Sikh Misl
ਖ਼ਾਲਸਾ ਰਾਜ
Khālsā Rāj
Flag Coat of arms
Deg o Tegh o Fateh
Capital Amritsar (1707-1799)
Lahore & Amritsar (1802-1849)
Language(s) Administrative official: Punjabi
Government Federal monarchy
 - 1733-1735 Nawab Kapur Singh
 - 1762-1783 Sultan ul Quam Baba Jassa Singh Ahluwalia
 - 1801-1839 Ranjit Singh Ji
 - June 1839-October 1839 Kharak Singh
 - October 1839-November 1840 Nau Nihal Singh
 - January 1841-September 1843 Sher Singh
 - Death of General Baba Banda Singh Bahadur 1707
 - Second Anglo-Sikh War 1849
Currency Nanakshahi
A 1780 map of the Punjab Region shows the relative positions of the Sikh Misls and other states.
Sikh Confederacy
Phulkian Misl · Ahluwalia Misl · Bhangi Misl · Kanheya Misl · Ramgarhia Misl · Singhpuria Misl · Panjgarhia Misl · Nishanwalia Misl · Sukerchakia · Dallewalia Misl · Nakai Misl · Shaheedan Misl

Misl (Punjabi: ਮਿਸਲ from the Persian word "misl" meaning "similar" or "alike")[note 1] generally refers to the twelve sovereign states in the Sikh Confederacy. The states formed a commonwealth that was described by Antoine Polier as an "aristocratic republic".[3] Although the misls were unequal in strength, and each misl attempted to expand its territory and resources at the expense of others, they acted in unison in relation to other states.[4] The misls held biannual meetings of their legislature, the Sarbat Khalsa in Amritsar.[4]


Sikh women in State Affairs

  • Mai Fateh kaur (d.1773) Of Patiala Sikh Dynasty
  • Mai Desan kaur (d.1778) Of Sukerchakia Sikh Misl
  • Bibi Rajinder Kaur (1739-1791) Of Patiala Sikh Dynasty
  • Mai Sukkhan kaur (r.1802) Of Bhangi Sikh Misl
  • Mai Lachhmi kaur Of Bhangi Sikh Misl
  • Rani Sada kaur (1762-1832) of Kanhaiya Sikh Misl
  • Bibi Rattan kaur of Dallewalia Sikh Misl
  • Bibi Sahib kaur (1771-1801) Of Patiala Sikh Dynasty
  • Rani Raj kaur (d.1838) Of Sikh Empire
  • Rani Aus Kaur (1772-1821) Of Patiala Sikh Dynasty
  • Maharani Jind Kaur (1817-1863) of Sikh Empire
  • Bibi Daya kaur (d.1823) Of Nishanwalia Sikh Misl
  • Rani Desa kaur Nabha Of Nabha Sikh Dynasty
  • Bibi Khem kaur Of Sikh Empire
  • Maharani Chand Kaur (1802-1842) of Sikh Empire


In order to withstand the persecution of Shah Jahan and other Mughal rulers, several of the later Sikh Gurus established military forces and fought the Mughal Empire and Hindu hill chiefs[5] in the early and middle Mughal-Sikh Wars. Banda Singh Bahadur continued Sikh resistance to the Mughal Empire until his defeat at the Battle of Gurdas Nagal. For several years Sikhs found refuge in the jungles and the Himalayan foothills until they organized themselves into military bands known as jathas.

