Remembering Sher-e-Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his legacy
New Delhi, Jun 28: Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or Sarkar, is one of the greatest heroes of Indian history. He not only managed to build an empire but also held off against the British invasion of his empire by establishing friendly but cautious relations with them.
Celebrating his death anniversary on June 17, the day he died 183 years ago, is one of the greatest tributes we can pay to his role in Indian history.
Born on November 2, 1780, at Gujranwala in present-day Punjab, Pakistan, he was named Buddh Singh at birth. His parents, Maha Singh and Raj Kaur, changed it to Ranjit ("victor in battle") to commemorate his father's victory over Pir Muhammad, a Chatha chieftain. He lost his eyesight in the left eye because of smallpox in infancy and had a pock-marked face. He never learned beyond the Gurmukhi alphabet but was proficient in various martial arts forms, like horse riding, sword-fighting, musketry, etc.
When Singh was 12, his father died, and Singh inherited his father's Sukerchakia Misl estates while his mother raised him. At 13, Singh killed his life threatener, Hashmat Khan. At 18, he lost his mother, and his first wife's mother inherited her place in his life.
Maharaja of the Sikh empire
Ranjit Singh first fought in the war at age 10, alongside his father. When he inherited his father's estate, he continued fighting off the invading Afghans throughout his teenage years, claiming himself as "Maharaja of Punjab" when he was only 21. Singh also united the twelve Sikh and one Muslim warring misls (confederacies) and took over several local kingdoms to found the Sikh Empire. Naming his rule "Sarkar Khalsa" and his court "Darbar Khalsa," Singh further established his hold over his empire when he ordered the issue of new coins named "NanakShahi."
In 1802, at 22, Singh acquired Amritsar and rebuilt the Harmandir Sahib temple (present-day Golden Temple in Amritsar) with gold and marble. He then acquired Kasur, Multan, and Kashmir and ruled over the land beyond the Himalayan foothills. In 1813, his forces defeated Shah Mahmud's forces, making it the first proper victory against Durranis. He ended the Afghan influence over Punjab. In 1819, he gained sovereignty over Peshawar. His victory over Kashmir, Multan and Peshawar was commemorated by naming his sons Prince Kashmira, Peshaura and Multana Singh.
Singh was a secular Sikh ruler with men from different religions and races serving in his court at various levels of authority. He even recruited Europeans but refrained from recruiting Britons especially, though he maintained friendly relations with the British. He indulged in alcohol and opium consumption but banned anybody in his court from consuming beef or smoking as he himself refrained from doing so.
Singh is said to have married several times, and he had twenty wives. He had nine sons, though only Datar Kaur and Hind Kaur's sons were biologically his.
Treaties with the East India company
In 1806, Singh signed his first treaty with the East India Company, mutually agreeing to not expand across the Sutlej river, as both parties reigned over opposite sides of the river. In 1838, he signed another treaty with Viceroy Lord Auckland, agreeing to restore Shah Shoja to Kabul's Afghan throne.
Pursuing this agreement, the Indus' British army entered Afghanistan from the south, and Ranjit Singh's troops travelled the Khyber Pass to partake in the Kabul victory parade.
Though these treaties held off the British from invading Singh's empire, many believe that he was checkmated by the British. However, it cannot be blindsided that the British still avoided a battle against him because they would have been unable to deal with the cost and consequences of the same.
Death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Singh suffered from many health issues, which only intensified after his stroke. He died in his sleep on June 27, 1839, at age 58, in Lahore, Pakistan and was succeeded by Maharaja Kharak Singh, his favourite son from his second and most favourite wife, Datar Kaur. When Singh was cremated, his four Hindu wives and seven Hindu royal concubines jumped into his pyre to fulfil the sati practice.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was one of a kind who strived toward uniting Sikhs rather than fighting pointless wars just for the sake of power. He fought off the Afghans for years and protected his people from British rule, which had already found its roots in many major regions of India. It is only fitting that we celebrate his glory on the day India lost a valuable son.