THE GLORIOUS REGIME OF MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH - Jihne Lahore Ni Vekheya Ohh Jammeya Ni.
In the travelogue penned by Baron Charles Hugel of his tortuous, circuitous and labyrinthine route ascending the eclivities and descending the declivities in a hot and humid and elsewhere extremely cold climate has been poignantly and painstakingly narrated as follows:
The arrival of the Brahmin Jani Lal had cured Thakur-Das of all his indisposition, and while some of the officers took possession of one elephant, the two new friends occupied the howdah of the second. I proceeded meanwhile at a rapid pace, escorted by the party of horsemen, having taken leave of the Shah at Wazirabad until we should meet at Lahor. He had entreated to be allowed to live with me in that city, but as I did not myself know where I should be on my arrival, it was settled that he should at all events see me often while there. I had determined to do all I could for him in Lahor, but I did not like to promise anything.
Monday, January 11.-This morning I received a letter from General Ventura, telling me that he had the Mahé Raja’s orders to come and give me the meeting. It was the wish -of Ranjit, that I should halt at Shah Dera, the celebrated mausoleum of Jehangir, where the General was to announce my arrival to Khalifa Sahib, the marshal of the court, who would forthwith receive me; and I was likewise to remain a day at Shah Dera, that everything might be prepared for my reception in Lahor. Shah Dera is but three miles from that city, on the right bank of the Ravi. I replied to this note directly, that nothing was likely to prevent me from reaching Shah Dera at twelve o'clock, and that he could hardly err in announcing my arrival at that town without waiting for me to address him again. The expectation of residing in Ventura’s house while at Lahor, gave me more pleasure than any honour the Maha Raja was likely to pay me.
The nearer one approaches the Ravi, the more desolate and uncultivated is the country about it. The distance from Nangel to Shah Dera, which lies somewhat to the left of the great road to Lahor, is not more than eight kos, but we arrived before twelve o'clock, though the Basanta, a small river, which was very deep, and had no bridge across it, detained us for some time. Indeed, I was forced to betake myself to the back of an elephant, and the carriage was brought across with a great deal of difficulty. I was surprised to see with what ingenuity the Indians surmounted it, and particularly as they were not at all accustomed to the sort of work now required at their hands.
Shah Dera is a splendid ruin, its beauty consisting not so much in the plan or. arrangement of the building, as in the details. Marbles and precious stones were there in profusion. The chief building, placed in a fine garden, forms a square with a beautiful minaret at each corner; these are covered with pietra dura, and appear from a. distance as though painted with a variety of colours; they should be seen very near, for the colours have a very poor effect when viewed from any point distant enough to embrace a proper view of the gigantic edifice itself. The ground floor consists of an arcade, raised on several steps, and a lofty terrace, whence, towards the west, the highly ornamented entrance leads to the small vaulted chamber, the tomb of Jehénghir, which is very similar to that in the Taj Mahal at Agra. The light falls on it from above.
There is nothing of the same kind in India more elegant, than the terrace which runs around the roof of the building, formed entirely of pietra dura, and having an open balustrade of marble. I ascended one of the minarets, to gain a view of the long-desired Lahor, which has a goodly appearance from this distance, with its high walls and stately minarets and houses. In the foreground, are the buildings belonging to Shah Dera, which extend down to the Ravi; then comes the river; next; a long line of fields, intermixed with groups of trees, now clad in their fresh livery of spring; beyond these are the handsome edifices built by Jehangir in Lahor. I had hardly time to gaze on all these attractive objects, when a cloud of dust rolled onwards from the river, conceding for a time a party of horsemen and bearers, the deputation sent by Ranjit Singh to welcome me.
Fakir Khalifa Sahib was accompanied by the commander of the forces in Lahor, and in the name of the Mahé Raja, addressed me in a speech full of the flowers of rhetoric, assuring me that he had made daily inquiries where I was, and had waited for me with the utmost impatience; that now I was in my own country and had only to command; the Maha Raja desiring that my residence might be made as agreeable to me as possible. After this, Mr. Vigne and I, with the commandant and Khalifa Sahib, entered the general’s carriage; the ferry over the Ravi is about a mile beyond Shah Dera, and even in this dry season, there is now in many places not less than eighteen feet of water. On the shore is a large garden made by the Moghul Emperor Dilkusha, with buildings on both sides of the river; the waters have long destroyed everything that stood on the left bank, and carried the massy walls into its soft bed. One side of the great square surrounding the monument at Shah Dera, has met with the same fate, and here the right bank is giving way before the river in a similar manner.