List of Misls

List of Misls
Strength (1780)[6] Name Capital Misl Period (1707-1799) Territory (1759)[7]
1. Phulkian Misl Patiala
Rajpura, Bathinda, Sangrur, Tohana, Sirhind, etc.
2. Ahluwalia Misl Kapurthala Nurmahal, Talwandi, Phagwara, Kana Dhillon, Hariana
3. Bhangi Misl Amritsar Tarn Taran, Gujrat, Wazirabad, Sialkot, Chiniot, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Sialkot, Jhang, Bhera, Lahore, Hasan Abdal, Bhairowal, Majitha, Firozpur, Bedian, Bulaki, Bazidpur, Multan.
4. Kanheya Misl Sohian Ajnala, Sohiau, Nag, Gurdaspur, Dera Baba Nanak,
Kalanaur, Pathankot, Sujanpur
5. Ramgarhia Misl Sri Hargobindpur Batala, Jukerian, Kangra.
6. Singhpuria Misl Jalandhar Haibatpur, Patta, Bunga, Banga, Bela, Attal Garh, Adampur, Singhpura, Sirhind, Bhareli, Kandhola, Manauli, Bharatgarh.
7. Panjgarhia Misl[note 2] Bhunga Nawashahr, Burka, Bassisn, Pindorian, Hoshiarpur,
Kathgarh, Bhangs
8. Nishanwalia Misl Ambala
9. Sukerchakia Gujranwala Kunja, Ladhe Wala Waraich, Ramnagar, Eminabad, Sodhra, Qila Didar Singh, Rohtas.
10. Dallewalia Misl Rahon Nakodar, Talwan, Badala, Rahon, Philluar.
11. Nakai Misl Chunian Baharwal, Khem Karan, Khudian, etc.
12. Shaheedan Misl Shahzadpur Talwandi Sabo, Nothern Ambala.


Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, leader of the Ahluwalia Misl

Each Misl was made up of members of soldiers, whose loyalty was given to the Misl's leader. A Misl could be composed of a few hundred to tens of thousands soldiers. Every soldier was free to join any Misl he chose and free to cancel his membership of the Misl to whom he belonged. He could, if he wanted, cancel his membership of his old Misl and join another. The Barons would allow their armies to combine or coordinate their defences together against a hostile force if ordered by the Misldar Supreme Commander. These orders were only issued in military matters affecting the whole Sikh community. These orders would normally be related to defense against external threats, such as Afghan military attacks. The profits of a fighting action were divided by the misls to individuals based on the service rendered after the conflict using the sardari system.

The Sikh Confederacy is a description of the political structure, of how all the Barons' Kingdoms interacted with each other politically together in Punjab. Although misls varied in strength, the use of primarily light cavalry with a smaller amount heavy cavalry was uniform throughout all of the Sikh misls. Cavalrymen in a misl were required to supply their own horses and equipment.[9] A standard cavalryman was armed with a spear, matchlock, and scimitar.[10] How the armies of the Sikh misls received payment varied with the leadership of each misl. The most prevalent system of payment was the 'Fasalandari' system; soldiers would receive payment every six months at the end of a harvest.[11]

Cavalry tactics

Fauja Singh considers the Sikh misls to be guerrilla armies, although he notes that the Sikh misls generally had greater numbers and a larger number of artillery pieces than a guerrilla army would.[9] The misls were primarily cavalry based armies and employed less artillery than Mughal or Maratha armies. The misls adapted their tactics to their strength in cavalry and weakness in artillery and avoided pitched battles. Misls organized their armies around bodies of horsemen and their units fought battles in a series of skirmishes, a tactic which gave them an advantage over fighting pitched battles. Bodies of cavalry would attack a position, retreat, reload their muskets, and return to attack it again. The tactics used by misl field armies include flanking an enemy, obstructing river passages, cutting off a unit from its supplies, intercepting messengers, attacking isolated units like foraging parties, employing hit-and-run tactics, overrunning camps, and attacking baggage trains. To fight large armies the misl would completely evacuate the areas in front of the enemy's marching route but follow in the rear of the opposition and reconquer areas the enemy had just captured, threaten agents of the enemy with retribution, and sweep over the countryside in the wake of the enemy's withdrawal.

The Running Skirmish was a tactic unique to the Sikh cavalrymen which was notable for its effectiveness and the high degree of skill required to execute it. George Thomas and George Forster, contemporary writers who witnessed it described its use separately in their accounts of the military of the Sikhs. George Forster noted:

A party from forty to fifty, advance in a quick pace to a distance of carbine shot from the enemy and then, that the fire may be given with the greatest certainty, the horses are drawn up and their pieces discharged, when speedily, retiring about a 100 paces, they load and repeat the same mode of annoying the enemy. Their horses have been so expertly trained to a performance of this operation that on receiving a stroke of hand, they stop from a full career.


