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July 26, 2022 11:44 AM
Gurdwara Gurudwara Janam Asthan Guru Nanak Dev ji, Nanakanan Sahib, Pakistan
Dr Amrit Kaur

Until the beginning of the twentieth century the main historical Gurdwaras were

under the control of mahants. It may be added that originally the superior of a

religious establishment was called a mahant. In earlier days the word mahant

referred to the leaders of Nath deras. But during the 18th and 19th centuries many

Gurdwaras were occupied by hereditary controllers who became virtual owners of

their respective Gurdwaras and came to be known as mahants. Many of them were

not initiated Sikhs, they were self-seekers and started exploiting the funds attached

to the Gurdwaras and started using the funds for their pleasure and immoral


        During the Mughal rule the Sikhs were ousted from the Gurdwaras and as such

udasi (members of a sect of Sikhs detached with the worldly pleasures) and

Nirmalas (a sect of Sikhs) started taking care of the Gurdwaras. During this period

because of the Mughal oppression the Sikhs were driven out of theier homes to seek

safety in remote hills and deserts. The tyranny of Mughals culminated in Chhota

Ghallughara (March – June, 1946) and Wadda Ghallughara ( Feb 5, 1762) in each of

which approprimately 40, 000 Sikhs were martyred.

     During this period the mahants acted as touts of the Mughal empire and started

considering the Gurudwara property as their personal property. They were given a

freehold by the Mughal rulers to do anything and everything as per their wishes

disregarding the tenets of the Sikh religion. The hold of the Sikhs on Gurdwaras


At Sri Nankana Sahib the then mahant Narain Das crossed all bounds in organizing immoral activities within the premises of the Gurdwara Sahib. He started using the huge income for his voluptuousness. He kept one prostitute in his house and also misbehaved with many other women who came to the Gurdwara Sahib to pay their obeisance. His two predecessors mahants (i) mahant Sadhu Ram and (ii) mahant Kishan Das was also a very corrupt person. Mahant Sadhu Ram was an immoral person and a drunkard. After his death mahant Kishan Das who was a gambler and drunk and took over the charge. 

    During the Sikh rule, lumpsum properties were attached to the Gurdwaras to bear the

expenditure. Especially the historical Gurdwaras were endowed with land grants.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) made an endowment of about 20, 000 acres of

land to Sri Nankana Sahib Gurdwara the sacred birthplace of Sri Guru Nanak Dev

Ji, the first prophet - teacher of the Sikhs for maintenance of langar (community


     After the fall of the Sikh rule in 1849, Punjab came under British control. The British

The government entrusted the management of the shrines at Amritsar and Tarn Taran

Sahib to Sarbarah or manager appointed by the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar.

The role of the manager was however confined to general supervision, the priests

being autonomous in the conduct of religious affairs. The priests were not initiated

Sikhs did not care about the Sikh tenets and Sikh tradition.

  The Britishers knew fully well that the Gurdwaras had a deep influence on the life

and practices of Sikhs. Fear lurked in their mind that if the mahants are removed

from the Gurdwaras and the control of the Gurdwaras is handed over to the Sikhs it

could cause a threat to their political power. Hence, they created a rapport with the

mahants and encouraged them to use the Gurdwaras as if it was their personal

property. The mahants started acting as touts of British rulers and started immoral

activities within the Gurdwara premises. Under these circumstances, the Sikh leaders

decided to end up the immoral activities of the mahants and organized a Gurdwara

Reform Campaign named Akali Dal Akali Dal was given the responsibility to fight for

the rights of Sikhs and oust the mahants from the Gurdwaras. Under the guidance of

Akali Dal several morchas (agitations) were organized wherein the British

Government was challenged and encounters were organized with the mahants.

