Military General (1786-1841)
A Sikh general who conquered Ladakk and Baltistan in the Sikh times and carried the Khalsa flag as far as the interior of Tibet. About Zorawar Singh’s place of birth authorities differ. Major G. Carmichael Smyth, A Reigning Family of Lahore, says that he was a native of Kussal, near Riasi, now in Jammu and Kashmir state. Hutchison and Vogel have recorded that he was a native of Kahlur (Bilaspur) state, now in Himachal Pradesh. A modern writer Narsing Das Nargis, on the basis of information supplied to him by a great grandson of Zorawar Singh, states in his book Zorawar Singh that he was born in a Rajput family about AD 1786 in the village of Ansora, in Kangra district.
It is stated that when 16, Zorawar Singh killed his cousin in a dispute over property and escaped to Haridvar, where he met Rana Jasvant Singh, who took him to Galihan, now known as Doda, near Jammu, and trained him as a soldier. He joined service under Gulab Singh Dogra, Gulab Singh employed Zorawar Singh mostly for defending the forts to the north of Jammu. For some time he also worked as an inspector in commissariat of supplies where he did a commendable job by effecting a saving in the much-needed provisions about 1823.
When Raja Gulab Singh, the feudatory chief of Jammu under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was appointed governor of Kishtvar, he appointed Zorawar Singh to administer the new district with the title of wazir. In Kishtvar, Zorawar Singh introduced fiscal and judicial reforms and had the old fort of Kishtvari rulers renovated. From here he led several expeditions into Ladakh, the first one in the series in July 1834. From Kishtvar, the Dogras entered the Suru valley. After fighting pitched battles at places such as Sanku, Langkartse, Kantse, Sot and Pashkam, the invaders pushed on to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The Ladakhi king, Tse-pal Namgyal, was made to pay war indemnity. He also underlook to pay an annual tribute of Rs 20,000 and acknowledged the suzerainty of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Ladakhis, however, soon rose in revolt against their new masters and Zorawar Singh launched a second attack. This time he followed the short but difficult Kishtvar-Zanskar route. He quelled the rebellion, deposed the old king and appointed his prime minister and brother-in-law, Nagorub Stanzin, as the new ruler of Ladaakh . But Zorawar Singh had to make two more incursions before Ladakhi was annexed to the Sikh kingdom in 1840.
The same year, Zorawar Singh attacked Baltistan, a Muhammadan principality in the Indus valley, to the northwest of Kargil. He defeated the Baltis and deposed Ahmad Shah, whose eldest son, Muhammad Shah, was installed as the new king of Baltistan. Zorawar Singh next turned his attention towards western Tibet. The conquest of Tibet was an ambition he had harboured in his heart for some time and, as Sohan Lal Suri, the court chronicler of the Sikh times, records, this was the suggestion he proffered to Maharaja Ranjit Singh when he in March 1836 waited on him at the village of Jandiala Sher Khan to pay nazarana. He told the Maharaja that he was ready to “kindle the fires of fighting” and “by the grace of ever triumphant glory of the Maharaja, he would take possession of it.” The Maharaja, however, was not willing to allow him to undertake the adventure. Zorawar Singh had his chance in the time of Ranjit Singh’s successor, Maharaja Sher Singh.
In April 1841, by which time the conquest of Ladakh had been completed, he marched into Tibet at the head of a large army and within six months had conquered territory to the north west of the Mayyum Pass. But then a strong Tibetan army descended down from Lhasa and confronted the invaders at Tirthapuri, near Lake Manasarovar. Zorawar Singh could get no reinforcements from Leh or from any other place as heavy snows had blocked all the passes. He fought many a pitched action in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar and was killed in the last one of these on 12 December 1841. Although this great conqueror perished mid-campaign, his initiative did not go unrewarded. In September 1842 a treaty was signed by representatives of Chinese and Lhasa governments on the one hand and of Khalsa Darbar and Gulab Singh on the other which extended the Sikh, and hence Indian, frontiers to their present international boundary. The whole of Ladakh thus became a part of the Indian territory. An English version of the treaty is as follows;
As on this auspicious day, the 2nd of Assuj, samvat 1899 (16th/17th September 1842) we, the officers of the Lhasa (Government), Kalon of Sokan and Bakshi Shajpuh, commander of the forces, and two officers on behalf of the most resplendent Sri Khalsa ji Sahib, the asylum of the world, King Sher Singh ji, and Sri Maharaja Sahib Raja-i-Rajagan Raja Sahib Bahadur Raja Gulab Singh, i.e.. the Muktar-ud-Daula Diw\n Hari Chand and the asylum of vizirs, Vizir Ratnun, in a meeting called together for the promotion of peace and unity, and by professions and vows of friendship, unity and sincerity of heart and by taking oaths like those of Kunjak Sahib, have arranged and agreed that relations of peace, friendship and unity between Sri Khalsa ji and Sri Maharaja Sahib Bahadur Raja Gulab Singh ji, and the Emperor of China and the Lama Guru of Lhasa will henceforward remain firmly established forever; and we declare in the presence of the Kunjak Sahib that on no account whatsoever will there be any deviation, difference of departure (from this agreement). We shall neither at present nor in future have anything, to do or interfere at all with the boundaries of Ladakh and its surroundings as fixed from ancient times and will allow the annual export of wool, shawls and tea by way of Ladakh according to the old established custom.
Should any of the opponents of Sri Sarkar Khhalsa ji and Sri Raja Sahib Bahadur at any time enter our territories, we shall not pay any heed to his words or allow him to remain in our country.
We shall offer no hindrance to traders of Ladakh who visit our territories. We shall not even to the extent of a hair’s breadth act in contravention of the terms that we have agreed to above regarding firm friendship, unity, the fixed boundaries of Ladakh and the keeping open of the route for wool, shawls and tea. We call Kunjak Sahib, Kairi, Lassi, Zhon Mahan, and Khushal Chon as witnesses to this treaty.