H C Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh The Great

Ranjit Singh was born on 13 November 1780 and was named Budh Singh but the moment his valiant father Mahan Singh returned after subduing Pir Mohammad and his brother Ahmed Khan, capturing their forts at Sayyid nagar, Kot Pir Mohammad and Rasulnagar, first he did was to change the name of his son to Ranjt, which meant victor of battles. Mohan Singh was chief of Sakerchakia Misl, foremost of the 12 Sikh Misls.

Mahan Singh’s father’s great grand father was Desu, a cultivator who owned 25 acres of land. He belonged to village Suker Chak, near Gujranwala and so the name of Misl came to be known as Sakerchakia Misl. At the age of 50 Desu decided to meet Guru Gobind Singh as, himself being giant of a man and fearless fighter, he had heard about the great Gurus Khalsa and Khalsa’s fight with cruel Mughal rulers who had massacred lakhs of innocent Hindus during their rule. Seeing Desu touching Gurujee’s feet, Guru Gobind Singh was impressed by his strong personality. As soon Desu expressed his desire to become Sikh, Gurujee himself baptized him and named him Budha Singh. He joined the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib and participated in many battles. Budha Singh became martyr in 1715 at Gurdas Nangal, fighting along with Banda Singh Bahadur. When Budha Singh died, his body had seven ballet wounds and 29 scars of arrows, swords and spear cuts. Similarly Ranjit Singh’s father Mahan Singh died when Ranjit was boy of 10. He was immensely inspired by his grand father Charat Singh, who fought many battles with notorious Muslim invader Ahmed Shah Abdali who had destroyed the sacred Darbar Sahib Amritsar twice. During fierce battles in 1761,1764 and 1766 Afghans tried his level best to subdue Charat Singh but after every fight the Misl’s head emerged stronger than before and annexed more territories.

By the time Ranjit Singh became Chief of the Misl at the age of 15, he had become expert horse rider, knew perfectly how to handle sword and spear as well musket. Thus in another five years by the age of 19 he had conquered Lahore. He was such a valiant person with immense self confidence that he did not care for his illness at he age of 6 when he lost one eye because of severe attack of smallpox. As C H Payne, a historian puts it: “The gifts which nature lavished on Ranjit Singh was of the abstract rather than concrete order. His strength of character and personal magnetism (were to be) the real source of his greatness.”

In December 1795, Ranjit Singh, when he was just 15 years old, wrote to Maratha Chief, Daulat Rao Scindia, who was at the time in Aligarh, to join the Sikhs so as to expel the Afghans from India once for all. But Ranjit Singh received no reply from Maratha chief and was very much disappointed as he had hoped if Marathas, another valiant people of India, would join him to complete the mission of expelling Afghans from India.

Ranjit Singh also tried to get full support from Sahib Singh Chief of Phulkian Misl, which was quite well known. Ranjit Singh invited Sahib to join him for expelling Afghans from the Sikh homeland. It was not a big surprise that Ranjit Singh received no reply from Sahib Singh Earlier, the founder of Phulkian Misl Alla Singh had betrayed the Sikhs as it was Ahmed Shah Abdali, with a view to cause split in Sikh Misls, who made Alla Singh as Raja of Patiala in 1763, though only a year back in 1762, the same Abdali had attacked and destroyed the sacred Harmander Sahib killing thousands of Sikh pilgrims and “filled the sacred sorovar with dead bodies of Sikhs and carcasses of cows. He also made, to scare Sikhs once for all, pyramid of Sikh’s heads on the site of devastated Harmander Sahib.” The two incidents of young Ranjit Singh’s approach to Maratha Chief and also Phulkian Misls Chief are very significant and demonstrate the efforts of Ranjit Singh to have alliances against Afghan invaders and destroyers of Holy Harmander Sahib.

It was 17 years old Ranjit Singh who had crushed furious Zaman Shah who had attacked Amritsar. This humiliating defeat demoralized Afghan descendent, Sikhs blood thirsty, Ahmed Shah Abdali. Thus Zaman Shah was not only defeated at Amritsar but his Army was chased to the gates of Lahore by Sikh Army of Ranjit Singh. While running back to Afghanistan Zaman Shah had lost 12 crucial guns in Jehlum River. He appealed to Ranjit Singh to rescue his guns and in return he would not oppose Ranjit Singh’s taking over Lahore. Ranjit Singh proved to be a diplomat. He readily agreed so as to become ruler of Lahore. Thus young Ranjit Singh laid the foundations of Sikh Empire, through bravery and diplomacy. Such a diplomacy proved useful and helped Ranjit Singh in dealing with British East India Company after a couple of years, as it required give and take and not obstinacy with the opponent who may or may not be more powerful.

