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Relations with Cis-Sutlej Sikh States and Other Conquests


From 1806 A.D. to 1808 A.D., Maharaja Ranjit Singh continuously remained busy in expeditions. He was in the prime of his youth and his physique and zeal were in full bloom. During this period, the Maharaja tried to derive full benefit out of the mutual strife among the Sikh misls in the trans-Sutlej territory; humbled the great Afghans of Qasur and established his firm control over the hill region. His lust for conquest of territory had brought him on the brink of a clash with the British, but it ended with the conclusion of a treaty of friendship between the two. With that a new phase begins in Ranjit Singh's life.

Mutual feuds among the Cis-Sutlej Sikh States

A village named Duladi lay on the boundary of the dominions of Raja Sahib Singh, ruler of Patiala, and Rajaj Jaswant Singh, ruler of Nabha. Each of two calmed it to be falling within his territory. Bhai Tara Singh, representative of the Raja of Patiala stationed in this village was murdered. The ruler of Patiala suspected Raja Jaswant Singh of Nabha [to be behind the crime]. The relations between the two deteriorated and resulted in a state of war. Raja Bhag Singh, ruler of Jind came to the help of Raja of Nabha. Sardar Mahtab Singh of Thanesar and Bhai Lal Singh of Kaithal joined Patiala. The war started and in one of the battles Sardar Mahtab Singh of Thanesar was killed. The ruler of Patiala was beside himself with anger.

Raja of Patiala requested Ranjit Singh for help

The Raja of Patiala decided to invite Ranjit Singh for help. He sent his emissary, Sardar Dhyan Singh to the Maharaja. Dhyan Singh presented to Ranjit Singh a costly Marwari garland and delivered his master’s message. How could Ranjit Singh let such a golden chance slip? He had been yearning for long to meddle in the affairs of these states. He, therefore, at once prepared to march towards the the Cis- Sutlej area.1

Ranjit Singh's Departure

Ranjit Singh gave marching orders to his artillery, and also issued orders in the name of other sardars that they present themselves along with their contingents at Vairowal on the bank of Beas River. At the end of Dussehra, the Maharaja himself also set out. On the way, he realised huge cash tribute from the Chief of Faizulpuria Misl along with one elephant as nazrana. Then he reached Kartarpur in company of Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia. Here Bawa Gulab Singh Sodhi made a presentation of two good quality guns to the Maharaja. After that the Maharaja reached Jalandhar where its ruler, Budh Singh presented many horses and cash. Thereafter the whole force assembled. The chief of the Dallewalia Misl, Sardar Tara Singh Ghebah got nervous to see such a large army, and he presented twenty-five thousand rupees in cash as offering and offered submission to the Maharaja. From there, the Maharaja reached Phillaur and received offering from its ruler, Sardar Dharam Singh. Marching forward, he established his hegemony over forts of Ludhiana and Jagraon. Circuiting in this way, Ranjit Singh reached the Patiala territory.

Verdict of Ranjit Singh

There the Rajas of Patiala, Nabha and Jind warmly welcomed him and left no stone unturned in hospitality. Sojourning here for a few days, the Maharaja listened to the demands of the two sides, and after some hard negotiations the right of the Patiala Raja over Duladi village was accepted. To compensate and appease the Raja of Nabha, Ranjit Singh gave him thirty one villages including Kot Bassian, Talwandi and Jagraon with an annual income of twenty-four thousand rupees. Similarly, Ludhiana and its adjoining territories were bestowed upon the Raja of Jind. Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia was also given a large tract. After this the Maharaja returned to Jalandhar where he spent a few days engaged in hunting excursions.

Request for help by Raja of Kangra

He was yet staying at Jalandhar when Mian Fateh Chand, brother of Raja Sansar Chand, ruler of Kangra, came to the Maharaja and told him that the commander-in-chief of Nepal with a large Gurkha army was penetrating into the mountain region. He said, "He has already conquered several hill states like Sirmur, Garhwal and Nalagarh and has now invaded Kangra. Raja Sansar Chand is interned in the fort and needs your help.”