The approach to Lahor by this road is very striking. The fortress repaired by Ranjit Singh, and garrisoned by regular cavalry, is in excellent repair; its great extent notwithstanding, would utterly preclude its defence against the assaults of regular artillery. It was with the most pleasurable feelings that I contemplated meeting General Ventura in his own residence, for his continual attention to me since I had entered the Panj4b, made me consider him as an old friend. I was heartily tired of solitude, and longed moreover for a few days’ rest in a house, and the company of a European host. He met me in the tent which forms the entrance to his beautiful garden, and though we had never seen each other before, we shook hands most cordially, and I attempted to convey all my thanks for his kindness, and to assure him that the pleasure of making his acquaintance, made me less averse to the idea that I should trespass on his hospitality for some days to come. He replied most obligingly that the Maha Raja expected me to remain at least one month in Lahor; but I had already resolved to limit my stay there to four days, on account of my desire not on any account to miss the steamer which left Bombay in Match.
The fakir Sahib now took his leave of me, and was straightway succeeded by his elder brother, Aziz Gd Din, the minister for foreign affairs and confidential secretary, who came from the Maha Raja to acquaint me, that he had been informed of my arrival by General Ventura, and had laid aside all occupations to rejoice at it. I cannot repeat the fine speeches that followed; soon after this, fifty bearers made their appearance with presents of fruit and sweetmeats, a bottle of his own wine, of which I shall have something to say presently, and a bag with 700 rupees.
The general now introduced me to Mr. Mackeson, the Company’s political agent at Bhawalpoor, and to a Frenchman, named Dubuignon. The first is a most intelligent young officer, who has accepted a place in a desert, 300 miles from Ludhiana, where he will have to superintend and protect the English vessels in the navigation of the Indus, a privilege lately conceded to them by a treaty with the Amirs of Sind. I had nearly forgotten to name an old acquaintance whom I also met with. On the left bank of the Ravi, I was accosted by a man with a grey beard, and a uniform somewhat French in its cut, whom I perfectly recollected to have seen before, but could not think where nor when, until he began to talk of Bombay. I then recognized Mr. Forni, the manufacturer of saltpetre, who had come from Bombay to Egypt while I was there. At our richly-covered board in the evening, we were joined also by Mr. Fox, an Englishman lately enrolled in the service of the Maha Raja.
Before I give an account of my own residence at Lahor, I shall introduce a brief notice of the Sikhs and their king, whose energetic mind has embodied a multitude of disjointed materials, which he, and only he, could ever have succeeded in compacting together. His standard is planted upon the ruins of the Moghul Empire, and he now holds his court in their second viceregal city.
By the victory obtained over Emperor Ibrahim Lodi, at Panipat, in 1525, India was subjugated, and the dynasty of the house of Timar established on the throne of Delhi in the person of the illustrious Raber, whose intellectual accomplishments were in no respect inferior to his genius as a soldier. Driven from his hereditary possessions, he worked his way by personal exertion, to the sovereignty of his native kingdom, Ferghana, and when he lost this by the treachery of his nearest kinsman, proposed another and a bolder expedition to the south, and, after a sanguinary struggle for the richest prize in the world, ascended the throne of Delhi, All his actions evinced the working of a bold and comprehensive genius, whether we consider his plans of conquest, or his forbearance towards the followers of the different religious persuasions throughout his kingdom; the latter quality was not less extraordinary than honourable, when we take into consideration the age in which he lived. His toleration enabled the sect of the Guri Nanak to spread its doctrines vary widely throughout his empire. At first they were but few in number, and assumed the title of Sikhs or Sikhsha, a word which in Sanscrit signifies instruction; yet it is worthy of remark, that the government never considered either Nanak, or the Guris who succeeded him, in any formidable light. It is, in truth, a peculiarity belonging to the many sects in India, that they rarely have anything to do with politics, and that the sectaries care as little what may be the faith of their ruler, as the ruler concerns himself about the creed of his subjects. Very different was the opinion: of the Mohammedans in this respect; the propagation of their religion always served as a decent covering for their love of Conquest, and they pretended to justify all the misery they brought on India, all their oppressive deeds for centuries, by an ardent zeal for the faith of their prophet. Whatever changes the Mohammedan religion may have undergone in these revolutions, experience has always shown, that very few of its followers have been free from that fanaticism which seems, an integral part of Islamism. The governing powers of India take care that the taxes are regularly paid; so that they have his money, they do not trouble themselves about what deity the payer may believe in; in like manner also, the subject does not inquire to whom he pays the impost; and thus matters proceed quietly, except’ when the fanatical members of a sect, from some real or fancied injury, seek for redress or revenge on their rulers, and thereby attract more particular notice.
The immediate successors of Guri Nanak were: Angad, Amira Dés, Rém Das, and Arjun Mal, whose very existence was disregarded hy the government. The maxims of the new doctrine, which I have endeavoured to explain in another place, were at first of an ambiguous nature, and chiefly directed against the polytheism of the Hindis, in the same manner as the Iconoclasts of the eighth century sought to purify the Christian religion from the abuses which had sprung up; but they soon began to assume a more definite form, until, under the last-mentioned GurG, they were sufficiently arranged to allow him to write them down in a book called the Grunth.
