The Sikh Empire was a major power in the Indian subcontinent, that arose under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who established the empire basing it around the Punjab. The empire existed from 1799, when Ranjit Singh captured Lahore, to 1849 and was forged on the foundations of the Khalsa from a collection of autonomous Sikh misls. At its peak in the 19th century, the Empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east, and from Mithankot in the south to Kashmir in the north. It was the last major region of the subcontinent to be conquered by the British.
The foundations of the Sikh Empire can be traced to as early as 1707, the year of Aurangzeb's death and the start of the downfall of the Mughal Empire. With the Mughals significantly weakened, the Sikh army, known as the Dal Khalsa, a rearrangement of the Khalsa inaugurated by Guru Gobind Singh, led expeditions against them and the Afghans in the west. This led to a growth of the army which split into different confederacies or semi-independent misls (from a Persian word that means 'similar'). Each of these component armies controlled different areas and cities. However, in the period from 1762 to 1799, Sikh commanders of the misls appeared to be coming into their own as independent warlords.
The formation of the empire began with the capture of Lahore, by Ranjit Singh, from its Afghan ruler, Zaman Shah Durrani, and the subsequent and progressive expulsion of Afghans from the Punjab and the unification of the separate Sikh misls. Ranjit Singh was proclaimed as Maharaja of the Punjab on 12 April 1801 (to coincide with Vaisakhi), creating a unified political state. Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak, conducted the coronation. Ranjit Singh rose to power in a very short period, from a leader of a single misl to finally becoming the Maharaja of Punjab. He began to modernise his army, using the latest training as well as weapons and artillery. After the death of Ranjit Singh, the empire was weakened by internal divisions and political mismanagement. Finally, by 1849 the state was dissolved after the defeat in the Anglo-Sikh wars.
- 1 History
- 2 Dal Khalsa
- 3 Formation
- 4 End of Sikh empire
- 5 Geography
- 6 Religious Policy
- 7 Timeline
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 Notes
- 12 External links
Mughal rule of the Punjab
The Sikh religion began around the time of the conquest of Northern India by Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire. His grandson, Akbar, supported religious freedom and after visiting the langar of Guru Amar Das got a favourable impression of Sikhism. As a result of his visit he donated land to the langar and the Sikh gurus enjoyed a positive relationship with the Mughals until his death in 1605. His successor, Jahangir, however, saw the Sikhs as a political threat. He arrested Guru Arjun Dev because of Sikh support for Khusrau Mirza and ordered him to be put to death by torture. Guru Arjan Dev's martyrdom led to the sixth Guru, Guru Har Gobind, declaring Sikh sovereignty in the creation of the Akal Takht and the establishment of a fort to defend Amritsar. Jahangir attempted to assert authority over the Sikhs by jailing Guru Har Gobind at Gwalior and released him after a number of years when he no longer felt threatened. The Sikh community did not have any further issues with the Mughal empire until the death of Jahangir in 1627. The son of Jahangir, Shah Jahan, took offense at Guru Har Gobind's "sovereignty" and after a series of assaults on Amritsar forced the Sikhs to retreat to the Sivalik Hills.
The next guru, Guru Har Rai, maintained the guruship in these hills by defeating local attempts to seize Sikh land and playing a neutral role in the power struggle between two of the sons of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, for control of the Mughal Empire. The ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, moved the Sikh community to Anandpur and travelled extensively to visit and preach in defiance of Aurangzeb, who attempted to install Ram Rai as new guru. Guru Tegh Bahadur aided Kashmiri Pandits in avoiding conversion to Islam and was arrested by Aurangzeb. When offered a choice between conversion to Islam and death, he chose to die rather than compromise his principles and was executed.
