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Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the development of Persian language and literature.


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A great (longish) article on Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Persian. There is also a list of Persian texts towards the end of it. I don't know how many of these have been covered by Habib and Grewal(?) but they look really interesting or "jaalab" as we who are fluent in Persian would say. 😀




MAHARAJA Ranjit Singh, born on 13th November 1780, belonged to the Sukarchakia Misl. The foundation of Sukarchakia Misl was laid by Budh Singh who died in 1718, leaving his sons a few villages of their own and many others in the neighbourhood which paid them a fixed sum as Protectorate Tax (Rakhi). Naudh Singh fortified his village, Sukarchak, and fought various battles with Ahmed Shah Abdali.

After the Afghans retreated, Sukarchakia occupied the land between Ravi and Jhelum rivers. Naudh Singh died in 1752. Charhat Singh, the eldest of Naudh Singh’s four sons shifted his headquarters to Gujranwala, which he fortified and successfully defended against the Afghan Governor of Lahore. Charhat Singh’s son Maha Singh married the daughter of Gajpat Singh of Jind. This strengthened his position among the Sikhs. He captured North of Gujranwala and made his misl an important one.

There rose a conflict between Sukarchakia Misl and Kanhaya Misl when Gurbaksh Singh, son of the leader Jai Singh Kanhya was killed. Jai Singh Kanhya got his grand-daughter Mehtab Kaur married to five-year-old Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Maha Singh died in1792. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was only 12 years old at that time. Maharaja Ranjit Singh assumed the government of his father’s estates. Since then, up to 1839, it is a long history of thrilling military exploits extending over forty years.

Panjab was suffering from chronic factionalism among various misls and the extra-territorial loyalties of the Pathans of Kasur and George Thomas made Panjab extremely vulnerable-particular from the North. Abdali’s son Taimur and his son Shah Zaman were not lacking in ambition and as soon as Shan Zaman took his father’s place he proclaimed his intention of reinstating the Afghan empire in India.

The Gurkhas, hitherto known only as a war race had under Amar Singh Thapa, became a formidable power in the Eastern Himalayas. The Marathas had recovered from their defeat at Panipat in 1761. They had taken Agra, reduced the Moghul Empire at Delhi to subservience, and re-entered southern Panjab. The English were less conspicuous but potentially more formidable than the Marathas.

The Sikh Misls, as stated before, were twelve in number. Ahluwalia, Bhangi, Kanhya, Ramgarhia, Sukarchakia, Nakkais held lands north of the Sutlej and Phulkian, Singhpura, Kror Singhian, Nishanwalias, Dalewalia and Shahids were south of the river Sutlej. The composition of these confederacies was always changing and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, crushing them all only ended their internecine war.

Character of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a remarkable man like his two famous contemporaries, Napolean Bonaparte of France and Mohammed Ali of Egypt. He persuaded the turbulent Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus of the Panjab to become the willing instruments of his policy of expansion which brought Kashmir and Peshawar under his subjugation. He extended the borders of Panjab from China and Afghanistan in north to the deserts of Sindh in the south. His policy embarked upon the feeling of Panjabi nationalism amongst his subjects no matter to what faith they belonged. During his rule over the Panjab, he never passed a death sentence to any body. “in the history of the world, it would be hard to find another despot who never took life in cold blood yet built as large an empire as Ranjit’s”[1].

According to W G Osborne, a British Military Officer who met him at Dinanagar in 1838, “he is by profession a Sikh a religion, he in reality is a sceptic”[2].

According to Mufti Aliuddin, in his book Ibratnama. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had a special apartment earmarked for the keeping of the Guru Granth Sahib. A full-time scripture reader was employed whose duty it was to read out the holy book to the Maharaja before he began his daily routine[3].

The principal coin of Maharaja Ranjit Singh bore the name of the founder of the Sikh faith and was called Nanakshahi coin. The Persian inscription on it bore the names of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh.

