Singh, Ranjit


Singh, Ranjit
(1780–1839)
   The architect of the Khalsa Kingdom of Punjab. In 1792, at the age of 12, Ranjit succeeded to the leadership of Sukerchakia misl (principality), which controlled the territory between Lahore and Attock. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, he was able to establish control over the whole of Punjab. The Napoleonic Empire fascinated him, and he also kept well informed regarding the British anxiety about the advance of tsarist Russia into Central Asia. Whenever he got a chance, he discussed military affairs with foreign visitors.
   In 1805, Jaswant Rao Holkar arrived in Punjab, retreating before the British General Lord Gerard Lake. Ranjit mediated peace between the two parties. He visited Jaswant and heard with astonishment about the war exploits of the British, concluding that infantry disciplined and equipped in the Western style along with field artillery would enable him to survive against the onslaught of the British East India Company. From 1807, Ranjit trained Western-style infantry equipped with Brown Bess muskets from the deserters of the company’s troops and demobilized soldiers of the Maratha armies; he depended on ex-Napoleonic officers for training his army and establishing gun foundries. In total, more than 100 European officers were employed by Ranjit. Despite the opposition from his sirdars in particular and the Sikh community in general, who were votaries of light cavalry, Ranjit was successful in westernizing part of his army and took personal care of its westernized contingents, spending three to four hours every day watching the parade and frequently rewarded soldiers for good performance. After Ranjit’s death on June 29, 1839, the court lost control over the Khalsa. This encouraged the company to invade Punjab.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    James, Lawrence. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997;
    Singh, Amandeep and Parmot Singh. Warrior Saints: Three Centuries of Sikh Military Tradition. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1988.
   KAUSHIK ROY

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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