Conquest of Lahore by 19 year old Ranjit Singh was very significant because it made him Maharaja or Ruler of not only Lahore but vast territory of Punjab. Lahore had been invaded and conquered by Muslim rulers from 1014 when Mohammad of Ghazni and thereafter it became home of many dynasties including Ghoris, Mongals, Tugh laks, Khiljis, Lodis and Suris. Even Mughal Emperor Akbar had made Lahore as the capital of his vast Empire of India in 1584. He built famous Lahore Fort which after 1799 became Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s principal residence.

Despite rivalry between Misls of Sikhs, Ranjit Singh at the young age of 19 demonstrated his and his Misls superiority by conquering vast area of Punjab and becoming ruler of Lahore as Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is apt to compare Ranjit Singh with Alexander the Great. Though Alexander conquered vast empire from Greece to Punjab he did not or could not consolidate and rule over it. In contrast Ranjit Singh Lion of Punjab, conquered vast areas as the valiant Sikhs of Guru Gobind Singh never showed back: they, to last man, died fighting. He himself had led the Khalsa Army from the age of 15 to demonstrate that he was though chief of Misl and ruler, he was one amongst them. It is strange and painful that no Indian political leader or historian has developed on the greatness of Ranjit Singh or compared him with Alexander or Napoleon. Napoleon ultimately lost all his conquest. Neither Alexander nor Napoleon lost by treachery or conspiracy against them by their rivals. Alexander could not consolidate and had to retreat to Greece. Napoleon lost the war fighting and was defeated. Maharaja Ranjit Singh never lost in battle in 30 years of his rule. That is why he was and is known as Lion of Punjab.

In 1830, the population of Sikhs Empire was about 25 lakh of which 50% were Muslims, 42% Hindus and 7 to 8% Sikhs. This is rough estimate based on perhaps the first ever census of Punjab in 1881. Based on 1881 census Punjab’s population was placed at 2.2 million ie 22 lakhs. In 1881 Punjab included whole of west Punjab, East Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, Sikhs accounting for only 7% ie about 2 lakhs of the population against 50% Muslims, 42 % Hindus and 1% Christians and others (quoted by Patwant Singh) in ‘Empire of the Sikhs’. It becomes clear that Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Empire extended from Satluj River to Khyber Pass near Peshawar and in the west from Jammu to Kashmir which included ladakh and Gilgit.

Perhaps it is unknown in the world history that 7% people conquered and ruled over 93% and that, too, without any religious or political turmoil. Napoleon to an extent Ranjit Singh’s contemporary tried to conquer vast Empire extending to East Europe and Russia but got defeated. Similarly during 1st World War Germany tried to repeat what Napoleon failed but faced ultimate defeat and humiliation as Germany itself was conquered and divided. It becomes, to a great extent clear, that Maharaja Ranjit Singh alone in world History of last two centuries or so conquered and ruled for 30 years over a vast Empire which included NWFP ( which was till then part of Afghanistan. Thus whole of modern world must recognize Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s greatness and also of valiant Khalsa Army. 

Maharaja Ranjit Singh despite being a Sikh Ruler was absolutely secular. There were Sikhs, mostly generals like Hari Singh Nalwa nd Akali Phoola Singh, there were Hindus like Dhyan Singh who was PM and his brother Gulab Singh, and Muslims like Faqir Azazudin who was Foreign Minister. After Ranjit Singh’s demise traitors like Teja Singh became prominent ministers. That is how the Sikh Empire was lost.

I shall just quote from my memory a few lines from Shah Mohammad’s poem on First Sikh War with British East India Company. Shah Mohammad, a Muslim poet of Punjab, who wrote many poems in Punjabi and recited them in Punjab says:

“Teja Singh see Yaar Farangian daa”

 After mentioning in brief Teja Singh’s treachery of being friend of Britishers, Shah Mohammada writes:

Shah Mohammada Singhan Ne Gorian De

Wang Nimbuan Lahu Nichor Ditte

Je Kar Hondi Sarkar Taan Mul Paandee

Jehrian Khalse Ne Teghan Morian Ne

Shah Mohamada Ik Sarkar Bajon

Faujan Jit Ke Annt Nuun Horian Ne

In simple English translation Shah Mohammad says:

Sikh soldiers squeezed British soldiers blood, as one squeezes lemon.

If  Maharaja Ranjit Singh had been alive,

He would have appreciated and honoured the Sikh soldiers for bravery

As some Sikh soldiers fought with just swords in their hands.

Shah Mohammed concludes:

But for Sarkar (Maharaja Ranjit Singh) Sikh having won ultimately lost.

Sikhs lost first Sikh War and Second Sikh War because of treachery of men like Teja Singh and Dogras like Dhyan Singh, who was Prime Miniser during Ranjit Singh’s lifetime, and his brother Gulab Singh and conspiracy of British East India Company.

January 8, 2010 - Posted by | Achievers, Biography, India, Indian History, Muslims, Politics, Punjabi, Religion, Sikhism, World History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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