While paying tributes to Ranjit Singh many of the historians and chroniclers have called him the Napoleon of Asia, compared him with Bismarck, Cromwell and Mehmet Ali. In the history of Punjab, T.H. Thornton has said:
"Ranjit Singh has been likened to Mehmet Ali, to Napoleon. Mr. Jacquemont terms him a Bonaparte in miniature. There are some points in which he resembles both; but estimating his character, with reference to his circumstances and position, he is perhaps, a more remarkable man than either".
Marshman who has written three volumes of the history of India says about him:
"He was the most extraordinary man of the age between Constantinople and Peking."
Physically the Maharaja was not a tall person but due to his extraordinary achievements the occupies a unique place in the history of Punjab, thereby he becomes a stalwart figure, who raised his head with dignity and honour. According to Emily Eden, the Sister of Lord Auckland who had accompanied her brother to India, Ranjit Singh did not appear to be very impressive, while sitting in his golden chair, but it was a sight to watch him riding his favourite stallion when he always appeared as the attractive and shrewd young warrior. Even in his court, he always relished to sit on the carpet, resting his back on a velvet cushion, surrounded by his people, courtiers and advisors. Though this style of functioning was rather ordinary and tended to depict him as an ordinary person instead of the king, but he liked it and always behaved like one of them. This perhaps was the secret of his popularity. He never considered himself different from his people even when he was sitting among his ministers, nobles, advisors or the officials he would cut jokes and share his heartfelt sentiment with them. During his rule, the people of the Punjab entered upon a period of internal peace, prosperity which they had not enjoyed for several generations.
During his childhood Ranjit Singh lost his left eye due to smallpox. His white and shaggy beard, covered a considerable portion of his pockmarked face and gave an impressive look to his short and stout physique which tended to be more on the bulky side. Yet he had an impressive personality that commanded respect from beholders. The visitors and spectators to his court, always became his ardent admirers. Once one of his envoys, who was on a visit to the British Court was asked by one of the officers in a jovial manner:
"We understand that your Maharaja has one eye only. Which one of his eyes is missing?".
"Sir, I don't know."
"But Why? Don't you ever see him?"
"No, It is not that. Even though, I see His Highness every day, yet the grace of the Royal Countenance is such that one does not dare to look straight into his eyes."
According to Mc Gregor:
"His remaining eye is very large and there is a fire and brilliancy about it when he becomes animated, which at once discovers the energetic mind and discrinating character of its owner. His smile is pleasing and his manner of address easy and unembarrassed on all occasions. He never appears at a loss for words to express his ideas which are quickly formed on any subject."
It is not' astonishing to learn that all this has been said about
a person who was totally illiterate. Ranjit Singh was a brave war-
rior and an able cavalier. He spent all his life in the battlefield,
the greater part of which he was on the horseback. Never for a
moment he was terror struck or panicky. Perhaps the word fear
never existed in his vocabulary. He loved to wear ordinary clothes.
Silken Kurta and Pyjama with an ordinary head gear, was his rou-
tine. With exception of special occasions, he never wore jewellery.
It is different that his courtiers dressed themselves in fine clothes.
Dr. K.K. Khullar in his book Maharaja Ranjit Singh has said:
"According to all English accounts,' Ranjit Singh's Court
excelled in the world; as the court with the finest looking and best
Rajnit Singh's personality was impressive and his marmers,
charming. In his book The court and camp of Ranjit Singh, Osborne
"Ranjit Singh cannot fail to strike every one as that of a very
extraordinary man.....The more I see of him, the more he
strikes me as an extraordinary man."
Those were the times, when the.Rajas and the Maharajas wore
the Kamdar Zari clothes, studded with diamonds and pearls in
golden lace and silken thread. But Hugel observes, he never saw
him wear any embroidery, brocade or rich ornaments of any sort.
The bracelet studded with 'Kohinoor' was worn by him only on
After he was free from the exacting demands of the state affairs,
he liked to participate in the games and enjoyed fun and frolic.
