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Footprints of General Hari Singh Nalwa in Kashmir                      

by nishaan@magazine

The name of the lionhearted Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa (1791–1837) is one of the most revered and loved names in Sikh history. If  Sher-i-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a policy maker, then Nalwa Sardar was an adventurous commander-in-Chief of the Khalsa Army, who implemented those policies. Sardar Hari Singh’s bravery, courage, fearlessness and benevolence were unparalleled. He was known for his dauntless courage and unique chivalry. Some historians consider Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa as one of the most successful army generals of the world.

Sardar Nalwa was a confederate of the Khalsa state. He was a far-sighted administrator, a successful personality and a beacon of virtue. His wisdom and foresight prevented, after eight consecutive centuries, Afghan aggression into Punjab. He was so proficient in guns, archery, swords, spears, bombs, cannons, bayonets and horsemanship that achieving victories for the Sikh kingdom became a virtue of his deeds. Sher-i-Punjab, when he saw Sardar Hari Singh killing a Nal (lion), bestowed upon him the title of Nalwa. The battles of Attock, Kashmir, Kasur, Multan, Hazara, Nowshera and Peshawar in which Sardar Nalwa fought valiantly is a golden chapter in Sikh history. Among the Pathans and Afghans, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa’s name was so terrifying that when Afghan children would not stop crying, their mothers would say “Hariya Rangila” (meaning child, shut up, Hari Singh is coming). This is also mentioned by Olaf Caroe in his book.

March to Kashmir:

When the Khalsa forces marched to Kashmit in 1814 CE, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa  was commanding the Khalsa forces. When Shah Shuja was defeated by his brother Shah Mahmud and reached Attock, Jahan Khan was the Kiledar (fort keeper) of Attock. He captured Shah Shuja and sent him to his brother, Atta Mohammad Khan, the governor of Kashmir. From Kabul, Wazir Fateh Khan was following Shah Shuja. When he was informed that Shah Shuja was in Kashmir, he sought the help of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He assured that half of the plunder of Kashmir and nine lakh rupees would be given to the Khalsa forces. On the other hand, Shah Shuja’s Begum (wife) sent a messenger to Maharaja Ranjit Singh that if her husband would be returned safe from Kashmir, she would present the Kohinoor diamond to the Sher-i-Punjab. The Maharaja keeping both the above points in mind and at the same time considering that the Khalsa forces would be aware of the route to Kashmir, ordered the troops to march towards Kashmir.

“The joint Sikh-Afghani expedition to Kashmir was undertaken in 1812” (Parmu, 1977, P 47). On one hand Wazir Fateh Khan proceeded to Kashmir along with his army and on other side Sardars Hari Singh Nalwa, Sham Singh Attari, Dewan Mohkam Chand, Dal Singh and Jeevan Singh along with 12,000 Khalsa troops reached Srinagar via Bhimber, Rajouri and Peer Panjal. Muhammad Khan’s forces fought hard. During the battle for possession of Shergarhi soldiers were killed on both sides. The Khalsa forces cremated the Sikh soldiers at the site of Shaheed-Ganj (where the Bunga is now the shrine of Akali Phula Singh).

The Khalsa forces captured Shergarhi, freed Shah Shuja from captivity and took him into their custody. The Khalsa forces demanded from Wazir Fateh Khan half of the booty and nine lakh rupees as promised. The Khalsa forces came to Lahore with Shah Shuja and the ‘Kohinoor Diamond’ to Sher-i-Punjab.

