Raja Ranjit Dev Dogra statesman, ruler and hero

Raja Ranjit Dev with Raja Amrit Pal of Basohli

Chiatany Basotra
Rama, the scion of Ikshvaku, the image of god on earth, had two son: Luv and Kush. Kush’s genealogy culminated in the body of one king, Agnibaran. This king Agnibaran, migrated from Oopa in Ayodhya to Kangra. He then, with his followers, crossed the river Ravi and settled in a village called Parole, near present day Kathu. This story that I recount took place during the time of the great Persian Shahen-shah, Cyrus.
His son, Vayu Srava, conquered all lands as far west as the river Tawi. As Parwez Dewan notes, four other suryavanshi kings followed him in succession. The fifth was Agni Garbh. His eldest son was Bahu Lochan who founded the town and fort of Bahu, on the left bank of the river Tawi and made it his capital.
A series of events followed this, culminating in the fall of Bahu Lochan in battle. His younger brother, Jambu Lochan then made himself famous by taking his revenge on his brother’s murderers, Chandrahas. On becoming the king, Jambu Lochan went on a hunt. On crossing the Suryaputri Tawishi (Tawi), he found a deer and a tiger drinking water from the same pond. His ministers explained to him that the soil of this land was so virtuous that no one was the enemy of another. Jambu Lochan thence decided to make this land his capital.
Raja Jambu Lochan’s descendants ruled this land in succession for more than a millenia. These then are the men we have come to talk of today. Men who shared the blood of Lord Rama and by extension the founder of this holy land, Jambu Lochan. Any other historical study of this genealogy would jump a millenia from Jambu Lochan directly to Mahraja Gulab Singh, ignoring the great men and women who came in between. But, this is not what this article seeks to do.
Before Maharaja Gulab Singh came, an even greater king roomed the bowers of this land and completely transformed it from instability to a prosperous metropolis. This man was Raja Ranjit Dev, and his story shall be the preserve of this article.
The Devs
After Jambu Lochan’s death, several dynasties came to rule Jammu. This stands contrary to what Justice Gajendragadkar in his report in 1968 stated – the ancient story of Jammu belongs to an unknown “hoary past” .
Jammu around 1001 A.D. was called Durgara. As invasions from the west had been growing in intensity and frequency, the rulers of Jammu or Durgara decided to shift their capital from Bahu to Babbapura or Babor.
This was done during the time of the Dhar Dynasty. The Dhar dynasty was followed by the ‘Dev Dynasty’. This dynasty ruled Jammu for a period of 700 years, starting in 1125, eventually culminating in 1816. The present Jamwal royal family of Jammu is an offshoot of this dynasty.
Sukhdev Singh Charak and Anita Charak Billawria write that “brave rulers of this dynasty put up a strong resistance to the Turkish invaders and defeated even raiding armies of Mahmud and his successor Masaud on several occasions”. However, the conduct of this dynasty was shaped by strong considerations of real-politik as well.
These kings became allies of Muhammad Ghori and fought on his side against Prithviraj Chauhan. The Jammu contingent in the battle of Tarain, as Charaka notes, was commanded by Narsingh dev, son of the Dogra Raja. The Rajadarshini narrates that Prithviraj’s brother, Khande Rao, was killed at the hands of Narsingh Dev”.
In any case it was this dynasty that united Jammu into one state and contributed huge resources in great temple building exercises like the ones that can today be seen in Kirimchi and Babbaur. The kings of this dynasty had a run in with Amir Timur in the 14th century as he was on his path of plunder, pillage, marauder and rape. Timur described Jammu as a ‘green and fertile country’ with ‘arable land’. In his autobiography, the mulfuzat timury, he notes how the inhabitants of Jammu were broad chested and tall in structure. They were not submissive and obedient to the sultans of Hindustan. Therefore he marched from Mansar and carried my arms against them.
