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Inderjeet Singh (2020) Afghan Sikhs - Tracing their Origins & History. Abstracts of Sikh Studies. Vol XXI, Issue 4, p56-73

  • Institute of Sikh Studies Chandigarh


The deadly attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib at Shor Bazar in Kabul on 25th March 2020 which led to death of 27 Sikhs including children and women shocked the small 650 odd community. The Gurdwara Sahib was also a home to 50 Sikh families. They eventually requested for refuge to the Indian government. A couple of years ago on 1st July 2018 in a bomb blast in Jalalabad, 15 Afghan Sikhs & 4 Hindus were killed which included the community leaders Avtar Singh and Rawail Singh. The Afghan Sikhs are now leaving the country and it is important to trace the origins and history of Sikhs in Afghanistan.
The deadly attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib at Shor Bazar
in Kabul on 25th March 2020 which led to death of 27 Sikhs including
children and women shocked the small 650 odd community. The
Gurdwara Sahib was also a home to 50 Sikh families. They eventually
requested for refuge to the Indian government. A couple of years ago
on 1st July 2018 in a bomb blast in Jalalabad, 15 Afghan Sikhs & 4
Hindus were killed which included the community leaders Avtar Singh
and Rawail Singh. The Afghan Sikhs are now leaving the country and
it is important to trace the origins and history of Sikhs in Afghanistan.
There is very little material on Afghan Sikh history or its origin in
the public domain. Roger Ballard (2011) stated that Afghan Sikhs are
“likely to be made up of those members of the indigenous population who resisted
the process of conversion from Buddhism to Islam which took place in this area
between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, and who subsequently aligned themselves
with the teachings of Guru Nanak – himself a Khatri and the founder of the Sikh
tradition – during the course of the fifteenth century”1
Guru Nanak came to Afghanistan during his 4th Udasi (1517 -
21) in 16thcentury2 and it is more likely that the Hindus rather than
Buddhists became Nanakpanthis(followers of Guru Nanak). There is
no evidence that Buddhism survived in Afghanistan till 15thor 16th
century. Bukhara was one of the major cities of Khurasan (medieval
* Author of the book, Afghan Hindus & Sikhs History of a Thousand Years
Afghanistan), Anthony Jenkinson who visited this city in 1558
mentions Indian merchants in the city.3
The majority of Afghan Sikhs belong to Arora and Khatri castes.
Few are from Bhatia, Bhatra and Rajvanshi background. All are well
known to an average Sikh except for the last one which are in majority
among the Afghan Sikhs present in Afghanistan. They originally
belonged to Maidan Shar in Wardak province. They left the city in 1940
when one of clan girls was abducted and converted to Islam. They
migrated to Kabul, Gardez and Ghazni. The majority of the Sikhs
killed on 25th March 2020 were from this group.
The Afghan Hindus are also Khatris and Aroras. A small number
of them are Brahmins and Bhatias. The present-day Afghan Sikhs are
descendants of the Afghan Hindus who became Nanakpanthis when
Guru Nanak came to Afghanistan in 1521. A large number of Afghan
Sikhs shared their surname or sub-caste with Hindus.4
Babur, the founder of Mughal Empire in the sub-continent
captured Kabul in 1504 and later captured Delhi in 1526 after the first
battle of Panipat. Babur wrote an autobiography, Baburnama and he
refers to Kabul as an excellent trading centre and Hindustan’s own
market. He mentions that almost 8,000–10,000 horses would come to
the city along with 15,000–20,000 caravans from Hindustan with
household stuff, slaves, white cloth, refined sugar candy, common
sugar and aromatic roots. Despite making 300–400 percent profit,
many merchants were not satisfied although they would never make
such profit even if they went to Cathay (Northern China) or Turkey,
he noted. He adds that in Kabul, products from Khurasan, Iraq,
Turkey and China were available and Hindvi language was spoken in
the region.5Although Babur does not mention Hindu merchants
specifically, but Indian merchants and language are mentioned in his
The history of Sikhs in Afghanistan starts with the founder of the
Sikh religion, Guru Nanak (1469–1539) who was a prolific traveller.
The life and times of the Guru is recorded in Janamsakhis which are
semi-historical in nature as they are written in a devotional manner
and do not contain dates but records of his visits to Mecca, Medina,
Bagdad, Kabul and Kandahar (all in Central Asia) along with visits to
Sri Lanka and within the Indian sub-continent.6 The earliest copy
belongs to the early 1600s but their earlier antiquity cannot be ruled
Guru Nanak and his companion in his travels, Bhai Mardana left
Mashhad (Persia) to reach Balkh and then reached outskirts the city of
Kabul which was under Babur at that time. In one instance, the Guru
met some holy men who enquired what brought a Hindu ascetic to a
land of Muslims. The Guru replied that ‘the Almighty created the same
Divine Light, which pervades all. God has created all beings in the
same mould. However, some of them wear janeu while some others got
themselves circumcised’. The holy men were very impressed with the
Guru. The Guru stayed in the city for some time and then travelled
farther into the country.7
They also went to meet Maan Chand, son of Khan Chand who
lived in Kabul city. The Guru sent for him through a local Pathan.
