Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born on 13th November 1780 at Gujranwala in Punjab. His father Sardar Mahan Singh was a Chieftain and a Warrior. At a young age, Maharaja Ranjit Singh became a Champion Swimmer, an Expert Horse-Rider and an Able Swordsman. He was greatly inspired by the fact that Guru Gobind Singh ji’s two elder sons had fought the Mughals very bravely at the tender age of 14 and 17. Maharaja Ranjit Singh led his first war at the age of 11 years and defeated the army of the ruler of Gujrat. Later he fought two severe battles with the Afghans, with a smaller army and took over the city of Lahore. After decades of misrule by foreign invaders, the people of Lahore heaved a sigh of relief when the Maharaja assured the citizens of safety and good administration.
Under Ranjit Singh’s leadership, the various Sikh Chiefs were united and on Baisakhi day of 1801, they conferred the title of ‘MAHARAJA OF THE PUNJAB” on him. Maharaja Ranjit Singh systematically extended the frontiers of Punjab and brought the regions around Amritsar, Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar under his rule. He never became proud or arrogant despite all the victories won by him. He was a liberal ruler and did not bother about the colour, creed, caste or nationalities of his employees. He engaged a number of English, Italian, German, French and American Officers. They trained the Maharaja’s Army and improved its organisation & efficiency. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army was full of men from different faiths and nationalities, but there was no jealousy or bickering between them. His court was cosmopolitan – consisting of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, all of whom loved him dearly. He never sat on a throne nor did he wear a crown. He sat on a silver chair and dressed in a simple and sober manner.
He ruled in a Democratic manner and never isolated himself from the masses. He was a very kind and generous ruler. He ruled in a truly Secular and just manner. He allowed equal rights for all communities in Punjab. He also encouraged development of educational institutions and industries by the different communities. The British signed a peace-treaty with Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1809, which they broke as soon as he died. Khalsa kingdom under Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the most peaceful time Punjabis had ever seen. This period of 40 years was Golden era of Punjab. Muslims, Hindus and Sikh reaffirmed their Punjabi roots. several schools were opened, especially Khalsa schools at Amritsar and Lahore run by Sikh academicians, which were open to all Punjabi population. Ranjit Singh did not allowed any British missionaries to open Christian schools although they were allowed to preach in Punjab. Other Sikh kingdoms of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Kapurthala and Faridkot, also accepted British Christian missionaries. Sikhs acted as a buffer between Hindus and Muslims in Punjab. Ranjit Singh through his foresight had brought peace and prosperity in Punjab. Punjabi Muslims who from centuries had looked westwards towards Afghanis and Persians and had been betrayed by them were now leading Punjabi armies of Sarkar Khalsa. Ranjit Singh’s legacy was such that he created a secular kingdom with equality for all. In his lifetime, there were three groups of Individuals whom he had given power to pursue different matter of state.
One group of Dogra Hindus converted to Sikhism, led by Dhyan Singh Dogra but following Hindu customs. Ranjit Singh did not enforced Khalsa code of conduct on anyone, often his friends and peers did things to please him which included adding Singh to their names, keeping five symbols of Sikhs, etc. Dhyan Singh Dogra played a very strange role in Sikh history. He originally belonged to Jammu. He came to Lahore in search of job and with his hard work and ability he rose to the top. Maharaja Ranjit Singh made him prime minister of Sarkar Khalsa. Then he also got his brothers inducted in different departments in Sarkar Khalsa. Soon Dogras had all the administration of state, things like treasury, finance, etc. Then the other group was led by noblemen of Lahore which were both Muslims and Hindus, leaders being Azizudin brothers. This group led departments like foreign affairs, medicine and science under Sarkar Khalsa. It is owed to diplomacy of Faqir Azizudeen that Ranjit Singh got Kohinoor diamond from Afghani king. Third group was comprised of Sikh noblemen from all over Punjab, leaders like Dhanna Singh Malwai, Majhithia brothers, Sandhawalia brothers, Ahluwalias, Ramgarhias, Virks of Sheikhupura, Bajwas of Narowal, etc. This group was mostly involve in defense of state, it was divided into foot soldiers, cavalry, support troops and Artillery. Cavalry was all Sikhs while foot soldiers included mercenaries hired from all over India. Artillery was in command of capable Punjabi leader named Mian Ghaus Khan. Support troops were soldiers in charge of support lines, etc.