During these encounters, the Sikhs had to undergo gruesome tortures at the hands of


      Before the massacre at Sri Nankana Sahib which took place on February 20, 1921, at

Tarn Taran Sahib which is 24 km south of Amristar the mahants disallowed the

holding of Kirtan (hymn singing) and also insulted several women. When this

information reached Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, one jatha reached Tarn Taran

Sahib. The mahant at Tarn Taran Sahib played a foul game. On one hand, he

promised to compromise and on the other got ready for an encounter. Thus on

January 27, 1921, at Tarn Taran Sahib in the evening when the Sikhs reached the

Gurdwara Sahib to pay their obeisance the mercenaries of the mahant invaded them

with small axes. broad axes with long helve and battle axes, Simultaneously some

mercenaries of the mahant stationed on a higher plinth started pelting bricks and

stones on the Sikhs During this invasion by the mahant's hooligans 16 Sikhs. were

injured and two Dr.Hazara Singh and Bhai Hukam Singh were martyred. In the

sacred memory of Dr. Hazara Singh and Bhai Hukam Singh close to Sri Darbar

Sahib, Tarn Taran Sahib a monument has been erected.

At Sri Nankana Sahib the then mahant Narain Das crossed all bounds in organizing

immoral activities within the premises of the Gurdwara Sahib. He started using the

huge income for his voluptuousness. He kept one prostitute in his house and also

 misbehaved with many other women who came to the Gurdwara Sahib to pay their

obeisance. His two predecessors mahants (i) mahant Sadhu Ram and (ii) mahant

Kishan Das was also very corrupt person. Mahant Sadhu Ram was an immoral

person and a drunkard. After his death mahant Kishan Das who was a gambler and

drunk and took over the charge. He made many promises with the Sikhs but did not

stick to them. After his death mahant Narain Das, who took the charge of the

Gurdwara Sahib was the worst of all. On a request by the Sikh sangat he promised

before a Magistrate that he will not indulge in immoral activities but did not stick to

his promise. He proved to be an extremely evil and voluptuous person. He made the

premises of the Gurdwara Sahib as a place of merry-making and adda (specified

place of vice) of fun and frolic. In 1917 he arranged a dance by a prostitute

within the premises of Sri Nankana Sahib Gurdwara. Out of the mahants, mahant

Narrain Das was the richest and the most corrupt person. The Sikhs submitted many

request petitions to the British Government but were not given any heed. His

immoral activities became highlighted when in 1918, two cases of molestation of

women pilgrims were reported.

          In 1918, a retired Sindhi officer came to Sri Nankana Sahib with his family to

pay obeisance where a disciple of the mahant raped his 13-year-old daughter. The

mahant ignored the incident. During the same year six women of Jharakan Wala

Ilaqa of Lyalpur who came to Sri Nankana Sahib to pay obeisance were raped by the

disciples of the mahant. When the mahant was asked to intervene he said that this

Gurdwara is our personal shop, so do not send your women folk here.

On October 5, 1920 a Sikh shrine Gurdwara Babe Di Ber at Sialkot was liberated

from the priestly control and taken over by the Sikhs which marked the beginning of

the Gurdwara Reform Movement.

        In October 1920 a congregation of Sikh leaders was held in the village of Dharowali,

District Sheikhupura (now named District Nankana Sahib) about 146 miles south of

Islamabad, Bhai Lachman Singh Dharowali who had played a significant rule in the

liberation of the Gurdwara in Tarn Taran Sahib and other places came forward to

play a leading rule. In this congregation a resolution was passed to bring reform at

Sri Nankana Sahib. Simultaneously Mahant Narain Das started collecting 500 men

every day from the surrounding villages. He organized a meeting of the mahants in

other Gurdwara Sahibs numbering 60 to counteract the efforts of the Sikhs. He

collected a sum of Rs.60 thousand and bought weapons with this money which

included explosive gun powder, bullets, small axes, broad axes with long helve,

battle axes with long and broad blade long helve, tins of kerosin oil and wood.

Bhai Waryam Singh who had been deputed by the Sikhs to keep an eye on the

activity of Mahant Narain Das informed Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar about everything.

