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Maharaja Ranjit Singh


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Note: This comes from a Pakistani source and contains many details of which I was not previously aware. That does not mean they are not true of course. These details may be backed up by sources that the author has access to. Nonetheless, it is interesting to compare accounts. Overall, the outlines of the story are very similar.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Ranjit Singh was born on Nov. 13, 1780 at Gujranwala. He was named Ranjit Singh by his father Mahan Singh. These two pictures on the right are the pictures of the house of Sardar Charat Singh, his grandfather, bottom picture is the door to the room where Ranjit Singh was born.

Ranjit singh had his first taste of battle, when he was hardly ten years old. It was Sahib Singh bhangi (they were called bhangis as they use to drink 'Bhang' all the time) of Gujarat (a town in Punjab, now in Pakistan) refused to pay tribute to Mahan Singh and his estate was attacked by him. Sahib singh shut himself at the fort of Sodhran and the siege of the fort was laid. Ranjit singh accompanied Mahan Singh. The siege continued for several months.

Mahan singh fell grievously ill. Apprehending his approaching end he invested Ranjit singh chief of the Sukerchakia Misl by putting Ranjit's forehead saffron paste. It was a great occasion of joy. Mahan Singh returned to Gujrawala. When the other Bhangi sardars came to know about the illness of Mahan singh and the army of Sukerchikia's was commanded by a child of ten years they came to rescue the Sahib singh bhangi at Sodhran. Ranjit singh ambushed them and routed their forces. Ranjit singh's victory opened the eyes of many chieftains. When the news of victory was conveyed to Mahan singh, he distributed sweets and perhaps it was the last news given to Mahan singh before he breathed his last.

Mahan Singh died in 1792. Ranjit singh was then 12 years old. He was too young to manage the affairs of the estate. His mother Raj Kaur became his natural guardian. He was also helped by Diwan Lakhpat rai. She had full confidence in his integrity but her brother Dal Singh did not like his interference in the administration of the territory. So, Dal singh joined hands with Sada Kaur, Ranjit singh's mother-in-law who exercised a lot of control over him. Thus two clear cut groups were formed, Diwan and Raj Kaur on one hand, Sada Kaur and Dal Singh on the other side. The intrigues and counter intrigues made Ranjit sick of all of them. He started spending most of this time outside the house on hunting expeditions. Ranjit singh also became suspicious of people around him and disliked some of them.

Ranjit singh learnt riding, shooting, and started drinking early years of his life. Drinking was not considered bad in those days and the more one drank, the more respect he commanded among the sardars. It was a matter of pride.

Ranjit singh was once attacked by Hashmat Khan when he was out on the hunting expedition. Hashmat Khan, a chief of an estate which had many score to settle with Mahan singh, Ranjit singh's father. Ranjit singh's horse was frightened. Khan took the opportunity and pierced his sword into the body of Ranjit singh. Ranjit singh controlled himself and before Khan could make another move, Ranjit cut his head, hung it on his spear and joined his comrades with his prized possession. The heartened Ranjit and his companions joy knew no bounds as the young lad of 13 had performed a miracle.

Ranjit grew up without any formal education and remained totally illiterate. Fond of swimming and excursions, Ranjit had more traits to become a soldier later in life. Ranjit singh once told Captain wade, British agent at Ludhiana that his father had left for him 20,000 rounds of shot which he expended in firing at marks.

Having spent his years in dissipation and indulgence, Ranjit was attracted towards usual vices common among the nobility during those days. However, Ranjit "in his youth was remarkably active and excellent horseman and well skilled in everything connected with military feats.

At the age of 16 Ranjit singh was married to Mehtab Kaur of Kanhaiya misal, thus this marriage brought two great misals together. Then in 1798 he again married to the daughter of Khazan singh Nakai thus also adding his strength. The second marriage annoyed Sada kaur and Mehtab kaur. Mehtab kaur returned to Batala and only returned to Gujrawala occasionally.

Upto this time diwan Lakhpat Rai was managing the affairs of the estate. He was confident of sardar Mahan singh. He kept all the accounts. Diwan was murdered while away in the Dhanni area for collecting the revenue. This gave an opportunity to Ranjit singh to take over the administration.

Thus at the age of 18 Ranjit singh assumed the powers directly. Sada kaur exploited the position of Ranjit singh and she was the ladder by which Ranjit singh reached the climax of his power. the plastic mind of the young boy was molded by men and women from whom he had no lofty religious and moral ideas to imible. He was brought up more or less a spoilt child.

