Hari Singh Nalwa Wiki, Age, Death, Caste, Wife, Family, Biography & More

A portrait Of Hari Singh Nalwa

Hari Singh Nalwa (1791–1837) is a prominent figure in Sikh history, who served as the Commander-in-chief of the Sikh Khalsa Fauj, the army of the Sikh Empire from 1804 to 1837. He gained recognition for his role in the conquests of Kasur, Sialkot, Attock, Multan, Kashmir, Peshawar, and Jamrud. Hari Singh Nalwa expanded the boundaries of the Sikh Empire by pushing its borders all the way from the Indus River to the entrance of the Khyber Pass. He also served as the Governor of Kashmir, Peshawar, and Hazara. He set up a mint on behalf of the Sikh Empire to simplify revenue collection in Kashmir and Peshawar.

Wiki/Biography

Hari Singh Nalwa was born on Friday, 29 April 1791 (age 46 years; at the time of death) in Gujranwala, Shukarchakia Misl in the Majha region of Punjab. He was seven when his father passed away. At 12, he started handling his father’s property and started learning horse riding.

Family

According to various historians, Hari Singh Nalwa belonged to a Khatri family from the Uppal clan, hailing from Majitha town near Amritsar.

Parents & Siblings

His father, Gurdial Singh Uppal, died in 1798. Thereafter, Hari Singh was raised by his mother, Dharam Kaur.

Wife & Children

Hari Singh had two wives, Raj Kaur (from Rawalpindi) and Desan Kaur. Having two wives was customary at that time. He had four sons and two daughters.

Religion

Hari Singh Nalwa followed Sikhism and took Amrit Sanchar at the age of ten.

Military Career

Hari Singh Nalwa became associated with Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, at the age of fourteen when his mother sent him to the Maharaja’s court to resolve a property dispute. There, Nalwa revealed that his father and grandfather used to serve under Maha Singh and Charat Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s ancestors. He also demonstrated his skills as a horseman and musketeer. Ranjit Singh made a decision in Nalwa’s favour because of his background and aptitude and also offered him a position at the court as a personal attendant. Around 1804, a tiger attacked Nalwa during a hunt and also killed his horse. Although his fellow hunters tried to help him, he refused their offers and allegedly killed the tiger by himself using a dagger. The incident earned him the name “Baghmar,” which translates to Tiger-killer. In the same year, Nalwa was commissioned as Sardar in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, where he commanded 800 horses and footmen.

Battle of Kasur (1807)

Hari Singh’s first significant participation in the Sikh conquest happened in 1807 when he took charge of an independent contingent at the capture of Kasur. Kasur had long been a troublesome place and was close to Ranjit Singh’s capital, Lahore. Kasur was captured on the fourth attempt. The attack was led by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Jodh Singh Ramgarhia. Hari Singh showed great bravery and skill during the campaign, earning him a “Jagir” as a reward for his services.

Siege of Multan (1807)

Ranjit Singh attacked Multan 7 times. Hari Singh Nalwa fought in 5 of them. Ranjit Singh’s strategy was not to defeat his enemies all at once, as he wanted to avoid excessive bloodshed and preferred weakening them for easier conquest. While marching towards Multan, they took control of Dilalpur and Jhang. The Sikhs surrounded the Multan Fort, but peace was achieved with the assistance of Fateh Singh Kaliawalia. The Maharaja lifted the siege with a lot of money.

Battle of Sialkot (1807)

Ranjit Singh chose Hari Singh Nalwa to capture Sialkot from its ruler, Jiwan Singh. This marked Nalwa’s first battle where he had an independent command. The two armies fought for a couple of days, and in the end, seventeen-year-old Hari Singh won the battle. Nalwa led the army to success and hoisted the Sikh Flag atop the fort.

Battle of Jammu (1808)

After capturing Sialkot in 1808, the Sikhs, led by Hari Singh Nalwa, invaded Jammu. Ranjit Singh instructed Nalwa to take control of the nearby regions of Jammu. With the help of a Sikh named Hukam Singh Chimni, they successfully conquered the city.