The remainder was separated into Puttees or parcels for each Surkunda, and these were again subdivided and parcelled out to inferior leaders, according to the number of horse they brought into the field. Each took his portion as a co-sharer, and held it in absolute independence.

Origin of the Sikh power in the Punjab (1834) p. 33 - Henry Thoby Prinsep
The Misls primarily employed cavalry in warfare.

The Sikh Misls had four different classes of administrative divisions. The patadari, misaldari, tabadari, and jagirdari were the different systems of land tenure used by the misls, and land granted by the misl left the responsibility of establishing law and order to the owner of the land. The land under the direct administration of the chief of the misl was known as the sardari and the tabadari and jagirdari systems used land directly given by the chief from the sardari. The patadari and misaldari systems formed the basis of a misl, while tabadari and jagirdari lands would only be created after large acquisitions of land. The type of system that was used in an area depended on the importance of the chief sardar of the area to the rest of the misl.

The Patadari system affected newly annexed territories and was the original method used by the misls in administrating land.[12] The patadari system relied on the cooperation of surkundas, the rank of a leader of a small party of cavalrymen. The chief of the misl would take his/her portion and divide the other parcels among his Sardars proportional to the number of cavalrymen they had contributed to the misl.[13] The Sardars would then divide their parcels among their Surkundas, and then the Surkundas subdivided the land they received among their individual cavalrymen. The Surkundas receiving parcels of land with settlements were required to fortify them[note 3] and establish fines and laws for their zamindars and ryots.[14] Parcels of land in the patadari system could not be sold, but could be given to relatives in an inheritance.[15] The soldiers who received parcels from the Patadari system held their land in complete freedom.[4]

The Misaldari system applied to sardars with a small number of cavalrymen as well as independent bodies of cavalrymen who voluntarily attached themselves to a misl.[15] They kept the lands they held before joining the misl as an allotment for their cooperation with the misl. The leaders of these groups, called misaldars, could transfer their allegiance and land to another misl without punishment.[15]

The Tabadari system referred to land under the control of a misl's tabadars. Tabadars served a similar function to retainers in Europe. They were required to serve as cavalrymen to the misl and were subservient to the misl's leader. Although tabadars received their land as a reward, their ownership was subject entirely on the misl's leader.[16] The tabadari grants were only hereditary on the choice of the chief of the misl.

The Jagirdari system used the grant of jagirs by the chief of the misl. Jagirs were given by the chief of the misl to relations, dependents, and people who "deserved well".[16] The owners of jagirs were subservient to the chief of the misl as their ownership was subject his/her needs. Like the Tabadars, jagirdars were subject to personal service when the chief of the misl requested.[16] However, because jagirs entailed more land and profit, they were required to use the money generated by their jagirs to equip and mount a quota of cavalrymen depending on the size of their jagir.[16] Jagirdari grants were hereditary in practice but a misl's chief could revoke the rights of the heir. Upon the death of the owner of a tabadari or jagadari grant, the land would revert back to direct control of the chief (sardari).


A map of the Punjab region showing the different doabs

The two main divisions in territory between the misls were between those who were in the Malwa region and those who were in the Majha region. While eleven of the misls were north of the Sutlej river, one, the Phulkian Misl was south of the Sutlej.[17] The Sikhs north of the Sutlej river were known as the Majha Sikh while the Sikhs that lived south of the Sutlej river were known as the Malwa Sikhs.[8] In the smaller territories were the Dhanigeb Singhs in the Sind Sagar Doab, the Gujrat Singhs in the Jech Doab,the Dharpi Singhs in the Rechna Doab, and the Doaba Singhs in the Jalandhar Doab.[8]


