Maharaja Ala Singh had very close contacts with the Marathas. No Sikh Chief has been so frequently mentioned in the Marathi records (especially of the Abdali period) as Maharaja Ala Singh Jat. The scrutiny of some of the Marathi letters leads us to conclude that Ala Singh was a close friend and ally of the Marathas and had helped them through thick and thin. Long before the Maratha occupation of the Punjab (May 1758), Ala Singh was known to the Marathas as is clear from the Marathi letter dated March-April 1757, the translation of which is given below:-“From Vasudeva Dikshita to Peshwa. Nagar Mal there presentative of Salabat Jang at Delhi has despatched a pair of messengers that reached Aurangabad after eighteen days and started from Salabat Jang’s Camp. Valji, the chief messenger, orally gave out the news brought by the pair; whilethe Pathan’s son, (Timur, son of Ahmad Shah Abdali) was carrying away, the treasure, Ala Jat, the resident of Sirhind (aplace about two hundred miles from Delhi) and the Sikhs ofthe sect of Nanak united together and overpowered the Pathan’sson by blocking his way. They completely snatched away his treasure; again attacked and plundered him at Maler Kotla. “The friendship of Ala Singh with the Marathas can be traced back to his invitation lo the Marathas to expel the Afghans from his country. When Ala Singh was besieged by Abdul Samad Khan, the Faujdar of Sirhind, Ala Singh invited the Marathas? to invade the Cis-Sutlej territory. His deep understanding of the political game suggested him that the march of Marathas to his country would react favourably because in the case of Maratha occupation of territory he would be free from Abdul Samad Khan, who bore great enmity lowards him. The invitation of Ala Singh had the desired affect. The Marathas, who had gained a brilliant victory over Najib’ by their conquest of Delhi, were already thinking of extending their sway to the North. They marched out for the conquest of Punjab. The Maratha invasion’* of the Punjab began in the month of January 1758 and the Maratha army marched towards Sirhind. The close approach of the Marathas greatly alarmed Abdul Samad Khan, who was at that time besieging Ala Singh. He speedily raised the siege and hurried to Sirhind, where heset himself to repairing the fort and digging defensive trenches.Ala Singh played a significant part in the Maratha conquest of Sirhind. He not only invited the Marathas to his country but also sent his representative, Ladha Mal and Biram Singh Dhillon, to receive them on his behalf.’ The sack of Sirhind, the accursed city which had witnessed the ghastly murder of the Tenth Guru’s sons, was considered to be the sacred duty of the Sikhs. Knowing this, Adina Beg invited the Sikhs for the expedition. The fort of Sirhind was easily captured by the Sikhs and the town was plundered. The Marathas reached onthe second day of the conquest.” On the arrival of the Marathas,the Sikh Jats mostly retired, leaving the town in the hands of the Marathas. The town was looted and plundered for full eightdays.? The Maratha occupation of the Punjab and the Cis-Sutlej territory was not to be tolerated by the Afghan Emperor. It was a great blow to his power and prestige. As soon as he was free from his western frontier, he led his legions acrossthe Indus. Sambha Ji finding himself too weak to confront the Afghans fell back from Lahore, which was occupied by Jehan Khan. The officers appointed by the Marathas like Sadiq Beg Khan, the Faujdar of Sirhind, and Adina Beg’s widow and son fled away from their places to Delhi at the report of the advance of the Afghans. Abdali entered Sirhind in November 1759 A.D. “The Marathas had once conquered the territory uptil Indus and it was not considered advisable to leave the sepossessions without a fair trial of strength. The Peshwa, therefore, sent Sadashiv Bhau with a large Maratha force to check the advance of Abdali and to reconquer the lost Maratha dominions in the North. After conquering Delhi, Sadashiv rao Bhau marched towards Kunjpurg’ a Yusafzai Afghan settlement under Nijabat Khan and conquered it securing immense booty. The Maratha occupation of Kunjpura marks the highest triumph of Maratha power during their armed conflict against Abdali. It brought the Marathas nearer to the territory of Ala Singh, who was to gain prominence in Maratha politics. Moreover the Maratha conquest of Kunjpura is significant for Maharaja Ala Singh in another way. It resulted in the death of Abdul Samad Khan, a powerful enemy of Ala Singh. Had he not met his death during the Maratha-Abdali campaign, he would have proved most dangerous to Ala Singh and his territories after the victory of his patron, Ahmad Shah Abdali. The death of Abdul Sarad Khan relieved Ala Singh of one of the greatest dangers to his establishment and independence. After the Maratha conquest of Kunjpura, the Marathas brought Ala Singh into great prominence. It had many political reasons. Despite Sadashive Bhau’s personal efforts, Shuja-ud. daula had joined Najib Khan Rohilla.” Brijraj Maharaja SurajMal had also deserted them after their occupation of Delhi. ‘ Sadashive Bhau, therefore, took special measures to