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 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 was born to Maha Singh and Raj Kaur on 13 November 1780 , in Gujranwala, Punjab. His grandfather Charat Singh was the founder of Sukerchakia Misl.
At first he was named Buddh Singh, but Maha Singh received the news of his son’s birth on his return from a victorious battle against the Chattha chief, Pir Muhammad, and renamed his son Ranjit (Victor in War).Historians have mixed views as to his family origins; while some assert he was born into a Jat 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.He, at a very young age of 17 years failed Zaman Shah Durrani’s invasion to India.He defeated Zaman Shah Durrani in the Battle of Amritsar (1797), Battle of Gujrat (1797) and Battle of Amritsar (1798).
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 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.
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.
n 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 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.
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.
In 1799, a process of unification was started by Ranjit Singh to establish a 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 a vast empire in less than quarter of a century.
He reduced many neighbouring states to tributary status and gradually established his control over all the Sikh Misl’s west of the Satluj.
Ranjit Singh was invested on 12 April 1801 as the Maharaja of Punjab. He was 20 years old at the time. Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak, conducted the investiture.
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 (1812–13) 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.
The Sikh Empire, 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:
The Sikh Empire was secular in that it allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority.
Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Mazhabis (untouchables) all formed part of the militia of the Sikhs. Hakim Aziz-ud-din was a prominent Muslim courtier in Ranjit Singh’s reign, while Hari Singh Nalwa was a prominent Hindu general in Ranjit Singh’s army.
His army even included a few Europeans like Jean-François Allard, however the British were not allowed to join it due to their fickle nature.
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.
The Sikhs made attempt not to offend the prejudices of Muslims, noted Baron von Hügel, the famous German traveller, 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”.
Hinduism emphasises the sanctity of cows. 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.
Ranjit Singh’s Empire was secular, none of the subjects were discriminated against on account of their religions. He did not force Sikhism on non-Sikhs and respected all religions.
The army of the Sikh Empire was a formidable military machine that helped 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 improve the training and organisation of 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 had been fixed, Ranjit Singh set most exacting standards of efficiency in march, manoeuvre, and marksmanship.
He was keen on adopting European methods, but wanted never to discard completely the system which he had inherited from his forefathers.
The military system of Ranjit Singh, as it finally evolved, was a blend of the best of both old and new ideas. The Fauj-i-Khas was commanded by his distinguished generals, including Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa Sardar Gurmukh Singh Lamba and Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala and two non-Sikhs the Mulraj Derah and Dogra Derah.
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 built two of the most sacred temples in Sikhism. These are Takht Sri Patna Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, and Takht Sri Hazur Sahib, the place where Guru Gobind Singh died, in Nanded, Maharashtra in 1708.
he Sikh army was defeated in the First Anglo-Sikh War and, under the terms of the Treaty of Lahore of 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.”
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.