This was followed by the creation of the Mughal state in Northern India, to whom the Devs became tributaries. Finally with the onset of the 18th century that saw the demise of Aurangzeb Alamgir in the Deccan and the rise of the Persians and the Afghans, Jammu again became independent. At this time, the Raja Ranjit Dev was born and carried on his reign transforming Jammu into a unified state which travelers and merchants called the ‘dar ul aman’.
Early Life, Imprisonment and Liberty.
It is well known that Ranjit Dev succeeded his father in the year 1735. At this time he was fifteen years old. This makes his year of birth somewhere around 1720. In the broader Indian context, this was 13 years after the demise of Aurangzeb.
This is how Sukhdev Singh Charak traces the genealogy of the Dev dynasty from its 64th king in the 14th century to its 75th king, who happened to be Ranjit Dev:
64 Hamir Dev, 20 years 1399 – 1425
65 Aje Dev, 31 years 1425 – 56
66 Bairam Dev, 45 years 1456 – 1501
67 Khokhar Dev, 29 years 1501 – 30.
68 Kapur Dev, 41 Years 1530 – 71.
69 Smail Dev, 25 Years 1571 – 96.
70 Sangram Dev, 30 years 1596 – 1626.
71 Bhup Dev, 26 Years 1626 – 52.
72 Hari Dev, 36 Years 1652 – 88.
73 Gaje Dev, 1688 – 1703.
74 Dhruv Dev, 1703 – 1735.
75 Ranjit Dev, acceded 1735.
Sukhdev Singh Charak notes that when Ranjit’s father Raja Dhruv Dev had extended the Jammu Kingdom and consolidated his position, Muhammad Shah, emperor of Delhi, recognised his overlordship in the hills by granting him a ‘patta’ on 13th Zilqadah, 1144 A.H., AD. 1724. Confirming him as raja of Jammu on payment of nazrana by him and by his son Raja Ranjit Dev.
Sukhdev Singh Chark notes that at the time of his internment, Ranjit was just a boy of 15 and his other brothers were even younger. This must have encouraged the dispossessed Bahuwals to revive their claim to a separate principality. Dhruv Dev’s pretensions to independence, strengthened by Ranjit Dev’s propensity for the same, would have antagonized the Mughal rulers who probably sided with the rival claimants. This must have led to a clan feud.
Hutchinson and Vogel further note that ‘Ranjit Dev’s release from the Lahore prison was possibly purchased’. Mian Chandan Dev made use of the discord between the Bahuwal chiefs and the Mughals, and approached Zakariyah Khan through Adina Beg, who got the Jammu prince released on a ransom of two lakhs of rupees, only half of which seems to have been sent. By the time it reached Lahore, the governor was dead, and the money was made over to Adina Beg Khan, who kept it.
Reign – The ‘Dar – ul – Aman’.
Diwan Kripa Ram writes that Ranjit Dev ‘acquired world renown in dispensing justice and equity, and the echo of his fame resounded in the four quarters of the world’.
Georger Forster, who visited Jammu in 1783, a year or two after Ranjit Dev’s death, writes that “he [Ranjit] deservedly acquired the character of a just and wise ruler”. A dispatch received by the British Governor – General of India at Calcutta on the 19th April 1780, states: “The Raja (Ranjit Dev) is distinguished for his courage and valour and is so just and kind to his ryots that the Panjab and the Doab have since the time of Nadir Shah’s invasion, always found a safe refuge in his country from the tyranny of unscrupulous adventurers. He knows of no people from Attock to Delhi who live more free from fear than those of Jammu”. Drew also testified to Ranjit Dev’s ‘reputation for having been a wise administrator and just judge’. He was a tolerant man. ‘His epoch was both the culmination and the beginning of the end of the old state of things”.
G.C. Smyth writing in the 1840s had this to write about the Rajput chief and his capital:
It may also be noted that the fame of his mild and just sway having spread far and wide, many people from the lower districts of the Panjab and elsewhere came to settle in his territories. By such means, in the year 1775, or five years before his death, the town of Jammu had increased to about three miles and a half in circumference, being about twice as large as it is in the present day. Its inhabitants then numbered about 150,000 souls, more than four times as many in the present day (1847).
