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Period of Numerous Conquests

Conquest of Kangra fort

As stated earlier, the Maharaja had recalled Diwan Mohkam Chand from the Kangra expedition in March 1809 and had directed him to reach Phillaur. After settlement of affairs with the British government, the Maharaja again turned his attention towards Kangra. The Gurkha general; Amar Singh Thapa with a large army1 had been at war for quite some time with Raja Sansar Chand in the Kangra valley and had besieged the fort of Kangra. Sansar Chand lost hope for life. Therefore he sent his brother Fateh Singh to the Maharaja to seek help. The Maharaja demanded the possession of the fort of Kangra in return for help; to which Sansar Chand agreed. The Maharaja set-out with full preparations and reached Kangra accompanied by a large army by the end of May. All the feudal chiefs were present with their respective militias. According to Munshi Sohan Lal's estimate there were about one hundred thousand horse and foot with the Maharaja at that time. The hill Chiefs who were well- acquainted with the routes of the hilly terrain were ordered to block all passages so as to stop all means of procurement of provisions and equipment for the Gorkha army.

After making these arrangements, the Maharaja asked Sansar Chand to vacate the fort to enable the Khalsa army, to occupy it. But he showed some reticence and instead asked Ranjit Singh, as to what was the hurry. He explained that he would vacate the fort and hand it over to the Maharaja as soon as the Gurkha army left. But Ranjit Singh was not to be taken in. He detained Sansar Chand's son Anurodh Chand who used to remain in attendance upon him. Sansar Chand was thus forced to vacate the fort, and on August 24, 1809 A.D., the Maharaja's forces got full control of the Kangra fort.

War with the Gurkha Army

Supply routes of the Gurkha army had been closed since the last few days. The Maharaja finding an opportune time launched an attack and occupied their positions about a mile (1.06 km.) in front of the fort. A pitched battle ensued. The Gurkhas fought dauntlessly. Four or five officers and a few sepoys of the Khalsa army were killed, but the Gurkhas had to retreat. Thereafter, they gave a pitched battle near the Ganesh Valley. The Maharaja sent another army division there. The Gurkhas had made elaborate preparations in order to rub the blot of their former defeat and to restore their national honour. A fierce bloody battle took place. After the artillery fire abated, hand to hand swordy duels followed. Both the sides demonstrated their skills with equal valour. But the Gurkha troops could not face the long swords of the tall Sikhs. Their khukhris lost their luster in front of the Khalsa's sparkling swords as night's darkness recedes before dawn of the day . Suddenly the Gurkhas pushed their feet back and ran away from the battle field. The Sikhs carried the day.2

The End of the Campaign

Though the Sikhs suffered heavy losses during this war, the entire hilly region came under the Maharaja's sway. He entered the fort of Kangra on September 24, 1809 A.D. and held a grand Darbar which was attended by rulers of Kangra, Chamba, Nurpur, Kotla, Shahpur, Jasrota, Basohli, Mankot, Jaswan, Guler, Mandi, Suket, Kullu and Datarpur etc. All the hill Rajas presented tributes and were given costly robes of honor on behalf of the Maharaja. The Maharaja appointed Sardar Desa Singh Majithia as governor (nazim) of the entire hilly region, and Qiladar of Kangra fort. Pahar Singh was appointed his deputy. Some troops, as per requirements, were stationed at Kangra. Diwan Mohkam Chand was ordered to strengthen the fort of Phillaur on the bank of the Sutlej and to stay there for some time. After making these arrangements; the Maharaja returned to Lahore. To celebrate the victory of Kangra, illuminations were held in Lahore and Amritsar, and alms were distributed among the poor. The Maharaja himself joined the celebrations at night, mounted on an elephant.

Occupation of Hariana

The same year, towards the end of September, the Maharaja while returning from Kangra passed through the Jalandhar Doab. During this very period Sardar Baghel Singh Ahluwalia ruler of Hariana (modem Hoshiarpur district) died. The Maharaja annexed his territory and granted maintenance jagir to his widow.

