Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Maharaja Ranjit SinghPopularly known as the Lion of Panjab, Ranjit Singh was not only the greatest man of his time in Panjab but was also among the few leading figures of the history of that period. Because of his extraordinary qualities as a fighter, conqueror and an empire-builder, Ranjit Singh is often compared with Napoleon Bonaparte, Bismarck and Akbar. Hero of many accounts by European travellers and Indian chronicles, he is perhaps the most enduring character in Sikh history. His reign was marked by benevolent rule, all round development, secular values and patriotic fervour.
Ranjit Singh was much ahead of his times in almost every sphere-army organisation, civil administration, foreign policy and, above all, the treatment of his subjects belonging to diverse faiths and cultures. Rising from the position of head of one of the twelve confederacies in Panjab, he became the first Indian ruler who stemmed the tide of continuous invasions from the North-west and succeeded in carrying his flag into the homeland of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali - the Afghan invaders and plunderers of the affluent Hindustan. His encounter with Shah Zaman, grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali, is thus described in the contemporary accounts: "Oh grandson of Ahmad Shah come down and measure swords with the grandson of Charat Singh." Shah Zaman could not muster sufficient courage to face the powerful challenger and retreated with his troops under the cover of darkness. Ranjit Singh triumphantly entered the Lahore fort and laid the foundations of the mighty empire in North India which extended from the Khybar Pass in the North-west, Sutlej in the East, China in the North and deserts of Sindh in the South.
The earliest known ancestor of Ranjit Singh, who was transformed from an ordinary tiller of land into a saint soldier, was Budh Singh. According to popular accounts, Budh Singh was a soldier of fortune and is credited with having fought in various battles under Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Singh Bahadur. Budh Singh is believed to have crossed the rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Ravi on his favourite mare named Desi at least fifty times. A valiant fighter, he is said to have received thirty sword cuts and nine matchlock wounds on his body. On Budh Singh's death, his elder son Naudh Singh came forward to fight the Abdali invader Ahmad Shah under the command of Nawab Kapur Singh and met his end in the battlefield in 1752. Charat Singh, the eldest son of Naudh Singh, succeeded him. As chief of the Sukarchakia Misl, he made significant contribution in consolidating the territories of his misl through many conquests. Mahan Singh, son and successor of Charat Singh, further extended the boundaries of the principality he had inherited.
Birth and Childhood
On 13 November, 1780, Mahan Singh became the proud father of a son who was destined to play a unique role in Indian history by establishing a mighty empire in North India. The child was given the name of Budh Singh but when his father got the happy news in the thick of battle, he decided to change the name to Ranjit Singh, meaning victor in the battlefield. True to his name, Ranjit Singh rose to be a renowned warrior who fought many battles, sometimes in adverse situations, and never suffered a major defeat in his long and chequered career. As a young child Ranjit Singh suffered a virulent attack of small pox, which not only left permanent scars on his face but also deprived him of his left eye. An adventurous child that Ranjit Singh was, he was not deterred by the attack from pursuing his favourite activities of warfare, horse riding and swimming. Ranjit Singh accompanied his father during most of the military campaigns when he was less than ten years of age.
Chief of the Misl
The sudden death of his father in 1790 made Ranjit Singh the leader of the Sukkarchakkia Misl. Ranjit Singh's mother was worried as to what would happen to the territories conquered by her husband. Young and confident, Ranjit Singh is said to have assured her that he would not only keep the ancestral territories intact but would also extend them further and bring honour and glory to his family. Initially his mother acted as a regent but later Ranjit Singh took the administration of his misl in his own hands, and displayed rare tact and ability in the management of the territories under his control.
At the age of sixteen Ranjit Singh was married to Mehtab Kaur, daughter of Rani Sada Kaur, an ambitious and capable lady who has been described by historians as "a ladder by which Ranjit Singh climbed to power in his early years". Because of the weakening authority of the Mughal empire, Afghan invaders frequently attacked and plundered Panjab. Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded Panjab nine tunes. The negative impact of his frequent invasions can be gauged from the following popular doggerel:
Khada Peeta lake da Baki Ahmad shahe da
(What we eat and drink is ours; Whatever is saved belongs to Ahmad Shah)
Three Afghan invaders, Mohamad Ghazni, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali, took away all that was valuable in India-the peacock throne of Shah Jahan, the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond and other precious jewels, sandalwood doors of Somnath Temple studded with precious stones and caravans of elephants loaded with valuables and whatever they could lay their hands upon. Young women, who were forcibly captured and sold in the markets of Afghanistan, were the worst sufferers. While the Marathas made concerted efforts to assert their sovereignty and even managed to take control of Delhi, the imperial capital, they failed to check the advancing armies of Ahmad Shah Abdali and were defeated in the Third Battle of Panipat. However, it goes to the credit of the Sikh chiefs who, through their guerrilla tactics, chased the retreating army of Ahmad Shah Abdali and succeeded in retrieving some of the booty. Their most creditable achievement was the liberation of a large number of young Hindu women from the custody of the invading army and restoring them to their parents.
