Sarkar Khalsaji, the Sikh Raj

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Called the Sarkar Khalsaji in Persian chronicles of the time, the Sikh Confederacy (from 1716-1799) was a collection of small to medium sized political Sikh states, which were governed by barons, in Punjab. They were loosely politically linked but strongly bound in the cultural and religious spheres. Guru Gobind Singh before leaving for Nanded had divided responsibility of Punjab into separate regions (with borders). The records for these were kept at Amritsar and Lahore. As the Sikh Army (Dal Khalsa) grew new regions where administered and new Sikh barons came to the fore and the number of large misls eventually increased to 12 (~70000 Cavalry).


The period from 1716 to 1799 in Punjab was a highly turbulent time politically and militarily. This was caused by the overall decline of the Mughal Empire, particularly in Punjab caused by Sikh military action against it. This left a power vacuum that was eventually filled by the Sikh Confederacy. The Sikh Confederacy would eventually in the 19th century be superseded by the Sikh Empire but its influence would still remain strong throughout the Empire's history.


All the Sikh barons who were affiliated with the Sikh Confederacy were nobility with usually long and prestigious family histories in the Sikh religion and Punjab's history in general. Their military exploits outside their kingdoms were legendary & famous in Sikh history. The barons in the early stages of the Sikh Confederacy were very cordial and hospitable with each other. However, during the later stages of the Sikh Confederacy, they had lost most of idealism and great rivalry & friendships emerged between the later barons (+1780 AD).


This is one of the reasons given by scholars why such a powerful military force never conquered and governed large parts of India outside Punjab. Constant warfare between the later barons meant time, energy and resources were spent on feuds rather than large expansion. However, even in the later stages of the Confederacy the barons still held great affection for the Sikh cause and the Sikh religion. This is highlighted by them stamping coinage in their Kingdoms, not in their individual name but usually in the name of Guru Gobind Singh or the Sikh religion in general.


Political structure

The Sikh barons were subject to the control of the Sarbat Khalsa, the biannual assembly of the Panth at Amritsar. The frequent use made of the Sarbat Khalsa converted it into a central forum of the panth. It had to elect leader of the Dal Khalsa, and to lay down its political goal and plans of its military strategy. It had also to set out plans for strengthening the Khalsa faith and body politic, besides adjudicating disputes about property and succession. The Akalis were in charge of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, but they did not infringe the sovereignty of the Barons' kingdoms.

The military head of the Sikh confederacy was democratically elected at Amritsar, in a council by the head of each kingdom.

Past elected Supreme Commanders

  1. Nawab Kapur Singh.
  2. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia.

Once every year the head's of each region of Punjab would convene at Amritsar or Lahore. The misl structure is primarily used to describe the military configuration. The misl name structure is often confused with the politicial structure within each Sikh confederate Kingdom and how they interacted with each other. The name used to describe the military structure is the Misl system. However, (the political system) how each Sikh confederate Kingdom interacted with each other is called the Sikh Confederacy.


Economy

Agriculture was the main input to the econmy. For each Sikh baron land revenue became the major source of his income. As a rule, the Sikh barons followed the baiai system. 20% of the gross produce was deducted before the division for expenses of cultivation. The remaining four fifths, the baron share varied from onehalf to onequarter. The general proportion was 55% cultivator's share, 7.5% proprietor's share and 37.5% government share. Producers of a few crops such as cotton, sugarcane, poppy and indigo were required to pay revenue in cash. The Khalsa or crownlands remained under the direct control of the Sikh barons.

According to James Browne, a contemporary East India Company employee, the barons collected a very moderate rent, and that mostly in kind. Their soldiery never molested the husbandman; the baron never levied the whole of his share; and in the country, perhaps, never was a cultivator treated with more indulgence.

Moreover, the baron did not interfere with old and hereditary land tenures. The rules of haq shufd did not permit land to be sold to an outsider. New fields, or residential sites could be broken out of waste land as such land was available in plenty. Duties on traders and merchants also brought some revenue. The Sikh barons gave full protection to traders passing through their territories.