Hargovind, Hari, Harikrishna, and Tegh-Bahadur, succeeded each other as ministers of this sect, and it was in the lifetime of the last that Aurungzib dethroned his father Shah Jehan, (that Emperor of Delhi who, of all the Moghul rulers, has left the most enduring memorials of himself in the buildings he erected,) and caused the destruction of his brothers and their families, who perished in the war against the usurper. Religion was the pretext used by Aurungzib in this unnatural contest with those of his own blood: totally destitute as he was of every pretension to it, he invariably proclaimed his ardent zeal for the faith of the prophet, urging on its reception, among other means, by persecuting each separate sect of the Hindis. In the year 1675, Tegh-Bahadar was put to death in Patna by his commands. His son Govind thereupon swore eternal enmity to all Mohammedans, and changing his religious appellation of Sikh, which, in common with all of his own faith he had hitherto borne, for the name of Singh, or Lion, which is peculiar to the military castes of India, he thus proclaimed openly his change of mind, and was imitated by all the professors of his faith, who assumed a similar title. Govind Singh lost no time in forming a band of predatory troops out of the multitude of religious devotees who flocked to him, whose watchword was “eternal enmity to the Mohammedans.” Neither did they long want a token of recognition; as an open defiance to the Mohammedans, they suffered the hair of their heads and beards to grow, and followed up these conspicuous signs of their altered profession by entering on their new career. Predatory excursions were first undertaken, and when the Mohammedan commanders in the different provinces aroused themselves to check these disorders, Govind Singh summoned every member of his sect to join him in carrying on the contest with energy and determination. The time indeed was not favourable for the success of such an enterprise, for Aurungzib held the reins of power with no feeble hand, his armies, by uninterrupted exercise, were well trained to battle, and had every advantage against these inexperienced zealots. After a few unimportant skirmishes, the revolters were dispersed, and Govind Singh obliged to flee to the Dekhan, where he is supposed to have died in the year 1708. His followers returned to their former peaceable condition, and resumed those occupations from which the martial ardour of their leader had withdrawn them. The office of the Guri, however, was not filled up; first, because the Sikhs long expected the return of Govind Singh, of whose death they never received any certain information; and also, when after so long a time had elapsed since his escape, that the fact of his death could no longer be doubted, the whole frame of their society, if I may so express it, had undergone a change. Govind Singh has remained, therefore, up to this time, the last acknowledged spiritual head of the Sikhs.
A Hindi Bairagi, or penitent, called Banda, assembled together with a small band of Sikhs soon after the flight of Govind Singh, and commenced a series of hostilities against the Mohammedans by destroying Sirhind. But he was quickly overpowered, taken prisoner, and by command of Shah Alam, the son and successor of Aurangzeb, openly put to death. Delhi was soon the theatre of civil: war for the succession to the imperial throne, and the Sikhs ceased for the time to be the objects of much attention or of persecution. Once more they resumed their habits of predatory warfare, but with more impunity than heretofore, and the sect gradually and quietly extended its numbers.
Thirty-two years after the death of Aurungzíb, under whom the Mohammedan empire in India attained its highest pitch of glory, and four years atter the Mahraltas from the south had burnt the suburbs of Delhi, a warning so to speak to the great Mohammedan States in the west, not. to let the treasures of the Moghul Emperors fall into the hands of the unbelievers, the imperial capital was plundered and reduced to ashes by Nadir Shah, who, however, made no long stay there, but left India most precipitately, returning laden with treasures to his own land, after uniting to his empire that part of the Moghul dominions lying on the iight bank of the Indus. Notwithstanding the throne of the house of Timúr was undermined, an able and independent prince had succeeded in propping up the tottering edifice, strengthening and restoring it to something of its original order. But it wanted real stability, and the two powerful governors of the provinces watched their opportunity to avail themselves of the weakness of their masters, who now followed each other in quick succession, and established their own independence.
There was still, however, a spell in the name of the Emperor of Delhi, which áverted the breaking out of an open rebellion; nor were there wanting many men of ability who were willing to devote themselves and identify their fortunes with that throne to which they were indebted for their own power; but their loyalty was for the most part but very ill rewarded by the feeble successors of Báber.