Conquest of Gujrat

After the conquest of Kangra, Ranjit Singh turned his attention towards the consolidation of his possessions all over the Punjab. First of all he turned towards Gujrat. Although the ruler of Gujrat Sardar Sahib Singh Bhangi had submitted before the Maharaja, he still exercised complete sway over his territory. His possessions included vast areas and had many strong forts therein; such as Jalalpur, Munavar and Islamgarh, etc. etc. His was a rich as well as militarily strong principality. A discord between Sahib Singh and his son Gulab Singh provided an opportunity to Ranjit Singh to interfere in Gujrat affairs. Gulab Singh took occupation of one or two forts including Jalalpur without the consent of his father. Ranjit Singh took full advantage of this situation and annexed the entire Gujrat territory within two or three months. Sahib Singh ran away towards the hilly region of Devavatala.3 Faqir Nur-ud- Din, brother of Faqir Aziz-ud-Din, was appointed the first nazim of this district.

The Forts and Fortresses

It appears necessary to state here that during the period a large number of fortresses had existed at short distances in the whole of Punjab and larger towns were surrounded by strong walls. Mughal government had become very weak in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and because of frequent invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali, etc. anarchical condition prevailed in the country. Therefore people had made their own arrangement for the protection of their life and property. Some fearless brave persons, whenever and wherever they found a chance constructed their own fortresses and established themselves in the surrounding territories. But under such circumstances it was difficult to maintain peace in the country as a whole. Therefore, the Maharaja thought of curbing these satellite powers in the entire country. Therefore, after Gujrat he toured the present Shahpur district and after staying in the towns of Miani and Bhera for some time, he went towards Khushab.

Conquest of Khushab, Sahiwal etc. - February 1810 A.D.

Khushab and Sahiwal region was inhabited by war-like Baloch tribes who had constructed strong forts at many places. When the Maharaja's army reached near Khushab, its ruler Ja'far Khan Baloch, finding himself unable to face them, left the town and ran away to take refuge in his strong fort of Kachchh. The Maharaja occupied the town of Khushab and established his post there; and thereafter the Bloch fort was besieged. The Baloch army fought the Sikhs dauntlessly. The Sikh soldiers advanced with great enthusiasm but were repulsed. Many of them fell fighting.

At last the Maharaja sent a message to Ja'far Khan saying that if he vacates the fort, he would be given appropriate jagir, but the brave Baloch chief sent back the reply, “It would be better if you return Khushab to us, otherwise we are prepared to fight till death for the sake our lives, property and the country.” As a consequence, Ranjit Singh continued the siege, got trenches dug at two or three places, filled them with explosives to blow up the strong walls of the fort. The Maharaja did not believe in unnecessary bloodshed, and usually tried to achieve his objective without loss of life and property. Therefore, he again sent a message to Ja'far Khan saying, “vacate the fort and you will be given a very big jagir, otherwise this fort will be raised to ground within a short time. If you do not believe this, you may send one of your chiefs and get the state of the trenches beneath its walls examined.”

Ja'far Khan felt helpless. The shortage of provisions within the fort was already being felt and it becoming impossible to procure rations. Hence, he considered it expedient to vacate the fort. The Maharaja treated him with great respect and generosity. He allowed him to live at Khushab with his family and bestowed upon him a reasonable subsistence jagir.

Defeat of Fateh Khan

The Maharaja next turned his attention towards Sahiwal. Its ruler, Fateh Khan, was very rich. His country included about two hundred and fifty villages and ten or twelve forts. The fort at the capital town of the principality, Sahiwal was very strong. Guns and canons were mounted on its walls. Although the Maharaja conquered the fort after a tough battle on February 10, 1810 A.D., yet Fateh Khan continued the battle within the town for some more time. As a result of which the town suffered great destruction and many buildings were razed to ground by gun fire. At last Fateh Khan and his son were arrested while yet fighting and they were imprisoned in the fort of Kangra4, and the entire territory of Fateh Khan was annexed by the Maharaja.

Conquest of Jammu

Before proceeding to Khushab, the Maharaja had sent a division of his army towards Jammu under Sardar Hukma Singh Chimni. The government of Jammu was at that time in a bad state. Its Raja and Rani were at daggers drawn and the virtual ruler of the State, Mian Mota, had become very powerful. Soon after the Maharaja's army invaded, Mian Mota, who after a brief battle, handed over the State to the Maharaja.

