Maharaja Ranjit Singh (13 November 1780 - 27 June*1, 1839) also called "Sher-e-Punjab" ("The Lion of Punjab") was the principle Sikh ruler of the sovereign country of Punjab and the Sikh Empire. His sons were, in rapid succession, the others rulers but their rule was short lived. The Maharaja was born on 13 November 1780 in Gujranwala now in modern-day Pakistan, into the Sandhawalia family. At the time, much of Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs, who had divided the territory among factions known as misls.

Ranjit Singh's father Maha Singh was the misaldar ("commander", "misl leader") of the Sukerchakia misl and controlled a territory in west Punjab based around his headquarters at Gujranwala. Ranjit Singh succeeded his father as the misaldar, at the young age of 12. The name of his mother was Mai Raj Kaur. Mai Raj Kaur was the daughter of the king of Jind. She was also known by the name of ‘Malwain’.

A fearless warrior

This great warrior, fearless soldier, able administrator, clement ruler, statesman and liberator of Punjab died on 27 June 1839. His Samadhi (memorial) is located in Lahore, Pakistan.

After several campaigns, his rivals accepted him as their leader, and he united the Sikh factions into one state and he took the title of Maharaja on April 12, 1801 (to coincide with Baisakhi day), with Lahore serving as his capital from 1799.

In 1802 he took control of the holy city of Amritsar. He brought law and order, yet was reluctant to use the death penalty. He stopped India's non-secular style and practises. He treated both Hindus and Muslims equally. He banned the discriminatory religious tax the "jizya" on Hindus and Sikhs which had been imposed by the various Muslim rulers.

  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh is included in the list of "Undefeated Military Commanders", [1] at Wikibin - a list of known military commanders who did not lose any significant engagement against the enemy as the commander-in-chief of a significant portion of a country's military forces.

Respect from all quarters

The majority of Ranjit Singh's subjects were Muslim and yet they had an intense loyalty towards him and his Sikh's who showed tolerance, even respect towards their religion, its practises and its festivals. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the first Asian ruler to modernize his army to European standards and was well known for filling the leadership positions in his Darbar with men of varied Religions. People were recognized and promoted on their ability and not their religion.

The respect shown by those who worked for the Maharaja is best highlighted, perhaps, by the Sikh Empire's foreign minister, a Muslim named Fakir Azizuddin, who when meeting with the British Governor-General George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland was asked, which of the Maharaja's eyes was missing, he replied, "the Maharaja is like the sun and the sun has only one eye. The splendour and luminosity of his single eye is so much that I have never dared to look at his other eye." (The Maharaja had lost the sight of one eye from an attack of smallpox as a child. In a land and time when being blinded disqualified one from ruling, having the sight of only one eye was never a problem for Ranjit Singh, who remarked that it gave him the ability to see things more acutely.)

Truly secular leader

File:Maharaja Ranjit Singh and William Bentick.JPG

The Governor General was so pleased with the reply that he gave his gold wrist-watch to the Maharaja's Minister during their meeting at Simla. The Empire was effectively secular as it did not give preference to Sikhs, or discriminate against Muslims, Hindus or even atheists.

It was relatively modern and had great respect for all religions and non-religious traditions of the Empire's citizens. The only main prominent religious symbols of the empire were the Maharaja and royal family being Sikh (but not Khalsa) and the Army being dominated by Sikh nobles and the Khalsa warriors.

The Maharaja never forced Sikhism on his subjects. This was in sharp contrast with the attempted ethnic and religious cleansing of past Muslim rulers - Afghani or Mughal. Ranjit Singh had created a state based upon Sikhi's noble traditions, where everyone worked together, regardless of their background. One where its citizens looked at the things they shared in common, e.g. being Punjabi traditions, rather than any religious differences.