Impressed by the heroic deeds of the Sikh guerrillas, Ahmad Shah Abdali asked the Mughal Governor of Panjab, Zakaria Khan, as to who these people were and where did they live. The governor is reported to have replied that they were followers of Guru Nanak and the saddles of their horses were their homes. Upon this Ahmad Shah Abdali is reported to have remarked: "Beware! One day they will rule Panjab." It was not surprising therefore to find Ranjit Singh, the young chief of the Sukkarchakkia Misl, wresting power from the grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1799.
Ruler of Lahore
Based upon papers in the family archives of the distinguished Fakir brothers, who served as ministers under the Maharaja, Fakir Sved Waheed-ud-Din, a descendant of Fakir Aziz-ud-Din, mentions an interesting story which had a great bearing on Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rule in Panjab. According to Waheed-ud-Din, author of The Real Ranjit Singh, on entering the Samman Burj of Lahore Fort, Ranjit Singh found a shadow which appeared like a tiger. When Ranjit Singh tried to retreat he heard a voice calling him from inside the tower: "Ranjit Singh, don't be frightened, come in." Upon entering the burj, Ranjit Singh found himself in the presence of a frail, white bearded old man of medium height who motioned to him to come up and, when he had done so, prophesied that he would soon establish an independent kingdom in Panjab and advised him to observe the following rules:
1. Say his prayers every morning without fail.
2. Never hold court sitting on the throne of the Mughal emperors.
3. Treat his subjects equally, without distinction of caste and creed.
4. Respect and befriend Fakir Syed Ghulam Mohi-udDin of Lahore, a godly man who had been appointed spiritual guardian of the new state and whose sons would serve it truly and well.
The story may or may not be literally true, but what is true is that the commandments of the godly man remained the epitome of Ranjit Singh's policies and personal conduct till his death in 1839
Daily Routine of Ranjit Singh
The daily routine of Ranjit Singh started with early morning prayers. After listening to the Gurbani, the Maharaja would take a wak from the Guru Granth Sahib. Before starting the day's business, the Maharaja would place over his eyes and forehead the sacred kalgi of Guru Gobind Singh with great reverence. So deep was his faith in the Guru Granth Sahib that he would never take any major decision without seeking guidance from the Holy Book. We learn from contemporary accounts that the Maharaja led a very active life.
According to Col. C.M. Wade:
In the hot weather the Maharaja goes out at about 5:00 a.m. and spends an hour or two riding and inspecting his troops, and then takes his first meal, often without Dismounting from his horse. At about 9:00 a.m. he retires to his residence and holds the court, receiving reports, issuing orders to his officers and examining minutely the financial accounts of his government. At noon he rests for an hour having a secretary by his side to write his directions as different things requiring execution cross his mind. When the day begins to close he sends for a set of dancing girls to beguile the time or secludes himself in meditation until his second repast. He goes to bed between 8:00-9:00 p.m., a secretary still beside in attendance to whom he frequently dictates his orders.
(Despatch dated 31 May, 1831, front Col. C.M. Wade to the Secretary to the Governor-General of India)
Respect for Other Religions
Though a devout Sikh himself, the Maharaja had the same reverence for the religious beliefs of other faiths. Soon after becoming the ruler of Lahore, the first act of the Maharaja was to offer prayer at the Badshahi Masjid adjacent to the Lahore Fort. The Maharaja gave liberal grants to the shrines of Jawala Mukhi in Kangra, Jagannath Puri, Benaras, Haridwar, Dargah of Mian Mir in Lahore and the birthplace of Baba Farid in Pak Pattan.