Nádir Shah was murdered in the year 1743; his servant and friend Ahmed Khán Abdalli, an Afghan, taking advantage of the confusion consequent on his death, subdued and took possession of that portion of his vast dominions, Afghánistan, which Nádir Shah had united to Persia. He assumed the title of Ahmed Shah, made Kandahár his capital, and undertook the invasion of India, in order to chastise the infidels. A dispute between two brothers for the governorship of Lahore, in 1747, gave him an opportunity of declaring himself the protector of one, and brought him into the very heart of the falling empire. He speedily conquered Lahor, and resolved not to lose sight of his good fortune, He then hastened towards Delhi, but without any successful result, for the brave Mir M4énu gave him battle near Sirhind, and compelled him to retrace his steps beyond the Indus. The second invasion, in 1748, was bought off by Mir Manu, who, as a reward for his military conduct, had been invested with the Governorship of Lahor; but the third, which took place in 1751, made him master of the city, after a very sharp struggle. The rainy season soon obliged him to recross the Indus, but he left Mir Manu, who had so well defended Lahor against him, as his representative there; and on the death of this brave viceroy, which happened soon afterwards, his gon, a child, and at his death, his widow, were permitted to succeed as governors in his room, a plain proof of the miserable state of affairs at Delhi, that in such difficult times children and women were thought capable of being entrusted with places of such high importance.
In 1755, Ahmed Shah appeared for the fourth time in India, and without encountering any opposition, he advanced from Lahor to Delhi. There he espoused a princess of the house of Timur, laid the city under a heavy contribution, and returned homewards again, leaving the feeble monarch, who had given him so little trouble, on his ancestral throne. He united Sirhind and the Panjab to his own dominions, appointed Timur his son, then only eleven years old, as his viceroy in Lahor, and recrossed the Indus.
In the Panjab, confusion was now at its height, and the Sikh sect enlarged itself almost unnoticed, and carried on with impunity the profession of regular highway robbery. In order to put a stop to this state of things, and make the Government more respected, the Viceroy Timar was directed by Ahmed Shah, to require the presence of all his vassals at court, and in particular, Adina Beg, the most powerful: Jaghirdér in the new provinces, was commanded to repair to Lahor, and do homage to his new sovereign. Adina Beg, who had long enjoyed his independence in the Jalander Dodb, excused himself on this summons; and when Timur would have compelled his appearance, he imagined a terrible means of ensuring the continuance of his own power; he invited Mulhar-Rao Holkar, the chief of the Mahrattas, who considered all India as their prey at that period, and promised him a large sum of money for every day that he would make the Panjab the field of his incursions.
Holkar was to profit by this invitation, and the Sikhs served as an auxiliary in Fikar’s army, as they had before served in the Persian army against the Moghuls. The Mahrattas entered the Panjab, expelled the Viceroy, plundered Lahor, captured the baggage of the fugitive Timur, and retraced their steps towards Hinddisthan, leaving a garrison behind them to keep possession of Lahor, while the Sikhs carried on their robberies unmolested.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Shah, assembling a force more numerous than any with which he had hitherto entered Hindisthan, resolved to chastise Adina Beg; the death of this chief, however, precluded the meditated vengeance of the Abdali. The Mahrattas at this period were at the zenith of their power; and intelligence of Ahmed Shah’s advance with a large army, was received by the Mohammedan princes of India with a feeling of universal satisfaction. All prepared themselves forthwith to join him with their troops, and make war against the common enemy. Nor was the Peshwa, the chief of the Mahrattas in the Dekhan, indifferent to the gathering storm. He mustered all his forces, well aware that the question now to be determined, was not merely which Mohammedan or Hindu prince was to occupy the throne of Delhi, but which power was henceforth to preponderate throughout India,-which of the two in fine was to be the lord, and which the servant.
On the 7th of July, 1761, the fate of India was once more contested at Painiput; the Mahrattas were utterly defeated; and in the battle and subsequent flight to the Dekhan, they are said to have lost not less than 200,000 men.
After remaining a few days only in Delhi, Ahmed Shah recrossed the Indus, leaving Zain Khan in Sirhind, and Khaja Obeid in Lahor, as his Viceroys. At first sight, it appears unaccountable that Ahmed Shah should not have declared himself at once Emperor of Delhi, as he might then so easily have done. Perhaps he was deterred by the conviction that the separate portions of the Empire had become too powerful to be governed from one great central point. This obstacle chiefly proceeded from the preponderating influence of the Omrah or nobles, who had long considered themselves as so many sovereigns, and hence offered so much opposition to the different Emperors, that the imperial government had scarce more than the shadow of authority over them. The alliance of Ahmed Shah with the house of Timur, might also tend to predispose him in favour of its fallen greatness, as well as his own disposition, which had more of humanity in it than had been seen in any conqueror of India who had preceded him.