George Forster, who travelled to northern India in 1783, observed that extensive and valuable commerce was maintained in their territories which was extended to distant quarters of India, after the British withdrew from India.


Confederate Power

The military power levels of the Sikh Confederacy increased dramatically after 1762, this led to rapid increase in territory. Although the political structure of the Sikh Confederacy was still in place, the increase in power saw the introduction of new features, more often seen with empires, such as military treaties with other powers that desired military protection from it e.g. in December 1768, Najib-ud-Daulla entered into a military treaty with the Sikh Confederacy. Rai Mal Gujar and Walter Leuhardt (Samroo) too wanted to join in.


History

There was strong collaboration together in defence against Afghan incursions initiated by the Afghan king, Ahmed Shah Abdali. Amritsar was attacked numerous times, with the intention of ethnic cleansing and the destruction of the Sikh faith.

The time is remembered by Sikh historians as the "Heroic Century". This is mainly to describe the rise of Sikhs to political power against massive odds. The circumstances were hostile religious environment against Sikhs, a tiny Sikh population compared to other religious and political powers, which were much larger and stronger in the region than the Sikhs. The military power levels of the Sikh Confederacy increased dramatically after 1762, this led to rapid increase in territory.

These Sikh confederate states were disbanded following the Coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Lahore, 1801 AD, and the creation of the Sikh Empire.


Unification under Maharaja Ranjit Singh

The Sikh Empire (from 1801-1849) was formed on the foundations of the Sikh Confederacy by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north (touching) the border's of Tibet, to the Sind River in the south and in the east to Himachal Pradesh. The main geographical footprint of the empire was Punjab (historical Punjab region). The religious population demography of the Sikh Empire was Muslim (60%), mainly in larger areas of Kashmir, Jammu, Multan, Peshawar, Hazara, Sialkot, Attock, Rawalpindi areas. Hindu (25%), mainly in Kangra, Chamba, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Una, Jammu, Kashmir, Gujranwala, areas. Their were 10 million Sikhs, mainly in Amritsar, Lahore, Jalandhar, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Kapurthala, Kasur, Kashmir, and Jammu areas. The once strong empire, severely weakened after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839. The story of the Empire ends, with the British Empire annexing its territory in 1849, after the Second Anglo-Sikh War.

Why did Sikh Empire end

It is said that the Sikhs would have never lost an Empire, if they followed What Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666-1708), the tenth Sikh master said, as below.

When Pure Being remains beloved; (“Jab Lag Khalsa Rahe Niara”)

Till then I give him all my Power; (“Tab Lag Tej Dion Me Sara”)

When it Goes other way round; (“Jab Eh Gahe Bipran Ki Reet”)

I never shall never do his protection. (“Me Naa Karo En Ki Parteet”)

It was during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from between 1818-1839, that many Sikhs, started, doing things, which were against the Khalsa Rules. Such as Sikh Sardars, started, calling Hindu Brahmin Priests, in their homes, and instead of doing Anand Karaj, the original Sikh Laava (Wedding), the Sikh Sardars a lot of them started doing Bedi Pehren (Hindu Wedding), Even Maharaja Nau Nihal Singh (1821-1840), also got married, through Bedi 7 rounds, in year 1837. Sikh Sardars, started to lose their faith in each other, it was also the time that, Sikh Sardars Started, taking Alcohol. And started to avoid Khalsa traditions. Sikhs started doing weddings of Bedi 7 round, Karewa, etc. Hindu Priests started being called into the Khalsa Darbar, by Sher-e-Panjab Himself, and put the Hindu Dogra brothers in charge of the State affairs. Later the Khalsa army, was modernized and given a new form, by Ranjit Singh. Jathedar Akali Baba Phula Singh Nihang (1762-1823) Of Akal Takhat, was against Ranjit Singh, because the Sikh Army had already be given a new form, a 120 years before by the Tenth Sikh prophet. And Phula Singh also stated that Ranjit Singh, if you do not banish the Hindu Brahmins, and Dogra brothers, from the Lahore Khalsa Darbar, they shall, bring an end to the Empire.

