Maharaja Ranjit Singh folklore

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Ranjit Singh in the Panjabi Folklore

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was one of the few rulers who became a legend in his lifetime. There are number of stories in the Panjabi folklore still popular among the people of Panjab on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. It is said that soon after the Maharaja established his control over Lahore, a deputation of Sikhs waited upon the Maharaja.

Muslim's call for prayers

They complained to the Maharaja that they were finding it difficult to put up with the loud sound of the muezzin five times a day and made a forceful plea to stop the practice of Azan.

The Maharaja told the deputation that he would stop the call of Azan if they would take up the responsibility of knocking at the door of each Muslim house in their vicinity to summon them for prayers five times.

The Sikhs agreed to this arrangement. After doing this for a week they approached the Maharaja, looking more worried than before, and prayed for restoring the old practice.

This was Maharajah's way of helping religious communities understand each other's point of view.

Two other stories shed light on about Maharajah's concern for his poor subjects.

Further stories

At one time during a famine, the Maharaja ordered free distribution of ration from the royal granary. To ensure that his orders were faithfully implemented, the Maharaja used to visit various distribution points incognito. One day as he was walking past a hovel he saw an old man sitting on a sack, "Night is approaching, old man, why are you sitting here in darkness?" asked the Maharaja. The old man replied that the sack was too heavy for him to carry home. The Maharaja carried the sack to the old man's house and was blessed.

In another incident when the Maharaja was going out in a procession, an old woman rushed to him and banged her old iron pan on the Maharaja. On being arrested, she was produced before the Maharaja and asked to explain her mad act. She explained that she had heard that the Maharaja was like a paras whose mere touch would convert iron into gold. Being very poor and old, she thought this might end her misery. The Maharaja is said to have ordered his officials to give the old woman gold equivalent to the weight of her old iron pan.

There are stories which demonstrate Ranjit Singh's wit and sense of humour. Once Akali Phoola Singh noticed the Maharaja riding on an elephant and shouted, "You one-eyed man, who gave you this buffalo to ride on?" Rather than lose his temper and teach Phoola Singh a lesson, the Maharaja smiled and said in mocking humility, "It is a gift from Your Honour." In another incident, Moran, while exchanging pleasantries with him asked, "Maharaj where were you when God was distributing good looks?" "I was busy conquering territories and building an empire," retorted the quick-witted Maharaja.

Kalgi of Guru Gobind Singh and Other Sikh Relics

Deeply religious, Ranjit Singh greatly valued the relics of the Sikh faith. He made a special room in the Lahore Fort where he kept the original volume of Guru Granth Sahib prepared by Guru Arjan Dev Before starting his day's work, he would listen to hymns, take a wak and finally kiss the kalgi (plume) of Guru Gobind Singh. With the passage of time, Ranjit Singh was able to build a valuable collection of the Sikh relics. According to the details given by Misar Beli Ram, in charge of Maharaja's toshakhana in Lahore, the sacred kalg was presented to the Maharaja by a Bedi descendant of Guru Nanak from Vyrowal in AD 1824. The toshakhana also lists various other weapons of Guru Gobind Singh and those of the Maharaja which were taken away by the British in 1849.

Leili: Maharaja;s favourite horse

The Maharaja's passion for horses is evident from the battles he fought simply because he wanted to possess a particular horse and, upon the owner's refusal to part with the animal, he would not hesitate to wage a war.

Baron Hugel, a contemporary European traveller who visited Panjab and met the Maharaja, claims to have been told by Ranjit Singh himself that it cost him 12,000 soldiers and 60,00,000 rupees to possess Leili, a legendary horse of the time. It was in AD 1822 when Ranjit Singh learnt that Yar Muhammad Barakzai, Chief of Basawan, had a Persian horse of rare breed called Leili.

He sent Fakir Aziz-ud-Din to Peshawar to persuade the chief to part with Leili. Yar Muhammad offered a number of horses but Leili, the desired animal, was not one of them. When the Maharaja asked the reason for not sending Leili, Yar Muhammad told a lie saying the celebrated horse was dead. The shrewd Maharaja did not believe him. He sent a force under Budh Singh Sandhanwalia. In the ensuing battle, Budh Singh was killed; and the Maharaja sent his French Generals Allard and Ventura, who managed to bring Yar Mohammad's brother and twelve-year-old son as hostages to the Maharaja's court.

Once, when the young boy was comparing Maharaja's horses with Leili, Ranjit Singh asked whether Leili was alive, to which the young boy innocently said yes. Losing no time, the Maharaja sent word to Yar Muhammad to send Leili forthwith and, on his refusal to do that, waged a bloody war and finally succeeded in securing Leili. The legendry horse entered Lahore in what almost equaled a bridal procession when it was decorated with world's costliest jewels, including the Koh-i-Noor.

The court poet, Qadir Yar, even composed a poem in praise of Leili. A few years later when Leili died, the Maharaja wept inconsolably and the steed was given state burial with the firing of 21-gun salute. Such were Maharaja's passions.

Respect for Other Religions

Though a devout Sikh himself, the Maharaja had the same reverence for the religious beliefs of other faiths. Soon after becoming the ruler of Lahore, the first act of the Maharaja was to offer prayer at the Badshahi Masjid adjacent to the Lahore Fort. The Maharaja gave liberal grants to the shrines of Jawala Mukhi in Kangra, Jagannath Puri, Benaras, Haridwar, Dargah of Mian Mir in Lahore and the birthplace of Baba Farid in Pak Pattan.

According to a popular story, when the Maharaja and Fakir Aziz-ud-Din were walking on the outskirts of Lahore, they came across a bullock cart carrying a huge book. The Maharaja stopped the cart driver and asked as to what he was carrying. hi The driver replied that he was a calligraphist and was carrying the manuscript of the Holy Quran, which was his lifetime's work.

When the Maharaja asked the man as to where he was heading for, the man replied that he was going to the ruler of Hyderabad because he had been told that the Muslim ruler of that state was a pious and generous man who would pay him a handsome price for his work. Ranjit Singh turned towards Fakir Aziz-udDin and said, "This man thinks that there is nobody this side of Hyderabad who is generous enough to pay him a good price for his work."

The Maharaja asked the calligraphist as to how much did he expect for his work, and was quoted ten thousand rupees, which in those days was considered a huge amount. Before the minister could intervene, the Maharaja finalised the deal and asked Fakir to pay the settled amount.

See also

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