We had many divergent accounts of the physical appearances of Ranjit singh. "He was exactly like old mouse, with gray whiskers and one eye." "In person he was short and mean-looking and had he not distinguished himself by his great talents he would be passed by without being thought worthy of observation. Without exaggeration must call him the most ugly and unprepossessing man I saw throughout Punjab. His left eye, which is quite closed, disfigures less than the other but form so many dark pits in his grayish brown skin, his short straight nose is swollen at the tip; his skinny lips are stretched tight over his teeth which are still good; his grizzled beard, very thin on cheeks and upper lip, meets under the chin in matted confusion, and his head which is sunk very much on his broad shoulders, is too large for his height, and does not seem to move easily. He has thick muscular neck, thin arms and legs, the left foot and left arm dropping, and small well informed hands. The nervous irritation of his mind is shown by the continual pressure on one's finger. His costumes always contributes to increase his ugliness, being in winter the color of gamboge from the pagri down to his very socks and slippers. When he seats himself in common English chair with his feet drawn under him, the position is one particularly unfavorable to him; but soon as he mounts his horse and with his black shield on his back puts him on his mettle, the whole form seems animated by the spirit within, and assumes a certain grace of which nobody could believe it susceptible"(by Eden Emily, upto the country p.320, and by Hugel Baron, Travels in Kashmir and the country of the Sikhs p. 380). "He had a large and indeed an unusual share of the weakness and vices which grew up, like all weeds, in human nature, and his moral being seemed, at superficial glance, as dwarfed and distorted as his physical envelope. He was selfish, false and avaricious; grossly superstitious, shamelessly and openly drunken and debauched. In the respectable virtues he had no part; but in their default he was still great with him, as with the most illustrious leaders of men, from Ceaser and Alexander to Napolean, intellectual strength not allied to maral rectitude. He was great because he possessed in an extraordinary degree the qualities without which the highest success cannot be attained, and the absence of the commonplace virtues which belong to the average citizen neither diminished nor affected in any way the distinction of character. He was born ruler. Men obeyed him with instinct and because they had no power to disobey". (Griffen Lepel, Ranjit Singh p.91)

Situation in Punjab, Sikh confedrations and Afghanis

Punjab presented a picture of chaos and confusion when Ranjit singh took reins of Sukerchikias misal. The edifice of Ahmad Shah abdali's empire in India had crumbled. Afghanistan was dismembered. Peshawar and Kashmir though under the suzerainty of Afghanistan had attained de facto independence. Barakzais were the masters of these places. Attock was ruled by Wazrikhels and Jhang lay at the feet of Sials. Pathans were ruling Kasur. Multan had thrown yoke and Nawab Muzaffar Khan had taken its charge.

Both Punjab and Sind were under Afghan rule since 1757 after Ahmad Shah Abdali was granted suzerainty over these two provinces. They were confronted with the rising power of Sikhs in Punjab. Taimur Khan, a local Governor was able to turn away Sikhs from Amritsar. He razed to the ground the fort of Ram Rauni. But this state of affairs did not last long and the Sikh misal joined hands and defeated Taimur Shah and his Chief minister Jalal Khan. The Afghans were forced to retreat and Lahore was occupied by the Sikhs in 1758, Jassa singh Ahluwalia proclaimed Sikh's sovereignty and became its head. He struck coins to commemorate his victory.

When Ahmad Shah Abdali was engaged in his campaign against the Marathas at Panipat in 1761, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia plundered Sirhind and Dialpur, seized some places in Ferozepur district and took under his possession Jagraon and Kot Isa Khan on the other bank of Sutlej. He captured Hoshiarpur and Naraingurh in Ambala and levied tribute from the chief of Kapurthala. He then marched towards Jhang. Sial chief offered stout resistance. When Ahmad Shah left in Feb. 1761, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia again attacked Sirhind and extended his territory as far as Tarn Taran. He crossed Bias and capture Sultanpur. In 1762, Ahmad Shah again appeared and a fierce battle took place. It is called Ghalughara, a great holocaust. Jassa singh fled to Kangra hills after Sikh forces were totally routed. After the departure of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia attacked Sirhind, it was razed to ground and the afghan Governor Zen Khan was killed. This was a great victory to Sikhs who were rulers of all the area around the Sirhind. Jassa Singh hastily paid visit to Hari Mandir at Amritsar, and he made amends and restored it to original shape as it was defiled by Ahmad Shah by slaughtering cows in its precincts.

