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Sikh Empire

Capital Gujranwala (1799-1802)
Lahore & Amritsar (1802-1849)
Language(s) Administrative official Farsi, Vernacular Punjabi & Hindustani
Government Not specified
Jathedar, Maharaja
 - 1733-1735 Nawab Kapur Singh
 - 1762-1783 Sultan Al Quam Jassa Singh Ahluwalia
 - 1801-1839 Ranjit Singh Ji
 - June 1839-October 1839 Kharak Singh
 - Oct. 1839-Nov. 1840 Nau Nihal Singh
 - Jan. 1841-Sep. 1843 Sher Singh
 - Death of General Baba Banda Singh Bahadur mid 1760s 1733
 - Second Anglo-Sikh War mid 1800s 1849
Currency Rupee

The Sikh Empire was a state in the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent (present-day India and Pakistan) from 1799 to 1849.[1] It consisted of a collection of autonomous Punjabi Misls, which were governed by Misldars, [2] mainly in the Punjab region.



The Harmandir Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple).

Ranjit Singh was crowned on April 12, 1801 (to coincide with Baisakhi). Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak Dev, conducted the coronation [3]. Gujranwala served as his capital from 1799. In 1802 he shifted his capital to Lahore & Amritsar. Ranjit Singh rose to power in a very short period, from a leader of a single Sikh misl to finally becoming the Maharaja (Emperor) of Punjab.

There was strong collaboration in defense against foreign incursions such as those initiated by Ahmed Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah. The city of Amritsar was attacked numerous times. Yet the time is remembered by Sikh historians as the "Heroic Century". This is mainly to describe the rise of Sikhs to political power against large odds. The circumstances were hostile religious environment against Sikhs, a tiny Sikh population compared to other religious and political powers, which were much larger in the region than the Sikhs.

Before the Empire

Exterior of Panja Sahib Gurdwara in Hasan Abdal.

The period from 1716 to 1799 was a highly turbulent time politically and militarily in the Punjab. This was caused by the overall decline of the Mughal Empire.[4] This left a power vacuum that was eventually filled by the Sikhs in the late 18th century, after fighting off local Mughal remnants and allied Rajput leaders, Afghans, and occasionally hostile Punjabi Muslims who sided with other Muslim forces. Sikh warlords eventually formed their own independent Sikh administrative regions (misls), which were united in large part by Ranjit Singh.


Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

The Sikh Empire (from 1801-1849) was formed on the foundations of the Punjabi Army by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Empire extended from Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north, to Sindh in the south, and Tibet in the east. The main geographical footprint of the empire was the Punjab. The religious demography of the Sikh Empire was Muslim (80%), Sikh (10%), Hindu (10%),[5].

The foundations of the Sikh Empire, during the Punjab Army, 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 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 Punjabi Armies and then semi-independent misls. Each of these component armies were known as a misl, each controlling different areas and cities. However, in the period from 1762-1799 Sikh rulers of their misls appeared to be coming into their own. The formal start of the Sikh Empire began with the disbandment of the Punjab Army by the time of Coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1801, creating the one unified political Empire. All the misldars who were affiliated with the Army were nobility with usually long and prestigious family histories in Punjab's history. [2][6]

End of Empire

Map showing expansion of Sikh empire from 1765 to 1805

After Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death in 1839, the empire was severely weakened by internal divisions and political mismanagement. This opportunity was used by the British Empire to launch the Anglo-Sikh Wars.

The Battle of Ferozeshah in 1845 marked many turning points, the British encountered the Punjabi Army, opening with a gun-duel in which the Sikhs "had the better of the British artillery". But as the British made advancements, Europeans in their army were especially targeted, as the Sikhs believed if the army "became demoralised, the backbone of the enemy's position would be broken"[7]. The fighting continued throughout the night earning the nickname "night of terrors". The British position "grew graver as the night wore on", and "suffered terrible casualties with every single member of the Governor General's staff either killed or wounded"[8 ].

British General Sire James Hope Grant recorded: "Truly the night was one of gloom and forbidding and perhaps never in the annals of warfare has a British Army on such a large scale been nearer to a defeat which would have involved annihilation"[8 ]

The Punjabi ended up recovering their camp, and the British were exhausted. Lord Hardinge sent his son to Mudki with a sword from his Napoleonic campaigns. A note in Robert Needham Cust's diary revealed that the "British generals decided to lay down arms: News came from the Governor General that our attack of yesterday had failed, that affairs were disparate, all state papers were to be destroyed, and that if the morning attack failed all would be over, this was kept secret by Mr.Currie and we were considering measures to make an unconditional surrender to save the wounded..."[8 ].