Siege of Multan (1810)

In 1810, Hari Singh Nalwa again laid siege to Multan. Ranjit Singh had told Muzaffar Khan to pay tribute, but Muzaffar Khan refused. Therefore, the Sikhs besieged Multan once more. During the battle, Hari Singh Nalwa got seriously wounded while climbing the fort because someone threw a firepot at him. Muzaffar Khan asked the British for help, but he couldn’t secure an alliance with them and had to surrender after a two-month-long siege. Thereafter, Muzaffar Khan paid a tribute of 180,000 rupees and 20 horses to the Sikhs.

Battle of Attock (1813)

The fort of Attock was an important place for all armies which crossed the Indus River as they would restock supplies there. In the early 19th century, Afghans chosen by the Kingdom of Kabul controlled this fort, along with most of the land in this area. In 1813, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s general Dewan Mokham Chand led the Sikhs at the Battle of Attock and won it. The battle was fought on the banks of the Indus against Wazir Fatteh Khan and his brother Dost Mohammad Khan, representing Shah Mahmud of Kabul. Apart from Hari Singh Nalwa, others like Hukam Singh Attariwala, Shyamu Singh, Khalsa Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, and Behmam Singh Malliawala were actively involved in this battle. When Attock was conquered, the nearby areas of Hazara-i-Karlugh and Gandhgarh became subjects of the Sikhs. In 1815, Sherbaz Khan of Gandhgarh challenged Hari Singh Nalwa’s authority and was defeated.

Campaign in Kashmir

After the Battle of Attock, the Sikhs tried to capture Kashmir. Maharaja Ranjit Singh led the army, camping at Rajauri. Dewan Mokham Chand’s grandson Ram Dayal led the troops towards Srinagar. Jamadar Khushal Singh led the front, while Hari Singh Nalwa and Nihal Singh Attariwala were at the back. Problems like lack of food, delayed reinforcements, bad weather, and betrayal by allies forced the Sikhs to retreat. In the following years, they focused on suppressing Muslim leaders in the Kashmir region as they moved towards the Srinagar Valley. In 1815–16, Hari Singh Nalwa attacked and destroyed the stronghold of the traitorous Rajauri chief.

A painting of Hari Singh Nalwa seated on an elephant

A painting of Hari Singh Nalwa seated on an elephant

Conquest of Mahmudkot (1816)

To conquer the heavily fortified Mankera, Maharaja Ranjit Singh planned to approach it from its southern extremity. After the Baisakhi festival in 1816, Misr Diwan Chand, Illahi Bakhsh, Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, Nihal Singh Attariwala, and Hari Singh Nalwa, along with seven paltans and heavy artillery headed towards Mahmudkot. When news of the successful conquest reached Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he celebrated by firing cannons. Two years later, while on their way to Multan, the Sikhs also seized the forts of Khangarh and Muzzaffargarh.

Battle of Multan (1818)

In 1818, after Ranjit Singh had already taken much of Muzaffar Khan’s resources in previous expeditions, he ordered the Sikhs to march to Multan again. A 15,000-strong Sikh force faced off against 40,000 Afghans, and another 10,000 Sikhs under Dhena Singh joined later. Muzaffar Khan bravely challenged the Sikhs but was shot down along with five of his sons. Hari Singh Nalwa played a significant role in capturing the citadel, and the famous Zamzama cannon was badly damaged. It took six attempts, but the Sikhs finally seized the city. In the siege, 1,900 Sikhs were killed, and 4,000 were wounded, while the Afghans had 12,000 men killed.

Making Peshawar a tributary (1818)

In August 1818, when Shah Mahmud’s son, Shah Kamran, killed their Barakzai Vazir Fateh Khan, the Sikhs used the chaos to their advantage. Their army crossed the Indus River and entered Peshawar, which was the summer capital of the Kingdom of Kabul (modern-day Afghanistan), for the first time. After this, Hari Singh Nalwa was sent to Peshawar to ensure that the Sikhs maintained control and influence in the region.

Mitha Tiwana

Afterwards, Dewan Mokham Chand stationed Hari Singh Nalwa at the outskirts of Mitha Tiwana on Maharaja’s instructions. Hari Singh Nalwa accomplished notable achievements there, following which he was given the jagir of Mitha Tiwana.