This explanation of the early events which occurred in the north of India, though not strictly connected with the Sikhs, was necessary in order to show the degree of confusion existing there, which was so favourable for the growth and projects of that religious sect. At this same period, the great majority of the Sikhs were agriculturists, or owners of one or more wells, by which the value of the property is calculated in their country, and was without exception men who were sighing for an opportunity of taking the spear in hand, and mounting their steeds to endeavour by robbery to increase their scanty means. Whenever the Mohammedans were at war with each other, they engaged a number of these marauders in their service: they fought against each other in the opposite ranks without the least scruple, being in fact mere mercenaries, using religion as their watchword, when vo other pretext served as a decent cloak for their atrocities. The fact of a separate sect of these zealots, called Akali, having brought themselves into notice from the main body of the Sikhs, shows how greatly they must have degenerated from their original institutions. These Akali, when fighting for their faith, threw aside their garments with the exception of their turban, and urging on their fleet coursers, brandished their sabres, and with a shrill war-cry compelled their fellow believers to proceed against the enemy.
Ahmed Shah was too much occupied with his conquests in other countries to keep these new provinces constantly in view; and so long as the taxes could be raised, the Governors of Lahor and Sirhind gave themselves very little concern about those disorders, occasioned everywhere by the growing power of the Sikhs; hence, nothing could be more favourable to these fanatics than the posture of affairs at that period. Their confidence and expectation of success augmented in proportion to the impunity with which they were allowed to carry on their depredations, while the peaceful inhabitants of the Panjab became aware that nothing but their conversion to the new doctrines could insure to them the quiet which they would have purchased at any price. Whenever the opportunity presented itself for an incursion, a small band of horsemen suddenly swelled into an army; and on the approach of an overwhelming Mohammedan force, this army was suddenly transformed again into a body of husbandmen, quietly occupied in the cultivation of their fields. The day of vengeance had arrived for the long-oppressed Hindus against their hard task-masters the Mohammedans, nor could. it is expected they would neglect to take advantage of it. The Sikhs wanted some places of security to lodge their booty in, to preserve it from the dangers of a sudden surprise. At this time Nodh Singh became distinguished among the many leaders of the various parties who were carrying on war on their own account. He was the great-grandfather of Ranjit Singh, and the son of Disu, a Jat, whose property as a peasant was very trifling. Nodh Singh was the first of the family who made a profession of the Sikh religion. He died in 1750, and his son Charat Singh formed a party of his own. As he was favoured by fortune, he was very soon in a situation to erect a Garhí, or fort, at Guseráolí, which he surrounded with mud walls, and made the storehouse for his booty. In every respect, the place was well chosen: it was situated in the vicinity of Lahor, and in the midst of the Sikh population, to whom, on emergency, it might serve as a rallying-point. From the period when the Mahrattas entered the Panjáb by Hindústhan, this population had been gradually moving towards the most northerly point of Hindústhan and the Panjáb, where the prevailing disorders seemed to offer them a much wider field of booty than any other part of India. In the year 1762, the perpetration of some daring acts of robbery, undertaken from Guseráolí, first drew the attention of the Viceroy of Lahor, Khája Obied, to the place. He marched forthwith to destroy it, but it was a post of great importance to the Sikhs, and they had an intimation of the Viceroy's design insufficient time to throw a strong force into the Garhí. These forts, however unimportant, have at all times been sufficient to present great impediments in the way of Indian armies, and prolong their wars to an indefinite period. The military equipment of Khája Obied were on too small a scale for him to capture this petty fortress within a short time, and the composition of his army caused him infinite embarrassment during the prolonged siege. In his expeditions against the Emperor of Delhi, in Hindústhan and the Panjáb, Ahmed Shah Abdali, like other Mohammedans, had enlisted Sikh soldiers in his service; his Governor, Khája Obied, followed his example, and had a large body of them among his troops. This fact proves plainly enough that the Sikhs thought much more of plunder than of spreading their faith, and were ever ready to take the field with friend or foe, where they had any prospect of acquiring it. So long as the Moghuls had a higher remuneration to offer, they served them; but as soon as Ahmed Shah had become master of the country, several of the Sikhs amassed considerable wealth, and the poorer classes of this sect joined the Mohammedans in hope of spoiling their more fortunate brethren, and dividing the plunder among them.
While Khája Obied was carrying on his slow operations before Guseraoli, tho Sikhs in his service began to negotiate with their brethren in the fortress, On a day appointed, they forsook their posts simultaneously; the other troops, on hearing of this desertion, took to flight; and the combined Sikhs, without striking a blow, got possession of the camp: meanwhile Khéja Obied escaped with difficulty to Lahor: nor did he venture to leave the walls of that city. For the first time since the foundation of their religion, the Sikhs found themselves strong enough to have a public assembly, Sarhat Kalsa, in Amritsar. This place, the ancient Chak, was of great importance in their estimation; for it was there that the fourth of their Guris, Rém Das, constructed that celebrated tank in 1521, which he called Amrit Saras, or the Spring of Immortality, because they who bathed in its waters were cleansed from their sins. Thence was derived the name of the city Amritsar.