He visited Harmandir Sahib every year. He had employed people from all religions and given them important positions on the basis of their merit. Many important ministers in his Darbar were non-Sikhs. Raja Dhian Singh, a Dogra from Jammu was his Prime Minister. Fakir Azizuddin, who was a Muslim, was the Foreign Minister, Fakir Nuruddin was his Home Minister, Jamadar Khushal Singh, was in charge of his Deorhi. He had also employed Europeans like General Ventura and general Allard from France. He gave donations to the temples at kasha and Jawalamukhi, mosques in the Panjab and also to the Golden Temple. His first public act was to pay homage at the Royal Mosque, the Badshahi Masjid, built by the Moghul emperor, Aurangzeb and then at the most frequented one in the city, the mosque of Wazir Khan on 7th July 1799.

 Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh maintained a splendid court like the great rulers of the East. When Mohan Lal visited Abbas Mirza, the Prince of Persia, on the eve of Id-ul-Fitr, His highness turned to Mohan Lal and asked him about Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court. To this Mohan Lal replied that the Maharaja’s tent was composed of the same costly material. As for his army, if Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa (a General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) were to cross the India, His highness would rather be glad to make his retreat to his original government in Tabriz[4].

The decorum in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court was remarkable. No individual spoke without indication but those present there had to be ready to answer a question or provide or provide the necessary information. Most of the state business was transacted in the open Durbar. The letters from Princes or Kardars were read out to the Maharaja in his Durbar. His actions regarding state affairs were prompt and speedy. He took personal interest in organising festivals like Holi, Basant and Dussehra. His court was open to everybody. The most striking feature of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court was that two or three members of the same family were appointed to key positions in the administration of the state. Many titles were bestowed on the deserving ones, like Misr Diwan Chand was given the title of ‘Zafarjung Bahadur’(brave victor of the battles) after the conquest of Multan and that of ‘Zafarjung Fateh Nusrat Bahadur’ after the conquest of Kashmir. The superior order of medals like ‘Kaughab-i-Iqbal-i-Panjab’ were bestowed upon Prince Kharak Singh, Prince Sher Singh and Nau Nihal Singh. The maharaja gave important position son the basis of merit. This enabled warriors from various nationalities to be p art of his court. The deserving ones got favourite jagirs as rewards. The court of the Lion of Panjab was very colourful.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Persian Language



Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not a literate person. When he became a Misaldar, his entire establishment consisted of a Dewan (Financial Manager), Toshakhana (Treasure) and few Munshis (clerks). After he became a King, he had fifteen offices namely, Sarishta-e Diwani, Sarishta- e-Bhawani Das, general Secretariat, Daftar of Ganga Ram, Saristha-e-Daftar, Toshekhana e Khas, Tenth Daftar, Daftar-e- Ahanzada, Daftar-e-Darogha, Daftar-e-Roznamcha, Daftar-e Moharyam, Daftar-e-Khas or Daftar-e-Mualla[5].

The mechanism of functioning of these departments was as follows. Whenever the maharaja passed a pay order, he always did so orally and in Punjabi, a Munshi took it took it down in Persian, then a department seal was put on it. The order was then prescribed to the maharaja. According to Waheeddudin:

“Illiterate as he was, he was, he had acquired a good working knowledge of Persian and was able to understand the gist of whatever was read out to him”[6].

After the order had been approved two seals were put on it, one had the inscription ‘Akal Sahai maharaja Ranjit Singh’ inn Gurmukhi and the other inscription “ Mulahiza shud” in Persian. After being thus sealed, the order went round the various offices till it was recorded and stamped with a seal having the caption, “Az Qarar-e-Hukum Ashraf” and the inscription “ Sabt-e-Sarishtra- e- Hazur Shud”.

The Persian language played a dominant role during the reign of maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was the Court language and it was essential for everyone to contemplate Persian Language. All the terminology of his personal offices, and administration had Persian names. The Governor was called ‘Nazim’, the District officers were called ‘Kardars’. The Maharaja was a pragmatic person. He was aware of the geostrategic position of Panjab which was surrounded with Iran, Afghanistan and Sind. These states understood the Persian language and the Maharaja never wanted to break this line of communication which was in existence since the Moghul period.