It was considered an opulent, wealthy, flourishing and promising place having for its residence numerous wealthy men from the Punjab. One of these alone is said to have brought with him upwards of a crore of rupees.
Kripa Ram recounts once incident which shows the just nature of the Raja:
During the reign of the Raja, a rich Sahukar died without an issue. People from all quarters therefore, supplicated to the Maharaja’s pleasure that immense wealth had fallen into the government’s treasury. But, the king told them in reply that an escheat was the right of mendicants and the poor, and not fit for a sultan’s exchequer.
The proper course lay in issuing a circular order to the managers of towns and districts to the effect that if there be any one of the heirs of such and such Sahukar living, he could go to Jammu and obtain possession of the property without demur.
It is well known therefore that an old woman from the suburbs of Multan, who was helpless and belonged to the family of the deceased Shukar, arrived and became the owner of the said property.
Ranjit Dev’s dominions had become particularly famous as a place of refuge and protection for political refugees and the people at large from all over the Panjab and Delhi court. Among those who took shelter in Ranjit Dev’s care were Malika Zamani, A Delhi Queen of Emperor Muhammad Shah.
Military Exploits
Diwan Kripa Ram writes in the Gulabnama that as a result of the King’s valour and the divine favour, all the Rajas of the Moutain region became his tributary and professed allegiance to him.
Kishtwar, Chaneni, Krimchi, Bhaderwah, Bhadu, Basohli, Chamba, Bhandrahl, Jasrota and other principalities were subjugated either by force or diplomacy. He succeeded in uniting 22 principalities of Duggar into one state headed by the principality of Jammu. Ahmad Shah Durrani invaded and annexed Kashmir with his help. It seems that Ranjit’s active participation in the annexation of Kashmir was an avowed exercise in realpolitik as it later on allowed him a foothold in the vale – thereby making him the first raja of the hills to do so.
In 1758, when Durrani power was at its lowest ebb, Diwan Sukh Jiwan, the governor of Kashmir, ousted the authority of the Afghans. But when in 1762, Ahmad Shah was free from political transactions in the Panjab, he deputed Nur-ud-Din Bamezai to deal with the recalcitrant governor, who was assisted by Ranjit Dev.
Sukhjiwan was defeated in the Battle of Chera – Odhar in 1762, captured and blindedn. He was sent to Lahore where he was blinded by Ahmad Shah Durrani.
Death and Aftermath
Ranjit Dev ruled for fifty-seven years and on the 22nd of Chait of the year 1838 of Bikrami (1780), he bid farewell to this world.
The aftermath of his death for the Jammu raj meant an unfortunate series of tidings for his realm. His recalcitrant son Brijraj Dev, sought the help of Sikh Misls and had his younger brother murdered. All this was done to get the throne that had been established on a foundation of justice, equity and goodwill. The irony of this is not lost on me.
All this severely harmed the interests of the Jammu raj as a result of which, Jammu was sacked and plundered several times by the Sikhs. Crores of rupees were looted and the whole city was burned to the ground, as a consequence of which Jammu never managed to regain its old splendour.
Raja Ranjit Dev is a figure who should be seen as one of the heroes of Dogra legend. Unfortunately, however, he has been forgotten not just by fellow Indians but by us Dogras as well.
History not only tells us where we come from, but more importantly, it tells us where we stand and in which direction we must head. It is an unfortunate phenomenon among us Dogras, that we have not been very active in conserving, preserving and exemplifying the richness prevalent in our historical annals.
If we as a people, want to awaken from our slumber of ignorance and inactiveness towards a life of vigour, development and prosperity, then we must remember heroes of our shared past like Ranjit dev. This is a message which must be heeded not only by the Dogras, but by Indians as a whole.