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Ranjit Singh biography

Ranjit Singh

personal details

Born: November 13, 1780, Gujranwala, Pakistan
ranjit singh
ranjit singh

Died: June 27, 1839, Lahore, Pakistan
Full name: Ranjit Singh
Spouse: Datar Kaur 
Children: Duleep Singh, Kharak Singh
Parents: Maha Singh, Raj Kaur
(1780-1839)

biography

Ranjit Singh was born on 13 November 1780 in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan. His father, Maha Singh, was the leader of the Sukerchakia misle (an Arabic word meaning equal or alike). Not much is known about Ranjit’s childhood accept that he had no interest in reading or writing and spent his childhood riding, hunting and other such wild games.
Early in childhood, he had an attack of smallpox which affected one of his eyes and left deep scars on his face. He was short and slight of built but he compensated these shortcomings with his daring, innate shrewdness and ample commonsense. In addition to listening to the recitation of Sikh scriptures (Granth Sahib), he was influenced by the preachings of Brahmins whom he continued to respect throughout his life, giving them generous offerings and gifts. Due to their influence, he had banned beef eating and azans (calling Muslims from the minarets of mosques) as was done by the Mughal emperor, Akbar, earlier. Indeed, in many ways, he lived like an orthodox Hindu, often going to Hardwar for a holy dip in the Ganges and celebrating all the Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali and Basant with enthusiasm and devotion.
At the early age of ten he accompanied his father on a campaign. During the skirmish his father fell ill, leaving his forces under the charge of the young lad. Ranjit led his army bravely and the enemy was routed. His father died soon after leaving Ranjit to head the Sukerchakia misle, convinced of the qualities which his young son possessed. Ranjit had no interest in administering the estate and continued spending time in hunting, shooting and riding. To check his wayward ways, he was married at the age of fifteen to Mehtab Kaur of the Kanhaya misle. The marriage was not a happy one and in 1798, he married again, this time to Raj Kaur of Nakhais misle. The matrimonial alliances between two powerful misles added to his strength and at the age of seventeen, he began to dream of greater deeds.
In 1776, came his chance to prove himself when the Afghan ruler, Shah Zaman, grandson of Ahmed Shah Abdali, invaded Punjab. Instead of yielding and running away to the hills as was often done during earlier invasions, Ranjit Singh collected the Sikh forces and led them to victory against the Afghans. With this victory Ranjit Singh’s reputation rose from that of an obscure Sikh chieftain to leader of the Sikhs. The following year, Zaman Shah again invaded Lahore and Sikhs under Ranjit Singh’s command repulsed his attack and drove him back to Kabul once again.
When Ranjit Singh had taken over the Sikh leadership, he had found them divided into twelve misles of varying strength, always quarrelling and devoting themselves to intrigues and worse. Ranjit Singh laboured; with more or less of intelligent design, to give unity and coherence to diverse atoms and scattered elements; to remould the increasing Sikh nation into a well-ordered state or commonwealth as Gobind had developed a sect into a people." In 1799, at the age of eighteen, he captured Lahore, the largest and oldest city of Punjab. He made Lahore his capital and ruled from there for the next forty years. The following year, Ranjit was proclaimed a Maharaja by the highly respected Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendent of Guru Nanak. He, however, remained unaffected by this. New coins were struck but they did not have his effigy or his name but that of Guru Nanak and he named his government as Nanak Shahi. Even the government seal did not bear his name; it bore only the words Sarkar Khalsa ji; his court was called Darbar Khalsa ji.
He was shrewd enough to learn that to channelize the energies of the warlike Sikhs; he must regularly engage them in war in remote corners. In 1802, Ranjit Singh took over Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs from the Bhangi misle. The same year he annexed Jhang, defeating Ahmad Khan Sial. From then on he started reorganizing his army on time in European lines as he was convinced that the victories of the British army married over superior arms and numbers of Indians was due to their training and discipline. He divided his army into separate units of cavalry, infantry and artillery and supervised their training himself. He realized early that it would be dangerous to antagonize the British whose disciplined army was Team of superior to what the Indians had. To ensure their friendship and non-interference, he sacrificed a few states east of Sutlej, called Malwa or cis-Sutlej states, which had come under his suzerainty. Ile signed a treaty Instead of friendship with the British in 1809 at Amritsar, demarcating spheres of influence of each; the East India Company was to confine their Victory activities east and Ranjit Singh to the `West of the Sutlej River. Consequently, ’Se from cis-Sutlej states came under the protection of East India Company. The ’mowing