Education in those days was imparted mostly in mosques, temples and Gurdwaras. Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated huge sums to various religious organisations indirectly contributing to education. He also patronized centres of higher learning, for example there was an Institute of Arabic and Persian studies in the Bazar-e-Hakiman in Lahore, started by Fakir Azizuddin which received aid from him in shape of donations and stipends for poor students who wanted to study these languages. There were some Persian teachers who taught in their owns homes. Batala had a famous madrasa of Mian Sahib of Qadiriya family. Maulvi Shaikh Ahmed was running a big school in Sialkot. Main Faiz ran his school at Gujranwala with arrangements of higher learning in Persian and other subjects. Students attended these Persian schools for all communities[7]. In the primary and secondary stages of education, great emphasis was laid on the study of Persian and it was, in fact, the medium of instruction. Education was imparted through the maktabs (schools) and madrasas (colleges) mostly run by private enterprise. These maktabs provided elementary knowledge of Persian and were mostly attached to the mosques. Arrangements were made for higher learning of Persian language in the madrasas. Men of letters were very few and commanded high respect in the society. Those interested in jobs under the Government had to be good in Persian. The Maharaja instituted a calligraphy centre and granted jagirs consisting of several villages to scholars devoted to the teaching of Persian[8]. He never made Punjabi as the official language. Even his coins had inscriptions in Persian:

Degh-tegh fateh, Nusrat-e-Bedrang,

Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh

His minister, officers and army were all designated in Persian. Syed Mohammed Hashim was the royal court poet in Lahore Darbar. He wrote “Shirin Farhad” and “Sassi Punnu”, the most popular lores of Panjab. Besides him, other renowned poets who wrote during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s times were Ahmad Yaar and Qadir Yaar. Ahmad Yaar was commissioned by Maharaja Gulab Singh to write “Shahnama” of Sikh sovereign. Accordingly, he wrote two volumes “Fatuhat-e-Khalsa” and “Shahnama”. Qadir Yaar also wrote ballad of Hari Singh Nalwa, Puran Bhagat Singh and Sohni Mahiwal. Lot of translation work was done from Persian language to Punjabi language.  Persian language influences Punjabi language by donating many words. Hari Singh Nalwa, one of the ablest Generals of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, could converse in Persian, Punjabi and Pushto with great ease. He was a scholar of Persian and had a huge library of rare manuscripts.

There are many works of Persian language written during, and about, the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh:

Tawarikh-e-Sikhan[9]:  Written by Khushwaqt Rai, deals with the history of the Sikhs from their origin to 1811 A.D. It is an account of the Sikh Gurus to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It has an account of Metcalf negotiations till June 1811 as well.

Tarikh-e-Hind: written by Ahmed Shah Batalia is useful for its section entitled “Zikr-e-Guruan va Ibtida-i-Singha va Mazhab-i-Ishan”. The author was man of high learning and social status which added greatly to his competency in writing his Tarikh. He gives a brief account of the Sikhs from Guru Nanak to the year 1824. This book contains very useful information regarding the social life of the Sikhs, their rules of inheritance, their religious tolerance and non-sectarianism. This section, Zikr-i-Guruan was published as an appendix of Daftar I of Sohan Lal Suri’s Umdat-ut-Tawarikh.

Zafarnameh-i-Ranjit Singh[10] was written by Diwan Amarnath son of Diwan Dina Nath, who was an employee of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The author himself tells us that the book was written at the instance of the Maharaja. The book was completed between 1833 and 1837. It has been edited by Sita Ram Kohli, and published by Punjab University, Lahore in 1928. It is generally believed that in point of accuracy, details and richness, it excels Sohan Lal’s Umdat-ut -Tawarikh and Bute Shah’s Tawarikh-i-Punjab. Because of his close relationship with the Maharaja’s Government as in-charge of the post of Bakshi, access to relevant material for his work was readily available. It provides information regarding the Maharaja’s reign from the ascendency to the year 1837.

Tawarikh-i-Punjab[11] (MS) written by Ghulam Muhayuddin popular knows as Bute Shah was completed in 1848. It is a detailed history of the Panjab from earliest times to the break-up of the Sikh empire. In the introduction the geographical condition of the Panjab, its important places, towns and its products have been discussed. This book is divided in five daftars. The first two daftars deal with Hindu Rajas upto Rai Pithora and the history of Panjab from Ghaznavids to Emperor Aurangzeb. The third chapter relates to the history of the Sikh Gurus, Sodhi and Bedis. In the fourth daftar the author gives an account of the sardars of the Sikh Misals. The fifth daftar is most exhaustive and detailed. It deals with Charhat Singh, Mahan Singh and Maharaja Ranjit Singh in detail.

