VAḌḌĀ GHALLŪGHĀRĀ, lit. major holocaust or carnage, so called to distinguish it from another similar disaster, Chhoṭā (minor) Ghallūghārā that took place in 1746, is how a one-day battle between the Dal Khālsā and Ahmad Shāh Durrānī fought on 5 February 1762 with a heavy toll of life is remembered in Sikh history. As Ahmad Shāh was returning home after his historic victory over the Marāṭhās in the third battle of Pānīpat in 1761, the Sikhs had harassed him all the way from the Sutlej right up to the Indus. Returning to the Central Punjab, they ravaged the country all around, annihilated the Afghān force in Chār Mahāl, drove away the faujdār of Jalandhar, plundered Sirhind and Mālerkoṭlā, defeated a force,12,000-strong, sent by Ahmad Shāh from Afghanistan to punish them and another led personally by the Afghān governor of Lahore, and even captured Lahore, all within a short period, June-September 1761. At a general assembly (Sarbatt Khālsā) of the Dal at Amritsar convened on the occasion of Dīvālī, 27 October 1761, it was resolved to punish the agents, informers and collaborators of the Afghāns, beginning with 'Āqil Dās of Jaṇḍiālā, head of the heretical Nirañjanīā sect and an inveterate enemy of the Sikhs. 'Āqil Dās despatched messengers post-haste to Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, who had in fact already entered India at the head of a large army. Meanwhile, the Sikhs had besieged Jaṇḍiālā, 18 km east of Amritsar. 'Āqil Dās' messengers met the Shāh at Rohtās. The latter advanced at quick pace but before he reached Jaṇḍiālā, the Sikhs had lifted the siege and retired beyond the Sutlej with the object of sending their families to the safety of the wastelands of Mālvā before confronting the invader. Ahmad Shāh, on the other hand, determined to teach the Sikhs a lesson, sent messages to Zain Khān, faujdār of Sirhind, and Bhīkhan Khān, chief of Mālerkoṭlā, directing them immediately to check the Sikhs' advance, while he himself taking a light cavalry force set out at once and, covering a distance of 200 km including two river crossings in fewer than forty eight hours, caught up with the Sikhs who were encamped at Kup-Rahīṛā, 12 km north of Mālerkoṭlā, at dawn on the 5th of February 1762. The Dal Khālsā, comprising all of the eleven misls and representatives of the Sikh chiefs of Mālvā, was taken by surprise. The attacks of Zain Khān and Bhīkhan Khān were easily repulsed, but the main body of Ahmad Shāh, much larger and better equipped, soon overtook them. Having to protect the slow-moving vahīr or baggage train including women, children, old men and other non-combatants, the Sikhs could not resort to their usual hit and run tactics, and a stationary battle against such superior numbers was inadvisable. Sardār Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā, the commander-in-chief of the Dal, therefore, turning down a suggestion by Sardār Chaṛhat Siṅgh Sukkarchakkīā to form a solid square of four misls to face the enemy with two misls each protecting either flank of the vahīr and balance in reserve, decided that all the misls combining to form a single force should make a cordon round the vahīr and start moving towards Barnālā, 40 km to the southwest, with the agents of the Mālvā chiefs acting as guides. Thus "fighting while moving and moving while fighting," says Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh, on the authority of his father and an uncle who had taken part in this battle, "they kept the vahīr marching, covering it as a hen covers its chickens under its wings." On several occasions, the Shāh's troops broke the cordon and butchered the helpless non-combatants, but every time the Sikh warriors re-formed and pushed back the attackers. By early afternoon they reached a big pond, the first they had come across since the morning. The fighting stopped automatically as the two forces fell pell-mell, man and animal, upon the water to quench their thirst and relax their tired limbs. The battle was not resumed. The Sikhs marched off towards Barnālā and Ahmad Shāh thought it prudent not to pursue them in the little known semi-desert with an army that had had no rest during the past two days, and had suffered considerable loss of life in the day long battle.
Estimates of the Sikhs' loss of life vary from 20,000 to 50,000. The more credible figures are those of Miskīn, a contemporary Muslim chronicler, 25,000, and Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, 30,000. This could have been a crippling blow to the Sikhs, but such was the state of their morale that, to quote the Prāchin Panth Parkāsh again, as the Sikhs gathered in the evening that day, a Nihaṅg stood up and proclaimed aloud "... the fake has been shed. The true Khālsā remains intact." The Sikhs rose again within three months to attack Zain Khān of Sirhind, who bought peace by paying them Rs 50,000 in May, and they were ravaging the neghbourhood of Lahore during July-August 1762, Ahmad Shāh, who was still in the Punjab, watching helplessly the devastation of the Jalandhar Doāb at their hands.
Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā