BUḌḌHĀ DAL and Taruṇā Dal, names now appropriated by two sections of the Nihaṅg Sikhs, were the popular designations of the two divisions of Dal Khālsā, the confederated army of the Sikhs during the eighteenth century. With the execution of Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur in 1716, the Sikhs were deprived of a unified command. Moreover, losses suffered by the Sikhs during the anti-Bandā Siṅgh campaign around Gurdāspur and the relentless persecution that followed at the hands of 'Abd us-Samad Khān, governor of Lahore, made it impossible for Sikhs to continue large scale combined operations. Hunted out of their homes, they scattered in small jathās or groups to find refuge in distant hills, forests and deserts, but they were far from vanquished. In 1726 the imperial government replaced 'Abd us-Samad Khān by his more energetic and disciplinarian son, Khān Bahādur Zakarīyā Khān, but he too was unable to reduce the Sikhs to submission. He at last came to terms with them in 1733, offering them a jāgīr worth 1, 00, 000 rupees a year, the title of "Nawāb" for one of their leaders and their peaceful settlement at Amritsar and elsewhere in the Punjab. The Sikhs accepted the offer. Some went back to their old villages, but the bulk of the warriors among them, a few thousand in number and still grouped around their former leaders, concentrated in Amritsar under the command of Sardār Kapūr Siṅgh who, with Darbārā Siṅgh to assist him as his dīwān, made arrangements for their maintenance. Kapūr Siṅgh, finding it difficult to cater for such a large force centrally, particularly after Darbārā Siṅgh's death in 1734, divided the camp into two parts on the basis of age of the jathedārs or group leaders. The elders' camp comprising jathās of older leaders such as Shām Siṅgh, Gurbakhsh Siṅgh, Bāgh Siṅgh, Gurdiāl Siṅgh, Sukkhā Siṅgh and Kapūr Siṅgh himself came to be called Buḍḍhā (elderly) Dal, and the youths' camp Taruṇā (youthful) Dal. The latter was further sub-divided into five jathās, each with its own drum and banner. Buḍḍhā Dal too was similarly sub-divided after some time. Nawāb Kapūr Siṅgh remained in overall command of the two Dals jointly called Dal Khālsā. Men were free to join jathās of their choice. In old sources we come across only one reference to the strength of a jathā. That is in Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh, which, referring to the fifth jathā of the Taruṇā Dal commanded by Bīr Siṅgh Raṅghreṭā, puts down its strength at 1300 horse. From this figure it may be surmised that the jathās broadly comprised 1, 300 to 2, 000 men each. It was generally agreed that Buḍḍhā Dal would remain at Amritsar and manage the shrines, leaving Taruṇā Dal free for operations in the country.
The entente with the Mughals did not last long. Zakarīya Khān wanted the Sikhs to disperse and revert to civil life in villages or join the imperial army as regular soldiers. The governor eventually broke the compact and resumed his former policy of persecution through his gashtī fauj (roving army) and rewarding informers and private killers of Sikhs. While Taruṇā Dal crossed the Sutlej into the territory of Sirhind, Buḍḍhā Dal spread in the countryside of Mājhā (area of Bārī Doāb and Rachnā Doāb, especially the former). Its first clash with the gashtī fauj took place in 1736 near Chūnīāṅ, 50 km west of Kasūr. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Buḍḍhā Dal crossed the Sutlej and, staying for some time at Barnālā, then the capital of Sardār Ālā Siṅgh, proceeded northwards again to celebrate Dīvālī (1736) at Amritsar. While camping at Bāsarke near Amritsar, they were surprised by a 7, 000 strong force under Dīwān Lakhpat Rāi. The Dal retreated towards Chūnīāṅ and then to the Mālvā country, where it helped Ālā Siṅgh extend his territory southwards at the cost of Bhaṭṭī chiefs of that region. Infuriated by the martyrdom in 1737 of Bhāī Manī Siṅgh at the hands of Zakarīyā Khān, Sikhs prepared to converge again upon Lahore territory. Although Nādir Shāh's invasion in January-May 1739 had shaken the imperial government at Delhi to its very roots, Zakarīyā Khān in the Punjab was not deterred from his policy of repression against the Sikhs. The Buḍḍhā Dal was still in the desert region of Mālvā and Rājasthān when news was