As soon as Ahmed Shah learned what had befallen his general, he prepared, in November, 1762, to recross the Indus, chastise the rebels, and liberate Khaja Obied. His approach was the signal to the Sikhs to disperse themselves in different directions, the majority taking refuge in Hindusthan. Ahmed Shah arriving in Lahor without encountering an enemy, commanded Zain Khan, his Viceroy in Sirhind, to observe the movements of the fugitives, and summoned all his Mohammedan vassals or Jaghirdars to send him their contingent of troops. He soon received notice that the Sikhs had assembled in vast numbers at Kos Rahira, in Hindustan. Whereupon, he left Lahor secretly, at the head of a select division of his army, and in the course of thirty-six hours was at Ludhiana, on the other side of the Setlej, a surprising march. Here he allowed his troops a few hours’ rests, and the next morning reached Kos Rahira, where the Sikhs, trusting to their superiority in numbers, had just attacked the governor of Sirhind. The appearance of the black fur caps, the well-known uniform of the flower of the army of the Abdali, suddenly changed the aspect of affairs, Seized with a sudden panic, the Sikhs never thought of offering them any opposition, and Ahmed Shah took bloody revenge on them for all the trouble they had given him. From twenty to thirty thousand Sikhs are said to have fallen on this field of battle, and it was only when his soldiers were tired of slaughtering, that the survivors were enabled to save themselves by flight. The battle is known to the Sikhs by the name of Ghalu Ghára, or the bloody massacre.
An honourable trait in Ahmed Shah's character may be mentioned here. All Sing, Sardar of Patiala, was brought a prisoner to Lahor, and his valour in the field and courage when brought into Ahmed's presence so gained the admiration of his conqueror, that he not only received a pardon, but with it the khilat, or dress of honour, and the title of Raja.
Ahmed Shah then marched towards Amritsar, ordered the temple of Harmanden (Hari), which stood in the centre of the sacred tank, to be blown up with gunpowder, the water to be choked up with sand and, stones, and rendered unclean by throwing in the blood and carcasses of cows (a profanation even more terrible, according to the maxims of the Sikh faith, than in the estimation of the Brahmins themselves); and finally, appointing Kábuli Mal, a Brahmin from Kabúl, his deputy in Lahor, he returned at the end of the year 1762 to Kandahar. But he had scarcely time to cross the Indus, ere he received the news that the Sikhs had again broken out into open revolt, seized the fort of Kasur, and appeared before Sirhind with 40,000 horsemen. The governor, Záin Khan, accepted the battle offered by them, which terminated in his death, and the defeat of his army.
Sirhind itself, one of the most handsome and richest cities in Hindústhan, fell into their power, and after having suffered much from their devastations so far back as 1707, was now made a heap of ruins. This rage for its destruction proceeded from the remembrance, that in the time of Aurungzíb, the wife and child of Govind Singh had been put to death there, and its ruin was, therefore, in their eyes, merely an act of just retribution. Even at the present time, it is considered a most meritorious action for a Sikh to tear out the bricks from some detached piece of the wall yet standing, and throw them into the Setlej or the Jamna.
Ahmed Shah entered India in 1764, for the seventh time, and the rebels took refuge in the desert bordering on Rajpútána, and escaped the meditated vengeance of the Abdali, who was compelled to return homewards without having seen one Sikh. No sooner did the insurgents hear of his departure, than they found their way back to the Panjéb. Their first exploit was the capture of Lahor, which Kabuli Mal, feeling himself too weak in troops to hold out against them, evacuated on their approach. The indefatigable Ahmed moved back, marched through Lahor and as far as the Setlej, the cunning Sikhs, as usual, dispersing before his army. On this occasion, strange to say, a Sikh Sirdar called Amar Singh, the son of the before-named Ala Singh, of Patiala, received from Ahmed Shah the investiture of Sirhind, which his father had exchanged with the Sikh conquerors for a few villages. He was now established in it with the title of Mahé Raja. It is said that Amar Singh appeared dressed for the ceremony in the presence of the Abdali, with the long hair and beard, the requisite distinctions of a Sikh. He was commanded to cut them off directly, and only obtained the privilege of retaining them by paying down a lakh of rupees to Ahmed Shah.
Without waiting for the orders of the Shah, twelve thousand of his soldiers suddenly decamped at this time, and marched back to Kabil, Ahmed being compelled to follow them. With much difficulty and the loss of his baggage, he reached the Indus, pursued by the Sikhs, whom he thus left in undisturbed possession of the Panjab and of Sirhind, with the exception of some few Mohammedan principalities, which were too well defended to give any hope of their sudden alienation.