Ahmad Shah died in June 1773. After his death power of Afghans declined in Punjab. Taimur Shah ascended the throne at Kabul. By then misals, had established themselves in Punjab. They had under their control the area as far as Saharnpur in east, Attock in west, Kangra Jammu in north and Multan in south. Efforts were made by Afghan rulers to dislodge Sikhs from their citadels. Taimur Shah attacked Multan and defeated the Bhangis. The Bhangi sardars, Lehna Singh, and Sobha singh were driven out of Lahore in 1767 by the Abdali but soon reoccupied it. They remained in power in Lahore till 1793-the year when Shah Zaman succeeded to the throne of Kabul.

Another menace to Sikhs was the Pathan ruler of Kasur who was loyal to Kabul. During the Abdali attacks, he took side with him and plundered the Sikh territory. Now again assistance was promised to Shah by Kasur ruler, Nizam-Ud-Din-Khan.

The first attempt by Shah Zaman was made in 1793. He came upto Hassan Abdal from where he sent an army of 7000 strong cavalry under Ahmad Shahnachi but the Sikhs totally routed them. It was a great setback to Shah Zaman but again in 1795 he reorganized forces and attacked Hassan Abdal, snatched Rohtas from Sukerchikias, whom leader was Ranjit Singh. who suffered at Shah Zaman' hands but did not lose courage. However, shah had to be back in Kabul as an invasion was apprehended on his own country from the west. After he went back, Ranjit dislodged the Afghans from Rohtas.

Shah Zaman could not sit idle. In 1796 he moved, crossed Indus for the third time and dreamt of capturing Delhi. His ambition knew no bounds. By now he had collected 3000 strong afghan army. He was confident a large number of Indians will join with him. Nawab of Kasur had already assured him help. Sahib Singh of Patiala betrayed his countrymen and declared his intentions of helping Shah Zaman. He had family traditions of loyalty to all the invaders who attacked India. Shah Zaman was also assured help by the Rohillas, Wazir of Oudh, and Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Shah was bent upon to finish the infidels. The news of Shah Zaman invasion spread like wild fire. Chicken hearted people started fleeing to hills for safety. Heads of Misals, though bound to give protection to the people as they were collecting Rakhi tax from them were the first to leave the people in lurch. In Dec. Shah occupied territory upto Jhelum. When he reached Gujarat Sahib singh bhangi panicked and left the place. He could not offer any resistance.

Next was the territory of Ranjit singh. He was alert and raised an army of 5000 horsemen. But they were inadequately armed with only spears and muskets. The afghans were equipped with heavy artillery. Ranjit singh thought of a stiff united fight against the invaders. He came to Amritsar. A congregation of Sarbat Khalasa was called and many Sikh sardars answered the call. An almost unanimous opinion prevailed that Shah zaman's army should be allowed to enter the Punjab, and they all should retire to hills.

However, Sada Kaur thought otherwise and exhorted the Sikhs to fight to the last. She persuaded Ranjit singh to be bold enough to face the Afghan army and offer stiff resistance. Forces were reorganized under the command of Ranjit singh and they marched towards Lahore. They were able to gave Afghans a crushing defeat in several villages and ultimately surrounded the city of Lahore. Sorties were made in night in which they would kill a few Afghan soldiers and then leave the city in the thick of darkness. Following this tactic they were able to dislodge Afghans at several places.

In 1797, Shah Zaman, suddenly left for Afghanistan as his brother Mahmud had revolted. Shahanchi khan with considerable force was left at Lahore. The Sikhs however followed Shah upto Jhelum and snatched many goods from him. The Sikhs returned and in the way were attacked by the army of Shahnachi khan near Ram Nagar. The Sikhs routed his army. It was the first major achievement of Ranjit Singh. He became the hero of the land of Five Rivers and his reputation spread far and wide.

Again in 1798 Shah Zaman attacked Punjab to avenge his defeat in 1797, people took refuge in hills. Sarbat Khalsa was again called and Sada Kaur again persuaded Sikhs to fight till the last man. This time even Muslims were not spared by Shah Zaman forces and he won Gujarat very easily. Sada Kaur aroused the sense of Sikhs of national honor and if they had left Amritsar then she will command the forces against Afghans. She said an Afghani soldier was no match to a Sikh soldier . They would be give befitting reply and by the grace of Sat Guru they would be successful.

