Col J P Singh
Somewhere between Lahore, the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab and Kashmir, the citadel of Afghan rulers, lay a small township of Akhnoor, earlier known as ‘aankhon ka noor’. The prolific Chanderbaga River blessed this landmass. This is the town which historic Buddha Stupas representing existence of Buddhism and magnificent Akhnoor and Ambaran Forts depicting its pristine glory, culture and importance. It was here under the Jia Pota tree at the Northern bank of river Chanderbaga that Maharaja Ranjit Singh coronated Gulab Singh as the ruler of Jammu on 17 June 1822 and set in motion the consolidation of vast empire of Jammu and Kashmir.
(The magnificent Bronze Phalak at Jia Pota Akhnoor depicts Raj Tilak Ceremony of 17 June 1822. It was installed by Dr. Karan Singh, scion of the royal family, on 21 October 2010)
Meteoric rise of Gulab Singh as the founder of Jammu and Kashmir state dates back to 1808 when at the tender age of 16, he distinguished himself in the battle of Gumat. He led a contingent of young Dogras and blunted the successes of Sikh Army and forced them into treaty with Raja Jeet Singh. Impressed by his courage, bravery and swordsmanship, Bhai Hukam Singh Chimni, the invading Sikh Chief, narrated the story of his prowess to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh asked Mian Mota to send Gulab Singh to his service. Maharaja appointed 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.
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 who had been eluding Sikh forces for a long time. For similar other remarkable achievements, conscientious and loyal services which Gulab Singh rendered for the expansion and consolidation of Sikh Empire, he received striking recognition when Maharaja Ranjit Singh personally installed him as Raja of Jammu in 1822 when he was just 30.
Jia Pota, Akhnoor
(Jia Pota has been developed by the Dept of Tourism Jammu as an attractive tourist spot)
By knitting together scattered principalities of erstwhile Jammu empire of Raja Rajgan Ranjit Dev, he laid the foundation of a future State of Jammu and Kashmir. Gulab Singh received vast jagirs in Punjab including Salt Mines of Pind Dadan Khan on the right bank of River Jhelum worth lakhs on lease and in addition exercised authority over hill territories from Ravi to Jhelum.
He extended his rule far and wide by capturing Ladakh, Baltistan, Gilgit and 500 sq miles of Tibet. No Indian ruler in the past, not even Chandragupt Maurya or Mughal emperors had attempted to invade Tibet but Raja Gulab Singh did it in 1841. His brave General Zorawar Singh drew swords with the Tibetan Army and thus extended the borders of Dogra empire to the other side of Himalayas. 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. Gulab Singh was so great a general and so astute a statesman that his contemporaries referred to him as ‘Ulysses of the Hills’ and ‘Talleyrand of the East’.
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 followed by the death of Maharaja Kharak Singh & his son prince Nau Nihal Singh (on the same day) a year later, Lahore darbar became a bed of bloodshed, anarchy and factional fighting. Death of Nau Nihal Singh led to the war of succession among all the surviving claimants of Royal Family. Since Dogra Rajas exercised lot of influence in the affairs of darbar, each sought their support but after gaining ascendancy they strived for their destruction. 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, son of Ranjit Singh, who was also killed later in the factional fight. Gulab Singh remained the sole Dogra survivor of the darbar intrigues whereas both his brothers 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. Gulab Singh paid a heavy price for the unrest and strife which struck Sikh empire after the death of Lion of Punjab.
When the Sikh armies were finally routed in the Anglo- Sikh war in 1846, Raja Gulab Singh as Prime Minister of Sikh empire, negotiated with the British and signed the Treaty of Lahore in which he was able to secure most honorable terms for the vanquished Lahore darbar.
In recognition of his audacious leadership and superb diplomacy, Lord Hardinge, the Governor General of India, extended his rule to entire Jammu and Kashmir State and elevated him to the status of Maharaja on 15 March 1846. By the Treaty of Amritsar he got control of Kashmir empire for which he paid Rs.75 Lac against 1.5 Crore war indemnity levied on Lahore darbar.
K M Panikkar, a great historian, has written that in the century of upheavals in India, Maharaja Gulab Singh stands out as a solitary figure equipped with all the traits of a brave soldier, inspiring General, a shrewd diplomat, a great conqueror, a merchant, a trusted friend, remarkable statesman and an able administrator. He appeared at the scene at such a time when the rich, vast and strong Jammu kingdom had disintegrated. It was he who revived it to its pristine glory and further extended its boundaries by outwitting adversaries and British diplomats. Greatness of Maharaja lay in his superb statesmanship coupled with deep foresight that enabled him to make use of every opportunity that knocked at his door.
Maharaja Gulab Singh who created a vast State of Jammu and Kashmir and changed the Indian map was a symbol of nationhood and secularism. He is one of the few historical legacies that India can be genuinely proud of. By extending borders too far to the North, he provided ample strategic depth to the capital of India. His contributions to our political, cultural and religious lives are remembered on 17th June every year at Jia Pota by Raj Tilak Celebration Committee Akhnoor and on 21 Oct every year at the Royal Retreat by Maharaja Gulab Singh Memorial Trust. His memory will help us sustain nationalism, ethnicity and regional pride. Magnificent statue of His Exalted Highness in front of elegant Amar Mahal tells remarkable tales of wisdom, sagacity & achievements of the founder ruler.
His Highness left for his heavenly abode on 30th August 1858 from Srinagar at the age of 66.