Sikh Empire – An amazing story of rise and fall

Sikh Empire – Introduction

The Sikh Empire was a sovereign state in the Indian subcontinent that was established in 1799. It was founded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who brought together a number of independent Sikh states and consolidated them into a single kingdom. The Sikh Empire was located in the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent, and its capital was Lahore, which is now in modern-day Pakistan.

The Sikh Empire was known for its military strength and its ability to resist British colonization. It was also known for its religious tolerance and its promotion of education. The empire was marked by a number of major achievements, including the construction of a network of roads and canals, the establishment of a modern system of administration, and the development of a strong economy.

However, the Sikh Empire eventually fell to the British in the mid-19th century, after a series of wars and conflicts. Today, the legacy of the Sikh Empire is remembered and celebrated by Sikhs around the world, who continue to uphold the values and traditions of their faith.

Sikh Empire
The Sikh Empire

Origin of Sikh Empire

Banda Singh Bahadur
Banda Bahadur

 Before his death, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last human guru, handed over the military command to Banda Singh also known as Banda Bahadur and ordered him to conquer territories in Punjab . Along with this he also nominated the Adi Granth as the next eternal Guru. Thus the Adi Granth henceforth was called Guru Granth Sahib. Banda Singh became the secular head of the Sikhs along with the Panj Pyare. He conquered a large portion of Punjab and established the first Sikh state there. He even minted coinage. To win supporters, he began massacring the Muslim landowners of Punjab and started distributing their land among his followers. Included in the massacre were a large number of members of the Arain tribe.

Mughal Response

However, the Mughals regrouped and started pushing Banda Singh Bahadur. Eventually, in 1716, he was captured along with 780 Sikhs. They were taken to Delhi where they were told to convert to Islam or die. None of them converted. All of them died. Following the death of both Aurangzeb and Guru Gobind Singh, Mughal authority in Punjab had begun to erode. Taking advantage of the weakened Mughal Empire and the road to Delhi being relatively easy, Nadir Shah of Iran invaded in 1739 and massacred everything in his path. This further weakened Punjab. 

The Sikh Misls – Foundations of Sikh Empire

After Banda Singh Bahadur, various Sikh tribes had formed into twelve confederations called Misl. Together, they formed the Dal Khalsa. While they came together for the benefit of the greater Sikh community, there were often jealousies, alliances, intrigue and warfare among the Misls.

The 12 Sikh Misls were a confederation of independent Sikh states that were formed in the 18th and 19th centuries in the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent. These misls, or “bands,” were led by powerful Sikh leaders known as misldars, who controlled their own territories and were united in their common goal of resisting foreign domination and preserving the sovereignty of the Sikh people.

The 12 Sikh Misls were:

  1. Bhangi Misl
  2. Karor Singhia Misl
  3. Faizullapuria Misl
  4. Ahluwalia Misl
  5. Nakai Misl
  6. Kanhaiya Misl
  7. Ramgarhia Misl
  8. Nakkain Misl
  9. Phulkian Misl
  10. Sukerchakia Misl
  11. Dallewalia Misl
  12. Taruna Misl

The Misls were eventually consolidated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who united them into a single kingdom known as the Sikh Empire. The Sikh Empire was known for its military strength and its ability to resist British colonization, and it played a significant role in the history of the Indian subcontinent.

 Local Muslim rulers that paid lip service to Delhi and these Sikh Misls fought against Ahmad Shah Abdali’s various invasions, starting in 1747, often working together and sometimes, not working together. Abdali invaded India eight times in twenty years and led a campaign of genocide against the Sikhs. He desecrated their holiest sites and murdered thousands. 

Sikh Empire
Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Rise of Adina Beg Khan

In the middle of the chaos of Abdali’s invasions, was a man from the Muslim Arain tribe, Adina Beg Khan. Adina was born to a poor Arain family and had taken the Turkic title of Beg Khan to hide his humble origin. He had also fought against Abdali after having invited him to invade India in the first place. That’s how quickly political interest shifted in Punjab. He had been made the governor of Jalander region of Punjab by the Mughals and in 1753, he declared independence from both the Mughals and Ahmad Shah Abdali. 

