Hari Singh Nalwa Biography

(Commander-in-Chief of the 'Sikh Khalsa Fauj', The Army of the Sikh Empire)

Born: 1791

Born In: Gujranwala, Pakistan

Hari Singh Nalwa was commander-in-chief of the army of the Sikh Empire, in the early 19th century. The Sikhs revere him for his ferocious campaigns against the Afghans who, for centuries, had plundered the region and prompted forcible conversions to Islam. Under the Maharaja's rule, Hari Singh Nalwa, who was also known as the ''Tiger Killer,'' had fought numerous battles to crush foreign invasions in the area. He had also served as the governor of Kashmir (1820–1821), Greater Hazara (1822–1837), and Peshawar (1834–1837), ensuring administrative order in the regions. He was also the viceroy of the Western Frontier (1822–1831). Nalwa's final battle was in Jamrud, after which the Khyber Pass was permanently blocked for the invaders. His spectacular achievements earned Nalwa the tag of the "Champion of the Khalsa."
Quick Facts

Nick Name: Baghmar

Died At Age: 46


father: Gurdas Singh

mother: Dharm Kaur

children: Arjan Singh Nalwa, Chand Kaur, Gurdit Singhji, Jawahir Singh Nalwa, Nand Kaur

Born Country: Pakistan

Military Leaders Indian Men

Died on: April 30, 1837

place of death: Jamrud, Pakistan

Cause of Death: Killed In Action

More Facts

awards: Izazi-i-Sardari

Childhood & Early Life
Hari Singh Nalwa was born in 1791, in Gujranwala of the Majha region in Punjab, India, to Dharam Kaur and Gurdial Singh Uppal, into a Khatri family of the Sukerchakia Misl.
Nalwa was just 7 when he lost his father. Thus, his mother moved to stay with her brothers.
Growing up, he learned the Punjabi and Persian languages, riding, musketry, and swordsmanship.
Nalwa took 'Amrit Sanchar' to be initiated into the 'Order of the Khalsa' in 1801 and was thus baptized as a Sikh.
Two years later, he began managing his father's estate. The following year, Nalwa and his mother returned to Gujranwala.
In 1804, during a hunting expedition, a tiger attacked Nalwa and killed his horse. He refused to take help from his fellow hunters and killed the tiger without any weapon. Hence, he got the nickname ''Nalua,'' or ''Nalwa,'' meaning "the one with tiger-like claws."
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Military Life
In 1804, Dharam Kaur sent Nalwa to Maharaja Ranjit Singh's court to get a property dispute resolved. There, he informed Ranjit Singh about the services of his father and grandfather in the royal court. He also impressed the king with his skills. The final verdict went in his favor.
In the recruitment test for the Sikh military service, he impressed the Maharaja and was appointed as his personal attendant. In 1805, he was promoted to the position of commander-in-chief and granted the title of ''Sardar,'' with 800 horsemen under his command.
In the capacity, he participated in 20 major battles, also commanding in some of them.
Achievements as a Commander and Governor
Nalwa's first battlefield achievement was in Kasur in 1807, when he set out to conquer its Afghani owner, Kutab-ud-din Khan. Since Kasur was close to the Maharaja's capital city, it was an obstacle to him.
Nalwa captured Kasur after a 3-month-long seize and was hence granted a “jagir.”
The following year, the Maharaja ordered Nalwa to seize Sialkot. It was the first battle he commanded independently.
In 1810, Nalwa's army was stationed near Multan in the Bari Doab, and was celebrating the conquest of the Chuj Doab.
The Battle of Attock (1813) was fought to free the ‘Attock Fort,’ which was a major replenishment point for the armed forces crossing the Indus River, from the capture of the Kingdom of Kabul. It was the first significant victory of Nalwa's Sikh army over the Durranis and the Barakzais.
In honor of Sikh Guru Nanak Sahib, Nalwa established the 'Gurdwara Panja Sahib' in the city of Hassan Abdal in Attock and donated gold for the dome. The structure was later destroyed during 1984 ''Ghallughara'' (genocide).
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With the capture of Attock, the Maharaja gained the neighboring regions of Hazara-i-Karlugh and Gandhgarh as tributaries for the Sikhs. In 1815, Sherbaz Khan of Gandhgarh challenged Nalwa's army and was defeated.
In 1814, the Sikhs attempted to capture Kashmir, but a shortage of resources and provisions, bad weather, and the betrayal of confederates led Nalwa's army to retreat.
After successfully suppressing the Muslim chiefs in Kashmir over the next few months, in 1815–1816, Nalwa's forces captured the unfaithful Rajauri chief.
In 1816, Maharaja decided to capture the strongly fortified Mankera, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Nalwa, along with seven troops and the ''topkhana,'' began marching ahead to capture the forts of Khangarh and Muzaffargarh. They were successful in their mission 2 years later.
Though the Sikhs entered the city of Multan almost peacefully, without any resistance, in the Battle of Multan (1818), they could not capture the fort initially. After continuous bombardments, the fortress was finally seized.
In an attempt to bomb the fort, Nalwa was heavily injured. They initially withdrew the army, but Multan was finally conquered under the nominal command of Kharak Singh and the actual command of Misr Diwan Chand.
In 1818, Shah Kamran, son of Shah Mahmud of Kabul, killed their “Barakzai Vazir” (minister) Fateh Khan, and a situation of power-void prevailed. The Sikhs took advantage of it, crossed the Indus, and entered Peshawar, the summer capital of Kabul, which had become a tributary by then.
