The founder of the jatha, i.e. band of warriors, that later acquired the dimensions of a misl was Chajja Singh of Panjvar village, near Amritsar, who had taken pahul from the hands of Guru Gobind Singh who soon had many Sikhs from the Majha area joining his band.
He was succeeded by Bhuma Singh, a Dhillori Jatt of the village of Hung, near Badhni in present day Moga district, who made a name for himself in his famed skirmishes with Nadir Shah's troops in 1739.
Hari Singh kept up guerrilla warfare against the invading hosts of Ahmad Shah Durrani. In 1763, he along with the Kanhaiya Misl and the Ramgarhia Misl, sacked the Afghan stronghold of Kasur. In 1764, he ravaged Bahawalpur and Multan. Crossing the River Indus, he realized tribute from the Baluchi chiefs in the districts of Muzaf fargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Isma'il Khan. On his way back home, he reduced Jharig, Chiniot and Sialkot. Hari Singh died in 1765, fighting against Baba Ala Singh of Patiala.
John Griffith, 1794
“The Seiks recieve Proselytes of almost every Cast, a point in which they differ most materially from the Hindoos. To initiate Mahommedans into their mysteries, they prepare a Dish of Hog’s legs, which the Converts are obliged to partake of previous to admission. They have forbid absolutely the use of Hookah, but they are as liberal in the use of Bang, and Ophiam, as their Neighbours. They are not prohibited the use of Animal food of any kind, excepting Beef, which they are rigidly scrupulous in abstaining from. They never shave either Head or Beard; They sometimes wear yelloe, but the prevailing Colour of their Cloaths is deep blue; they make their Turbans capaciously large, over which they frequently wear a piece of pliable Iron Chain or Net work.
Their nom de plume attracted the sweeper class, the Hindu Bhangi to join them, turning those condemed to a life of collecting human waste into warrior as they too took Pahul. They were freely welcomed by this band of the Khalsa, some were even offered important posts. Although the majority of the soldiers of Bhangi misls were Jats, there were substantial numbers of converted Sikhs from the lower Hindu castes.
Hari Singh was succeeded by Jhanda Singh, his eldest son, under whom the Bharigi misl reached the zenith of its power. In 1764, Jhanda Singh had invaded Multan and Bahawalpur, but failed to drive out the Durrani satrap Shuja Khan Saddozai. Jhanda Singh marched on Multan again in 1772 forcing the Nawab to flee. Multan was declared Khalsa territory and the city was parcelled out between Jhanda Singh and his commander Lahina Singh.Jhanda Singh next subdued Jharig, Kala Bagh and Mankera. He built a brick fort at Amritsar which he named Qila Bharigiari and laid out fine bazars in the city. He then proceeded to Rasulnagar, where he recovered from the Muhammadan Chattha rulers the famous gun Zamzama which came to be known as Bharigiari di Top.
But Jhanda Singh was soon involved in the internal feuds of the warring misls. He was killed in 1774 in a battle with the Kanhaiyas and the Sukkarchakkias at Jammu whither he had marched to settle a standing succession issue. He was succeeded by his brother Ganda Singh who, dying of illness at the time of a battle with the Kanhaiyas at Dinanagar, was in turn succeeded by his minor son, Desa Singh, under whose weak leadership began the decline of the dynasty. Several Bharigi sarddrs set themselves up as independent chiefs within their territories. Desa Singh was killed in action against Mahan Singh Sukarchakia in 1782.
A leading Bhangi sardar now was Gurbakhsh Singh Rorarivala who had fought hand in hand with Hari Singh Bhangi in several of his battles. After his death, his adopted son, Lahina Singh, and Gujjar Singh, son of his daughter, divided his estates. In 1765, they had joined hands with Sobha Singh Kanhaiya and occupied Lahore. The city was partitioned among the three sardars who, though temporarily driven out in 1767 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, had continued in authority. In January 1797 Ahmad Shah's grandson. Shah Zaman, led out an expedition and seized the city. But soon after the departure of the Durrani Shah for Kabul, Lahina Singh and Sobha Singh (Giqjar Singh had died in 1791), returned and re-established their rule.
The same year, 1797, Lahina Singh died and was succeeded by his son Chet Singh and about the same time, Sobha Singh died and was succeeded by his son Mohar Singh. But the new rulers failed to establish their authority. People groaned under oppressive taxes and extortions and local Muhammadan Chaudharis and mercantile Khatris made a common cause and invited Ranjit Singh and Sada Kaur to come and occupy the city. On 7 July 1799, Ranjit Singh arrived with 5,000 troops at the Shalamar Gardens. The Bhangi sardars left the town hastily and Ranjit Singh became master of the capital of the Punjab, laying the foundation of Sikh monarchy.
Reverting to the main branch of the Bhangi misl, Desa Singh, son of Ganda Singh, was succeeded by his minor son Gulab Singh, who administered the misil through his cousin Karam Singh. Gulab Singh enlarged the city of Amritsar where he resided, and, on attaining years of discretion, overran the whole Pathan colony of Kasur, which he subdued, the Pathan chiefs of Kasur, Nizam udDin and Qutb udDin Khan, brothers, entering the service of the conqueror.