received of the desecration of the Harimandar by Masse Khān Raṅghaṛ, Kotwāl of Amritsar. Matāb Siṅgh and Sukkhā Siṅgh, members of the jathā of Sardār Shām Siṅgh, travelled incognito to Amritsar, killed Massā in broad daylight on 6 May 1740 and rejoined the jathā in their desert resort. The Buḍḍhā Dal and Taruṇā Dal soon returned to the Punjab and resorted to their usual hit-and-run tactics. They also resumed their gatherings at Amritsar on the occasion of Baisākhī and Dīvālī. Zakarīyā Khān thought it politic to ignore these assemblies. According to Khushwaqt Rāi, he did post Dīwān Lakhpat Rāi with a suitable contingent at Amritsar on these occasions, but his orders were not to pick a fight with the Sikhs. However, his campaign for general massacre of the Sikhs "wherever found" continued unabated till his death on 1 July 1745. Feeling the need for further dispersal, the Dal Khālsā, meeting at Amritsar on the following Dīvālī, 14 November 1745, divided itself into 25 jathās who, however, owed allegiance to Buḍḍhā Dal and Taruṇā Dal according to the affiliation of their leaders, and who often undertook joint operations. Jathās belonging to both Dals were involved in the bloody action known as Chhoṭā Ghallūghārā of April-May 1746 in which Sikh losses amounted to seven to eight thousand killed and captured. Taking advantage of the civil war which had broken out between the two sons of Zakarīyā Khān - Yāhiyā Khān and Shāh Nawāz Khān--in November 1746, the jathās of the two Dals (their number had since gone up to 65) came out of their retreats and started converging on Amritsar whence they spread out again on their plundering raids in order to replenish their depleted stocks of stores, equipment and horses. Shāh Nawāz Khān, the victor in the civil war, on the advice of his Dīwān, Kauṛā Mall, and Ādīnā Beg, faujdār of Jalandhar, solicited peace with the Sikhs. The Sikhs at an assembly of the Sarbatt Khālsā at Amritsar on the occasion of Baisākhī, 30 March 1747, decided to build a fort near Amritsar which when completed came to be known as Rāmgaṛh or Rām Rauṇī.
The jathās harassed and plundered for a whole week (18-26 March) the columns of Ahmad Shāh Durrānī who, defeated in the battle of Mānūpur (16 March 1748), had recrossed the Sutlej and was on his way back to Afghanistan. Sardār Chaṛhat Siṅgh, grandfather of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, chased him up to the River Chenāb and returned with a rich booty. At a Sarbatt Khālsā conclave at Amritsar on Baisākhī, 29 March 1748, the entire force of 65 jathās was divided into eleven misls or divisions each under its own sardār or chief as follows : (1) Āhlūvālīā misl under Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā, (2) Siṅghpurīā (also called Faizullāpurīā) misl under Nawāb Kapūr Siṅgh, (3) Karoṛsiṅghīā misl under Karoṛā Siṅgh, (4) Nishānvālīā misl under Dasaundhā Siṅgh, (5) Shāhīd misl under Dīp Singh (6) Ḍallevālīā misl under Gulāb Siṅgh, (7) Sukkarchakkīā misl under Chaṛhat Siṅgh, (8) Bhaṇgī misl under Harī Siṅgh (9) Kanhaiyā misl under Jai Siṅgh, (10) Nakaī misl under Hīrā Singh and (11) Rāmgaṛhīā misl under Jassā Siṅgh Rāmgaṛhīā. The first six were under Buḍḍhā Dal and the latter five under Taruṇā Dal. Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā was chosen to be in joint command of the entire Dal Khālsā, while Nawāb Kapūr Siṅgh continued to be acknowledged as the supreme commander.
Taking advantage of the preoccupation of the Mughal governor, Mu'īn ul-Mulk, with Ahmad Shāh's second invasion (December 1749-February 1750), Buḍḍhā Dal under Nawāb Kapūr Siṅgh attacked and plundered Lahore itself, and the Mughal satrap had to permit his minister, Dīwān Kauṛā Mall, to enlist Sikhs' help in his expedition against Shāh Nawāz Khān who had risen in rebellion at Multān in September 1749. Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā with 10, 000 men of the Buḍḍhā Dal took part in the expedition. However, soon after the successful completion of the campaign, the Lahore governor renewed his policy of repression. The Buḍḍhā Dal retreated towards the Śivālik hills, while the Taruṇā Dal found refuge in the Mālvā and in Bīkāner. In October 1753, the Buḍḍhā Dal assembled in Amritsar to celebrate Dīvālī (26 October 1753). Mu'īn ul-Mulk died in an accident a week later.