To conquer Kashmir, the Khalsa forces marched on 20 April 1819 from Lahore. In this campaign, Sher-i-Punjab divided the army into three parts. The first vanguard was that of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Prince Kharak Singh and Akali Phula Singh. In the second squad, Diwan Mohkam Chand, S. Sham Singh Attari, S. Hukma Singh Chimney, S. Jwala Singh and others. Sher-i-Punjab had a reserve force of 10,000 so that support could be sent whenever required. When the Khalsa forces from various directions broke like lightning on the morning of July 3, 1819, in the field of Shopian with the forces of Muhammad Jabbar Khan, the ruler of Kashmir, a fierce battle took place. In the battlefield, when Nawab Jabbar Khan, attacked Nalwa, Sardar Nalwa cut off Jabar Khan’s left hand with his sword. The Nawab was seriously injured and fled to Afghanistan via Muzaffarabad, hiding in the border mountain passes along with his troops. Thus, after nearly five hundred years (1325 AD to 1819 AD), the flag of the Khalsa began to fly on the beautiful land of Kashmir.

In this battle a large quantity of Afghan ammunition came to the hands of the Khalsa”. “Thousands of swords, guns, bayonets, horses, tents, etc. came into the hands and 22 cannons (18 were fit for use) came into the hands of the Khalsa”. (Prem Singh Baba, 1937, p 104). In this battle many soldiers were killed. There dozens of soldiers of the Khalsa forces also achieved martyrdom, including the brave Sardar Jodh Singh Rusa. The Khalsa forces celebrated an impressive victory and entered the city of Srinagar in high spirits on the afternoon of July 4, 1819.

Prince Kharak Singh proclaimed throughout the city that no citizen need be alarmed as the Khalsa Army had come to the rescue of the Kashmiri people. The Kashmiri people not only welcomed the Khalsa forces but also showered flowers. Prince Kharak Singh encamped at Shergarhi fort and stationed the rest of the chiefs and troops at suitable places. News of the victory of the Khalsa forces in Kashmir reached Sher-i-Punjab in ‘Shahabad’.  The Khalsa Panth’s well-known and fast paced informant S. Jamal Singh ‘Lamtange’ was sent. Sher-i-Punjab was overjoyed to hear this news and donated one lakh and twenty five thousand rupees to Darbar Sahib, Amritsar for the prayer of thanksgiving. Following the orders of Sher-i-Punjab, after fierce battles, Muzaffarabad and Darband regions were merged into the Khalsa Raj. (Mohammad Latif, page 419).

There was military rule in Kashmir for a few weeks. Dewan Ram Dayal was appointed in Bhimber, Bhai Ram Singh Pargan-i-Dar of rivers, S.Sham Singh Attari, S. Jawala Singh and Misr Diwan Chand were appointed administrators of Baramulla and Srinagar. General Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa was appointed Supervisor of the entire army. Diwan Moti Ram was appointed as the first Governor of Kashmir, and keeping a small army in Kashmir for a while, Sardar Nalwa took the rest of the army to Lahore. When this victorious army reached Lahore, Sher-i-Punjab led this army near Shahdara. When the Khalsa forces reached Lahore, riding on elephants and horses it was a procession of Khalsa glory. When Sardar Nalwa’s elephant entered the Lahore gate, people rained roses, kewra and flowers from the roofs of the houses.


The ideal of the Sikh Empire, the famous adventurer and Khalsa army’s  Mir-i-Karwan of Struggles, Sardar Hari Singh reached Srinagar on August 24, 1820 . On 25 August, he took over governor charge from Diwan Moti Ram . “Informing Kashmir of the deplorable situation, the Maharaja nominated Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa as the Nizamat of Kashmir”. (Mohammad Din, Part 3, p 16). Hari Singh Nalwa  first checked the treasury documents and found that the collection of revenue and salaries of the troops had been suspended for four months. Looting, robbery, quarrels and massacres were at their peak and the people had reached the brink of revolt.


There was no room for such irregularities for a general who was a staunch fighter, loyal and unwavering to the Sikh state. The very next day, the Sardar informed the people in writing and in all the cities that “The Khalsa had established the Khalsa state in Kashmir after great sacrifices. Therefore, the people of Kashmir should be treated in good faith and the people should cooperate. Revenue should be deposited in the royal treasury before any austerity measures are taken. Even after the proclamation, if the government finds out that someone is obstructing it, it will not be good for the people.”  Simultaneously he ordered revenue reforms and instructed farmers to “liquidate their arrears or face dire consequences” (Parmu, p. 121).

