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Maharaja Ranjit Singh – Part 3

Why Sikh empire withered after death of Ranjit Singh ?

               Though Ranjit Singh’s kingdom flourished at the peak of his reign and was a bastion of stability, prosperity, and toleration in a sub-continental sea of strife, Ranjit Singh’s rule was not without its shortcomings. Investment in infrastructure failed to keep pace with military spending and the hated jagir tax system, inherited from the Mughals, went unreformed. The jagir system resulted in harsh taxation fleecing the farmers .The rich Jagirdars or landed gentry who were earlier strictly controlled by the Maharaja, resorted to  constant infighting among themselves  bursting forth into open conflict after his death.  Without a lasting framework for future governance, when Ranjit Singh died in 1839, his empire quickly devolved into a series of succession struggles, coups, and assassinations of his heirs Perhaps his greatest failure was that he had created a system of government heavily dependent on his force of will and individuality that it could not outlive him.

When the British forbade Ranjit Singh in 1809 to cross the Sutlej and took the Sikh states east of the river under their protection, he kept quiet for he realised that his strength was no match for the British. Thus by his diplomatic realism and military strength he temporarily saved his kingdom from English encroachment. There was no second line of succession after him and the internal divisions upset the delicate balance of power Ranjit Singh had forged among various Sikh factions and it fell apart. The unity among the various Misls withered away resulting in the collapse of his empire.

               This gave the British East India Company much needed opportunity and cause to intervene. By 1849, after two Anglo-Sikh wars, and one sided treaties, Ranjit Singh’s former empire was incorporated into the British empire The most unfortunate thing was a splendid opportunity to drive away the British from Indian shores was lost as all other kings, Princes and Nawabs could never join Ranjit Singh him when he was very powerful and lost the chance to carry out their fight against the British because by then they had become their allies or vassal states under the British .

Ranjit Singh Family and Heirs:-

             As mentioned earlier The Maharaja pursued a policy of entering into marriage alliances with the various Misl chieftains and Rajput nobles with a view to earn their friendship and seal them with marriages. Many may scoff at this , but in the history of the Indian sub continent this was an established practice since long. However this shrewd strategy worked well for the Maharaja and made him very powerful. Ranjit Singh during the prime of his life reported to have married more than forty wives though only twenty of them were given the royal status through royal marriages. Ten of these were by traditional ceremony and included five Sikh, three Hindu and two Muslim ladies. A further 10 marriages had taken place by the chaddar ceremony (Chaddar is a marriageceremony in Sikhism)  which included seven Sikh and three Hindu ladies .

  • In 1796 Ranjit Singh married Mehtab kaur belonging to Kanhaiya Misl which was more a marriage of political convenience. The couple had three sons namely Ishar Singh Tara Singh and Sher Singh .Of them Ishar Singh died when he was just two years old. 
  • Datar Kaur was The Second Wife and Mother of Ranjit Singh’s Heir Kharak Singh belonging to the Nakai misl. The marriage helped Ranjit Singh to become powerful.  She married Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1798 and gave birth to their son and heir apparent Kharak Singh in 1802.
  • The Maharaja in defiance of the norms of his Sikh religion married a Muslim woman, a professional dancer named Moran Sarkar in 1802.The marriage resulted in his incurring the wrath of Akali Thakt , the highest religious body in Sikh religious hierarchy..Later he was pardoned after he tendered his apology.
  • In continuance with his political strategy he married the two widowed wives of Sahib Singh Bhangi, named Rani Ratan Kaur and Rani Daya kaur in 1811 to establish an alliance with the powerful Bhangi Misl. He got a son Prince Multana Singh from Rani Ratan Kaur and adopted two sons of the widow Rani Daya kaur namely Prince Kashmira Singh and Prince Peshawar Singh ( It may be interesting to note that the three princes were named to commemorate his victorious campaigns annexing Kashmir , Peshawar and Multan Provinces).
  • Ranjit Singh Married 5 Daughters of Various Kings between From 1815 to 1822 cementing his relations with them.
  • After defeating Ghurkhas and pushing  the out of Kangra, he sealed the alliance with Raja Sansad Chand ,king of Kangra, by marrying two of his daughters — Mehtab Devi (Guddan) and Raj Bansoin 1829. Mehtab Devi committed Sati when Ranjit Singh died in 1839.
  • From 1830 to 1832, He married   Rani Ram Devi in 1830 (who predeceased him). He also married the daughter of Sardar Karam Singh Chinah and Rani Saman Kaur.
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh Married another Muslim woman named Gul Bahar Begum in 1832.
  • His Last Queen was Maharani Jind Kaur whom he married in the year 1835, four years before his death Their son  the   last Maharaja – Duleep Singh  was born in 1838. 
  • He also married Three Rajput wives . They are – Rani Har Devi, the daughter of Chaudhri Ram, a Saleria Rajput, Rani Raj Devi, daughter of Padma Rajput and Rani Rajno Kaur, daughter of Sand Bhari.

Though the Maharaja married many women practising different faiths, none were forcibly converted and the same rule applied to all the subjects in his time. Many of his wives and mistresses who Committed Sati retained their faith and so did his Hindu wives.

                 Ranjit Singh in total had eight sons of whom he acknowledged only Kharak Singh and Duleep Singh as his biological sons and were  named as his heirs. His favourite son and heir apparent was Prince kharak Singh the eldest son of his second wife, who later succeeded Ranjit Singh in 1939.He proved to be very inefficient and was done to death by a palace intrigue. After his death , Duleep Singh at the age of five,  was proclaimed Maharaja of the Sikh Empire and his mother Maharani Jind Kaur appointed as Regent. British finally entered the scene and vanquished the  Sikh army in two Anglo Sikh wars in taking control of the Sikh empire. They retained Dulip Singh as the Maharaja of Punjab only to dispose him after the second Anglo Sikh war and banish him to England where he lived under the protection of a British Noble.

                   Thus the golden era for the Sikh empire came to an end with the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh .The British with the annexation of the Sikh Empire , finally became the undisputed masters in the Indian sub continent and India became a crown jewel of the British Empire. Nevertheless the name of the Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab”,The Maharaja Ranjit Singh  left an indelible print in the history of India.

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A.V.Prasanna Gopal
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