Formation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh
In August 1708 Guru Gobind Singh visited Nanded. There he met a Bairāgī recluse, Madho Das, and converted him to Sikhism, giving him a new name, Banda Singh. While he was at Nanded the Guru was attacked by two Pathans in the pay of Nawāb Wazīr Khān of Sirhind. Bahadur Shah sent surgeons, who stitched the wound. It appeared to have healed, but it opened again and the Guru died on 7 October 1708.
Banda Singh Bahadur
Banda Singh Bahadur (also known as Lachman Das, Lachman Dev and Madho Das), (1670–1716) met Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded and adopted the Sikh religion. A short time before his death, Guru Gobind Singh ordered him to reconquer Punjab region and gave him a letter that commanded all Sikhs to join him. After two years of gaining supporters, Banda Singh Bahadur initiated an agrarian uprising by breaking up the large estates of Zamindar families and distributing the land to the poor peasants who farmed the land. Banda Singh Bahadur started his rebellion with the defeat of Mughal armies at Samana and Sadhaura and the rebellion culminated in the defeat of Sirhind. During the rebellion, Banda Singh Bahadur made a point of destroying the cities in which Mughals had been cruel to the supporters of Guru Gobind Singh. He executed Wazir Khan in revenge for the deaths of Guru Gobind Singh's sons and Pir Budhu Shah after the Sikh victory at Sirhind. He ruled the territory between the Sutlej river and the Yamuna river, established a capital in the Himalayas at Lohgarh and struck coinage in the names of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. In 1716, his army was defeated by the Mughals after he attempted to defend his fort at Gurdas Nangal. He was captured along with 700 of his men and sent to Delhi, where he was tortured and executed after refusing to convert to Islam. His son was also executed and his sons's body parts were forced down Banda Singh Bahadur's throat.
The period from 1716 to 1799 was a highly turbulent time politically and militarily in the Punjab region. This was caused by the overall decline of the Mughal empire that left a power-vacuum in the region that was eventually filled by the Sikhs in the late 18th century, after defeating several invasions by the Afghan rulers of the Durrani Empire, and occasionally fighting off hostile Punjabi Muslims siding with other Muslim forces. Sikhs eventually formed their own independent Sikh administrative regions (misls), which were united in large part by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
The Cis-Sutlej states were a group of states in Punjab region lying between the Sutlej River on the north, the Himalayas on the east, the Yamuna River and Delhi district on the south, and Sirsa District on the west. These states were submitted to the Scindhia dynasty of the Maratha Empire, with various Sikh and Hindu rulers paying tribute to the Marathas. This practice came to an end following the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803–1805, after which the Marathas lost control of the territory to the British East India Company. The Cis-Sutlej states included Kaithal, Patiala, Jind, Thanesar, Maler Kotla, and Faridkot. They were not part of the Sikh Empire and there was a ban on warfare between the British and the Sikhs within them.
The Sikhs had strong collaboration in defence against the incursions initiated by Ahmad Shah Durrani and his Durrani Empire. The city of Amritsar was attacked numerous times. Yet the time is remembered by Sikh historians as the "Heroic Century". This is mainly to describe the rise of Sikhs to political power against major odds. The circumstances were the hostile religious environment against Sikhs with a small Sikh population compared to other religious and political groups.
The formal start of the Sikh Empire began with the merger of these "Misls" by the time of coronation of Ranjit Singh in 1801, creating a unified political state. All the Misl leaders, who were affiliated with the army, were the nobility with usually long and prestigious family histories in the Sikhs' history. The main geographical footprint of the empire was the Punjab region to Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north, to Sindh in the south, and Tibet in the east. The religious demography of the Sikh Empire was Muslim (70%), Sikh (17%), Hindu (13%). In 1799 Ranjit Singh moved the capital to Lahore from Gujranwala, where it had been established in 1763 by his grandfather, Charat Singh.