Maan Chand met Guru Nanak and later became his follower and a
preacher of Guru’s doctrine in this region.8 Unfortunately, the oldest
historical Gurdwara of Afghanistan, Gurdwara Guru Nanak, based in
Jad Mewan was demolished when the road was widened in 1950. As
per the regulations, the dismantled material and cost of the land was
paid to the Gurdwara Management Committee. They could have re-
purchased the land as not all was lost to the road. After some time, it
was purchased by a good-natured local Muslim who was willing to sell
it to the Kabuli Sikhs. However, the local Sikhs did not get together to
raise the amount to buy the land.
The Jalalabad-based Sikh organisation, Khalsa Diwan
Afghanistan, volunteered to help in it. Professor Ganda Singh writes
that he was told by a Kabuli Sikh that they did not require the help of
outsiders (i.e. Jalalabad). Sadly, the local Kabuli Sikhs never got
together to rebuild this Gurdwara.9
The Gurdham Sangreh (written by Giani Gian Singh in 1921) records
that in Sultanpur (about 8 km from Jalalabad) a shepherd boy while
grazing his goats, got very thirsty and fell on the ground. Both Guru
Nanak and his companion Bhai Bala were there, and the Guru asked Bhai
Bala to get some water. The
latter answered that there was no water nearby, the Guru then asked
him to lift a rock and when Bala lifted one, a stream of water came out.
The stream still exists,a famous place in relation to Guru Nanak and
the Sikhs in Afghanistan. The place finds mention even in Charles
Masson’s travel account written in the 1840s.10 The Guru Nanak
Darbar at Jalalabad commemorates the visit of Guru Ji is an important
site of pilgrimage for Sikhs.
Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana came to Ar Randha (Arghandab)
River and met a Mughal Pathan fakir who introduced himself as Yaar
Ali and asked about Guru Nanak. The Guru said he was a Banda of
Khuda, a servant of God. The Fakir then asked who was his Peer
(spiritual teacher)? The Guru replied that the one who had created this
world was his Peer and the fakir fell at the feet of the Guru.11
The Mughal Emperor Babur captured Kabul in 1504 and by 1526
he was the master of North India. Kabul& Eastern Afghanistan
became one of the provinces of Hindustan (contemporary writers use
this name). Indian merchants had been regularly visiting Kabul
throughout the centuries. As mentioned earlier, Babur referred to
Kabul as Hindustan’s own market. The province of Kabul remained
with Hindustan until 1738 when it was conquered by Nadir Shah, the
Persian ruler. During this period, the Sikh chroniclers record numerous
names and instances when Sikh followers from Kabul came to the
region now known as East Punjab, to pay respects to the Sikh Gurus.
Bawa Kirpal Das, who was a descendant of Guru Amar Das
(1552–74), the third Sikh Guru, wrote Mahima Prakash Vartak in 1741.
This manuscript mentions the name of Kabul wali Mai (Lady from
Kabul) who did seva (voluntary service) with great devotion when the
digging of the Baoli (stepwell) at Goindawal (district Tarn Taran, East
Punjab) was undertaken by the third Guru.12 The manuscript refers
to Bibi (sister) Bhago who was in-charge of the Manji (Sikh preaching
centre) in Kabul while according to an inscription in Gurdwara Haveli
Sahib in Goindwal her name was Mai Sevan. These may be two
different women or the same individual, but it is remarkable that there
was a Sikh woman preacher in the 16th century.
Prof. Ganda Singh writes that Baba Ganak Baksh from
Gurdaspur was an important Udasi Sadhu who became a Sikh during
the time of Guru Amardas and started preaching. His followers are
known as Ganj Bakshiye. A Gurdwara was named after him in Kabul.
It cannot be verified if he came to Kabul or the Gurdwara was built by
one of his followers. Unfortunately, this small Gurdwara is under the
illegal occupation of the tenant from the majority community.
Guru Arjan (1581–1606) was the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. His
cousin, Bhai Gurdas wrote Vaaran which are much revered by the
Sikhs and it mentions the name of Bhai Rekh Rao and Bhai Bhana
Mallan, the Sikh residents of Kabul. The manuscript Sikhan di Bhagat
Mala written by BhaiMani Singh around 1720s elaborates that they
looked after the stores of the local chief. A complaint was made against
them that they were using short weights and misappropriated the
provisions in the stores. However, their devotion and piousness
proved their honesty. The weights were tested and found to be correct.
Some Sikh chroniclers have mentioned the same anecdote for Bhai
Katara. Bhai Gurdas (1551 – 1636) is said to have visited Kabul, the
Khalsa Gurdwara at Shor Bazaar was built by him during this period.
The Gurdwara Pipali Sahib situated a mile and a half north-west
of Harmandar Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) in Amritsar
commemorates the visit of Guru Arjan when he reached here to greet
the Sangat (Sikhs) of Kabul who had come to participate in the digging
of tanks. The Guru built four water tanks in Amritsar city. The site was
also visited by the Guru Hargobind.13
The manuscript Gurbilas Padshahi Chhevee, a biographical account
of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind (1606–44) written in the first
quarter of the 18th century records the name of Bhai Karori, a Sikh
horse dealer in Kabul who sent two of his finest horses Dilbagh and
Gulbagh as an offering to the Guru. Shortly after, Bhai Tara Chand
and Bakht Mall who were Masands (Sikh preachers) in Kabul travelled
with the Sangat and the horses to meet the Guru at Kiratpur, East
Punjab. On the way, the horses were forcibly taken by the Faujdar
(Garrison Commander) of Lahore. The Sikhs informed Guru
Hargobind of the highhandedness of the Faujdar when Bidhi Chand, a
Sikh was able to recover the horses through a stratagem.
