‘Empire of the Sikhs: The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’ by Patwant Singh and Jyoti Rai is an incredibly informative and digestible book that covers the rise and fall of the Sikh empire under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This book was initially published in 2008, one year prior to the passing of Patwant Singh. Patwant Singh is a well renowned author, having published books such as ‘The Sikhs’ and ‘Garland Around My Neck: The Story of Puran Singh of Pingalwara’. Whilst this was Jyoti Rai’s first book, her expertise is in the field of numismatics and she has published numerous articles and papers on Sikh coins and on Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Rai briefly describes her time working on this book with Patwant Singh, stating that even during ill health Patwant Singh would continue researching from his hospital bed.
The opening chapter of the book, ‘The Legacy That Made Sikhs Proud’, introduces the contextual background of the time prior to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The authors mention the invasions and conquests that occurred years before and go on to discuss the root of this rise to power; that being the birth of Guru Nanak and the Sikh way of life. “Drumbeat of a School Drop-out” dives into the time shortly before the birth of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, giving an introduction to his father, Mahan Singh. The authors give a detailed account of Mahan Singh’s relationship with surrounding misls, particularly the Kanhayia misl. The following chapters take the reader on a journey through the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Sikh empire, giving insightful accounts of the character of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
“Although much has been written about his conquests and military genius, little is known about Ranjit Singh’s other contributions towards making Punjab one of India’s most progressive states. Whether it was in developing Punjab’s crafts and their exports, patronage to the arts, creating unique coinage, sustaining Punjab’s environment or giving its citizens a sense of security and ensuring the safety of travellers on its highways, nothing escaped his attention.” - Chapter 6, Patron of the Art and Minter Extraordinary
The latter half of the book outlines the fall of the Sikh empire from various angles, one of which considers the removal of the Nanakshahi mints and the implementation of the British Company currency. The authors also discuss the role that Hari Singh Nalwa and Fateh Singh, Sardar of Ahluwalia played in the Sikh empire and how their deaths had impacted Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Following a number of strokes throughout the latter stage of his life, Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839. The authors give a relatively detailed account of the events that lead up to and follow Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death, including the distribution of power amongst his peers.
“Thus, even though the Sikhs were outnumbered, outgunned and unable to replenish their supplies as the British could, they fought with passionate intensity for the honour of the Sikh empire, the hallowed teachings of their Gurus and for the sanctity of the very soil of Punjab. When on 14 March 1849 Chattar Singh and Raja Sher Singh Attariwala surrendered to General Gilbert near Rawalpindi, it was the saddest day in the history of a proud and zestful people who had lived and fought all their lives according to their beliefs and with a rare sense of confidence and self-esteem.
There is a moving account which captures the moment of Sikh grief and deep inner hurt when an old veteran of the Sikh army threw down his sword in disgust at the surrender ceremony with the words ‘Aaj Ranjit Singh mar gaya’, ‘Ranjit Singh has finally died today.’” - Chapter 9, Twilight of an Empire
‘Empire of the Sikhs: The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’ by Patwant Singh and Jyoti Rai is an excellent summary of the Sikh empire, suitable for anyone who wishes to understand how Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled in the Punjab and how the Sikh empire came to its end.