CONQUEST OF KHYBER. Never occured before or since.
Date: 17 Feb 2007
Kot Khalsa: The land of Sikh chieftains who
plugged Khyber Pass
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