Capture of Kashmir

In 1819, Maharaja Ranjit Singh received a request to annex Kashmir from the Durrani Empire as Afghan rule was very unpopular among the people of Kashmir. Ranjit Singh sent an expeditionary force, dividing it into three columns. Misr Diwan Chand led the advance force with heavy artillery, Kharak Singh and Hari Singh Nalwa followed, and Ranjit Singh commanded the rear guard. The expedition successfully marched through Bhimber, Rajouri, and faced resistance in Rajauri. Hari Singh Nalwa took command of a force, defeated the rebel army, and accepted their unconditional surrender. The Sikh forces encountered further opposition but eventually made their way into Srinagar on 15 July 1819.

Battle of Pakhli (1819)

After capturing Kashmir, tribute was due from Pakhli, Damtaur and Darband. Hari Singh Nalwa, along with his companions, was appointed to collect the tribute. As they marched through Pakhli to request the tribute, it resulted in a conflict, and the Sikhs ultimately secured it after a battle.

Battle of Mangal (1821)

The Maharaja called for Nalwa to fulfil his tax obligation. Leading a force of 7,000 foot soldiers, Nalwa marched through Pakhli and Muzaffarabad. While passing through Mangal in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Nalwa encountered a large tribal force of 25,000 to 30,000 troops led by Bostan Khan and Mohammad Khan Tarain. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Nalwa and his Sikhs skillfully defeated the Afghans, securing a well-deserved victory.

Battle of Mankera (1822)

The Sindh Sagar Doab, primarily governed from Mankera and Mitha Tiwana, was under the influence of Nawab Hafiz Ahmed Khan, a relative of the Durranis. Apart from Mankera, he controlled a vast area with 12 forts. As Afghan rule weakened in Kabul, governors of Attock, Mankera, Mitha Tiwana, and Khushab declared independence. In 1821, during Dussehra celebrations at Shahdera, Ranjit Singh focused on the region. Hari Singh, who was then serving as the Governor of Kashmir, was the most familiar with the territory. He was urgently called to join the Lahore Army heading towards the Indus River. After crossing the Jehlum, Hari Singh Nalwa, with his Kashmir platoons, joined the forces at Mitha Tiwana. Offensive operations began in early November. Before Nawab Hafiz Ahmed, his predecessor Nawab Mohammed Khan had established a protective ring around Mankera with 12 forts including Haidrabad, Maujgarh, Fatehpur, Pipal, Darya Khan, Khanpur, Jhandawala, Kalor, Dulewala, Bhakkar, Dingana, and Chaubara. The Sikh army took control of these forts, leaving Mankera as the only place yet to be conquered. Some years earlier, the Nawab of Mankera had actively participated in reducing Mitha Tiwana. Now, the Tiwanas, who were followers of Hari Singh Nalwa, were keen to reciprocate the favour to the Nawab. The attacking force, divided into three parts, entered Mankera territory through different routes, capturing various places along the way. The three columns rejoined near Mankera town, and the siege of Mankera began. Nalwa’s force positioned itself to the west of the fort. The Nawab was allowed to go to Dera Ismail Khan, granted to him as a jagir, and his descendants held the area until 1836.

Battle of Nowshera (Naushehra) (1823)

In 1818, the Sikhs entered Peshawar for the first time, collecting tribute without occupying the territory. Yar Mohammed, the Barakzai governor, complied with the Sikhs’ demands. However, his half-brother Azim Khan from Kabul disapproved and marched with a large force to defend Afghan honour. Hari Singh Nalwa led the Sikhs, crossing the Indus at Attock. They encountered the Afghan army near Nowshera, with Hari Singh focusing on capturing Yusafzai stronghold Jehangira and Khattak territory Akora Khattak. After overcoming resistance, Hari Singh established control over Jehangira. Ranjit Singh joined the battle, crossing the Landai River. The Afghan Barakzais observed from across the river but couldn’t cross it. Eventually, the Afghan forces withdrew towards Jalalabad.

