Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Punjabi ਰਣਜੀਤ ਸਿੰਘ) (13 November 1780 – 27 June 1839) was the founder of the Sikh Empire, which came to power in the Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century. The empire, based in the Punjab region, existed from 1799 to 1849. It was forged, on the foundations of the Dal Khalsa, under the leadership of Ranjit Singh from a collection of autonomous Sikh Misls. Ranjit Singh was succeeded by his son, Kharak Singh.
Ranjit Singh was born in Gujranwala City, Punjab, which is now in modern day Pakistan. He was born into a Sikh Jatt family of the Sandhawalia Clan, to Sardar Maha Singh Sukerchakia (d. 1792), and Sardarni Mai Raj Kaur, the daughter of Raja Gajpat Singh of the Jind Kingdom. At the time, large parts of the Punjab were ruled by the Sikhs, who had divided the territory among factions known as Misls, each with its own powerful Sikh chieftain. His grandfather was Sardar Charat Singh Sukerchakia (d. 1770), and his great grandfather was Sardar Naudh Singh (d. 1752), also a Sikh Warrior, and the great great grandson of Baba Budha Ji (d. 1718), the first in line to take Amrit Sachaar.
Ranjit Singh was invested on 12 April 1801 as the Maharaja of Punjab. He was 20 years old at the time. Ranjit Singh had conquered vast tracts of territory strategically juxtaposed between the limits of British India to the East and the Durrani Empire to the West. In 1813, Ranjit Singh’s general Dewan Mokham Chand led the Sikh forces against the Afghan forces of Shah Mahmud who were led by Dost Mohammad Khan. Following this encounter, the Afghans lost their stronghold at Attock. Subsequently, the Pothohar plateau, the Sindh Sagar Doab and Kashmir came under Sikh rule.
On 7 July 1799, Ranjit Singh became master of Lahore. He then rapidly annexed the rest of the Punjab, the land of the five rivers. Having accomplished this, he extended his empire further north and west to include the Kashmir mountains and other Himalayan kingdoms, the Sind Sagar Doab, the Pothohar Plateau and trans-Indus regions right up to the foothills of the Sulaiman Mountains.
The Sikh Empire was secular in that it allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Mazhabis (untouchables) all formed part of the militia of the Sikhs. Hakim Aziz-ud-din was a prominent Muslim courtier in Ranjit Singh’s reign, while Hari Singh Nalwa was a prominent Sikh general in Ranjit Singh’s army.
At the Harmandir Sahib, much of the present decorative gilding and marblework date back from the early 19th century. The gold and intricate marble work were conducted under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Punjab. The Sher-i-Punjab (Lion of the Punjab) was a generous patron of the shrine and is remembered with much affection by the Sikhs. Maharaja Ranjit Singh deeply loved and admired the teachings of the Tenth Guru of Sikhism Guru Gobind Singh, thus built two of the most sacred temples in Sikhism. These are Takht Sri Patna Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, and Takht Sri Hazur Sahib, the place where Guru Gobind Singh died, in Nanded, Maharashtra in 1708.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh is remembered for uniting the Punjab as a strong nation and his possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was given to him by Shuja Shah Durrani of Afghanistan. His most lasting legacy was the golden beautification of the Harmandir Sahib, most revered Gurudwara of the Sikhs, with marble and gold, from which the popular name of the “Golden Temple” is derived.
He was also known as “Sher-i-Punjab” which means the “Lion of Punjab” and is the most famous and revered heroes in Indian subcontinent’s history. In 1838 he agreed to a treaty with the British viceroy Lord Auckland to restore Shah Shojāʿ to the Afghan throne at Kabul. In pursuance of that agreement, the British Army of the Indus entered Afghanistan from the south, while Ranjit Singh’s troops went through the Khyber Pass and took part in the victory parade in Kabul. Shortly afterward, Ranjit Singh was taken ill, and he died at Lahore, Punjab, (present-day Pakistan) on 27 June 1839 (age 58) —almost exactly 40 years after he entered the city as a conqueror. The building housing the funerary urns of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) is located near the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque in Iqbal Park in Lahore, Pakistan which is one of the largest urban parks in Pakistan.