Timeline of events
Anglo Sikh Wars1 January 1798
“Memory dilutes, but the object remains unaltered.” (Aanchal Malhotra, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory)
Historians have typically privileged documents and written records of the past over the other non-verbal sources of information. Documents, however, do not touch the lives of thousands of men, women and children whose lives had been affected as a result of the grand events of the past such as the Anglo Sikh Wars. Artefacts and possessions often act as repositories of memories, silently storing the experiences of the past within them. The Anglo Sikh Wars Exhibition will gradually dust the layers off to unearth the stories of the past by focusing on the alternate sources such as objects, stories, diaries, paintings, photographs, memorabilia, monuments and ruins.
The Anglo Sikh Wars were a series of battles fought between the British East India Trading Company along with the British Empire and the Sikh Empire in the region of Punjab. The two wars lasted from 1845-1846 and 1848-49 in the region of Punjab in the Indian subcontinent. The nine battles, fought in different locations throughout the territory, are remembered for the bravery and military prowess of the soldiers.
The online exhibit will focus on a variety of artefacts such as the weapons of the British and the Sikh Empires, War Medals, paintings, sketches, treaties, photographs, monuments, memorials and stories of some unsung warriors such as Maharani Sada Kaur Ji and the British soldier. Shifting the camera’s gaze will assist us in re-viewing history and presenting the stories of the past through a different lens. Through this re-telling of the past, the attempt is to develop a new, more humane, understanding of history by studying its effects on common people in the past and at present instead of looking at it as divorced grand events that took place a few decades ago.
“Memory dilutes, but the object remains unaltered.” (Aanchal Malhotra, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory) Historians have typically privileged documents and written records of the past over the other non-verbal sources of information. Documents,…
The Sikh Empire1 January 1799
In the eighteenth century, the region of Punjab in the north of the Indian subcontinent, was governed by the Sikh Confederacy. The Confederacy consisted of 12 Misls, or sovereign bodies, governing different territories within the region. Although part of the same Confederacy, the tribes would usually compete among themselves and battle for more territory and resources. The city of Lahore, now in Pakistan, was governed by the Bhangi Misl, originally from Amritsar, now a part of Independent India. During their rule, the citizens of Lahore were distraught. Seventeen different kinds of taxes including marriage tax, tax on child birth, chulha tax if the residents have more than one stove in their house etc. were levied on them. The residents of the city wrote to a 19-year-old boy, Ranjit Singh to relieve them of their plight.
Ranjit Singh was born in 1780 in Gujranwala, now in Pakistan, and was the leader of the Sukhcheriya Misl. Being the only child of Raja Maha(n) Singh, he became the leader of the confederacy after the death of his father in 1792. After receiving the plea from the residents of Lahore, capturing Lahore seemed lucrative to young Ranjit Singh. However, it was equally challenging for him and his forces. Ranjit Singh’s mother-in-law, Sardarni Sada Kaur Ji, the mother of his first wife Rani Mehtab Kaur, was his guide in this mission. It was her strategy and her presence of mind that made it possible for Ranjit Singh to capture the throne of Lahore.
When the young leader discussed his plans of capturing Lahore with his mother-in-law, she devised a plan. She informed the armies of both the confederacies that they were going to Amritsar. Keeping the plan a secret meant that the army and the leaders in Lahore were completely unprepared for this unexpected attack. Through her presence of mind, Sardarni Sada Kaur Ji also convinced the army in Lahore as well as the ruler to surrender. Her tactics positioned her son-in-law on the throne of Lahore, making him the ruler of the place. No doubt she is considered “one of the most artful and ambitious of her sex that ever figured in Sikh history and she was the ladder by which Ranjit Singh reached the summit of his power.” (Syed Muhammad Latif)
Ranjit Singh’s Lahore later became the grand capital of the Sikh Empire after he declared himself as the Maharaja. The kingdom was famous for its prosperity and secularism. It was the golden period of the Sikh Empire and a prominent one in South Asian history. If the monuments that stand still could speak, what stories of valour and grandiose would they tell!
Unfortunately, Ranjit Singh did not leave any capable heir to his throne. This resulted in the crumbling of the Sikh Empire due to internal rivalries and rifts. After the assassinations of four of his predecessors, Maharaja Duleep Singh came to power in September 1843, at the age of five. “This disorder was not only seen as a threat but an opportunity for the British East India Company, as a result they started building up their provisions and forces close to the Sutlej river. It would only be a matter of time when the British and the Sikh would go head to head.”
In the eighteenth century, the region of Punjab in the north of the Indian subcontinent, was governed by the Sikh Confederacy. The Confederacy consisted of 12 Misls, or sovereign bodies, governing different territories within the region. Although part of the…
First Anglo Sikh War17 July 1845
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Empire began to crumble due to lack of any capable heirs. When Maharaja Duleep Singh ascended the throne at the age of 5, the British forces looked at it as an opportunity to and started building provisions near the Sutlej river. Sir Hugh Gough, the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the East Indies, and Sir Henry Hardinge, the British Governor-General of India led the forces of the British Army and the East India Company into the region of Punjab, which was gradually falling apart. This conquest of Punjab led to two conflicts, known as the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845-46 and 1848-49 respectively).
These two wars consisted of numerous battles that expanded British rule in India and shaped the history of the sub-continent. The First Anglo Sikh War began with the Battle of Mudki on December 18, 1845, near the banks of the Sutlej River. This battle was between the British and Bengal Army led by Major General Sir Hugh Gough and General Sir Henry Hardinge, and the Sikh Army led by Raja Lal Singh and Tej Singh. The strategy of Gough has been criticized because the British Army was tired and hungry after travelling for miles, and were hurriedly deployed into the Battle. “The battle was in no way a win for either side, according to Cook, ‘thus ended one of the most untidy actions the British Army in India had ever fought.” (ASW)
The Battle of Ferozeshah took place on the south bank of India between December 21 and 22, 1845. After the Battle of Mudki, both sides buried their dead; many bodies were left to rot as the armies moved further towards Ferozeshah. Diary of Sir Robert Cust, who was present in the battle states,
“December 22nd. News came from the Governor-General that our attack of yesterday had failed, that affairs were desperate, that all State papers were to be destroyed, and that if the morning attack failed, all would be over; this was kept secret by Mr. Currie and we were concerting measures to make an unconditional surrender to save the wounded, the part of the news that grieved me the most.”
However, unlike the expectation, the British achieved victory on the second day of the battle.
The Battle of Aliwal was the third battle fought between the British forces and the Sikh Empire during the First Anglo Sikh Wars on January 28, 1846. The British forces captured the village of Bhundri and the heavy fighting took place around the Bhudah Nulla. The Sikhs retreated and the battle was over, with the Sikhs dead being far less than the 3000, as claimed by the British. This led to the final and decisive Battle of Sobraon, which took place on February 18, 1846. This last battle of the First Anglo Sikh Wars was an intense artillery duel, which finally culminated in the annexation of the Sikh state of Punjab in north-western India by the British powers.
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Empire began to crumble due to lack of any capable heirs. When Maharaja Duleep Singh ascended the throne at the age of 5, the British forces looked at it as an…