According to historians, these steps had a profound effect and in a short time Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa emerged as an efficient administrator of Kashmir.


The wise and efficient administrator Nalwa Sardar reviewed all the old and new records of revenue and realised the new proposals of revenue.

“According to Ain-a Akbari, the tax of Kashmir was 30,11,619 Kharwar which was equivalent to an estimated Rs. 15,52,825. During the rule of Afghans, the revenue was estimated at Cilki  Rs. 60,00,000. During the reign of Khalsa Raj, Diwan Moti Ram proposed Rs. 21,00,000 Nanak Shahi. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa deducted another Rs. 800,000 from the Diwan’s revenue and left only Rs. 13,00,000″ (Prem Singh,Baba,P:118-119)

Sardar Hari Singh collected all the remaining revenue from the people and sent Pandit Birbal Dhar, Pandit Sajram Dhar, Mirza Pandit Dhar and Khwaja Munwar Dhar to the Lahore Darbar. Unfortunately, all the members of the delegation died except Pandit Birbal Dhar (due to cholera) near Hast Nagar, Rawalpindi. Birbal presented all the accounts in the court and established his reputation.


From time immemorial, a negative and cruel custom of ‘Vagar’ has been prevalent in Kashmir. It is also mentioned in Kalhan Pandit’s book ‘Raj Trangni’. Whenever government work or military equipment had to be transported from one place to another, thousands of oppressed and poor Kashmiris were caught and taken to work. Whenever the time came for harvesting etc., these poor people used to join hands with the Parganadars and Chaudharis and take bribes for bandhkulashi. When Sardar Hari Singh saw the scene with his own eyes in many places, he inquired into it. The Nalwa Sardar immediately issued instructions and a special proclamation to save the Kashmiris from vagar. The famous tourist Bernier wrote  that the city of Pattan was built by Shankar Verma with the help of this ‘Vagar ‘work’. When King Aurangzeb came to Kashmir in 1664, he captured 30,000 Kashmiri vagars  and transported all the royal equipment on their backs from one place to another throughout  Kashmir.


Before the arrival of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa in Kashmir, crops were completely destroyed due to floods and bad weather. Farmers did not have enough seeds to sow. When Sardar Nalwa saw the pitiable condition of  the Kashmiris, he immediately visited Rajouri, Poonch and Muzaffarabad.

He immediately brought about 2000 kharwar paddy from Rajouri, Poonch and Mazaffrabad and distributed it among farmers and Zamindars at cheap rates.

This paddy was sold earlier at the rate of Rs 16 per family, but Sardar Nalwa distributed paddy seeds at Rs 3 per family and also stopped the tax on the new crop. Thus in 1821 AD. the paddy crop in Kashmir was grown in surplus.

The first production of pashmina was a quarter of what it was during the Afghan period. Sardar Nalwa greatly reduced the tax on pastures from herdsmen, shepherds and gave them financial assistance.


After the days of Nowruz (1821 AD), torrential rains lashed the Kashmir Valley, causing many dams and bridges to collapse and causing heavy loss of life and property in many places. The bridges of Khanyar Mohalla, Pampur, BejBihara, Rainawari, Kavadora, Khanabal etc. were also damaged. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa not only rebuilt the new bridges but also provided financial assistance from the royal treasury for the construction of new houses, livestock etc. to the Kashmiris. To meet the food shortage, thousands of kharwars of food grains from Punjab were imported and distributed among the needy Kashmiris at cheaper rates.

Kashmir has been an important destination for aquaculture farms which used to grow vegetables, flowers and fruits on which the government levied heavy taxes. Sardar Nalwa not only gave considerable tax relief but also expanded their farms by giving thousands of rupees to the government exchequer.