treaty was adhered to as long as Ranjit Singh lived. This treaty gave him a free hand to expand his empire to the West, but shattered his dream of a united Punjab. In 1818, he captured Multan and extended his »d found territory right up to the Sindh desert. The following year his generals took “Telling over Kashmir from the Afghans and Peshawar in North-West Frontier in 1823. Though it was occupied by the Wahabis around 1828, they were fence to defeat and Peshawar was finally annexed in 1830 with his forces reaching mg Sikh the gates of Afghanistan. In 1835, Amir Dost Mohammad of Afghanistan attacked Peshawar. The Sikh army led by general Hari Singh Nalwa teen’ he defeated him and chased the Afghans up to the streets of Jamrud and Nalwa’s name became a terror for the Afghans for decades to come. However, Nalwa was fatally wounded in the battle.
In 1822, two French soldiers came to Ranjit to enlist in his army and “mined train it on European lines. They were Francois Allard and Bapiste Ventura, his who claimed to have fought for Napoleon Bonaparte in the French army. After some hesitation, Ranjit employed the two on a generous salary. 3; it bore Allard was to train the cavalry and Ventura, the artillery. In 1827, two other Europeans joined Ranjit’s army and held important positions; Henri Court, a Frenchman and Avitabile, an Italian. Gradually, the number of Europeans serving in Ranjit’s army rose to fifty. “Ranjit Singh looked upon his European officers as highly paid drill sergeants. Most of hisconquests had been made before 1822 by men like Mokham Chand, Hari Singh Nalwa and Misr Diwan Chand. Even after 1822 the real commanders of the Durbar army were Punjabi officers of the Maharaja’s sons”. Thus it is not true, as many historians claim, that the superiority of Ranjit Singh’s army was due to these European officers. “In truth the Sikh owes his excellences as a soldier to his own hardihood of character, to that spirit of adaptation which distinguishes every new people, and to that feeling of a common interest and destiny implanted in him by his great teachers”.
In 1831, Ranjit Singh met Governor General Lord William Bentinck at Rupar on the banks of Sutlej. The meeting lasted for a week and negotiations with the agents continued for several more months. On 26 December 1832, a commercial treaty was signed between the East India Company and the Lahore Durbar. It was agreed that Ranjit Singh was not to annex Sindh ‘renouncing his ambition to extend his empire to the sea’. He also agreed to give navigational rights to the Company in the rivers in his empire. But he was free to extend his empire towards the north. His general, Zorawar Singh, a Dogra, crossed the almost impassable mountain ranges of Kashmir in 1936 and annexed Ladakh without much fighting.
There was an interesting interlude about the diamond Koh-i-Noor (mountain of light) perhaps the most brilliant diamond in the World. The diamond was taken by Nadir Shah from the Mughals in 1739 along with the famous peacock throne. It passed on to Ahmad Shah Abdali after the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1747. Abdali’s grandson, Shah Shuja, who had acquired the diamond, came to Lahore to seek sanctuary. Ranjit Singh got the diamond from him as compensation for providing sanctuary. It was in the Lahore Durbar when Sikhs were defeated in the Second Sikh War in 1849 by the British. Punjab was annexed by Dalhousie and the Koh-i-Noor passed on to the British. In a letter to John Hobhouse, Chairman, East India Company, Dalhousie wrote after annexing Punjab: “You at least will find no fault with my having regarded the Koh-i-Noor as a thing by itself; and with my having caused the Maharaja of Lahore in token of submission, to surrender it to the Queen of England. The Koh-i-Noor has become in the lapse of ages a sort of historical Emblem of Conquest in India. It has now found its proper place”. Even today it is the principal jewel in the crown of the British Queen. In spite of repeated requests by the Indians, the British government refuses to partSingh Nalwa and Misr Diwan Chand. Even after 1822 the real commanders of the Durbar army were Punjabi officers of the Maharaja’s sons”. Thus it is not true, as many historians claim, that the superiority of Ranjit Singh’s army was due to these European officers. “In truth the Sikh owes his excellences as a soldier to his own hardihood of character, to that spirit of adaptation which distinguishes every new people, and to that feeling of a common interest and destiny implanted in him by his great teachers”.
In 1831, Ranjit Singh met Governor General Lord William Bentinck at Rupar on the banks of Sutlej. The meeting lasted for a week and negotiations with the agents continued for several more months. On 26 December 1832, a commercial treaty was signed between the East India Company and the Lahore Durbar. It was agreed that Ranjit Singh was not to annex Sindh ‘renouncing his ambition to extend his empire to the sea’. He also agreed to give navigational rights to the Company in the rivers in his empire. But he was free to extend his empire towards the north. His general, Zorawar Singh, a Dogra, crossed the almost impassable mountain ranges of Kashmir in 1936 and annexed Ladakh without much fighting.