According to a popular story, when the Maharaja and Fakir Aziz-ud-Din were walking on the outskirts of Lahore, they came across a bullock cart carrying a huge book. The Maharaja stopped the cart driver and asked as to what he was carrying. hi The driver replied that he was a calligraphist and was carrying the manuscript of the Holy Quran, which was his lifetime's work. When the Maharaja asked the man as to where he was heading for, the man replied that he was going to the ruler of Hyderabad because he had been told that the Muslim ruler of that state was a pious and generous man who would pay him a handsome price for his work. Ranjit Singh turned towards Fakir Aziz-udDin and said, "This man thinks that there is nobody this side of Hyderabad who is generous enough to pay him a good price for his work." The Maharaja asked the calligraphist as to how much did he expect for his work, and was quoted ten thousand rupees, which in those days was considered a huge amount. Before the minister could intervene, the Maharaja finalised the deal and asked Fakir to pay the settled amount.
Ranjit Singh vas twelve years old when his father Mahan Singh died. Without wasting time, he apprised himself of the situation: his kingdom was sandwiched between non-friendly powers like the Afghans and the British. Panjab was divided among twelve misls: Ahluvalia, Bhangi, Kanhaiya, Ramgarhia, Sukkarchakkia held lands north of Sutlej, and Phulkian, Singhpuria, Krorsinghia, Nishania, Dalewalia, Nakkais, Shahids held lands south of Sutlej. His vision was of a strong kingdom in Panjab. After assuming the leadership of the Sukarchakia Misl, he embarked upon a career of conquests. Within a decade he had conquered the cities of Lahore and Amritsar and brought under his sway the neighbouring territories of Sikh, Rajput and Muslim chiefs.
When checkmated by the British to advance beyond the Sutlej under the Treaty of 1809, Ranjit Singh expanded his empire northwards and westwards. His more remarkable achievements were conquests of the Afghan principalities of Attock, Multan, Kashmir, Derajat and Peshawar, which greatly extended the areas under his control.
Maharaja of Panjab
Though Ranjit Singh refused to sit on a throne or wear a crown in keeping with the egalitarian traditions of the Sikh faith, need was felt to organise some sort of ceremony to celebrate the fact that the young Sukarchakia chief had become de jure Maharaja of the Panjab. According to the account of the court historian Sohan Lal Suri, a grand durbar was organised on the Baisakhi day, 12 April, 1801, in the Lahore Fort when Baba Sahib Singh Bedi, a direct descendant of Guru Nanak, daubed Ranjit Singh's forehead with tilak and proclaimed him as the Maharaja of Panjab. Then he took up a sword and tied it round the Maharaja's waist declaring him to be the sole leader of the Sikh community. All dissidents were asked to lay down their arms before Ranjit Singh, which they did. When the ceremony was over, a royal salute was fired from the Lahore Fort heralding the establishment of Ranjit Singh's rule in Panjab. In the afternoon the young ruler rode on his elephant, showering gold and silver coins on the jubilant crowds. In the evening all homes in the city were illuminated. It is important to note that upon being declared the Maharaja of Panjab, Ranjit Singh did not issue coins in his name as was the custom. On the contrary, the coins he issued bore the inscription:
Degh-o-Tegh-o-Fateh Nusrat Bedrang Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh
(Hospitality, sword, victory and conquest
unfailing have been received from Guru Nanak - Gobind Singh.)
Ranjit Singh preferred to be addressed as Singh Sahib, Bhai or Sarkar, and his government to be called Sarkar-e-Khalsa. He transacted most of the state business either sitting cross-legged in one of the chairs which he had used as a misldar, or sometimes sitting on a carpet or even the saddle of his horse. "I am a peasant and a soldier, and do not care for external pomp and show. My sword is enough to win me all the distinction 1 need," said the Maharaja. It is important to note that while the Maharaja liked his family and nobles to be dressed in the best of silk and jewels, he himself wore simple white clothes and, on ceremonial occasions, tied the famous Koh-i-Noor round his arm.
The first challenge before Ranjit Singh after being declared the ruler of Lahore was to win over the confidence of his subjects. The Maharaja displayed great tact and farsightedness by appointing Imam Baksh as the kotwal and Nizamuddin as the gazi of the city. These steps went a long way in restoring confidence among his Muslim subjects who constituted a majority in the newly established empire. Ranjit Singh also sanctioned liberal funds for immediate repairs of the boundary walls of the city so that the citizens could live in peace.
