Today we remember the massacre the occurred at Nankana Sahib Feb 21, 1921. Here is the history.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh reconstructed Gurdwaras destroyed by Mughals, and gave the “Mahants” (caretakers of these Gurdwaras) property rights and land attached to the Gurdwaras. Original mahants were individuals who spread the message of Sikhi, but soon they were just corrupt individuals hungry for money generated at the Gurdwaras. At the same time, the British were afraid that if the Sikhs took control of the Gurdwaras this would further unify the Khalsa against them and cause a revolution.
Mahant Narayan Das was supposed to be the caretaker of Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. He was corrupt, and allowed many bad things to happen at the Gurdwara Sahib including sexual assaults. The Sikh congregation decided to take action and approached the mahant to change his ways in October 1920. He refused to change and instead turned against the Sikhs. His anti-sikh group was going to have a conference on Feb 20, 1921 in Lahore. On three different opportunities the Shiromani committee offered to meet the mahant to discuss the issues peacefully, however he never showed up. The Sikhs had a congregation on Feb 16 at Gurdwara Khara Sauda and made a decision to go in jathas to take over the Gurdwara peacefully on Feb 20 while the mahant was away. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar and Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali were to take their jathas.
Meanwhile, the mahant cancelled his plans for the conference and hired 400 mercentaries and made plans to kill the Sikh leaders. He contacted the British Commissioner of Lahore and acquired firearms with the help of the government (this letter exists to this day). He furthered his plan by making holes in the walls for shooting at the Sikhs, strengthening the Gurdwara gate and he got paraffin.
On Feb 19, the parbandhak committee met and decided that the jathas should not go. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar was present, and dispatched a sikh to send a message to Bhai Lachman Singh Dharowali. Bhai Lachman Singh, still following the original plan, was waiting for Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber’s jatha. At that time Jaethedar Tehal Singh’s Jatha arrived and encouraged them to move forward. They did ardas and took a hukamnama. They left at 10 pm to reach the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib at amrit vela. More Sikhs joined for a total of 200. Although women and children were asked to go back, one child, Darbara Singh refused to leave because he was inspired by stories of shaheeds and he joined the Shaheedi Jatha.
Upon arrival at the railway crossing near Nankana Sahib, Chaudry Paul Singh Hyallpuri (another source lists that it was actually Bhai Waryam Singh) arrived to convey the decision of the Shiromani committee, however Jathedar Tehal Singh said that the ardas had already been done and the time had come for them to act. The jatha arrived at the Gurdwara and did Asa Di War. Then the mahant ordered his mercenaries to kill the Sikhs. The bullets fired hit the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and many Sikhs. The rest were slaughtered with saws and swords, and some were burned alive including the 9 year old Darbara Singh. Bhai Lachman Singh was tied to a tree upside down and burnt alive.
News spread and Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber arrived with 2200 men. Mr. Curry, Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, had his army surrounding the Gurdwara and warned Bhai Kartar Singh that they would shoot the Sikhs if they approached. Bhai Kartar Singh stated that they were not afraid of death, and in seeing this, Mr. Curry became worried and handed over the keys. The mahant and a select few of the mercentaries were sentenced to death (one source says that this didn’t happen and that in fact the mahant was given security).
This is the history of how the Shaheedi jatha of Sikhs, who went to peacefully take back Gurdwara Nanakana Sahib from the hands of the corrupt mahant, were martyred. We remember these Sikhs every day in our ardas. May we forever remember their sacrifice and bravery in standing up for what was right.