Annexation of Wazirabad

Sardar Jodh Singh of Wazirabad died in November 1809. The Maharaja appointed his son Ganda Singh to the Chiefship of his territory, and during his obsequies thirteen days after his death, the Maharaja himself tied the turban of chiefship on his head and bestowed on Ganda Singh the shawl of succession, and then demanded from him a huge amount of money as succession - tribute.5 During June 1810, a family feud surfaced between Ganda Singh and his relatives. The Maharaja ordered Khalifa Nur-ud-Din governor (nazim) of Gujrat to proceed against Wazirabad and annex the territory. After a few skirmishes, Wazirabad was occupied, and Ganda Singh was given subsistence jagir.

State of the Kingdom of Kabul

The fall of Amir Shah Zaman had started with his return from Lahore in 1799 A.D. He lost Punjab and, within a short period, the throne of Kabul as well. His brother Shah Mahmud occupied the throne and he imprisoned Shah Zaman and had his eyes gouged. But Shah Mahmud, too, was not destined to remain on the throne for long. His second brother Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk assembled an army, deposed Mahmud and himself became the king. During September 1808, Lord Minto sent an English embassy to Kabul under Mr. Elphinstone and concluded a treaty of friendship with Shah Shuja’-ul-Mulk, but Elphinstone had not yet returned to Calcutta when the news came that Shah Shujah had been dethroned. During this revolutionary period, Fateh Khan Barakzai was the Prime Minister at Kabul. Barakzai tribe enjoyed great influence. Many of its members were holding prestigious positions in the kingdom of Afghanistan. They had a great sense of unity among themselves. Therefore Prime Minister Fateh Khan got Shah Mahmud out of the prison deposed Shah Shujah and declared Shah Mahmud as the King of Kabul.

Shah Shuja's Meeting with the Maharaja

Under these circumstances, Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk ran for his life towards the Punjab. The Maharaja in the beginning of February 1810 was camping at Khushab, where he got the news that Shah Shujah had already crossed the river Attock and that he was desirous of meeting the Maharaja. The Maharaja treated him with great respect and hospitality. During the conversation the Maharaja mentioned about his plans of con­quering Multan and Kashmir. It should be remembered that these provinces were still considered to be under the government of Kabul, although the suzerainty of Kabal over these areas remained in name only. The nazims having known the state of affairs at Kabul, considered themselves fully independent. Shah Shujah was not able to stay with the Maharaja for long, and soon returned from Khushab to Rawalpindi and then went back to Peshawar.

Attack on Multan - February 1810

The Maharaja was still at Khushab when orders were issued to Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia and other chiefs to join the Maharaja with their respective contingents. On their arrival, the Maharaja set out for Multan on February 20, 1810 A.D. and covered this long journey within four days. This time the Nawab had also made elaborate preparations for a decisive battle. A strong division under the joint command of Sardar Nihal Singh Attariwala and Sardar Attar Singh Dhari launched the attack and a grim battle ensued. After mid-day, hand to hand sword-combats started. The Sikh youth faced such a pitched battle after a long time. The Maharaja on horseback; hopped from one place to another encouraging his soldiers. A bloody battle continued to be fought till the evening; streams of blood started flowing; heaps of dead bodies could be seen around. The Nawab’s army showed many times more verve and steadiness than before, but in the end the Pathans lost ground, left the field in the darkness of night and entrenched themselves in the fort. The Sikhs occupied the city on February 25.

The fort was besieged thereafter. Shelling started from both sides. The reinvigorated inmates of the fort fought with full vehemence, but the Maharaja, this time was fully determined to conquer Multan. He made arrangements to ensure uninterrupted supply of provisions and armaments. After a few days Nihal Singh Attariwal started digging of underground explosive tunnels on the western side of the fort. When these were exploded, Sardar Nihal Singh was not far from these mines. While a part of the fort’s wall fell on the ground because of the explosion, a few stones struck Nihal Singh and he was seriously wounded. Another obedient and dear officer of the Maharaja, Sardar Attar Singh Dhari was also standing close to him. He received so serious an injury that he died immediately. This greatly excited the Khalsa army. They charged from the fallen wall, entered the fort, and started hand-to-hand sword-fight. The Nawab felt helpless, raised the white flag for peace, and got prepared to pay heavy sums as war indemnity and tribute.6 The Maharaja consulted his advisers and agreed on the condition that the Nawab of Multan would no longer rule as nazim in the name of the Kabul regime and would help the Sikh government in the hour of need. After receiving tribute, the Maharaja came back to Lahore.7

