BĪR SIṄGH, BĀBĀ (1768-1844), soldier-become-religious preacher and saint, was born in July 1768 at the village of Gaggobūā, in Amritsar district of the Punjab, the son of Sevā Siṅgh and Dharam Kaur. After the death of his father in one of the campaigns against the Afghān rulers of Multān, Bīr Siṅgh joined the Sikh army. He participated in Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's campaigns for the capture of Kashmīr and Peshāwar. After several years of active service, he secured his dismissal from the army as he came under the influence of Bābā Bhāg Siṅgh, a Sikh saint belonging to Kurī, in Rāwalpiṇḍī district. Bīr Siṅgh took to preaching Gurū Nānak's word and soon attracted a considerable following in the Mājhā area. He set up his ḍerā in the village of Nauraṅgābād, near Tarn Tāran. The ḍerā, named Santpurā, became a popular pilgrim centre and it is said that about 4, 500 visitors were fed in the laṅgar every day. Such was the influence Bābā Bīr Siṅgh had acquired that a volunteer army of 1, 200 musket men and 3, 000 horse attended upon him.

        Bābā Bīr Siṅgh was a true well-wisher of the dynasty of Raṇjīt Siṅgh and was deeply grieved at the disaster which had overtaken it through the envy of the courtiers after the death of the Mahārājā in 1839. During that critical period, Sikh soldiers and peasantry began to turn to him for guidance. On 2 May 1844, Atar Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā, who had been in residence in British India for some time, crossed the Sutlej into Sikh territory and joined Bābā Bīr Siṅgh who was then camping near Harīke Pattaṇ. Prince Kashmīrā Siṅgh and Prince Pashaurā Siṅgh and many Sikh sardārs, including Jawāhar Siṅgh Nalvā, son of the celebrated Sikh general Harī Siṅgh Nalvā, and Dīwān Baisākhā Siṅgh, had already taken asylum at Bīr Siṅgh's ḍerā. Bīr Siṅgh's camp had become the centre of Sikh revolt against Ḍogrā dominance over the Punjab. Perturbed at these developments, Hīrā Siṅgh, the Ḍogrā prime minister of the Sikh kingdom, sent a strong force comprising 20, 000 men and 50 guns under the command of Mīāṅ Lābh Siṅgh to attack the citadel of Bābā Bīr Siṅgh. The troops besieged the camp on 7 May 1844. Bābā Bīr Siṅgh forbade his Sikhs to fight back saying, "How can we attack our own brethren?" He was in meditation in the presence of the Holy Book, when he was killed with a shell from the besiegers. Prince Kashmīrā Siṅgh and Atar Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā also lost their lives in the heavy cannonade and, in the panic, hundreds of Bābā Bīr Siṅgh's followers were drowned in the river while trying to cross it. The troops, however, never forgave Hīrā Siṅgh for forcing them into an action which led to the death of a holy man. He tried to atone for what had happened by promising to build a samādh where Bābā Bīr Siṅgh had been cremated, and set aside land yielding Rs 5, 000 annually for its maintenance, but his critics were far from assuaged. He had to pay for this onslaught on Nauraṅgābād with his own life before the year was out. General Court's battalion, which had played a leading part in the action, was boycotted when it reached the headquarters and was always referred to as gurūmār (killer of the gurū or holy man).


  1. Smyth, G. Carmichael, A History of the Reigning Family of Lahore. Patiala, 1970
  2. Bhagat Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and His Times. Delhi, 1990
  3. Ganda Singh, ed. , The Panjab in 1839-40. Amritsar, 1952
  4. Sher Singh, Srī Bīr Mrigesh Gur Bilās Dev Tarū.

J. S. Khurānā