Battle of Sirikot (1824)

Sirikot, located less than ten miles northwest of Haripur, strategically sat at the top of the northeast end of the Gandhgarh Range. This Mashwani village served as a secure haven for rebellious chiefs in the region. Hari Singh Nalwa headed towards Sirikot before the rains of 1824. The expedition took about six months to yield conclusive results, during which Nalwa almost lost his life. In the winter of 1824, Ranjit Singh planned a military campaign towards Peshawar and Kabul. Hari Singh informed Ranjit Singh of overwhelming odds, one Sikh against ten Afghans. Ranjit Singh marched from Wazirabad to Rohtas, then Rawalpindi, and via Sarai Kala reached Sirikot. Upon hearing of the approaching Sikh army, the Afghans withdrew.

Hari Singh Nalwa leading his army into Jamrud, by Jarnail Singh, early 20th century

Hari Singh Nalwa leading his army into Jamrud, by Jarnail Singh, early 20th century

Battle of Saidu (1827)

Sayyid Ahmad emerged as the savior of the Yusafzais, who despite being a ‘Hindki’ was accepted as a leader by them. In response to the Yusafzai rebellion, Budh Singh Sandhanwalia, with 4,000 horsemen, was sent by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to assist in suppressing it and then proceed to Peshawar to collect tribute from Yar Mohammed Khan Barakzai. Budh Singh learned about Sayyid Ahmad after crossing the Indus and camping near Khairabad. Ranjit Singh was still on the sickbed when the news of the Sayyid’s arrival reached him. Consequently, Ranjit Singh mobilized his forces and sent them to the frontier. The Barakzais in Peshawar, despite professing allegiance to the Sikhs, were collaborating with other Afghans. The Sayyid marched from Peshawar towards Nowshera, and Budh Singh sought clarification of his intentions, to which the Sayyid replied that he wished to first take the fort of Attock and then engage Budh Singh in battle. In the battle, Hari Singh Nalwa guarded the Attock fort to stop Sayyid and his forces from crossing the river until reinforcements from Lahore came. The battle took place on 14 Phagun (23 February) 1827. After about two hours of cannon fire, the Sikhs charged, defeated their opponents, and chased them for six miles, capturing their guns, swivels, and camp equipment.

Capture of Peshawar (1834)

After the Durrani Empire fell apart, Afghanistan was divided into many states, and almost every city became self-governing or independent. Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent General Hari Singh Nalwa and his deputy commander, Mahan Singh Mirpuri, to capture Peshawar. After a short battle, Hari Singh Nalwa successfully took control of the city. Subsequently, Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed Hari Singh Nalwa as the governor of the city.

Dost Mohammad Khan withdraws (1835)

Hari Singh Nalwa served as the governor of Peshawar when Dost Mohammed challenged the Sikhs. In 1834, after Dost Mohammed’s victory in Kandahar, he declared himself king and set out to take Peshawar from the Sikhs. Ranjit Singh instructed his generals to engage in negotiations and win over Sultan Mohammed Khan without entering a full-scale battle until his arrival. Clashes started in December 1834, with Akbar Khan defeating Hari Singh Nalwa in one engagement, resulting in around 150 Sikh casualties. Ranjit Singh chose negotiation over direct confrontation, sending diplomats to Dost Mohammad Khan’s camp, including Josiah Harlan and Faqir Aziz, who sowed discord among Dost Mohammad’s supporters. Sultan Mohammad Khan, a key supporter, defected to the Sikh camp with over 10,000 men, causing turmoil in the Afghan camp. Simultaneously, the Sikh army, led by Hari Singh Nalwa and other commanders, approached Dost Mohammad Khan’s centre and right side. The French division under Jean-François Allard and others marched towards the left flank of Dost Mohammad Khan’s army. Despite rejecting a truce, Dost Mohammad Khan withdrew at night, believing he was surrounded and facing ominous signs, taking all ammunition and guns with him.

