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Then there were martyrs who went unsung...

In his death, Maharaja Singh remained an unknown martyr. No verses were composed in his honour nor any memorials erected in his memory. Even historians failed to recognise his contribution to the freedom struggle.

Maharaja Singh was perhaps the first person in Punjab who tried to organise a mass movement against the British after Lord Dalhousie annexed the kingdom following the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Maharaja Singh was a preacher turned revolutionary, whose activities caused much concern to the British. As gauged from a letter from the then Governor General Lord Dalhousie to Punjab Governor Henry Lawrence in 1849. ''Maharaja Singh has started a khalsa lehar (Sikh movement), and this should be crushed at all costs or else the English cannot step into Punjab,'' read the letter.

Even when the English were desperately trying to gain a foothold in Punjab by fighting many battles against Ranjit Singh's generals, the preacher-revolutionary started touring villages exhorting people to rise against the British as their freedom was in jeopardy.

His sermons caused panic among the British. An army officer stationed at Jalandhar in a dispatch to his superior wrote, ''A religious preacher has become an important political leader who is getting a good deal of support in the villages.''

The British, on their part, kept his exploits against them a closely guarded secret, fearing that any publicity might lead to a public uprising.

The preacher tag did not prevent Maharaja Singh from taking up an armed struggle. He along with his supporters came out openly in support of Mool Raj, the subedar of Multan, who rebelled against the British in 1848.

The sant sipahi (saint-soldier) image came to the fore again during a battle between the British and Maharaja Sher Singh. He took up the sword after delivering a religious sermon to the soldiers.

In the battle of Chelia between Chattar Singh Ittari and the British, Maharaja Singh took upon himself the task of maintaining the food and water supplies, besides nursing the wounded soldiers. Soon, the British offered a reward of Rs 10,000 for his arrest.

On January 3, 1850, Maharaja Singh, after establishing contacts with a number of Punjabi soldiers in the British army, asked them to revolt against the colonial masters. But the plan leaked out and he was arrested in Jalandhar and brutally tortured during interrogation. He was sent to Fort William in Calcutta and then shifted to a jail in Singapore, where he died in 1855.

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