RAṆJĪT SIṄGH (1780-1839), Mahārājā of the Punjab, popularly called Sher-i-Punjab, i.e, the Lion of the Punjab, was the most colourful, the most powerful and yet the most endearing figure in the history of the Sikhs. He ruled over a domain extending from the Khaibar Pass in the west to the River Sutlej in the east, from the northern extremity of Kashmīr to the deserts of Sindh in the South, comprising the sūbās (provinces) of Lahore, Multān, Peshāwar and Kashmīr, and their dependencies. It covered an area of 1,00,436 square miles with an estimated population of 53,50,000. Rising from a family of little political consequence and commanding no more than a small band of fighting horsemen, he was the first Indian in a thousand years to stem the tide of invasions from the northwest frontier and to carry his flag into the home land of the traditional conquerors of Hindustan.
Born on 13 November 1780 at Gujrāṅwālā , now in Pakistan, Raṇjīt Siṅgh was the only son of Mahāṅ Siṅgh Sukkarchakkīā and Rāj Kaur, daughter of Rājā Gajpat Siṅgh of Jīnd. He was given the name of Buddh Siṅgh which, in commemoration of an armed victory his father had won, was changed into Raṇjīt (Victor in Battle) Siṅgh. An attack of smallpox during infancy deprived Raṇjīt singh of the sight of his left eye. He attended no school and spent most of his time riding and in chase. He developed a passionate "love for horses and had his first encounter with steel at the age of ten when he fought beside his father against the Bhaṅgī chieftains. Raṇjīt Siṅgh lost his father soon after. Since he showed little interest in administrating the estates he had inherited, his mother and his late father's manager, Lakhpat Rāi, looked after them until his maternal uncle, Dal Siṅgh, and his mother-in-law, Sadā Kaur, took over the management. In 1796 Raṇjīt Siṅgh had married at Baṭālā Mahitāb Kaur, daughter of Sadā Kaur, head of the Kanhaiyā misl who gave him active support during the early part of his career of battle and conquest.
Shāh Zamān, the King of Kābul and a grandson of Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, made several frantic efforts to re-establish the Durrānī power in India and in the autumn of 1796 occupied the city of Lahore, but he had to retire to his country in January 1797 leaving behind his general Ahmad Shāh Shahāñchībāshī as his deputy with 12,000 soldiers to deal with the Sikhs. The Sikhs followed the Shāh all the way across the Jehlum and deprived him of much of his baggage. Shahāñchī Khān, as the Afghān general was generally called by the Sikhs, planned to take the returning Sikhs by surprise and intercepted them near Rāmnagar, but he was killed in the battle that followed and his force was completely routed. Raṇjīt Siṅgh in whose territory lay the scene of this engagement distinguished himself in battle and his reputation rose from that of an obscure Sikh chieftain to the hero of the Punjab.
The humiliation of this defeat rankled in Shāh Zamān's mind and, as soon as he had settled his domestic problems, he once more descended upon the Punjab, in the autumn of 1798. Raṇjīt Siṅgh made no resistance, and let the Shāh occupy Lahore without opposition on 27 November 1798. Meanwhile, Raṇjīt Siṅgh had retired to Amritsar to collect a Sikh force. With these men he defeated a detachment of Afghāns despatched by the Shāh and forced them to retire to Lahore. He followed them and encircled the capital, cut off the Afghāns' supply lines and burnt the standing crops in the neighbouring countryside. According to Sohan Lāl Sūrī and Būṭe Shāh, two contemporary historians, Raṇjīt Siṅgh at this time thrice rushed upon the Samman Burj of the Fort with a small force, fired some shots, killed and wounded a number of the Afghāns, and challenged the Shāh to a-hand-to hand fight. "Come on, grandson of Ahmad Shāh" shouted Raṇjīt Siṅgh, "and try your strength with the grandson of Sardār Chaṛhat Siṅgh." But as there was no response from the other side, Raṇjīt Siṅgh had to return without a trial of strength with the Durrānī. There was news of fresh trouble in Afghanistan which led Shāh Zamān again to turn his footsteps towards his home country.