Hari Singh Nalwa
Hari Singh Nalwa was Commander-in-Chief of the army of the Sikh empire from 1825 to 1837. He is known for his role in the conquests of Kasur, Sialkot, Multan, Kashmir, Attock and Peshawar. Nalwa led the Sikh army in freeing Shah Shuja from Kashmir and secured the Koh-i-Nor diamond for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He served as governor of Kashmir and Hazara and established a mint on behalf of the Sikh empire to facilitate revenue collection. His frontier policy of holding the Khyber Pass was later used by the British Raj. Nalwa was responsible for expanding the frontier of Sikh empire to the Indus River. At the time of his death, the western boundary of the Sikh Empire was Khyber pass. His death at the Battle of Jamrud was a significant loss to the Sikh empire.
Other notable generals
Other notable generals of Sikh Empire were Misr Diwan Chand , Dewan Mokham Chand , Veer Singh Dillon, Gulab Singh , Sham Singh Atariwala , Zorawar Singh , Chattar Singh Attariwalla , Mahan Singh Mirpuri.
End of Sikh empire
After Ranjit Singh's death in 1839, the empire was severely weakened by internal divisions and political mismanagement. This opportunity was used by the British East India Company to launch the Anglo-Sikh Wars.
The Battle of Ferozeshah in 1845 marked many turning points, the British encountered the Punjab Army, opening with a gun-duel in which the Sikhs "had the better of the British artillery". As the British made advances, Europeans in their army were especially targeted, as the Sikhs believed if the army "became demoralised, the backbone of the enemy's position would be broken". The fighting continued throughout the night. The British position "grew graver as the night wore on", and "suffered terrible casualties with every single member of the Governor General's staff either killed or wounded". Nevertheless, the British army took and held Ferozeshah. British General Sir James Hope Grant recorded: "Truly the night was one of gloom and forbidding and perhaps never in the annals of warfare has a British Army on such a large scale been nearer to a defeat which would have involved annihilation."
The reasons for the withdrawal of the Sikhs from Ferozeshah are contentious. Some believe that it was treachery of the non-Sikh high command of their own army which led to them marching away from a British force in a precarious and battered state. Others believe that a tactical withdrawal was the best policy.
The Sikh empire was finally dissolved at the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849 into separate princely states and the British province of Punjab. Eventually, a Lieutenant Governorship was formed in Lahore as a direct representative of the British Crown.
- Punjab region till Multan in south
- Kashmir, conquered in 1818, India/Pakistan/China
- Khyber Pass, Afghanistan/Pakistan
Jamrud District (Khyber Agency, Pakistan) was the westernmost limit of the Sikh Empire. The westward expansion was stopped in the Battle of Jamrud, in which the Afghans managed to kill the prominent Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa in an offensive, though the Sikhs successfully held their position at their Jamrud fort. Ranjit Singh sent his dogra general Gulab Singh thereafter as reinforcement and he crushed the Pashtun rebellion harshly. In 1838, Ranjit Singh with his troops marched into Kabul to take part in the victory parade along with the British after restoring Shah Shoja to the Afghan throne at Kabul.
The Sikh Empire was idiosyncratic in that it allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority. In fact, men of piety from all religions were equally respected by the Sikhs and their rulers. Hindu sadhus, yogis, saints and bairagis; Muslim faqirs and pirs; and Christian priests were all the recipients of Sikh largess.
Hinduism emphasises the sanctity of cows, so a ban on cow slaughter was universally imposed in the Sarkar Khalsaji. Ranjit Singh willed the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was under his possession, to Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha while on his deathbed in 1839. Ranjit Singh also donated huge amount of gold for the construction of Hindu temples not only in his state, but also in the areas which were under the control of the Marathas, with whom Sikhs had a cordial relation.
The Sikhs made attempt not to offend the prejudices of Muslims, noted Baron von Hügel, the famous German traveller, yet the Sikhs were referred to as being harsh. In this regard, Masson's explanation is perhaps the most pertinent:
"Though compared to the Afghans, the Sikhs were mild and exerted a protecting influence, yet no advantages could compensate to their Mohammedan subjects, the idea of subjection to infidels, and the prohibition to slay kine, and to repeat the azan, or "summons to prayer".