Escape of Gorkha Army

Ranjit Singh agreed to help the Kangra chief and marched towards Kangra without any loss of time. The Nepalase commander-in-chief Amar Singh; on hearing this, became nervous and he sent his reliable representative Zorawar Singh to the Maharaja. Zorawar Singh requested Ranjit Singh not to help Sansar Chand, and promised a large sum of money in return for this gesture. But Ranjit Singh would not listen and the Sikh army continued to advance till it reached the holy shrine of Jawalamukhi. Meanwhile epidemic spread in the Gorkha army because of intense heat. Amar Singh, therefore, lifted the siege of the Kangra fort during the night and ran away to Mandi and Suket. Raja Sansar Chand presented two horses and three thousand rupees as tribute. The Maharaja left a contingent, one thousand strong, in the fort of Nadaun, and ordered Sardar Fateh Singh Kalianwala to stay at Bijwara for some more time to watch the movements of Amar Singh Thapa, and himself marched back to Lahore.

Birth of Princes Sher Singh and Tara Singh

Near Jaalamukhi, a fast-moving horse man of Sardarni Sada Kaur brought happy news that her daughter, Maharani Mahtab Kaur had given birth to twin sons of the Maharaja. At this, large-scale celebrations and rejoicings took place and pompous festivities were held. According to auspicious time of birth, the princes were named Sher Singh and Tara Singh. One of these very princes, Sher Singh later became Maharaja Sher Singh (1841-43).

Different Opinions about the birth of the Princes

British historians, for example Captain Murray, Wade and Doctor Honigberger, write that both these princes were not the real sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, nor were they born to Mahtab Kaur. Sada Kaur very cleverly took them from some neighbour and announced them as having been born to her daughter. Even some Indian historians lifted this story from there and repeated it in their books. Sayyad Mohammad Latif in fact invented a long tale about it. Bhai (Baba) Prem Singh (Hoti) has tried to refute this story in his book. We cannot say anything for certain. But it transpires that by the year 1833 A.D. this story whether true or false had become current among the public, and people had begun to believe it. Honigberger too, lived in Lahore Darbar during this period. Captain Wade frequently visited the Maharaja. Diwan Amar Nath, then in early youth, was busy writing the history of the Maharaja. He also appears to give a veiled hint to this happening.2

Attack on Qasur - 1807 A.D.

Nawab Nizam-ud-Din had died and his brother, Qutab-ud-Din, who succeeded him was not prepared to accept allegiance to the Maharaja. In fact, his predecessor Nawab of Qasur; in heart of hearts, was never willing to submit before the Maharaja. The Maharaja could not tolerate the existance of an independent Afghan principality so close to his capital which could be centre for constant intrigue of Maharaja’s enemies. Therefore, on his way back from Kangra, the Maharaja resolved to conquer Qasur, and he ordered his army and artillery to march straight to Qasur. Besides, he also issued orders to other chiefs that they should go to Qasur along with their respective contingents.

Conquest of Qasur

Qasur was attacked in Februrary 1807. Qutab-ud-Din having known about the Maharaja's decision, had collected many groups of Afghan crusaders, and was fully prepared for war. As the Maharaja learnt about his preparations, he further increased the numerical strength of his own army. He especially called the brave Akali groups from Amritsar. Assault on Qasur was launched on the morning of February 10, 1807. The Ghazis of the Nawab also fell upon the Khalsa army. After two hard battles, the Afghans lost ground. An uproar spread in their ranks and they got disorganized. The Nawab ran away and took refuge in his fort which the Sikhs besieged. For a month exchange of artillery fire continued but the strong fort of Kasur showed no sign of fall. The Afghan forces within the fort had sufficient rations to hold on. Therefore, the Maharaja planned to blow one of its walls with explosives. A select group dug a tunnel under the fort's wall during the night and at dawn it was filled with explosive and ignited. The western wall of the fort fell on one side with a thud. The Sikh army entered the fort. Now the Ghazis resorted to hand-to-hand combat with swords. There was blood all around. But the brave Khalsa succeeded in occupying the fort.