On 7 July 1799, Raṇjīt Siṅgh drove the Bhaṅgī rulers out of Lahore and became master of the capital. The populace, largely consisting of Muslims and Hindus, welcomed him as their redeemer. Shāh Zamān tried to regain diplomatically what he had failed to do militarily and proposed to invest Raṇjīt Siṅgh with a title. Raṇjīt Siṅgh accepted the compliment, and in return presented the Shāh with some cannon the Afghāns had lost during their retreat from the Punjab. However, his success roused the envy of the other Sikh sardārs, chiefly the Bhaṅgīs. In 1800, they entered into a coalition with Nizām ud-Dīn of Kasūr and assembled their forces at the village of Bhasīn, near Lahore.
On Baisākhī day, 12 April 1801, Sāhib Siṅgh Bedī, a pious Sikh in direct descent from Gurū Nānak applied the ceremonial saffron mark to Raṇjīt Siṅgh's forehead and proclaimed him Mahārājā of the Punjab. For the coronation ceremonies Raṇjīt Siṅgh refused to wear any emblems of royalty or sit on throne. He continued to hold darbār seated cross-legged in his chair as before. He had his coins struck in the name of the Gurū, and did not lend them his effigy or name. The seal of the government likewise bore no reference to him. Despite the many sonorous titles, official and others used for him, the one by which he preferred to be addressed was the plain Siṅgh Sāhib. Nor was the government related to him or to his family. It was Sarkār Khālsājī, Government of the Honoured Khālsā the court was known as Darbār Khālsājī. Yet his intention was not to establish a Sikh theocracy, but a State in which all people, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, would enjoy equal rights and opportunities. His council of ministers consisted of men belonging to all those different communities. His army, though its nucleus remained Sikh, had large contingents of Muslims, mainly in the artillery, and of Hindus. Although punctilious in the observance of Sikh ritual, he joined his Muslim subjects in their religious celebrations as he joined his Hindu subject at their festivals.
The first task to which Raṇjīt Siṅgh now applied himself was to bring the entire Punjab under his control. His closest collaborators in this were his mother-in-law, Sadā Kaur, and Fateh Siṅgh, chief of the Āhlūvālīās, with whom he had ceremonially exchanged turbans to mark their fraternal relationship. Their combined forces levied tribute on the zamīndārs of Dhannī-Poṭhohār and on the Afghān rulers of Kasūr and Multān. The most significant achievement was the taking in 1802 of Amritsar, the chief trading centre of the Punjab and the holy city of the Sikhs. Amritsar was divided among a dozen families.
The combined force of Raṇjīt Siṅgh, Sadā Kaur and Fateh Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā reduced them one after the other and also captured the powerful fort of Gobindgaṛh. Equally valuable was the procurement of the services of Akālī Phūlā Siṅgh, a fearless and outspoken soldier who was destined to play a crucial role in several of Raṇjīt Siṅgh's military campaigns. Raṇjīt Siṅgh received a great welcome from the people of Amritsar. After paying homage at the Harimandar, he ordered the Temple to be rebuilt in marble and its domes to be covered with gold leaf. The capture of Amritsar added spiritual sanction to Raṇjīt Siṅgh's temporal powers. He sent emissaries to the independent principalities in the province exhorting them to declare allegiance to the Sarkār Khālsājī. At the same time he began to reorganize his army.
First to feel the impact of the new army was Ahmad Khān Siāl of Jhaṅg, Punjab's premier breeder of horses and leader of the Siāls. Ahmad Khān was defeated and reinstated at Jhaṅg as a vassal of the Lahore Darbār. Thus encouraged, Raṇjīt Siṅgh carried out extensive reorganization of his army. In 1802, soon after the occupation of Amritsar, he engaged some deserters from the army of the East India Company to train his own infantry. Several new commanders came to the fore : Dīwān Muhkam Chand, Harī Siṅgh Nalvā, Hukmā Siṅgh Chimnī, Fateh Siṅgh Kāliāṅvālā, Desā Siṅgh Majīṭhīā. Heavy artillery was raised under a Muslim, Chaudharī Ghaus Khān. Raṇjīt Siṅgh made it a daily practice to watch his troops at drill and manoeuvres. After the conquest of Jhaṅg, the Mahārājā was moving towards Multān when the news of the arrival of the Marāṭhā fugitive Jasvant Rāo Holkar in the Punjab reached him. Holkar was being pursued by Lord Lake who had come as far as the River Beās. Raṇjīt Siṅgh hurried back to Amritsar where a meeting of the Sarbatt Khālsā comprising the leading sardārs was convened to decide by gurmātā or common resolution how to treat the Marāṭhā chief and his pursuers. The Mahārājā could ill afford to make the Punjab a theatre of war between two foreign armies, especially when his own position was not yet secure. It was therefore decided to have the issue settled by negotiations. Raṇjīt Siṅgh was eventually able to bring about a reconciliation between the British and the Marāṭhā chief and have all the latter's territories beyond Delhi restored to him. At the same time a treaty was entered into, on 1 January 1806, between Lord Lake and the Sikh chiefs by which the Mahārājā and Fateh Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā agreed to "cause Jaswant Rāo Holkar to remove with his army to the distance of 30 coss from Amritsar and... never hereafter hold any further connection with him," while Lord Lake undertook that so long as the conditions of this treaty were observed "the British armies shall never enter the territories of the said chieftains, nor will the British government form any plans for the seizure or the sequestration of their possessions or property."