An early 17th-century Persian manuscript Dabistan i Mazahib
considered to be written by Zulfiqar Ardastani has a chapter on
Nanakpanthis. It mentions two anecdotes relating to Bhai Sadh who
lived near Balkh. The anecdotes show that a devoted Sikh is contented
with the will of the Almighty which may bring joys and sorrows in life
and their devotion to the Guru.
On Guru’s order, Bhai Sadh left Balkh for Iraq to buy horses.
Shortly after, his son fell sick and he was asked by his companions to
go back to his son. He replied that if his son perished, it was the will
of the God and that there were enough resources in the house to
cremate him. Bhai Sadh added that he would return only after fulfilling
the mission. Though the son passed away, the father did not return
In the second incident, Ardastani was travelling with Sadh from
Kabul to Punjab when the former discovered that the belt of his
sheepskin had snapped. Sadh immediately took off his zannar (the
sacred thread) and made a joint there. Ardastani was surprised and
asked what he had done. Sadh replied that ‘The wearing of the sacred
thread is an undertaking of service. Whenever I neglect the service of
my guests and friends, I become a non-wearer of it’. And Bhai Sadh
quoted a verse, ‘This knotless relation, though slender as a single
strand, is rosary in a cloister and a zannar in a temple’.14
Bhai Sabhaga, a Sikh from Peshawar, brought five horses from
Kabul as an offering to Guru Hargobind in the latter’s court at
Hargobindpur. Mahan Kosh quotes Suraj Prakash Granth that ‘Dhani
bado aru nam sabhaga’ (Sabhaga was rich in(money & virtues).
The 18th century manuscript, Mahima Prakash mentions that Bhai
Gonda was sent to Kabul to preach the Sikh doctrine by the seventh
Guru, Har Rai (1644–61). The manuscript also records an anecdote
about his devotion. Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib at Shor Bazaar
which was the site of the unfortunate but deadly attack on 25th March
2020 was established by Bhai Gonda.
Giani Gian Singh mentions that Guru Tegh Bahadur was
travelling towards Samao (Bathinda, East Punjab) when he was
informed about the Sangat from Kabul and Peshawar coming to see
him. The Guru halted at Samoa and sat under a tree to receive the
Sangat. When the
Sangat arrived, a farmer working in the nearby fields provided bread
and buttermilk for them. The Guru blessed the peasant and a
Gurdwara was built to commemorate this event.15
Prof. Hari Ram Gupta quotes from contemporary records that a
Duni Chand from Kabul bought a costly tent at Anandpur (East
Punjab) to be used for Guru Gobind Das (later, Guru Gobind Singh
from 1699) for holding durbar in 1688–89. The tent was made of the
finest silk and had numerous pictures stitched with threads of gold and
strings of pearls hung around it. The flooring had beautiful Persian
carpets. The gesture hurt the pride of Pahari Rajput ruler Bhim Chand
who already held a grudge against the Guru which later led to the Battle
of Bhangani (1689), first of the several battles between the Sikhs and
the Pahari Rajput rulers.16
Baba Sri Chand (1494 – 1629) son of Guru Nanak and founder
of Udasi Sect also came to Afghanistan. The Gurdwara Baba Sri Chand
in Shor Bazaar, Kabul was established by Baba Almast (1553 – 1643)
when he visited Kabul. There is also small Gurdwara Baba Almast next
to Khalsa Gurdwara in Kabul.
Bhai Nand Lal (1633–1715), a great poet and scholar of Farsi
language was born in Ghazni and was one of the poets in the court of
Guru Gobind Singh. His composition written under the penname
Goya is much revered and sung by the Sikhs. His father was Diwan
Chhajju Ram, Mir Munshi or chief secretary of the Governor of
At the age of nineteen, Nand Lal migrated to Multan which was
a big city of merchants. He settled in Multan and took a local Sikh
woman as his wife. He got employed by the local chief and was soon
appointed as Mir Munshi. It is through his wife that Nand Lal became
close to Sikh doctrine and the contemporary socio-political
circumstances led him to seek refuge under Guru Gobind Singh at
Anandpur. His life and work have been covered in detail by Prof.
Ganda Singh.17
Sadly, the Sikhs in general and particularly those from
Afghanistan did not share his remarkable work with fellow Afghans.
Only a small part of his devotional poetry written in praise of Guru
Gobind Singh is sung by the Sikhs as most of his poetic compositions
are in Farsi, a language alien to most of the present-day Sikhs. Two
Gurdwara Sahibs
are named after Bhai Nand Lal in Ghazni.
Ahmed Shah Abdali is fondly called Ahmed Shah Baba and
considered as founder of Modern Afghanistan. One community’s hero
can be an other’s villain. Abdali is remembered in Punjab for
persecuting Sikhs and desecrating and destroying Harmandar Sahib in
Amritsar. Punjab was the only province which Abdali lost during his
reign from 1747-72. To manage Sikhs diplomatically Abdali appointed
Kabuli Mal, an Afghan Hindu from Kabul as the governor of Lahore
in 1763. He and his nephew Amir Singh (Sikh?) managed Lahore
provinces for few months. Sikhs captured Sirhind in December 1764
and Lahore in January 1765.18
A local Afghan Hindu in Kandahar shared an interesting
anecdote with the author of this article. A Gurdwara Sahib dedicated
to Baba Sri Chand exists in Kandahar next to a Mosque and a Hindu
Temple. Upon Hindus & Sikhs request, Ahmed Shah Abdali granted
permission to expand their place of worship in his capital city. The
locals objected that this would mean the building of non-Muslim
would be bigger than the Masjid. It is said that Ahmad Shah overruled
them and replied that there are Masjids is every street and this is their
(Hindu/Sikh) only place of worship in the city hence his decision
would stand. The Gurdwara is now locked but under the control of
the Sangat.
