HARĪ SIṄGH NALVĀ (1791-1837), celebrated general of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, was born in April 1791, at Gujrāṅwālā, now in Pakistan, to Gurdiāl Siṅgh, an Uppal Sikh and a ḍerādār in the Sukkarchakkīā misl. The family originally came from Majīṭhā, near Amritsar. His grandfather, Hardās Siṅgh, had been killed fighting against Ahmad Shāh Durrānī in 1762. His father, Gurdiāl Siṅgh, had taken part in many of the campaigns of the Sukkarchakkīās -- Chaṛhat Siṅgh and Mahāṅ Siṅgh.

         Harī Siṅgh was hardly 7 years of age when his father died. His mother, Dharam Kaur, had to move to her parental home to live under the care of her brothers. There Harī Siṅgh learnt Punjabi and Persian and trained in the manly arts of riding, musketry and swordsmanship. Dharam Kaur returned to Gujrāṅwālā when her son was about 13 years old. In 1805, Harī Siṅgh participated in a recruitment test for service in the Sikh army and so impressed Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh with his skill at various drills that he was given appointment as a personal attendant. Not long after, he received the commission with a command of 800 horse and foot. This rapid promotion was owed to an incident in which he had cloven with sword the head of a tiger which had seized him. From that day he came to be known as Bāghmār, the tiger-killer, and earned the title of Nalvā.

         Harī Siṅgh was commander of a regiment at the time of the Mahārājā's final attack on Kasūr in 1807 and gave evidence of his prowess on the field of battle. He was rewarded with a handsome jāgīr. In the years 1809-10 he participated in the Siālkoṭ, Sāhivāl and Khushāb expeditions and in four (1810, 1816, 1817 and 1818) of Raṇjīt Siṅgh's seven campaigns against Multān. He fought in the battle of Attock in 1813 as second-in-command to Dīwān Mohkam Chand, and in Kashmīr in 1814 and 1819. Kashmīr was occupied and, in 1820, Harī Siṅgh was appointed its governor in succession to Dīwān Motī Rām. He restored order in the turbulent areas, and reorganized civil administration. The territory was divided into parganahs, each under a collector, and thānās, each under a thānedār. The habitual criminals were bound down and robbers infesting the forests were suppressed. Construction of forts at Ūṛī and Muzaffarābād and gurdwārās at Maṭan and Bārāmūlā was undertaken and work was started on laying out a spacious garden on the bank of the River Jehlum. To alleviate the misery of the people in the wake of the unprecedented floods of 1821, he took measures to provide prompt relief. From Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, Harī Siṅgh received a special favour when he was allowed to strike a coin in his own name. This coin, known as the Harī Siṅghī rupee, remained in circulation in the valley till the closing years of the nineteenth century. In 1822, he was assigned to the Paṭhān territory of Hazārā on the northwest of the Sikh kingdom, where he remained for fifteen years and settled the disturbed area. He built a strong fort near Sālik Serāi, on the left bank of the Dor river, and on the road from Hasan Abdāl to Abboṭābād and named it Harikishangaṛh, in honour of the Eighth Gurū. He also raised a town in the vicinity of the fort, Harīpur, which later grew into a busy commercial and trade centre. From 1827 to 1831, he was engaged in repelling Sayyid Ahmad Barelavī's fierce campaign against the Sikhs.

         In 1834, Harī Siṅgh finally took Peshāwar and annexed it to the Sikh dominions. Two years later, he built a fort at Jamrūd at the mouth of the Khaibar Pass and sealed it once for all for invaders from the northwest.

         On 30 April 1837, as he was locked in a grave battle against the Afghāns under Akbar Khān, Harī Siṅgh received four gun wounds, and two sabre cuts across his breast. He continued to issue orders as before, until he received a gunshot wound in the side. He mustered his failing strength for the last time and managed to ride up to his field tent, from where he was taken to the fort. Here the same evening the great general passed away. His last instructions were that his death should not be made public until the arrival of the Mahārājā's relief column.


  1. Sandhu, Autar Siṅgh, Hari Singh Nalwa [Reprint]. Delhi, 1987
  2. Hugel, Baron Charles, Travels in Cashmere and the Punjab. Tr. T.B. Jervis [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
  3. Bhagat Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Patiala, 1983
  4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  5. Prem Singh, Bābā, Harī Siṅgh Nalvā. Amritsar, 1937

Autār Siṅgh Sandhū