Written by a British army surgeon who participated in the military campaign to consolidate colonial rule over Punjab – the land of the five rivers – this mid-19th century document is more than a fascinating source book for a significant period of Sikh history. Rich in anecdotes and eye-witness accounts, The History of the Sikhs also opens a window into the British mind –the way the conquerors understood the people they tried to subdue and the land they conquered.
This edition brings together both volumes of the original work: the first traces the biographies of the Sikh gurus and Maharaja Ranjeet Singh; and the second is a military account of the Angle-Sikh war of 1845-56, penned in the very midst of battle.
The author of the following pages cannot suffer his work to go forth without offering at least an explanation of, if not an apology for, the manner in which the second volume has been prepared.
It will be at once apparent to the reader that all the information contained in the two volumes has been prepared either in the country described or in its immediate vicinity; the major part of the contents of the second volume being actually collected in the very midst of the battle of one of the most memorable campaigns on record. It was the purpose of the author to have given to all his materials the condensed form peculiar to political history; but the rapidity with which startling events succeeded each other,—the great importance of printing the entire work, while yet the affairs of the Punjab possessed a high degree of interest in England,—and the heavy professional claims upon the author’s time,—determined him to send forth the work in its present comparatively crude form. The part of the second volume which speculates upon possible occurrences, which either did or did not afterward transpire, and to which reference is subsequently made, must be accepted rather as a journal of operations than as a comprehensive digest of the entire campaign.
The author is under deep obligations to several of the military authorities, and to many brother-officers for the aid he has received in the prosecution of his arduous task; and he begs they will, individually and collectively, accept his cordial acknowledgements. His object has been to record every fact connected with the History of the Sikhs, from the birth of Nanuk Shah to the capture of Kote Kangra by the British; to present a complete history of the life of Runjeet Singh, the former despot of the Punjab; and to render justice to all those enlightened men and gallant spirits, whose skill and intrepidity combined to repel the insolent invasion of a rebellious army and to consolidate the British power in the north-west of India.
Before attempting the history of a nation or people, it is necessary that we should become, in some measure, acquainted with their country.
The term Punjap is significant of five rivers. These are, the Sutlej, Beas, Ravee, Chenab, and Jelium.
But though five rivers are enumerated, there is in fact a sixth, which eventually receives the collected waters of the other five. Still, as the Sutlej and Beas unite and form thereby but one river, named the Gharra, the term Punjab is correct, as applied to the country below the conflux of these two rivers.
The Sutlej is the boundary of the Punjab on the east, but the Sikhs have for a long time occupied the left bank of the river, under the protection of the British. In former times the Sikhs on that bank were named the Malwa Sikhs, in allusion to their rich country resembling in its fertility the province of that name in Western India. Those inhabiting the country between the Sutlej and Deas, were named the Doab Sikhs; while the country stretching from the Beas to the Ravee was inhabited Manja Sikhs, so named from the jungly tract which reaches from vicinity of the former river to Mooltan. From the neighbor-hood of the Doab between the Indus and Jelum,, and also of that between the latter river and the Chenab, to Affghanistan, the inhabitents are chiefly Mussulmans, and even at the present day several of them are found in the former district.
All the rivers of the Punjab rise in the Himalayan chain of mountains, whence the Ganges and Jumnah derive their sources, as well as numerous smaller and tributary streams. The sources of the Ganges and Jumnah, though placed among perpetual snow, are comparatively near to the western and southern limits of the mountain; not so with those of the Indus and Sutlej, which exist in regions far in the interior of the Himalayas, and on the boundaries of countries to which the European only has access at great risk and danger.
The Sutlej is the Hesadrus of the ancients, and receives names according to the tract of country it passes through; such as the Sarangas, Zadarus, Zaradrus, Shatooder, Sutlooge, Setlej, Sutledge, &c.
The Sutlej rises on the southern side of the lofty Kailas, and empties its waters into the lake Munsurawur; from thence its course is parallel to that of the Indus, or Sin-ka-bab (lion’s mouth,) which is supposed to rise from the northern-side of the same mountain. The great Kialas is considered a paradise by the Hindoos, and they believe it to be inhabited by their Deities, particularly Shiva. Its height is estimated by some geographers. Its height is estimated by some geographers at 28,000 feet above the level of the sea; while others compute it at 30,000; it is therefore the loftiest mountain at present known in the world: seen even from an elevation of 17,000 feet, the Kialas is an object of admiration. It often gets the name of the ‘peaked mountain.”
The Sutlej is a rapid torrent in the mountains, and is confined within a narrow channel through which it foams great velocity, rendering it “unfordable where the depth is only a few feet, unless for the strong and hardy yak.” At Ram-pore in Busahir, it is crossed on inflated skins during the cold season, and these are employed as far down as Belaspore. In the rains the river is crossed by means of a joola, or bridge constructed of ropes. The Sutlej becomes navigable on reaching the plains at Roopur, and from that place pursues its course to Hurreekee, near which the Beas joins and thoir union obtains the name of Gharra, forming one of the rivers of the Punjnud, and receives the Ravee, Chenab, and Jelum, before it joins the Indus. At the present day the Sutlej flows near the fort of Phillour, which is built on its right bank, and was meant as a place of defence in case of an invasion.
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