Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the founder of the Sikh Empire based in the Punjab region. He came to power in the early half of the 19th century, and his empire existed from 1799 to 1849. Born as the son of Maha Singh, the Commander of the Sukerchakia Misl—one of 12 Sikh Misls in Punjab during the 18th century—Ranjit Singh followed in his courageous father’s footsteps to become an even greater leader. He was born in a period when much of Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs under a Confederate Sarbat Khalsa system and the territory was divided among factions known as misls. His father died when Ranjit was 12 years old following which he was raised in the care of his mother Raj Kaur, and later his mother-in-law Sada Kaur. He took over as misldar of the Sukerchakia Misl upon attaining the age of 18 and set about expanding his territory. An ambitious man and a courageous warrior, he started conquering all the others misls and the annexation of Lahore from the Bhangi Misl marked the first important step in his rise to power. Eventually he conquered the region of central Punjab from the Sutlej to the Jhelum, vastly expanded his territory and founded the Sikh Empire. Because of his bravery and courage he earned the title of “Sher-e-Punjab” (“The Lion of Punjab”).
CHILDHOOD & EARLY LIFE
>> Ranjit Singh was born on 13 November, 1780, in Gujranwala, Sukerchakia Misl (present-day Pakistan) to Maha Singh and his wife Raj Kaur. His father was the Commander of the Sukerchakia Misl. As a child Ranjit Singh was afflicted with small pox which resulted in the loss of one eye.
>> Maha Singh died when Ranjit Singh was only 12 years old, leaving him to be raised by his mother.
>> He was married to Mehtab Kaur, the daughter of Sardar Gurbakash Singh Sandhu of the Kanhaiya Misl and Sada Kaur, in 1796, when he was 16 years old. Upon his marriage his mother-in-law also started taking active interest in his life.
ACCESSION & REIGN
>> Ranjit Singh became the misldar of the Sukerchakia Misl at the age of 18. Upon assuming power he started campaigns to expand his territory.
>> He began his conquests by annexing the other misls and captured Lahore from the Bhangi Misl in 1799 and later made it his capital. He then captured the rest of the Punjab.
>> In 1801 he united all the Sikh factions into one state and assumed the title of “Maharaja” on 12 April—the day of Baisakhi. He was 20 years old at the time. Then he set forth further expanding his territory.
>> He conquered the holy city of Amritsar from the Bhangi Misl ruler Mai Sukhan in 1802. He continued his conquests by capturing Kasur from the Afghan chief Qutb ud-Din in 1807.
>> He went to the aid of Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra in the Lesser Himalayas in 1809 against an advancing Ghurka force. After defeating the forces, he added Kangra to his empire.
>> In 1813, he joined a Bārakzay Afghan expedition into Kashmir but was betrayed by the Bārakzays. Nonetheless he went on to rescue Shah Shoja, the brother of the deposed Afghan king, and occupied the fort at Attock on the Indus River, southeast of Peshawar. Then he pressurized Shah Shoja to part with the famous Koh-i-noor diamond that was in his possession.
>> He spent several years fighting the Afghans and driving them out of the Punjab. Eventually he captured Pashtun territory including Peshawar, and in 1818, the province of Multan. He put an end to more than a hundred years of Muslim rule in Multan Area with these conquests. He also annexed Kashmir in 1819.
>> Ranjit Singh was a secular ruler who had tremendous respect for all religions. His armies included Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus and his commanders also hailed from different religious communities. In 1820 he began to modernize his army using several European officers to train the infantry and the artillery. The modernized army performed very well in the conquests in the North-West Frontier.
>> By the 1830s the British were beginning to expand their territories in India. They were intent on keeping the Sindh province for themselves and tried to make Ranjit Singh accept their plans. This was not acceptable to Ranjit Singh and he authorized an expedition led by Dogra commander Zorawar Singh that eventually extended Ranjit Singh’s northern territories into Ladakh in 1834.
>> In 1837, the last confrontation between the Sikhs and the Afghans took place in the Battle of Jamrud. The Sikhs were building up towards crossing the Khyber Pass and the Afghan forces confronted them at Jamrud. The Afghans attempted to retake Peshawar from the invading Sikhs but were unsuccessful.
>> Ranjit Singh was also much feared by the British and they did not dare to try to annex his territories for as long as he was alive. He died in 1839 and the Sikh army was defeated in the First Anglo-Sikh War in 1846. By the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, the Punjab was annexed by the British bringing an end to the glorious Sikh Empire.
>>Maharaja Ranjit Singh founded the Sikh Empire, based around Punjab in 1799. It was a major power in the Indian subcontinent and at its peak, the Empire encompassed regions from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east, and from Mithankot in the south to Kashmir in the north.
PERSONAL LIFE & LEGACY
>> Ranjit Singh was married multiple times and had Sikh, Hindu, as well as Muslim wives. Some of his wives were Mehtab Kaur, Rani Raj Kaur, Rani Rattan Kaur, Rani Chand Kaur, and Rani Raj Banso Devi.
>> He also had several children including sons Kharak Singh, Ishar Singh, Sher Singh, Pashaura Singh and Duleep Singh. However he acknowledged only Kharak Singh and Duleep Singh as his biological sons.
>> He died on 27 June 1839 in Lahore, Punjab, Sikh Empire. He was cremated and his remains are stored in the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh in Lahore, Punjab. He was succeeded by his son Kharak Singh.
>> He is remembered for being an able and just ruler with a magnificent personality. His empire was secular where all religions were respected and no one was discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. He also played a major role in the golden beautification of the Harmandir Sahib. He was much respected throughout the world for his courage and valor and was known as “Sher-e-Punjab” (“The Lion of Punjab”).