Conquest of Daska Territory

While returning from Multan expedition, Sardar Nidhan Singh Hattu, the ruler of Daska (modern Sialkot district, Pakistan), returned to his territory without formally seeking permission from the Maharaja. Nidhan Singh was a brave and experienced soldier, but was also vain. He was in possession of a strong fort. The Maharaja sent a body of troopers to besiege the fort. Sardar Nidhan Singh fought bravely for one month but ultimately submitted to the Maharaja and admitted his mistake. The Maharaja kept him under detention for some time. He was subsequently released and appointed to a high post in cavalry and granted a suitable jagir for maintenance. It was a special characteristic of the Maharaja that as far as possible he appointed the vanquished Sardars and chiefs on high posts befitting their position and rank. That is why they remained loyal. The Maharaja also benefitted from their bravery and ability. Sardar Nidhan Singh of Daska also performed acts of bravery on many an occasion after he joined the ranks of Ranjit Singh.

Attack on Mandi and Suket

During the same year a body of troopers was dispatched to Mandi and Suket under the command of Sardar Desa Singh Majithia, governor of Kangra Hills. He recovered tributes from the rulers of these hill states that had fallen in arrears. The Maharaja profusely rewarded him with prizes for his success.

Occupation of Pargcma Hallowal

As is clear from the study of past events; the Maharaja was following a considered policy of conquering fortresses one after the other. Therefore the Maharaja’s army marched towards the territory of Bagh Singh to encircle Hallowal lying between the Ravi and Chenab rivers. Bagh Singh was given a good jagir for subsistence and his territory was annexed to the kingdom of Lahore.

Conquest of the Fort of Kask

The sturdy fort of Kask was situated on the top of a hill close to salt mines of Kheora. At that time this fort was considered the nose (or honour) of Choha Saidan Shah, Katas and Kheora Salt Mines. The Maharaja considering it necessary to establish an armed post there, asked the commander of the fort to vacate it. He also offered him a large jagir and assured him that as per tradition he would continue to get two annas per rupee of the income from salt. But the soldiers of his war-like tribe were not prepared to vacate the fort. Hence the fort was besieged. But severe charges of the Khalsa army remained unsuccessful. At last the Maharaja occupied Choha Saidan Shah, situated about one mile (1.06 km.) away from the fort. The source of drinking water for the fort was located in this area. Therefore, the tribals were compelled to vacate the fort after experiencing acute shortage of water. The custodians of the fort (the tribals) were given jagirs as promised, and the Maharaja estab­lished his own military post there. A Robe of honour was bestowed upon Sardar Hukma Singh Chimni who had commanded this expedition.

Conquest of the Fort of Mangia

As has been related earlier, Sardar Sahib Singh Bhangi after his flight from Gujrat had taken refuge in the hilly area of Deva Vatala. The Maharaja had issued orders to fort commanders of his area not to provide him with any help or shelter. Since, the Maharaja at that time was engaged in other expeditions, he had postponed the conquest of that (Deva vatala) area. Later after the conquest of Kask fort he turned his attention to this side. The fort of Mangla was the strongest of all hill forts. It was situated on a high hill on the bank of the river Jehlum.8 The Khalsa army conquered the fort after a tough fight. After that; other fort commanders also surrendered the forts without resistance and offered submission to the Maharaja. Thus the hilly country across the Jehlum also came completely under the Maharaja's sway.

Annexation of the Possessions of the Faizulpuria misl - September 1811 A.D.