Nalwa's army captured Peshawar, and he stationed the army on the Afghan–Punjab border to keep an eye on Afghani activities.
In 1819, the Nawab of Mankera granted him the suburbs of Nurpur and Mitha Tiwana.
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In April 1819, his army began a march toward Kashmir, under Prince Kharak Singh's nominal command. Kashmir was captured after a deadly battle that began on July 5. The 5-century-long Muslim rule in Kashmir thus ended and the region became part of Punjab.
Even after Kashmir was captured, the Sikhs failed to collect revenue from Pakhli, Damtaur, and Darband. Thus, they fought the Battle of Pakhli and won it.
In 1820, Nalwa became the governor of Kashmir, succeeding Diwan Moti Ram. He calmed the turbulent areas and reformed the civil administration. Criminal activities and robberies were controlled to a great extent.
The forts of Uri and Muzaffarabad, the gurudwaras of Matan and Baramula, and a garden on the bank of the Jhelum were built during his tenure as a governor. He provided immediate relief and other requirements during the 1821 flood.
The Maharaja honored Nalwa by minting a coin in his name, known as the ''Hari Singhi'' rupee, which circulated until the end of the 19th century.
Nalwa later crushed the rebellion of the Khakha chief Gulam Ali.
Nalwa and his forces registered their most brilliant victory in the Battle of Mangal (1821), in the ancient capital of Urasa, which was then controlled by the chief of the Jaduns.
The Jaduns demanded heavy taxes from Nalwa to allow them to pass through their territory. He would have agreed, but they demanded taxes on all Kashmiri goods his troops had. To oppose this unjustified demand, he besieged Mankera.
As the Afghani rule in Kabul weakened, Attock, Mankera, Mitha Tiwana, and Khushab were declared independent. The Maharaja attempted to capture Singh Sagar Doad from its controller, Hafiz Ahmad Khan.
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Under Nalwa's command, who was the governor of Kashmir then, the ‘Lahore Army’ captured the inaccessible ‘Mankera Fort’ in the Battle of Mankera in 1822.
As a reward, Nalwa received Dera Ismail Khan as a “jagir.” His descendants held it until 1836.
For 15 years since 1822, he served the Pathan territory of Hazara as its governor. There, too, he pacified the turbulent areas and built forts near Salik Serai, on the banks of the Dor, and in Harikishangarh (in honor of the eighth Sikh Guru).
He also established a planned town called Haripur (near the ‘Harikishangarh Fort’), which later became the commercial capital of the area. It was the first town in the area to have a water distribution system.
The Battle of Nowshera (or Naushehra) followed in 1823, after which the Sikhs successfully ended the legacy of Ahmed Shah Abdali, the founder of the Durrani Empire, from the region. He built the ‘Jehangira Fort’ and the ‘Nowshera Fort’ on the left and the right bank of the Kabul River, respectively.
The 'Battle of Sirikot' (1824) had a disappointing start. Nalwa almost died during the expedition toward Sirikot, near Haripur, which was a significant location for the rebellious chiefs. The Maharaja was stationed at Wazirabad when he received Nalwa's message that the Sikhs had been outnumbered by the Afghans.
The Maharaja began his march to Sirikot via Sarai Kala, but the Afghans withdrew just after hearing the news of the approach of the Sikh army.
The Battle of Saidu (1827) was fought against Sayyid Ahmad Barelavi, the ''Hindki'' savior of the Yusafzais. The Maharaja was on his sickbed when he received the news of the arrival of Sayyid and his forces. Nevertheless, he managed to send his army to face the Yusafzais.
From 1827 to 1831, Nalwa and his army encountered Sayyid on the battlefield and successfully crushed his campaign against the Sikhs.
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In 1831, Nalwa commanded the 'Ropar Treaty' between the Maharaja and the head of British India. The British coaxed the Maharaja to open the Indus route for trade, to which Nalwa displayed strong opposition.
Nalwa's formidable reputation led to the capture of Peshawar in 1834, without any conflict. He was then appointed as the governor of Peshawar. He established the ‘Sumergarh Fort’ in Peshawar (presently the 'Bala Hissar').
In 1935, the founder of the Barakzai dynasty and one of the most prominent Afghan rulers, Dost Mohammad Khan, challenged the Sikhs to take over Peshawar.
The Maharaja, however, planned for negotiations and ordered his general not to start a war until he reached Peshawar. Nalwa and his Sikh army requested him to pass the order to attack.
Finally, on May 10, 1835, Nalwa launched the first attack. Khan eventually withdrew.
In October 1836, Nalwa launched a sudden attack and captured the village of Jamrud in the Khyber District, located in the Valley of Peshawar. He ordered to reinforce the region immediately by barricading the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains. The ‘Fatehgarh Fort’ in Jamrud was erected under his command.
The capture was heavily objected by the Afghans.
Nalwa then marched toward the north-east of Peshawar, a region under heavy control of the Yusafzais. The Yusafzai chief, Fateh Khan of Panjtar, was defeated, and the territory was captured.
Nalwa returned to Peshawar to realize debts of revenue.

