Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh with the head of Massa Ranghar

Lightning raid of Sukha and Mehtab

The year was 1739, just after Nadir Shah had invaded India. The guards of Amritsar noticed two Muslim peasants with sacks full of earthen pots being carried on their horse. To the guards, the pots looked like sacks of coins. They were off to meet Musalul Khan,  commonly known as Massa Ranghar, they said, to give him the revenue they had collected from his domains. Massa was meanwhile busy having a dance party with his favourite nautch girls.

Massa Ranghar though was no ordinary man, he was incharge of the precints of the Harmandir Sahib, the Sikhs holiest shrine.

After Sikhs had attacked Persian Emperor Nadir Shah’s returning convoys after his invasion of 1739, Nadir Shah had warned Zakaria Khan, the Mughal governor of Lahore, to get rid of the sikh horsemen lest they would rule the country some day. As a result, Sikhs were totally outlawed by Zakaria Khan and he had kept an award of fifty rupees (a princely sum then) for each scalp of a sikh, a blanket was given to any person who cut off a sikh’s hair and ten rupees were given to a person who gave information on presence of a sikh nearby. Sikhs were on the run, they vacated almost the entire Punjab and retreated in small groups (called Jatthas) to the hills of the Sivaliks or the deserts of Rajasthan. Every now and then however, they used to come to the holy sarovar at Amritsar to pay their respects and to take a holy dip. So, Zakaria Khan took control of it and appointed Massa Ranghar as the incharge of the campus.

Sikhs resisted Massa Ranghar’s attempts to take control of the campus, many skirmishes were held but Sikhs were outnumbered. Massa Ranghar started ridiculing the campus by parodying sikh traditions of amrit with alcohol. He converted Harmandir Sahib into a dancing den for his nautch girls, and a centre for his amusement. The parikrama of the temple was converted into a stable for horses. Inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Harmandir Sahib, he would put his special cot where he would smoke the hukkah (pipe) and watch nautch girls dance. Alcohol, explicitly prohibited in Sikh religion flowed freely inside the Gurdwara. Cows were killed and thrown into the sarovar. He was having a whale of a time and was doing all that he could to desecrate the campus.

The news of the desecration of Harmandir Sahib by Massa Ranghar was gathered by a Sikh called Bukala Singh[1] who tried to approach other Sikhs for help. He travelled far and wide and reached Bikaner where a Jattha of Sikhs was stationed, living their exiled livelihood under employment of Rajput chieftains. As Bukala Singh conveyed the story, the Sikh anger got aroused and they lamented the loss and their helplessness at running away. There was a Sikh called Mehtab Singh [2]who is said to have asked Bukala Singh if there was no sikh alive in Amritsar to avenge this evil? Bukala replied “There are no Sikhs alive there with a greater sense of honor than those who have run away in order to save their lives.[3] “

The retort on his own honour hit Mehtab Singh hard and he resolved to ride immediately from Rajasthan to avenge the desecration. Sukha Singh, another Sikh stationed in Bikaner, joined him in his mission. Sukha Singh as a kid had tried to jump into a well when someone cut off his hairs, he had been brought back from the brink of death with a mission to die on the battle-field rather than in a well[4] . Sukha Singh was thus the perfect companion for Mehtab Singh. In order to disguise their group as a family, Mehtab Singh’s wife and son accompanied them in their journey. Enroute, the duo stopped at the Sikh Chaawni (Cantonment) at Damdama Sahib (near Bhatinda). On 11 August, 1740, the two rode further for their last leg of the journey.

So, one night in August 1740, Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh, on their horses, were stopped at the gates of Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar. They were carrying sacks of earthen pots on their horses, sacks that looked like full of coins. They themselves were disguised as muslim peasants out to pay tribute and collected taxes to their Chaudhary, Massa Ranghar. The guards let them in to meet Massa Ranghar, any doubt belied by the sacks of coins which they carried in.

They tied their horses next to a berry tree (the berry still stands). As Sukha Singh followed him into the sanctum sanctorum through the causeway over the Sarovar, Mehtab Singh entered and saw Massa Ranghar on his cot, watching a dance, his eyes half drooping with alcohol. He bowed down to Massa Ranghar to pay respects and laid the sack of coins on the floor casually and asked Sukha to do the same. Massa Ranghar bent down to pick the coins… he bent down but he could not get up as the sword of Mehtab Singh cut through Massa Ranghar’s neck in an instant. Sukha meanwhile killed some guards who rushed to the aid of Massa.

Bhai Mehtab Sukha Singh
Bhai Mehtab Sukha Singh’s lightning attack

Catching hold of Massa Ranghar’s head stuffed in their sack of earthen pots, Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh alighted their horse and took off like lightning.

Next morning, they rode through the Sikh Chhawni at Damdama Sahib with the head of Massa Ranghar on a spear. At a place, now called Buddha Johad, around 50 kms from SriGanganagar (in Rajasthan), the head of Massa Ranghar was hung from a tree.

Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh with the head of Massa Ranghar
Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh with the head of Massa Ranghar

And so goes the story of the revenge by two men against an empire.




[3] Bhai Sukha Singh and Bhai Mehtab Singh

[4] Sikh Martyrs

Source of pictures: from the net. I couldn’t locate the names of the painters. I would be thankful if someone can point me to the names of the painters.

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