BHAI MAHARAJ: A freedom fighter like few others

Bhai Maharaj Singh, who died in a Singapore jail in 1856, had no selfish aim or ambition other than seeing the back of the conquering Britishers. A tribute to a pioneering and utterly selfless freedom fighter

| Kirpal Singh | The Tribune | 20 Sept 2015 Asia Samachar |


BHAI Maharaj Singh was one of the most prominent freedom fighters of Punjab. His highest merit was that he had no selfish aim and no worldly ambition while fighting against the Britishers. It was a divine mission that guided him to free the land from the Britishers.

Even after the Second Anglo-Sikh War, he was of the view that there should be another national war when all Punjabis would rise on the fixed date. Mr Vansittart, Deputy Commissioner of Jalandhar, paid him the highest tribute: “The Bhai is not an ordinary man, he is to the natives what Jesus Christ is to the most zealous of Christians.”

Bhai Maharaj Singh was one of the trusted followers of Baba Bir Singh of Naurangabad. His earlier name was Nihal Singh. After baptism, he was renamed Maharaj Singh. Bhai Maharaj Singh was revered by his followers, including most of the Sikh chiefs at Lahore Darbar.

After the defeat in Gujrat in 1849, Bhai Maharaj Singh escaped to Rawalpindi with the army and other rebel chiefs. There he repeatedly advised the chiefs to fight the Britishers in one more battle either at Rawalpindi or Panja Sahib, but the majority opinion was against this.
Bhai Maharaj Singh was not discouraged by this decision and continued the fight against the Britishers. To continue his mission, he escaped with his followers to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He was later moved to Chambi, which was more inaccessible. From Chambi, he had been sending secret emissaries to various parts of Punjab, pressing the subjects of the erstwhile kingdom of Lahore to continue the struggle against the Britishers.

When Bhai Maharaj Singh learned that Maharaja Dalip Singh was being removed from Lahore, he thought it would be a setback to the freedom struggle. Therefore, he sent to Lahore six persons where Mian Ganesh was to assist the party in the project. The plan was to bring the Maharaja to Jammu hills, from where they would start regular operations relating to the freedom struggle. These five or six persons always resided near the palace walls with a view to abduct the Maharaja.

Bhai Maharaj Singh himself set out to make arrangements for the general rebellion. From July to October, 1849, he stayed at Sajuwal (Batala district), where he decided to attack the cantonments at Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar. It was also decided to persuade people to give men and money for this plan. Some men were sent to Kabul and Kandahar. Amir Dost Mohammad Khan and Sultan Mohammad Khan, the Afghan rulers, were contacted to implement the plan.

In the Punjab hills, Bedi Bikrama Singh, son of Bedi Sahib Singh, joined the movement. A descendant of Kangra rulers along with some other families were to supply 1,000 matchlockmen, Rs 10,000-20,000, and nearly 10,000 maunds of grain for the cause. After this arrangement, Bhai Maharaj Singh left Sajuwal and went to Hoshiarpur district, where he contacted influential people. They told him that in accordance with the plan, arrangements were made to loot the government treasury at Bajwara and attack the New Hoshiarpur cantonment.

Bhai Maharaj Singh personally visited Sikh Lions and secured promises of assistance from the officers of the regiment — Prem Singh, Sukha Singh, Fateh Singh, Zai Singh Havildar, etc. In the meantime, information was received that arrangements were complete for assembling nearly 4,000 men at Datarpur near Hajipur and similar preparations were also complete in Majha, Malwa and Hazara.

The date of rising and attacking the cantonments of Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar was fixed as January 3, 1850. As the day of attack drew near, Maharaj Singh paid hurried visits to many centres in Jalandhar Doab, where his agents were secretly working.
After completing the survey, he reached Adampur on December 28, 1849, where on the report of a Muslim informer, he was arrested in a sugarcane field along with his followers by Mr Vansittart. He was kept in the Jalandhar jail and then sent to Allahabad along with followers.

Within a month or so, he was shifted to Calcutta. From there, the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, issued orders to shift him to Singapore. The party reached Singapore on June 14, 1850. Bhai Maharaj Singh was lodged in one of the upper rooms. Two windows in his cell were walled up and a strong iron gate was put up in the verandah. He was the first Indian freedom fighter to be sent to Singapore jail.

Three years of solitary confinement later, Bhai Maharaj Singh not only turned blind, but also developed rheumatic pains and was reduced to a skeleton. In view of his ill-health, the Civil Surgeon recommended in 1853 that he be allowed an occasional walk in the open, but unfortunately this suggestion was turned down by the government for security reasons.
Bhai Maharaj Singh’s health continued to deteriorate. This divine patriot’s soul left for its heavenly abode on July 5, 1856. Mr McLeod, Commissioner of Jalandhar division, praised him by saying: “It appears to be certain that the Bhai was in some respects a very remarkable man. He possessed very great sagacity and self-reliance.”

Bhai Maharaj Singh was a pioneer freedom fighter. He continued his efforts to free the country despite adverse circumstances. For his supreme suffering and sacrifices, his memory will ever remain enshrined in the hearts of all — because he had a noble cause for which he fought and died.

The writer is a prominent Sikh historian. This article appeared in The Tribune on 20 Sept 2015



Rare Bhai Maharaj artefacts on display (Asia Samachar, 5 July 2015)

Singapore Sikhs honour coach Sundram (Asia Samachar, 27 July 2015)


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  1. Sikh Historians continue to misuse words again and again.A Sikh is NEVER baptised.Baptism is confirmation to a Christian church.A Sikh is initiated into the Khalsahood,NOT baptised.

    Such historians continue to miscomunicate by using words like sabre, Knife or sword for KIRPAN.
    The word “community kitchen” is misused for langgar.It should be congregational meal.It is open to those who attend the sadh sangat of the Gurduara-thus congregational.

    More than often the word Temple is used, as the colonial masters’ English taught in old days.The word Gurduara has no similar intranslation.Thus the word should be Gurduara.It come from three words-‘Guru da duar.’A Temple means entirely something different.

    No word like “wara” exists in Punjabi language.Gurdwara is a corrupted version of “gur da duar”.

    The Panj Kakaar of Faith are more than often, continuously refered to as “symbols”.It is very wrong as they are not symbols, but ARTICLES of Faith.

    The Khanda is a Symbol.

    The Turban is a symbol of the Sikhs.

    The rounded Gobind on Sikh Gurduaras can be symbols.

    The Nishan sahib can symbolise the Sikh nation- as it is the flag of the Sikh nation.It is a Sikh symbol.

    If we are to get the correct concept of the Sikh religion, across to non Sikhs,than it is necessary we use the correct terminology to describe and own those words, so that non Sikhs can get familiar and understand the Sikhs better.