Expansion of Territories
After securing his position in Lahore, Ranjit Singh thought of expanding the boundaries of his empire to become the Maharaja of Panjab in the real sense of the term. There were a number of hostile elements that the Maharaja had to subdue. The nawab of Kasur had not reconciled himself to Ranjit Singh being declared the ruler of Lahore. In conjunction with Sahib Singh, chief of the Bhangi Misl, he thought of challenging Ranjit Singh's authority. Ranjit Singh himself led an army to chastise the Bhangi ruler of Gujarat and another contingent was dispatched under his trusted ally, Fateh Singh Kallianwala. Both the Bhangi chief and the nawab of Kasur were defeated and they accepted Ranjit Singh's sovereignty.
Ranjit Singh next turned his attention to the holy city of Amritsar. With the help of his own forces and those of his mother-in-law, Rani Sada Kaur, he marched to Amritsar and besieged the Gobindgarh fort where the Bhangi forces had entrenched themselves. Noticing the invading army, Bhangi forces started firing at Ranjit Singh's forces. To avoid any damage to the Golden Temple and the Akal Takhat in fierce fighting, Ranjit Singh did not return the fire but succeeded in securing the surrender of the Bhangi forces through negotiations with the help of Akali Phoola Singh. He annexed Amritsar to his empire and took away the famous Zamzama gun to Lahore, which proved very useful to the Maharaja in his future military campaigns. He paid homage at the Harimandir and the Akal Takhat and made valuable offerings as thanksgiving.
Friendship Treaty with the British
Ranjit Singh's conquests of the nearby territories in quick
succession greatly alarmed the British Government, which had by then established its hold on most of the Indian states. The British intervened to prevent Ranjit Singh's move to further expand towards the east by subjugating the Sutlej Sikh states. These Sikh states also feared the expansionist policies of the Maharaja and took shelter under the British by signing subsidiary alliances with the British Government. In 1809 Ranjit Singh signed a treaty of friendship and peace with the British by which he agreed not to interfere in the affairs of the Sutlej Sikh chiefs. In return, the British Government acknowledged Ranjit Singh's sovereignty over Panjab and, by implication, agreed to his expansion towards the North-west. Having secured his borders with the British through the treaty, Ranjit Singh made determined advances towards the other side. In a series of rapid victories he succeeded in greatly expanding his empire whose borders touched north-west frontier on one side and Ladakh, Tibet and China on the other.
Conquests in the North-west
Checked in the East by the treaty of 1809, Ranjit Singh
made successful inroads into the territories to the North-west of his empire. After consolidating his hold over Kasur, Sialkot and Sheikhupura, Ranjit Singh turned to Multan, which, apart from its strategic military importance, was also a leading commercial centre. Ranjit Singh dispatched a force of 20,000 men under the joint command of his son Kharak Singh and General Diwan Chand. The artillery, which included the Zamzama gun, was under the command of General Ilahi Baksh. Ranjit Singh's army succeeded in capturing the forts of Muzzafargarh and Khangarh. Muzzafar Khan put up stiff resistance but was killed in action and Multan was captured by the invading army. He then marched to Hazara and, a little later, captured Peshawar. It was for the first time in Indian history that tables had been turned against the Afghan invaders when one of the native Indian rulers subdued the most ferocious tribesmen on the North-west frontier through his tact and heroism. In 1819 Ranjit Singh also annexed the beautiful valley of Kashmir.
Durbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
As chief of the misl, Ranjit Singh did not have much of
an administrative setup, his only staff being a financial manager, a few clerks and, of course, bands of soldiers of fortune. After the occupation of Lahore and further expansion of territories, Ranjit Singh needed a proper system of administration. With the help of Diwan Bhawani Das, the Maharaja soon built up a departmental organisation where he employed competent persons from different walks of life, irrespective of their religious affiliations. At its height, the Maharaja's Durbar had fifteen major departments, each headed by a trusted and competent minister. For the purposes of administration, his vast empire was divided into four provinces, namely: Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar. In addition to these provinces under the direct control of the Maharaja, there were a number of hill principalities which had accepted his sovereignty. A governor controlled each province. Influential men like Hari Singh Nalwa, Diwan Sawan Mal, Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia and General Avitabile held these positions.