Muslims and the Sarkar-i-Khalsa

Shah Mohammed (a famed Sufi poet of the Punjab) writes in his, Jang Namah on the decline of Ranjit Singh's kingdom:

"Ranjit Singh was a born warrior-king who gave his feel to the country. He conquered Kashmir, Multan, Peshawar and made Chamba, Kangra and Jammu bow before him. He extended his territories upto Ladakh and China and struck his coin there. O Shah Mohammed! For fifty years he ruled with satisfaction, glory and power."

For Shah Mohammed, Punjabi Muslims became part and parcel of the Sarkar-i-Khalsa (the Sikh Kingdom of Ranjit Singh), where in the past they had depended on the Afghans, Arabs, Pashtuns, Persians and Turks, who had consistently betrayed them.

The Maharaja's Military

The Maharaja developed a formidable military machine that helped him carve out an extensive kingdom and maintain it amid hostile and ambitious neighbours. The creation of this empire was a result of his own genius. From the scanty force that he inherited, comprised almost solely of horsemen, a force where everyone brought his own horse and whatever weapon he could afford or acquire, without any regular training or organization the Maharaja developed Asia's only modern army, well ahead of the Japanese restructuring of the 1880s, one which was able to stop the British advance at the Sutlege.

What held his troopers together was their personal loyalty to their leader. The guerilla warfare system had stood the Khalsa in good stead during the turbulent and anarchic eighteenth century, but was unsuited to the needs of the changing times and to Ranjit Singh's ambition to establish a secure kingdom.

Early in his career, he had watched how the British troops with their systematic training and their discipline, had vanquished Indian forces vastly superior in numbers. He had also realized how crucial in warfare was a well-drilled infantry as well as artillery. In 1802, soon after his occupation of Amritsar, he engaged some deserters from the army of the East India Company to train his own platoons of infantry. He even sent some of his own men to Ludhiana to study the British methods of training and tactics.


History of Punjab

647 - 1192: Rajput Period

713 - 1300: Muslim Invaders (Turks and Arabs) infamous invaders like Mahmud Gori and Mahmud Ghazni

8th Century: Arabs capture Sind and Multan

1450 - 1700: Mughal Rule

1469 - 1539: Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1st Sikh Guru)

1539 - 1675: Period of 8 Sikh Gurus from Guru Angad Dev Ji to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji

1675 - 1708: Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji (10th Sikh Guru)

1699: Birth of the Khalsa

1708 - 1715: Conquests of Banda Bahadur

1716 - 1759: Sikh struggle against Moghul Governors

1739: - Nadir Shah of Persia invades

1748 -1769: Ahmed Shah Abdali's nine invasions

1762: 2nd Ghalughara (Holocaust) during Ahmed Shah's 6th invasion

1764 - 1799: The Sikh Misls fight each other for control of territories

1799 - 1839: Maharaja Ranjit Singh Rules Punjab and J and K

Samadhi of Ranjit Singh July 1 2005

The Samadhi of Ranjit Singh in Lahore, Pakistan

Sikh Confederation

  • 1707-1716, Creation of Sikh Confederacy begins to influence the political structure of the Punjab region.
  • 1762-1767, Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Sikhs battle for control.
  • 1763-1774, Charat Singh, Misaldar (Leader or Chief) of Sukerchakia Army established himself in Gujranwala.
  • 1773, Ahmed Shah Abdali dies and his son Timur Shah is unable to suppress the Sikhs.
  • 1774-1790, Maha Singh, becomes Misaldar of the Sukerchakia Army.
  • 1762-1801, The military power of the Sikh Confederacy increases rapidly.
  • 1790-1801, Ranjit Singh becomes Misaldar (ruler) of the Sukerchakia Army.
  • 1799-1801, transition period neither Confederacy or Empire.
  • 1801 April 12, Coronation of Ranjit Singh as Maharaja, formal beginning of the Sikh Empire.
  • 1801 - 27 June 1839, Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, whose coronation took place in 1801.
  • 27 June 1839 - 5 November 1840, Reign of Maharaja Kharak Singh
  • 5 November 1840 - 18 January 1841, Chand Kaur was briefly Regent
  • 18 January 1841 - 15 September 1843, Reign of Maharaja Sher Singh
  • 15 September 1843 - 31 March 1849, Reign of Maharaja Duleep Singh

