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Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh' ( ) (November 13, 1780 in Gujranwalamarker, Mughal Empire-June 20, 1839 in Lahoremarker, Sikh Empire) was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire and was also known as Sher-e-Punjab (The Lion of the Punjab).

Early life

Ranjit Singh was born in Gujranwalamarker (now in Pakistanmarker), into the family of Sandhawalia Sikh (According to some historians of Jatt origin and others Sansi caste) Clan who were Sukerchakia misldars. He belonged to Sikh clan of Northern India and Pakistan. 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 west Punjab based around his headquarters at Gujranwalamarker. Ranjit Singh succeeded his father at the young age of 12. After several campaigns, his rivals accepted him as their leader, and he united the Sikh factions into one entity.

The Maharaja

Ranjit Singh was crowned on April 12 1801 (to coincide with Baisakhi). Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak Dev, conducted the coronation . Gujranwalamarker served as his capital from 1799. In 1802 he shifted his capital to Lahoremarker. 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 Peshawarmarker (now referred to as North West Frontier Provincemarker and the Tribal Areasmarker). This was the first time that Peshawari Pashtuns were ruled by Punjabi. He captured the province of Multanmarker which encompassed the southern parts of Punjab, Peshawarmarker (1818), Jammu and Kashmirmarker (1819). Thus Ranjit Singh put an end to more than a thousand years of Muslim rule. He also conquered the hill states north of Anandpur Sahibmarker, the largest of which was Kangramarker.

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

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.

Gurudwaras built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh

At the Harmandir Sahibmarker, much of the present decorative gilding and marblework date back from the early 1800s. 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 Sahibmarker, the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh, and Takht Sri Hazur Sahibmarker, the place where Guru Gobind Singh took his final rest or mahasamadhi, in Nandedmarker, Maharashtra in 1708.

Generals of Maharaja

Ranjit Singh encircled himself with an array of strong generals and soldiers. They were men from different clans, castes and regions and religions.

These included:

Among his European Mercenary Generals were:

The only American mercenary of note:


Popular figurine of Maharajah Ranjit Singh
Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Ranjit Singh's early conquests were minor and forgettable when he was a young misldar (baron) but by the end of his reign he had conquered vast tracts of territory, and in 1799, he even captured Lahore, (which is now located in Pakistanmarker).

After the capture of Lahore, he rapidly annexed the rest of the Punjab. The war rose to a climax at the battle of Multanmarker. Thereafter he was the undisputed ruler of Punjab, the Land of the Five Rivers. To secure his empire, he defeated the Pashtun militias and tribes of the tribal areas of Afghanistan. The Muslim Mughals, at this time, had already lost their empire due to their internal fightings, thus causing famous Rajput revolt, the reestablishment of the Maharana of Mewar and the rising power of the Marathas during the 1700s. In the year 1819, Ranjit Singh successfully annexed Kashmirmarker.

Ranjit Singh lead the Sikh army and invaded Sewad (the Peshawarmarker area) in 1818 wresting it from Afghanistanmarker and making it a part of The Sikh Kingdom of Punjab. In 1820 he annexed Hazara. In 1823, he defeated a large Afghan army at Nowsheramarker, on the banks of the Kabul Rivermarker.

Geography of the Sikh Empire

The Sikh Empire was also known as Punjab, the Sikh Raj, and the Khalsa Raj, was a region straddling the border into modern-day People's Republic of Chinamarker and Islamic Republic of Afghanistanmarker. 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, Sutlejmarker, Chenabmarker and Jhelummarker, all tributaries of the river Indusmarker, 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:

Legacy and aftermath

After 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 Princess of Kangra, daughter of Maharaja Sansar Chand, the Empress of Punjab, 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, who was not entirely fit and prepared to rule such a vast empire. Some historians believe that the other heirs would have forged an even more durable, independent and powerful empire, had they come to the throne before Kharak Singh. However, the Kingdom began to crumble due to poor governance and political infighting among his heirs. The princes died through internal plots and assassinations, while the nobility struggled to maintain 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 to the throne of Punjab in 1843 succeeding his brother, Maharajah Sher Singh. In 1849, at the end of the Second Anglo Sikh War, it was annexed by the 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 the 16th 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 the 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 Maharajah 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, Paris, France.

Maharajah Dalip Singh had three sons. The eldest Prince Victor was born on the 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 the 20 August 1879.

Prince Victor Albert Jay Dalip Singh was Maharajah Dalip Singh's eldest son. He was honourable A.D.C. to Halifax, and was promoted to Captain in 1894, but his military career, however, was a shamble, his interest lied 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 the 7 June 1918, without any issue.

Princess Sophia, the youngest of the Maharajah’s daughters. On the 22 August 1948, Princess Sophia died in her sleep. Her solicitor arranged for the cremation at Golders Green on the 26 August. It was her request that her ashes be taken to India for burial.

