27 June 1839
Death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
The founder of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh died on 27 June 1839 at Lahore, Pakistan.
- Ranjit Singh was born ‘Buddh Singh’ to Mahan Singh Sukerchakia, the chief of the Sukerchakia misl and his wife Raj Kaur on 13th November 1780.
- Misl referred to confederacies in the Punjab. Each misl was ruled by a different chief, most of them being Sikhs.
- Despite not being educated, Ranjit Singh was given training in the martial arts, weapons and horseback riding as a child. He acquired the name ‘Ranjit’ meaning victorious in the battlefield at the age of ten when he led an army against a chieftain Pir Muhammad and achieved victory.
- Ranjit Singh’s father passed away in 1792 and the mantle of the misl fell upon the 12-year old Ranjit.
- Ranjit Singh was a remarkable fighter and military man and his valour and bravery against the Afghan invaders from the west is well-known. He survived an assassination attempt at the age of 12 by killing his attacker Hashmat Khan.
- When Afghan ruler Zaman Shah tried to annex Punjab, Ranjit Singh successfully defended his terrain.
- Ranjit Singh built the Sikh Empire by annexing areas around his territory and uniting all the misls under him. He built a large empire stretching from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet; and from Kashmir in the north to Mithankot in the south. Lahore was annexed from the Afghans in 1799. He annexed Kashmir in 1819.
- Although a devout Sikh, he had no place for religious bigotry in his kingdom. People of all faiths could dwell with respect in his empire. His own army and the government had people from the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths as well. He banned the cow slaughter out of respect for Hindu sentiments and also visited Sufi holy places. He restored and renovated the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple at Amritsar. He also contributed towards the gold-plating of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi.
- He modernised the army which came to be known as the Khalsa Army. He acquired newer equipment of warfare and fortified the infantry and artillery. He also employed Europeans in his army.
- Ranjit Singh also set up many weapons factories, cannon foundries and gunpowder manufacturing factories.
- His empire prospered owing to the better security and facilities for commerce.
- On 12th April, 1801, he was declared the ‘Maharaja of Punjab’.
- The empire that he founded in 1799 lasted till 1849. The British could not annex Punjab in his lifetime. Only after Ranjit Singh’s death could they encroach upon Punjab.
- The greatest contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was that he unified the Sikhs into a cohesive military and political unit.
- He is known as ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ which means the ‘Lion of Punjab’.
- He died on 27 June 1839 aged 58. His Samadhi is in Lahore, Pakistan. He was succeeded by his son Kharak Singh.
- The Sikh Empire could not last for much longer after Ranjit Singh’s death. Punjab was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War.
Also on this day
1838: Birth of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, author of the national song ‘Vande Mataram’. Some sources mention his birth date as 26th June. 2008: Death of former Chief of the Army Staff, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.