Ranjit Singh, contemporary of Napoleon and one of the most powerful and charismatic Indian rulers of his age, has been largely written out of accounts of the subcontinent’s past by recent Western historians. Yet he was a colossus who bestrode India and had an impact that has lasted to this day. He unified the warring chiefdoms of the Punjab into an extraordinary northern Empire of the Sikhs stretching to the borders of Afghanistan and Tibet, built up a formidable modern army, kept the British in check to the south of his realm and closed the Khyber Pass through which plunderers had for centuries poured into India. Yet, unique among empire builders, he was humane and just, gave employment to defeated foes, honoured religious faiths other than his own and included Hindus and Muslims among his ministers.
In person he was a colourful character. While inspired by the Sikh faith’s ten founding gurus, he upheld the rights of all he came in contact with and was unabashed in exercising his own. Indeed he enjoyed life to the full, and his court was renowned for its splendour; he had twenty wives, kept a regiment of ‘Amazons’ and possessed a stable of thousands of horses.
Empire of the Sikhs this first definitive biography make use of a variety of eye-witness accounts from Indian and European sources, from reports of Maratha spies at the Lahore Durbar to British parliamentary papers and travel accounts. The story includes the range of the maharaja’s military achievements and ends with an account of the controversial period of the Anglo-Sikh Wars following his death, which saw the fall of his empire while in the hands of his successors whose internecine strife was exploited by the British. His contribution to making Amritsar’s Golden Temple one of the greatest religious pilgrimage sites in the world ensures that his legacy still inspires Sikhs all over the world.
'This ambitious and scholarly work … [is] bracing to read, offering, as it does, a crash course in a religion and culture that may be less than familiar to many readers.' – Washington Post
An essential book for any South Asian collection.' — Kirkus Reviews
'Refreshing … this book is grounded in solid history and written with an admirable clarity. I hope it will be widely read.' — Howard Zinn, author, A People's History of the United States
'The first proper biography in English of this interesting ruler and soldier … this book will certainly be of value to anyone interested in the history of India.' — The NYMAS Review
PATWANT SINGH is one of India’s leading writers on Indian history, politics and international affairs and the environment. His recent books include The Sikhs, The World According to Washington and The Second Partition: Fault-Lines in India’s Democracy.
JYOTI RAI is a numismatist of international repute, possessing one of the most important collections of Sikh coins and a considerable archive on Sikh history.
|Date Published||1st October 2013|