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Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839)
Known as the Lion of Punjab he earns his rightful place in the Hall of Fame for the enlightenment he brought into a country whose bane was lack of vision among rulers who roughshod over subjects in order to prove their exalted position. He was a protector of the weak and poor in a state that he established where he proved by example the strong were as just and their strength was in making the weak feel secure.
Succeeding his father at the age of 18 he wielded the Sikh Raj a region straddling the border into modern –day People’s Republic of China and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Kingdom of Kabul as it was known then.
In his reign lasting nearly forty years he had conquered vast tracts of territory strategically juxtaposed between the limits of British India to the left and the powerful Afghan Empire to the right. The land that eventually became the Kingdom of the Sikhs had been ruthlessly subjected to the worse kind of atrocities by invading armies coming through the Khyber Pass into the Indian sub-continent, over eight centuries. Among his conquests most notable achievements were in his conquest of Lahore in 1799 and he made it his capital, annexed Kashmir (1819). He wore out the Afghan army by sheer doggedness won from them the control of Peshwar in 1834.
The extent of his kingdom steadily broke away after his death and the sway of Great Britain had become all too powerful to break. But one lasting legacy of this great ruler was his religious tolerance. The empire of the Sikhs was most exceptional in that it allowed men from religions other than their own to rise to commanding positions of authority. Besides the Singh (Sikh), the Khan (Muslim) and the Misr (Hindu Brahmin) feature as prominent administrators. The Christians formed a part of the militia of the Sikhs. In 1831, Ranjit Singh deputed his mission to Simla to confer with the British Governor General, Lord William Bentinck. Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Fakir Aziz-ud-din and Diwan Moti Ram ― a Sikh, a Muslim and a Hindu representative ― were nominated at its head. Rather than caste merit was considered for appointment to important offices.
‘At present, flushed by a series of victories, they (the Sikhs) have a zeal and buoyancy of spirit amounting to enthusiasm; and with the power of taking the most exemplary revenge, they have been still more lenient than the Mohammedan were ever towards them.’(Masson, Charles. 1842. Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, 3 v. London: Richard Bentley)
Maharaja Ranjit Singh is remembered for uniting the Punjab as a strong nation and his possession of the Koh-i-noor diamond. Ranjit Singh willed the Koh-i-noor to Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa while on his deathbed in 1839. His most lasting legacy was the golden beautification of the Harmandir Sahib, most revered Gurudwara 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” which means the “Lion of Punjab” and is considered one of the three lions of modern India, the most famous and revered heroes in Indian subcontinent’s history. The other lions are Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar and Chhatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler. The title of “Sher-e-Punjab” is still widely used as a term of respect for a powerful man.
Captain William Murray’s memoirs on Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s character:
Ranjit Singh has been likened to Mehmet Ali and to Napoleon. There are some points in which he resembles both; but estimating his character with reference to his circumstances and positions, he is perhaps a more remarkable man than either. There was no ferocity in his disposition and he never punished a criminal with death even under circumstances of aggravated offence. Humanity indeed, or rather tenderness for life, was a trait in the character of Ranjit Singh. There is no instance of his having wantonly infused his hand in blood.”
Many famous folk stories about Maharaja portray a leader and the inspiration Maharaja Ranjit Singh was. In one famous incident, when Maharaja was about to cross the badly flooded river near Attock (now in Pakistan and called Kabul River). One of Maharaja’s generals reported this fact to Maharaja, saying that the river cannot be crossed and it is now an Atak (an obstacle in Hindi) for us. Maharaja retorted “eh Attock uhna lai atak hai, jehna de dillan wich atak hai” or “This river Attock is an obstacle for those, who have obstacles in their hearts”, then crossed the river successfully. The army and other generals followed his lead.(ack: wikipedia)
His crowning achievement in melding different Italian states was equally important as giving it a constitutional structure. Camillo, born into an aristocratic Piedmontese family, was earmarked for a career in the army, even though his interests were more political than military.
When Charles Albert, the king of Piedmont (1831-1849), opened the first war of independence against Austria. Camillo retired to manage the family estate at Grinzane. He also served as mayor there from 1832 to the revolutionary upheaval of 1848.
This year was a turning point in his political career.
On March 23, 1848, in an article in the Risorgimento, Cavour called upon his king to join the national crusade and the king agreed. His country’s defeat at Custozza in July prompted Cavour to court France in order to oust the Austrians from Piedmont. Following year another war and defeat led to the abdication of the king in favor of his son, Vittorio Emanuele. Suspicious of the Pope XI and cashing in on the anti-Papal sentiment in Italy he came into national prominence. He did not support the Neo-Guelph program which dreamed that the pope would play a leading role in the unification movement. He became prime minister at the end of 1852.
During the course of the Crimean War, he ranged Piedmont alongside England and France, and in 1856 presented the Italian case before the Congress of Paris and the tribunal of world opinion. In Paris the Count through the support of Napoleon III, could garner popular support for his anti-Austrian, national campaign in 1859-1860.
The Second War of Italian Independence opened in April 1859. In July Napoleon signed an armistice at Villafranca with Franz-Josef, without consulting his Piedmont allies. Cavour, unwilling to accept the terms that left Venetia in Austrian hands, resigned.
Cavour returned to power in January 1860, and in March signed another secret agreement with Napoleon. On March 17, Cavour had the Piedmontese parliament proclaim Victor Emanuel II, king of Italy. Cavour also persuaded the parliament to proclaim the city of Rome the future capital of the kingdom, hoping to resolve the Roman question on the basis of an agreement with the church. He died shortly thereafter, and did not live to see the Italian occupation of Rome in 1870.
Born in Turin when it was under French control, Cavour was sponsored in baptism by Napoleon’s sister Pauline, and her husband, Prince Camille Borghese, after whom Camillo was named.(Ack:Frank J. Coppa)
Posted in illustrations, tagged 17x23 cm, art, artist, astronomer, Benny Thomas, Edward Fitzgerald, Omar Khayyam, pastel, pen and ink, Tentmaker, The Rubaiyat, translation on June 25, 2011 | Leave a Comment »