In the autumn of 1806, Raṇjīt Siṅgh crossed the Sutlej and toured the Mālvā country receiving tribute from several sardārs, including Tārā Siṅgh Ghaibā, head of the ḍallevālīā misl. He also settled a dispute which had arisen between the chiefs of Nābhā and Paṭiālā. On his way back to Lahore, the Mahārājā was invited by Rājā Saṅsār Chand of Kāṅgṛā to help him expel the Gurkhās who had invaded his domains. Raṇjīt Siṅgh marched up to Javālāmukhī at which the Gurkhās withdrew from the valley. In February 1807, Raṇjīt Siṅgh's troops attacked Kasūr whose chief, Nawāb Qutb ud-Dīn, had failed to pay tribute. After a month of fierce fighting, the town was captured. Qutb ud-Dīn was caught while fleeing the fort, but Raṇjīt Siṅgh set him at liberty and made over to him as jāgīr Mamdoṭ and a few other villages on the left bank of the River Sutlej.
A domestic quarrel between Rājā Sāhib Siṅgh of Paṭiālā on the one hand and his wife Rāṇī Ās Kaur and the heir apparent Karam Siṅgh on the other gave Raṇjīt Siṅgh another opportunity to cross over into the Mālvā region. He settled the dispute in the Paṭiālā family and once more took tribute from other cis-Sutlej chieftains. On his way back to his capital, he took Naraingaṛh from the Rājā of Sirmūr and, on the death of the head of the ḍallevālīā misl incorporated his estates into his kingdom. Dīwān Muhkam Chand who had served the ḍallevālīās with distinction joined Raṇjīt Siṅgh's service and immediately proceeded to make the Rājput chieftains of Jasroṭā, Chambā, Basohlī and others acknowledge Raṇjīt Siṅgh's suzerainty. Another notable acquisition was the fort of Sheikhūpurā, near Lahore.
It is clear that by the autumn of 1808 Raṇjīt Siṅgh had made up his mind to subjugate the entire cis-Sutlej region, and, but for the arrival of the Metcalfe mission in 1808 and continuing British interest in the area, his dream of uniting all the Sikhs under his supremacy would have been realized. Metcalfe's mission to the court of Raṇjīt Siṅgh was the outcome of a supposed threat of French invasion under Napoleon Bonaparte. Later its primary object apparently became the reduction of Raṇjīt Siṅgh's power. The British decided to extend their protection to the Sikh principalities south of the River Sutlej, and demanded surrender of all conquests made by Raṇjīt Siṅgh in this region subsequent to the arrival of the Metcalfe mission at his court. Negotiations between the two powers led to the signing of a treaty of mutual friendship at Amritsar on 25 April 1809. The treaty provided that the British government would count the Lahore Darbār among the most honourable powers and would in no way interfere with the Sikh ruler's dominions to the north of the Sutlej. It however fixed the southern limit of his kingdom and barred further extension of Sikh frontier in that direction. Yet the establishment of peace and friendship between the two powers left Raṇjīt Siṅgh free to pursue a course of conquest in the north and beyond the River Indus unhampered and to consolidate his power in the central and southern Punjab.