This efficient machinery worked well under Ranjit Singh and Punjab was on its way to prosperity. Army was totally separated from state affairs, Ranjit Singh had designed and implemented an ingenious system for this purpose. Army democratically elected five members Panches, they decided on all the matters vis-a-vis state, etc. British did not dared attacked Punjab as long as Ranjit Singh lived. Ranjit Singh counterchecked British by hiring several Frenchmen for his important defense portfolios. Ranjit Singh’s biggest oversight was perhaps inability to have fully prepared one of his sons to take over his kingdom. When Ranjit Singh died, Kharak Singh, his eldest son became Maharaja. Kharak Singh was 50 years old at this time. He lacked the down to earth personality of his father. Kharak Singh was a heavy opium eater. He totally neglected state affairs and got himself immersed in wine, opium, drinking and womanizing. At this time Prime minister was still Dhyan Singh. His son Naunihal Singh though, was a favorite with army. He fought in several battles and was posted as a governor of North West Frontier province at this time. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had earlier married Naunihal Singh with daughter of Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala.
Dogra brothers, Dhyan Singh, Suchet Singh and Gulab Singh were in total control of administration at this time. Dhyan Singh’s son Hira Singh was also a favorite of Maharaja Ranjit Singh just like Naunihal Singh(his own grandson). Maharaja Had given him a title “Farzand-e-Khas”, or “a special son”. It was rumored that Dhyan Singh wanted Hira Singh, his son to become Maharaja of Punjab and thus he started his manipulations. Kharak Singh, the new maharaja did not trusted Dogra brothers and started neglecting them. His mentor was one Chet Singh Bajwa who was also his childhood teacher. Kharak Singh started interfering with affairs concerning state, which were under the jurisdiction of Dogra brothers. Ranjit Singh had earlier looked after all matters himself and had only given some liberty to Dogra brothers while keeping them in check. Ranjit Singh’s ability to not trust anyone blindly played a major role in day to day administration of state affairs. Most of his courtiers were scared to do anything wrong.
But during the time of Kharak Singh, everything was changed. Dogra suspected that Chet Singh was responsible for their removal from state affairs. Dogras brothers Gulab Singh and Suchet Singh got together and decided to remove Chet Singh Bajwa and then subdue Kharak Singh. One night when Chet Singh was sleeping in same palace where Maharaja Kharak Singh lived, Suchet Singh Dogra along with Gulab Singh entered the palace and hacked Chet Singh to pieces. Dogra brothers now changed servants of palace and administer a slow poison (mercury) in food to Maharaja Kharak Singh. His son Naunihal Singh who suspected treachery of Dogras did not returned to Lahore until Maharaja Kharak Singh died. All this time Dhyan Singh Dogra was faithful to the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s family.
Naunihal Singh came back to Lahore to fulfill his obligation to cremate the body of his father Maharaja Kharak Singh and as well as to become a new maharaja. Dhyan Singh Dogra declared Naunihal Singh a new maharaja. On the same day when the party was returning from cremation ground, a large block of concrete from Archway fell on top of Naunihal Singh. It is said that he was not hurt bad and was able to walk himself but still Gulab Singh Dogra insisted on getting a palki. Two days later Dhyan Singh Dogra declared that Naunihal Singh had died due to complications of his injury. Even Naunihal Singh’s mother and wife were not allowed to meet him after injury. English doctor that operated on Naunihal Singh testified to British author Macauliffe that initially Naunihal Singh did got some injury on head and he applied bandages but next day when he went to see Naunihal Singh his head was totally crushed and bandages were changed, he was not breathing. Dhyan Singh Dogra now proclaimed other son of Ranjit Singh named Sher Singh as Maharaja of Punjab.
