The 12 Sikh MISLS

“MISLS” Misi is a term which originated in the eighteenth century history of the Sikhs to describe a unit or brigade of Sikh warriors and the territory acquired by it in the course of its campaign of conquest following the weakening of the Mughal authority in the country. Scholars trying to trace the etymology of the term have usually based their interpretation on the Arabic/Persian word misi. According to Stcingass, Persian English Dictionary, the word means “similitude, alike or equal”, and “a file” or collection of papers bearing on a particular topic.

Origin of the Sikh Misls

It has already been said that the entire territory of the Punjab had been divided among twelve Sikh jathadars. In history books written in Persian language, a jatha has been described as misl1. Therefore, we shall also use the word misl hereafter. The twelve misls had different names which were derived from the names or characteristics of their founders or the village from which these founders hailed. The account of these misls is given below:

1. Ramgarhia Misl

Jassa Singh was the chief of this misl. He was a brave and dauntless soldier. During the invasions of Ahmed Shah Abdali, he was ranked among prominent leaders of the Sikhs. He strengthened the Ram Rauni fort of Amritsar and renamed it Ramgarh. For this reason this misl came to be called the Ramgarhia Misl. The possessions of this Misl included some parts of Dist. Jalandhar Doab and the towns of Batala and Kalanaur. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered this Misl, there were over one hundred fortresses in its territories. Its fighting strength has been estimated at three thousand horsemen.

2. Bhangi Misl

This misl was rated as the strongest and most important of all misls. Its founder was Sardar Jassa Singh a Jat who hailed from Panjwar village of Amritsar district. He had fought against the Mughals while in Banda Bahadur’s army. After Jassa Singh, Sardar Jagat Singh became the leader of this misl. It is said that Jagat Singh was an addict of hashish or Indian hemp (bhang). It is for this reason that this misl got its name as Bhangi misl. Sardars Gujar Singh, Sobha Singh and a Lahina Singh who occupied Lahore in 1764 A.D., were prominent chiefs of this misl. Besides Lahore, Amritsar, Sialkot, Gujrat, Chiniot and Jhang Sial were among the possessions of this misl. The fighting strength of this misl has been estimated to be nearly ten thousand horsemen.

3. Kanheya Misl

The founder of this misl was Sardar Amar Singh, a resident of Kahna Kachha village in Lahore district (now in Pakistan). That is why this misl came to be known as Kahnewali or Kanheya Misl. During the time of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the well-known leader of this misl was Jai Singh Kanheya under whom this misl made great progress. Its possessions were in the Bari Doab, i.e. the area between the rivers Beas and Ravi, and were spread towards foot hills. Mukerian, Garhauta, Hajipur and Pathankot were included in the possessions of this misl. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was married to the grand-daughter of Sardar Jai Singh Kanheya. The fighting strength of this Misl was nearly eight thousand horsemen.

4. Ahluwalia Misl

The famous Sardar Jassa Singh Kalal, who founded the Dal Khalsa, was the first Chief of this Misl. Jassa Singh had been earlier with the Faizulapuria misl. When he became powerful enough, he established a new misl of his own. Jassa Singh was inhabitant of Ahlu village (Lahore district now in Pakistan). This misl is therefore called Ahluwalia. Jassa Singh’s possessions formed the nucleus of the erstwhile state of Kapurthala. The strength of this misl is considered to have been three thousand horsemen.

5. Sukarchakkia Misl

This misl was founded in about 1751 A.D. by Charhat Singh whose ancestors lived in Sukar Chak village near Gujranwala. That is why this misl came to be called Sukarchakkia. The fighting strength of this Misl during the time of Sardar Mahan Singh, father of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was about two thousand five hundred horsemen.

6. Nakai Misl

The founder of this misl was Sardar Hira Singh. This Misl came into existence during the time of Ahmad Shah Abdali. Hira Singh was inhabitant of parganah Faridabad of the present Chunian tehsil of Lahore district. This tract of land is called Nakka country from which this misl got its’ name. The possessions of this misl were spread up to Multan and included Sharqpur, Gogera, Kot Kamalia, etc. Maharaja Ranjit Singh married the daughter of Sardar Gian Singh of this misl. The fighting strength of this misl remained at two thousand horsemen only.