One of the Mahārājā's more decisive campaigns lay towards the northeastern hills. The incursion of the Gurkhās under Amar Siṅgh Thāpā into the Kāṅgṛā valley made Rājā Saṅsār Chand seek once again the help of Raṇjīt Siṅgh who himself led out an army. He defeated the Gurkhās at Ganesh Ghāṭī and, on 24 December 1809, occupied the Kāṅgṛā Fort and held a royal darbār which was attended by the hill chiefs of Chambā, Nūrpur, Koṭlā, Shāhpur, Guler, Kahlūr, Maṇḍī, Suket and Kullū. Desā Siṅgh Majīṭhīā was appointed governor of Kāṅgṛā. On his return to his capital, Raṇjīt Siṅgh launched expeditions to subdue scattered chiefships which still kept up a show of independence. The estates of the Siṅghpurīās and of the Bhaṅgīs at Gujrāt were confiscated. The Balūch tribes round Khushāb and Sāhīvāl were tamed. Other territories seized were Jalandhar, Tarn Tārn, Jammū, Maṇḍī, Suket, the salt mines of Kheoṛā, ḍaskā and Hallovāl. Raṇjīt Siṅgh did not spare his kinsmen and the estates of the Nakaīs and the Kanhaiyās were likewise reduced to fiefdoms.
Raṇjīt Siṅgh's major conquest began with the occupation of Multān in 1818. In 1819 Kashmīr was annexed. He conquered Peshāwar, ḍerā Ghāzī Khān, ḍerā Ismā'īl Khān, Hazārā, Kohāṭ, Ṭonk and Bannū in quick succession, but was, at first, content to rule these regions through the local Muhammadan chieftains, who acknowledged his overlordship and paid tribute. He seized Peshāwar in 1811 but gave it first to Jahāndād Khān, then in 1923 to Yār Muhammad Khān and finally, in 1830, to Sultān Muhammad Khān as a feudatory. He conquered ḍerā Ghāzī Khān in 1820, but gave it to the Nawāb of Bahāwalpur in farm. From Sultān Muhammad Khān of Peshāwar, Raṇjīt Siṅgh used to receive an annual tribute of some horses and rice and kept one of his children as a hostage in his court as a guarantee of good conduct. He subjugated ḍerā Ismā'īl Khān in 1821, but gave it to the dispossessed Mankerā ruler, Hāfiz Muhammad Khān, as a tributary to Lahore. Tonk and the neighbouring districts were made tributary in 1822 but not directly annexed. However, after the disturbances created by the fanatical Sayyid Ahmad Barelavī were quelled, there was a change in Raṇjīt Siṅgh's policy regarding his trans-Indus territories. Derā Ghāzī Khān was brought under direct control in 1831, Peshāwar in 1834; Ṭonk, Bannū and ḍerā Ismā'īl Khān were annexed between 1832 and 1836. In the northwest the boundaries of the Sikh kingdom now extended into the base of the Yūsafzaī territory northeast of Peshāwar, and up to Fatehgaṛh, a fort near the Khaibar Pass. In the southwest, it touched the undefined borders of Sindh beyond Rojhan and Miṭṭhankoṭ, the junction of the rivers Sutlej and Indus.
Among the four major provinces comprising the Sikh kingdom, Lahore, where the central government was located, included the entire Mājhā country and the major cities of Lahore and Amritsar; its population towards the close of the Mahārājā's reign approximated 19,00,000. The province of Multān included the dependencies all along the east bank of the River Indus, and the districts of Jhaṅg, ḍerā Ismā'īl Khān, ḍerā Ghāzī Khān, Muzaffargaṛh and Leīāh; its population approximated 7,50,000. The province of Peshāwar comprised the valley of Peshāwar and its dependencies across the River Indus and in the Yūsafzaī region: Its population approximated 6,00,000. The province of Kashmīr included the whole valley of Kashmīr, Muzaffarābād, Ladākh and Gilgiṭ : its population approximated 5,50,00. There were besides tributary states in the hills, among them Bilāspur, Suket, Chambā, Rajourī, Ladākh and Iskardū. Some of the territories farmed out were Maṇḍī, Kullū, Jasvān, Kāṅgṛā, Kuṭlehar, Sībā, Nūrpur, Harīpur, Dātārpur, Basohlī, Chhachh, Hazārā, Rāwalpiṇḍī, Hasan Abdāl, Dhanni, Kāṭās, Chakvāl, Ṭonk, Bannū, Mankerā, Rāmnagar, Miṭṭhā Tiwānā, Bhera, Khushāb, Piṇḍ Dādan Khān, Gujrāt, Wazīrābād, Siālkoṭ, the Jalandhar Doāb and Sheikhūpurā. Besides, Raṇjīt Siṅgh held large territories in the cis-Sutlej region yielding an annual revenue of over 20,00,000 rupees.
