Who is a Sikh?
Sikhism as a religion believes in the existence of ‘One unseen, would never be seen, formless, who was never born and can never die’ – God. It is classified as a monotheistic religion. Followers of Sikhism are called Sikhs. A Sikh is expected to be egalitarian, that is, consider all human beings equal, irrespective of race, gender or class. Sikhs respect 11 Gurus (Masters)-10 Gurus were universal citizens of this world and the 11th Guru is considered as the Living Guru, that is the holy-book, the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib contains words of wisdom of the Gurus and teachings of Sufis and Saints from Hinduism and Islam. Shri Harmandir Sahib, also known as The Golden Temple, is a Gurdwara of special significance and holds prominence (Place of worship – Guru (Teacher) + Dwar (Gate or Doorway). The foundation of Shri Harmandir Sahib was laid by Mian Mir, a Muslim Sufi and a man of wisdom, on the request of Guru Arjan Dev ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.
Who is a Khalsa?
The Khalsa is a special identity created by the 10th Guru. Guru Gobind Rai initiated the First 5 Loved/Blessed Ones and was initiated by them as a member of the Panth Khalsa. Post initiation, males adopted universal last name as Singh (Lion) and females as Kaur (Princess). Hence Guru Gobind Rai, post April 14, 1699, came to be known as Guru Gobind Singh. The raising of Khalsa was deemed necessary to counter oppression and religious fanaticism. Before the formation of Khalsa, Sikhism was more of a spiritual entity. Subsequently, the Khalsa emerged as a warrior community to protect and defend one and all against any kind of tyranny, especially at the hands of mostly invading Muslim armies from the east of Punjab. Interestingly, Khalsa is a word of Persian origin and is an aberration of the popularly used word Khalas, which means pure.
Where is Punjab?
The Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh was an important, ultra modern, well defined and much feared and envied secular Kingdom of the Indian subcontinent. It had Lahore (now in Pakistan) as its capital and other important cities were Peshawar (now in Pakistan), Amritsar (now in India), and Srinagar (now in India). Boundaries of the kingdom were modern day states of Punjab (Pakistan), parts of Punjab (India), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Pakistan) and the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir.
When Did the Khalsa Raj Start?
Khalsa Raj is also known by names such as Sikh Khalsa Raj (Punjabi), Sikh Empire (Urdu) and Sarkar-ae-Khalsa (Farsi). In the late 18th century, Sikh warriors were demarcated in 12 Tribes/Misls. Each Misl had its own area of influence. In 1799, Ranjit Singh, all of 19 years, led the Sukerchakia Misl that had control over Gujranwala town and the surrounding area. Ranjit Singh was invited by eminent residents of Lahore (Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus) to free them from the clutches of Afghan kings and the Bhangi Misl which had a sort of joint control over Lahore. Zaman Shah Durrani, the Afghan ruler, and the Bhangis had made life hell for the residents of Lahore. Ranjit Singh took over Lahore and, between 1799 and 1801, laid a strong foundation for a modern kingdom. On 12/13/14 of April 1801, the first level of consolidation of Punjab was declared complete, and Ranjit Singh was proclaimed as the Maharaja of Punjab.
How Did It Expand?
This created an independent state sandwiched between Afghanistan and British India. This new state quickly became a superpower of the Indian Subcontinent, and was feared by the British too. The British signed three treaties of peace with Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s government, and all were at par. Ranjit Singh’s Punjab captured Kashmir and Multan and subsumed them as part of the Punjab State. In 1818, Maharaja’s armies defeated Afghans, annexed Peshawar region, and made it a part of their empire.
Governance, Religion, Militarization and Administration
Maharaja Ranjit Singh ran an inclusive secular government which laid emphasis on grassroots education. His council of ministers had people of all religions, and meritocracy was the deciding factor. The city of Lahore had reading and writing skills at par or better than most European cities. A survey conducted by the British after the kingdom was dissolved in 1849 astounded the rest of the world – the city had a literacy rate of 87%. The overall figures for Punjab also stood at an impressive 78%.
Ranjit Singh’s focus on modernization led him to raise all new cadres, and hire at least four Europeans to modernize his army. Jean Francois Allard and Claude Auguste Court were French, while Jean Baptiste Ventura and Paolo Di Avitable were Italian.
When Did the Khalsa Raj End?
Historians believe that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was an expansionist par excellence, but he was not a consolidator. He had far too many legitimate children (not to talk about the ones who didn’t get his name), but no serious thought was given to succession planning. After his demise in 1839, the ‘palace conspiracies’ took over. In less than 10 years after his demise, the British were able to defeat the leaderless and directionless Khalsa forces. In 1849, the Khalsa Raj was dissolved.
Who Were the Rulers?
|1799 – 1839||Maharaja Ranjit Singh – The Lion of Punjab|
|1839 – 1839||Maharaja Kharak Singh (Son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh)|
|1839 – 1840||Nau Nihal Singh (Son of Maharaja Kharak Singh)|
|1840 – 1841||(Caretaker) Bibi Chand Kaur (Mother of Maharaja Kharak Singh) (When Nau Nihal Singh died/killed, his wife was expecting. Bibi Chand Kaur was appointed as a regent)|
|1841 – 1843||Sher Singh (Son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh)|
|1843 – 1849||(Caretaker) Maharani Jindan (Wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh)|
|1843 – 1849||(Minor) Maharaja Duleep Singh|
Was All of Punjab Ruled?
No, at no stage of the Khalsa Raj was all of the Greater Punjab ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh or the subsequent rulers. There were certain Sikh princely states of Punjab that owed allegiance to the British Crown, like Nabha, Patiala, Kapurthala, Jind etc (which were collectively known as CIS-Satluj States). These were not part of the Khalsa Raj.