The Nawab treated Liberally

The Nawab was apprehended while trying to escape and was presented before the Maharaja. He requested that his life be spared. Sardar Fateh Singh Kalianwala very strongly pleaded for him. Ranjit Singh pardoned him and gave him as a jagir in Mamdot (modern Ferozepore district) territory, across the Sutlej River, worth about one hundred-thousand rupees a year. During this war, Akali Phula Singh, Sardar Dhanna Singh Malwai and Sardar Nihal Singh Attariwala distinguished themselves. Therefore the territory of Qasur was given to Sardar Nihal Singh Atariwala as jagir. The Maharaja got rich store of wealth, in cash and kind, from the fort of Qasur. From here the Maharaja returned to Lahore with the play of victory tunes and festivities announcing his arrival.

Assault on Multan

The Nawab of Multan was known to have extended help and support to the Nawab of Kasur secretly; when Ranjit Singh led an expedition against Kasur. Sher-i-Punjab was a tireless brave person and he had trained his forces likewise. Therefore, after a short stay of two weeks at Lahore, he advanced towards Multan. Nearing Multan, the Khalsa forces destroyed all the buildings that lay outside the walled city of Multan. Nawab Muzaffar Khan found himself incapable of facing the assault and requested Nawab Bahawal Khan of Bahawalpur for help. Bahawal Khan approached Ranjit Singh through his Vakil Munshi Dhanpat Rai. Simultaneously, he advised Nawab Muzaffar Khan to come to terms with the Maharaja. Thus both the sides agreed for a truce. Muzaffar Khan offered seventy thousand rupees as nazrana to the Maharaja who sagaciously marched back to Lahore along with his forces.

Domestic Disputes of Patiala and Maharaja's Mediation

During the same period, there arose differences between the Raja of Patiala and his queen, As Kaur, the Rani wanted to get her son, Prince Karam Singh nominated as the heir-apparent, but the Raja was not ready to do so the during his life time. Due to acrimony between the Raja and his queen, the State came to have two parties. Some of the sardars and the army sided with the Raja while the rest supported the Rani. Preparations for war started, but on the advice of some courtiers it was considered better that Maharaja Ranjit Singh be invited to act as a mediator in this case. The Maharaja taking a large army with him immediately reached Patiala. The Raja of Patiala along with his courtiers gave him a grand welcome and treated him with gorgeous hospitality. After a few days Ranjit Singh attended to the affair. He attentively listened to both parties and gave his judgment that there was no need to appoint an heir- apparent during the life-time of Raja Sahib Singh. He also got an annual grant of fifty thousand rupees fixed for the Rani and her son Karam Singh. Rani As Kaur agreed to these terms and the matter was resolved.

Heaps of Presents

At the time of the Maharaja's departure, the Raja of Patiala presented the customary tribute which included gems and jewels worth seventy thousand rupees besides a beautiful gun of brass. All the big and small Cis-Sutlej chiefs were over-awed at the spectacle of Maharaja's large army. Therefore each one of them thought that it would be a blessing if they could ward off this monster by offering him costly presents. Bhai Lal Singh of Kaithal offered twelve thousand rupees and the Afghan ruler of Malerkotla gave forty thousand rupees. Similarly, Sardar Karam Singh of Shahabad, Sardar Bhagwan Singh of Shahpur, and the widow of the late Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh of Ambala also offered presents.

Siege of Naraingarh Fort

On reaching Ambala, the Maharaja got the news that Raja Kishan Singh of Sirmur was not willing to owe allegiance to him. The Maharaja, therefore, set out for Naraingarh at once. This fort situated at a strategic spot was very strongly built, with heavy guns fixed on its high battlements. Kishan Singh prepared to fight, and the Maharaja besieged the fort. Sardar Fateh Singh Kalianwala advanced forward with a squadron to capture the enemy guns. This brave man fell upon the enemy with great intrepidity and succeeded in snatching two guns. He was yet getting these guns dragged to his own side, when a bullet hit him in the chest and he instantly fell a martyr. Ranjit Singh was watching all this from a high position. The death of this doughty sardar caused him great sorrow.3 At the same time two squadrons of Sardar Mohan Singh Kumedan and Diwan Singh Bhandari advanced. These two chiefs also fell fighting.

