Maharaja Ranjit Singh – Sikh History

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (13 November 1780 – 27 June 1839) was the founder of the Sikh Empire, which came to power in theIndian 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 Dal Khalsa, under the leadership of Ranjit Singh from a collection of autonomous Sikh Misls. Ranjit Singh was succeeded by his son, Kharak Singh.

Ranjit Singh belonged to a Sikh clan of Northern India. He was born in Gujranwala, now in modern-day Pakistan, according to some historians, into a Jatt Sikh family and some that he was born into a Sansi Sikh family who were Sukerchakia misldars. 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 Mahan 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 he was raised under the protection of Sada Kaur of the Kanheya Misl. Ranjit Singh succeeded his father at the age of 18. After several campaigns, he conquered the other misls and created the Sikh Empire.

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 Maharaja

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Ranjit Singh was crowned on 12 April 1801 (to coincide with Baisakhi). Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak Dev, conducted the coronation. Gujranwala served as his capital from 1799. In 1802 he shifted his capital to Lahore. Ranjit Singh rose to power in a very short period, from a leader of a single Sikh misl to finally becoming the Maharaja (Emperor) of Punjab.

He then spent the following years fighting the Afghans, driving them out of the Punjab. He also captured Pashtun territory including Peshawar (now referred to as North West Frontier Province and the Tribal Areas). This was the first time that Peshawari Pashtuns were ruled by Punjabis. He captured the province of Multan which encompassed the southern parts of Punjab, Peshawar (1818), Jammu and Kashmir (1819). Thus Ranjit Singh put an end to more than a Hundred years of Muslim rule in Multan Area. He also conquered the hill states north of Anandpur Sahib, the largest of which was Kangra.

When the Foreign Minister of the Ranjit Singh’s court, Fakir Azizuddin, met the British Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, in Simla, Lord 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.

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.

Ranjit Singh’s Empire was secular, none of the subjects were discriminated against on account of their religions. The Maharaja never forced Sikhism on his subjects.

Secular Sikh Rule

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The empire of the Sikhs was most exceptional in that it allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority. Besides the Singh (Sikh), the Khan (Muslim) and the Misr (Hindu Brahmin) feature as prominent administrators. 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.

Wives of Ranjit Singh

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Rani Mehtab Kaur of Town of Batala (Gurdaspur District) , Rani Raj kaur (d.1838) of Baherwal (Kasur District), Rani Rattan kaur and Rani Daya Kaur of Gujrat, Rani Chand kaur (d.1840) of Village Chainpur (Amritsar District), Rani Gulab Kaur (d.1838) of Village Jagdeo (Amritsar District), Rani Lachhmi Kaur of Vilage Jogki Khan (Gujranwala District), Rani Jind kaur (1817-1863) of Village Chachar (Gujranwala District), Rani Raj Banso Devi(d.1835)of Kangra Hill State.
The spire and ceilings of Kashi Vishwanath Temple (rebuilt in 1780) in Varanasi were plated with 820 Kilograms of Gold gifted by Ranjit Singh in 1839.

Ranjit Singh had eight sons: Kharak Singh; Ishar Singh, who died at the age of two; the twins Tara Singh and Sher Singh; Multana Singh; Kashmira Singh; Pashaura Singh; and Duleep Singh Ranjit Singh acknowledged only Kharak Singh and Duleep Singh as his biological sons However, the other sons of his wives are by convention his sons.

In an attempt to reconcile warring factions, Mahitab Kaur, the daughter of Gurbakhsh Siṅgh Kanhaiyā and Sadā Kaur, was betrothed to Ranjit Singh, and the marriage took place with considerable acclaim in 1796 . However, Mahitab Kaur could not forget that her father had been killed by Ranjit Singh’s father and the couple separated. The break became complete when Ranjit Singh married Raj Kaur of Nakai Misl in 1798. Mahitab Kaur gave birth to three sons: Ishar Singh in 1802, and Tara Singh and Sher Singh on 4 December 1807.

Raj Kaur (renamed Datar Kaur), the daughter of Sardar Ran Singh Nakai, the third ruler of Nakai Misl, was Ranjit Singh’s second wife and the mother of his heir, Kharak Singh. She changed her name from Raj Kaur to avoid confusion with Ranjit Singh’s mother. Throughout her life she remained the favourite of Ranjit Singh who called her Mai Nakain.

Ratan Kaur and Daya Kaur were wives of Sahib Singh Bhangi of Gujrat. After Sahib Singh’s death, Ranjit Singh took them under his protection in 1811 by marrying them by the rite of chādar andāzī, in which a cloth sheet was unfurled over each of their heads. Ratan Kaur gave birth to Multana Singh in 1819, and Daya Kaur gave birth to Kashmira Singh in 1819 and to Pashaura Singh in 1821.