There was an interesting interlude about the diamond Koh-i-Noor (mountain of light) perhaps the most brilliant diamond in the World. The diamond was taken by Nadir Shah from the Mughals in 1739 along with the famous peacock throne. It passed on to Ahmad Shah Abdali after the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1747. Abdali’s grandson, Shah Shuja, who had acquired the diamond, came to Lahore to seek sanctuary. Ranjit Singh got the diamond from him as compensation for providing sanctuary. It was in the Lahore Durbar when Sikhs were defeated in the Second Sikh War in 1849 by the British. Punjab was annexed by Dalhousie and the Koh-i-Noor passed on to the British. In a letter to John Hobhouse, Chairman, East India Company, Dalhousie wrote after annexing Punjab: “You at least will find no fault with my having regarded the Koh-i-Noor as a thing by itself; and with my having caused the Maharaja of Lahore in token of submission, to surrender it to the Queen of England. The Koh-i-Noor has become in the lapse of ages a sort of historical Emblem of Conquest in India. It has now found its proper place”. Even today it is the principal jewel in the crown of the British Queen. In spite of repeated requests by the Indians, the British government refuses to part with it. While on his deathbed in June 1839 Ranjit Singh desired that Koh-i-Noor be presented to the temple of Jagannath at Puri but his courtiers dissuaded him from doing so saying that it was too precious a thing to be given to an unguarded temple. Had the courtiers obeyed the Maharaja, the diamond may still be in the possession of the Indians.
Ranjit Singh built an empire conquering those areas in the western part of India which none of the earlier kings could do, and had become the most powerful Indian ruler of his time. He was the first Indian in a thousand years to stem the tides of invasions from western passes. His conquests, however, have overshadowed his other qualities as a ruler. He never coerced his subjects with heavy taxes. He took from the land as much as it could readily yield, and he took from merchants as much as they could profitably give. His rule was founded on the feelings of the people but it must be admitted that the central theme of his rule was war and annexations. The whole wealth and energies of the people were devoted to war, and to the preparation of military means and equipment. It suited the mass of the Sikh population, and they were pleased that city after city admitted the supremacy of the Khalsa and enabled them to enrich their families." He was, however, always generous to his friends and forgiving to his foes. Though most of his generals were Sikhs and Hindus, he had employed many Muslims in his army, especially the gunners. He is rightly called a secular ruler.
He impressed many Europeans who came in close contact with him. In the words of Alexander Burnes, an agent of the East India Company, who had visited Ranjit Singh at Lahore and was his guest for a month in 1832:
I never quitted the presence of a native of Asia with such impressions as I left this man; without education, and without a guide, he conducts all the affairs of his kingdom with surpassing energy and vigor, and yet he wields his power with a consideration unprecedented in an Eastern prince."
Lt. Col. James Skinner, who was with Governor-General William Bentinck at Rupar, wrote after the meeting which had included the inspection of troops on both sides; (1600 Sikh cavalry and a sizable company’s horse artillery):
‘In every way Ranjit proved himself to be a far superior soldier to any other native. He seemed as if gifted with the intelligence of an English Field Marshal and in fact be moved about as if he was himself incommand of the troops’.
The picture of Ranjit Singh without its warts will be incomplete. He was fond of wine and women. He was also taking opium in large quantities, which affected his health over the years. As was customary with the rulers of the time, he had well large harem besides his forty-six-odd official wives. It is alleged by some historians that he poisoned his mother while still a teenager due to her infidelities. However, there is no valid proof of this allegation.
Ranjit Singh suffered a fatal stroke, though he had survived two earlier ones, and died on 27june 1839. Millions of Punjabis wept on that day. His last rites were performed according to Hindu tradition. While a thousand miles to the east Ram Mohan Roy had succeeded in getting the custom of sati declared illegal and punishable as a crime by the Governor General Lord William Bentinck in 1829, it was not applicable to the Lahore Durbar. Pour ‘Ranis’ (queens) and seven slave girls underwent the ritual of sati and were burnt on the pyre of the Maharaja. That was an ignoble end of a noble maharaja. Ashes of all twelve were collected and immersed in the holy Ganga at Hardwar, the sacred place for the Hindus.
Ranjit Singh left for his successors fifty thousand disciplined soldiers, Fifty thousand well-armed militia and more than three hundred pieces of cannon. But after Ranjit’s death, Sikh chiefs lapsed into jealousy, intrigues and murder. It required a genius to build an empire and lesser men to wreck it.

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