According to an estimate made by a British historian, W. Murray (1832), the revenues of the Punjab amounted to 2,58,09,500 rupees : land revenue and tributes1,24,03,900 rupees ; customs duties 19,00,600 rupees; mohrānā fee for stamping the State seal on papers 5,77,000 rupees; and jāgīrs and fiefs, 1,09,28,000 rupees. Later estimates, however, place the resources of the State between 2,50,00,000 and 3,25,00,000 rupees. Munshī Shahāmat ‘Alī (1838) mentions the figure 3,00,27,762, derived from the following sources : Khālsā (Rs 1,96,57,172), jāgīrs (Rs 87,54,590), khirājdārs (Rs 12,66,000), and customs (Rs 3,50,000).
The administration of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh may be described as a personalized military despotism based on popular will. Designated as the Sarkār Khālsā, it was an absolute centralized monarchy, but liberal and benevolent. Its chief merit was religious moderation and practical efficiency. Though based on military might and sustained by successive victories, it was extremely popular. As absolute monarch, Raṇjīt Siṅgh enjoyed great power which he wielded unhampered for the common weal of all his subjects Hindu, Sikh, Muhammadan and others.
The central government was run under about a dozen daftars or departments of the State, supervised by chosen men of talent and ability, who controlled the civil administration — the regalia or treasury, land revenue, octroi and excise, pay and accounts, income and expenditure, royal household and other departments. Its chief functionaries were the wazīr or principal minister of the crown; the lord chamberlain; the minister in charge of the regalia and treasury; minister of foreign affairs; the auditor-general; the councillors of religious affairs and the others. In making appointments of his ministers and councillors, Raṇjīt Siṅgh was his own judge; without any consideration of caste and creed, efficiency was the main criterion of his selection.
For the purpose of provincial administration, the kingdom was roughly divided into four principal sūbahs — Lahore, Peshāwar, Multān and Kashmīr, each headed by a nāzim or sūbahdār. The hill principalities and territories conquered from the sardārs paid tribute direct to the State. The Sūbāhdar had under him a kārdār, a pivotal functionary in the provincial administration. Appointed by the central government, he exercised fiscal, revenue and judicial powers. The kārdār was without any fixed salary but held land in farm from the State and he exercised unlimited powers.
The customary land revenue system with its various modes of assessment and collection, inherited by Raṇjīt Siṅgh from the Mughals, was maintained by him with minor modifications. Every village had a revenue collector (muqaddam) and a circle of villages (tappā or tāluqā) was in the charge of a chaudharī. In addition, there was the keeper of fiscal records, the qanūngo. The revenue officials were themselves proprietors of land in their respective villages or circle and were compensated by a reduction of revenue. Revenue was collected directly from the cultivators of the land. The amount or manner of payment varied, but care was taken that all the regular and irregular charges never amounted to more than half of the gross produce calculated on an estimate of the standing crops or after harvest; if the revenue was paid in cash, the sum was calculated on the value of half the produce. The rate was not considered exorbitant as most foreign observers have noted that the Punjabi agriculturist was more prosperous under Raṇjīt Siṅgh than his counterparts in British India. In times of famine or drought, ameliorative measures of relief were undertaken by the State.
The judicial administration of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh was by and large based on local custom and on tradition coming down from Mughal times. There existed no legal code as such; cases were often decided by custom and usage, and extensive use was made of the dharmāśāstra and Sharī'at for deciding the cases of the litigants of various communities to whom their customary law was applicable. Then there were the adālats or special courts in the province supervised by an 'adālat-i-a'lā or supreme court set up at the metropolis; the nāzim's courts in the provinces, sub-divisions and in the feudal territories; the jāgīrdārī court with wide criminal and civil powers; and the village pañchāyats to administer petty civil and criminal cases, mostly by arbitration.
