to the minutest details with accuracy. His work has played a crucial role in preserving Sikh history and culture and had helped shape the identity of this community. He was a great Gursikh who gave 41 years of his life writing and compiling the ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’ which forms the basis of Sikhism today.

Apart from his literary contribution, Sardar Rattan Singh Bhangu was also known for his bravery and valor on the battlefield. He fought in battles against the Mughals and played a crucial role in defending his community against oppression. In the First Afghan War (1839-42), Bhangu provided transportation and provisions to the British government. He died at the battle of Sobraon in 1845 where due to being betrayed, the Sikhs lost all their gunpowder and ammunition and thousands of Sikh soldiers decided to die honorably by charging enemy lines rather than surrendering.

Bhangu’s legacy continues to inspire future generations of Sikhs to study and preserve their rich culture and motivating history. His work is, irrefutable, the most essential source of Sikh history. Today, he is remembered as a historian, writer, and warrior who made a significant contribution to Sikh history.

Saloni Poddar

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