SHAHĪD BILĀS (BHĀĪ MANĪ SIṄGH), by Kavī Sevā Siṅgh, is a biography in verse of Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, a Rājpūt warrior of Paṅvār clan, whom the poet identifies with Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, the martyr. Sevā Siṅgh, son of Kesar Siṅgh Kaushish, was a bhaṭṭ or family bard of one of Bhāī Manī Siṅgh's great-grandsons, Saṅgat Siṅgh, who had settled at Lāḍvā, in the present Yamunānagar district of Haryāṇā, as a jāgīrdār under Rājā Ajīt Siṅgh. According to the poet himself, he commenced writing Shahīd Bilās at Lāḍvā, but completed it at Bhādsoṅ, in Parganah Thānesar, to which place he migrated, probably in 1846, when Rājā Ajīt Siṅgh's estates were confiscated by the British for helping the Lahore armies in the first Anglo-Sikh war. Originally written in Bhaṭṭakshrī, script commonly used by the Bhaṭṭs, it was transcribed into Gurmukhī by Chhajjū Siṅgh Bhaṭṭ of Bhādsoṅ, in 1870. This manuscript in Gurmukhī script, the only one available, was aquired by a researcher, Giānī Garjā Siṅgh (1904-77), from the house of Bhaṭṭ Mohlu Rām with the help of Bhaṭṭ Mān Siṅgh of Karsindhū village, in Jīnd district of Haryāṇā. It was edited by him and published by Pañjābi Sāhitya Academy, Ludhiāṇā, in 1961.
According to Sevā Siṅgh, who uses Sevā Harī as his nom de plume (Siṅgh and hari both meaning a lion), Manī Siṅgh was the third of the twelve sons of Māī Dās of Alīpur, near Multān, now in Pakistan. His grandfather, Ballu Rāo had borne arms and served Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644). Manī Siṅgh was born to Madharī, the first wife of Māī Dās, on Sunday, Chet sudī 12, 1701 Bk/7 April 1644. Manī Siṅgh was 13 when he was taken by his father to Gurū Har Rāi at Kīratpur where he stayed for two years serving in the Gurū kā Laṅgar and studying gurbāṇī, i.e. the Scriptural texts. He was married at the age of 15 to Sīto, daughter of Lakkhī Rāi of Khairpur. He kept company with Gurū Har Rāi and Gurū Har Krishan and, except a short intermission, with Tegh Bahādur whom he rejoined in 1672 and was assigned to preparing copies of the Scripture and to studying as well as instructing other Sikhs in the sacred text. He practised the martial arts under Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and took part in the battles of Bhaṅgāṇī and Nadauṇ. At the time of the initiation of the Khālsā, Manī Siṅgh along with five of his sons received khaṇḍe kī pāhul or initiation by the double-edged sword. Soon after this he was sent by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh to take charge of the shrines at Amritsar. He rejoined Gurū Gobind Siṅgh at Talvaṇḍī Sābo and accompanied him to the South up to Baghaur from where the Gurū sent him back to Amritsar. During the time of fierce persecution which followed, the venerable Bhāī Manī Siṅgh remained unharmed. In 1733 he even obtained government's permission to hold in Harimandar at Amritsar a fair on the occasion of Dīvālī festival for which a cess had to be paid. Owing to apprehension of an attack by imperial troops, the attendance was meagre, and the stipulated amount could not be raised. Bhāī Manī Siṅgh was arrested, charged with non-payment of the tax, and was executed in Lahore on Hāṛ sudī 5, 1791 Bk/24 June 1734.
Giānī Garjā Siṅgh, in his introduction as well as in footnotes to the text, has tried to support the poet's account as authentic history with ample quotations from various published and unpublished works, especially from a new source, the Bhaṭṭ Vahīs, or scrolls of the traditional family bards; but the account given in the Shahīd Bilās has not yet received firm acceptance. Neither the original manuscript in Bhaṭṭakshrī nor the original of its Gurmukhī transcript is available for verification. Besides, some of the crucial dates given in the Shahīd Bilās (e.g. those of the creation of Khālsā and martyrdom of Bhāī Manī Siṅgh Shahīd) are at variance with those given by other chroniclers. It appears that there were two different historical personalities : Manī Rām, a Rājpūt warrior and father of Bhāī Ude Siṅgh, Bachittar Siṅgh and their three brothers who attained martyrdom fighting for the Gurū, and Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, scholar and exegete, who met a martyr's death in 1737. Kavī Sevā Siṅgh, in panegyrizing the former ancestor of his patron, Saṅgat Siṅgh, identified him with the latter. The veracity of the work must await further research.
Harnām Siṅgh Shān