Hari Singh Nalwa inspecting a guard of honour, by Brij Lal, early 20th century

Hari Singh Nalwa inspecting a guard of honour, by Brij Lal, early 20th century

Battle of Michni

Once, while hunting near Michni with 100 horsemen, Hari Singh Nalwa heard complaints from Hindus about Dela Khan stealing a woman. After learning about the Khan’s atrocities, Nalwa decided to help the Hindus. In a night attack with his 100 men, Nalwa faced a much larger force of 5,000 under Dela Khan. In one account, Dela Khan was slain, and his son later attacked with the remaining army, also perishing. Another version suggests that Khan apologized, and offered to return the bride, but faced punishment. The bride, Bibi Harsharan Kaur, later played a significant role during Hari Singh Nalwa’s martyrdom.

Panjtaar defeated (1836)

The Khyberis were defeated, and this sent shock waves through the Afghans. Hari Singh Nalwa and Kanwar Sher Singh then went to the Yusafzai strongholds, which were to the northeast of Peshawar. These places hadn’t paid tribute for three years. The Sikhs fought and beat the Yusafzais, and their leader, Fateh Khan of Panjtar, lost his territory. About 15,000 people ran away from the Sikhs, and many were killed, while the rest went to the hills for safety. After destroying Panjtar, Hari Singh went back to Peshawar and collected all the unpaid taxes. Fateh Khan had to agree to pay tribute, and only then Panjtar was returned to him.

Battle of Jamrud (1837)

In March 1837, the Maharaja’s grandson, Nau Nihal Singh, was getting married. Troops were gathered for a show of strength at the wedding, attended by the British Commander-in-chief. Dost Mohammed Khan, invited to the celebration, ordered his forces to march towards Jamrud, aiming to display strength and capture forts. Though Hari Singh Nalwa was supposed to be in Amritsar, he was actually in Peshawar, possibly due to illness, according to some accounts. Dost Mohammed’s forces surrounded the fortress of Jamrud, where Hari Singh’s lieutenant, Mahan Singh, held limited supplies with 600 men. Hari Singh rushed to the rescue, despite being outnumbered. His presence caused panic among the Afghan forces, and in the ensuing conflict, Hari Singh was severely wounded. Before his death, he instructed his lieutenant to keep his death a secret until reinforcements arrived. The Afghans, unaware of Hari Singh’s death, waited for over a week. Upon confirmation, they withdrew after seeing Nalwa’s body displayed outside the fort. Hari Singh Nalwa had not only defended Jamrud and Peshawar but also prevented the Afghans from ravaging the northwest frontier. The loss of Hari Singh Nalwa was significant, marking the end of Sikh conquests in that direction. The Khyber Pass remained the Sikh frontier until the British annexation of the Punjab. Despite this defeat, victories over the Afghans were celebrated by Ranjit Singh, who ordered a costly shawl from Kashmir depicting scenes of these battles. After Hari Singh Nalwa’s death, further conquests in that region ceased.

Administrative Career

Hari Singh’s administrative rule covered one-third of the Sikh Empire. He served as the governor of Kashmir from 1820 to 1821 and Greater Hazara from 1822 to 1837. He was twice appointed the Governor of Peshawar (1834-1835 and 1836- his death). He worked closely with the 2nd in command of the Khalsa Army, the Sikh Brahmin ‘Raja Mahan Singh Mirpuri’ on many affairs related to administration. In his private capacity, Hari Singh Nalwa had the responsibility of managing his extensive jagir, which covered various parts of the kingdom. The regions under his control later became part of the British Districts, including Peshawar, Hazara (Pakhli, Damtaur, Haripur, Darband, Gandhgarh, Dhund, Karral, and Khanpur), Attock (Chhachch, Hassan Abdal), Jehlum (Pindi Gheb, Katas), Mianwali (Kachhi), Shahpur (Warcha, Mitha Tiwana, and Nurpur), Dera Ismail Khan (Bannu, Tank, and Kundi), Rawalpindi (Rawalpindi, Kallar), and Gujranwala. In 1832, as per William Bentinck’s specific request, the Maharajah proposed a fixed table of duties for all his territories. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa was one of the three individuals appointed to establish these duties from Attock (on the Indus) to Filor (on the Satluj).

