Why is the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh considered important in the history of the Sikh Empire?


          The Sikh Empire was established following the capture of Lahore by Maharaja Ranjit Singh from its Afghan ruler, Zaman Shah Durrani. The subsequent and progressive expulsion of Afghans from Punjab, and the unification of the separate Sikh misls also played a role in the formation of the Empire. Ranjit Singh succeeded in the creation of a unified political state and was proclaimed as Maharaja of Punjab on 12 April 1801.



          It is believed that he had the second best army in Asia, the first being that of the English East India Company. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign focussed on reformation and modernization. He invested the wealth of the state in general prosperity. He also respected all religions. There was an inflow of people from all over North India to join Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army.



          The Sikh territories that lay in the undivided Punjab were later taken over by the British. Some regions were confiscated even before Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839.



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When was the Sikh Empire established?


          It was Maharaja Ranjit Singh who established the secular Sikh kingdom in Punjab. It emerged as a dominant kingdom in 1799, when Ranjit Singh captured Lahore, and remained powerful till 1849. The Sikh kingdom reached its pinnacle in the 19th century; and the Empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east.



          The foundations of the Sikh Kingdom can be traced to as early as 1707; that’s when Aurangzeb died and the Mughal Empire began disintegrating. With the Mughal power significantly weakened, the Sikh army, known as the Dal Khalsa, led expeditions against them and the Afghans in the west.



          The Sikh army grew and split into different confederacies or semi-independent misls. Each of these component armies exercised control over different areas and cities. However, the period between 1762 and 1799 saw the rise of Sikh commanders of the misls as warlords.



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Who were the adversaries in the Third Battle of Panipat?


 



          Ahmad Shah Abdali of Afghanistan invaded India many times. He had the support of many nobles as well. But, the Marathas fought a battle with Abdali at Panipat in 1761. However, they could not get the support of any other ruling groups as they all felt threatened by the Marathas. The Maratha chiefs were not united as well. This made it easy for Abdali to defeat them in what came to be known as the Third Battle of Panipat.



          This battle led to a significant reduction in the Maratha power that helped in the rise of the British.



          In 1775, the East India Company intervened in a Peshwa family succession struggle in Pune. This led to the First Anglo-Maratha War. The Marathas emerged victorious in this war and remained a pre-eminent power in India until their defeat in the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha Wars. Their defeat resulted in the emergence of the East India Company as a dominant power that controlled most of India.



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When, did the Peshwas become strong?


 



 



          Unlike his father who proved to be a natural ruler, Shivaji’s son Sambhaji was not so efficient. Though he gave shelter to Aurangzeb’s son Akbar, Sambhaji did not help him fight against Aurangzeb.



          Sambhaji was killed by the Mughals in 1689 following which his younger brother Rajaram came into power. After Rajaram’s death in 1700, his widow Tara Bai and Sambhaji’s son Shahu, fought for power.



          It was under Shahu that the Peshwas or the prime ministers became powerful. Peshwa Baji Rao proved to be a warrior; he plundered territories up till Delhi, and managed to receive Malwa and a large sum of money from the Mughal emperor. With this, it did not take very long for the Peshwas to extend their control from Malwa and Gujarat to Bundelkhand.



          By 1752, during the rule of Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, the Marathas had captured territories all over India.



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Who was Chhatrapati Shivaji?


          Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha kingdom is one of the bravest, most progressive and sensible rulers of India. Born in 1630, he grew up to be a natural leader and fighter. He was known for his bravery and tactics with which he won numerous battles against the Mughals.



          Under Shivaji, the Marathas emerged as a powerful kingdom and dominated a large portion of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century. The Maratha rule that formally came to existence in 1674 with the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji ended in 1818 with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao II. The Marathas lived in the Deccan, in present Maharashtra and north Karnataka and spoke a common language-Marathi.



          Shivaji revolted against the Adil Shahi dynasty and carved out a kingdom for the Marathas with Raigad as the capital. Shivaji’s expeditions extended as far as Thanjavur in the southeast to Khandesh and Berar in the north. At a time when most of the important ports were under Mughal control, Shivaji raided the port city of Surat. This happened in 1664 and the very next year, he signed a treaty with the Mughals agreeing to go to Aurangzeb’s court. But, the treaty was short-lived, as he felt insulted because Aurangzeb ignored him.



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