  1. ^ This is the widely accepted origin of the word. Joseph Cunningham raised the possibility in 1849 of the Persian word "Musluhut" meaning "warlike people" being the origin of "misl."[1] Another possibility is the homonym "misl", which refers to a file or stack of papers, in this sense administrative and military records kept by the Sikh confederacy at Amritsar[2]
  2. ^ The Panjgarhia misl was further divided into the Sham Singhan and Kalsias. The Kalsias were subdivided into the Landpindian and Barapindian[8]
  3. ^ The owners of larger villages were required to erect stockades and ditches while the owners of towns erected either keeps or forts[13]


  1. ^ Cave-Browne 1861, p. 368
  2. ^ Sikh Missionary College, p. 7
  3. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2004-10-11). A History of the Sikhs: 1469-1838 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 165. ISBN 9780195673081. http://books.google.com/books?id=MD9uAAAAMAAJ. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Kakshi 2007, p. 73
  5. ^ [|Gandhi, Surjit Singh] (1 Feb 2008). "13 Khalsa Battles Against Islamic Imperialism and Hindu Conservatism" (in English). History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606-1708 C.E. Atlantic Publishing. p. 814. ISBN 8126908580. http://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Sikh-Gurus-Retold--1708/dp/8126908580/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296039499&sr=1-1. Retrieved 26th January 2010. 
  6. ^ Griffin, Lepel Henry (1893). Ranjít Singh. Clarendon Press. p. 78. http://books.google.com/books?id=rNxGAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA237&dq=Ranj%C3%ADt+Singh+By+Sir+Lepel+Henry+Griffin&as_brr=1&ei=KtrIS5abLoTaNbeL7LUG&cd=1#v=onepage&q=order%20of%20importance&f=false. 
  7. ^ Kakshi 2007, p. 163–164
  8. ^ a b c Kakshi 2007, p. 164
  9. ^ a b Singh 1963, p. 23
  10. ^ Francklin, William (1805). Military memoirs of Mr. George Thomas; who, by extraordinary talents and enterprise, rose from an obscure situation to the rank of a general, in the service of the native powers in the North-West of India. Reprinted for John Stockdale. p. 107. http://books.google.com/books?id=mhsFAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA17. Retrieved 30 June 2010. 
  11. ^ Singh, Fauja (1964). Military system of the Sikhs: during the period 1799-1849. Motilal Banarsidass. http://books.google.com/books?id=iLk9AAAAIAAJ. Retrieved 30 June 2010. 
  12. ^ Prinsep 1834, p. 33
  13. ^ a b Prinsep 1834, p. 34
  14. ^ Prinsep 1834, p. 34–35
  15. ^ a b c Prinsep 1834, p. 35
  16. ^ a b c d Prinsep 1834, p. 36
  17. ^ Oberoi 1994, p. 73


  • Ahmad Shah Batalia, Appendix to Sohan Lal Suri’s Umdat-ut-Tawarikh. Daftar I, Lahore, 1X85, p. 15; Bute Shahs Tawarikh-i-Punjab, Daftar IV, (1848), (MS., Ganda Singh’s personal collection. Patiala), p. 6; Kanaihya Lal, Tarikh-i-Punjab, Lahore, 1877, p. 88; Ali-ud-Din Mufti, Ibratnama, Vol. I, (1854), Lahore, 1961, p. 244. Muhammad Latif, History of the Punjab (1891), Delhi, 1964, p. 296.
  • Ian Heath, The Sikh Army, 1799-1849 (Men-at-arms), Osprey (2005) ISBN 1-84176-777-8
  • Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs, second rev. ed., Manohar (1994) ISBN 81-7304-064-8
  • Hari Ram Gupta, History of the Sikhs: Sikh Domination of the Mughal Empire, 1764–1803, second ed., Munshiram Manoharlal (2000) ISBN 81-215-0213-6
  • Hari Ram Gupta, History of the Sikhs: The Sikh Commonwealth or Rise and Fall of the Misls, rev. ed., Munshiram Manoharlal (2001) ISBN 81-215-0165-2
  • Gian Singh, Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, (ed. 1970), p. 261.

See also

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