To put an end to Abdali’s rule of Punjab once and for all, Adina Beg Khan invited the Marathas to fight alongside him. The Marathas expelled Abdali in 1758 but it wasn’t the end of Abdali. After winning and losing territory various times, he was finally made the ruler of all Punjab by the Marathas. Technically, he had to pay tribute to the Marathas but Punjab being so far away from the Maratha capital at Pune, he was independent in all but name. He declared all Sikhs to be outlaws and led campaigns against them but couldn’t achieve much. He died in the same year. The Marathas however had to bear the brunt of meddling with Abdali. In 1761, Abdali came back with full might and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Marathas at the 3rd Battle of Panipat.

 Beginning of the Sikh Empire

After the death of Adina Beg Khan,, there was, once again, no central authority left in Punjab. The Misls became more and more powerful. In 1783, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Baghel Singh Panjgarhia and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia led an offensive against Delhi itself. They conquered and then raided the city. They brought Aurangzeb’s throne back to Amritsar as a symbol of their victory over the tyrant who had tried to uproot Sikhism in its entirety. It still remains there. Some other interesting Misls were: 

  • The Bhangis who get their name from their leader Bhuma Singh’s addition to Bhang or Hashish. 
  • There’s the Nishanwali Misl who were the flag bearers of the Dal Khalsa army. 
  • The Shaheedan Misl gets its name, which means, the martyr, from Baba Deep Singh who lost his life defending the Golden Temple against Ahmad Shah Abdali. 
  • Ultimately, it was the Sukerchakia Misl that came out on top. 

Rise of Sukerchakia Misl under Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Charat Singh and his son Mahan Singh of Sukerchakia Misl had conquered quite a lot of land and established themselves as a powerful Misl. However, it was Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Khalsa Empire who consolidated control over all of Punjab and established central authority in Punjab once again. 

  • He took Lahore from the grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali and established his capital there. 
  • He also conquered Amritsar from the Bhangi Misl and renovated the Golden Temple. 
  • It was because of his work in overlaying gold on the temple that it got its name. 
  • By the end of his reign, he controlled the entire northern half of modern-day Pakistan. 
  • While he’s respected today as a Sikh hero and a great conqueror, it was actually, in my opinion, his diplomacy and political brilliance that make him one of a kind. 

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Diplomacy and Politics

 He made a treaty with the British where he would stay north of Sutlej river while the British would remain south. He understood their power and knew his own limits so he always worked within them. When he saw a group of British soldiers parading, his men thought of it as a useless quirky dance but Ranjit Singh saw it for what it was, a disciplined and trained army. 

 He got the Koh-i-Noor diamond from the grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali in exchange for supporting his claim to the throne. His throne as well as Koh-i-Noor are now in possession of the British Royalty. His reign was also very progressive and tolerant. He wasn’t a tyrant and at least in the heartland of the empire, he was very tolerant to minorities. Muslims, who were actually the majority in Punjab, were treated very well, at least in the heartland. 

Ranjit Singh’s Personal Life

His personal life is very interesting as well. His first wife was Mahtab Kaur whom he had married at a very young age because of political reasons. However, over the years the couple became estranged and Ranjit Singh married other women. His eldest son, Kharak Singh was born from one of his later wives. However, after separation, Mahtab Kaur gave birth to twin sons, Tara Singh and Sher Singh. While there were rumors that the boys weren’t Ranjit’s, he still loved them very much and raised them without ever paying attention to the rumors. Although, some sources say the opposite. Maharaja Ranjit Singh passed away on 27th of June, 1839 in his sleep. He was around 58 years old but he had many health issues stemming mostly from his alcoholism.

Downfall Of the Sikh Empire

Sikh Empire
Anglo Sikh Wars

 After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, his son and successor, Maharaja Kharak Singh was a simpleminded brute who kept himself busy with wine, opium and women. Sensing weakness, intrigue grew in the court as various powers were attempting to turn the Maharaja into a puppet. Kharak Singh died after only 11 months on the throne, apparently of poison. 