The Sikhs were not governed at this period by anyone prince, but were divided into twelve fraternities, called Misal, each one acting according to its own interest and ways of thinking. Twice in the year, at the anniversary of great festivals, at the Bysakhi, in April, and at the Diwali, in October, the Sikhs assembled in Amritsar and held a Gurmatta, or general council, where everything relating to their affairs was deliberated, their future enterprises resolved on, and according to their importance, the co-operation of the whole brotherhood or of one or more divisions called for. Without much regard to the unity of purpose in such enterprises, every Sikh Sirdar was accustomed to living at the expense of his Hindu and Mohammedan neighbours. When Ahmed Shah ceased finally to interfere in the affairs of the Panjab, in the year 1764, the twelve Misals numbered as follow:-1. Bangi Misal, 10,000 armed horsemen; 2. Ramgarhia Misal, 3000; 3. Ghania Misal, 8000; 4. Nakia Misal, 2000; 5. Aluwala Misal, 3000; 6. Daliala Misal, 7500; 7. Nishanwala Misal, 12,000; 8. Faizullapuria Misal, 2500; 9. Khora Singhia Misal, 12,000; 10. Shahf aud Nihang Misal, 2000; 11. Phalkia and Bhekia Misal, 5000; 12. Suker Chakia Misal, 2500: making a total of 69,500 horsemen.
The chiefs of these Misals were, properly, only the commanders of the troops in their general enterprises, but they were always the most considerable men in the Misal. Each individual horseman, however, had some property, whether small or large, and was, in trath, an arbitrary chief, who formed a member of the Misal, just as it suited his own pleasure, or when some common interest was at stake; we need not dwell on the impossibility of any State, governed by 69,500 tyrants, being either supportable to others, or lasting in itself. Its existence was protracted only so long as there was a foreign enemy to oppose, the baggage train of an Ahmed Shah to plunder, or the territory of a Mohammedan prince to enter for spoil and devastation. Peace brought its unfailing consequences; divisions and strife between the different Misals. Ahmed Shah died in 1773, and his son, Timar, more peaceably inclined by nature, never seems to have contemplated the subjugation of the Panjab. During his reign of twenty years, the last of the above-named Misals, the Suker Chakia, had advanced in number and power beyond most of the other fraternities. Its founder was Charat Singh, the grandfather of Ranjit, a common trooper, to whom fortune was so kindly disposed of, that at his death he left behind him a revenue of three lakhs of rupees. He fell a victim to the bursting of one of his own guns at the assault on Jami, in 1747, leaving a son, Mahé Singh, only ten years old. The widow placed herself and the lad under the protection of Jai Singh, the chief of the powerful Bangi Misal, until Mah4 Singh was old enough, in 1778, to marry the daughter of the Sirdar of Jhind, and maintain his own independence. His life from that period was one unbroken series of audacious robbery, the plundering of Jami being the most profitable of his enterprises, though it nearly caused his ruin.
Jamu was at this time one of the richest towns of India, the inhabitants of the Panjab having made it their usual place of refuge, where they conveyed all their treasures*. It belonged to a Hindé Raja called Ranjit-Deo, a friend of Jai Singh, who was naturally very much incensed when Maha Singh, who owed even his territories to his protection, now made war without first consulting him, and that, against his own friend, terminating it with the plunder of Jamia, and the exaction of contributions from the richest Sikh Sirdars. The more particular details of this contest, with which the present power of Ranjit Singh’s house originated, will be given in the sequel. It produced a war between Maha Singh and Jai Sing, which terminated in a battle, the rout of Jai Singh’s army, and the fall of his eldest son, Gur Bakhsh Singh. This disaster humbled the pride of this chieftain. Old and infirm, he saw himself prostrated before the man who was his debtor for all he had, and forced to accept the terms of peace prescribed to him. The articles of this treaty prove how little the Sikh chieftains of that time understood their own real interests. One of Maha Singh’s allies was a Hindé Raja, called Sansar Chand, who, some years before, had surrendered to Jai Singh the very important hill-fort of Kangra. According to the treaty now imposed on him, this place was restored to Sansar Chand, to the evident injury of the whole Sikh nation.
An important alliance was early formed for Ranjit Singh, who when five years old was betrothed by his father to Mehtab Kanwar, a female of high lineage, the daughter of that Gur Bakhsh Singh slain in battle against him. Her mother, Suda Kunwar, was a woman versed in cunning and intrigue of every kind, and laid the foundation for much of the future greatness of Ranjit, by artfully causing the two remaining sons of Jai Singh to be deprived of their heritage in the Bangi Misal, and herself to be made the guardian of her young daughter.
An aspiring woman instantly prepared to govern the two powerful Misals, until her son-in-law should be of age to take the reins of power into his own hands.
The intrigues of Ranjít Singh himself, and his fortunate exploits are related elsewhere. Here, it will be sufficient to remark, that the three first years of his minority passed quietly, and that the three following years were distinguished by the renewed incursions of the Afghans.