The territories of the Faizalpuria Misl were situated on both sides of river Sutlej. The chief of this misl, Sardar Budh Singh was a very brave respectable and a proud person. He was not ready to owe allegiance to the Maharaja like other chiefs. Therefore, the Maharaja ordered Diwan Mohkam Chand to invest the possessions of Budh Singh. General Mohkam Chand at once set out from Philaur and joined by Sardar Jodh Singh Ramgarhia, besieged Jalandhar. Sardar Budh Singh getting an opportunity went across the Sutlej and found asylum with the British at Ludhiana. His loyal soldiers, continued to give fight, but were overpowered in the end. Diwan Mohkam Chand occupied the fort of Jalandhar and its surrounding territories. On the other hand, Ghaus Khan, the superintendent of the Maharaja's artillery, conquered the fort of Patti, near Tam Taran, which was the original home of Budh Singh. In this way, whole of Faizulapuria territory with an annual income of three hundred thousand rupees was annexed to the kingdom of Lahore. Diwan Mohkam Chand was given a costly robe of honour, and a sword with an inlaid hilt, an embedded plume and an elephant with a golden howdah.

Annexation of the Possessions of the Nakai Misl

To found a powerful Khalsa kingdom, it was necessary to conquer the territories of all the other misls. It was now the turn of the Nakai Misl whose possessions were spread from Multan to Qasur and were worth about a revenue of nine hundred-thousand a year. The Nakai state in­cluded several large towns like Chunian, Dipalpur, Sharqpur, Satgharah, Kot Kamalia and Gogerah. The Maharaja's second marriage had been solemnised with the sister of Sardar Gyan Singh of Nakai misl, and it was Mai Nakain (popular name for the queen who was from Nakai misl) who had given birth to Prince Kharak Singh. But this relation did not prove to be of any avail for the Nakais. The Maharaja gave their entire territory in jagir to Prince Kharak Singh. Diwan Mohkam Chand was sent with the Prince to occupy it. Sardar Kahn Singh Nakai, who after the death of his brother Gyan Singh became the chief of the Misl, had gone to collect tribute from Nawab Muzaffar Khan of Multan on behalf of the Maharaja. As soon as his attorney-general, Diwan Hakam Rai, heard about the advance of Mohkam Chand , he at once left Chunian and called on the Maharaja at Lahore to request him that it would be highly improper to take over the territory in the absence of Sardar Kahn Singh. He also said that if Kahn Singh was allowed to retain his possessions the latter would continue to pay appropriate tribute in cash. The Maharaja instead of giving a satisfactory response to the Diwan's suggestion, dismissed it with a jest; saying “I have nothing to do in this matter. Prince Kharak Singh is a grandson of the Nakais. He would settle his own affairs.”9 And Diwan Mohkam Chand soon occupied the forts of Chunian, Dipalpur, Satgharah, etc., and after a few days Maharaja's posts were also set up in the stronger forts like Jethpur and Havelian. As soon as Sardar Kahn Singh, heard this shocking news, he came back from Multan, fretted and fumed, but could not do anything. He did not have the means to stand against the Maharaja. The Maharaja gave him a jagir worth twenty thousand in Bharowal parganah. In this way the Nakai misl came to an end.

Occupation of Kanheya Possessions

After the death of Sardar Jai Singh, the territorial possessions of the Kanheya misl had split in two parts. The greater part was in possession of Ranjit Singh's mother-in-law, Sardarni Sada Kaur, widow of Gurbakhsh Singh. The rest, a small territory, located around Mukerian at the foot of the hilly tract, which included the fortresses of Hajipur, Sohian, etc. fell to the share of Sardar Jai Singh’s other two sons, Bhag Singh and Nidhan Singh, who lived there along with their mother, Sardarni Raj Kaur. Nidhan Singh fell a prey to excesses while yet young and proved incapable of managing his estate. The Maharaja got displeased with him for some reason, and arrested him. In December 1811 A.D. he sent a small detachment across the river Beas and occupied the territories of both Bhag Singh and Nidhan Singh. Later, he granted maintenance jagirs to both of them and their mother.

