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|Maharaja of Punjab|
|Reign||12 April 1801 – 27 June 1839|
|Coronation||12 April 1801|
|Full name||Ranjit Singh|
|Titles||Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of Punjab)
Maharaja of Lahore
Sarkar Khalsaji (Head of State)
Napoleon of East
Lord of Five Rivers
|Born||13 November 1780|
|Birthplace||Gujranwala, Sukerchakia Misl (present-day Pakistan)|
|Died||27 June 1839|
|Place of death||Lahore, Punjab, Sikh Empire (present-day Pakistan)|
|Buried||Cremated remains stored in the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan|
Maharaja Ranjit Singh (13 November 1780 – 27 June 1839) was the founder of the Sikh Empire, which came to power in the Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century. The empire, based in the Punjab region, existed from 1799 to 1849. It was forged, on the foundations of the Khalsa, under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from a collection of autonomous Sikh Misls. Ranjt Singh was succeeded by his son, Kharak Singh.
Ranjit Singh was born to Maha Singh and Raj Kaur on 13 November 1780, in Gujranwala, Punjab, into a Sikh family. Historians have mixed views as to his family origins, while some assert he was born into a Jatt Sikh family. others claim that he was born into a Sansi Sikh family
As a child he suffered from smallpox which resulted in the loss of one eye. At the time, much of Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs under a Confederate Sarbat Khalsa system, who had divided the territory among factions known as misls. Ranjit Singh's father Maha Singh was the Commander of the Sukerchakia misl and controlled a territory in the west Punjab based around his headquarters at Gujranwala. After his father's death, Ranjit Singh was raised under the protection of his mother Raj Kaur, and his mother-in-law Sada Kaur.
In 1799, Ranjit Singh captured Lahore from the Bhangi Misl and later made it his capital. This was the first important step in his rise to power. In the following years he brought the whole of the central Punjab from the Sutlej to the Jhelum under his sway. After several campaigns, he conquered the other misls and created the Sikh Empire.
Process of Unification
In 1799, a process of unification was started by Ranjit Singh to establish an empire. The occupation of Lahore from Bhangi Misl in the summer of 1799 marked a watershed in his career. With the conquest of Lahore Ranjit Singh was fairly launched on a career of systematic aggrandisement which made him master of an empire in less than quarter of a century.
Ranjit Singh was crowned on 12 April 1801 as the Maharaja of Punjab. He was 20 years old at the time. Sahib Singh, a descendant of Guru Nanak, conducted the coronation. He reduced many neighbouring states to tributary status. He gradually establish his control over all the Sikh Misl's west of the Satluj.
He spent the following years fighting the Durrani rulers of Afghanistan. After driving them out of Punjab, Ranjit Singh and his Sikh army then invaded ethnic Pashtun territories in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He captured Multan which encompassed the southern parts of Punjab, Peshawar (1818), Jammu and Kashmir (1819).
When the foreign minister of Ranjit Singh's court, Fakir Azizuddin, met the British Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, in Simla, Auckland asked Fakir Azizuddin which of the Maharaja's eyes was missing, Azizuddin replied: "The Maharaja is like the sun and sun has only one eye. The splendor and luminosity of his single eye is so much that I have never dared to look at his other eye." The Governor General was so pleased with this reply that he gave his gold watch to Azizuddin.
Secular Sikh rule
The Sikh Empire was most exceptional in that it allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority.The Christians formed a part of the militia of the Sikhs. In 1831, Ranjit Singh deputed his mission to Simla to confer with the British governor general, Lord William Bentinck. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Fakir Aziz-ud-din and Diwan Moti Ram ― a Sikh, a Muslim and a Hindu representative ― were nominated at its head.
Externally, everyone in the Sikh empire looked alike; they sported a beard and covered their head, predominantly with a turban. This left visitors to the Punjab region quite confused. Most foreigners arrived there after a passage through Hindustan, where religious and caste distinctions were very carefully observed. It was difficult for them to believe that though everyone in the Sarkar Khalsaji looked similar, they were not all Sikhs. The Sikhs were generally not known to force either those in their employ or the inhabitants of the country they ruled to convert to Sikhism. In fact, men of piety from all religions were equally respected by the Sikhs and their ruler. Hindu sadhus, yogis, saints and bairagis; Muslim faqirs and pirs; and Christian priests were all the recipients of Sikh largess. There was only one exception – the Sikhs viewed the Muslim clergy with suspicion. Mullahs were not looked upon kindly, as they would promote extremism and rebellion.
At present, flushed by a series of victories, they (the Sikhs) have a zeal and buoyancy of spirit amounting to enthusiasm; and with the power of taking the most exemplary revenge, they have been still more lenient than the Mohammedan were ever towards them".
The horses were attacked with an epidemic disease from which a Mohammedan, who resides in a neighboring sanctuary, is believed to have cured them. Though a Mohammedan the Sikhs repaired and beautified his temple, which is now a conspicuous white building that glitters in the sun. I have always observed the Sikhs to be most tolerant in their religion...
— Alexander Burnes, British Agent, narrating an incident at Royal Stud-Farm, Putte
The Sikhs made attempt not to offend the prejudices of Muslims noted Baron von Hügel, the famous German traveler, yet the Sikhs were referred to as being harsh. In this regard, Masson's explanation is perhaps the most pertinent:
"Though compared to the Afghans, the Sikhs were mild and exerted a protecting influence, yet no advantages could compensate to their Mohammedan subjects, the idea of subjection to infidels, and the prohibition to slay kine, and to repeat the azan, or "summons to prayer".
The Sikhs never razed places of worship to the ground belonging to the enemy. The Sikhs were utilitarian in their approach. Marble plaques removed from Jahangir's tomb at Shahdera were used to embellish the Baradari inside the Fort of Lahore, while the mosques were left intact. Forts were destroyed however, these too were often rebuilt ― the best example being the Bala Hissar in Peshawar, which was destroyed by the Sikhs in 1823 and rebuilt by them in 1834.
Gurdwaras built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh
At the Harmandir Sahib, much of the present decorative gilding and marblework date back from the early 19th century. The gold and intricate marble work were conducted under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Punjab. The Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of the Punjab) was a generous patron of the shrine and is remembered with much affection by the Sikhs. Maharaja Ranjit Singh deeply loved and admired the teachings of the Tenth Guru of Sikhism Guru Gobind Singh, thus he promoted the teachings of the Dasam Granth (the Tenth Granth) and built two of the most sacred temples in Sikhism. These are Takht Sri Patna Sahib, the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh, and Takht Sri Hazur Sahib, the place where Guru Gobind Singh died, in Nanded, Maharashtra in 1708.
Army of the Sikh Empire under Ranjit Singh
Army of Sikh Empire, a formidable military machine that helped the Ranjit Singh carve out an extensive kingdom and maintain it amid hostile and ambitious neighbours. All of Ranjit Singh’s conquests were achieved by Punjabi armies composed of mostly Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus. His commanders were also drawn from different religious communities, as were his cabinet ministers.
Ranjit Singh decided to intensify the training and organize his army. The reorganization carried out at Amritsar gave a clearer picture of the forces available and fixed the responsibility for putting them into field. Once the responsibility has been fixed Ranjit Singh set most exacting standards of efficiency in march, manoeuvre, and marksmanship. He was keen on adopting European methods, but never completely wanted to discard the system which he had inherited from his forefathers. The military system of Ranjit Singh as it finally evolved, was a blend of best of both, the old and the new ideas.
Ranjit Singh's generals
The main generals included:
- Hari Singh Nalwa
- Dewan Mokham Chand
- Veer Singh Dillon
- Sham Singh Attariwala
- Sher Singh
- Zorawar Singh
- Chattar Singh Attariwalla
- Mahan Singh Mirpuri
- Akali Phula Singh
- Misr Diwan Chand
Among his European Mercenary Generals were:
- Jean-François Allard - French
- Jean-Baptiste Ventura – Italian (Modena)
- Paolo Di Avitabile – Italian (Naples)
- Claude August Court – French
Americans of note:
- Josiah Harlan – American general and later governor of Gujrat
- Alexander Gardner – American (Scots – Irish)
Invasions and conquests
Ranjit Singh's earliest invasions as a young misldar (baron) were effected by defeating his coreligionists, the heads of other Sikh Sardaris (popularly known as the Misls). By the end of his reign, however, he had conquered vast tracts of territory strategically juxtaposed between the limits of British India to the East and the Durrani Empire to the West.