The city of Multan and neighbouring areas remained under the
Sikh Misl Sardars (leaders) for a decade before being passed on to the
Afghans. Timur Shah, the successor to Ahmed Shah was unable to re-
capture Punjab but was successful in Multan in 1779.Maharaja Ranjit
Singh (1799–1839) successfully annexed Kashmir, Multan, Attock,
Dejarat, Hazara and Peshawar which were all under the Afghans.19
In 1838, Shah Shuja was able to secure support from the British
East India Company and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was agreed that
Shah Shuja would be re-instated as the Amir of Afghanistan and Dost
Mohammed would be removed. Shah Shuja will forfeit any claim
towards Peshawar and Maharaja would do the same for Shikarpur (in
Sindh). Shah Shuja was re-instated as Amir of Afghanistan in late
1839, almost thirty years after he was initially deposed by his brother.
However, Shah Shuja was murdered in 1842 and the British who were
already fed up with the costly (human and monetary) war which later
came to be known as First Anglo-Afghan war invited Dost
Mohammad Khan who was earlier deposed by the British to take up
the reign in Afghanistan.
Khushwant Singh writes that the new Sikh ruler, Maharaja Sher
Singh was unhappy and felt that the British had used Sikhs in the
Afghanistan campaign to their own benefit. Apparently, the British
forgot to consult the successor of Ranjit Singh regarding the
reinstatement of the old adversary of the Sikhs, Dost Mohammed
Khan to head the helm of affairs in Afghanistan. When Dost
Mohammed passed through Lahore on his way to Kabul, the Sikh ruler
gave him a huge welcome and expensive gifts. The Khan was also
inclined to form better relations with Sikhs as they were neighbours. A
few months later Sher Singh was murdered which eventually led to the
British occupation of Punjab.
In 1848–49, the Sikhs fought the British which came to be known
as the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Dost Mohammed was sympathetic to
the Sikh cause and sent irregular Afghan mercenaries which fought
alongside the Sikhs in the Battle of Gujrat in February 1849. The
superior artillery of the British won the day, and this ended the era of
Sikh and Afghan relationships on a rare co-operation.20
In 1808, Mountstuart Elphinstone was sent to Afghanistan by the
British to study and possibly make an alliance lest the Russians decided
to invade the sub-continent.
As an example of Afghan toleration, Elphinstone mentions a Sikh
goldsmith who he says was a very intelligent man and had travelled
throughout Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia. This Sikh goldsmith
always spoke about ‘the kindness and hospitability’ of the Afghans as
opposed to the Persians who were very suspicious and would not allow
the Sikh to draw water from the well or walk in the rain lest he splashed
water on a Persian making him impure!21
Mohan Lal (1812–77) popularly known as Mohan Lal Kashmiri
was a traveller and writer. He travelled to Afghanistan and Central Asia
in 1832–34 with Alexander Burnes on a mission given by the East
India Company to gain intelligence about the country. His proficiency
in the Persian language assisted in this venture.
Alexander Burnes writes that there were 300 Hindu families in
Kabul which were in addition to the Shikarpuri merchants who lent
money to the Government. These merchants lived separately as they
did not bring their families (womenfolk and children) with them to
Afghanistan. Burnes’ account tells us about the powerful Hindu Prime
Minister of the Khan of Bukhara, but the city only had Hindu
merchants unlike Kabul which had a permanent settled Hindu
Prof. Ganda Singh in his book, Early European Accounts of the Sikhs
referes to the account of Mr John Griffiths about Afghanistan in 18th
century, Griffiths gives very interesting information, he writes that the
principal inhabitants were Muslims, with some Hindus, who had
adopted the ‘institutions of Baba Nanak’. Griffiths erroneously writes
that they ‘are called Kratri’. In essence, he was stating that some
Hindus had adopted the religion of Guru Nanak and became Sikhs or
Nanakpanthis. Since most of the Sikhs and the Hindus belonged to the
Khatri (or Arora) caste that followed the mercantile or trader
profession, hence ‘Kratri’. This is the first European reference to Sikhs
in Afghanistan.23
The Singh Sabha Sikh reform movement came to Afghanistan in
early 20th century when Akali Kaur Singh came to Nangarhar province
in 1918 and stayed in the country for a year. He went from house to
house preaching the Sikh doctrine which led to the construction of
many Gurdwaras especially in places where the Sikhs were in few
numbers and were without a place of worship.24
Similar to the Frontier province and Sindh (now in Pakistan)
there were a considerable number Sahajdharis and many had dual Hindu
Sikh beliefs. Erroneously both these groups have been clubbed as
Sahajdharis or Nanakpanthis by some historians.