Diplomatic Mission

In 1831, Hari Singh Nalwa was assigned to lead a diplomatic mission to meet Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of British India. Shortly after, the Ropar Meeting took place between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the leader of British India. The Maharaja saw this as an opportunity to officially recognize his son, Kharak Singh, as the heir-apparent. However, Hari Singh Nalwa had serious concerns about this proposal. The British aimed to convince Ranjit Singh to allow trade access to the Indus.

Death

Hari Singh Nalwa Sahib sustained severe wounds while battling the forces of Dost Mohammad Khan of Afghanistan. He succumbed to his injuries and was cremated in the Jamrud Fort located at the entrance of the Khyber Pass in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Afghan chronicle Siraj al-Tawarikh claims he was killed in a duel with Wazir Akbar Khan. Historian Hari Ram Gupta suggests that Hari Singh, leading his men, was hit by two bullets at the front and later passed away after being taken inside the fort. In 1892, Babu Gajju Mall Kapur, a Hindu resident of Peshawar, honoured his memory by constructing a memorial in the fort.

Legacy

Nalwa was also a builder, credited with around 56 structures like forts, towers, gurdwaras, and more. In 1822, he built the planned town of Haripur, the first in the region with an excellent water system. His robust Harkishengarh fort in a mountain valley had four gates, surrounded by a wall four yards thick and 16 yards high. Nalwa’s presence made Haripur feel secure, and by 1835–6, the town was thriving. Many Khatris migrated there, establishing a successful trade. The town, tehsil, and district of Haripur in Hazara, North-West Frontier Province, were named after him. Nalwa boosted the prosperity of Gujranwala, a land granted to him around 1799 as a jagir, which he held until his death in 1837. He constructed major Sikh forts in the trans-Indus region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Jehangira and Nowshera on the banks of the river Kabul. Sumergarh (Bala Hisar Fort in Peshawar) was also built, along with laying the foundation for Fatehgarh at Jamrud (Jamrud Fort). He strengthened Akbar’s Attock fort by adding high bastions to each gate and constructed the fort of Uri in Kashmir. A religious, Nalwa constructed Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassan Abdal to commemorate Guru Nanak’s journey through the region. He donated the gold needed for the dome of the Akal Takht in the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar. After Nalwa’s death, his sons Jawahir Singh Nalwa and Arjan Singh Nalwa fought against the British to defend the sovereignty of the Kingdom of the Sikhs, with Jawahir Singh noted for his defence in the Battle of Chillianwala. Abhinav Bindra, India’s first individual Olympic Gold Medalist, is Nalwa’s 5th generation direct descendant.

Facts

  • Dr. Vanit Nalwa, the seventh-generation descendant of Hari Singh, shared interesting details during her presentation of the book “Hari Singh Nalwa: Champion of the Khalsaji (1791-1837)” at the National Archives of India in Delhi. She mentioned that Hari Singh Nalwa acquired his surname when Maharaja Ranjit Singh, impressed by the warrior’s childhood bravery, exclaimed, “wah mere Raja Nal, wah,” drawing a comparison with King Nal from the Mahabharat.
  • Vanit Nalwa also mentioned that some historians proposed that the name “Nalwa” didn’t necessarily mean “tiger killer,” as commonly believed. Instead, it originated from Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s words of admiration when he learned that young Hari Singh had courageously slain a tiger on his own. The author also pointed out that the connection between a tiger and King Nal, who saved his father as a child, is found in the oral epic “Dhola,” sung in Jat villages of the Braj region in western UP and eastern Rajasthan until the late 19th century.
  • On 30 April 2013, Kapil Sibal, the Indian Minister of Communications, issued a special postage stamp in honour of Hari Singh.
  • Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala made a song about Hari Singh Nalwa called “Vaar.” It was released on 8 November 2022, to celebrate the 553rd birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. This song was Sidhu’s second release after his passing, and it quickly gained popularity with 1.5 million views on YouTube in the first 30 minutes.
  • In September 2023, a picture of Hari Singh Nalwa was printed on the official sweaters of the Dallas Cowboys football team. This was done as part of the “Carpe Omnia” theme for the upcoming sports season, which means “seize everything.”

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