Ranjit Singh, a Maharaja (king of kings), was the founder of a Sikh empire that was able to wrest the march of colonial British forces in North India in the first half of the 19th century.
Born on 13th November 1780 in Gujranwala, Pakistan, Ranjit Singh during his lifetime was successful in stopping territorial incursions from the North West, mainly from the notorious Pashtun (Afghan) tribes. The one-eyed king came to known as the ‘Lion of the Punjab’.
Though uneducated, he was a savvy judge of individuals and opportunities. A religiously tolerant personality, he was gentle even with his enemies.
1. Maharaja Ranjit Singh held sway over a large territory.
Starting out as a chief of Shukerchakia, a Sikh group, he founded the first Sikh empire whose territorial boundaries extended across Pakistan, parts of Afghanistan, Punjab-Haryana plains in North India and at places it even touched the fringes of Tibet.
2. Inflicted with smallpox, Ranjit Singh lost vision in one eye as a child.
Lack of education and loss of an eye was not enough to stop him from turning out to be a great strategist who was also an able and farsighted administrator.
3. Strongly built, he was a proficient swordsman and swimmer.
Groomed in Sikh fighting tradition, at a young age Ranjit Singh had mastered many martial arts. Inspired by the life of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and last Guru of the Sikhs and the sacrifice of his two sons for upkeep of the Sikh faith, he trained hard.
4. He fought first battle at the age of 11.
Ranjit Singh even at the young age of 11 was part of the Sikh force that battled Afghan invaders. In later life, he fought many tough battles with the Afghan forces, and despite having a smaller force, defeated them to take control over the city of Lahore and other territories.
5. He took on the title of Maharaja after capturing Lahore in 1799.
It was on Baisakhi day, 12 April, 1801, that Ranjit Singh assumed the title of Maharaja after having united many fringe Sikh groups into one powerful state. In 1799, he captured Lahore city from Bhangi Mais and made it the capital of his empire.
6. Ranjit Singh drove the Afghans out of the Punjab.
Putting an end to Afghan power in Punjab, Ranjit Singh in a succession of battles in 1813, 1823, 1834 and 1837 defeated their forces to establish the Sikh empire.
The Sikh forces, led by able generals Dewan Mokham and Hari Singh Nalwa, were able to push back the Afghan forces to Kabul, leaving Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir and many other hill states including Kangra for Ranjit Singh.
7. Ranjit Singh was a secular ruler.
He was an ardent follower of the Sikh faith but as a ruler, he was tolerant towards other religions. Besides Sikhs, his army had skilled Muslims and Hindu warriors and generals in the forces.
Whenever his army defeated an enemy, the opponents places of worship were not harmed or the Sikh faith forced upon the new subjects won in battle.
8. Ranjit Singh never wore a crown or sat on a throne.
True to the Sikh tradition of everyone being equal before God, Ranjit Singh used a silver chair as his seat of power. Simple in dress, he regularly engaged with his subjects so as to address their problems.
9. Ranjit Singh was a man with many wives.
Maharani Jindan (Jind Kaur) was Ranjit Singh’s favorite wife who played a pivotal role after he passed away.
He married numerous times and had Sikh, Hindu, as well as Muslim wives. Of the many wives. some of the notable ones were Rani Mahtab Kaur, Rani Raj Kaur, Rani Ratan Kaur, Rani Daya Kaur and Maharani Jind Kaur.
10. Ranjit Singh relied on a well trained army.
Much of his power was a result of a loyal, well equipped and trained standing armed force. He hired European mercenaries to train the troops, creating the first modern Indian Army called the Sikh Khalsa Army. Presence of the powerful military force prevented British forces from colonizing Punjab during his lifetime.
11. The British attacked Punjab after Ranjit Singh died.
He was the biggest thorn for the expansion of British Empire in North India. The British had to wait until his demise in 1839 before they could take over Punjab and annex it to their expanding Indian empire.
12. He established historic Gurduwaras.
Deeply influenced by the teaching of Guru Gobind Singh, Ranjit Singh built two historic Gurudwaras, Takht Sri Patna Sahib, where the 10th Sikh guru was born, and Takht Sri Hazur Zahib, the place where he died.
The intricate gold and marble work at Golden Temple (Harminder Sahib) Amritsar was also done under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
13. The world’s most dazzling diamond, Kohinoor, was part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s huge collection.
The rare diamond was later taken away by the British forces and today is part of British Monarch, the Queen of England’s collection.
14. The Sikh empire disintegrated after Ranjit Singh died.
Deceit, corruption, and a lack of proper management caused the Sikh empire to end abruptly soon after Ranjit Singh died in 1839 at Lahore. The Anglo Sikh wars of 1846 and 1849 ended the legacy of the great Maharaja and Punjab was finally annexed to the British empire.
15. For his generosity and liberal patronage Ranjit Singh is still remembered as ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ meaning ‘Lion of Punjab’.