Popular Panjabi Maharaja
Ranjit Singh vas able to rise above the communal prejudices of his times and treated all his subjects on equal footing. Competent persons from all faiths - Sikh, Hindu, Muslim - occupied high positions in the court of the Maharaja. That the Maharaja was able to create a sense of Panjabi nationalism is evident from the fact that when, after his death, the British compelled the Lahore Durbar to take up arms, all communities-Hindu, Muslim and Sikh-fought shoulder to shoulder and ungrudgingly mingled their blood in a vain attempt to save the first Panjabi sovereign state established by Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja was able to do what no other Indian ruler had done before by making Panjabis realise that being a Panjabi was more important than being Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. He was the founding father of Panjabiyat-his army and administration fully represented all the three communities.
There were a large number of Muslim officers in the civil and military administration of Ranjit Singh. He gave them a place of honour in the government and the society. The famous Fakir brothers were three strong pillars of Ranjit Singh's empire. Fakir Aziz-ud-Din was the foreign minister, Fakir Nur-ud-Din was the home minister and his personal physician while Fakir Imam-ud-Din was in charge of the treasury at Gobindgarh Fort in Amritsar. Ranjit Singh established a powerful Panjabi state which was secular in character. There were no forced conversions in his reign, no communal riots, no language tensions and no second-class citizenship.
Queens: Brave and Beautiful
As was common with the monarchs during those days, Ranjit singh had many queens, some of whom he married according to Sikh custom. There were situations where the Maharaja had to enter into matrimonial alliances with the daughters of other Sikh chiefs and neighbouring rulers in order to strengthen his political base. What is noticeable about the queens of the Maharaja is the fact they not only possessed beautiful looks and feminine charm but also qualities of leadership, which was best demonstrated by Maharani Jindan. As Queen Mother and Regent of her young son Duleep Singh, who occupied the throne in 1843, Maharani Jindan gave ample evidence of being a brave and fearless queen with abilities to guide in matters of state. The Maharani provided able leadership to the Khalsa army and did not allow them to compromise their honour and dignity at the hands of treacherous British officials who were devising strategies to put to an end the last of the independent native states. While not much is known about the other queens of the Maharaja, such as Mehtab Kaur, Raj Kaur, Gul Begum and Raj Banso, Moran emerged as the favourite queen of the Maharaja. A year after his coronation when Ranjit Singh was a young man of twenty two, he fell in love with Moran. The Maharaja's decision to marry Moran greatly upset the orthodox Sikhs, who created a storm of protest. They met at the Akal Takhat and decided to summon the Maharaja and ordered him to undergo public flogging for violating the Sikh code of conduct. The Maharaja readily agreed to abide by the word of the Akal Takhat and presented himself before Akali Phoola Singh, then Jathedar of the Takhat, and bared his back to receive the lashes. Akali Phoola Singh was greatly moved by the Maharaja's humble submission and changed the corporal punishment to a fine of one and a quarter lakh rupees.
Moran was most beautiful of the queens of Ranjit Singh and the Maharaja fondly called her Moran Sarkar. Unlike other queens of the Maharaja, she did not observe purdah. She appeared with Ranjit Singh in public and rode on an elephant with the Maharaja in the processions. There is a popular tradition, though untenable, that the Maharaja even got a series of coins issued in her name. When the British Governor-General, Lord William Bentick, and his wife came to meet the Maharaja at the Ropar Durbar, noticing the couple's fondness for each other, Ranjit Singh remarked that he was reminded of Moran for whom he had the same kind of love and could not bear separation from her even for a moment.
Leili: The Favourite Horse
The Maharaja's passion for horses is evident from the battles he fought simply because he wanted to possess a particular horse and, upon the owner's refusal to part with the animal, he would not hesitate to wage a war. Baron Hugel, a contemporary European traveller who visited Panjab and met the Maharaja, claims to have been told by Ranjit Singh himself that it cost him 12,000 soldiers and 60,00,000 rupees to possess Leili, a legendary horse of its time. It was in AD 1822 when Ranjit Singh learnt that Yar Muhammad Barakzai, Chief of Basawan, had a Persian horse of rare breed called Leili. He sent Fakir Aziz-ud-Din to Peshawar to persuade the chief to part with Leili. Yar Muhammad offered a number of horses but Leili, the desired animal, was not one of them. When the Maharaja asked the reason for not sending Leili, Yar Muhammad told a lie saying the celebrated horse was dead. The shrewd Maharaja did not believe him. He sent a force under Budh Singh Sandhanwalia. In the ensuing battle, Budh Singh was killed; and the Maharaja sent his French Generals Allard and Ventura, who managed to bring Yar Mohammad's brother and twelve-year-old son as hostages to the Maharaja's court. Once, when the young boy was comparing Maharaja's horses with Leili, Ranjit Singh asked whether Leili was alive, to which the young boy innocently said yes. Losing no time, the Maharaja sent word to Yar Muhammad to send Leili forthwith and, on his refusal to do that, waged a bloody war and finally succeeded in securing Leili. The legendry horse entered Lahore almost in a bridal procession when it was decorated with world's costliest jewels, including the Koh-i-Noor. The court poet, Qadir Yar, even composed a poem in praise of Leili. A few years later when Leili died, the Maharaja wept inconsolably and the steed was given state burial with the firing of 21-gun salute. Such were Maharaja's passions.