Kashmir saffron was considered world famous. It has been cultivated since ancient times and has a unique history. However, after 1800 AD its sowing was very limited. Most of its cultivation is in the area of ​​Pampur. Sardar Nalwa paid special attention to the cultivation of saffron. A large gathering of landlords in the area inquired about the stagnation in its sowing. The landlords elaborated on the severity of the government levy, lawlessness, looting of saffron beds, theft, poor financial condition etc.

Hari Singh Nalwa, thereafter not only removed all the weaknesses but also helped to increase the economic conditions of the farmers. Similarly, the artisans of paper-making skills were given a lot of financial support from the royal treasury and they were able to stand on their own feet. Kashmiri paper was much better than other countries. Sherjangi, Kalamdani, Hastmasti, Dah Masti and Hari-Riya varieties of paper were considered very popular and good.

Some time later, when Sardar Nalwa freed himself from the interior administration control of Kashmir, he conquered other areas including Pakhli and Dhamtaur and annexed them to the Khalsa Raj in April 1821. In May 1821, Sardar Nalwa, through his scribes Sehaj Ram, Pandit Mirza, Khwaja Manohar Shah, Chandra Bhatt, etc; sent all the accounts of his governorship to Lahore, including Farda, registers, etc., to Maharaja Ranjit Singh so that the Maharaja could have a glance at the progress of Kashmir. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was overjoyed to see the reckoning and not only praised Sardar Nalwa, but also bestowed precious khellets. According to the author of ‘Muqmal Twarikh Kashmir’, he presented a chained elephant, a precious necklace and a pair of gold bracelets to Nalwa. The entire area of ​​Pakhli was also handed over to Sardar Hari Singh  Nalwa  as jagir by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.


The peculiarity of  Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa was his name not only stirred the ranks of Afghans and Pathans, but also shook the ranks of rebels and tyrants.

The prominent leaders of one such people, the Khakhas and Bambas, were Tarbuland Khan, Muzaffar Khan, Ghulam Ali Khan, Sharandaj Khan, etc. who became very rebellious at the very beginning of the Khalsa rule in Kashmir. During the time of Dewan Moti Ram, they never paid a single penny to the government treasury,  nor did they follow government orders. Secondly, they also had the backing of the Afghans. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa first came and reined them in the Baramulla area. “He not only collected the arrears of revenue from them but also recovered the war ransom at the rate of Rs. 5 per household. After this, on both sides of the Jhelum, Nalwa along with Sardar  Tek Singh (son of S. Sham Singh Attari) and S. Hukma Singh Chimney with a platoon of infantry, one night raided their villages and arrested all the prominent leaders and inflicted such educational punishments on many that all the others got back on track”. (Walter Lawrence,The Valley of Kashmir,)

Their chief leader was handcuffed and sent to Sher-i-Punjab in the city of Lahore under the supervision of a large army. Sardar Nalwa not only recovered all the revenue from them but also confiscated all the weapons as punishment. Apart from these, he also cleared the rebels in other small areas. When all this news reached Sher-i-Punjab at the Lahore Darbar, he was overjoyed and sent a special praise to Praised Hari Singh Nalwa.


Sardar Hari Singh, was not only an efficient administrator in Kashmir but also remained, a far-sighted, champion of the Khalsa and the pride of the Sikh state. A special order, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa was given the right to issue a coin in his name by Maharaja Ranjit singh.

On one side of the coin was inscribed in Persian letters ‘Sri Akal Sahai and Samat 1878’ and on the other side was inscribed ‘Hari Singh’ and below it was inscribed ‘One Rupee’ (Walter -The Valley of Kashmir, P. 905).

“The Hari Singh Rupee is very popular in Kashmir till date [1890 AD] and this coin called Hari Singhia Rupee which he issued in Kashmir. To this day it runs everywhere in Punjab too”. (Raisni-Punjab, p.191)

Similarly Maulana Mohammad Din also writes in his book,  that was “Hari Singh also issued a coin of his name in Kashmir which became famous by the name of Hari Singhia. What a price it was today to pay eight annas. Silver coins called Hari Singhia Paisa  were also issued. These coins were minted in 1821 at Srinagar. In rupees 10 mashe was pure silver in rupees. In this way he established a mint on behalf of the Sikh Empire to facilitate revenue collection in Kashmir and Peshawar.

