An eye witness account of Nankana Massacre on 20 February 1921

A sketch depicting the Nankana Sahib Massacre (also known as Saka Nankana) on 20 Feb 1921. Insert: The header of of the letter written by Narayan Singh, an eye witness of the terrible massacre, written in 1991 – By Parminder Singh, Punjab (Source: Panjabi Digital Library)

This is an eye witness account of the Nankana Sahib Massacre (Saka Nankana) that took place in 1921. It was captured by Narayan Singh in a letter penned in 1991, seven decades after the event. The letter is available at the Sikh Archives held in Chandigarh, Punjab. Singapore-based Harbans Singh, who used to work for Singapore SATS, translates the letter into English. We thank our columnist Bhagwant Singh for initiating the translation for Asia Samachar.

Seventy years have gone by since I was a B.A. student in Khalsa College Amritsar. It was 20th February 1921, when the President of the Khalsa College Council, Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia received a telegram from Nankana Sahib that on that day 130 Sikhs had been brutally killed or wounded and had been burnt, some alive.

It was natural for such a terrible news to spread in the College and its hostels, within minutes. Five or six of us students decided to proceed to Nankana Sahib. We were told that sale of train tickets from Amritsar to Nankana Sahib had been stopped.

So we took the Khalsa College to Atari road and after walking 15 miles reached Atari and from there took the evening train and reached the Lahore Station yard where the morning Lahore to Sorekote train was waiting. This train was on the line that passed Nankana Sahib. We got up on the train and lay down to rest.

In the morning the train shifted to the platform. It was 21st February and we were told that the train was not going to stop at Nankana Sahib… But who cared?

The train moved on schedule from Lahore and halted at Chicho Ki Malliyan where, with drumbeat it was again announced that the train would not stop at Nankana Sahib. No one paid any attention to the announcement.

SEE ALSO: Nankana Massacre: 101 years come 20 February

The distance from Chicho ki Malliyan to Nankana Sahib was 28 miles and another 23 miles from Nankana Sahib to Jarrhanwala Station. So, travelling 51 miles, the train reached Jarrhanwala, where our group along with about 200 passengers disembarked.

We met more Sikhs there bringing our number to about 300. The whole group started walking along the line, towards Nankana Sahib. Covering 23 miles we reached there at night which we spent in the verandahs of Guru Nanak Serai or under some trees.

The letter by Narayan Singh who was an eye witness of the Nankana Sahib Massacre (also known as Saka Nankana) which took place on 20 Feb 1921 (Source: Panjabi Digital Library)

On the morning of 22nd February the Southern Gate of the grounds of Sri Janam Asthan Sahib was opened and a few of us at a time were brought in.

The scene inside was terrible to behold. The marble floor was all bloodied and outside the Gurdwara Janam Asthan room building were three heaps of human bodies burnt beyond recognition. On one side were lying, three unburnt bodies of Sikhs.

Behind the Prakash Asthan was a Jand tree with wire wrapped around it. We were told that Jathedar Lachhman Singh was tied to the tree with these wires and drenched with kerosene and burnt alive.

Those Sikhs who were sitting in the Janam Asthan room were killed by guns fired from the west-facing door. The Holy Guru Granth Sahib that had been open bore bullet marks as well as the blood of the Singh who was in attendance. There were also bullet holes on the walls of the room.

The Holy Guru Granth Sahib had many pages torn and lying around.

With full reverence the Guru Granth Sahib was brought out of the room. Ragi Bhai Hira Singh Pheruke, did the prakash and from the Prakash page in an emotion filled voice read the Shabad of Sheikh Farid Ji in Raag Suhi,

“Tapp Tapp lohe lohe haath marorau,

Baaval hoyi, so saho lorau”

I was present when he read the whole Shabad.

In the Darshani Deorhi gateway were lying blocks of wood which had been used to chop up the bodies, with pieces of flesh still embedded in the chopper marks.

Bhai Dalip Singh and Bhai Waryam Singh Bhejiyanwaalay, who were in Sardar Uttam Singh’s factory about a mile away from the scene, on hearing the firing in the Gurdwara, had rushed there, were killed upon entering the Gurdwara. Their bodies were dragged some distance away and thrown into a potter’s kiln. Those Sikhs who were sitting in the Baradari in front of the Prakash Asthan room were fired upon from the top of the rooms in the Southern Side of the Complex and were all either killed or wounded.

Among these martyrs was Bhai Kehar Singh of village Jarag, Patiala State and his ten year old son, Balwant Singh who had accompanied his father. He had been pushed into a cupboard by some Sikhs who tried to save the child. When he spoke from inside, Bawa Ladha Ram grabbed him by the arm and threw him alive, into the fire that had been lit to burn as many of the dead as possible. Thus he attained martyrdom. Into this fire was also thrown the flesh of those Sikhs whose bodies were chopped up in the Darshani Deorhi.

In Janam Asthan the half-burnt bodies of the Sikhs had been so viciously cut up that it was impossible to count exactly how many had been martyred. From the number of skulls recovered and including Bhai Dalip Singh and Waryam Singh, who had been killed by the Mahant’s men and thrown into the potter’s kiln, the numbers came to 130. I personally witnessed this terrible scene.

Narayan Singh     

Ex Manager, Nankana Sahib


Nankana Massacre: 101 years come 20 February (Asia Samachar, 2022)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond.Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here