Bhai Maharaj Singh was one of the first people of Punjab to launch a freedom movement in Punjab after the British took over Punjab. He organised resistance to British imperialism after the defeat of the Sikh Army, was exiled as State priosoner, died on 5th July, 1856 in Singapore Jail.
He said in 1849: "There will be another National War”.
"Bhai Mahararaj Singh, a Sikh priest of reputed sanctity, and of great influence, the first man who raised the standards of rebellion beyond the confines of Multan in 1848, and the only leader of note who did not lay down his arms to Sir Walter Gilberts at Rawalpindi." said Henry Lawrence, Resident of Lahore
Bhai Maharaj Singh’s plan of action against the superior British was framed in the jungles of the Chumb Valley:
1. To rescue Maharajah Dalip Singh from Lahore Fort.
2. To organize a United Front of all anti-British forces.
3. Organized disruption by subversion and surprise attacks on British treasuries and cantonments.
He displayed superb military generalship and knowledge of tactical warfare. What sustained him was his rich spiritual heritage.
Maharaj Singh led the anti British campaign as a matter of religious duty towards his people. After the First Anglo-Sikh War he moved about the Jalandhar Doab, a British territory and aroused the people against the British. He contacted Dewan Mool Raj, the Nazim of Multan to raise a banner of revolt against the British administration of Lahore Kingdom. He went to Hazara where Sardar Chattar Singh Attariwala was preparing to rebel. Maharaj Singh’s presence there gave a boost to the cause of rebellion. The Bhai ignited, a year long revolt, almost national in intention. He sought to extend it all over northern India by involving in it the Maharaja of Bikaner. Dost Mohammad, the Amir of Afghanistan and Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir but could not achieve desired success. Then came the Second Anglo-Sikh War which resulted in the annexation of the Punjab by the British on March 29, 1849.
The annexation of the Punjab by the British slackened the activities of the freedom fighters in the province for a number of reasons. The British Government removed Maharaj Dalip Singh outside Punjab to Missouri in whose name the freedom fighters had fought between 1846-49. Secondly, Rani Jindan escaped to Nepal and could not effectively guide the movement. Lastly, the chiefs of the Punjab who had fought the British in the Second Sikh War were exiled or were put in the prison in the United Provinces.
Maharaj Singh, however did not allow the freedom movement to die out. He chalked out a fresh plan to continue the struggle. He escaped from Rawalpindi to Jammu and from his hide out sent secret emissaries to contact, in particular, the discharged soldiers of the Khalsa Army, the Jagirdars and chiefs who had been dispossessed of their estates of pension by the British authorities and also the holders of religious estates, particularly the Gosains in the Kangra hills, who could help him finance the freedom struggle.
Maharaj Singh sought help from Dost Mohammad, The Amir of Kabul, in Punjab’s struggle for freedom from foreign rule. He wrote to the Amir and his brother Sultan Muhammad Khan for support; but they refused to render him any help. Bhai Maharaj Singh planned to make guerilla type of attacks on the selected British cantonments of Hoshiarpur, Hajipur and possibly Jalandhar. His men looted the government treasury at Bajwara.
Maharaj Singh’s example aroused the disgruntled people. The Attariwala chiefs, Dewan Hakim Rai and the Majithia Sardars were stirred to action though their movements were restricted to their villages by the orders of the British authorities. Faquirs and Brahmans who had helped in carrying message of Rani Jindan and other chiefs during the pre-annexation period started visiting places of ex-rebels, chiefs on one pretext to the other. The British intelligence reported that these people were providing links between Bhai Maharaj Singh and the chiefs who were prepared to rebel against the British in concert with Bhai Sahib.
The Bhai Sahib obtained substantial help from a large number of influential people in the Hoshiarpur district. In November 1849, he completed all arrangements for attacking cantonments in the Jalandhar Doab. In an open congregation at Sham Chaurasi, a village in the Hoshiarpur district he declared the 20th Posh (3rd January, 1850) next as the auspicious date for the general rising. The Bhai was making himself too conspicuous and had to pay the price for it. On December 29, 1849, Vinsittat, the Deputy Commissioner of Jalandhar arrested him along with his 21 unarmed followers near Adampur. Vansttart the Deputy Commissioner of Jalandhar who arrested him, wrote: "The Guru is no ordinary man. He is to the natives what Jesus was to the most zealous of Christians. His miracles were seen by tens of thousands, and are more implicitly believed than those worked by the ancient prophets."
Even more generous was Mcleod, Commissioner of the Doab, who wrote: ".. had he remained at large, but a little longer ... more outrages of an alarming character would have been attempted ... the result of which,… would perhaps be impossible to foretell."
The news of Maharaj Singh’s arrest and his detention in the Jalandhar Civil Jail spread like a wildfire. A large number of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of the town gathered outside the jail making the authorities apprehensive lest the people might attempt to get Bhai Sahib released. The District Magistrate immediately got Maharaj Singh and his closest disciple Kharak Singh transferred to the custody of the military authorities.
It was found too risky to put Bhai Maharaj Singh on trial in India and he was deported to Singapore. He arrived on the "Muhmed Shah", on 9th July 1850, together with a disciple, Kharak Singh, and moved to Outram Jail. He was kept in solitary confinement in a cell 14 by 15 feet, which, because of the walling up of the windows, had been "further rendered dark, dinghy and absolutely unhealthy" (Secret Consultation Papers, 28th Feb 1851, #52-57). He was practically blind within three years, developed cancer on his tongue, and had rheumatic swellings and pains in his feet and ankles. The Civil Surgeon, Singapore, recommended that Bhai Maharaj Singh be allowed an occasional walk in the open, but this was turned down by the Government of India. The result was that his health continued to deteriorate, and about two months before his death, his neck and tongue became so swollen that it became very difficult for him to swallow.
Bhai Maharaj Singh died on 5th July 1856. He was cremated on a plot of land outside the prison, presumably by Khurruck Singh, who also died in prison later. Let's remeber and salute him !