The capture of Jamrud alarmed Mohammed Khan, and he speculated an attack on Kabul soon. Around the same time, in 1837, the Maharaja's troops were busy organizing a show for the British commander-in-chief at the wedding of his grandson Nau Nihal Singh, in Amritsar.
Mohammed Khan, who was also invited, planned to seize Jamrud instead of attending the wedding. Nalwa knew about Khan's plans. Therefore, he, too, did not go to Amritsar and stayed back in Peshawar instead.
Both Mohammed's and Nalwa's armies had the orders to avoid launching the first attack. Khan, however, attempted to seize the forts of Shabqadar, Jamrud, and Peshawar just by a show of his army strength.
Nalwa's lieutenant, Mahan Singh, was struggling at the ‘Jamrud Fort’ with just 600 men and limited provisions. Nalwa immediately marched from Peshawar to rescue Singh and his men.
The Afghans got intimidated just by the news of Nalwa's arrival.
On April 30, 1837, during the battle, Nalwa was wounded badly. He still managed to command his army and somehow reached his tent, where he eventually passed away.
His last command was to not make his death public until the Maharaja arrived.
Nalwa was cremated in the ‘Jamrud Fort.’

See the events in life of Hari Singh Nalwa in Chronological Order

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- Hari Singh Nalwa Biography
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