Sher Singh was very popular with army, he was a good person but not a shrewd politician. His Chief minister Dhyan Singh Dogra, a trusted friend of Ranjit Singh was an intelligent minister, i.e. vazir. He could not sense a treachery by his brothers Suchet Singh and Gulab Singh. Meanwhile, Sandhawalia Sardars Ajit Singh, Lehna Singh and Attar Singh who had inimical relations with Sher Singh and Dhyan Singh Dogra, fearing them run away from Lahore and joined British. In Sher Singh, Punjab got a maharaja who was handsome, dandy and knew more about wine and women then state affairs. Two years later, Sandhanwalia brothers sent a letter to Maharaja Sher Singh that they wanted to return to their motherland. Sher Singh obliged and gave them permission to return to Punjab. It is widely believed that Dogra brothers Suchet Singh and Gulab Singh were behind Sandhanwalia’s return from United provinces. Sher Singh gave them good ranks in army and it looked in the beginning as Sandhawalia brothers were pleased. Sher Singh had a ten years old son named Pertap Singh. One day when Sher Singh was inspecting his troops, Ajit Singh Sandhawalia asked permission to show him how to fire a new gun he had got from British. Sher Singh allowed and Sandhawalia fired at him, Sher Singh could only say “aah ki Daga”, “what treachery?.” At the same time, Lehna Singh Sandhawalia killed Ten years old Pertap Singh. Sher Singh had good relations with Dogra brothers as well as Khalsa Army. Dhyan Singh Dogra who was about a mile away when all this was happening reached there with 25 of his troops. Sandhawalia brothers Ajit Singh and Lehna Singh killed Dhyan Singh Dogra, cut his body into different pieces and hung all over Lahore City. Gulab Singh Dogra brother of Dhyan Singh Dogra along with Sarkar Khalsa attacked Sandhanwalia’s citadel.
Sandhawalia brothers had got themselves shut in fort with about 500 of their supporters. But enraged Khalsa Army attacked and killed both Sandhanwalia brothers on spot. While all this was going on, other Dogra Brother named Suchet Singh got 22 carts load of Khalsa treasury through the back door and transported it on its way to Batala and then subsequently to Jammu. Gulab Singh Dogra now openly supported making his son a Maharaja of Punjab. He even asked Maharani Chand Kaur, widow of Ranjit Singh to adopt Hira Singh. Khalsa Army and other Sikh noblemen intervened and made youngest son of Ranjit Singh, born of Maharani Jindan, and named Dilip Singh, a 5 years old boy, new Maharaja of Punjab with Hira Singh Dogra as new prime minister. Few days later, Maharani Chand Kaur was found murdered on her bed, her head crushed. It was suspected that Gulab Singh Dogra got her killed since she refused to adopt Hira Singh.
Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh, elder sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh questioned the validity of 5 year old Dilip Singh Maharaja of Punjab, but with any effect. Hira Singh appointed Tej Singh Dogra and Lal Singh Dogra as general of Khalsa army. So now, the command of Khalsa army was passed from Sikh generals to Hindu generals, only one Sikh general named Ranjodh Singh Majithia remained at highest command level. Even though able generals like Sham Singh Attari were always there but never considered for top posts. It is believed that Dogra Brothers were responsible for appointing generals so that to keep negotiations open with British during war, which increasingly was becoming inevitable. British forward post was in Ferozepur and then at Jalandhar and Ambala being another major cantonments. British requested Hira Singh to allow transport of Afghani women to Afghanistan through Punjab under Major Wolcroft. Hira Singh obliged and supplied some of Punjabi troops for escort. Major Wolcroft was a paranoid major and on more then one occasion he ordered his troops to fire at Punjabi troops. Later British Governor General apologized for his behavior.