Seeing this, the Khalsa army got greatly excited. The Sikh soldiers advanced with frenzy and vehemence. They rained bullets torrentially and captured the fort by stratagem. Raja Kishan Singh ran away for his life. The Maharaja bestowed the Naraingarh estate upon Fateh Singh Ahluwalia as jagir. From there the Maharaja returned to Lahore con­quering Nowshehra, Morinda, Bahlolpur etc., on the way.

Annexation of Daliewalia Misl Territories

On his way back to Lahore, the Maharaja was still at Jalandhar when he got the news that Sardar Tara Singh Ghebah, who had been with him during his tour of Patiala a few days earlier, had expired. The Maharaja at once went to offer condolences to his wife. He gave reasonable maintenance grants to those related to the late chief, took over the army and annexed the possessions of the Daliewalia misl to his own territory. In this way, the territory of Rahon, Nakodar, Naushahra (Nawanshahr), etc., which yielded a revenue of over seven hundred thousand rupees annually, came under the Maharaja's sway.

Admission of Diwan Mohkam Chand into the Maharaja's Army

During the same year, the famous general, Diwan Mohkam Chand, entered the Maharaja's army.4 Initially, Mohkam Chand held the post of diwan in the service of Sardar Dal Singh of Akalgarh. In 1804, the Maharaja conquered the territory of Dal Singh, and Mohkam Chand took service with Sardar Sahib Singh of Gujrat. The Diwan was a genius in the art of warfare and the Maharaja had noticed this during an expedition against Sahib Singh. In 1807, the Dewan fell out with Sahib Singh and he left Sahib Singh's service to join service with the Maharaja. Ranjit Singh was very glad and appointed him to a high combatant post, and bestowed on him an elephant, an Arabian steed, a standard and power of the pen. He also appointed him to the command of one thousand horsemen of the imperial army and Fifteen hundred army men of the jagirdars of Doaba; and bestowed on him in jagir almost the entire territory of the Daliewalia misl. Diwan Mohkam Chand administered his territory so well that every sardar of Daliewalia misl joined the Maharaja's army along with his constabulary. Sir Lepel Griffin writes:

“Diwan Mohkam Chand was the most capable of Ranjit Singh's generals. Through his shrewdness and intrepidity, Ranjit Singh succeeded, from his small state, to establish the kingdom of Punjab. ”

Conquest of the Mountainous Region

In January 1808 A.D., Ranjit Singh made up his mind to conquer the mountainous region. Diwan Mohkam Chand was appointed Commander of this expedition. First of all, the fort of Pathankot was reduced, and a sum of forty thousand rupees was realised from Sardar Jaimal Singh as war penalty. After this, he marched towards Jasrota. The chief of that place on hearing the news of the Maharaja's arrival became panic stricken. He welcomed the Maharaja on the borders of his state, paid a large sum of money as tribute and agreed to submit. After a few days' stay, Chamba was invaded. The Raja of Chamba was struck with terror. He sent his courtiers to the Maharaja and agreed to pay an annual tribute of eight thousand rupees and owe allegiance to the Maharaja. Then came the turn of Basohli state. Its ruler, too, was spared any molestation when he agreed to pay annual tribute of eight thousand rupees.

Holding Darbar

Coming back from the hilly region, the Maharaja held a grand Court which was attended by hill Rajas, Nawabs and chiefs of plains. Each one of them was given a robe of honour according to his rank. For this occasion, orders for attendance were also issued to Sardar Jiwan Singh of Sialkot and Sahib Singh of Gujrat who did not present themselves in the Darbar indicating their reluctance to submit to Ranjit Singh.