Late Sadhu Singh Saathi mentions that the first Amrit Sanchar
(Sikh ceremony of initiation into Khalsa) in Afghanistan was arranged
in February 1920 in Lal Pur district in Nangarhar province. A number
of Sahajdharis took Khande di Pahul and became Khalsa. The following
year, another Amrit Sanchar was conducted in the Gurdwara at Lal Pur.
It was decided that a Sikh conference would be arranged and all Khalsa
and Guru Nanak Naam Leva Sikhs (another name for Sahajdhari Sikhs)
would be invited. During this conference on 22nd January 1921, the
Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan was created. The organisation played a key
part in the social, cultural, economic and political circles of Eastern
Afghanistan. They did much work for propagation of the Sikh values
and traditions. Saathi credits Akali Kaur Singh’s leadership for this
achievement. Another Sikh, Teja Singh Swatantar (1901–73) came to
Kabul as a Sikh missionary in 1923.
Professor Ganda Singh, who visited Afghanistan in September
1952 writes that there was a small mosque behind the Gurdwara Jyoti
Saroop at Lahori Darwaza, Kabul. A Hindu fakir Chacha Bali who was
revered by both the Muslims and Hindus lived at the site. When he
died, he was buried and later the Muslims built a mosque over his
grave. In 1919, the wall between the Gurdwara and the mosque fell,
and the Muslims did not allow the Sikhs to repair it. Sikhs went to
Amanullah Khan who tried to persuade the Muslims, but they did not
allow him to intervene and said it was a matter of Deen (religion) and
only the Emperor could intervene. Later, when Amanullah became the
Amir he himself supervised and commissioned the wall.
Amir Habibullah Khan, father of Amanullah was very impressed
by the beauty of Chashma (stream) and its surrounding at Sultanpur.
He tried to buy it from the Sikhs, but latter expressed their inability to
sell as it was a site where their Guru came and hence is a property of
all Sikhs over the world. Habibullah forcibly occupied it in 1906 and
built a palace next to it. When Amanullah Khan became the Amir, a
deputation was sent to him by the Sikhs and he listened to them very
patiently, finally allowing them to bathe in the Chashma. In 1924,
Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan got permission to hold a Diwan (religious
program, audience hall) here on Vaisakhi.
On 18th May 1925, the Sikhs organised a three-day Samagham
(religious programme) for the first time in the city of Kabul. The
religious function was held in the garden of Diwan Niranjan Das
(Commerce Minister under the Amir)’s mansion. Giani Avtar Singh
and Master Udham Singh were the main organisers. Following the
completion of Akhand Paath, a Nagar Kirtan, a Sikh religious
procession with the Guru Granth Sahib in a spacious vehicle which
had the Khalsa flag and the flag of Afghanistan on either side was taken
out in the city. On the last day, Amrit Sanchar (Khalsa initiation
ceremony) for the willing was performed. The programme which was
supported by the government was very well attended by the Afghan
Sikhs and Hindus.25
Baba Mangal Singh Bedi & Tara Singh Pishpalaki as Sikh
representative participated in the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) of 1925.
In the year 1927, but the Amir Amanullah Khan ordered his
government and the honorary workers that any participant of the
second Loya Jirga should not wear turbans. Much to the surprise of
the Amir, only two people (the above two Sikhs) were wearing turban
in the Loya Jigra. The Amir had little clue about Sikhs and their
obligation to maintain Kesh. They rendered their resignation at the end
of the Grand Assembly in 1927.26
Until 1931 Sikhs and Hindus were settled throughout the villages
and small towns of Nangarhar and in the neighbouring Kunar
province. That year during an attack by the robbers, two robbers
(belonging to Mangal Pashtun tribe) and a Sikh were killed. This meant
an ongoing enmity between the Mangal tribe and the Sikhs. To
safeguard, the government relocated the Sikhs and Hindus to the
bigger towns and cities. Most of them came to Jalalabad which
significantly increased their population in the city.27
SIKHS & ZAHIR SHAH (1933-73)
Amanullah Khan had reduced the Jaziya to half for Hindus &
Sikhs and removed the ongoing instruction to wear yellow turbans (for
Hindus). During the reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah, the Jaziya tax
was totally abandoned.
In 1954, the local government (Nangarhar province) decided to
widen the road and Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar at Jalalabad came
under that modernization plan. This meant that the Gurdwara had to
be demolished and the local government would give land [for the
gurdwara] elsewhere. When the Sikhs failed to convince the local
authorities not to demolish the gurdwara, a petition was made to the
Emperor Zahir Shah in Kabul who issued a royal edict and the
Gurdwara was handed back to the Sikhs. The road widening plan was
In 1965 permission was granted to build the new Gurdwara at
Karte Parwan area in Kabul. This Singh Sabha Gurdwara is the largest
Gurdwara Sahib in Afghanistan. The Gurdwara has three floors and a
basement, including a kitchen, a primary school building, an emergency
clinic and a guest house.29
Traditionally Sikhs & Hindus have been shopkeepers, Hakeems
(Greco-Persian medicine), involved in moneylending, informal
banking and trading of spices, herbs and medicines. In the 1960s the
community started venturing into further and higher education. By
early 1970s every hospital and university in major Afghan cities had
their fair share of Sikh & Hindu doctors and professors.