Umdat-ut-Tawarikh[12]in Persian was authored by Sohan Lal Suri, the diary writer in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His father Ganpat Rai wrote its earlier part. It is the most authoritative, comprehensive and coherent chronicle among all the extent sources of the history of the Panjab during the period of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors. It has five Daftars. The contemporary part of the book is based on first hand information and official records. Daftar I deals with the period from 1469 to 1771, i.e from Guru Nanak to Ahmed Shah Durrani. Daftar II gives the accounts of Charhat Singh, Mahan Singh and Ranjit Singh up to 1830. Daftar III, deals with the reign of Ranjit Singh. It is further divided into 5 parts. Part 1 has an account of the reign of Ranjit Singh during 1831-1832. Part 2 is an account of 1832-1835. Part 3 is a chronicle of 1836, part 4 of 1837-1838 and part 5 is an account for the period 1838 to 1839. Daftar IV, consists of three parts, the first being a chronical of the period 1839-1845.  It is an account of reign of Maharaja Kharak Singh, Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh, Maharaja Sher Singh, Maharaja Duleep Singh and the fall of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom. Part 2 contains accounts of Kunwar Sher Singh while part 3 gives an account of the reign of Maharaja Sher Singh. Daftar V deal with Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the annexation of Panjab to the British Dominion. It covers the period from January 1845 to March 1849. Both were published by the descendants of the author in instalments from 1885 to 1889 at the Arya Press, Lahore.  

Ibratnamah[13] is written by Mufti Ali-uddin. It is a gold mine of valuable information about the geography, politics and society of the Panjab. It traces history to 1849. It has information regarding the traditions, customs etc, prevalent in the society of the Panjab. It traces history to 1849. It has information regarding the traditions, customs, etc, prevalent in the society during that period. This book is a mine of information regarding the geographical, social, political, economic and sociological conditions prevailing during the author’s time. The book has been divided into three main parts. The first part deals with the geography of Panjab-its river, doabs, climate, canals, nature of soil, land produce, flora and fauna, natural resources, mineral resources, cattle wealth etc. It is very useful for the study of the economic condition of Panjab. In the first half of the 19th century, in the second daftar, the author gives the history and topography of Lahore from its foundation. In the third daftar he gives the history of Sikhs from the birth of Guru Nanak to the annexation of the Panjab in 1849. To these chapters there is added another chapter which the editor of his work named as the fourth daftar. The deals in detail with custom and social practices as well as the religious ideas prevalent in the Panjab beginning with the sect of Qadiris, Suhrawardis, Naqshbandis and Chistis and the Hindu Faqirs, manners and customs of Muslim, Hindus and Sikhs from the cradle to the grave. Their eating and drinking habits, dresses and also the life account of eminent courtiers of Ranjit Singh.

Charbagh-i-Punjab[14] has been written By Ganesh Das Badehra, a revenue official (Qanungo) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The book deals with the geographical and cultural survey of the Panjab giving details of rivers, doabs, important villages, towns, places of worship, religious denominations, folk tales etc. This work was completed in 1855.

Tarikh-i-Panjab, Tuhfat-ul-Ahbab was written by Abdul Karim in 1862. It has an account of the Sikhs and their religion. Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors, the first Anglo-Sikh War till the annexation of Panjab by the British.

Awraq-i-Prishan-i-Tawarikh-i-Panjab, edited by Ganda Singh contains an account of the battle of Multan, conquest of Peshawar and Kashmir, annexation of Mankera by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In addition, it has an account of the state of affairs from the murder of Dhian Singh up to the Hazara affair.

Tarikh Saadat Jaavid (MS) written by Harnam Singh and Gurdas Singh in 1850 A.D is a general history of India. It has accounts of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Jats and the flight of Jaswant Rao Holkar.

Hisab-i-Fauj-i-Maharaja Ranjit Singh[15]:  It is a very beautiful and interesting manuscript containing the military account of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Panjab. The accounts are divided under main headings: Infantry, Cavalry and the Artillery. The accounts of each infantry regiment and cavalry risaldeh is shown under the name of its commanding officer. The pay and allowances of the affairs attached to each of the eight companies of infantry regiment and of those attached to each cavalry squadron are given under their respective names, together with statements of general miscellaneous expenditure. Similarly, the pay and allowances of officers attached to each gun, designated by a figurative name are shown under their respective names. Most of the officers attached to the artillery were Muhammedans. Each Persian entry is transcribed in Gurmukhi, in beautiful handwriting.