In 1794, however, the brothers, with the aid of their Afghan countrymen, recovered Kasur. Gulab Singh died in 1800 and was succeeded by his son, Gurdit Singh, a 10year old boy who conducted the affairs of the misl through his mother and guardian, MaT Sukkhan. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, after taking possession of Lahore in 1799 set out on a career of rapid conquest with his 'eye' on Amritsar where the Bhangis still held sway.
The campaign which would finally prove to be successful was launched in 1818, there were a great number of preparations made which the Nihangs were central too. All the boats, on the Sutlej and the Ravi were commandeered to ensure a regular supply of provisions. The big Bhangi gun of Zam Zama was ordered down to Multan. Platoons of Nihangs Singh readily went to action. At one point during battle, the Nihangs successfully distracted their enemies by laying a mine under a portion of the Multan fort. A more famous Nihang incident during this battle occurred on June 21, when a large contingency of Nihangs took the lead in breaching the Khizri Gate, and “through these breaches the dare devil Akalis entered the fort. . . and took the defenders by surprise, and occupied the fort.” Only after this initial attack by the Nihangs, did the majority of the Sikh soldiers follow.
First of a savage sect:—
" During my evening's ride I unfortunately got amongst a band of Akalees, and had to endure the usual quantity of abuse and black guardism they make a point of so lavishly distributing to every one they meet. They are, without any exception, the most insolent and worthless race of people in all India. They are religious fanatics, and acknowledge no ruler and no laws but their own; think nothing of robbery, or even murder, should they happen to be in the humour for it. They move about constantly, armed to the teeth, and it is not an uncommon thing to see them riding about with a drawn sword in each hand, two more in their belt, a matchlock at their back, and three or four pair of quoits fastened round their turbans. The quoit is an arm peculiar to this race of people; it is a steel ring, varying from six to nine inches in diameter, and about an inch in breadth, very thin, and the edges ground very sharp; they are said to throw it with such accuracy and force, as to he able to lop off a limb at sixty or eighty yards' distance; but I have several times invited them to shew their dexterity, without witnessing any proof of it that could convince me of the truth of this supposed accuracy. In general, the bystanders have been in greater danger than the object aimed at. Runjeet Sing has done much towards reducing these people to a state of subjection (though they are still very troublesome), by breaking up the large bands of them that were accustomed to congregate in all parts of the Punjab. He has raised some irregular regiments composed entirely of Akalees, which he always employs on any dangerous or desperate service; and as they fight like devils, he continues to make them useful, as well as to expend a great number of them in this way. In 1815, when the maharajah's army was investing the city of Moultan, the Affghans made so protracted and determined a defence, that Runjeet Sing was induced to offer very advantageous terms, compared to what he was in the habit of doing
under similar circumstances; and during the progress of the negotiations, an Akalee, named Sadhoo Sing, with a few companions, advanced to the fausse braye, and without orders, in one of their fits of enthusinsm, attacked the Affghans, who were sleeping or careless on their watch, and killed every man; the Sihk army took advantage of the opportunity, and rushing on, in two hours carried the citadel; Muzulfer Khan and his four sons being all cut down in the gateway, after a gallant defence. Though Runjeet Sing has considerably moderated the nuisance, he has by no means exterminated it, and has signally failed in emancipating himself from their insults and abuse; for at auy review where any of these regiments may be paraded, it is still a common occurrence for them, on marching past him, to throw handfuls of musket-balls at his feet, and abuse and insult him in every sort of manner, frequently threatening his life—a threat which in more than one instance they have attempted to fulfil. The maharajah bears it all with the greatest coolness, and they proceed with perfect impunity until they are detected in any great crime, such as robbery or murder, when he shews no mercy, and they are immediately deprived of either their noses, ears, arms, or legs, according to the degree of their offence. During our sojourn at Adeenanuggur, an individual, supposed to be a servant of Rajah Golaub Sing's, was detected by one of the sentries concealed in a mango-tree, overlooking Runjeet's zenana. After a couple of shots the Sipahis brought him down, and he was kept in close confinement till the hour the durbar assembles, when he was sent for by the maharajah, and in five minutes dismissed without either ears or nose, and died in a few hours. • • • Sent a Shuta surwar (camelrider) off with an express to Simla, to say that our business was coming to a conclusion. * * Was awakened this morning, at three o'clock, by the return of the Shuta surwar we had despatched the evening before; he came back covered with blood, and stripped to the skin, with the account of his having been attacked about seven miles from Lahore by a band of Akalees. They had cut off one of his fingers, taken his camel, carbine, and pistols, all his clothes and his despatches, and then told him , he might returu as fast as he pleased. Sent him off to the maharajah to make his complaint to him: he returned in the course of the afternoon, having received one hundred rupees for his camel, another hundred for his arms and clothes, and fifty for his finger, and upon the whole seeming very well satisfied. Runjeet has sent some of his cavalry after the Akalees, and if he catches any of them they will lose one, if not both of their arms, or perhaps a leg instead. His executions are very prompt and simple, and follow quickly on the sentence : one blow of au axe, and then some boiling oil to immerse the stump in, and stop all effusion of blood, is all the machinery he requires for his courts of justice. He is himself accuser, judge, and jury; and five minutes is about the duration of the longest trial at Lahore.
In later times, Runjeet Singh coveted the river-side city, and made repeated efforts to wrest it from Surfuraz Khan, the Affghan feudatory. After three failures his troops carried the walls, stirred into mad valour by an Akalee, who mounted the breach almost alone, and planted the black banner upon its crest.