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intolerance of the Mogul rulers. In both instances the opportunity to cast off a foreign yoke was eagerly seized by a man of unbounded ambition, of iron will, desperate courage, and endless resource. And in both duplicity and treachery mark every step in the progress from obscurity to empire.
Rangit Singh, whose name has been interpreted to mean the "Lion of the Field of Battle," was so named by his father, Maha Singh, because he was born in the camp. while Maha Singh was fighting his enemies. The capital of the small ancestral barony, or misl, was Sakkur, a village in the Manja, a tract of country lying between the Beas and Ravi Rivers, and this particular barony was, in point of importance, one of the smallest of the twelve confederacies into which the Sikhs had organized themselves. This organization was of an essentially democratical character, and each member of a confederacy believed himself to be the equal of every other member of the great fraternity, whether enrolled in his own or in any other confederacy. The whole body together constituted the fighting force of the nation, and was known as the "Army of God." Feuds and jealousies often drove the several confederacies into hostile camps, and each was envious of the possessions of the other. But let a common foe appear, like the Afghans, and their feuds and jealousies were forgotten, and they at once combined together and fought shoulder to shoulder as Sikhs, and not as Phulkians, Ahluwalias, Bhangis, or Ramgharias. A memorable instance of this is supplied by the story of the recapture of Sirhind by the Sikhs from the Governor of Ahmad Shah in 1761 A.D. Upon this occasion we find confederacies north and south of the Sutlej, who were bitterly antagonistic, uniting and raising a force of 23,000 fighting men to wipe out the disgrace of a former defeat, and thus to avenge the national honour.
It is important to bear this peculiar phase of the Sikh national character in mind, for it will serve to show how much more difficult it was for Rangit Singh, as the mere
leader of one of the smaller of these democratic confederacies, to win for himself the absolute sovereignty he so early acquired over them, and to exact that implicit obedience from them which he enjoyed to the day of his death, than if he had been a pure adventurer, one of those soldiers of fortune to whose standard mercenaries flocked for the sake of plunder, who owed his crown to their support, and who had no privileges to respect or liberties to safeguard. Rangit Singh was a Sikh ruling over Sikhs, a manly and stalwart race; he had to overcome the prejudices of a republican and warlike people, and bring it to acknowledge the yoke of an absolute monarchy, not by surrendering its manhood and its liberties, but as the consummation of a higher destiny. His object was to weld together the hostile confederacies into one strong, compact and powerful nation, of which he was to be the indisputable Sovereign, and he set about to accomplish this lofty ambition when he was yet a youth in his teens.
Born at Gujranwala on November 2, 1780 A.D., he lost his father when he was only eight years of age, and for some years he was left to the joint care of a mother whose character created scandal even in an age which is said to have been exceptionally immoral, and of a mother-in-law who was as ambitious as she was crafty and unscrupulous. Under such a training, the boy grew up, as might have been expected, debauched, drunken, deceitful, and cunning. With an exterior which owed little to Nature's adornments, and which was rendered still less attractive by the innumerable scars of a virulent attack of small-pox, which had greatly disfigured him, and had also deprived him of his left eye and distorted the right one, Rangit Singh's personal appearances, it must be confessed, were not in his favour. He was pronounced by Baron Hügel, who had visited him, to be "the most ugly and unprepossessing man he had seen throughout the Panjab." In physique also he had no counterbalancing advantages: he was short, had thin arms and legs, and a thick neck. But his head
was large-too large, it was thought by his critics, for his body-and his shoulders were broad. It is here that we have the only physical indications of the capacity of the man who was destined to reshape the history of the Panjab. The brain power which was working within that massive head was soon to electrify his countrymen, and the broad shoulders on which that head was sunk low marked the vigour and endurance which his enemies were soon to experience that no toil or privation could enfeeble or conquer. Intemperance and sensual indulgence did not succeed in untimely undermining his constitution, and he was a superb rider and a skilful swordsman.