Army History


The Sikhs, natural born horsemen (or at least trained as such, even in childhood, since Guru Hargobind's days) did not think much of infantry service. To say they looked down upon it would be an understatement. So The Maharaja recruited Purbias, as soldiers of fortune from the Gangetic plain were called, Punjabi Muslims, Afghans and, later, Gurkhas, as well. These troops were soon tested during the short campaign against Ahmad Khan Sial of Jharig and the zamindars of Uchch during the winter of 1803-04.

Their success and the fact that the Maharaja himself regularly attended their training sessions, soon made the infantry an enviable service which Sikhs too started joining in large numbers. Ranjit Singh gave increased importance to artillery which had, till his time, been limited to the use of zamburaks or swivel mounted guns (Camels or other animals) only. He not only increased the number of guns, but undertook the casting of guns of larger calibre as well as the manufacture of ammunition on a large scale. The reorganization and training of his cavalry, however, waited until the induction into Sikh service of European officers who as veterans of the Napoleonic wars were looking to the well known Sikh Ruler for their next chance to oppose the British aims in India.

The arrival of Jean Baptiste Ventura and Jean Francois Allard, two veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, at Lahore in 1822. was the starting point. Ranjit Singh gave them employment after considerable initial hesitation and elaborate verification. He charged them with the raising of a special corps of regular army, the FaujiKhas or FaujiA'in. General Ventura trained battalions of infantry and General Allard trained the cavalry. Artillery, its training and command and ordnance were under Punjabi generals, Ilahi Bakhsh and Lahina Singh Majithia, until the arrival of a French officer, General Claude Auguste Court in 1827 and the American Colonel Alexander Gardner in 1832. Lahina Singh Majithia continued to head the armament workshops, and Dr. John Martin Honigberger, a Hungarian physician, was entrusted with the mixing of gunpowder.

Increase in Size of Army

There was a rapid increase in the strength of the army during the years following 1822, as the following figures compiled by Professor Sita Ram Kohli from the records of the Sikh government show:

Year Infantry Cavalry Regular Irregular
1819 7,748 750 3,577
1823 11,681 1650 7,300
1828 15,825 4315 7,200
1838 26,617 4090 10,795
Year Guns Swivels Personnel
1819 22 190 834
1823 Figures not available
1828 130 280 3,778
1838 188 280 4,535

The above table does not include the jagirdari fauj or feudal levees for which no figures are available. This force consisted almost entirely of horsemen which the jagirdars had to maintain and produce in time of need or at the annual general reviews, normally held at the time of Dussehra in October. There were, besides, the king's bodyguards, Fauji-Q-Hajat or garrison infantry to guard important forts, and a 4000 strong crack brigade of Akalis or Nihangs known for their dare-devil attitude, bravery and speaking their minds, calling even the Maharaja to task.

Restructuring of the Army


The infantry thus became the central force, with cavalry and artillery serving as supporting arms. It was organized into battalions of about 900 men each. A battalion, commanded by a kiimedan or commandant, assisted by an adjutant and a major, was the standard administrative and manoeuvring unit. Its administrative staff included, besides the usual camp followers and tradesmen, a munshior (clerk), a mutsaddi (accountant), and a Granthi (priest and scripturereader). A battalion had eight companies of 100 men each, further divided into sections of 25 men each. Similarly, regular cavalry was organized in risalas, regiments, subdivided into turps (troops) and artillery into deras and batteries. Artillery was further classified according to its mode of traction, which was generally determined by the size of the guns.