The Afghans had plundered the towns and villages as they had vowed and declared openly that they would exterminate the Sikhs; but in the process the Muslims suffered most as Hindus and Sikhs had already left for the hills. The Muslims thought that they would not be touched but their hopes were belied and their provisions were forcible taken away by the Afghans.

Shah Zaman sought help of raja Sansar Chand of Kangra, that he will not gave any food or shelter to Sikhs. He agreed. Shah Zaman attacked Lahore and Sikhs were surrounded from all sides, they had to fight a grim battle. The Afghans occupied Lahore on Nov. 1798, and planned to attack Amritsar. Ranjit Singh collected his Men and faced forces about 8 Km from Amritsar. It was a well-matched encounter which forced Afghans at last to retire. They were humiliated and fled towards Lahore. Ranjit Singh pursued them and surrounded Lahore. Afghan supply lines were cut. Crops were burnt and other provisions plundered so that they did not fall into Afghan's hands. The Afghans never expected such a humiliating defeat at the hands of Sikhs. Nizam-ud.din of Kasur attacked Sikhs near Shahdara on the banks of Ravi, but his forces were no match to Sikhs. Here too, Muslims suffered the most. The retreating Afghans and Nizam-ud-din forces plundered the town which antagonized the local people.

The Afghans struggled hard to dislodge Sikhs but in vain. Sikh cordon was so strong that they made impossible for the Afghans to break it and proceed towards Delhi. Ranjit singh became terror to them.

Engagements with Shah Zaman

The moment Zaman Shah left, Ranjit singh pursued his forces and caught them unawares near Gujranwala. They were chased further up to Jhelum. Many Afghan were put to death and their war equipment was taken into possession and they were made to run for their lives. Shah Zaman was overthrown by his brother and was blinded. He became a helpless creature and 12 years later came to Punjab to seek refuge in Ranjit singh's darbar, who was now the ruler of land. Destiny wished it like that.

"The character of Ranjit Singh", says Cunningham," seems to have impressed itself, not only on the other Sikh leader, but on the Duranni Shah. He coveted Lahore, which was associated in the minds of men with the passion of power, and as the king was unable to cross his heavy artillery over the flooded Jhelum, he made it known to the aspiring chief that their transmission would be an acceptable service. As many pieces of cannon as could be readily extricated were sent after the Shah, and Ranjit singh procured what he wanted, a royal investiture of the capital of Punjab." "The task Ranjit singh readily undertook and partly performed, rescuing eight guns of the twelve and sending them to Peshawar; and Zaman Shah kept his promise of giving Lahore to Ranjit"(Cunningham J.D., History of Sikhs p.108).

These conclusions have no relevance which are neither feasible nor supported the facts. Zaman Shah did lose guns and Ranjit singh might have taken them out, but there is no proof about sending them to Peshawar. Nor is there any proof that Ranjit Singh had made overtures to the Afghan King prior to his occupation of Lahore, although it is said that Shah tried to win over Ranjit Singh by sending him 'Khillat'. No friendly contacts were established between them. On the other hand Ranjit Singh treated the Shah's demands for submission with contempt and challenged him that he would acquire the capital with sword. When Shah was holding his court in 'Musamman burj' in Lahore. Ranjit appeared surreptitiously and challenged the Shah "o grandson of Abdali, come down and measure swords with the grandson of Charat singh".(Sohan Lal Suri, umdat-ut-twarikh II, p.39) Ultimately, the shah's withdrawal gave a choice to the Sikhs to "obliterate all semblance of Afghan authority between Ravi and Jhelum. Ranjit singh combined with Sahib Singh of Gujrat (Punjab) and Milkha Singh of pindiwala and a large Sikh force, fell upon the Afghan garrison while Shah Zaman was still in vicinity of Khyber Pass. The Afghan forces fled towards north after having been routed by the Sikhs leaving behind at Gujrat their dead including the Afghan deputy."(Bikramjit Hasrat, Life and times of Ranjit Singh, p.36).