Crime was generally atoned with fines making for an additional source of income for the State. The amount of fine was determined not by the of the grairty-crime, but by the capacity of the criminal to pay. Capital punishment was unknown. In civil cases, the litigant paid both ways. If he won, he paid shukrānā, or present in gratitude and, if he lost, he paid jurmānā or fine. Fine was the general mode of punishment and in criminal cases the punishment was quick and summary.
Raṇjīt Siṅgh created an army which, at the zenith of his power, was a formidable force. Its overall strength was almost 1,00,000 men, a cavalry strength of 30,000 horse and a field artillery of 288 guns. It was a favourite of Raṇjīt Siṅgh's and he nursed it with great care—with one third of his entire revenue. The army of Raṇjīt Siṅgh was of two categories — regular and irregular, with four major divisions, viz. infantry, cavalry, artillery and Fauj-i-Khās or the special brigade. It also contained a turbulent though highly valiant wing, the Akāl Senā, a body of irregular horse of the reckless Akālī warriors numbering 4,000.
The crude military system inherited from Sikh misls was reorganized by Raṇjīt Siṅgh by building up both infantry and artillery as separate divisions. Although Raṇjīt Siṅgh had been introducing new methods of fighting in his army by copying whatever he could from the practices prevalent in the forces of the East India Company, it was not until 1822 that he decided to modernize it along European lines. He recruited two Frenchmen, Jean Francois Allard and Jean Baptiste Ventura, who had served under Napoleon, to take over the training of his cavalry and infantry, respectively. Thereafter many foreigners — French, English, Italians, Greeks, Americans, and Eurasians — were employed on very generous terms. The foreigners signed contracts not to shave their beards, not to smoke or eat beef and to domesticate themselves by marrying native women and settling in the Punjab. Many of these foreign officers rose to high positions. The Mahārājā's favourite was Allard who was decorated with the order of the Star of the Prosperity of the Punjab. He died in Peshāwar in 1839. Ventura rose to the highest position and continued to serve the Darbār after Raṇjīt Siṅgh's death. He was given the title "Count de Mandi." Claude Auguste Court, another Frenchman and a Neapolitan, Paolo de Avitabile, who joined service in 1827, also rose to high positions. Avitabile was governor of Wazīrābād and then of Peshāwar. Court trained the Darbār's artillery and stayed on in the Punjab until 1845.
Raṇjīt Siṅgh's love of the arms was equally well marked. While invading Peshāwar, he gave special instructions to General Harī Siṅgh Nalvā to take every care to spare the library at Chimkinī from destruction. When the Mughal court at Delhi could no longer offer employment to the artists and the Punjab hill chiefs had become mere tributaries of Raṇjīt Siṅgh, well-known artists like Muhammad Bakhsh and Kehar Siṅgh came to Lahore, where they received warm welcome and patronage. G.T. Vigne made several portraits of the Mahārājā. A Sikh school of art, mainly of portraiture of individuals or the court or love scenes modelled on the Kāṅgṛā and Guler Schools, grew up. The court historian, 'Sohan Lāl Sūrī was munificently rewarded. Būṭe Shāh, Khushwaqt Rāi, Kanhaiyā Lāl and Amar Nāth also were engaged at this time in the writing of Punjab or Sikh history, particularly of the reign of Raṇjīt Siṅgh himself. Several Purāṇas, Yoga Vaśiṣṭa, Ramāyaṇa and the Bhagavad-gītā were translated into Punjabi. Sikh murals and frescos of this period were to be seen in the Mahārājā's palace, the Shīsh Mahal at Lahore, his residence at Rāmbagh, Amritsar, and at the Golden Temple and Bābā Aṭal's temple at Amritsar. Raṇjīt Siṅgh got many of the dilapidated Mughal buildings and gardens restored and built new ones like the Bārādarī of Hazūri Bāgh at Lahore. He endowed the pāṭhshālās, dharamshālās and mosques — tradional centres of learning to spread literacy. He had invited a Christian missionary, Rev. John C. Lowrie, to teach English to the princes, but did not agree to his teaching Christianity as part of the curriculum. However, he sent out some of the sardārs to Ludhiāṇā to get trained in English and French. The Persian school at Lahore was liberally endowed. The Mahārājā got several of his sardārs strained by the Europeans in the art of surgery, engineering, arms manufacture and so on. He got several of the Sanskrit, English and French works translated into Punjabi or Persian prose, and their authors were well rewarded.