In 1804, this arm had been divided into topkhana kalan (heavy artillery) and topkhana khurd (light artillery). Zamburaks or swivels, usually carried on camels, were attached to infantry units. Horsedrawn artillery was introduced in 1810. During the same year, a special artillery corps, known as topkhanaikhas or topkhanaimubarak, was formed as the royal reserve under Ghaus Muhammad Khan, popularly known as Mian Ghausa.

In 1827, General Court reorganized the artillery into three wings. Topkhana jinsi, literally personal artillery (reserve), was a mixed corps with batteries of gavi (bullock drawn) aspi (horse drawn), fill (elephant drawn) guns and the Aobobs (howitzers). Topkhana aspi or horsedrawn artillery consisted of batteries for attachment to divisions of irregular army. Zamburaks or camelswivels and ghubaras or mortars were organized into deras or camps subdivided into batteries. Batteries were subdivided into sections of two guns each, with provision for even a single gun functioning as a subunit.


The entire field army was divided into faujia'in or regular army, Faujibeqava 'id or irregular army and jagirdari fauj or feudal levees. FaujiA'in, with five infantry battalions under General Ventura, three cavalry regiments under General Allard and 34 guns under General IIahi Bakhsh, formed the hard core troops under the overall command of General Ventura. FaujiBeqava'id forming a larger bulk consisted of deras of ghorcharhas, or irregular cavalry grouped into divisions, each under one of the many distinguished generals such as Hari Singh Nalva, Diwan Mohkam Chand, Misr Divan Chand, Fateh Singh Ahluvalia and Fateh Singh Kalianvala. Each dera comprised several smaller groups, misls, composed of members of a clan or their close relations commanded by heads of respective clans known as misldars. Deras ofjagirdari fauj, or feudal levees, were similarly organized forming part of one or the other division. Artillery formed a single central corps from which attachments were made to the divisions, depending upon the requirements of a particular campaign. Nominal overall command of a particular expedition was vested in one of the princes royal. Ranjit Singh himself was the supreme commander. He also led some expeditions personally. The crack brigade of Akalis under their famous leader, Phula Singh, was virtually an autonomous formation pressed into service when needed by the Maharaja through his personal influence and tact.

Standard deployment at the commencement of a battle was guns in the centre and slightly forward of the rest of the force, infantry a little behind and also covering the flanks of artillery, and cavalry on the extreme flanks. The battle usually commenced with an artillery barrage.


Punjab 1909

Punjab in 1909

Regular troops wore distinctive uniforms as prescribed for each force. Cavalrymen were dressed in red jackets (French grey for lancers), long blue trousers with a red stripe, and crimson turbans. Woollen jackets were used during winter. The regiments were armed with varying combinations of weapons sword/sabres and carbines and matchlocks or lances. Infantry was clad in scarlet jacket/coat, white trousers with black belts and pouches. Different regiments were distinguished by the colour of their headdress white, red, green or yellow. The Gurkhas had green jackets and black caps. Postins (furcoats), or padded jackets were used during winter.

Gunners wore white trousers and black waistcoats with crossbelts. Officers were not bound by rules of uniform. They used distinctive dress of bright coloured silks each picking his own as he saw fit. The ghorcharhas or the irregular cavalry had no uniform laid down for them; yet they turned out sharply, as testified by Baron Hugel, a Prussian noble, who visited Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1836 and inspected a cavalry parade. "I never beheld," he wrote of a troop of ghorcharhas, "a finer nor a more remarkably striking body of men. Each one was dressed differently, and yet so much in the same fashion that they all looked in perfect keeping."

Army service was on a purely voluntary basis. There was no class composition on the basis of religion or nationality, nor was there a prescribed age limit for enrolment or retirement. Physical fitness and loyalty to the State were the essential conditions. However, the clannish basis of the misls in the FaujiBeqava'id ensured solidarity in the lower rungs of military administration. Similarly, bravery in the field and efficiency in the performance of duty were the only considerations for promotion and reward, which were also extended to the sons of those who died in action.