Conquest of Sialkot

The absence of these chiefs (Jiwan Singh of Sialkot and Sahib Singh of Gujrat) could not be to the liking of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. As soon as he got free from the Darbar, he, along with Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, invaded Sialkot. After reaching Sialkot, the Maharaja sent his Vakil (emissary) to Jiwan Singh and asked him to expLaln the reason why he did not present himself in Darbar. Jiwan Singh considered his fort to be impregnable. Therefore he gave no satisfactory explanation and instead started preparations for war, and mounted guns on the fort-walls. At this, the Maharaja gave permission for strike. Jiwan Singh fought very bravely and defended his fort for several days. Meanwhile Ranjit Singh conquered two or three other forts in the nearby territories. One of them was a tower named Attari which was at a distance of one and a half miles (2.04 kms.) from Sialkot. The Maharaja mounted light guns zamburche usually carried on camel-back, on this tower, and started shelling Sialkot fort from there. Besides this, Ranjit Singh’s men started digging a tunnel at some distance from the fort. A few select bravados moved through this sub-terrain passage and scaled the fort’s wall with the help of a rope ladder. From the other side heavy gun-fire was directed at the fort’s gate. In a few moments the fort-gate fell into pieces and the army entered the fort. The victor army, with the Maharaja’s permission, plundered the fort to their hearts fill. Like other Sardars who submitted Jiwan Singh was also granted a maintenance jagir and Sialkot was annexed.

Invasion of Akhnur

From Sialkot the Maharaja went towards Jammu hills and encamped near Kalwal at a distance of twelve miles (19.04 kms.) from Akhnur. The ruler of Akhnur, Alam Singh,5 was taken unawares. He agreed to pay annual tribute of thirteen thousand rupees and begged submission.

Submission by the Ruler of Gujrat

Thereafter Ranjit Singh marched towards Gujrat. The ruler of Gujrat, Sahib Singh had got terrified after having known the fate of Sialkot ruler. He sent his Vakil to the Maharaja without any loss of time and begged to be excused for his conduct. The Maharaja pardoned him on the recommendation of Baba Sahib Singh Bedi and allowed him to remain in occupation of Gujrat. Sahib Singh on his part agreed to owe allegiance to Ranjit Singh and gave a written assurance to this effect.

Tour of Jaimal Singh's Territory

During the same year, the Maharaja under took a tour of the territory of Sardar Jaimal Singh Kanheya. The daughter of this chief had been engaged to Prince Kharak Singh. The said Chief paid twenty five thousand rupees as tribute, and the Maharaja annexed a large part of his estate to his own kingdom.

Conquest of Sheikhupura Fort - 1808 A.D.

According to Munshi Sohan Lal three forts, Pathankot, Sialkot and Sheikhpura were known to be strong enough to be impregnable. The Maharaja had already conquered and occupied two of them. Now he turned his attention towards the third one, the fort of Sheikhpura which was at a distance of twenty or twentyfive miles (32-38 kms. ) from Lahore.

Its ruler, Amir Singh prepared to profess loyalty to the Maharaja provided he was allowed to remain in occupation of the fort. Ranjit Singh did not accept this proposal. Therefore he sent an expedition under Prince Kharak Singh towards Shekhpura. The royal artillery started shelling the fort, but with no success. Many of the Maharaja’s brave soldiers were killed. At last deceit instead of valour set the matter right for the Maharaja. Munshi Sohan Lal relates that the Maharaja was in a fix and was likely to get disappointed, when a mysterious person approached him from inside the fort and told him that close to the pillar of the gate and to its left there was a long underground chamber; which was the weakest spot where a cannon-ball could be effective. At this the guns were set accordingly and a big opening was created. The Maharaja’s army penetrated into the fort and occupied it. Sardar Amir Singh himself was taken captive. The Maharaja established a strong post of his own in the fort, and the territory of Sheikhpura was given as jagir to Prince Kharak Singh.

Diwan Bhiwani Das - 1808 A.D.

During the same year Bhiwani Das of Peshawar presented himself in the court of the Maharaja and expressed his desire to join service with him. Diwan Bhiwani Das came from an intelligent family. His father and grandfather had held the rank of diwan under the government of Kabul. Diwan Bhiwani Dass, too, had held a high office in revenue department under Shah Shujah, ruler of Kabul. He had come to 'India during the same year to collect revenue of Multan and the Derajat provinces. He fell out with Shah Shujah due to some reason. Ranjit Singh was keen to have the services of such capable people. He needed the services of an expert for organising his revenue department. Till then; the Maharaja had not organised a regular treasury, nor was there an elaborate system to maintain an account of receipts and expenditure. All the cash was kept in deposit with Ramanand, a moneylender of Amritsar. The Maharaja appointed Bhiwani Das to the post of diwan without any loss of time. Bhiwani Das taking over this high office started a system­atic organisation of revenue offices; established government treasuries at different places and introduced registers in which accounts were to be maintained systematically. Some intelligent and capable clerks were also appointed for audit of the accounts.6

