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Maharaja Ranjit Singh


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Ranjit Singh was born on Nov. 13, 1780 at Gujranwala. He was named Ranjit Singh by his father Mahan Singh. The two pictures in the left 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 'Bhangi' as Bhai Bhim Singh, one of the first Sardars of this missal, used to take 'Bhang' a lot before he was initiated in the Khalsa brotherhood. But the name stuck and even the missal became known as "Bhangi Missal") 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 the chiefship of the Sukerchakia Misl. It was a great occasion of joy. Mahan Singh returned to Gujranwala. When the other Bhangi Sardars came to know about the illness of Mahan Singh and the army of Sukerchakias was commanded by a child of ten years they came to the rescue of 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 Regent. 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 Singh weary of all of them. Ranjit Singh also became suspicious of people around him and disliked most of them.

Ranjit Singh learnt riding, shooting, and hunting.

Ranjit Singh was once attacked by Hashmat Khan when he was out on a hunting expedition. Hashmat Khan, a chief of an estate which had many scores 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. Ranjit Singh and his companions' joy knew no bounds as the young lad of 13 had performed a great feat.

Ranjit grew up without any formal education and remained totally illiterate. Fond of swimming and excursions, Ranjit had more traits to become a great 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 was again married to the daughter of Khazan Singh Nakai thus also adding to his strength. The second marriage annoyed Sada Kaur and Mehtab Kaur. Mehtab Kaur returned to Batala and only returned to Gujranwala occasionally.

Up to this time Diwan Lakhpat Rai was managing the affairs of the estate. He was a confidant 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 impressionable mind of the young boy was moulded by men and women from whom he had no lofty religious and moral ideas to imbibe. He was brought up at best a half-Sikh child.

From contemporary accounts it is obvious that Ranjit Singh was not physically attractive. But it is also obvious that he had an imposing personality. "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-formed hands. The nervous irritation of his mind is shown by the continual pressure on one's finger. His costumes always contribute 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, up to 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 Caesar and Alexander to Napolean, intellectual strength not allied to moral rectitude. He was great because he possessed 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)

Ranjit Singh achieved a lot in his fifty-nine years of life. He established a unitary Sikh government and called it Sarkar-é-Khalsa. He consolidated the Sikh strength to such an extent that the Marhattas and the British, two main powers in the area beyond Jamuna, were fearful of their areas being taken over by Ranjit Singh. The Marhattas tasted defeat at the hands of the Sikhs, while the British found it prudent to sign a treaty with Ranjit Singh in 1809 to safeguard their territory.

A major achievement of Sikhs during Ranjit Singh's time was that for the first time in nearly a thousand years, the tide of invasions from Afghanistan and beyond was turned with Ranjit Singh's area of influence extending to Kabul.

Despite his numerous achievements, Ranjit Singh's rather cavalier attitude towards Sikh principles ultimately resulted in the Sarkar-é-Khalsa being taken over by the British. The role of traitors was played by the very same people whom Ranjit Singh trusted over the Khalsa.

There are many lessons in this for the present Sikh leadership.

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