On the death of the peaceably-disposed Timúr in 1793, Shah Zemán ascended the throne of Kabúl. Thirty-one years had elapsed since the Panjáb was disturbed by foes from without, when in 1795, Shah Zemán crossed the Atok, with the avowed object of retaking those Indian provinces which had succeeded in separating themselves ·from the døminion of his grandfather, Ahmed Shah. But this expedition, as well as a second in 1797, only proved the utter ignorance of this prince as to the real state of affairs. They both occasioned great disorders in the country, where neither glory nor riches were at that time to be acquired; but the invaders had never the opportunity given them to combat honourably, and each separate division, as it marched, found itself encompassed by vast bands of plunderers. Instead of one king, Shah Zemán had to oppose 69,500 chiefs, and as the power was thus subdivided, so was also the wealth of the country: the soldiers, of course, had little chance of enriching themselves by booty; for the Sikhs fled, each man with his property before the advancing foe, ready at a moment's notice, to turn and fall on them, when he felt strong enough, and plunder their baggage or cut off their provisions.
Many of the Sikh Sirdars did outwardly submit to the Shah, either for the promotion of their own interests, or in order to be ready for any moment of peril.
In 1798, Shah Zemán made his appearance again in the Panjáb with a powerful force, and possessed himself of Lahor without meeting with opposition. Most of the Sirdars of the Panjáb did him homage in person; others, among whom, was Ranjit Singh, who was then governing his own Misal, performed this duty by deputy. A temporary residence there, however, was sufficient to convince Shah Zemán that there was no good reason to believe that the provinces of the Panj4b and Sirhind would ever again form part of his empire. He was forced to return to Afghanistan with all possible dispatch, having received information that his brother Shah Mahmmud had established himself in the western provinces of his kingdom, and had called on Persia to assist him in his projects.
When Shah Zeman captured Lahor, Ranjit Singh withdrew to Sirhind, but had no sooner ascertained that the conqueror was about to leave the country, than he instantly retraced his steps to the Panjab, and followed the retreating army, undecided how to act, as a friend or as a foe, but quite resolved to be guided according to his own interest, and the circumstances which should present themselves. His ambition grasped at the possession of Lahor, then divided between three Sikh Sirdars.
Shah Zeman arrived at the Jelam on his return homewards. The river was much swollen by the rains, and twelve of his guns sank down deep in the soft muddy soil, but the Shah did not consider this accident of sufficient moment to induce him to wait until they could be extricated; he contented himself with offering Ranjit Singh the investiture of Lahor, if he would send them after him. Lahor, however, as we have observed, had been partitioned between three Sikh Sirdars, both before the invasion of the Abdali's and also after their departure; the proposition of the Shah, in point of fact, simply admitted the right of Ranjit Singh to conquer it on his own account, if he were able; and Ranjit believed that this investiture might be useful to him, not so much to give his conquest a certain apparent right in the minds of his fellow Sikhs, as to bring over the Mohammedan population of Lahor more effectually to his party. He forthwith sent eight guns to the Shah, and in reward received the investiture of Lahor, with the title of Raja. Not tarrying to make his right good by intrigue, he entered the city in 1799 by a gate opened for him by the Mohammedans, took possession of this important post, and forced the three Sikh Sirdars to accept some trifling jaghirs or fiefs, as a compensation for their loss.
The contests which took place for the throne of Kabul among the sons of Timdr, who had transferred the seat of government to that city, allowed them no time to think of reconquering the Panjab, and their unhappy dissensions so enfeebled their country, that it assumed towards its powerful neighbour an aspect purely defensive. On this side, then, Ranjít Singh, whom we may henceforth consider as the King of the Sikhs, was quite secure; while the British had too many weighty affairs on their hands to interpose any hindrance in his path.
When his power had grown to an unlimited height in the Panjáb, through the suppression and subjugation of the Mohammedan princes and the Sikh Sirdars, who could not comprehend their obvious policy of union against the common enemy; and lastly, through his conquests over the Hindú and Mohammedan Rajas in the mountains between the Panjáb and the Himalaya, then at length the Sikh Sirdars on the left bank of the Setlej saw but one means of saving their possessions, namely, by placing themselves under the protection of East India.
The company, lately become their near neighbour. Accordingly, an embassy from these Sikhs arrived at Delhi in 1807, with proposals for a treaty, which was concluded in 1809, and the Setlej declared as the boundary of the British territories towards the north-west. This treaty was the cause of Ranjit Singh's just displeasure to his brethren of that faith,and it was long ere he could bring himself to yield his pretensions to the command of the whole Sikh nation, or reconcile himself to his territorial limits being removed to the Setlej instead of the Jamna as heretofore. In vain he strove to gain time; the movement of a considerable body of English troops on Lúdiana showed him that the diplomatic negotiations were brought to a close. Presently he sent a detachment over the boundaries, who occupied Bilaspoor, but was obliged to countermand it on the advance of the British force, and admit the hard condition, that his territories should not be extended to the left bank