Jama'dar Khushal Singh

During this very period, a person named Khush Hal entered the service of the Maharaja. He was a Gaur Brahman by caste and hailed pargana Sardana of Meerut division (of present Uttar Pradesh state). He was a handsome, tall young man of amiable disposition and was financially in the grip of penury. The Maharaja enlisted him as a sepoy in the battalion of Dhaunkal Singh Kumedan. His appearance strength and ability proved be his good assets and the Maharaja appointed him (Khush Hal) on his personal staff. Khush Hal got converted to Sikhism probably to please the Maharaja and named himself Khushal Singh. The Maharaja then began to treat him with special favour, and promoted him a Jama’dar after some time. Not long after that he rose to the position of Chamberlain (Deodhidar) of the royal household. Deodhidar was considered to be a high office of distinction because Deodhidar fixed and regulated the interviews of the visitors to the Maharaja. Thus, besides establishing friendly relations with chiefs and the Sardars, he received thousands of rupees as nazrana and rewards.

Teja Singh

After some time Jamadar Khushhal Singh also called his nephew to join service with the Maharaja. He asked Tej Ram to become a Sikh to curry favour with the Maharaja. Tej Ram was renamed Teja Singh" and was given a rank in the army. Besides his duties as Deodhidar, Khushal Singh was occasionally called upon to lead the forces in the battlefield. But he did not prove to be a capable soldier. However imitating others, he participated in warlike activities eagerly.

Ram Singh

During the year 1817 his younger brother, Ram Lal, also arrived at Lahore. But he refused to become a Sikh, for which reason Khushal Singh also fell from Maharaja's favour. As soon as Khushal Singh realised this, he made his brother understand the position and got him converted as a Sikh, and renamed him Ram Singh and got into the good books of the Maharaja again.

New Nobility

Khushal Singh was the first among those who accepted Sikhism only to please Maharaja. This is an example of the new nobility being created by Ranjit Singh besides the traditional sardars and misl chiefs.

Notes & References

  1. Munshi Sohan Lal writes : "The Ruler, Keeper of the State, who had been each day looking for such an opportunity, ran with the alacrity of wind and lightening on hearing this news."
  2. “Because Mahtab Kaur daughter of Sardarni Sada Kaur was inclined towards spiritual pursuits and chastity, she in the beginning observed purdah (veil, seclusion, privacy) and kept distance from the Maharaja, who on his part was always keen for the birth of a son, rather of twins. Messengers therefore went with coquettish gait to announce that two lights, meaning two blessed sons had, with the glance of the king's good fortune, appeared to brighten his lap.”— Zafarnamuh Ranjit Singh, page 40.
  3. Sardar Fateh Singh Kalianwala had been a favourite of the Maharaja. Friendly relations between the families of Fateh Singh and the Maharaja had existed for three generations. The said sardar joined the Maharaja's army during the year 1798 A.D., and he performed distinguished service during the conquests of Lahore and Amritsar. The victories of Qasur and Chiniot were gained because of him. Therefore, the Maharaja greatly loved Sardar Fateh Singh and he had awarded him jugirs worth about three hundred and fifty thousand rupees. Sikh Surdars, big or small, considered it a high privilege and pride to fight under his banner.
  4. Griffin gives this date a few months earlier.
  5. Sayyad Mohammad Latif gives his name as Alam Khan.
  6. For detailed information on the Maharaja's prominent chiefs and others appointed to high offices. See Punjab Chiefs by Sir Lepel Griffins, Part I and II.
  7. He is the same Teja Singh who during 1845-46 went across the Sutlej to fight against the British as Commander-in-Chief of the Sikh forces, and who is accused of betrayal and rout of the Khalsa army.