On 7 July 1799, Ranjit Singh became master of Lahore. He then rapidly annexed the rest of the Punjab, the land of the five rivers. Having accomplished this, he extended his empire further north and west to include the Kashmir mountains and other Himalayan kingdoms, the Sind Sagar Doab, the Pothohar Plateau and trans-Indus regions right up to the foothills of the Sulaiman Mountains.
Ranjit Singh took Amritsar from the Bhangi Sardari and followed this with the more difficult conquest of Kasur, the fabled twin city of Lahore, from the Pathans. With the capture of Multan the whole Bari Doab came under his sway. In the year 1819, Ranjit Singh successfully annexed Kashmir. This was followed by subduing the Kashmir mountains, west of the river Jhelum (today, Hazara in Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir).
The most significant encounters between the Sarkar Khalsaji and the Afghans were fought in 1813, 1823, 1834 and in 1837. In 1813, Ranjit Singh's general Dewan Mokham Chand led the Sikh forces against the Afghan forces of Shah Mahmud who were led by Fateh Khan Barakzai. Following this encounter, the Afghans lost their stronghold at Attock. Subsequently, the Pothohar plateau, the Sindh Sagar Doab and Kashmir came under Sikh rule. In 1823, Ranjit Singh defeated a large army of Yusufzai tribesmen north of the Kabul River in what is now Pakistan, while the presence of his Sikh general, Hari Singh Nalwa prevented the entire Afghan army from crossing this river and going to the aid of the Yusafzais at Nowshera. This defeat led to the gradual loss of Afghan power in present-day Pakistan. In 1834, when the forces of the Sarkar Khalsaji marched into Peshawar, the ruling Barakzais retreated without offering a fight. In April 1837, the real power of Maharaja Ranjit Singh came to the fore when his commander-in-chief, Hari Singh Nalwa, kept the entire army of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan at bay, with a handful of forces till reinforcements arrived from Lahore over a month after they were requisitioned. The Battle of Jamrud in 1837 became the last confrontation between the Sikhs and the Afghans. Hari Singh Nalwa was killed while the Afghans retreated to Kabul to deal with the Persian invasion on its western border in Herat and internal fighting between various princes.
Geography of the Sikh Empire
The Sikh Empire was also known as Punjab, the Sikh Raj, and Sarkar Khalsaji, was a region straddling the border into modern-day People's Republic of China and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan then popularly referred to as the Kingdom of Cabul. The name of the region "Punjab" or "Panjab", comprises two words "Punj/Panj" and "Ab", translating to "five" and "water" in Persian. When put together this gives a name meaning "the land of the five rivers", coined due to the five rivers that run through the Punjab. Those "Five Rivers" are Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum, all tributaries of the river Indus, home to the Indus Valley Civilization that perished 3000 years ago. Punjab has a long history and rich cultural heritage. The people of the Punjab are called Punjabis and they speak a language called Punjabi. The following modern day political divisions made up the historical Sikh Empire:
- Punjab region till Multan in south
- Kashmir, conquered in 1818, India/Pakistan/China
- Khyber Pass, Afghanistan/Pakistan
- Parts of Western Tibet (1841), China
Memorials and museums
- Statue in the Parliament of India
- Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
A garden was laid out in 1818 in the north of the Amritsar city at the behalf of Shalimar Bagh of Lahore, known as Ram Bagh at the name of Guru Ram Dass. Maharaja devoted his time in this palace in summer days during the visit of Amritsar. It has been converted into the shape of Museum during the 400th years celebrations of Amritsar City. The Museum displays objects connecting to Maharaja Ranjit Singh such as arms and armour, outstanding paintings and centuries old coins and manuscripts.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839, after a reign of nearly forty years, leaving seven sons by different queens. He was cremated, his ceremony was performed by both Sikh and Hindu priests. His wife Maharani Mahtab Devi Sahiba, the Empress of Punjab, the Princess of Kangra, daughter of Maharaja Sansar Chand, committed Sati with Ranjit's body as Ranjit's head lay in her lap; some of the other wives also joined her and committed Sati. The throne went to his eldest son Kharak Singh and the empire began to crumble due to poor governance and political infighting among his heirs. The Sikh princes died through internal plots and assassinations, while the nobility struggled to maintain their power.
