LAILĪ or LAILĀ, a famous horse of superb beauty and grace, was originally owned by Yār Muhammad Khān Bārakzaī, the Sikh tributary governor of Peshāwar. It was much coveted by Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, whose love for horses was proverbial. With the romantic name given it, Lailī was known throughout Central Asia for its breed and deportment --- dark-grey in colour, 13 years of age in 1835, and reportedly 16 haths in height equivalent to 16 widths of hand. Raṇjīt Siṅgh informed Baron Charles Hugel, a contemporary traveller who visited his court, that he had never seen such a horse before --- so perfect was it in every respect; further, that it cost him the price of a kingdom (Rs 60,00,000) and 12,000 soldiers to obtain it.

         The story of this legendary horse has found its way into the accounts of most of the contemporary European travellers visiting the Punjab. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh who had set his heart on Lailī sent in 1823 a message to the Bārakzaī chief through Faqīr 'Azīz ud-Dīn demanding surrender of the animal Yār Muhammad Khān denied the existence of the horse and the Sikh emissary returned to Lahore empty-handed. In 1826, a Sikh army commanded by Buddh Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā marched to Peshāwar to seize the horse as well as to quell the disturbance raised by Sayyid Ahmad Barelavī in the valley. To Buddh Siṅgh Yār Muhammad's reply was that the horse had died.

         In 1829, another force was sent by the Mahārājā under Prince Khaṛak Siṅgh and General Ventura with instructions to secure Lailī and depose Yār Muhammad Khān in case he refused to part with the animal. Yār Muhammad fled into the Yūsufzaī hills on the approach of the Sikh army. His brother, Sultān Muhammad Khān, who was installed in his place, was put under arrest by General Ventura, who eventually secured possession of Lailī.

         The Mahārājā was highly gratified to possess the famous horse. He showed this horse to Lord William Bentinck at Ropaṛ in 1831. The great German traveller, Baron Charles Hugel, who saw the horse in the royal stables at Lahore in 1835, records : "It is the finest horse belonging to the Maha Raja.... and round his knees he has gold bangles : he is a dark grey, with black legs, thirteen years old, and full sixteen hands high."

         Some writers, including Lepel Griffin, are of the view that this horse was not the real Lailī. They hold that Lailī means a mare and not a stallion.Further Lailī implies black colour and qualities of femininity. But Ventura and Raṇjīt Siṅgh were sure that it was the real Lailī. Raṇjīt Siṅgh's court historian, Sohan Lāl, holds that the horse was surrendered by Yār Muhammad Khān in October 1827, while others are of the view that it was Sultān Muhammad Khān who gave the horse to General Ventura.


  1. Griffin, Lepel, Ranjit Singh. Oxford, 1905
  2. Osborne, W.G., The Court and Camp of Runjeet Sing. London, 1840
  3. Hugel, C.A. Von, Travels in Kashmir and the Country of the Sikhs. London, 1845
  4. Hasrat, Bikrama Jit, Life and Times of Ranjit Singh. Hoshiarpur, 1977

Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā