Who was Maharaja Ranjit Singh? Essay

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Biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Founder of Sikh Empire in India)

Who was Maharaja Ranjit Singh?

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the founder of Sikh Empire in India. He was son of Maha Singh, the misldar of Sukerchakia Misl.

Ranjit Singh was born on 13 November, 1780.

Early Life

The importance of the misl increased during the reign of Maha Singh. Taking advantage of the anarchic situation prevalent in Punjab, Maha Singh initiated the territorial expansion. His task had just begun when he died in 1792, leaving Ranjit Singh in charge at the age of 12. In his early childhood he had lost his left eye owing to small pox, and now his father’s death deprived him of any institutional education.

Yet, from his life and experience he acquired maturity and efficiency which helped him to realize his father’s dream of a unified monarchical state.


In the 1790s a large portion of Punjab was under the control of various misls. The struggle within Punjab opened an opportunity to invaders. Shah Zaman, the successor of Abdali, aspired to extend Afghan influence in the Punjab. Other aspirants were the Gurkhas under Amar Singh Thapa, who then controlled the eastern Himalayas and had penetrated as far as the Kangra region, the Marathas and the English. A rejuvenated Maratha power stepped into the southern tracts of the Punjab. Neither the Gurkhas, nor the Marathas could save Punjab from the impending attack of the Afghans. The English had realised this and wanted to use the Sikhs as a buffer against the Afghans rather than establish their own stranglehold over that region. Besides this, the English feared all attack from the French Emperor, Napoleon I. A friendly buffer state in the north was more conducive to English interests. Circumstances also favored Maharaja Ranjit Singh, but he had to cope up with more serious problems: to earn the submissiveness of other misls, and defeat the Afghans, Gurkhas and Marathas on its western, eastern and southern frontiers.

Shah Zaman’s series of raids proved futile in 1795-96. But, on 27 November, 1798, he entered Lahore. Nizamuddin Khan, the Pathan ruler of Kossur, assured all assistance to Zaman. Similar assurance was given by Sangsar Chand, the Rajput ruler of Kangra. Only Ranjit Singh, then only 18 years old, checked Afghan advance towards Amritsar just five miles away from the town. Zaman Shah was forced to retreat against the resistance by the Sikhs and a conspiracy against him by his brother Mahmud.

Control over Lahore

Meanwhile, Lahore was seized by three sardars. They lacked personality and were oppressing the people of the region.

Ranjit Singh was invited to release them from their control. He took up the invitation and captured Lahore on 7 July, 1799. The misldars of Bhangi and Ramgarhia in association with the ruler of Kossur opposed Ranjit Singh. In the battle that followed, Gulab Singh Bhangi died of illness and this unnerved his friends. Ranjit Singh’s success at Bhasin established his supremacy and people began to flock to his side.


On the Baisakhi day of 1801, Ranjit was honoured with the title of Maharaja by Saheb Singh Bedi, a Sikh priest. He was a direct descendant of Guru Nanak and was highly respected by the Sikhs. This enhanced Ranjit’s prestige.

Treaty of Labore and further expansion of Empire

Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered Amritsar in 1802 and Ludhiana in 1806. In the same year he refused asylum to Holkar, the Maratha leader, when the latter was pursued by Lord Lake. This token of friendship towards the English satisfied Lord Lake, who signed the treaty of Lahore with the Maharaja in 1806. By the terms of the treaty the English assured that under no circumstances would the English intervene in the internal affairs of Punjab.

Ranjit Singh utilised this opportunity to expand his territory towards the north of river Sutlej. One after another he suppressed the sardars of Patiala, Nava, Kaithal, Shahabad, Ambala, Buari and Kalsi and forced them to pay tribute. Ranjit Singh, however, could proceed up to the north of river Sutlej. The misls on the eastern bank of the river could not be conquered by him owing to English protection of these misls. By the treaty of Amritsar in 1809 the English forced Ranjit Singh not to intervene in the affairs of the Sikhs on the eastern bank of Sutlej. Thus, was shattered the Maharaja’s dream of establishing a united Punjab under his suzerainty.

The extent of his empire

Maharaja Ranjit Singh could extend his empire from Lahore to the Khyber Pass at one end, and from Lahore to the river Indus at the end. In 1811, he defeated the Gurkhas and captured Kangra and in 1813 he defeated the Afghans in the battle of Haidrur. In the struggle between monarchy and the forces of decentralization the former prevailed in the Punjab.

Administrative Reforms

Ranjit Singh was a despot. He was at the helm of power and all other portfolios originated out of his approval. He was assisted by a Prime Minister, few dewans, a treasurer and few clerks. These officials supervised the functions of several departments.

Judicial Reforms

There was no codified law in the Punjab. Only Sharia law was in vogue to dispense the case of Muslims. Regarding other communities, justice was done on the basis of accepted customs and traditions.

Economic Policy

Ranjit Singh followed the Mughal rulers in developing his fiscal system. Land revenue was the principal source of the state’s earnings. The state also earned from trade duty and najrana. Tax was equitably levied on all the citizens. A large portion of the state income was spent on defense.

Public Welfare Activities

Considerable attention was given to develop the communication system in order to improve trade and commerce. Roads were built to connect the big towns. He renovated the old road that linked Amritsar with Lahore. He planted trees and. built several inns on the roadside. Some beautiful gardens were also built in the towns of Lahore arid Amritsar.

Military Organisation

Maharaja Ranjit Singh had reorganized the military network of the Khalsa and Punjab became an important martial power.  Before Ranjit, the Sikhs had paid scant attention to develop the infantry. Ranjit Singh built up an infantry and cavalry army of about 40,000 (80,000 with peasant militia) and 150 serviceable heavy guns to replace the old mounted Sikh war-bands. His army allowed him to increase his large revenue resources overawing other Sikh magnates and extending his rule into the Muslim north-west.

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