7. Dallewala Misl

Gulab Singh was the founder of this misl. He was an inhabitant of Dallewal village near Dera Baba Nanak (now in Gurdaspur district). Sardar Tara Singh Gheba of this misl had participated in the devastation of Sirhind. The possessions of this misl lay on the west of river Sutlej. Its military strength has been estimated at eight thousand horsemen.

8. Nishanwalia Misl

This misl was founded by Sardars Sant Singh and Mohar Singh. Both these Sardars were standard bearers of Dal Khalsa. It is for this reason that this misl came to be called Nishan (standard, flag) walia misl. This misl was in occupation of Ambala District. Some of its possessions were also situated to the west of the River Sutlej. The fighting force of this misl consisted of Twelve thousand horsemen.

9. Karorasinghia Mai

The founder of this misl was Karora Singh after whom this Misl got the name Karorasinghia. The possessions of this misl were situated along both the sides of river Sutlej and were spread up to Kamal. The strength of this misl is believed to has been estimated to have been twelve thousand horsemen.

10. Shahid or Nihang Misl

This was the smallest of all the misls. The chiefs of this misl were the progeny of those who had fallen martyrs under the standard of Guru Gobind Singh near Damdama Sahib. That is why this misl is called Shahid (martyr) misl. Guru Gobind Singh’s Akali Khalsa or Nihang Khalsa formed the nucleus of this misl. They wore blue garments and donned steel rings on their peculiar turbans. This misl was in occupation of territories to the West of the river Sutlej. Their fighting strength was two thousand horsemen.

11. Faizulpuria Misl

The founder of this misl, Nawab Kapur Singh, was first enlisted in the army of Banda Bahadur. He rose to chiefship by virtue of his dedication, service and bravery. Besides being an intrepid soldier, Kapur Singh was also a quick-witted and far-sighted general. The men of his own misl gave him the title of Nawab and he became famous with this appellation. This man was a resident of Faizulapur village in Amritsar district. On this account his misl became known by this name. The territories of this misl lay on both the sides of Sutlej river. Its fighting strength was two and a half thousands.

12. Phulkian Misl

A person named Phul founded this misl. It was therefore called Phulkian Misl. Phul was a Rajput of Bhatti clan. Sardar Ala Singh, ancestor of the present Patiala family, and the one whom Ahmad Shah Abdali appointed governor of Sirhind, belonged to this clan and was called the Chief of Phulkian Misl. Other chiefs of this very misl founded the present states of Nabha and Jind. The founder of Kaithal State, too, was one among the chiefs of Phulkian Misl. The military strength of this misl was about five thousand horsemen.

Mutual Relations between the Sikh Misls

The united strength of the Sikhs was approximately seventy thousand horsemen. It was with this massive force that they began adding to their conquests. As has been stated earlier there was no central authority which could exercise control over these different chiefs and consolidate the Sikh government. Each chief was independent within his own principality, and did as he willed. Of course in the event of a foreign invasion all these chiefs united and fought under the flag of the Dal Khalsa for the protection of the Panth. But in the absence of common danger they did not hesitate to fight amongst themselves. The boundaries of the possessions of misls were not clearly defined and usually overlapped with one another’s territory and this situation usually remained a major cause of their wrangling. There was absence of cohesion within the misls as well and germs of discord remained ever active. Every one within the misl nursed an ambition within himself to become the misldar.

The Results of these Relations

Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasions had stopped for ever and there remained no other internal power within the country that could equal the might of the Sikhs. The Sikhs were war-like people and therefore could not remain silent. Their restless nature led to conditions of civil war. On any pretext; they would attack their neighbouring chiefs and fight relentlessly. Self-aggrandizement became the reigning principle and “might is right” the order of the day. Thus, history of the Punjab of the last quarter of the eighteenth century is the story of internecine warfare. The chief of one misl would make alliance with chief of another misl and would invade the third. Sometimes united armies of two or three misls would establish hegemony over other’s possessions. In short, Punjab presented a dismal picture bordering anarchy. During these very days, i.e. in about 1784 A.D., an English traveler, George Forster, passed through the plains of the Punjab and closely studied the state of the Sikhs. He was wise enough to foresee that someone from among the Sikh chiefs would emerge to overpower his fellow misl chiefs and establish a strong kingdom of his own. This prophesy came to be true. Four years before Forster penned down this prophesy, a lion had taken birth in the Punjab who undertook this task at the age of twenty and who within a short period conquered the misls to carve out a powerful Sikh kingdom. Let us find-out who he was and to which lineage he belonged.