Nawāb Kapūr Siṅgh, before his death at Amritsar on 7 October 1753, nominated Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā supreme commander of the Dal Khālsā. The appointment was ratified by Sarbatt Khālsā on Baisākhī, 10 April 1754. Mu'īn ul-Mulk's death had cleared the way for Sikh hegemony over vast areas in central and southern Punjab, from the Chenāb to the Yamunā. The Durrānīs' victory in the third battle of Pānīpat (January 1761) was a severe blow to the Mughal empire as well as to the Maṛāthās as rivals to the Sikhs in northwest India. The only contender left now was the Afghān invader, Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, who annexed the Punjab to his dominions and appointed his son, Taimūr, governor at Lahore in 1757. During 1753-64, the Sikhs replaced the strategy of plundering raids with the system of rākhī literally protection, under which villages and minor chiefs accepting the protection of the Dal Khālsā paid to it a regular cess. The Taruṇā Dal was now spread over the Mājhā area, and the Buḍḍhā Dal operated in the Doābā and Mālvā regions. Both collaborated for operations against the Afghān invader, who took, on 5 February 1762, a heavy toll in what is known as Vaḍḍā Ghallūghārā (q. v.), the Great Holocaust, so called in comparison with a similar but lesser disaster of 1746.
With the conquest of Sirhind in January 1764 started the final phase of the development of the Dal Khālsā into a confederacy of sovereign political principalities called misls. The misls now occupied well-defined territories over which their Sardārs ruled independently while maintaining their former links as units of the Dal Khālsā. The misls of the Buḍḍhā Dal established themselves broadly as follows : Āhlūvālīā misl in Jagrāoṅ, Bharog and Fatehgaṛh (later in Kapūrthalā-Sultānpur Lodhī area in the Jalandhar Doāb) ; Siṅghpurīā in parts of Jalandhar Doāb and Chhat-Banūṛ-Bharatgaṛh areas south of the Sutlej; Karoṛsiṅghīā misl in a long strip south of the Sutlej extending from Samrālā in the west to Jagādhrī in the east; Nishānvālīā misl in area Sāhnevāl-Dorāhā-Māchhīvāṛā-Amloh, with pockets around Zīrā and Ambālā Shahīd misl in area Shahzādpur-Kesarī in present-day Ambālā district, and territory around Rāṇīā and Talvaṇḍī Sābo; and Ḍallevāliā misl in parganahs of Dharamkoṭ and Tihāṛā to the south of the River Sutlej and Lohīāṅ and Shāhkoṭ to the north of it. Of these, Āhlūvālīā misl survived as the princely house of Kapūrthalā and a branch of Karoṛsiṅghīā misl as rulers of Kalsīā state. Others divided into several petty chieftainships were either taken over by Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh and the British East India Company or absorbed into the Phūlkīāṅ states of Paṭiālā, Nābhā and Jīnd.
Even after the consolidation of their territorial acquisitions, the misls of the Buḍḍhā Dal continued co-operating in joint operations in Ruhīlā and Mughal territories in the Gaṅgā-Yamunā Doāb and in the country north and west of Delhi. They collected rākhī from parts of the Doāb and their plundering raids extended up to Delhi itself and beyond. Instances of Buḍḍhā Dal's co-operation with the Taruṇā Dal, active in Bārī and Rachnā Doābs and further to the north and east, became far fewer. The two together defeated Ahmed Shāh Abdālī in a 7-day running battle in the Jalandhar Doāb in March 1765. Early in 1768, men from both the Dals were included in a 20, 000 strong contingent engaged by Jawāhar Siṅgh, the Jāṭ ruler of Bharatpur, at Rs 7, 00, 000 a month, to fight against Rājā Mādho Siṅgh of Jaipur. The latter, however, retired without giving a fight, and the Sikhs came back to the Punjab receiving part of the contracted sum. The two Dals now entrenched in their respective spheres as separate misls, the terms Buḍḍhā Dal and Taruṇā Dal became redundant and went out of use.