Hira Singh Dogra and his advisor, one Brahmin named Jalla had whole administration in their hands, Maharaja Dilip Singh was just a figurative head of state. Hira Singh uncle Suchet Singh Dogra did not liked Jalla and asked for his removal. He came to Lahore along with his general Rai Kesari Singh and camped at mausoleum of Mian Wadda, outside city. Hira Singh Dogra was irked at the suggestion of his uncle for removal of Pundit Jalla and he ordered Punjabi Troops to storm their citadel of Mian Wadda. Suchet Singh and Rai Kesari Singh were killed. Hira Singh Dogra then broke down on sight of his uncle’s bullet ridden body and give him a huge funeral. At the same time, two camps were seen emerging, one at Sarkar Khalsa at Lahore and other little bit away close to Batala under Bhai Bir Singh. Many Sikh Sardars like Majhitias, Attariwala were although loyal to Sarkar Khalsa at Lahore but in communications with Bhai Bir Singh. Attar Singh Sandhawalia who had earlier fled to Thanesar, slipped into Punjab and came to Bhai Bir Singh’s camp. Bhai Bir Singh welcomed him and assured him that he will be made Maharaja of Punjab. Soon Prince Kashmir Singh and prince Peshaura Singh also joined Bhai Bir Singh and supported Attar Singh Sandhawalia on his bid for kingship. So mostly Sikhs who were against Dogras got themselves under Bhai Bir Singh, thus creating two camps of Dogras vs. Sikhs. More then 70% of Punjab’s army under Hira Singh Dogra was Khalsa or pure Sikh. Hira Singh Dogra through his promises of more salary, and gifts of gold for each soldier manage to keep most of them with him, and above all king of Punjab was still a Khalsa Sikh child named Dilip Singh., to whom army was loyal. Hira Singh reminded army of the murders of Prince Sher Singh by Sandhawalia brothers and how Attar Singh had fled Punjab after his brothers were killed by army. Then in an apparent move to win over Khalsa of Sarkar Khalsa army, Bhai Bir Singh invited army at his camp for a feast. Attar Singh Sandhawalia in a fit of rage over an argument fired on one of the Sikh officers named Attar Singh Kalkattia killing him on spot. A riot followed in which one by one Bhai Bir Singh’s other guests were murdered by Army. Bhai Bir Singh died, as well as Attar Singh Sandhawalia and prince Kashmira Singh. The main culprit for this riot was one battalion under major Croft one of the foreign officers employed by Sarkar Khalsa. His battalion was aptly named “Gurumar”. Hira Singh Dogra understood the grave mistake and apologized for the murders of princes and Bhai Bir Singh to Army as well as whole nation. On April 9, 1944 a huge earthquake hit Amritsar and Lahore, and was believed to be a sign of bad luck by general populace.
British forward post at Ferozepur was being strengthened and by all means it looked like that whole of Punjab was under preparation of war. Ambala and Jalandhar cantonments were tripled with reinforcements and new recruits from Bengal, Awadh and Bihar. Hira Singh Dogra although fearing British knew that war was inevitable. Millions of Punjabis left central Punjab and settled in other states which were protectorate of British, like Patiala, Faridkot, Nabha and Jind. Hira Singh Dogra mobilized Punjabi troops to Kasur which was directly opposite Ferozepur. Sooner both armies were directly oppose to each other. In December of 1944, Henry Harding took over as Governor general of India. He was called Tunda Lat Or One armed lord. He sent his officers to Ferozepur and Punjabis fearing attack put on a vigil for 24 hours a day. But no attack came and standstill was averted. Then came the second round of intrigues between Dogras and Sikhs. Pundit Jalla, accused Maharani Jindan of illicit relations with one Misr Lal Singh (not general). This created a furore all over kingdom as she was mother of king Dilip singh. Enraged Maharani Jindan was summoned to army panches as well as Hira Singh Dogra and Pundit Jalla. Couple days earlier, Hira Singh Dogra had dismissed 500 of army soldiers without pay and thus he feared worst. Maharani Jindan with her son Dilip Singh and brother Jawahar Singh came to cantonment, while Hira Singh Dogra and Pundit jalla sent advance horsemen to his uncle Gulab Singh at Jammu for help. Gulab Singh sent 1000 horsemen, and Hira Singh and Jalla came out of their palace and slowly and quietly crossed river Ravi from Shahdra and were on their way to Jammu with more crores of treasury. Khalsa army pursued them and caught them about 14 miles away from city. Mian Labh Singh, their general give a good fight but all 1000 dogras were massacred. Pundit Jalla, Hira Singh Dogra and their accomplice faced wrath of Khalsa army, their heads were put up on city streets of Lahore. Then Diwan Deena Nath, aristocrat of Lahore took charge of the situation and appointed Lal Singh as Chief minister of Punjab, Tej Singh as commander of Army and Dilip Singh as Maharaja of Punjab.
Punjabi Khalsa army was a much larger and stronger force and at this time British were still mobilizing their forces from Ambala and other places. Instead of attacking Ferozepur, Lal Singh waited for four months by then British forces were three times stronger then the Khalsa army. It is said that Lal Singh had already negotiated with British and supplied them with position of guns, number of soldiers, plan of attack and other vital statistics. Let’s read about Anglo-Sikh wars in depth.
Intrigue of Dogra brothers for their own selfish means and inability of any Sikh politicians to lead was responsible for demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sarkar Khalsa. After Anglo-Sikh Wars, Dogras Got whole Kashmir (until 1947 then it was divided between India and Pakistan), British got Punjab and Sikhs lost their hard earned kingdom.