The court of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh represented unparalleled Oriental pageantry, ostentation and brilliance. The Mahārājā was usually dressed in simple white; he wore no crown or ornaments, but a single string of pearls around his waist and on special occasions, the famous Koh-i-Nūr diamond on his arm. He was surrounded by magnificently dressed, fine-looking ministers, sardārs, courtiers and civil and military officials. Only a few were privileged to sit on chairs in the Darbār; a severe court discipline and etiquette were observed and none could speak unless addressed to. According to W.G. Osborne, "few if any courts in Europe or the East could show such a fine-looking set of men as the principal Sardars." Henry Edward Fane, who accompanied the British commander in chief to Lahore in 1837 on the occasion of the marriage of Raṇjīt Siṅgh's grandson, Nau Nihāl Siṅgh, describes its brilliance by comparing it to "a gala night at the Opera." On public occasions, the display of pageantry and colour was beyond description; "it was beyond the power of verbal description and surpassed all that European imagination had conceived even of Oriental luxury and splendour."
In the history of the Punjab, no man has excited the imagination of the people as much as did Raṇjīt Siṅgh. His looks contributed little to his popularity; he was short statured, of swarthy complexion and his face was pock-marked. The loss of one eye gave him an appearance of ungainliness. Yet he was possessed of great bodily vigour and activity. He grew up a fine soldier and his energies were directed towards war and conquest. His illiteracy was counter-balanced by a sharp inquisitive mind and a subtle genius and intuition with which he had mastered statecraft. He possessed a sharp intellect, a prodigiously retentive memory and an imaginative mind. An inherent quality of kindness was a marked aspect of his disposition. He was a humane despot; in his life he never wantonly inflicted either capital punishment or mutilation. He always treated his fallen foe with deliberate kindness, and seldom imbued his hands in blood. In the words of Baron Charles Hugel, "Never perhaps was so large an empire founded by one man with so little criminality."
Raṇjīt Siṅgh was a devout Sikh. He considered himself an humble servant of the Gurū. An inscription over the entrance of the central shrine at Amritsar reads : "The Great Gurū in His wisdom looked upon Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh as his chief servitor and Sikh and, in his benevolence, bestowed upon him the privilege of serving the temple." He frequently visited the Golden Temple as is evident from the 'Umdāt ut-Twārīkh, the daily record of the Sikh court. There he would devoutly take a dip in the holy tank and make costly offerings. Some of his offerings still preserved include a bejewelled gold canopy originally presented to him by the Nizām of Hyderābād. In May 1836, Raṇjīt Siṅgh issued an order to all members of the Sikh royalty and aristocracy to make nazars or offerings at the Golden Temple.
Raṇjīt Siṅgh's court reflected the liberal pattern of his State. Amongst the first family to rise to prominence in Raṇjīt Siṅgh's court were the Bokhārīs, sons of Ghulām Mohi ud-Dīn of Lahore. Being of a Sūfi persuasion they were known as Faqīrs. The eldest, Faqir 'Azīz ud-Dīn, was closest to the Mahārājā and advised him on external affairs. His two brothers, Nūr ud-Dīn and Imām ud-Dīn, also held important positions in the Darbār. Khushāl Chand, a Brāhmaṇ from Meerut, known after his conversion as Khushāl Siṅgh, became chamberlain. His nephew, Tej Siṅgh, rose to be a general in the Sikh army. When Khushāl Siṅgh fell from the Mahārājā's favour, his place was taken by Dhiān Siṅgh Ḍogrā of Jammū. Dhiān Siṅgh's son, Hīrā Siṅgh, became a great favourite and the Mahārājā treated him like his own son. The ḍogrā family remained the most powerful in the counsels of the Darbār. There were no forced conversions in Raṇjīt Siṅgh's time. The Muslim women he married, Morāṅ, Gul Bahār Begam, and others, retained their faith. His Hindu wives likewise continued to worship their own gods. He spent great sums on the repairs of Muslim places of worship. This attitude worn him the loyalty of all his subjects.
Raṇjīt Siṅgh, the beau ideal of his people, died of paralysis at Lahore on 27 June 1839 and was succeeded on the throne of the Punjab by his eldest son, Khaṛak Siṅgh.