While still only nineteen Rangit Singh had already possessed himself of Lahore, nominally as the Lieutenant of the Afghan Ruler. With the constant aid of his mother-in-law, Sud'a Kour, he rapidly succeeded in extending his conquests and in establishing his supremacy over the other Sikh confederacies. Within the short space of ten years he had so completely built up his empire from the right bank of the Sutlej on the east to Multan on the south, Peshawar on the west and Kashmir on the north, that the British Government, which had meanwhile taken. the Sikh States on the left bank of the Sutlej under its protection, formally entered into a treaty-engagement with Rangit Singh as the Maharaja of Lahore. This treaty was concluded at Amritsar on April 25, 1809, and it is to the credit of Rangit Singh's good faith and good sense that, however treacherous in his dealings with his brother Sikh Princes and others, he was ever faithful to his engagement with the British. Rangit Singh was too well informed of the power and resources of the British Government to delude himself with any false notion as to his ability to cope with it in any open conflict. He wisely concluded, therefore, that his safety lay in leaving that Government in peace. So long as he kept faith with the British he had only his enemies in the Panjab proper to battle against, and against these he directed all his strength, vigilance, and craft.
His Sikh levies had the courage and the taste for war, but they were undisciplined and badly armed. He looked about for European help, and Italians, Frenchmen, and Irishmen, who had been trained in the wars of Napoleon, soon found their way to his Court, and were welcomed. With their aid the Sikh army was reconstituted, and became that formidable fighting force which afterwards made so gallant a defence against our own troops on the battle-fields of Firozshahr, Aliwal, and Sobraon. Rangit Singh had indeed a wonderful capacity for organization, and, like Akbar, he selected his officers solely on their merit, and without reference to religion. Muhammadans, Hindus, and Sikhs were indifferently employed. One of his most trusted officers, and for whom, perhaps, he alone had any real friendship, was the learned Fakir Azizeddin, a physician of great repute who won the Maharaja's favour by his skill in curing him of a severe ophthalmic attack. The Fakir became his Foreign Minister and his most confidential adviser. A thorough Persian in culture and manners, Azizeddin was reputed to be a delightful companion, and acquired the position at the Lahore Court which Abul Fazl had enjoyed at the Court of Akbar. Like Abul Fazl, Azizeddin was devoid of any narrow bigotry, and his tolerant spirit may be judged by his famous answer to his royal master when asked whether he preferred the Hindu or the Muhammadan religion. "I am," replied the Fakir, "a man floating in the midst of a mighty river. I turn my eyes towards the land, but can distinguish no difference in either bank." Such a man, learned, liberal, and eloquent, a courtier and a statesman, was indispensable for a ruler who was himself totally ignorant, and who had to rely on another to give his ideas shape and form. For Azizeddin the crafty Rangit Singh felt a personal regard, which was unusual in his dealings with his other officials. Selfish to the core, the Maharaja treated his officers like men on a chess-board. He moved and utilized them to suit the exigencies of the occasion, and if he could gain any advantage by doing so,
he was ready to sacrifice them without the smallest compunction or hesitation. And yet it is remarkable that he was well served, perhaps more from fear than from any higher sense of duty, for Rangit Singh never overlooked a fault. The consequence was that his government brought order and security in the place of massacre and pillage, which naturally made it popular with the lower classes. But his avarice was such that no rich man could indulge in any display of his wealth. The Chief of Buttala learnt this to his cost for making a too lavish and ostentatious display on the occasion of his sister's marriage to Sirdar Sher Singh. He was soon afterwards informed by the Maharaja that a man who could spend so much on a sister's wedding should be able to make his Sovereign a handsome contribution, and a sum of 50,000 rupees had to be surrendered to avoid ulterior consequences. The poor Shah Shújá, who had accepted an asylum at the hands of Rangit Singh when driven out of Cabul, also experienced the Maharaja's cupidity shortly after his arrival in Lahore. The unfortunate fugitive had one priceless treasure by means of which he might some day have resuscitated his fallen fortunes. This was the far-famed Koh-i-Nur, which from adorning, if legend speaks truly, the turbans of Pandu Princes and the thrones of Mogul Emperors, is at last among the most precious of the Crown Jewels of Her Most Gracious Majesty. Rangit Singh was determined to become the possessor of this magnificent stone, and when no other device could succeed in extracting it from the Afghan refugee, forged letters were produced implicating Sháh Shújá in planning an invasion of the Panjab. He was thereupon threatened with imprisonment, and was eventually compelled to give up the coveted treasure, which thus became the property of the Maharaja.
Enough has been said to show that Rangit Singh was not a character of whom any biographer could be justly proud. He was brave, capable, and active; a skilful administrator, an excellent judge of men, and tolerant or