In 1845 after the First Anglo-Sikh War, Ranjit Singh's Empire was defeated and all major decisions were managed by the British East India Company. The Army of Ranjit Singh was reduced, under the peace treaty with the British, to a nominal force. Those who gave the stiffest resistance to the British were severely punished and their wealth confiscated. Eventually, Ranjit Singh's youngest son Dalip Singh, was crowned Maharaja of Punjab in 1843 succeeding his brother, Maharaja Sher Singh. In 1849, at the end of the Second Anglo Sikh War, it was annexed by British India from Dalip. Thereafter, the British took Maharaja Dalip Singh to England in 1854, where he was put under the protection of the Crown. Dalip Singh's mother, Maharani Jind Kaur, escaped and made her way to Nepal where she was given refuge by Sri Teen Maharaja Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal, who then negotiated on her behalf to allow her to be reunited with her son. Maharani Jind Kaur and her son met at Spence's Hotel, Calcutta, on 16 January 1861, after some thirteen and half years apart. She was granted permission to come to England. A residence was taken up at No. 1 Lancaster Gate (now No. 23).
Jind Kaur stayed for a short while at Mulgrave Castle, later she was placed in the charge of an English lady at Abingdon House, Kensington. On the morning of 1 August 1863, Maharani Jind Kaur died peacefully. Her body was temporarily housed at London's Kensal Green Cemetery, and in the spring of 1864, Duleep Singh left for India and arranged for the cremation of her body.
In the spring of 1864, Maharani Jind Kaur was cremated at Nasik in Bombay on the Panchvati side of the river. The authorities would not allow Dalip Singh to cremate his mother in the Punjab. On the left bank the Maharaja erected a small samadh built as a memorial in the memory of his mother. For a number of years the Kapurthala State Authorities maintained the memorial until 1924, when her remains were dug out and brought to Lahore by her granddaughter, Princess Bamba Sutherland, and deposited at the Samadh of Maharajah Ranjit Singh.
Dalip Singh was converted to Christianity in his youth, upon reuniting with his mother during his adult years, he reconverted to Sikhism, he then petitioned the Crown to have his kingdom returned. He never received any justice or the respect he deserved. He died in 1893, in Paris, France.
Maharajah Dalip Singh had three sons. The eldest Prince Victor was born on 10 July 1866, followed by Prince Frederick in 1868, and then Prince Albert Edward Alexander Dalip Singh (died at the age of thirteen), who was born on 20 August 1879.
Prince Victor Albert Jay Dalip Singh was Maharajah Dalip Singh's eldest son. He was honourable A.D.C. to Lord Halifax, and was promoted to Captain in 1894, but his military career, however, was a shambles, his interest lay in other things and he resigned in 1898. During the First World War, he was ordered to remain in Paris and not to leave, but shortly after the war ended, Prince Victor died on 7 June 1918, without any issue.
Princess Sophia, the youngest of the Maharajah's daughters. On 22 August 1948, Princess Sophia died in her sleep. Her solicitor arranged for her cremation at Golders Green on 26 August. It was her request that her ashes be taken to India for burial.
Princess Catherine was born on 27 October 1871, and was named Catherine Hilda Dalip Singh. Princess Catherine died peacefully in her bed on the night of Sunday 8 November 1942 at her home in Penn, aged seventy-one. The cause of death was said to be heart failure. She was cremated.
Princess Ada Irene Helen Beryl Dalip Singh, born on 25 October 1889. On 8 October 1926, she committed suicide, local fishermen dragged her body from the sea, off Monte Carlo. She was apparently much aggrieved with the death of her brother Prince Frederick who had died two months earlier.
Princess Pauline Alexandrina Dalip Singh, born 26 December 1887, her death was unrecorded, she disappeared in war-torn France during the Second World War.
