Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/217

This page needs to be proofread.

LORD HARDINGE, 1844-48. 213 the duty of leading a pure life. From Nanak, ten gurus or apostles are traced down to Govind Singh in 1708, with whom the succession stopped. Cruelly persecuted by the ruling Muhammadans, almost exterminated under the miserable successors of Aurangzeb, the Sikh martyrs clung to their faith with unflinching zeal. At last the downfall of the Mughal Empire transformed the sect into a territorial power. It was the only political organization remaining in the Punjab. The Sikhs in the north, and the Marathas in Southern and Central India, grew into the two great Hindu powers who partitioned the Mughal Empire. Eanjit Singh, 1780-1839. — Even before the rise of Ranjit Singh, offshoots from the Sikh mi'sls or confederacies, each led by its elected sardar or chief, had carved out for themselves feudal principalities along the banks of the Sutlej, some of which endure to the present day. Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab, was born in 1780. In his twentieth year he obtained the appointment of Governor of Lahore from the Afghan king, and formed the project of building up his per- sonal rule on the religious fanaticism of his countrymen. He organized the Sikhs, or ' the liberated,' into an army under Euro- pean officers, which for steadiness and religious fervour has had no parallel since the ' Ironsides ' of Cromwell. From Lahore, as his capital, he extended his conquests south to Multan, west to Peshawar, and north to Kashmir. On the east side alone, he was hemmed in by the Sutlej, up to which river the authority of the British Government had advanced in 1804. Till his death in 1839, Ranjft Singh was ever loyal to the engagements which he entered into with Metcalfe in 1809. But he left no son capable of wielding his sceptre. Lahore was torn by dissensions between rival generals, ministers, and queens. The only strong power in the Punjab was the army of the khdlsd, or Central Council of the Sikhs, which, since our disaster in Afghanistan, burned to measure its strength with the British sepoys. Ranjft Singh's skilful European Generals, Avitabile and Court, were foolishly ousted from their commands in the Sikh army, and the supreme military power was vested in a series of panchdyals, or elective committees of five.