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Maharaja Ranjit Singh – Part 1

 The Great Warrior King and  Sikh ruler of Punjab

                   Among the many kings and emperors who ruled various parts of India, the name of Maharaja Ranjit Singh evokes a great amount of interest and excitement amongst the readers of Indian history. In the annals of Indian history he is popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab”. He was the founder  and maharaja (1801–39) of the   Sikh kingdom of the Punjab. The title “Sher-E-Punjab” suited Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the hilt and he is one personality that everybody is proud of particularly in Punjab and in the Indian sub continent in general. His strength, valour, courage and humanity is still revered and has become a subject of folk lore among Sikh community.

What makes this warrior king different from other monarchs who ruled various parts of India , is that, he for a better part of his rule kept the foreign invaders from Afghanistan and Persia from entering the Indian territories from north west parts of India. He was the foremost of Indian kings who successfully arrested the tide of invasion back into their homelands and unified the splintered and fragmented Punjab.

During the height of his reign the Sikh Empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the northwest to the Sutlej River in the east and from the Kashmir region at the northern limit of the Indian subcontinent southward to the Thor  desert (in present day Rajasthan. Given that this king was not much educated, but for some basic knowledge of Gurumukhi alphabets, but well versed in war craft, what he achieved was remarkable. He was a shrewd judge of people and events, free from religious bias, and was known to be very courteous while  treating  his opponents and pardoning them with grace and respect even after defeating them.

Political Scenario of Punjab during 18th century.:-               

              Sikh religion professed equality among its followers and a Sikh chieftain could never bear to follow another one unless he is of exceptional calibre. At that time in Punjab there were as many as fourteen independent territories  , Twelve of the Misls, including Ranjit Singh’s Suckerchakia, were ruled by Sikhs; one was ruled by a Muslim Chieftain, and one by the Irish sailor turned mercenary, George Thomas, the so-called “raja from Tipperary” who was friendly with the British East India company. The 12 Sikh Misls were bound together by ties of marriage and religion. 

The important ones were  Bhangi Misl ,Phulkian Misl,  l Shukerchakia Misl ,Dallewalia Misl, Nakai Misl, Ahuliwalia Misl, Shaheedan Misl and Kanheya Misl. These Misls are totally controlled by Sikh chieftains’ and were called Mislders.They had raised their own separate armies and had control and the authority on the people residing in their Misls .They collected the taxes from the peasants and were very rich. Because of this they squabbled repeatedly among themselves for control of territories resulting in frequent internecine wars.

But the strange thing was whenever the Afghan and Turkish forces from Afghanistan and north western regions attacked Punjab, they used to band together as a united Sikh confederacy to fend off the numerous Afghan raids that plagued the period. But competition  between the Misls was fierce and there were constant  conflicts  and they frequently fought among themselves to share the loot and spoils of their victories against Afghans.. Though all these Misls united together to battle against attacking Afghans and drive away, they could  not be a cohesive force , because once the danger was over ,they were back to infighting among themselves exposing their weaknesses which were duly taken advantage by their enemies.

Early Life of Ranjit Singh :-

                    Ranjit Singh was born in an era when it was a tumultuous time for  the country. At that time the strength and might of powerful Mughal empire after the death of emperor Aurangzeb was  waning , being subdued by the Marathas at first and later totally eclipsed  by the British East India Company’s forces who succeeded in  spreading their tentacles across large territories in northern India except for the Sikh empire.. The ever ambitious British East India Company and its French counterpart vied with each other to grasp the spoils now seemingly up for grabs after the collapse of the powerful Mughal  Empire. 

                    Ranjit Singh was born on November 13 1780 in Gujranwala , a small town in the Punjab province, (in what is now eastern Pakistan) in the northwest India, He was the only child of Maha Singh  and Raj kaur. His father Maha Singh was ruler of the Shukerchakias, a Sikh group (one of 14 Misls or kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the Mughal collapse).It was at this juncture, Maha Singh, Ranjit Singh’s father died.

On the death of his father in 1792 ,Ranjit Singh  became chief of the Shukerchakias,  As a child Ranjit Singh was afflicted with small pox and had lost his one eye and had a face pitted with pockmarks was reported to be short in stature and a liking for good life. This did not deter him from pursuing the soldierly skills like Sword craft ,Horse-riding ,Musketry and archery. He became adept in martial arts and was an avid hunter. he liked to surround himself with handsome men and women, and he had a passion for hunting, horses, and strong quality liquor..

                   Upon the death of his father Maha Singh. Ranjit Singh inherited a small area which  included Gujranwala town (now in Pakistan ) and the surrounding villages, At 15 Ranjit Singh married the daughter of a chieftain of the Kanhaya Misl. Initially, his ambitious mother-in-law, the widow Sada Kaur looked after and directed his affairs for many years. Though in initial years he did not evince much interest in the administration of his Misl and was busy mastering the war craft and hunting, later years, circumstances   made him take control of things in his Misl.

                    Shrewd and ambitious as he was he foresaw that in order to expand his domain he has to unite the warring Misls In Punjab and deftly planned the future for his expansion plans. Towards this end to ensure the internal stability of the empire, Ranjit Singh embarked on a course of action wherein he entered into several marriage alliances, and wedded a score of ladies – at least 18, but as many as 46  (as commented by his Son Dulip Singh in an interview to a French magazine.) from the ruling families of the region.

Multiple marriages were a common practice among Punjabi elites at the time, a symbol of status but also a crucial means of cementing alliances. As part of this endeavour, Ranjit Singh had a second marriage, to a daughter of the powerful leader of Nakkais Misl This and other peace pacts entered with various factional chieftains to forge a cohesive force, made Ranjit Singh into a prominent leader of the clans of the Sikh confederacy. Paving the way for him to be crowned as  “The  Maharaja  Of Punjab”.

Read Maharaja Ranjit Singh – Part 2 here

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