Princess Bamba Sutherland (Princess Bamba Sofia Jindan Dalip Singh) was born on 29 September 1869 in London, a year after her brother Prince Frederick. In England, Princess Bamba began styling herself as the Queen of Punjab. She was truly her father's daughter and had her father's rebellious nature and seemed to be the more aggrieved one among her siblings. She was the most affected at the realisation of who she was and her ancestry. She was often visited by her cousin Karl Wilhelm, grandson of Ludwig Muller, at Hilden Hall, by which time she was already dreaming of going back to India to die. In his memoirs Karl Wilhelm referred to Princess Bamba as 'the true heiress of Ranjit Singh' meaning that she was most conscious of the actual desperate situation of the whole family. 'She considered the Punjab and Kashmir as the lost possession of her family and was absolutely furious when the border between Pakistan and India was drawn right across the Punjab.' In Princess Bamba's eyes, Pakistan or India did not exist, there was just the Punjab and its capital Lahore. She met distant relatives throughout her travels in India, trying to have one last glimpse of the glory that she was denied. She located the families of Wazir Ishwari Singh Katoch of Kangra and Hari Singh Nalwa, both residing in Nabha at the time. She met members of several Hindu and Sikh royal families in an attempt to prevent the division of her grandfather's empire.
On 10 March 1957, Princess Bamba, the daughter of Maharaja Dalip Singh, died of heart failure at the age of eighty-nine, the last of the family. Her funeral was conducted in a Christian ceremony in Lahore. The rites were witnessed by a select few Pakistani dignitaries, the Pakistani authorities did not allow any of her distant relatives to attend, Sikh or Hindu, nor were any Sikhs in Pakistan allowed to attend her rites, thus no Sikh was present at Princess Bamba's funeral, the last of Dalip Singh's line.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh is remembered for uniting the Punjab as a strong nation and his possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was given to him by Shuja Shah Durrani of Afghanistan. Ranjit Singh willed the Koh-i-Noor to Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha while on his deathbed in 1839. His most lasting legacy was the golden beautification of the Harmandir Sahib, most revered Gurudwara of the Sikhs, with marble and gold, from which the popular name of the "Golden Temple" is derived.
He was also known as "Sher-e-Punjab" which means the "Lion of Punjab" and is considered one of the three lions of modern India, the most famous and revered heroes in Indian subcontinent's history. The other lions are Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar and Chhatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler. The title of "Sher-e-Punjab" is still widely used as a term of respect for a powerful man.
Captain William Murray's memoirs on Maharaja Ranjit Singh's character:
- "Ranjit Singh has been likened to Mehmet Ali and to Napoleon. There are some points in which he resembles both; but estimating his character with reference to his circumstances and positions, he is perhaps a more remarkable man than either. There was no ferocity in his disposition and he never punished a criminal with death even under circumstances of aggravated offence. Humanity indeed, or rather tenderness for life, was a trait in the character of Ranjit Singh. There is no instance of his having wantonly infused his hand in blood."
|Leader of the Sukerchakia Misl
|Maharaja of the Sikh Empire
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- Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Last to Lay Arms: The Last to Lay Arms, by Kartar Singh Duggal. Published by Abhinav Publications, 2001. ISBN 81-7017-410-4.
- Fauj-i-khas Maharaja Ranjit Singh and His French Officers, by Jean Marie Lafont. Published by Guru Nanak Dev University, 2002. ISBN 81-7770-048-0.
- Maharaja Ranjit Singh, by Mohinder Singh, Rishi Singh, Sondeep Shankar, National Institute of Panjab Studies (India). Published by UBS Publishers' Distributors with National Institute of Panjab Studies, 2002. ISBN 81-7476-372-4,.
- Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Lord of the Five Rivers, by Jean Marie Lafont. Published by Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-19-566111-7.
- The Last Sunset: The Rise and Fall of the Lahore Durbar, by Amarinder Singh. Published by Roli Books, 2010.
- Glory of Sikhism, by R. M. Chopra, Sanbun Publishers, 2001. Chapter on "Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Sikh Empire|
- Maharaja Ranjit Singh Biography
- True Account of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
- Foreign officers in Ranjit Singh's Court
- Ranjit Singh profile from sikh-history.com
- Ranjit Singh
- Official government of Pakistan cultural history article on Maharaja Ranjit Singh
- RoyalArk on Punjab's dynasty, includes extensive bios
- Genealogy of Lahore (Princely State) Queensland University
- Detailed article on Ranjit Singh's Army
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ranjit Singh". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.