“Sultan-ul-Quam” Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718–1783) was a prominent Sikh Ruler who rose to power during the period after the death of the brave Sikh General Baba Banda Singh Bahadur. He was the General who laid the foundations of the powerful Sikh Empire established in 1801 by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). There were 12 independent Sikh confederacies (called Missals), at that time that were always engaged in skirmishes among themselves for gaining supremacy. Sardar Jassa Singh was Jathedar (Chief or Baron) of the Ahluwalia Missal. To fight against the ruthless invaders from Afghanistan, these Missals created a strong united force, called Dal Khalsa, and chose Ahluwalia as their Supreme Military Commander in 1748. He was also elected leader of the Buddha Dal, which was the Think Tank of this formidable force, its other militant group being the Taruna Dal. He was given the title of ‘Nawab‘, at Amritsar in 1754, after the death of his mentor Nawab Kapur Singh, Chief of Singhpuria Missal.
As a lad, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was noticed by Nawab Kapur Singh who was highly impressed by his unique qualities. He adopted the young man and started grooming him in the art of war, horse riding, swordplay and archery. From 1747 to 1769, Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Ruler of Afghanistan, attacked and looted parts of Northern India, nine times. Every time, it was only Dal Khalsa who gave him a strong challenge and forced him to retreat.
The Capture of Lahore by Ahluwalia (in 1761)
Under Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, the Sikhs rebuilt their holy place of worship, Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, which was destroyed by Abdali’s hordes during his repeated revengeful attacks. Ahluwalia also started the work of Darshani Deori, the main entrance route to Darbar Sahib. As a brave military commander and strategist, he captured Lahore in 1761, for which Sikhs honoured him with the title of Sultan-ul-Qaum (King of the Nation).
Establishment of Mints to issue Sikh coins
After capturing Lahore, he set up three Mints, first at Lahore, from where silver coins were issued in the name of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib (Gobind-shahi Sikkey). The other two were established at Multan and Amritsar, which made Nanak-shahi Sikkey, in the name of Guru Nanak Sahib. The Amritsar Mint (in Katra Hari Singh) subsequently produced both types of coins. Later, rupee coins featuring a Katar (and other Sikh weapons) were also issued from Amritsar.
The Great Holocaust (in 1762)
Ahmad Shah Abdali and his Indian allies mounted a fierce attack on the Sikhs for the sixth time in February 1762, with the avowed aim of annihilating them completely. Ahluwalia and other Chiefs of the Missals fought valiantly and were seriously injured. Abdali carried out a full-scale massacre and more than 20,000 Sikhs died, leading to what is known as “Wadda Ghallughara” (The Great Holocaust). Despite this disaster, the Sikhs gathered in large numbers at Darbar Sahib Amritsar. Abdali proposed a treaty of peace, but the Sikhs rejected the idea, which led to a battle at Amritsar in May 1762. This was followed by another battle in October of the same year. These battles ended in the defeat of the much bigger invading Afghan army. Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia captured a large portion of Abdali’s troops and forced them to repair the holy Sarovar (around Darbar Sahib Amritsar) damaged by them earlier. The Sikhs inflicted a humiliating defeat on Abdali and forced him to retreat, with more than five thousand Afghan soldiers killed. Thousands of prisoners of war and women, captured by the Afghan invaders, were rescued by the Sikhs and sent to their homes.
Capture of Delhi by the Sikhs (in 1783)
After Abdali’s last invasion in 1769, Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia wrested Kapurthala and nearby territories (of Jalandhar, Phagwara and Hoshiarpur) and added these to Lahore and Amritsar, already under his rule. In March 1783, the Sikhs, led by General Baghel Singh of the Karorasinghia Missal, captured vast areas between Punjab and Delhi. Finally, they hoisted the Kesai Nishan Sahib at Red Fort in Delhi. Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and General Jassa Singh Ramgarhia were among the Sikh commanders who helped General Baghel Singh in this historic campaign. These victorious Generals made seven memorial Gurdwaras at the historic places in Delhi associated with the Sikh Gurus.
Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia died at Amritsar in October 1783. He was succeeded by Sardar Bhag Singh Ahluwalia, whose son, Fateh Singh served in the forces of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. General Ahluwalia spent his last days renovating Gurdwaras and developing Amritsar city. A memorial was built in his honour in the surrounding parikrama of Gurdwara Atal Rai. In 1985, Government of India issued a commemorative postage stamp in his memory.