Kanhaya lal Hindi Rai Bahadur Ranjit Namah: A history of the reign of maharaja Ranjit Singh. There is also mention of the decline of the Sikh Raj till 1849. It has been published by Mustajee Press, Lahore in 1876.

Kirpa Ram, Gulabnama: It has mention of the expeditions of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Kashmir. It also has an account of Maharaja’s death. This has been published by Tu-lifa- e-Kashmir Press, Srinagar in 1875.

Masnavi-i-Maharaja Ranjit Singh (MS), written by by Manna Lal, son of Bahadur Singh, is in honour of the Sikh ruler of the Panjab.

Tarikh-i-Kashmir by Mihan Singh Colonel is a voluminous statistical history of Kashmir written during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Waquat-i-Shah Shuja published by Majma-ul-Bahrain Press, Ludhiana, has mention of Diwan Mohakam Chand, Shah Shuja, Kohinoor and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Tripartite Treaty between Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the British and Shah Shuja.

Tarikh-i-Ahd-i-Maharaja Ranjit Singh va Sardaran-i-Khalsa[16] has mention of the history of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Sardars.

Ahmad Yaar, Mian, Maulvi Shahnameh-i-Maharaja Ranjit Singh[17]: It is written by the court poet of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It has information about the Sikh rulers of Panjab.

Insha-i-Khujasta[18] (MS) written by Qazi Nizammuddin is a collection of historical letters. It has exhaustive notes on Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who has been addressed as ‘Singh Sahib’. Some of the letters contain reference to the events occurring in Panjab in those days.

Makatib-i-Azizuddin[19] (MS) contains copies of letters of Faqir Azizuddin written to European officials. Some of the letters are on behalf of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Risala-i-Sahibnama, Tarikh-i-Panjab by Ganesh Das Badehra (Qanungo Gujrat) is a history of Panjab from earliest times to 1847.

There are Akhbarats also. Some of them are Akhbar Darbar- Maharaja[20], Akhbarat-i-Maharaja Ranjit Singh[21] a diary of the daily routine of Maharaja Ranjit Singh)

Thus, it comes to light with these works that the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not a reign without Persian literature. On the contrary, the Persian literature flourished in al manners, whether it was the documentation of history, epistemology, masnavi or poetry in general, maharaja Ranjit Singh, though busy in conquests all the time, took out time for these litterateurs of Panjab in an earnest manner.


 *First Published in Journal of Regional History Vol.VI, 1999-2000. Department of History, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar

[1] Khushwant Singh, Ranjit Singh-Maharaja of the Punjab 1780-1839, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1985.

[2] W.G.Osborne, The Court and Camp of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Heritage Publishers, New Delhi 1973,p93.

[3] Mufti Aliuddin, Ibratnamah, Vol. II, Panjabi Adabi Academy, Lahore, 1961, pp 58-59.

[4] Bhagat Singh, The Real Ranjit Singh, Oriental Publishers, New Delhi 1976, p.234

[5] Fakir Syed Waheeduddin, Sikh Polity, Oriental Publishers, New Delhi, p79

[6] Fakir Syed Waheeduddin, op cit., p116

[7] Bhagat Singh, op. cit., pp.348-349

[8] K.K.Khullar, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Hem Publishers, New Delhi, 1980 pp.218-225

[9] MS, Dr.Ganda Singh Private Collection, Punjabi University, Patiala.

[10] MS, Punjab University, Lahore,1928

[11] MS, Dr Ganda Singh, Khalsa College, Amritsar

[12] MS, Punjab State Archive, Patiala

[13] MS, India Office Library, British Library, London

[14] MS, Khalsa College, Amritsar,1965

[15] MS, Khudabaksh Library, Patna

[16] MS, Bhai Dit Singh Library, Ferozepur

[17] MS, Sikh Historical Society, Amritsar

[18] MS, National Archives of India, New Delhi

[19] MS, Khalsa College, Amritsar, Panjab

[20] State Archives of Panjab

[21] MS. National Archives of India

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All you Persian reading people here. Make sure you don't turn into a Rai Singh, hiding behind intellectualism, but useless for serious situations. lol


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