  • Maharaja Nau Nihal Singh, the son of Kharak Singh died on the day of his father’s funeral. When entering his palace, a huge block of stone fell on him that crushed his skull. His wife was pregnant at the time and his mother, Maharani Chand Kaur declared herself acting regent for the yet unborn child of Nau Nihal Singh. 
  • However, Ranjit Singh’s son Sher Singh (born to his 1st wife) attacked Lahore and Nau Nihal Singh’s wife gave birth to a stillborn son. 
  • Maharaja Sher Singh himself was assassinated after only two years on the throne. 
  • His five-year-old half brother Duleep Singh was put on the throne with his mother acting as regent in 1843. During his five year tenure, the Sikhs fought two wars with the British, losing both. The second ended in 1849 ( 2nd Anglo Sikh war) with Punjab annexed by the British.

  With the annexation of Punjab, it was curtains for the Sikh empire. With this victory the British finally established their supremacy over the entire Indian subcontinent.

Saga of Duleep Singh

 The Maharaja was deposed. Maharani was exiled. It would be thirteen years before Duleep Singh was allowed to see his mother again. He was taken by the British and put under something of a house arrest. Duleep Singh was Anglicized and he converted to Christianity at the age of 15. He was sent to England in 1854 where he lived for the bigger part of the remainder of his life.

Later in his life, he reconnected with his mother and the rest of his family. He tried to return to India in 1886 to reconvert to Sikhism but he was intercepted in Aden where he was arrested. Duleep Singh did convert there, though, which was not as grand and symbolic as his conversion in Punjab would’ve been. He died in 1893 in Paris. His body, against his wishes, was not returned to Punjab. He was put to rest in Elveden Church in England.

Conclusion

Though the Sikh empire was formed against great odds and with phenomenal sacrifices, it did not get a due share in history for it couldn’t survive for a considerable period of time. As with most of Indian kingdoms and empires the Sikh empire also had its own share of internal weaknesses, dissension and treacheries. Moreover its primary enemy was the mighty British who had already conquered rest of India. The fight was almost David Vs Goliath type. Had successors of Ranjit Singh proved their ability, the empire would have lasted for a much longer period than it did. Even if it had lasted longer, some day or the other, it would have succumbed to the British.

FAQs

Who defeated Sikh Empire?

The Sikh Empire was eventually defeated by the British in the mid-19th century, after a series of wars and conflicts. The first Anglo-Sikh War took place in 1845-1846, and resulted in a British victory and the annexation of the Sikh Empire’s territory in the Punjab region. The second Anglo-Sikh War took place in 1848-1849, and also resulted in a British victory.

Who betrayed Sikh Empire?

It’s not accurate to say that any one individual or group “betrayed” the Sikh Empire. The fall of the Sikh Empire was the result of a complex series of events and factors, including internal divisions and power struggles within the Sikh community, the military superiority of the British, and the support of some local groups for the British cause. Some accounts say that Tej Singh, the Sikh commander sided with the British in the 1st Anglo Sikh War and thus was responsible for the defeat.

Did Afghans defeat Sikhs?

No, the Afghans did not defeat the Sikhs. The Sikh Empire was a sovereign state in the Indian subcontinent that was established in 1799. It was founded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who brought together a number of independent Sikh states and consolidated them into a single kingdom. The Sikh Empire was located in the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent, and its capital was Lahore, which is now in modern-day Pakistan.
The Sikh Empire was known for its military strength and its ability to resist foreign domination. It was eventually defeated by the British in the mid-19th century, after a series of wars and conflicts. The first Anglo-Sikh War took place in 1845-1846, and resulted in a British victory and the annexation of the Sikh Empire’s territory in the Punjab region. The second Anglo-Sikh War took place in 1848-1849, and also resulted in a British victory.

See Also

Rise and fall of the Maratha Empire

The 10 Sikh Gurus

Decline of Mughal Empire – Complete Analysis

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