Architect of an Empire

Col J P Singh, Retd

Maharaja Gulab Singh was born on 21st October 1792 at Smailpur, Jammu. His father, Mian Kishore Singh did not put books in his hands. Instead he gave him a bow and arrows. Like any privileged youth, he would go out riding and watch monsoon clouds and the fast flowing streams. The thunders of the clouds and serenity of streams stirred the inner of his heart and kindled in him the desire of doing something remarkable. Mian Zorawar Singh, his grandfather sent him to Mian Mota, Madar-ul-Maham of Raja Jit Singh, the last hereditary ruler of Jammu. Gulab Singh learnt the art of warfare and manners of courtiers from his granduncle.
Meteoric rise of Gulab Singh as the founder of Jammu and Kashmir dates back to 1808 when 16, he distinguished himself in the battle of Gumat. He blunted the successes of Sikh Army and forced them into treaty with Raja Jit Singh. Impressed by his bravery and swordsmanship, the invading Sikh Chief, narrated the story of his prowess to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh enrolled Gulab Singh him as cavalryman and soon elevated him to the command of a cavalry unit. Imbued with the spirit of adventure and gallantry, Gulab Singh rose to be an astute strategist of Ranjit Singh.
History of Jammu and Kashmir is practically the history of one man, a Dogra Rajput, Gulab Singh. The barren hills of Duggarland had not attracted Mughal invaders. Here lived  a number of small Rajas and it appears that from the very early times the little kingdom of Jammu was of no importance to invaders. By the end of 18th century, the power of Jammu rulers had extended East upto Ravi and West upto Chenab. East of Ravi were independent Rajput Kingdom of Basoli & Kishtwar and to the West, Bhimber and Rajouri were ruled by Mohammdans, the descendents of Rajputs. Up the Jhelum  the country was held by small Mohammdan Chiefs whose title of Rajas suggests their Hindu origin. Hence Jammu and Kashmir was fragmented from very early times. It goes to the credit of Gulab Singh to have consolidated these fragments into a single empire.
In 1815 Maharaja Ranjit Singh led an expedition to invest Garh Damala Fort which was a lofty castle in Jallandar Doab. This strong mud fort was once the headquarters of Hoshiarpur Principality. Maharaja Ranjit Singh therefore prepared well for the siege. He was not happy about Gulab Singh’s overstay at Jammu. On being informed of the impending attack on the fort and seeing it as an opportunity to win Maharaja’s favours, Dhian Singh (younger brother) sent a message to Gualb Singh to join the ranks at Hoshiarpur immediately. It is mentioned in Gulabnama that while the Maharaja was mounted on the majestic elephant and was inspecting preparations for assault on the fort, Gulab Singh surfaced in front of the Emperor and performed the formalities of Royal Salutations. After that Gulab Singh pulled up his horse swiftly like wind and put a handful of Ashrafis in the King’s ‘hawdali’ as a token of obeisance. The horse rested his hoofs on the forehead of the regal elephant. It astonished the spectators. A loud note of approbation arose. Maharaja was so pleased of this act of chivalry that he asked Mahoot to receive the ‘nazrana’ which the Mahoot did. When Maharaja diverted his attention towards storming the fort, Gulab Singh being anxious to lead the attack on the enemy and storm the fort, exhorted the Maharaja to watch his feats.  Gulab Singh pulled the reins of his horse and all alone fell upon the enemy as a lion. In the twinkling of an eye, he had crossed the moat (deep water channel) of the fort and got a top the coveted castle and dug down his spear like a flag on the wall of the fort. By this heroic deed he made history in the splendour of dash and gallantry. On witnessing this rare dash, valiant warriors, blood thirsty Khalsas got inspired and assaulted the fort from all sides. Soon the contest became a bloody affair. After sometime the resistance broke at the entrance of the gate. The royal force marched in. Maharaja amazed at such an unexpected and instantaneous victory, prostrated himself in sincere gratitude at the threshold of the Almighty. He bestowed untold honours and favours upon Gulab Singh and gave him Jagirs of Lala – Chobara and Ramgarh with authority to raise 200 horsemen.
As a military commander he rendered meritorious services especially in Multan, Attock, Kabul, Kandhar, Manerka, Dera Gazi Khan, Reasi, Kishtwar and Kashmir. By a rare bold strategy he captured Raja Agha Khan of Rajouri & neutralized Mian Dido. With his similar other remarkable contributions, conscientious and loyal services, Maharaja Ranjit Singh could easily expand and consolidate his Empire. His wisdom in enlisting services of able Dogras was prudent. The country side was disturbed. Each chieftain plundered his neighbour. Gulab Singh’s abilities were over taxed in restoring order. Hence Maharaja made a prudent decision to make him ruler of troubled Duggarland. Gulab Singh received striking recognition when Maharaja Ranjit Singh personally installed him Raja of Jammu on 17 June 1822 at Jeo Pota Akhnoor.
Gulab Singh extended his rule far and wide by capturing Ladakh, Baltistan, Gilgit and 500 sq miles of Western Tibet. No Indian ruler in the past, not even Chandragupt Maurya or Mughals had attempted to invade Tibet but Gulab Singh did it in 1841. It was to the credit of this great genius that by the time he was 55, he extended the borders of his empire touching China in the North, Tibet in the North East, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in the North West & NWFP in the West.
Death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 followed the death of Maharaja Kharak Singh & his son prince Nau Nihal Singh (on the same day) a year later. It led to the war of succession. Gulab Singh favoured Mai Chand Kour, widow of Kharak Singh. She was dislodged by Sher Singh, who was also killed in the factional fight in which Gulab Singh lost two brothers, two sons and a nephew.
When the Sikh armies were routed in the Anglo- Sikh war in 1846, Raja Gulab Singh as Prime Minister negotiated the ‘Treaty of Lahore’. In recognition of his audacious leadership and superb diplomacy, the Governor General of India, extended his rule to entire Jammu and Kashmir on 15 March 1846 and elevated him to the status of Maharaja. By the ‘Treaty of Amritsar’ Gulab Singh got control of Kashmir empire for which he paid Rs.75 Lac as war indemnity.
Maharaja changed the geography of India. He was a symbol of nationhood and secularism. He is one of the few historical legacies that India can be genuinely proud of. He left for his heavenly  abode  on 30th August 1858.