Hunting was his favourite occupation. The area between the rivers
Satlej and Ravi was reserved for this purpose. The Maharaja would
set out on hunting sprees accompanied by cavaliers, body-guards
and soldiers. Usually the game started in the afternoon. The
Maharaja was also accompanied by a team of trained hounds.
Falcons were also used to chase and scare away the small animals
like rabbits and birds. In the first instance they would set the falcon after the prey. The falcon would tire out the animal with constant
chase and then pounce upon it. Sometimes the animal was captured
after it had been injured by the powerful claws and the sharp
merciless beak of the falcon. Then the hounds would take over.
Ranjit Singh liked to fight the lions and tigers, with his sword and
shield. The guns were not used for this purpose, whenever a tiger
was taken by any of his men, he would reward him generously and
praise him publicly.
While analysing the popularity of Ranjit Singh with his subjects,
one finds that he had adopted a secular approach towards them.
He was democratic in his administration and as an individual he
was considerably liberal and a generous monarch, who had the
knack of owning and endearing people. A historian from Pakistan
Wahid-ud-din has paid touching tributes to him. He says:
"His name is still a household word in the province. His portrait
is still preserved in castle and in cottage. It is a favourite subject with the ivory painters of Amritsar and Delhi.
Ranjit Singh still lives, large as life, in the imagination of the
people. He does so, not only where the Sikhs now live, but
also where they lived before; for, the Muslim village-folks
shared him as a legendary figure with the Sikhs and they have
not let him depart with the latter.
Ranjit Singh's popular image is that of a kindly patriarch rather
than that of a conquering hero or a mighty monarch. He was
all there, but his humanity has outlived his splendour and
Whereas I have quoted above some of the 'important passages
from some of the well known historians of the Sikh history, I feel
it is my proud privilege to refer to the writings of some of our
thinkers, philosophers and statesmen of today, highlighting the
character of this unmatchable figure of our history. Saravapalli Dr.
Radha Krishnan says:
"Maharaja Ranjit Singh succeeded by personal valour and fair
treatment in welding desperate elements into a well-knit
kingdom which maintained its integrity and independence
against difficult odds. At a time like the present, when national
integration is receiving so much attention, we should remind ourselves of the policies and principles which this great leader
followed in instilling a sense of unity among' his people
irrespective of their differences in religion, custom and tradition.
His example should inspire the present generation."
Dr. Zakir Hussain the third president of India was also a scholar
and educationist. He has paid glowing tributes to Ranjit Singh in
the following words:
"Great personalities are the most potent agencies of national
education. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was such a personality for
India-one of the most outstanding ones during the 19th century.
His force of character, his shrewdness, his statesmanship, his
heroic courage, his large hearted tolerance, his secular impar-
tiality and benevolence, stand out against the dismal background
of our national decline. They stand out to sustain us in the
formative years of our young national state."
Last but not the least, reference may be made to the observation
of Smt. Indira Gandhi, the late Prime Minister of India, who during
the 2nd Centenary celebrations of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had sent
the following message to the Government of Punjab, which has been
included in the commemoration volume.
"Maharaja Ranjit Singh is one of the outstanding men that our
land has produced. Every school child knows him as the Lion "
of Punjab. His brilliance as a general and his statesmanship
as a ruler have become household words ....... I hope that the
people of Punjab and the country at large will imbibe his
message of unity and tolerance, courage and steadfastness."
In the present period of turbulance, national and emotional integration has become the need of the hour that is why the message
of Ranjit Singh seems to be more relevant to-day as compared to
his period. He had established his government on secular principles,
where Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and others were equal
partners of progress .. He offered equal opportunity to all to serve
without any difference of caste, creed and religion. Temples,
mosques, and other places of worship were equally revered by him.
He offered his royal patronage to the observance of festivals of
all communities at the national level. He was much above the bigotry
and treated each community with equal benevolence and generosity.
Unity, equality and fraternity were the basic principles of his rule. The aim of producing the present monograph is to present these nobles ideals of Ranjit Singh to our present generation, which would also continue to serve as the guiding stars, in the times to come.
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