make political alliance with Ala Singh, the most important chieftain of the territory. He marched towards Sirhind. His plan of action was to capture Sirhind (as had been done in Raghunath’s campaign in March 1758), to join Ala Singh and other zimindars of the Cis-Sutlej territory and to arouse then against Ahmad Shah Abdali as a first step towards driving the foreign invader out of the Punjab. This policy of national defence against the foreigner is clearly stated in the Marathi letter, the English rendering of which runs as follows “From thither (the lines preceding this give details about the battle of Kunjpura), he (Bhau) went a stage further with a view to subjugating the Province of Sirhind by marching via Kurukshetra and refreshed the army after persuading the zamindaris, Sikh Jats and Hindu Jats of the Province, to join him. “JBut shrewd Ahmad Shah Abdali did not allow this plan of Sadashive Bhau to materialise. The Maratha conquest of Kunjpura greatly enraged him. He crossed the Jumna at Bagpat Ghat and came to Sonipat, thus cutting Maratha communications with Delhi and South. In order to meet the enemy, Bhau immediately turned back and arrived at Panipat. Bhau, however, did not abandon the idea of making a coalition with Ala Singh and deputed Laxman Appaji Ekbote, a Maratha Envoy, to Ala Singh’s territory. He stayed with Ala Singh asis clear from his following Marathi letter addressed to the Peshwa:14
“I was deputed by Bhau to Sirhind!’ When misfortunefell on our army, I approached Ala Singh Jat, who, out of regard for your honour, gave me shelter. “Though Sadashive Bhau could not meet Ala Singh personally, yet Ala Singh by this time had risen to such eminence that the Peshwa had to open correspondence with him. The Peshwa himself wrote letters to Ala Singh and the latter also replied as is clear from the following translation ofthe Marathi letter addressed to the Peshwa by Laxman AppajiEkbote:
“Your honour had sent some letters to Ala Singh Jat which have been replied to by the Jat. All the details will be known from ther.” 16 As there had developed friendly relationship between Raja Ala Singh and the Marathas, it was not considered proper by the former to remain aloof at the most critical hour of Maratha history. The Marathas suffered from an acute shortage of food grains.” The Afghan Emperor adopted special measures to complete the economic blockade of the Maratha camp. Every night a body of five thousand Durrani horsemen advanced as near as they could and remained there all the night keeping watch against the entry of food grains into the Maratha Camp.Two other bodies of the same strength made half circles around the Maratha encampment, one to the right, one to he left. These night patrols, each at least five thousand horsemen strong, mounted on powerful Turkey horses and commanded by tested cavalry leaders like Shah Pasand Khan and Jehan Khan cut off every provision convoy that attempted to steal into the Maratha Camp. The Maratha parties who came outunder cover of darkness in order to get fodder and fire wood were also checked and cut off from their camp.” This complete economic blockade of the Maratha Camp led to starvation to such an extent that people began to make flour out of animal bones. Most of the horses died for want of fodder.”In this precarious condition, Ala Singh undertook to help the Marathas by sending them provisions and food grains. Apparently, the Marathas were more in numbers and they had enough ammunition and it is agreed on all hands that their food shortage and financial stringency brought about their ruin. Ala Singh tried to help them to solve their food crisis by sending to the Maratha Camp convoys of food grains. When Abdali came to know this, he sent a punitive expedition and stopped provisions supplied by Ala Singh. This, however, could not stop Ala Singh’s loyalty to the Marathas. He continued to help them even in the darkest hour of their fate. After the Maratha defeat in the fateful battle of Panipat, Ala Singh gave protection to many Maratha fugitives who came to take shelterin his territory as Laxman Appaji Ekbote testifies in his letterto the Peshwa:-“I was deputed by Bhau to Sirhind along with Lakshmi Narain. When misfortune befell our army, Lakshmi Narain being a Hindustani secured a place for himself. With 50 or 60 Maratha sowars, I was left in the lurch. There was no place at all. A heavy rush followed. So I approached Ala Singh Jat,who out of regard for your honour gave me shelter. Up tonow I am with the Jat Maharaja.”
Ala Singh proved to be the greatest ally of the Marathas in the Punjab. He invited them to his country and helped them in their conquest of Sirhind. In the mutual relationship, Maharaja Ala Singh rose to such an eminence that the Peshwa opened correspondence with him. He helped the Marathas with food grains at great risk and at a time when the Marathas were faced the greatest food crisis. Even after the Maratha disaster he gave shelter to the Maratha fugitives. In short, Ala Singh proved to be a great friend of the Marathas not only at the time of their victory at Sirhind but also at the time of their disaster in the fateful battle of Panipat.