Princess Catherine was born on the 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 Benyl Dalip Singh, born on 25 October, 1889. Tragically on the 8 October 1926, she committed suicide, local fishermen dragged her body out 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 the 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 in order to die there. 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 with distant relatives throughout her travels in India, trying to grasp 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 Nabhamarker at the time. She met with the several Hindu and Sikh royal families in an attempt to prevent the division of her grandfather's empire.On the 10 March 1957, Princess Bamba, the daughter of Maharaja Dalip Singh, died of heart failure at the age of eighty-nine. She had outlived her entire family and the final chapter of a tragic family was completed and finally laid to rest. Her funeral was conducted in a Christian ceremony in Lahore. Her rites witnessed by a select few Pakistani dignitaries, the Pakistani authorities did not allow for any of her distant relatives to attend, Sikh or Hindu, nor were any Sikhs in Pakistan allowed to attend her rites, thus there were sadly no Sikhs were 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. Ranjit Singh willed the Koh-i-noor to Jagannath Temple in Orissamarker while on his deathbed in 1839. His most lasting legacy was the golden beautification of the Harmandir Sahibmarker, 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 3 Lions of modern India, the most famous and revered heroes in Indian subcontinent's history. While Emperor Rajaraja Chola and Ashoka were the 2 most powerful Indian kings of history, they are not named among the 3 Lions. The other 2 Lions are Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar and Chhatrapati Shivaji, the legendary Maratha ruler. The title of Sher-e-Punjab is still widely used as a term of respect for a powerful man. However, some of his critique's, both Sikhs and non-sikhs accuse him for being morally corrupt. A shamelessly drunk and Womenizing king. Muslims accuse that under his rule they saw most of their mosques destroyed especially the mosques in Peshawar and various of their religious sentiments violated. This still stands as enemity between siks and muslims.

Captain 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 offense.
Humanity indeed, or rather tenderness for life, was a trait in the character of Ranjit Singh.
There is no instance of his having wantonly imbused his hand in blood."

Many famous folk stories about Maharaja portray a leader and the inspiration Maharaja Ranjit Singh was. In one famous incident, when Maharaja was about to cross the badly flooded river near Attockmarker (now in Pakistan and called Kabul Rivermarker). One of Maharaja's generals reported this fact to Maharaja, saying that the river cannot be crossed and it is now an Atak (an obstacle in Hindi) for us. Maharaja retorted "eh Attock uhna lai atak hai, jehna de dillan wich atak hai" or "This river Attock is an obstacle for those, who have obstacles in their hearts", then crossed the river successfully. The army and other generals followed his lead.

Another famous folk story about Maharaja is that he was accidentally hit by a stone thrown by a 5 year old boy, who actually wanted to hit a fruit tree to knock down some of its fruit. When he was brought before Maharaja, Ranjit Singh gave him a gold coin. He said, "How can I punish him for hitting me with a stone, when this tree will give him fruit for the same?"

Further reading

  • Umdat Ut Tawarikh by Sohan Lal Suri, Published by Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar .
  • The Real Ranjit Singh by Fakir Syed Waheeduddin, published by Punjabi University, ISBN 8173807787, 01 Jan 2001 , 2nd ed. First ed. published 1965 Pakistan.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh: First Death Centenary Memorial, by St. Nihal Singh. Published by Languages Dept., Punjab, 1970.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his times, by J. S. Grewal, Indu Banga. Published by Dept. of History, Guru Nanak Dev University, 1980.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, by Harbans Singh. Published by Sterling, 1980.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, by K. K. Khullar. Published by Hem Publishers, 1980.
  • The reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh: structure of power, economy and society, by J. S. Grewal. Published by Punjab Historical Studies Dept., Punjabi University, 1981.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, as patron of the arts, by Ranjit Singh. Published by Marg Publications, 1981.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Politics, Society, and Economy, by Fauja Singh, A. C. Arora. Published by Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 1984.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Times, by Bhagat Singh. Published by Sehgal Publishers Service, 1990. ISBN 8185477019.
  • History of the Punjab: Maharaja Ranjit Singh, by Shri Ram Bakshi. Published by Anmol Publications, 1991.
  • The Historical Study of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Times, by Kirpal Singh. Published by National Book Shop, 1994. ISBN 8171161634.
  • An Eyewitness account of the fall of Sikh empire: memories of Alexander Gardner, by Alexander Haughton Campbell Gardner, Baldev Singh Baddan, Hugh Wodehouse Pearse. Published by National Book Shop, 1999. ISBN 8171162312.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Last to Lay Arms: The Last to Lay Arms, by Kartar Singh Duggal. Published by Abhinav Publications, 2001. ISBN 8170174104.
  • Fauj-i-khas Maharaja Ranjit Singh and His French Officers, by Jean Marie Lafont. Published by Guru Nanak Dev University, 2002. ISBN 8177700480.
  • 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 8174763724,.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Lord of the Five Rivers, by Jean Marie Lafont. Published by Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0195661117.

See also




  • The Real Ranjit Singh by Fakir Syed Waheeduddin, published by Punjabi University, ISBN 8173807787, 01 Jan 2001 , 2nd ed. First ed. published 1965 Pakistan.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lord of the Five Rivers, By Jean-Marie Lafont. (Oxford University Press. Date:2002, ISBN 0195661117).
  • Noblemen and Kinsmen History of a Sikh Family: History of a Sikh Family, By Preminder Singh Sandhawalia (Author), (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. Date:1999, ISBN 8121509149).

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