Updated: Jun 8, 2020
In Bhai Nand Lal Jis ਤਨਖ਼ਾਹ ਨਾਮਾ they write, quoting Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaaj, that
ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਜੋ ਚੜੇ ਤੁਰੰਗ
Khalsa is the one that rides a horse.
Horses have a significant part in Sikh culture. Guru Gobind Singh Ji is called Neeley Ghorian Wala – The one with the blue horse.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji even ordered Sikhs that if they wish to get their darshan they should come with weapons and horses.
We have had great Sikhs such as Nawab Kapur Singh Ji that did sewa of cleaning and looking after horses. Bhai Tara Singh Ji also had many horses that they looked after. Horses are the best allies of a Sikh – so much so that they were called
Colonel Polier writes
‘Though they make merry on the demise or any of their brethren, they mourn for the death of a horse: thus showing their love of an animal so necessary to them in their professional capacity.’
This post shall outline the history of Sikhs and their horses, from the eyes and writings of Europeans.
George Forster witnesses
‘The horses have been so expertly trained to the performance of this operation, that on receiving a stroke of the hand, they flop from a full career.’
William Francklin also confirms that the horses were well trained.
‘Their horses are strong, very patient under hardship, and undergo incredible fatigue. The men are accustomed to charge on full gallop, on a sudden they stop, discharge their pieces with a deliberate aim, when suddenly wheeling about, after performing three or four turns, they renew the attack.’
Well trained horses were crucial for Sikhs that applied hit-and-run techniques in battle.
ਕਿ ਦਰ ਪੇਸ਼ੇ ਦੁਸ਼ਮਨ ਸ਼ਦਨ ਮਰਦ ਵਾਰ । ਸਲਾਮਤ ਬਦ ਰਫ਼ਤਨ ਅਜ਼ ਕਾਰ ਜ਼ਾਰ ।
KEH DAR PESHEY DUSHMAN SHADAN MARDVAR SALAMAT BAD RAFTAN AZ KARZAR
Amazingly, they penetrate into the rank and file of enemy during frontal attack and mount murderous assault like a brave warrior. Beauty is that after striking the enemy, they return to their base safely and unscathed. - Qazi Nur Mohammad
The relationship between Sikh and horse needed to be close, with a great deal of understanding between the two.
Alex Burnes witnesses that
‘he [The Sikh] was an excellent horseman, and could hit a mark at full speed; and I have seen him touch the ground with both feet at the gallop, and regain his seat.’
Mr Thomas, reproduced by William Francklin, accounts that
‘after performing the requisite duties of their religion by ablution and prayer, they comb their hair and beards with peculiar care, then mounting their horses, ride forth towards the enemy, with whom they engage in a continued skirmish advancing and retreating, until man and horse become equally fatigued; they then draw off to some distance from the enemy, and, meeting with cultivated ground, they permit their horses to graze of their own accord, while they parch a little gram for themselves, and after satisfying nature by this frugal repast, if the enemy be near, they provide forage for their cattle, and endeavour to procure a meal for themselves.’
The best horses were from the west of Attock (North Pakistan), and others were imported from Kashmir. These horses from the West would be provided to Sikh chiefs by merchants for a passage through their lands. The breeds would be Arabian or Persian. Collectively, these horses would also be exported to the south of India. Malcolm claims that the most famous horses were bred in the ‘Lakhi Jungle’ (Bathinda), but this eventually ceased. Lahore and Multan have the best breeds according to Colonel Polier.
‘They have commonly two, some of them three, horses each, of a middle size, strong, active, and mild tempered.’
– Colonel Polier.
After the acquisition of land, Sikh Sardars would split the land with those that aided them. The types of tenure are outlined in the Misl post. The contribution was based upon the number of horses that were provided during the fights, and the share of the loot and land was proportionate to this contribution.
‘A Seick will say that his Country can furnish 4, or 500,000 Horsemen, and to authenticate his story, he tells you, that every person, even in the possession of a trifling property keeps a Horse’
The Bhangi Misl had 12,000 horsemen available since the establishment of the Misl.
‘In which case, and if we can believe that they can produce when in unity 200,000 Horse, their Force in Cavalry must be greater, than that of any power now existing in Hindostan.’
Polier also makes the same estimation.
‘The chiefs are extremely numerous and some of them have at their command as far as 10,000 or 12,000 horses; however, they generally are very inferior; many have only 15 or 20 horses, and from that number up to 1,000 or 2,000. It is computed that their whole force, if joined together, would amount to nearly 200,000 horses, a power which would be truely formidable, did it act under one chief or one order.’
‘The Seiks among other customs singular in their nature never suffer their hair, or beards, to be cut, consequently, when mounted on horseback, their black flowing locks, and half naked bodies, which are formed in the stoutest and most athletic mould, the glittering of their arms, and the size and speed of their horses, render their appearance imposing and formidable, and, superior to most of the cavalry in Hindoostan.’
- William Francklin
This relationship between Sikh and Horse is currently maintained by the various Nihang Dals, and I hope this love expands to all Sikh.