The Sikhs decided to have an encounter with the mahant before their conference

scheduled to be held in March 1921 because the mahant was expected to be away

at Lahore to attend a traditional conference. On February 6, 1921 in a special

congregation a committee consisting of five Sikhs (i) Bhai Lachhaman Singh

Dharowali (1885-1921) (ii) Bhai Dalip Singh Sangla (iii) Bhai Teja Singh Samundri

(iv) Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar (v) Bhai Bakhshish Singh was formed which was

made responsible to organize a congregation and make langar arrangements for


  On February 17, 1921 a meeting was held at Gurdwara Sachcha Sauda Sahib which

was attended by Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali and

Bhai Boota Singh Lyalpur.

       In this meeting it was decided that Bhai Boota Singh should reach Sri Nankana

Sahib with his jatha in the morning of February 19, 1921 and Bhai Lachhman Singh

Dharowali with his jatha should reach Chander Kot 8 kms north of Nankana Sahib in

the night where Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar will meet him with his jatha and hence

forth both the jathas will march together towards Sri Nankana Sahib and reach there

on February 20, 1921.

            It was decided that all the three jathas should reach Sri Nankana Sahib on February

20, 1921. To counteract the efforts of the Sikhs the Mahant put up a new proposal of

a meeting with the Sikh leaders but he did not reach the scheduled venue. Becoming

aware of the deceitful intentions of the Mahant, to evade the situation of encounter

the Sikhs decided to postpone their actions against the Mahant. Steps were taken to

stop the jatha led by Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali which included about 200

Sikhs. The jatha led by S. Kartar Singh Jhabbar was stopped at the artificial water

fall of Chanders Kot, But before the decision of the Sikh leaders to postone their

action reached Bhai Lachman Singh Dharowali who was unaware of the hooliganism

organized by the Mahant had done ardas (prayer) for action and as per Sikh tradition

once ardas has been done, no steps can be taken to withdraw Thus it was decided

not to postpone the programmer. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali along with a jatha

of approximately 200 Sikhs reaches Sri Nankana Sahib on the morning of Feb 20,

  1. In addition to Sri Nankana Sahib Gurdwara six other Gurdwaras in the town

had been under the control of udasi priests ever since the Sikhs had been driven out

of their homes by the Mughal oppression to seek safety in remote hills and deserts.

On the morning of February 20, 1921 as soon as the jatha of Bhai Lachhman Singh

including 200 Sikhs entered the Sacred Shrine at about 6:00 a.m. 400 mercenaries

which included Pathans and notorious criminals like Ranjha and Rehana armed with

lethal weapons fell upon the Sikhs who were peacefully chanting the sacred hymns.

As soon as the jatha entered the premises of the sacred Gurdwara Sahib Mahant

Narain Das got the exit door closed.

       According to an eye witness on receiving the news of the arrival of the jatha outside

the main gate Mahant Narain Das with a pistol in his hand and his face muffled up,

started prancing up and down on horseback directing the mercenaries to carry on

the operation and shouting continuously, "Let not a single long haired Sikh go out

alive" It is reported that at this time Bhai Dalip Singh Sahowal a much respected Sikh

who was well known to the Mahant tried to intercede to stop the bloody carnage.

When Bhai Dalip Singh and Bhai Waryam Singh heard the noise of bullets they

hurriedly ran towards the Gurdwara Sahib. Bhai Dalip Singh shrieked at the Mahant

to stop this carnage but it was all in vain. The Mahant killed him on the spot with a

shot from his pistol. Bhai Dalip Singh was Manager a of Khalsa School, Sangla and

when the Headmaster of this school forbade the students to attend the congregation

at Dharowali he had gone there. Bhai Waryam Singh was cut to pieces with a broad

axe with a long helve and then thrown into a potter's furnace. Six other Sikhs

coming from outside were butchered and thrown into a potter's kiln. Bhai Lachman

Singh Dhorwali a staunch reformist, a tall and handsome Sikh was sitting in

attendance behind Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) holding and waving a whisk over

it and received a volley of bullets while trying to protect SGGS. Mahant Narain Das

dragged Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali from his hair and after chopping off his

arms and smashing his head on the ground was fastened to the Jand tree nearby

and burnt alive by throwing kerosene oil on his body. Other Sikhs were cut to pieces by

using small axes, broad axes with long and broad blades and long helve. The bullets

were also shown form the roof of an adjoining building. Cruelties were showered on

all the members of the Jatha. The total number of Sikhs martyred has been

variously estimated, the consensus being 150-200 Sikhs. Some members of the

jatha who had taken shelter inside the rooms were dragged out, tied to the jand tree,

and burnt alive by pouring kerosene oil on them to obliterate all traces of the killed.