In 1969, Jai Singh Fani was elected as an independent candidate
to Afghan Legislature. He was a bright young man but suddenly passed
away in 1977 after a short period of illness. Right from 1925, every
Loya Jigra & Parliament till date had a Sikh representation.30
People in Afghanistan are multi-lingual. In addition to the official
languages of Dari and Pashto which was widely spoken, there are
number of minor languages. The persecuted Hazara Shia community
speaks Hazaragi language. The Nuristani, Uzbek, Turkmen
communities have their own language.
The Afghan Sikhs (& Hindus), when they apply for refugee status
in UK, they are interviewed in Pashto which they speak fluently.
However, the communities in Kabul, Ghazni and Jalalabad at home
speak Hindko, a dialect of Western Punjabi language. The Hazara
region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Peshawar and neighbouring
Punjab speak
Hindko however majority of the province speaks Pashto. The Hindus
of Kabul speak a dialect of Hindi called Kabuli Hindi at home.
The Sikhs (& Hindus) of Khost province are mostly Sahajdhari
and speak Pashto at home like the neighboring Sikhs across the
Durand Line in FATA area (Federally Administered Tribal Areas
merged with KPK in 2018). The vast majority of Sikhs living in Panja
Sahib and Nankana Sahib (West Punjab, Pakistan) belong to this
The Sikhs & Hindus of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan spoke
Multani. This language is called Saraiki in West Punjab. Traditionally
this region has very few Sikhs however there were appreciable number
of Sahajdhari Sikhs and after year 2000 many became Khalsa.
The Pakistani census records Punjabi, Hindko and Saraiki as
separate languages. The first two are more mutually intelligible than
the third one. The youngsters in East Punjab will struggle to
comprehend Saraiki compared to Hindko.
The languages also tell a little story. The city of Kandahar had its
share of Multani and Shikarpuri Hindu merchants in 17th & 18th
century, if not earlier. The local Hindus adopted the language of their
affluent co-religionists.
Prof. Ganda Singh came to Afghanistan in September 1952 and
visited Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad &Kandahar and stated there were
6000 – 7000 Sikhs and Hindus in the country. This is a very humble
estimate as two decades later, Louise Dupree in his book ‘Afghanistan’
published in 1973 states there were 25,000 of them (15,000 Sikhs). The
Sikhs were more numerous than Hindus. In other part of the book,
Dupree gives the combined figure as 30,000. Khajinder Singh Khurana
gave their number as 60,000 in 1992 when vast majority of Sikhs &
Hindus left Afghanistan (in the ratio of 3:2).
Zahir Shah was deposed in 1973 by his cousin Daud Khan who
became the President who was assassinated in April 1978 which
plunged the country into chaos. Later in December 1979, the Soviet
Union sent their forces to support the communist regime in Kabul.
This plunged the country into civil war. Many prominent Afghan Sikhs
and Hindus left the country in late 1970s and 1980s.
Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana, former Member of the Afghan
Grand Assembly in 1990-92 is currently living in London and is writing
a book on the community focusing on past 100-150 years. He and late
Gajinder Singh, fellow Parliamentarian played a pivotal role in 1992,
working with Dr Najibullah Ahmadzai, the President of Afghanistan
to get a safe passage for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. He was in midst
of the plans for exodus with Afghan government in 1992 when lists
were made, and speedy visas were given to Sikhs and Hindus. Dr
Khurana informs that the Kabul Embassy has informed that
approximately 75,000 Sikhs and Hindus were issued visas to India in
1992. About 10,000 decided against leaving the country. By end of
Taliban regime in October 2001, the number of Sikhs had dropped to
3000 and before the attack on 25th March 2020, only 650 - 700 Sikhs
remained in the country.
The first major exodus of Afghan Hindus (& Sikhs) was during
the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (1880 1901). Amir
suppressed numerous rebellions including those of Hazaras (a
predominately Shia community who are considered as descendants of
Mongols due to their facial features) community. Dr Khurana informs
that this led to many fundamentalist elements in Afghan society to
harass Hindus & Sikhs. Many left the country and settled in India. The
Afghan Sikh community in Patiala in Punjab came to India during this
time. 31
Mr. Umesh Sharma, 72 years old from Bengaluru informs that his
great grandfather Pandit Guru Dass moved out of Herat in 1888 when
the local Muslims boycotted Hindu (& Sikh) shops. The family came
to Gujranwala then to Lahore and finally settled in Meerut in 1943. Mr.
Sharma adds that 90% of Hindus & Sikhs left Herat, out of which 30%
settled in other parts of Afghanistan and rest migrated to British
controlled India. It may be mentioned here that the Amir seem tolerant
towards Hindus (& Sikhs). Diwan Niranjan Das who was the
Commerce Minister under Amanullah Khan also served under the
Abdur Rehman. The Amir gave Hindus the permission to build the
Asamai temple on the lower side of Koh (Mountain) e Asamai in
Kabul. In addition, he sent the building material and a palanquin for
the idol.
Amir Amanullah Khan’s (reign 1919 29) modernization plan
which included education for women, wearing modern clothing etc.
led to a strong resentment and there was a rebellion in Khost province
in 1924 which was quelled in January 1925. The Amir came from long
tour of Europe in 1928 and announced that he was banning hijab &
burka. Although there were other factors, but the Amir was declared
as ‘kuffar’(infidel) and large number of tribes in Eastern (& Kandahar)
Afghanistan rebelled against the government. This Afghan Civil started
in November 1928 and ended in October 1929. This civil war affected
Eastern Afghanistan including Kabul and Kandahar which
traditionally had relatively high Hindu and Sikh population who were
again at the receiving end of the fundamentalist element. This again led
to some migration of Afghan Hindus & Sikhs to British India.