Koh-i-Noor and Other Jewels
Maharaja Ranjit Singh not only possessed the world's
finest horses and the legendary Leili but also built a priceless collection of jewels, including the world's most precious jewel, the Koh-i-Noor. The following account of the nephew of Henry Edward Fane, an ADC of Colonel Wade, the British Political Agent posted in Ludhiana, describes the British astonishment over the fabulous collection of the Maharaja.
The dresses and jewels of the raja's court were the most superb that can be conceived; the whole scene can only be compared to a gala night at the Opera. The minister's son, in particular, the reigning favourite of the day (Hira Singh) was literally one mass of jewels; his neck, arms and legs were covered with necklaces, armlets and bangles, forms of pearls, diamonds and rubies, one above the other, so thick that it was difficult to discover anything beneath them.
During the marriage of the Maharaja's grandson, Kunwar Nau Nihal Singh, the Britishers not only saw the Maharaja wearing the world famous Koh-i-Noor and his sons and nobles donning equally valuable jewels, they also discovered to their dismay unique hardihood and skill of his troops, both traditional and non-traditional, trained on European lines by the French Generals employed by the Maharaja.
While the Maharaja got most of the jewels from the treasury of Multan during the capture of the city or as presents, Koh-i-Noor came into his possession in a rather dramatic manner. Shah Shuja, after being deposed as the ruler of Afghanistan, was sent to Kashmir as a prisoner while his wife Wafa Begum took refuge under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore. In order to get her husband released from captivity, she approached the Maharaja and promised to give the fabulous diamond in return for his help. The mighty and shrewd Maharaja thought out a strategy by which he succeeded in capturing Kashmir and also getting Shah Shuja released. After restoring Shah Shuja to his family, Ranjit Singh expected that the diamond as promised would be handed over to him, which did not happen. The Maharaja cut off all supplies to the haveli where Shah Shuja and his family were camping, which compelled the Shah to hand over the promised diamond to the Maharaja. Ranjit Singh felt very proud in getting Koh-i-Noor back to India and thus vindicating the honour of his motherland. The Koh-i-Noor remained a proud possession of Ranjit Singh and his family till 1849. When Ranjit Singh's kingdom was annexed to the British Empire, the Koh-i-Noor and other valuables of the Maharaja were sent to England.
Kalgi of Guru Gobind Singh and Other Sikh Relics
Deeply religious, Ranjit Singh greatly valued the relics of the Sikh faith. He made a special room in the Lahore Fort where he kept the original volume of Guru Granth Sahib prepared by Guru Arjan Dev Before starting his day's work, he would listen to hymns, take a wak and finally kiss the kalgi (plume) of Guru Gobind Singh. With the passage of time, Ranjit Singh was able to build a valuable collection of the Sikh relics. According to the details given by Misar Beli Ram, in charge of Maharaja's toshakhana in Lahore, the sacred kalg was presented to the Maharaja by a Bedi descendant of Guru Nanak from Vyrowal in AD 1824. The toshakhana also lists various other weapons of Guru Gobind Singh and those of the Maharaja which were taken away by the British in AD 1849.
Beautification of the Golden Temple by the Maharaja
Amritsar, being the spiritual capital of the Sikh religion, received special attention from the Maharaja. The Maharaja would visit the Harimandir quite often and listen to the singing of the holy hymns sitting on the floor of the temple complex. It was because of the Maharaja's devotion that the Harimandir was covered with gold-plated copper sheets and came to be known as Swaran Mandir, or the Golden Temple. A gold plate at the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum records: "The Guru was kind enough to allow the privilege of service to the temple to his humble servant Sri Maharaja Singh Sahib Ranjit Singh." Master craftsmen under Ranjit Singh's instructions redecorated the Golden Temple, and he himself took a keen interest in the details of the work. The stone inlay and floral decorations were executed by expert Muslim artisans and the murals by painters from the famous Kangra School of Art. In terms of its architectural style, the Golden Temple stands out as unique among all the shrines of India.
