The word ‘Sikh’ is the Punjabi form of the Sanskrit word Shishya, which means a disciple. The Sikhs are the followers of Guru Nanak Dev and nine other Gurus. The Sikhs number over ten million and are mostly lived in the Punjab. They are strong and sturdy people. They are very good in farming, arts and crafts and they are also a very god soldiers.
They organized themselves into bands and carried on warfare with their rulers. These bands of warriors wee called misls. Every misl was under a powerful leader or misaldar.
These misls captured a large territory in the Punjab and established several independent states during the latter half of the 18th Century. They sometimes fought with each other but when the occasion arose, they all combined against the Muslims. The leader of one of these misls, Ranjit Singh defeated some of the misls and established a Sikh Empire in the Punjab.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, also called Sher-i-Punjab was born November 1780 at Gujranwala. He belonged to the powerful Sukerchakia clan. When he was 12 years old he became the chief of his own misl after the death of his father in 1792. By marriage, he made a union with Kanahya misl which strengthened his position. In 1797, at the age of 17, Ranjit Singh took the administration in his own hand.
By the end of the 18th Century there was anarchy in Punjab. There were about two dozen Sikh and Muslim chiefs who ruled different parts of the province and fought among themselves. Ranjit Singh, by his conquests united the whole of Punjab into one kingdom and that was his greatest achievement.
In 1799, Ranjit Singh captured Lahore from the Bhangi misl and made it his capital. This was the first important step in his rise to power. Three years later in 1802 he conquered the Sikh holy city of Amritsar from the Bhangi misl. In the following years he brought the whole of the central Punjab from the Sutlej to the Jhelum under his sway.
Ranjit Singh wanted to bring all the Sikh states under his control. So, he sought to establish his sway over the cis-Sutlej states which were informally under the British protection. He crossed the Sutlej, and in 1806 occupied Ludhiana and some more territory. The Sikh states appealed to the British for protection. The British also thought Ranjit Singh’s advances injurious to their interest. So, the East India Company concluded the Treaty of Amritsar with him on April 25, 1809. By this treaty the Sutlej was fixed as the boundary between the two governments and both powers became friendly to each other. Thus the cis-Sutlej Sikh states formally came under the protection of English. So, Ranjit Singh could not realize his ideal of bringing all the Sikh states under his control. After this, he turned his attention to his Indian and Afghan neighbors. After incessant wars he annexed Kangra, Jammu, Attock, Multan, Kashmir, Hazara, Bannu, Derajat and Peshawar. Thus he founded a strong Sikh kingdom.
Ranjit Singh wanted to annex Sind but could not do so because of the English opposition. In 1831 he signed the treaty of perpetual friendship with the English. In 1838 he entered into tripartite treaty with the English and Shah Shuja to depose Dost Muhammad Khan, the exiled, Amir of Afghanistan and placed Shah Shuja on the throne. This led to the Afghan war.
After ruling the Sikh empire successfully for forty years, Maharaja Ranjit Singh died on June 27,1839. His empire included the Punjab (west of the Sutlej), Multan and Kashmir and extended to the base the Afghan hills.
Administration of Maharaja Ranjit Singh:
Ranjit Singh was not only a great conqueror but also a great statesman. He not only found that a vast kingdom but also gave it an enlightened administration. He made Punjab the most powerful and peaceful state in India.
- Central Administration: The Maharaja was the highest authority in the state and he had an unlimited powers. But he was a not despot; he always consulted his ministers. He was an enlightened ruler and was very kind to his subjects. His important ministers were the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the War Minister, the Finance Minister and the minister for Royal household. Government service was given according to merit and there is no distinction on the ground of religion.
- Provincial administration: For administrative convenience he divided his kingdom into four provinces, viz., Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar. The head of a province was called the Nizam. These provinces were sub-divided into districts which are headed by a Kardar. The Kardars collected revenue and administered justice and they are also responsible for law and order in their jurisdiction. The villages were however ruled by the Panchayat which consisted of five elders of the village.
- Administration of Justice: The administration of justice was very simple. There was no code of law. Most of the crimes were punished with fine and some were punished with mutilation. There was no capital punishment. Justice was administered by the Panchayats in the villages and the Kardars in the towns. In the provincial headquarters there were the courts of the Nazims. Above them there was the Adalat-i-Ala (Supreme Court) in Lahore. The final court of appeal was the Maharaja himself.
- Revenue Administration: The chief sources of income were the land revenue which ranged from 1/3rd to ½ of the produced. Fines and several other taxes were other source of income. The Kardars were responsible for the collection of revenue. Of the total income, 1/4th was on the army and the rest on the civil administration.
- Military Administration: The military administration of Ranjit Singh was very efficient. He possessed a very strong and well-equipped army which was trained and discipline by Italian and French officers on European lines. His army consisting of cavalry and artillery was doubtlessly the best in India.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh is one of the greatest personalities of Indian history. He was very active and possessed a great capacity for work. By his courage and sagacity, he established his sway over the Punjab and gave it the blessings and peace. He was certainly the greatest Indian ruler of his time and he has been truly called ‘Sher-i-Punjab’ meaning ‘Lion of the Punjab’.
He was also a brave and fearless soldier. He was an excellent horseman and a swordsman. His soldiers were fondly attached to him.
He was also a born administrator and a wise diplomat. He was a shrewd ruler, just and impartial and had a sense of wit and humor. Although he was illiterate, he patronized learned and brave men.
He was free from religious bigotry. He made no distinction on ground of religion and all his subjects lived in perfect peace and amity. He was also a very humble person. He considered himself a servant of the Khalsa and he did not permit the coins to bear his name. They were known after the name of Guru Nanak dev as the Nanak Shahi coins.