On 13th April 1988, on Vaisakhi day, a gunman entered the
Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Jalalabad when the place was full of
devotees. He killed 13 Sikhs and 4 Muslims security guards. Dalair
Singh Arora confronted him and managed to kill the terrorist. Dalair
Singh lost his life and is remembered for his bravery.32
During March to October 1989, the Mujahideen attacked Jalalabad
with intention to capture the city. The local tribal chief impressed upon
Mujahideen for peace, but latter said they had to attack, and the chief
gave them the map of old township and marked that area where
Mujahideen could bomb. And this area was where Sikhs lived in
Jalalabad. For 6 months the missiles were fired on the area and 102
Afghan Sikhs died and over 500 were injured in these attacks.
The relations between Afghanistan and India have always been
cordial. It was felt that under the fundamentalist Mujahideen (who were
supported by Pakistan and USA) life would become very difficult for
the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. The Sikhs & Hindus were considered as
Indians & friends of Soviet Union, an enemy of the Mujahideen. The
Mujahideen had publicly declared many times that Indians and Russians
cannot be trusted. These fears were not unfounded, when Mujahideen
captured Kabul in April 1992, they thoroughly searched and desecrated
Gurdwara Singh Sabha, Karte Parwan, the largest
Gurdwara in Kabul. The Sikhs were harassed throughout this period.
At that time, it was extremely bureaucratic to obtain a passport
for anyone in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Afghan government
issued speedier passports to the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs and called
the scheme Aab Gang (Aab means water, Gang is river Ganga)
pilgrimage passport. It was on the lines of the Haj visa for Muslims
issued by Saudi Arabia.
The Indian embassy set up an on-the-go visa department at
Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazaar in Kabul to rapidly issue
visas without any checks so that the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs could
flee the civil war. It was too dangerous for people living in the old town
to travel to the Indian embassy in the centre of the town because of
the dangers of bombardment all over Kabul. The Indian embassy did
not have enough staff to put the visa stamps, so some Afghan Sikh
volunteers at the Gurdwara had to put visa stamps on people’s
passports. Close to 65,000 people left Afghanistan and came to India
under this scheme. As mentioned earlier, this major migration of the
Afghan Sikhs and Hindus happened in 1992 just before the
Mujahideen captured the capital Kabul.
The Taliban were defeated in October 2001 and since then
Afghanistan had a fragile democracy. Sikhs were about 3000 in 2001
and during the democracy their number dwindled to 650 – 700. By end
of August 2020, 450 Afghan Sikhs had left Afghanistan and sought
refuge in India. During this period (2002 - 20) the Afghan government
failed to provide them adequate housing or reinstate their homes
which has been illegally occupied by their powerful neighbours or
warlords during the 1990s. Sikhs boys were continuously bullied in
schools and the teachers and school management would not intervene.
There is hardly anyone in the community who has studied beyond
schooling after 1990s. However, the present Afghan government is
sympathetic towards Sikhs. Two primary schools for Sikhs were
opened in Kabul and Jalalabad. The Sikhs were given representation in
Parliament and Government. This year 50 lakh Afghani rupees were
allotted for renovation of Sikh and Hindu places of worship. Gurdwara
Nanak Darbar in Jalalabad and Dargarh Peer Rattan Nath Mandir in
Ghazni were refurbished this year. In the past 5 years, more than
10,000 civilians have been killed each year in attacks by government
and Taliban forces. The Shia Hazara community has been specifically
targeted. The Taliban now controls almost 50% of the country and
government is trying to come to a peace deal with them. Afghanistan
has over 60 including many historical Gurdwaras. But after the recent
massacre of the Sikhs by Taliban in a Gurdwara in Kabul on March
26, 2020. The most of the Afghan Sikhs are leaving Afghanistan for
India under Modi Govt’s permission for Afghan Hindu and Sikh to
enter in India. They are actively assisted by DSGMC and provided
temporary boarding at lodging at Gurdwara Rakab Ganj at Delhi. It
the tragic end of Afghan Sikh history and their rich heritage. Will the
Sikh organizations in India and abroad take notice of this tragedy and
raise this issue at the national and international for the preservation of
the Sikh heritage?
1. Roger Ballard. (2011)The History and Current Situation of Afghanistan’s
Hindu and Sikhs Population. Stalybridge: Center for Applied South Asian
Studies p2
2. Hari Ram Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1 The Sikh Gurus, 1469-
1708. 2nd Edition New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
3. E.D. Morgan and C.H. Coote. (1886). Early Voyages and Travels to Russia
and Persia by Anthony Jenkinson and other Englishman. London: Hakluyt
4. The writer of the article spoke to several Afghan Sikhs & Hindus living
across the globe including India, Afghanistan, UK, Germany, Belgium
and USA.
5. Annette S. Beveridge. (1922). The Babur-Nama in English. London: Luzac
& Co.
