It is recorded in the history of Punjab that if the test of patriotism is to lay down one's life for one's country knowingly and willingly then surely Sardar Sham Singh Attari was one of the greatest men of India, who, careless of worldly benefits and personal comforts, sacrificed his all to save the Punjab's independence. He preferred death to thralldom and by his own example made it clear to his countrymen that nothing was more precious than independence and freedom from the foreign yoke.
In the absence of a strong hand after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the rot which set in the Kingdom of Punjab is too well known to the students of Sikh history. The intrigues of selfish and treacherous dogras at the court so disgusted Sham Singh that he retired from the court and settled down at Attari to spend the last days of his life in prayer and meditation. The intrigues at the Lahore Durbar culminated in a plan to divert the powerful Khalsa Army towards the British. Sham Singh was called by Maharani Jindan for advice. He strongly protested against this mad venture but to no avail.
Historians are of the opinion that the battle of Sabraon of the First Anglo-Sikh War (1846) where Sham Singh was in command of troops should never have been lost. The morale of the soldiers was high, some were seasoned veterans of many campaigns, and were led by devoted soldiers. But that was not the intention of the traitors at the Durbar who did everything possible to starve them of ammunition and other administrative support.
The night previous to the battle,. it had rained heavily and the river Sutlej was in spate. (traitor)Tej Singh, a court noble, came to Sham Singh's camp at night and tried to persuade him to beat a retreat while the pontoon bridge was still intact. Sham Singh was infuriated. At this Tej Singh taunted him by saying that if he considered himself so brave and upright why doesn't he take a pledge to fight till the last. Sham Singh bowed to Guru Granth Sahib ji and standing before in all humility took a vow that he will return victorious or perish. But again ... Lal singh and Tej Singh had already given British their positions of guns, etc.
As the dawn was breaking, the troops moved into attack. Sham Singh ji along with Ranjodh Singh Majithia and Ajit Singh Ladwa's forces decided to move in.
Sham Singh, tall and handsome with flowing grey beard, donned saffron robes, the garment of a shahid, and mounted his white charger. Drawing the sword in his right hand and shouting Sat-Siri-Akal, he charged at the enemy, with his followers at his heels. For a moment the British troops were flabbergasted for they had never seen anything like this charge before. Soon they recovered their wits and the firing became intense. Sham Singh's followers started dropping and soon mere handfuls were left. The old Sirdar fell at last. When his body was examined, seven bullets had pierced his chest. His courage inspired the Sikhs to make a determined bid to save the day, but the odds were against them. Sham Singh fell fighting in the foremost ranks. So did his dauntless comrades. The battle of Sabraon was lost but out of respect for the gallant adversary, the British ordered ceasefire and allowed Sham Singh's followers to take his body away.
Cunningham, who was present as an additional aid-de-camp to the governor-general, describes the last scenes of battle vividly in his book History of the Sikhs : "...although assailed on either side by squadrons of horse and battalions of foot, no Sikh offered to submit and no disciple of Guru Gobind Singh asked for quarter. They everywhere showed a front to the victors, and stalked slowly and sullenly away, while many rushed singly forth to meet assured death by contending with a multitude. The victors looked with stolid wonderment upon indomitable courage of the vanquished..."
THE BRAVE PUNJABIS
General Thackwell, who had personally led his dragoons in the battle wrote in The Second Sikh War (1851): "It is due to the Sikhs to say that they fought bravely, for though defeated and broken, they never ran, but fought with their talwars to the last and I witnessed several acts of great bravery in some of their Sirdars and men". Henry Hardinge, Governor General of India, who, alongwith Hugh Gough was rewarded with peerage, had seen the action. Arthur Hardinge, son of the Governor General, wrote: "Few escaped;.no one, it may be said, surrendered. The Sikhs met their fate with the resignation which distinguished their race." Hugh Gough, the British Commander-inChief could not suppress his admiration of the bravery and resoluteness of Sikhs and paid rich tributes to the Punjabis : "Policy prevented me publicly recording my sentiments of the splendid gallantry of a fallen foe, and I declare, were it not from a conviction that my country's good required the sacrifice, I could have wept to have witnessed the fearful slaughter of so devoted a body."
The hard, Shah Mohammad, immortalised the heroic stand of the men of Sham Singh Attariwala at Sobraon thus :
'They squeezed the blood out of the Whites,
As one squeezes juice out of a lemon;
If only Ranjit Singh were there,
He would have been proud to see,
How the Khalsa wielded their swords.
About the sad result of the compaign, he wrote;
'Oh Shah Mohammad, without Ranjit Singh, such was our plight
We won the battles, but lost the fight.'
The traitors to the Khalsa were not only taken note of by the British or the Khalsa themselves, but were immortalised in doggerel verse punning on their names:
'Lallu dee Lallee gaee, Teju da gia tej
Ran vich pith dikhaike modha aie pher.