Maharaja Ranjit Singh : The legacy of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
The Sikh Court
Two Europeans, Ventura, an Italian by birth, and Allard, a Frenchman, came to Lahore in 1822 to seek service in the Sikh army. Both of them had served under Napolean in the imperial army of France. After Napolean’s defeat at Waterloo they lost their occupation and left Europe to try their fortune in the East. They had heard many a tale of the grandeuf of Ranjit Singh’s court and were taken up with the idea of visiting Lahore. Ranjit Singh, although not educated but was very wise and intelligent, he knew about the exploits of Napolean. Punjabi historians had compared them and Ranjit singh was even called Napolean of the East. Ranjit singh met these two European and he received them kindly asked them about their health and journey, previous employment, future plans. He showed them his troops on parade and provided amenities for their entertainment. In April of 1822, they sent a letter to Maharaja asking for an employment with his troops. The communication between these soldiers and Maharaja was in French through the trusted aide Faqir Nur-ud-din, who knew French, English, persian as many other languages. Maharaja wanted to make sure that these people did not had any contacts with British and only when he was cent percent sure, he gave them command of 500 horsemen each. This command had few Purbias(Bihari) and other Hindus of Central provinces, employed with Ranjit Singh. They were also to train all forces of Sikhs in the western method of drill. Ventura’s army was called Fauj-e-Khas while little bit later Allard was asked to raise a cavalry of fresh recruits. Then Ranjit Singh also made them sign an agreement that in the event of a clash between Maharaja and European power, they would remain loyal to Sarkar Khalsa and fight for him. They were to wear their beards long and abstain from beef and tobacco. Ranjit Singh provided houses for Ventura and Allard and gave them handsome salaries. To Ventura he gave 40,000 rupees when he married a Muslim girl from Ludhiana. Two villages were subsequently given to the daughter of Ventura as jagir. Ventura built a house, which still exists near Anarkali, it is a beautiful Cheateau in French style. This shows that even though Ranjit Singh was cautious but shrewd and able enough to distinguish between people beneficial to him.
He selectively employed several more Europeans, such as Dr.Honigberger, a native of Hungary. Avitable an Italian later appointed Governor of Peshawar. General Court, a Frenchman who organized the artillery. Dr. Harlan an American, who became governor of Jasrata and later Gujrat. Henry Steinbach, a German was made a battalion commander. Hurbon, a Spainard was an engineer. Dr. Benet, a Frenchman was a surgeon-general of Khalsa Army. Viewkenawitch, a Russian held a high rank in the artillery. There were a number of Englishmen too- Fitzroy, Gillmore, Leslie, Harvey, and Foulkes, to mention but a few- who were employed on various civil and military duties. With men of such diverse races, nationalities and faiths to serve him, Ranjit Singh maintained a most picturesque and cosmopolitan court. He was very kind to these foreigners. He trusted them and gave them positions of responsibility and rewarded them generously for their services. But he always kept a watchful eye on them and never let them have an influence over him. They willingly submitted to his natural dignity and served him faithfully.
Ranjit singh’s Lahore also attracted many visitors and travellers. Like his foreign counriers, they came from all parts of the world. They were drawn by the reports of the Maharaja’s hospitality and his personal charm and joi de vivre. What fascinated his visitors most was his unquenchable curiosity. He asked them the most searching questions and his keenness of mind and range of interest surprised everyone. Many travellers have written in their books of his generosity, refined manner and mental alertness. He was always cheerful and vivacious and transmitted the same spirit of heartiness to his visitors. In the summer of 1821, William Moorcroft, the Superintendent of East India Company’s horses came to visit Ranjit Singh’s court. A daily allowance of 100 rupees was fixed for his entertainment. Moorcroft was also shown Sikh army, he was greatly impressed by the turnout and discipline of the Sikh army. He also visited the royal stables and remarked that some of Ranjit Singh’s horses were the finest in the world. On the way back from Bukhara, Moorcroft brought a letter from Prince Nesselrode of Russia which contained greetings and good wishes from the ruler of that country. It also expressed Russia’s desire to have trade raltions with the country of Ranjit Singh. They traders from Punjab were assured welcome and security in Russia.
Another famous traveller to visit Ranjit Singh was Baron Charles Hugel. He was a German Scientist, who travelled extensively in the Punjab and Kashmir. In his book, he wrote that Punjab under Ranjit singh was safer than territories ruled by the British. He also recorded his conversations with Ranjit Singh, who, as usual, asked him many questions. He asked him if he had served as a soldier and questioned him about the German armies and their wars with France. He asked him what he thought of the Sikh army and whether it was in a fit state to confront a European force.
Victor Jacquemont, a French traveller, also praised Ranjit Singh’s powers of conversation and his shrewd judgement. He wrote in his book: “Ranjit Singh is almost the first inquistive Indian I have seen, but his curiosity makes up for the apathy of his whole nation. He asked me a hundred thousand questions about India, the English, Europe, Napolean, this world in general and the other one., hell and paradise, the soul, God, the devil, and a thousand things besides.” There were several missionaries whom Ranjit singh also met. Several requests to open up churches, convent schools, etc were denied by Ranjit Singh. He asked them to teach Punjabi language and Sikh scriptures instead. No wonder when British took over Punjab after Ranjit Singh convent Schools were spread all over Punjab.
He was a benevolent king. Eventhough the Government of Punjab was called Sarkar Khalsa but no laws were imposed on any of the minority or majority. Sikhs at his time were about 15% of whole population, hindus around 25%, rest were Muslims. He governed the fourty years of his rule from Lahore with secular ideals. He would fast with Mulsims during Ramadan and play Holi with Hindus., yet he would be at Amritsar almost every Month to take bath. A poor muslim from Lahore had written a Quran which he was going to take to DelhiA to sell at the Mughals court. Ranjit Singh asked him how much he wanted and paid him twice. There is another story about Ranjit singh. One year, crops totally die and due to a massive famine, people were starving. . So being a king, he opened up all the state stores for people. Ranjit singh would often roam in streets of Lahore in disguise to check his rule, whether people are happy or not. That night he saw an old woman who could not carry a bag of wheat to her house where her children were starving. He carried that bag to her house on his back. Although he was a devout Sikh but he cannot be called a strict Khalsa sikh adhering to all the principles of Sikhism. He was a very well disciplined soldier of Khalsa who was also a secular as well as enjoying his life, like drinking, etc. The spirit of stern religious discipline and sacrifice which had supported Sikhs through a critical period of their history and led them to power and glory was dimmed in the pomp and splendour of sovereignty. Ranjit Singh’s death on June 27, 1839, left a deep hiatus. The Khalsa lost a leader who had, by commanding personality, foresight and skill, become their beau ideal and secured them the status of sovereign people. The British had by then taken practically the whole of India, except the Punjab and sind