However, a series of events of the Sikhs being betrayed by some prominent leaders in the army led to its downfall. Maharaja Gulab Singh and Dhian Singh, were Hindu Dogras from Jammu, and top Generals of the army. Tej Singh and Lal Singh were secretly allied to the British. They supplied important war plans of the Army, and provided the British with updated vital intelligence on the Army dealings, which ended up changing the scope of the war and benefiting the British positions[1][9].

The Punjab Empire was finally dissolved after a series of wars with the British at the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849 into separate princely states, and the British province of Punjab that where granted a statehood, and eventually a lieutenant governorship stationed in Lahore as a direct representative of the Royal Crown in London.


Map showing Sikh territory in 1837 and 1857
Maharaja Ranjit Singh's throne, c.1820-1830, Hafiz Muhammad Multani, now at V&A Museum

The Punjab region was a region straddling India and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The following modern day political divisions made up the historical Sikh Empire:

Jamrud, Khyber Agency District was the westernmost limit of the Sikh Empire. The westward expansion was stopped in the Battle of Jamrud, in which the vengeful Afghans managed to kill the prominent Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa in an offensive.


  • 1762 - 1767, Invasion of Ahmed Shah Abdali.
  • 1763 - 1774, Charat Singh Sukerchakia, Misldar of Sukerchakia misl established himself in Gujranwala.
  • 1773, Ahmed Shah Abdali dies and his son Timur Shah launches several invasions of Punjab.
  • 1774 - 1790, Maha Singh becomes Misldar of the Sukerchakia misl.
  • 1790 - 1801, Ranjit Singh becomes Misldar of the Sukerchakia misl.
  • 1801 April 12, Coronation of Ranjit Singh as Maharaja.
  • 1801 - 27 June 1839, Reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, whose coronation took place in 1801.
  • 27 June 1839 - 5 November 1840, Reign of Maharaja Kharak Singh
  • 5 November 1840 - 18 January 1841, Chand Kaur was briefly Regent
  • 18 January 1841 - 15 September 1843, Reign of Maharaja Sher Singh
  • 15 September 1843 - 31 March 1849, Reign of Maharaja Duleep Singh

See also


  1. ^ a b Grewal, J. S. (1990). "Chapter 6: The Sikh empire (1799–1849)". The Sikh empire (1799–1849). The New Cambridge History of India. The Sikhs of the Punjab. Cambridge University Press.  
  2. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, (Edition: Volume V22, Date: 1910-1911), Page 892.
  3. ^ ""Ranjit Singh, Maharaja", Sikh Cyber Museum". Retrieved 2009-08-09.  
  4. ^ "Sikh Period - National Fund for Cultural Heritage". 1947-08-14. Retrieved 2009-08-09.  
  5. ^ "Ranjit Singh: A Secular Sikh Sovereign by K.S. Duggal. ''(Date:1989. ISBN 8170172446'')". 2009-02-01. Retrieved 2009-08-09.  
  6. ^ "MAHARAJAH RANJIT SINGH ... - Online Information article about MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH". Retrieved 2009-08-09.  
  7. ^ Ranjit Singh: administration and British policy, (Prakash, p.31-33)
  8. ^ a b c Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the last to lay arms, (Duggal,p.136-137)
  9. ^ Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the last to lay arms, (Duggal,p.136-138)
  10. ^ The Masters Revealed, (Johnson,p.128
  11. ^ Britain and Tibet 1765-1947, (Marshall,p.116)
  12. ^ Ben Cahoon. "Pakistan Princely States". Retrieved 2009-08-09.  
  13. ^ The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion, (Docherty,p.187)
  14. ^ The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion, (Docherty,p.185-187)
  15. ^ Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the last to lay arms, (Duggal,p.133)


  • Volume 2: Evolution of Sikh Confederacies (1708-1769), By Hari Ram Gupta. (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. Date:1999, ISBN 8121505402, Pages: 383 pages, illustrated).
  • The Sikh Army (1799-1849) (Men-at-arms), By Ian Heath. (Date:2005, ISBN 1841767778).
  • The Heritage of the Sikhs By Harbans Singh. (Date:1994, ISBN 8173040648).
  • Sikh Domination of the Mughal Empire. (Date:2000, second edition. ISBN 8121502136).
  • The Sikh Commonwealth or Rise and Fall of Sikh Misls. (Date:2001, revised edition. ISBN 8121501652).
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lord of the Five Rivers, By Jean-Marie Lafont. (Oxford University Press. Date:2002, ISBN 0195661117).
  • History of Panjab, Dr L. M. Joshi, Dr Fauja Singh.

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