Ranjit Singh in the Panjabi Folklore
Ranjit Singh was one of the few rulers who became a legend in his lifetime. There are number of stories in the Panjabi folklore still popular among the people of Panjab on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. It is said that soon after the Maharaja established his control over Lahore, a deputation of Sikhs waited upon the Maharaja and complained that they were finding it difficult to put up with the loud sound of the muezzin five times a day and made a forceful plea to stop the practice of azan. The Maharaja told the deputation to take up the responsibility of knocking at the door of each Muslim house in their vicinity to summon them for prayers five times before he could order the stoppage of azan. The Sikhs agreed to this arrangement. After doing this for a week they approached the Maharaja, looking more worried than before, and prayed for restoring the old practice. This was Maharaja's way of helping religious communities understand each other's point of view. Two other stories shed light on about Maharaja's concern for his poor subjects. At one time during a famine, the Maharaja ordered free distribution of ration from the royal granary. To ensure that his orders were faithfully implemented, the Maharaja used to visit various distribution points incognito. One day as he was walking past a hovel he saw an old man sitting on a sack, "Night is approaching, old man, why are you sitting here in darkness?" asked the Maharaja. The old man replied that the sack was too heavy for him to carry home. The Maharaja carried the sack to the old man's house and was blessed.
In another incident when the Maharaja was going out in a procession, an old woman rushed to him and banged her old iron pan on the Maharaja. On being arrested, she was produced before the Maharaja and asked to explain her mad act. She explained that she had heard that the Maharaja was like a paras whose mere touch would convert iron into gold. Being very poor and old, she thought this might end her misery. The Maharaja is said to have ordered his officials to give the old woman gold equivalent to the weight of her old iron pan.
There are stories which demonstrate Ranjit Singh's wit and sense of humour. Once Akali Phoola Singh noticed the Maharaja riding on an elephant and shouted, "You one-eyed man, who gave you this buffalo to ride on?" Rather than lose his temper and teach Phoola Singh a lesson, the Maharaja smiled and said in mocking humility, "It is a gift from Your Honour." In another incident, Moran, while exchanging pleasantries with him asked, "Maharaj where were you when God was distributing good looks?" "I was busy conquering territories and building an empire," retorted the quick-witted Maharaja.
The Last Phase
Hero of many decisive battles, Ranjit Singh possessed unusual vigour and vitality. Like most strong men of his times, Ranjit Singh overstrained himself. More often he plunged himself into some of the most difficult operations because he was not used to giving up and achieved success in almost all cases. How could he be outdone by anyone in any field? Noticing that because of continuous exertions he had exhausted himself, his doctors advised him rest but he hardly listened to them. Even after his first serious illness in 1826, the Maharaja refused to change his lifestyle. Some European doctors who treated him described him as a 'difficult patient' because he would consult everyone but hardly listen to the advice of anyone. Eight years later, the Maharaja got a second stroke which, according to Hugel, had occurred on account of the Maharaja overexerting himself. Fakir Aziz-ud-Din also confirms that "lack of rest eroded the iron constitution of the Maharaja"
The third stroke occurred when the Maharaja was busy entertaining the royal guests, including Lord Auckland, Governor General of India in AD 1838.
The iron-willed Maharaja managed to survive the two serious attacks. After his last attack, he was unable to speak but his mind was still active. He would give orders through the language of signs while the faithful minister Fakir Aziz-udDin would reduce them to writing and ensure their implementation. Before the final and fatal stroke on 22 June, 1839, the Maharaja was managing the affairs of the state as efficiently as before. In spite of having been incapacitated by repeated strokes, Ranjit Singh retained his passion for horse riding. Invincible hero of many battles, he lost his battle of life on 27 June, 1839. According to Osborne, "Ranjit Singh died like the old Lion as he had lived. He preserved his senses to the last, and was (which is unusual with the native princes) obeyed to the last by all his chiefs... ."
While Ranjit Singh died in AD 1839 and his kingdom was annexed to the British empire ten years later, he continues to live in the memory of the people on both sides of Panjab and rule over their hearts as a popular Panjabi Maharaja.
Source: Encyclopaedia of Sikhism - Harbans Singh