Mahant's men burnt the bodies by using kerosene oil and wood.

Uttam Singh, the factory owner sent urgent telegrams to the Akali Leaders and

Government officers about this gruesome killing of the Sikhs. On February 21, 1921.

Severed prominent Sikhs and an uncountable number of other Sikhs reached Sri

Nankana Sahib. The Deputy Commissioner reached the Gurdwara Sahib around

noon. By this time some Akali Leaders had also arrived and were agitated over the

inaction of the Government officers in providing protection to the peaceful members

of the jatha. The Public Prosecutor confirmed that "the Mahant had tried to obliterate

all traces of the killed by burning the corpses ". Lord Reading the Viceroy of India, in

his report to the Secretary of State for India also referred to the attempt of the

Mahant to burn the bodies. Mahant Narain Das and his henchmen were arrested and sent to Central Jail,

Lohore and the keys of the Gurdwara Sahib were handed over to a committee of

seven Sikhs headed by Sarbarah Harbans Singh Atari, Vice President of Shiromani

Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Thus the Gurdwara Sahib was handed over to the


               On the evening of February, 22, 1921 mass cremation of bodies of the mantrys was

done. Charred, mutilated bodies were collected and torn pieces of flesh were picked

form wherever they lay in the blood-stained chambers. A huge funeral pyre was


              Bhai Jodh Singh, a respected Sikh scholar, and Leader who offered ardas for the

martyrs exhorted the Sikhs "to bear the suffering like their forefathers as a sacrifice

without reproach or curse" and also said that to wash away the crime committed in

the Holy Shrine a flood of innocent blood was required.

The news of this gruesome saka got spread like wildfire all over the country.

Thousands of Sikhs started going toward Sri Nankana Sahib to have a holy glimpse.

Sir Edward Maclagan Governor of Punjab visited the site on February 22, 1921.

Hindu and Muslim leaders which included Mahatma Gandhi, Shaukat Ali and

Muhammad Ali came to Sri Nankana Sahib. Mahatma Gandhi visited Nankana Sahib

on March 3, 1921. While condemning the cruel deed of the Mahant he described the

martyrdom of the Akali leaders as an act of national bravery, Professor Ruchi Ram

Sahni a Trustee of the Tribune and author of "Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines"

has described a very touching incident when a very old woman talked to Sir Edward

Maclagan, the Governor of Punjab and said "my child, my four sons and a grandson

have been massacred. I request you for Justice". But how can one expect

the hands of a foreign ruler.

                 A criminal case against Mahant Narain Das and his men was started on April 5, 1921.

The Sessions Court announced its judgement on October 12, 1921 sentenced

Mahant Narain Das and seven others to a death sentence, eight to life imprisonment.

and 16 Pathan mercenaries were awarded 7 years of rigorous imprisonment . But

seemingly under the influence of the British rulers the High Court delivering its

judgment on March 3, 1922, reduced Narain Das's death sentence to life

imprisonment and only three of his hooligans were awarded capital punishment and

two were given life terms, all others were let off.

The gruesome incident liberated the Sikh Gurdwaras from the control of mahants

and paved the way for democratic management of the historic Gurdwara Sahibs.

To observe the centenary of the martyrs of February 20, 1921 on 21 February 2021

programmers were held in the village Godharpur, District Gurdaspur, Punjab where the

descendants of Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali had migrated after the partition of the

county. As a memoried to the Martyrs Shahid Sikh Missionary College was

established at Amritsar.

               This year i.e., in 2022 homage was paid to the martyrs of Saka Nankana Sahib on

February 21, 2022, by the Sikh Sangat.

Hail the Martyrs!


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