Sardar Nalwa ordered uniformity measurements and scales at all places. The measurements were usually as follows: 17 tola equal to one paa ,6 Paa or 1.5 seer  equal to 1 manuta, 4 manuta made one Trakh and 16 trakh or 96 seer equal to one kharwar. Police stations were set up at appropriate places to hear the grievances of the people, courts were set up to give justice to the people and verdicts were promptly decided. Kashmiris who had migrated to other places  returned in thousands to Kashmir.


Sardar Nalwa was imbued with the spirit of Sikhi from his childhood. From a militaristic point of view, Nalwa  built the forts of Uri and Muzaffarabad and established the settlements of Shaheed Ganj in Srinagar and Guru Bazar (near Shergarhi Fort) where Nihangs and Akalis settled permanently. Guru bazaar was inhabited by Sikh granthis and Hindu Sadhus.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa established the historic seven Gurdwaras at Matan Sahib, Gurdwara Chhevin Patshahi Baramulla, Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sahib Hari Parbat, Gurdwara Chhevin Patshahi Kathi Darwaza Srinagar and Gurdwara Chaie Guru Har Rai Sahib, Devi Angan (Srinagar). Sufi also wrote, “He came to Gurdwara Chhevin Patshahi Baramulla and performed Ardasa. Mr. Nalwa attached three villages to the Gurdwara as jagir, namely Janbazpura, Nadihall and Vadera” (Sarna,1997, page 74).

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa  also visited Gurdwara Chaie Guru Har Rai Sahib.Giani  Budh Singh writes, “When Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa became Governor of Kashmir, he visited Gurudwara on Sammat 1877. In 1820 AD, he visited Gurdwara Chaie Guru Har Rai Sahib Devi Angan  Hal bazaar, then happily wrote a jagir of three hundred and sixty rupees. This lease is in the possession of Bhai Sant Singh Ji which was issued on 24th Assu 1878 Bikrami, written that Jagir’s caretaker Mutbina was ‘Muhiwal Bans Bhai Hari Singh Ji”. (ChonveRattan , 1937, p 419). Later on after the demise of Munshi Sant Singh, Jathedar Lachhman Singh took care of the historic Bir of Guru Granth Sahib with utmost care. Nowadays, the historic Bir is at Gurudwara Sikh Orphanage, Chief Khalsa Dewan Amritsar. Bunga Akali Phula Singh, where Akalis reside at Shaheed Ganj also came into existence during this period.

The official residence of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa used to be in front of Shergari Ghat, while the white-towered house for summer residence was built on the banks of the river Jhelum, which lies between the present S P College and the Nidous Hotel. (Parmu, p. 312) .Hari Singh also built a magnificent garden on the banks of the river Jehlum. He also provided financial support to the royal treasury for the construction of many mosques and temples.


Ranjit Singh was to conquer more territories with the help of Sardar Nalwa, and annex them to the Khalsa Raj. The Maharaja recalled Sardar Nalwa from Kashmir and appointed Diwan Moti Ram as Governor of Kashmir. Before leaving, Sardar Nalwa visited Srinagar. A huge Darbar was held in which prominent Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims came together.

Preparations were made to see off  Nalwa Sardar from Kashmir on 6 November 1821 AD. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa was responsible for expanding the frontiers of the Sikh Empire to beyond the Indus River right upto the north Khyber Pass. In the time of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa , prosperity and brotherhood were at their peak in Kashmir. He was regarded as a beloved servant of the people and an efficient governor.

Dr Jasbir Singh Sarna is a voracious writer in Punjabi, English and Urdu. He is a Poet, Scholar, Historian and has written about 52 books. Hailing from Kashmir, he remains founder-editor of the monthly Shamshir-e-Dast Amritsar.

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