Sikh Khalsa Army

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Sikh Khalsa Army (1801-1849) was the military force of the Sikh Empire responsible for land warfare, land defence, and all responsibilities, last and final, for the protection of the Empire's political institutions and national security.

Command Structure

The Sikh Khalsa Army was commanded by, responsible and answerable to its supreme Commander in Chief (military leader) Emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh. However, the Sikh military high command could contest a decision by the Commander in Chief, thereby permitting a process of reconsideration in policy. This reconsideration process was very rarely used, as the Commander in Chief rarely acted unilaterally and extensively consulted his high command on major military issues affecting the Empire.

Military Structure and Strength

The military strength was 35000 regular fully professional soldiers, qualified to the latest, cutting-edge military training of the time. The army was divided into six main military divisions, these were, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Medical, Engineering and logistical support. The regular military force was backed-up and supported by a further 52000, well trained and equipped, professional irregular forces. In addition, to these forces a very large reservoir of feudal and militia forces were available, in the region of ~250,000 (quarter of a million). The Artillery division, in 1838, had 188 heavy artillery guns.

Sikh Cavalry

The Sikh Cavalry was divided into three divisions:

  • Regular Cavalry
  • Ghorchara fauj Cavalry
  • Jagirdari Cavalry

The ghorchara fauj and jagirdari cavalry did not undertake standard training, as the regular cavalry did. They were modelled on the legendary system of Sikh principality’s (misl) armies. This is where dash of cavalry charge and reckless courage were the main weapons. This section of the Cavalry was the most feared of the Sikh Khalsa Army, where a handful of Cavalry men could change the strategic nature and outcome of a battle within minutes. They did not follow the principles of modern organisation, the science of war, nor did they follow any prescribed rules of strict discipline. It was often said during the time, "Because of their desperate courage, the ghorchara had earned for themselves a name and for Sikhs a Empire."

Military Social Background

The Sikh Khalsa Army was a strongly Sikh but had significant multi-religious component in army, made up from other parts of the Punjabi people. The informal motto of the army was "merit & excellence above all else" and promotions to higher military ranks was based on how good the person was militarily not on their social or religious background.

Military Strength Statistics (Standing force)Year Regular Infantry Cavalry Irregular Infantry/Forces Artillery Personnel Total 1819 7,748 750 3,577 834 12909 1823 11,681 1650 7,300 *- *- 1828 15,825 4315 7,200 3,778 31,118 1838 26,617 4090 10,795 (25,000**) (Total With Jagirdari: 52,000***) 4,535 *87,242

Table 1: Showing military strength build-up over ~20 year.

    • Combined with Irregular Infantry Reserves total number was 25,000. ***Jagirdari: 27,000 in 1838. *Total with Irregular Infantry Reserves and Jagirdari

Note: The above tables do not include the feudal levees, FaujiQHajat, the Emperor's bodyguards and garrison infantry for which no figures are available. In addition, it does not include 4,000 strong crack-brigade of Akalis or Niharigs under the direct military command of General Akali Phula Singh.Year Heavy Guns Swivel Guns Artillery Personnel 1819 22 190 834 1823* - - - 1828 130 280 3,778 1838 188 280 4,535

Table 2: Showing Artillery military strength build-up over ~20 years. *1823: Figures not available.