6. Kirpal Singh. (1969). Janamsakhi Parampara (In Punjabi). Patiala: Punjabi
7. Ibid
8. Bhai Bala Wali Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji di Janamsakhi. (Punjabi) 39th
Edition, Feb 2010 Amritsar: B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh
9. Ganda Singh. (1954). Afghanistan da Safar (in Punjabi). New Delhi: Prakash
& Co
10. Charles Masson. (1844). Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan,
Afghanistan, the Panjab and Kalat. London: Richard Bentley
11. Bhai Bala Wali Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji di Janamsakhi. (Punjabi) 39th
Edition, Feb 2010 Amritsar: B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh
12. Kulwinder Singh Bajwa. (2004) Mahima Prakash (Vartak) (in Punjabi).
Amritsar: Singh Brothers
13. Kahn Singh Nabha. (1930). Gur Shabad Ratna Mahan Kosh.
14. Ganda Singh. (1967). Nanak Panthis in The Panjab Past and Present.
Patiala: Punjabi University.
15. Harbans Singh. (1992–98). Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Patiala: Punjabi University.
16. Hari Ram Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1 The Sikh Gurus, 1469-
1708. 2nd Edition New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
17. Ganda Singh. (1968). Bhai Nand Lal Granthavali (in Punjabi) Patiala:
Punjabi University
18. Ganda Singh. (1959) Ahmad Shah Durrani Father of Modern Afghanistan.
London: Asia Publishing House
19. Hari Ram Gupta. (1991). History of the Sikhs, Vol 5: Maharaja Ranjit
Singh. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
20. Khushwant Singh. (1966). History of the Sikhs, Vol 2. New Delhi:
Oxford University Press.
21. Mountstuart Elphinstone. (1815). An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul
and its Dependencies. London: Longman
22. Alexander Burnes. (1834). Travels into Bokhara Vol 1. London: John Murray
23. Ganda Singh. (1962). Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, Calcutta:
Firma K.L.
24. Sadhu Singh Saathi. (1994). Ithas Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan (in Punjabi).
Jalalabad: Parchar Committee Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan.
25. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana informed the writer on 3rd September
2020 regarding this and Rajvanshi clan.
26. Ibid
27. Sadhu Singh Saathi. (1994). Ithas Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan (in Punjabi).
Jalalabad: Parchar Committee Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan.
28. Ibid
29. Khajinder S. Khurana. (2001). Kabul de Sangat tee Afghanistan da Sankhep
Ithas (in Punjabi). New Delhi.
30. Ibid
31. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana informed the writer on 3rd September
32. Ibid
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The publications of the Hakluyt Society (founded in 1846) made available edited (and sometimes translated) early accounts of exploration. The first series, which ran from 1847 to 1899, consists of 100 books containing published or previously unpublished works by authors from Christopher Columbus to Sir Francis Drake, and covering voyages to the New World, to China and Japan, to Russia and to Africa and India. The name of Anthony Jenkinson (1529–1610/11), the Elizabethan traveller and diplomat, is perhaps better known in Russia than in Britain. As agent for the Muscovy Company, he made four journeys to Russia to negotiate trade terms with Tsar Ivan IV ('Ivan the Terrible'), and travelled as far as Persia and the Caspian Sea. This two-volume work, published in 1886, contains an account of Jenkinson's journeys, and transcriptions of documents from the State Papers. The Victorian editors provided an introductory essay and explanatory notes.
V. 2. Particular account of the Afghaun tribes -- Eastern tribes continued -- Mountain tribes -- Western Afghauns, Dooraunees, City of Candahar, Tereens, and Baraiches -- Ghiljies, cities of Ghuznee and Caubul, Wurduks and Caukers -- Naussers -- The provinces. Bulk, or Bactria and the Uzbeks -- The Eimauks and Hazaurehs -- Heraut -- Seestaun -- Belochistaun and Lower Sind -- Upper Sind, Moultaun, Leia, and the countries between Leia and Cashmeer -- The Royal Government of Caubul. Of the King -- Administration of the government -- Of the division of the kingdom into provinces -- Of the revenue -- Justice and police of the kingdom -- The military establishment -- The religious establishment.
The History and Current Situation of Afghanistan's Hindu and Sikhs Population
  • Roger Ballard
Roger Ballard. (2011)The History and Current Situation of Afghanistan's Hindu and Sikhs Population. Stalybridge: Center for Applied South Asian Studies p2
The Babur-Nama in English
  • Annette S Beveridge
Annette S. Beveridge. (1922). The Babur-Nama in English. London: Luzac & Co.
Janamsakhi Parampara (In Punjabi)
  • Kirpal Singh
Kirpal Singh. (1969). Janamsakhi Parampara (In Punjabi). Patiala: Punjabi University.
Afghanistan da Safar (in Punjabi)
  • Ganda Singh
Ganda Singh. (1954). Afghanistan da Safar (in Punjabi). New Delhi: Prakash & Co
Mahima Prakash (Vartak) (in Punjabi)
  • Kulwinder Singh Bajwa
Kulwinder Singh Bajwa. (2004) Mahima Prakash (Vartak) (in Punjabi). Amritsar: Singh Brothers
Gur Shabad Ratna Mahan Kosh
  • Nabha Kahn Singh
Kahn Singh Nabha. (1930). Gur Shabad Ratna Mahan Kosh.
Nanak Panthis in The Panjab Past and Present
  • Ganda Singh
Ganda Singh. (1967). Nanak Panthis in The Panjab Past and Present. Patiala: Punjabi University.
Bhai Nand Lal Granthavali (in Punjabi) Patiala: Punjabi University
  • Ganda Singh
Ganda Singh. (1968). Bhai Nand Lal Granthavali (in Punjabi) Patiala: Punjabi University