CONQUEST OF KHYBER. Never occured before or since.

Date: 17 Feb 2007


Kot Khalsa: The land of Sikh chieftains who
plugged Khyber Pass
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Kot Khalsa on Amritsar-Wagah road is an 
archelogically rich area. It is the spot where 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh stationed himself to 
recruit able-bodied persons for the Khalsa Army 
when he took over the Holy City of Amritsar in 1802.

It was this army, a formidable military machine, 
that helped the Maharaja carve out an extensive 
kingdom and maintain it despite hostile and 
ambitious neighbours. He then fought fierce 
battle in Afghanistan, capturing the Pashtuns 
around Peshawar. It was the first time that 
Pashtuns were ruled by a non-Muslim. In fact, for 
more than a thousand years invaders had come down 
from the Khyber Pass and ruled eastern lands. 
Ranjit Singh reversed this trend. His army 
plugged the gap in the mountains and made it 
impossible for the invaders to cross over to Hindoostan.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the only ruler not only 
in India but in the entire world who himself 
selected each and every recruit of his army. It 
gave a chance to soldier of his army to have a 
glimpse of his master. The personal touch 
resulted in the recruits becoming devoted and loyal soldiers to his Majesty.

For recruitment, the Maharaja would sit on the 
plinth of the well of his Maharani, Roop Kaur, 
who was the daughter of Sardar Jai Singh 
Ghorewalia and sister of Kumedan Charat Singh and 
Kumedan Bhup Singh of village Kot Sayedmood (now Kot Khalsa).

The historical well, bearing the nameplate of 
Maharani Roop Kaur, was built using Nanakshahi 
bricks and lime. Even Muslims were allowed to 
draw water from it with their leather ‘boka’ 
(bag). The well has, however, lost its heritage 
look now as it has been covered with a cement umbrella- type cover.

The Kot Khalsa village is more than three 
centuries old. Its earlier name was Rampur and 
was largely inhabited by the Hindu trading 
community. It was plundered by invaders several 
times. Later, Sayed Mehmood, a Muslim warrior 
occupied the area and established himself at a 
tactical place with a ‘khai’ (moat) filled with 
rainwater around it. The place therefore came to 
be known as ‘Kote Sayedmood’ (meaning fort of 
Sayed Mehmood). After the annexation of Amritsar, 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh selected this strategic 
area for building a cantonment for the defence of 
the Holy City. The Sayeds were shifted to another 
village allotted to them in Sialkot.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the charge of the 
cantonment to Sardar Jai Singh Ghorewahia. The 
name of the village was changed to Kot Khalsa by 
Sardar Bahadur Ajaib Singh Sarkaria, grandson of 
Kumedan Khushal Singh Sarkaria. The name is 
derived from Kot Sayedmood and Khalsa College for 
which its residents had donated 365 acres of 
land. In return, the College management has been 
giving free education to the successors of the 
original residents of the village on the 
verification of Major Mohinder Singh Sarkaria.

Though the Punjab state has spent crores of 
rupees on organising heritage festivals every 
year, nobody has bothered to visit Kot Khalsa 
which has witnessed wanton destruction of 
archeologically valuable sites. However, Major 
Mohinder Singh Sarkaria (84), who is a direct 
descendant of the famed Sikh warriors, has been 
making efforts at his own level to preserve the 
history of Kot Khalsa. Major Sarkaria was 
decorated by the President of India for 
meritorious service and permitted to retire and 
retain the rank of Major for life vide Gazette of 
India on April 14, 1973. He has an illustrious 
family background and is living in Roop Mahal 
named after his great grand bhuaji (aunt), 
Mahanrani Roop Kaur who was married to Maharaja 
Ranjit Singh in 1809. His great grandfather, Raja 
Sahib Kumedan Khushal Singh Sarkaria, had 
conquered Kabul. In recognition of his 
achievements, Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the 
express consent of eldest sons, Maharaja Kharak 
Singh and Maharaja Sher Singh, adopted Kumedan Khushal Singh as his son.

Even as horse-driven tongas and buggies have 
become a rare sight these days, Major Sarkaria is 
seen doing the rounds of the Holy City with his 
six-year old grandson in his cart wearing the 
army uniform. He has been using it for 40 years 
on the roads of Amritsar and The Mall, Jalandhar 
Cantonment. His forefathers and grandsons all 
liked horse-riding even before the rule of 
Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He has named his house 
after his aunt, Maharani Roop Kaur, where the buggy remains parked.

Major Sarkaria has a passion for horses. His 
three daughters ­ Harsohan Kaur, Kavmohan Kaur 
and Pawanbrij Kaur are trained riders. His 
grandson insists on riding a bridegroom’s 
decorated ‘ghori’ whenever he comes across one. 
He has been doing it ever since he was three 
years old. Major Sarkaria’s forefathers have been 
cavalry soldiers. His father, Sardar Bahadur 
Risaldar Ajaib Singh Sarkaria, honoured with OBE 
(Order of the British Empire), served in the 
Seventh Haryana Lancers and was declared the hero 
of the siege of Kotal-Amara (Turkey). In a 
hand-to-hand fight, he had five heads to his 
credit. Forefathers of Major Sarkaria used to 
till land with horses and therefore came to be known as ‘Ghorewahia’.

He was the first Indian officer who was 
transferred to the Civil Services as a 
Magistrate. He was selected as a Jail 
Superintendent and served in Jalandhar for 11 
years. Major Sarkaria’s elder brother, Colonel 
Ram Singh Sarkaria, participated in World War I. 
He was educated in America for five years and in 
Oxford University for a year. He remained abroad 
from 1922 to 1928. He returned as the first 
bacteriologist and took up an appointment with 
Agriculture College Layalpur. He invented 
‘Barseem’ green fodder in 1930, which proved to 
be a boon for animals during summer months.

Risaidar Sardar Kojha Singh Sarkaria, grandfather 
of Major Sarkaria, served in Central India Horse 
with distinction and fought the Afghan battle. On 
retirement, he was granted the status as ‘Kursi 
Nashin’ which entitled him to Chair before any 
officer of any rank up to the Viceroy and Governor General of India.

The father of Sardar Kojha Singh was Raja Sahib 
Kumedan Khushal Singh Sarkaria, who at the tender 
age of 16 was considered worthy of commanding the 
famous ‘Charyaria Cavalry Regiment.’ He was 
appointed ‘Kumedan’ (commandant) in place of his 
late father Kumedan Bhoop Singh by Maharaja 
Ranjit Singh ‘sayid moodia’. In recorded history, 
a 16-year old boy has never been the commandant 
of any army unit. He proved his worth many times 
when he conquered Kabul and hoisted the Khalsa 
flag of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The title of Raja 
Sahib was bestowed on him with the entitlement of 
wearing a ‘kalgi,’ occupying a chair in the 
presence of his Majesty. His uncle, Kumedam 
Charat Singh, was also permitted the same 
ceremony. Khushal Singh was later adopted by his 
Majesty. The highest gallantry award of 
‘Kokab-e-Iqbal-e-Punjab’ was awarded to him. He 
and his collaterals were declared ‘Sarkaria’ i.e. 
belonging to the government of Maharaja Ranjit 
Singh. His descendants continue to be Sarkarias.

Kumedan Bhoop Singh’s father, Sardar Jai Singh, 
was similarly know for his valour during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time.

Jagpal Singh Tiwana
Dartmouth, Canada