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 […]

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 Ranjit Singh from a collection of autonomous Sikh Misls. Ranjit Singh was succeeded by his son, Kharak Singh.

Early life

Ranjit Singh was born to Maha Singh and Raj Kaur on 13 November 1780, in Gujranwala, Punjab. 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 Chattar 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 Jatt 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.

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. 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 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.[19] 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.[citation needed] 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.

Role in Sikh History –

Process of Unification –

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.

Ranjit Singh was crowned 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 coronation. He reduced many neighbouring states to tributary status and gradually established 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 (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.

Secular Sikh Rule

The Sikh Empire was idiosyncratic 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.[citation needed] 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.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.

~ Source: Wikipedia