Ranjit Singh’s most lasting legacy was the golden beautification of the Harmandir Sahib, most revered Gurudwara of the Sikhs, with marble and gold, from which the popular name of the "Golden Temple" is derived.
- 1699 - Formation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh.
- 1710–1716, Banda Singh defeated the Mughals and declared the Khalsa rule.
- 1716–1738, turbulence, no real ruler; Mughals did get back the control for two decades but Sikhs engage in guerilla warfare
- 1733–1735, The Khalsa accepts, only to reject, the confederal status given by Mughals.
- 1748–1767, invasion of Ahmad Shah Durrani
- 1763–1774, Charat Singh Sukerchakia, Misldar of Sukerchakia misl, established himself in Gujranwala.
- 1764–1783, Baba Baghel Singh, Misldar of Karor Singhia Misl, conquered the Delhi and sourrounding areas, and imposed taxes on Mughals.
- 1773, Ahmad Shah Durrani dies and his son Timur Shah launches several invasions into Punjab.
- 1774–1790, Maha Singh becomes Misldar of the Sukerchakia misl.
- 1790–1801, Ranjit Singh becomes Misldar of the Sukerchakia misl.
- 1801 (12 April), coronation of Ranjit Singh as Maharaja.
- 12 April 1801 – 27 June 1839, reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
- 13 July 1813, Battle of Attock, this was the first significant Sikh Empire's victory over the Durrani Empire.
- March – 2 June 1818, Battle of Multan, the 2nd battle in the Afghan–Sikh wars.
- 3 July 1819, Battle of Shopian
- 14 March 1823, Battle of Nowshera
- 30 April 1837, Battle of Jamrud, was the 5th consecutive Sikh Empire's victory over Afghans.
- 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.
- May 1841 – August 1842, Sino-Sikh war
- 15 September 1843 – 31 March 1849, reign of Maharaja Duleep Singh.
- 1845–1846, First Anglo-Sikh War.
- 1848–1849, Second Anglo-Sikh War.
| Succeeded by|
- History of India
- History of Punjab
- Kapurthala State
- Ranjit Singh
- Maratha Empire
- Mughal Empire
- Punjab Army
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- Jestice 2004, pp. 312–313
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- The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion, (Docherty, p.187)
- The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion, (Docherty, p.185-187)
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- Kartar Singh Duggal (1 January 2001). Maharaja Ranjit Singh: The Last to Lay Arms. Abhinav Publications. pp. 125–126. ISBN 978-81-7017-410-3.
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- Masson, Charles. 1842. Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, 3 v. London: Richard Bentley (1) 37
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- Johar, Surinder Singh (1975), Guru Tegh Bahadur, University of Wisconsin--Madison Center for South Asian Studies, ISBN 81-7017-030-3
- Singh, Pritam (2008), Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab Economy, Routledge, pp. 25–26, ISBN 978-0-415-45666-1
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- Volume 2: Evolution of Sikh Confederacies (1708–1769), By Hari Ram Gupta. (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. Date:1999, ISBN 81-215-0540-2, Pages: 383 pages, illustrated).
- The Sikh Army (1799–1849) (Men-at-arms), By Ian Heath. (Date:2005, ISBN 1-84176-777-8).
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- Sikh Domination of the Mughal Empire. (Date:2000, second edition. ISBN 81-215-0213-6).
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- Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lord of the Five Rivers, By Jean-Marie Lafont. (Oxford University Press. Date:2002, ISBN 0-19-566111-7).
- History of Panjab, Dr L. M. Joshi, Dr Fauja Singh.
- Article on Coins of the Sikh Empire
- Sikh Confederacy
- Confederacy of Punjab
- Sikh Kingdom of Ranjit Singh
- Battle of Jamrud