Generals of Maharaja

Ranjit Singh encircled himself with an array of strong generals and soldiers. They were men from different clans, castes and regions and religions.

Among some of the most important and illustrious names include:

Among his European Mercenary Generals were:

  • Ventura - Italian (Modena)
  • Paolo di Avitabile - Italian (Naples)
  • Court - French
  • Oms - Spanish

Rewards and payments

A well defined system of reward and punishment was enforced to maintain discipline and morale. The system of fasli or six monthly payment, or payment through jagirs was later replaced by regular monthly payment in cash. Rates of pay ranged between Rs 400500 for a general, Rs 1725 for an infantry soldier and Rs 2226 for a horseman per month, including, in the last case, maintenance of a horse and accoutrements. European officers received much higher salaries. Ventura and Allard were, for instance, each paid Rs 25,000 per annum, in addition to certain jagirs. There was no provision for retirement benefits, but allowances were sometimes sanctioned from out of the dharamarth or religious charities fund to those permanently disabled on active service or to the dependants of those killed in action. Distinguished service in peace or war was also recognized through the award of civil and military titles, bestowal of khill'ats or robes of honour and grant of jagirs or landed estates.

There were three grades of khill'at marked by the number, variety and quality of the garments, ornaments and weapons comprising each of them. Military titles were highsounding Persian expressions, which the recipients and their bards and ushers could use before their names, such as HizbariJang (the lion of battle), ZafarJang Bahadur (victorious, brave in war) Samsam uddaulah (sharp sword of the State), Shuja' uddaulah (valour of the State), Tahavurpanah (asylum of bravery), and so on. The titles of Raja and Diwan, sparingly bestowed, were essentially for distinguished service on the civil side. For military officers, the title of Sardar was considered one of considerable distinction.

Towards the end of his reign or, to be more exact, on the occasion of the marriage of Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh in March 1837, Ranjit Singh instituted an Order of Merit named Kaukabi-Iqbali-Panjab (Star of the Prosperity of the Punjab). It was a gold medal, 2.25 inches across with five large and five small pointed branches issuing outwards alternately from a roundish centre bearing a likeness of the Maharaja in bust on one side, and his name on the other. It was meant to be worn round the neck suspended on a gold and scarlet riband passing through a ring on top of the semiglobular head of the star.

The kaukabwas of three different classes representing the three grades of the Order, distinguished by the size and quality of the inset precious stones. Star of the first class, meant to be awarded only to members of the royal family and very few distinguished chiefs and nobles for their proven devotion and fidelity to the person of the Maharaja and his House, was ornamented with a single large diamond. The Order of the second grade was bestowed upon loyal courtiers, governors of provinces, generals and ambassadors in recognition of political services. It had a diamond (of smaller size) and an emerald on it. The Order of the third grade, having a single emerald, was awarded to military officers of the rank of colonel, major or captain for bravery, resourcefulness, alertness and faithfulness; to civil servants for distinguished administrative ability and honesty; and to others enjoying greater confidence of the sovereign. Bestowal of the kaukabswas were accompanied by appropriate khill'ats and titles for the awardees.

See also

External Links


  • 1 Some articles list the date of death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as 20 June 1839.


  1. Bajwa, Fauja Singh, Military System of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1964
  2. Balwant Singh, The Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Lahore, 1932
  3. Ganda Singh and Teja Singh, ed., Maharaja Ranjit Singh: First Death Centenary Memorial Volume. Amritsar, 1939
  4. Cunningham, Joseph Davey, A History of the Sikhs from the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej. London, 1849
  5. Osborne, W. G., The Court and Camp of Runjeet Sing. London,1840
  6. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, 2 vols. Princeton, 1963 and 1966
  7. Harbans Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Delhi, 1980
  2. Encyclopaedic History of Indian Freedom Movement By Om Prakash Published by Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 2001 Published by Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 2001 Page 201
This page uses content from the English Sikhi Wiki. The original article was at Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion-wiki, the text of Sikhi Wiki is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.