As the Sikh Empire got more powerful between 1834-37, the More Sikh religion started to be avoided, and many wealthy Sikh Sardars started showing paying more attention to the glory and power of the wealthy Sikh Empire. And fighting each other over Jagirs, (Land). It was mainly the Jatt Sikh Chiefs of Lahore Darbar, that did more of this, such as living the life of Luxury.

Sikhs before Ranjit Singh was born, Sikhs were very truthful to each other, and showed more interest in Khalsa Rules, and and 200% faith in their Sikh Brothers. But from about 1818-1839, when the Sikhs really became powerful, they started losing all their real power, because of all the things which were against the Gurus teachings going on in the Darbar of Lahore. But at the Same time Ranjit Singh gave Gurdwaras, Land, (Jagir), beautiful looks, etc. and was a very secular ruler himself, which is a good thing. Many good Sikh Sardars Like Sardar Hari Singh Nalua (1791-1837), Sardar Sham Singh Attarivala (1790-1846), who told Ranjit Singh to listen, that the Hindu Brothers and Pundits at the Darbar, would bring an end to the Sikh Empire. But it did not have any influence, over Ranjit Singh. Many Sikhs like Sham Singh Attarivala, left the Lahore Darbar for their village Attari, near Amritsar.

Baba Ram Singh Namdhari (1816-1885), called the Lahore Darbar, as Sin, who served as a Risaldar, in the Khalsa Army.

From 1839-1846, the Sikh population, in the villages, in Punjab, were very strict in their Sikhi, unlike the Sikh Sardars of Towns, and Cities, who did not listen. The Sikh population fought to save the Khalsa Raj, it has been estimated that their population to be 10 million, mainly Punjab.

If the Sikhs followed what Guru Gobind Singh Ji said, would the Khalsa Raj have been intact today.

The foundations of the Sikh Empire, during the Sikh Confederacy, could be defined as early as 1707, starting from the death of Aurangzeb and the downfall of the Mughal Empire. The fall of the Mughal Empire provided opportunities for the Sikh army, known as the Dal Khalsa, to lead expeditions against the Mughals and Afghans. This led to a growth of the army, which was split into different confederations and then independent kingdoms. Each of these component armies were known as a misl, each controlling different areas and cities. However, it is the period from 1762-1799 that Sikh rulers of their kingdoms appeared to be coming into their own. However, the formal start of the Sikh Empire began with the disbandment of the Sikh Confederacy by the Coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1801, creating the one unified political Empire.


End of Empire

Internal divisions and political mismanagement severely weakened the empire. This opportunity was used by the British Empire to launch the first series of Anglo-Sikh Wars. The Sikh Empire was annexed by the British Empire at the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849.

Timeline

  • 1707-1716, Creation of Sikh Confederacy begins to influence the political structure of the Punjab region.
  • 1762-1767, Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Sikhs battle for control.
  • 1763-1774, Charat Singh, baron of Sukerchakia Army established himself in Gujranwala.
  • 1773, Ahmed Shah Abdali dies and his son Timur Shah is unable to suppress the Sikhs.
  • 1774-1790, Maha Singh, becomes baron of the Sukerchakia Army.
  • 1762-1801, Sikh Confederacy military power rating increases rapidly.
  • 1790-1801, Ranjit Singh becomes baron of the Sukerchakia Army.
  • 1799-1801, transistion period neither Confederacy or Empire.
  • 1801 April 12th, Coronation of Ranjit Singh as Maharaja, formal beginning of the Sikh Empire.
  • 1801 - 27th June 1839, Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, whose coronation took place in 1801.
  • 27th June 1839 - 5th November 1840, Reign of Maharaja Kharak Singh
  • 5th November 1840 - 18th January 1841, Chand Kaur was briefly Regent
  • 18th January 1841 - 15th September 1843, Reign of Maharaja Sher Singh
  • 15th September 1843 - 31st March 1849, Reign of Maharaja Duleep Singh

References

  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lord of the Five Rivers. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • History of Panjab, Dr L. M. Joshi, Dr Fauja Singh.
  • The Sikh Army, Ian Heath, Michael Perry.
  • "The Heritage of the Sikhs.", Harbans Singh.

See also