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  Maharaja Ranjit Singh (called "The Lion of the Punjab") (1780-1839) was a Sikh ruler of the Punjab. His tomb is located in Lahore, Pakistan.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a Sikh born in 1780. At the time much of Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs, who had divided the territory between factions. Ranjit Singh's father Maha Singh was the commander of the Sukerchakia misl (faction) and controlled a territory in west Punjab based around his headquarters at Gujranwala. Ranjit Singh succeeded his father at just the tender age of 12.

The Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh after several campaigns he united the Sikh factions into one state and he took the title of Maharaja on April 12, 1801 (to coincide with Baisakhi day), with Lahore having served as his capital from 1799. In 1802 he took the holy city of Amritsar.

He then spent the following years fighting the Afghans, driving them out of western Punjab. He also captured Pasthun territory including Peshawar. This was the first time ever that Pastuns were ruled by non-muslims. This event has a very important historical perspective. For more than a thousand years invaders had come down from the Khyber pass and ruled eastern lands. Ranjit Singh reversed this trend. When the Sikh empire finally fell to the English, they were able to retain this province. He captured the province of Multan which encompassed the southern parts of Punjab, Peshawar (1818), Jammu and Kashmir (1819) and the hill states north of Anandpur, largest of which was Kangra.

He also modernised his army, hiring European mercenaries to create the first modern Indian Army, the effect was to create a powerful and heavily armed state and at this point Punjab was the only state not controlled by the British. He brought law and order, yet was reluctant to use the death penalty. He stopped Indian secular style practices by treating Hindus and Muslims equally. He banned the secular "jizya" tax on Hindus and Sikhs. In his multi-ethnic empire he was famous for its tolerance with Muslims and Hindus holding high states of office. The Empire was effectively non-secular as it did not discriminate against Hindus and Sikhs , relatively modern and had great respect for all religions of the Empire. This was in sharp contrast with the ethnic & religious cleansing of past Moghul rulers. Ranjit Singh had created a state based upon sikh and hindu noble traditions, where everyone worked together, regardless of background. Where citizens where made to look at the things that they shared in common, e.g. being Punjabi, rather than any religious differences. The British at this time, on the subcontinent, where expanding and consolidating their grip on power. Whereas, in Punjab they had met a comprehensive road block for complete supremacy, on the subcontinent. Ranjit Singh had stopped the ever expansion of the British Empire, during this time- around Punjab, and this could have been permanently entrenched by competent political heirs. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and the state went to his eldest son Kharak Singh. The Kingdom, that he had worked so hard to build, began to crumble due to poor governance and political mismanagement by his heirs. His successors died through accidents and murder, while the nobility and army struggled for power till the end of the Second Anglo Sikh War, when it was annexed by the British from his youngest son Duleep Singh. However, after the First Anglo Sikh War, Punjab effectively ceased to be an independent state and all major decisions where made by the British Empire. The Punjabi Army had been reduced under the peace treaty, with the British Empire, to a tiny skeleton force. Moreover, massive punishing war compensation had destroyed any meaningful, independent fiscal policy. Most historian believe competent political heirs would have forged a highly durable, independent and powerful state (Ranjit Singh had done during his rule).

Ranjit is remembered for uniting the Punjab as a strong state and his possesion of the Koh-i-noor diamond. His most lasting legacy was the beautification of the Harmandir Sahib, holiest site of the Sikhs, with marble and gold from which the popular name of the "Golden Temple" is derived.

He was also known as Sher-e-Punjab, the Lion of Punjab and is considered one of the 3 Lions of India, the most famous and revered heros in North Indian history (Emperor Rajendra Chola and Asoka were the 2 most powerful Indian kings of history yet are not named part of the 3 Lions) - the other 2 Lions are Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar and Shivaji the Maratha. The title of Sher-e-Punjab is still widely used as a term of respect for a powerful man.

 

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