Thus although guns were dug and returned to the Shah by Ranjit singh, he could never appoint Ranjit Singh as a Governor of Lahore, in lieu of this favor. A document dated April 1800 says: "Ranjit singh has lately delivered to Zaman Shah's vakil 15 pieces of cannon which the Durrani prince lost last year in the retreat".

This make it obvious that the guns were returned in 1800 and as such Ranjit singh could not be granted Lahore before that date. Ranjit Singh had occupied Lahore in July 1799. Thus there was no question of Ranjit Singh getting Lahore as a gift. He got the city by the might of his sword. Lahore was the most important and biggest city of Punjab. After Amristar, it was next in importance to Sikhs, as it was not only the capital of the province but also the birthplace of the fourth Guru Ram Das. Lahore at that time was ruled by the Bhangi sardars.(they were called bhangi because they use to drank Bhang all the time). It was captured earlier by them and remained under their control till it was reoccupied by Shah Zaman in 1797. After Shah Zaman left, Bhangi Sardars, Chet Singh, Sahib Singh and Mohar Singh reoccupied it. They had no talent and ability to rule. These incapable sardars did not take any interest in the welfare of the people and were inept and imbecile. They had no control over the people. They were "unscrupulous, drunken, profligate and tyrannical."

The Muslims had a considerable influence in the town. Mian Ashak mohammad and Mian Mukkan Din were very powerful and exercised a lot of hold on the people. They were called chaudhries and were often consulted in most of the affairs of the city. Mian Ashak Mohammad daughter was married to Badr-ud-din. He was a very influential man. Due to some unknown reason, he had some dispute with khatries of the town. he quarreled and Khatries reported the matter to Chet Singh. some forged papers that badr-ud-din had links with Zaman Shah were also shown to Chet singh. Chet singh was convinced of matter and arrested Badr-ud-din.

A wave of resentment followed the arrest among the supporters of Badr-Ud-Din and Mian Ashak Mohammad. The formed a deputation of some leading chaudhries and pleaded on behalf of Badr-ud-din but they were humiliated and were made to lick ground.

By this time the people of the country had become aware of the rising strength of Ranjit singh, the rising star on the horizon. He was the most popular leader of the Punjab and was already yearning to enter Lahore. The people of Lahore being extremely oppressed raised their voices of wailing to the skies and were looking towards their liberator. Muslims joined Hindus and Sikh residents of Lahore in making an appeal to Ranjit Singh to free them from the tyrannical rule.

A petition was written and was signed by Mian Ashak Mohammad, Mian Mukkam Din, Mohammad Tahir, Mohammad Bakar, Hakim Rai, and Bhai Gurbaksh Singh. It was addressed to Ranjit singh to free them from Bhangi sardars. Ranjit singh was invited to liberate Lahore as early as possible. He mobilized a 25000 Army and marched towards Lahore on July 6, 1799.

It was a last day of Muharram when a big procession was to be taken out in the town in the memory of the two grandsons of Prophet Mohammad who were martyred in the battlefield without having a drop of water. It was expected that Bhangi sardars will also participate in procession and mourn with their Shia brethren. By the time procession was over Ranjit singh had reached outskirts of city.

Early morning on July 7 1799, Ranjit singh's men had taken their positions. Guns glistened and the bugles were sounded. Rani Sada kaur stood outside Delhi gate and Ranjit singh proceeded towards Anarkali. Ranjit singh rode along the walls of the city and got the wall mined. A breach was blown. . It created panic and confusion. Mukkam Din, who was one of the signatories to the petition made a proclamation with the beat of drum that town had been taken over by him and he was now head. He ordered all the city gates to be opened. Ranjit singh entered the city with his troops through the Lahori gate. Sada kaur with a detachment of cavalry entered through Delhi gate. Before Bhangi sardars had any inkling of it, a part of the citadel was occupied without any resistance. Sahib singh and Mohar singh left the city and sought shelter at some safer place. Chet singh was left either to fight, defend the town or flee as he like. He shut himself in Hazuri Bagh with only 500 men. Ranjit singh's cavalry surrounded Hazuri Bagh and Chet singh surrendered and he was given permission to leave the city along with his family.

Ranjit singh was well entrenched in the town now. Immediately after taking possession of the city, he paid visit to Badashahi mosque. This gesture increased his prestige and his status was in the eyes of people. He won the hearts of the subjects, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs alike. It was July 7, 1799 when victorious Ranjit Singh entered Lahore.



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