skip to Main Content

1 January 1799 - The Sikh Empire

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.”


Close search
Back To Top