Col J P Singh, Retd
The rise of Dogras and formation of Jammu and Kashmir state began in a turbulent times of the history when the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Marathas under Chhatrapati Shivaji and the Rajputs of Rajputana, all rebelled against tyrannical Aurangzeb. Decline of Mughal Empire led to a period of great turbulence and instability in India. Afghans, Persians and later the British took advantage of this empirical disarray. The Sikh military power under Maharaja Ranjit Singh reached its zenith at this time. Rise of Gulab Singh and formation of Jammu and Kashmir and its indigenous Dogra State Force also happened in this turbulent period. 195 years ago, on 17 June 1822, Gulab Singh was anointed as Raja of Jammu at Jia Pota Akhnoor by Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself by applying Tilak at his forehead. History of Jammu and Kashmir, as would be seen, took a new turn thereafter and is practically the history of vision of one man, Gulab Singh. By virtue of his vision, abilities and valour, he went on to make an empire of his own as ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ by extending its borders to Tibet, China, Russia, Central Asia & NWFP. It was surrounded by nearly half the world population and hence became a trade corridor of the world.
At the tender age of 16, he distinguished himself in the ‘battle of Gumat’. He led young Dogras and blunted the successes of Sikh Army and forced them into treaty with Raja Jeet Singh, negotiated by Mian Mota and Raja Alam Singh Akhnooria. Impressed by his courage, bravery and swordsmanship, Bhai Hukam Singh and Nihar Singh Attariwala, the invading Sikh Chiefs, narrated the story of his prowess to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh rewarded him by appointing him as cavalryman.
The barren hills of Duggarland had not attracted the attention of Mughal and Afghan invaders. Here lived number of small Rajas. By the end of 18th century, the power of Jammu rulers had extended East as far as Ravi and to the West as far as Chenab. But it waned and waxed depending on the fortune of the rulers. East of Ravi were independent Rajput Kingdom of Basohli & Kishtwar. Bhimber and Rajouri in the West were ruled by Mohammdans, the descendents of Rajputs. Up the Jhelum Valley, the country was held by small Mohammdan Rajas. Hence the present state of Jammu and Kashmir was fragmented into small principalities from very early times. It goes to the credit of Gulab Singh to have consolidated these fragments into a single cohesive vast empire.
Between Lahore, the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Kashmir, the citadel of Afghan rulers, lay a small township of Akhnoor, also called ‘Aankhoon ka Noor’ blessed by prolific Chanderbhaga River. This is the town which sisters historic Buddha Stupas representing existence of Buddhism and a magnificent Fort with its pristine glory depicting existence of feudalism. It was below the fort, under a majestic Jia Pota tree, that Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself applied Raj Tilak to Gulab Singh and declared him the ruler of Jammu. Why at Jia Pota and why the Tilak was applied upside down (ulta) is often discussed in the society and during the Coronation Day celebration event. That apart, this unprecedented event set in motion the consolidation of vast empire of Jammu and Kashmir at the geo-strategic tri-junction of South-Central and West Asia.
After becoming Raja of Jammu, he and his legendary commander-in-chief, General Zorawar Singh embarked an ambitious campaign of conquests that opened a window far into the heartland of Central Asia. (Gen Zorawar Singh ranks as one of the greatest military leaders, not only in India, but possibly in the world and his exploits and invasions over Himalayas and Karakoram outclasses the achievements of legendary Hannibal). As per Gulab Singh’s plans, Gen Zorawar Singh led State forces into breathtaking invasions of Ladakh, Hunza, Chitral, Gilgit-Baltistan and Western Tibet. In a series of defeats inflicted upon the Sino-Tibetan forces, he reached the Holy Mansarowar Lake and captured Mantalai.
First of Ghulab Singh’s fascinating feat of chivallery became a stepping stone for his meteoric rise. It runs like this. In 1815 Maharaja Ranjit Singh led an expedition to invest Garh Damala Fort. Ghulab Singh led this attack so dramatically that 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 for this victory. Jagirs of Lala – Chabara and Ramgarh were given to him with authority to raise 200 horsemen.
Imbued with the spirit of adventure and gallantry, Gulab Singh rose to be an astute strategist of Ranjit Singh. As a military commander, he rendered meritorious services to his master in all his campaigns 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. Both had been eluding Sikh forces for a long time. With his similar other remarkable contributions, conscientious and loyal services, Maharaja Ranjit Singh could easily expand and consolidate his empire. Realising the importance of Dogra country, which generally remained disturbed as each chieftain plundered his neighbour, Ranjit Singh would send Gulab Singh to restore order. Hence a prudent decision to unite the troubled Duggarland under one chieftain became necessary. Thereafter Gulab Singh knitted together scattered principalities of erstwhile Jammu empire of Raja Rajgan Ranjit Dev and laid the foundation of Jammu and Kashmir. 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.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839. His son Maharaja Kharak Singh died a year later. Prince Nau Nihal Singh died the same day while returning after cremating his father in an unprecedented mishap along with son of Gulab Singh. Lahore darbar became a bed of bloodshed, anarchy and factionalism. Death of Nau Nihal Singh led to the war of succession. Dogra Rajas exercised lot of influence in the affairs of darbar. Gulab Singh favoured Mai Chand Kour, widow of Kharak Singh to be the Regent of the throne. Though accepted by all but was soon dislodged by Sher Singh, 2nd son of Ranjit Singh, who was also killed later in the factional fight. Gulab Singh suffered the unrest and strife, which struck Sikh empire after the death of emperor, the most. Raja Dhian Singh and Raja Suchet Singh, nephew Hira Singh and sons Udham Singh & Sohan Singh were killed, one after the other, at Lahore in the ensuing factional fights. Hence the Dogras paid a heavy price for the stability of Sikh empire.
Sikh armies were finally defeated by British in 1846. Raja Gulab Singh was requested to take up prime ministership during the war. He negotiated and signed the Treaty of Lahore in which he secured most respectable terms for the defeated Sikh empire. In recognition of his superb diplomacy, Lord Hardinge, the Governor General of India, extended Gulab Singh’s rule to entire Jammu and Kashmir with status of Maharaja by the ‘Treaty of Amritsar, signed on 16 March 1846.
Even when the Dogra army was pre-occupied with the Northwestern borders of the state, it had to provide forces demanded by the British, first during the Sikh insurgency in 1849, then against 1857 mutiny, the 2nd Back Mountain Expedition of 1878, the 3rd Black Mountain Expedition of 1888, 1st World War of 1914-19 and 2nd World War of 1939-45. The folk songs / tales of Dogras (rulers and soldiers) tell us that Dogras have contributed and sacrificed a lot in the past which we can’t overlook. Jia Pota tells us the stories of two warrior we did not know and it reminds us of the stories we had forgotten. It tells us how Sikhs and Dogras jointly changed the history and geography of the sub-continent. The flow of Chanderbhaga tell us that the times and tides move together and connects the past to the present. Jia Pota also tells us that Gulab Singh was the only Indian ruler who fought outsiders and extended Indian boundaries. All other great rulers fought each other within. To know how a fascinating story became history is the purpose of celebration of historic coronation day every year.
Col J P Singh, Retd