Jind Kaur was the last wife of Ranjit Singh. Her father, Manna Singh Aulakh, extolled her virtues to Ranjit Singh, who was concerned about the frail health of his only heir, Kharak Singh. Manna Singh assured Ranjit Singh that his daughter would make the Maharaja feel young again, and the Maharaja married her in 1835 by ‘sending his arrow and sword to her village’. On 6 September 1838 she gave birth to Duleep Singh, who became the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire

 

Externally, everyone in the Sikh empire looked alike; they supported a beard and covered their head, predominantly with a turban. This left visitors to the Punjab 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 were known to fan fanaticism.

In their conquests, the Sikhs never perpetrated atrocities as by invaders into the sub-continent. It was true that the Sikhs held a grudge against the Afghans for the atrocities they had perpetrated, over decades, against them. Before them, the Mughals had hunted down the Sikhs like animals in the field. Every Sikh carried a price on his head. The Afghans had caused havoc and mayhem in the Punjab during the lifetime of both Ranjit Singh’s father and grandfather. Despite that, during the rule of the Sikhs there were no reports of torture of the kind routinely inflicted upon the Sikhs by some of the Muslim rulers of Hindustan and subsequently by the Afghan invaders. The Sikhs were reportedly a most tolerant nation.

The Sikhs were never accused of the routine inhuman behavior attributed to the Muslims. In fact, they made every 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 Mohaomedan subjects, the idea of subjection to infidels, and the prohibition to slay kine, and to repeat the azan, or summons to prayer”.

Hinduism emphasizes the sanctity of cows, which has carried over into Sikhism. The ban on cow slaughter was universally imposed in the Sarkar Khalsaji.

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.

Invasions and conquests

Hari Singh Nalwawas the Commander-in-chief of the Khalsa, the army of the Sikh Empire
Runjit Singh and his Suwarree

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.

 Entrance to Kangra Fort through Ranjit Singh Gate

In 1802 Ranjit Singh took Amritsar from the Bhangi Sardari and followed this in 1807, after a month of fierce fighting, with the conquest of Kasur from the Afghan chief Qutb ud-Din.  With the capture of Multan in 1818 the whole Bari Doab came under his sway and in 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 Dost Mohammad Khan. 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 theKabul 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. Khalsa Sarkar Wazir Jawahar Singh nominated Sardar Gurmukh Singh Lamba as political-cum-military adviser to safeguard the gains of Khalsa Sarkar. In 1838, Ranjit Singh with his troops marched into Kabul to take part in the victory parade along with the British after restoring Shah Shoja to the Afghan throne at Kabul.

Army of the Sikh Empire under Ranjit Singh

Jean-François Allardbecame a General in the army of Ranjit Singh.

Alexander Gardner was a soldier in Ranjit Singh’s army

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 organise his army. The reorganisation 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 The Fauj-i-Khas was commanded by his distinguished generals like sardar Hari Singh Nalwa Sardar Gurmukh Singh Lamba and Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala and two non-Sikhs the Mulraj Derah and Dogra Derah. Att.

List Of Ranjit Singh’s generals

The main generals included:
  • Hari Singh Nalwa
  • Gulab Singh
  • Dewan Mokham Chand
  • Veer Singh Dillon
  • Sham Singh Atariwala
  • Zorawar Singh
  • Chattar Singh Attariwalla
  • Mahan Singh Mirpuri
  • 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 District
  • Alexander Gardner – American (Scots – Irish)

Gurdwaras built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh

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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 took his final rest or mahasamadhi, in Nanded, Maharashtra in 1708.

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Takht Sri Patna Sahib

Revered as “Sachkhand Sri Hazur Abchal Nagar Sahib”, this historical shrine, which is one of the five Takhts (thrones) of the Sikhs is situated near Godavari river and was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji at the site where Guru Gobind Singh ji breathed his last. It took 5 years to complete (1832-1837).

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Gurudwara Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib , Nanded

When Shere-E-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh learnt that there is no big memorial at Nanded where Sarbans Dani, the Tenth Master Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji had spent his last days, he deputed Chanda Singh to build a Grand Gurudwara. The Construction of Gurudwara Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib was undertaken at Nanded at this place from where Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji had left for heavenly abode in 1708 A.D.

During the construction, acute shortag of water was felt. Meit Jathedar Baba Gahoo Singh Ji built this Holy Well through Kaar Seva some in around 1838 A.D. to meet the requirement. Traditionally every day one Gagar (Pitcher) is filled from river Godavari and another drawn from this holy well for giving bath to the Singhasan Sahib of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji in Sachkhand Shri Hazur Sahib.

Original Photograph

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The Sikh army was defeated in the First Anglo-Sikh War and, under the terms of the Treaty of Lahoreof March 1846 and the Treaty of Bhyroval, all major decisions were made by a Resident British Officer appointed by the British East India Company and the Sikh army was reduced.

In 1849, at the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Punjab was annexed by the British from Duleep Singh. The British took Duleep Singh to England in 1854, where he was put under the protection of the Crown

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

Memorials and Museums

Statue in the Parliament of India

On 20 August 2003, an 22-foot tall bronze statue of Singh was installed 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, manuscripts, and jewelry

 

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