Civil War in Afghanistan

After being seen off by the Maharaja, Shah Shujah went straight to Attock and having ensured help from the fort commander, Jahandad Khan, and the governor of Kashmir, Atta Muhammad Khan, he occupied Peshawar. At Peshawar he collected a large army and set out for Kabul. He deposed his brother Shah Mahmud and enthroned himself. Because of these revolutions, the government of Afghanistan became unstable. Hardly four months had passed since Shah Shujah had occupied the throne of Kabul, when Muhammad Azim Khan brother of Fateh Khan Wazir collected a huge Durrani army and expelled Shuja-ul-Mulk from Kabul to reinstate Shah Mahmud and Wazir Fateh Khan as rulers as at Kabul. Shah Shujah again got into wilderness. Initially, Jahandad Khan of Attock helped Shuja-ul-Mulk, but later he got suspicions that Shah Shujah was secretly negotiating with his sworn enemy Wazir Fateh Khan. He did not like such a maneuver on the part of the Shah. Therefore, he arrested Shah Shujah and sent him to his brother, Atta Muhammad Khan in Kashmir.

The Queens of Shah Shujah and Shah Zaman at Lahore

Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk remained a victim of the on-going revolutionary events taking place at Kabul for over a year. During this period, his wives and sons along with his blind brother Shah Zaman remained at Rawalpindi. Therefore, when Ranjit Singh got free from the conquest of Kasak, he went towards Rawalpindi for a meeting with Shah Zaman. He encamped at a distance of two miles (3.02 kms.) from the city. Shah Zaman came to meet the Maharaja who gave him royal welcome. Diwan Bhiwani Das and his brother Diwan Devi Das who had served the Shah as diwans and were well-acquainted with the traditions of the Kabul Court, were entrusted with hospitality duties. Ranjit Singh did his best to sympathise with Shah Zaman and invited him to stay at Lahore and even fixed a subsistence allowance of Rupees fifteen hundred per month. After the meeting, the Maharaja returned to Lahore.10

After staying at Rawalpindi for a sometime, Shah Zaman settled at Bhera. Thereafter in November 1811 A.D., he shifted to Lahore and took residence near the mausoleum of Data Ganj Bakhsh. The Maharaja warmly welcomed him. He sent to the Shah, through Diwan Bhiwani Das, one thousand rupees for feast, and provided a large spacious house for his living within the city. Later, Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk's princes and queens also arrived at Lahore.

Notes & References

  1. Diwan Amar Nath states that the Gurkha army numbered about fifty thousand.
  2. Though the Gurkha army had been defeated, it had not yet vacated the Kangra Valley. Both the sides had chosen to stop fighting as a matter of strategy. It was decided through negotiations that if the Maharaja allowed a safe passage to the Gurkha forces, Amar Singh would quietly quit the valley.
  3. Ranjit Singh called Sahib Singh back after one year and granted him respectable maintenance jagir.
  4. The Maharaja released Fateh Khan in 1811 A.D. and granted him maintenance jagir.
  5. From Munshi Sohan Lal's writing it appears that two hundred thousand rupees were demanded in the first instance, but in the end an amount of Rs. forty thousand was agreed upon. Diwan Amar Nath says that one hundred-thousand rupees was realised.
  6. Diwan Amar Nath describes this amount as one hundred thousand.
  7. Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk was still in India and had occupied the entire territory of Peshawar. Probably that is why Ranjit Singh made Muzaffar Khan accept the condition that he would have no relation with government of Kabul in future. Nawab Muzaffar Khan had, during this invasion, also started correspondence with the British Governor General. Probably this was another reason why the Maharaja got satisfied with the exaction of tribute only and postponed the idea of reducing the fort.
  8. Even now there is a fort at this very place. The River Jehlum here takes a sharp bend and then leaving the hill country enters the plains. Probably this is the spot from where Alexander the Great had crossed the River Jehlum and had attacked Maharaja Porus who was taken unawares.
  9. Munshi Sohan Lal writes that “The Master of Riches (Maharaja) said to him in reply that the said prince is grandson of the Nakais, and he knows his own job."
  10. When the Maharaja reached Lahore, a Vakil (emissary) of the British government, Munshi Ivaz Ali Khan came to the Maharaja’s court with costly presents on behalf of the Governor- General which included a beautiful carriage with seats fitted with very beautiful springy cushions. Carriages of this kind were not seen in the Punjab of those days. Therefore the Maharaja was very happy to see it. Two horses were yoked to it, one behind the other. The Maharaja rode it but it could not remain in use for long, because the roads were rough and uneven. For details see Umdat-ut-Twarikh by Munshi Sohan Lal.