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Sixteen years ago, the Punjab University appointed this writer to undertake the specific task of compiling the records of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's government. Papers pertaining to the forty-year rule of Sarkar-i-Khalsa had remained in possession of the British government since the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. These papers kept lying in the secretariat of the Punjab govt, till 1915. I unfolded these papers for the first time and spent four years to put the entire fascicule in order. Thereafter a list of the documents was prepared according to date, number and subject. The Punjab government published it in two volumes under the title “Catalogue of the Khalsa Darbar Records.”

While engaged in this task; I developed special interest in the history of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Therefore I took to the intensive study of history of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rule. Firstly I studied published works. An idea then arose in my mind that truthful account of Ranjit Singh's eventful life needed to be brought out in the form of a book.

Incidentally, during the same period I was invited by the Secretary of the Hindustani Academy, Allahabad to undertake the preparation of a book in Urdu on the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I accepted the invitation and the result is before the readers.

Works on the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh first appeared in English between 1834 and 1851. These were result of efforts by British officers like Princep, Captain Murray, McGregor and Cunningham. After that Sir Lepel Griffin and Sayyad Muhammad Latif wrote their books in which they included a narrative of events of Ranjit Singh's period, broadly based on these very works. Although Sayyad Mohammad Latif had also taken help from Persian sources written during the time of the Maharaja, yet he opted to follow broadly the formulations of Princep and Murray. Princep published his book in 1834. He mentions in the preface; “this book has been written by consulting the reports of Captain Wade and Captain Murray.” Captains Wade and Murray had been earlier instructed by the Governor-General to compile reports on the life of the Maharaja.

Captain Wade was an officer in the Ludhiana Residency and Captain Murray was the Resident of the Ambala Agency. Both of them had frequent interaction with vakils or emissaries from the Lahore Darbar. They received information about incidents from Khushwaqt Rai and other news writers who had been stationed by the British government at the court of the Maharaja. These news writers possessed no formal training as historiographers. Therefore they mixed various exaggerated reports becoming available to them and common-place stories. Both Wade and Murray included such material in their reports. And when these reports were published in book form, the account provided by the news writers became a part of history. The later writers developed a tendency to rely on these accounts and to include them in their books. None of them tried to scrutinise these accounts to verify the truth contained in them. I have endeavoured to throw light on such matters with the help of dates given in Persian books written during the Maharaja's time, and have given detailed comments in the footnotes so as to scrutinise them.

McGregor was appointed at the Lahore Darbar under Henry Lawrence in January 1846. During these days he collected material for his books. A large part of his book which is connected with the reign of Ranjit Singh has been taken out of the Persian books written by Munshi Sohan Lai and Diwan Amar Nath.

Cunningham's well-known History of the Sikhs, gives detailed account of Anglo-Sikh relations and the events of the Lahore Darbar following the death of Ranjit Singh, but the events of the Maharaja's lifetime are not described in similar detail.

Besides these books in English, the events of the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh are also found recorded in Persian books written during the eventful period of his life. The most authentic among these are Munshi Sohan Lai's Umdat-ut-Tawaikh, Diwan Amar Nath's Zafarnama-i-Ranjit Singh, and Mian Bute Shah's Tarikh-i- Punjab. Munshi Sohan Lai was the Maharaja's Court diarist. His diary contains the daily proceedings of the court. As regards the chronology of events, Sohan Lai's book is absolutely correct and extremely authentic.

In 1831, the Maharaja had given a copy of this book to Captain Wade at the latter's request. Lord William Bentinck the then Governor General of British India had ordered Captain Wade to compile a report on the life of the Maharaja, during those very days. Wade later deposited this manuscript in the library of Royal Asisatic Society in London where it is still extant. On the first page of this manuscript, we find Captain Wade's note written in his own hand:

“I, confidently find myself well-qualified to testify as to the correctness of events and dates given in this book after having compared them closely with those given by other authors and my own enquiries during my seventeen years’ stay among the Sikhs. This is a truthful and correct record of the amazing life of Ranjit Singh.”

Sohan Lai's book entitled Umdat-ut-Twarikh was published at Lahore in 1885, but is not available now.[1]

Diwan Amar Nath was the son of the famous Diwan Raja Dina Nath. He had studied under one of the ablest teachers of his time, Maulvi Ahmad Bakhsh Chisti. The Maulvi was himself fond of the study of history,[2] and he instilled the same interest in his budding and talented pupil. Diwan Amar Nath, who had a great advantage of the high position of his father, Raja Dina Nath; wrote his Zafar Namah at the express command of the Maharaja, between 1833 and 1836. This enabled him to collect correct information of all kinds. I published this manuscript along with an introduction in 1928 under the title Zafarnamah-i-Ranjit Singh. All particulars about Diwan Amar Nath are given in an appendix thereof.

Bute Shah's Tarikh-i-Punjab is in manuscript form and has not yet been published. Its copies are available at Lahore in the Punjab University Library, Dayal Singh Library and Public Library.[3] I have used the one in the Dayal Singh Library. Bute Shah's real name was Ghulam Muhay-ud- Din and he was an inhabitant of Ludhiana. He had little connections with the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Historical narrative given in this manuscript comes to an end with the death of Ranjit Singh. On scrutiny of Bute Shah's work, it appears that Bute Shah had consulted the draft of Sohan Lai's Umdat-ut-Twarikh while writing his own Tarikh-i- Punjab.

Besides these books, I have also used the stanzas of Ganesh Das's Pingal for the battles of Multan, Peshawar and Naushehra. Ganesh Das's Chhands (stanzas) are still in draft form. I have a copy of the same in my possession. It cannot yet he ascertained who this Ganesh Das was and what was the extent of his approach to the Maharaja's court. But the events narrated in these stanzas are full of details that lead us to conclude that this man, besides being a contemporary of the Maharaja, was a well-informed person, and he had access to reliable information.

While writing this biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh I have mostly used the above-mentioned Persian works, because they provide correct and contemporary information about the Maharaja's reign. I have compared the above accounts with information provided by the English writers; and as far as possible I have chosen to omit the tales, and have tried to present the events in their true perspective. As for the administration of the Maharaja's civil, fiscal and defence organisations, I have depended on original documents of the Sarkar-i-Khalsa which I had myself unfolded and compiled. I have been bringing out articles on these topics during the past ten or twelve years, and I have made full use of them while writing this small book which I now present before the discerning readers.

I heartily thank my dear friend, Lala Hari Ram Gupta who spent his valuable time to read the draft of this book and helped me in improving its language.


Government College, Lahore Gulmarg (Kashmir)

1931 A.D.

Notes and References

[1] The complete work was translated into English by late Professor V.S. Suri, Ex-Director, Punjab State Archives, and is now being published by the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. — Editor

[2] The Maulvi had penned down a daily diary for the period 1816-1860 in twenty volumes, the manuscript of which is still available with his descendants.

[3] One copy each of it is currently available in the Punjab State Archives, Patiala and the Khalsa College, Amritsar library — Editor.