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Punjab History - Sikh States

The reign of Shah Jahan (1627-1658) added much to the prosperity of the Punjab. The emperor's large views found a fitting agent in Ali Mardan Khan, his minister and director of works. Under his orders the canal from the Ravi near the foot of the hills to Lahore was made, and the Jumna Canal, which had been constructed in the 14th century by Firoz Shah, was restored and improved. AH Mardan Khan also built the magnificent "sarais" or rest-houses for travellers on the high road to Kashmir, and other works of utility in the Punjab.

Har Govind, the sixth Sikh guru, died in 1645, and Har Rai succeeded him. Har Rai died in 1661, and his successor, Har Kishan, a boy, held the nominal leadership of the Sikhs only three years, being followed in 1664 by Tcgh Bahadur, a son of Har Govind. When, on his return to tho Punjab from a visit to Bengal, he was thought to be exercising authority inconsistent with loyalty to the emperor, he was put to death by Aurangzib in 1675. This roused the Sikhs to greater zeal in the adoption of a military constitution.

The next guru, Govind Rai, son of Tegh Bahadur, after passing some years in retirement end study, came forth a vigorous and enthusiastic leader, with high aims. He set himself to the task of organizing the Sikhs of trie Punjab, now becoming formidable from their number, their physique, and their warlike propensities. The first adherents of Nanak, the founder of the sect, had been mostly Jats and Khattris. Many were men of great staturo and powerful frame. As Sikhs they acquired a distinctive appcaranco by giving up tho Hindu practice of shaving the head and face. They were forbidden tho uso of tobacco; and their discipline in other things prepared them for being indeed tho soldiers they looked. Govind Rai adopted the designation "Singh" (lion), and this became tho distinctive addition to the names of all Sikhs.

After the death of Aurangzib in 1707 he accepted the invitation of Bahadur Shah to join him in a campaign against the Mahrattas. At Nader, on the Godavari, he was murdered in 1708. His principal associate, Banda, led the Sikhs back to tho Punjab and turned 'his arms against the Government. After a long series of fights with the Mogul's troops, during the reign of Bahadur Shah and Farrukh Siyar, Banda was at length taken in 1716 and put to death. Mohammed Shah was on the throne of Delhi, much occupied in contests with the Mahrattas, when Nadir Shah invaded India. Nadir's march through the Punjab in the beginning of 1739 met with no great opposition; but the Sikhs kept up a system of desultory plunder both of the invaders and of the people fleeing from them.

Lahore submitted and was spared; and it escaped again, on Nadir's return, after the defeat of Mohammed Shah at Karnal and the massacre at Delhi, by having a large sum of money ready to meet the expected demand. The Punjab offered no more effective resistance to the invasion in 1747 of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who kept possession of Afghanistan after Nadir's death. He began by claiming the revenues of the parts of the Punjab and Sind which had been ceded to Nadir. On his third invasion (1752) ho obtained possession of Lahore and Multan. The king of Delhi was now also an Ahmad Shah, and the invader was, for distinction, called in India Ahmad Khan Afghan. His son Timur, whom he made governor of Lahore, was driven out by the Mahrattas. Ahmad found frequent visits to tho Punjab necessary, and only after the total defeat of tho Mahrattas at Panipat in 1761 did he retire finally to Kabul.

For a time the Sikhs seemed to have the prospect of holding the Punjab for themselves. Their number end power had greatly increased. They had grouped themselves in associations of kindred and neighbourhood, with distinctive names. Powerful members of certain of these clans, representing the aristocracy oi the Sikh families, acquired the chiefship of large tracts of country on both sides of the Sutlej, some of which became nearly independent states.

There were certain members of the Sikh confederation, not enrolling themselves in any clan nor owning any master, who assumed the role of religious enthusiasts and warriors, and the name "Akali" or immortal. They were the ghazis of Sikhism. They dressed in blue and wore a high-pointed turban on which they carried several chakras of different sizes, their own special weapon. The chakr or chakra is a thin knife-edged ring of flat steel, a severe missile in skilled hands, but not much used.

The Sikhs south of the Sutlej enlarged their possessions and made marauding excursions across the Jumna and the Ganges even aa far as to Rohilkand. The capital was held by three leading Sikh chiefs, when, in 1797 and the following year, Zaman Shah, grandson of Ahmad, brought an army with the view of recovering the Punjab, but was recalled both times by troubles at home. He secured Lahore without opposition, and on leaving in 1798 he made it over to a young Sikh who had attracted his attention and done him good service. This was Ranjit Singh, son of Maha Singh, a Jat Sikn who had risen to considerable power, and who died in 1792. The young ruler of Lahore was soon to make himself master of the whole Punjab.

When Ranjit Singh was beginning his career at Lahore, the English adventurer George Thomas was trying, with the army he had raised, to carve out a little principality for himself in the Sikh states south of the Sutlej. Ranjit was a man of strong will and immense energy, of no education but of great acuteness in acquiring tho knowledge that would be of use to him. He soon began to bring all tho separate bodies of Sikhs under hia control, and to acquiro authority over othere besides tho Sikhs. When he endeavored to include the Sikh states south of the Sutlej within his jurisdiction, the heads of these states chiefs of Sirhind and Malwa, as they wero called sought and obtained in 1808 the protection of the British, whoso territories had now extended to their neighborhood. The English were at this time desirous of alliance with Lahore as well as with Kabul, for protection against supposed French designs on India. A British envoy, Mr Charles Metcalfe, was received by Ranjit at Kasur in 1809 and the alliance was formed.

Ranjit steadily strengthened himself and extended his dominions. The trans-Indus and other outlying tracts were left very much to themselves, and only received a military visit when revenue was wanted. When he was gradually raising his largo and powerful army Ranjit received into his service certain French and other officers, who drilled his troops and greatly improved his artillery. Upon his death, Ranjit was succeeded by his eldest son Kharrak Singh in 1839. And now for a time the history of the Punjab became a history of intrigues and deeds of violence, and of contests for power which, when gained, could not be kept. It needed tho crushing defeat of Gujrat, 21 February 1849, to bring the war to a conclusion, and this time to give the Punjab to-England. It was annexed on 02 April 1849.

The territory of the Sikhs comprehended all the Punjab, a part of Moultan, and the largest portion of the country lying between the Jumnah and the Setledge, or the north-western corner of Hindoostan, containing in 1850 some 70,000 square miles and 4,000,000 inhabitants.

During the Mutiny campaign of 1857 the Punjab, under Sir John Lawrence as chief commissioner, was able to send important aid to the force engaged in the siege of Delhi, while suppressing the disturbances which arose, and meeting the dangers which threatened, within the Punjab itself. In 1858 the Delhi territory, as it was called, west of the Jumna, was transferred from the North-West Provinces to the Punjab. The enlarged province was raised in rank, and on 01 January 1859 the chief commissioner became lieutenant-governor.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:16:03 ZULU