The Great General

Col J P Singh
Maharaja Gulab Singh was born on 21st October 1792 corresponding to 5th Kartik 1849 at Smailpur, Jammu. His father Mian Kishore Singh did not put a satchel and books on his shoulders or gave toys and kites in his hands but gave him a bow and arrows. As he grew up, he showed interest in hunting. Like any privileged youth, he would go out on the horse back to see the landscape and ride along the ravines. He would watch the thundering 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 in life. His grand father Mian Zorawar Singh took keen interest in his bringing up and sent him to live with his brother Mian Mota, Madar-ul-Maham of Raja Jit Singh, the last ruler of Jammu. Gulab Singh learnt the art of warfare and manners of courtiers from the younger brother of his grandfather.
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 Chanderbhaga River (Chenab) blessed this landmass. This is the town where historic Buddha Stupas at Ambaran representing existence of Buddhism and magnificent forts of Akhnoor and Ambaran exist depicting its pristine glory. It was here, under the Jeo Pota tree at the Northern bank of river Chenab that Maharaja Ranjit Singh anointed Gulab Singh as the ruler of Jammu on 17 June 1822 and set in motion the consolidation of a vast empire of Gulab Singh’s dream.
Meteoric rise of Gulab Singh 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 Jit 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. Ruler of Punjab 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.
In 1815 AD Maharaja Ranjit Singh led an expedition to invest Garh Damala Fort which was a lofty castle in the Jallandar Doab frontiers. 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 sent a message to Gualb Singh to join the ranks at Hoshiarpur. 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 salutations. After that Gulab Singh pulled up his horse swiftly like wind and put a handful of coins in the King’s ‘hawdali’ as a token of obeisance. The horse rested his front 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’. 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, Gulab Singh crossed the moat of the fort and got atop the coveted castle; dug down his spear like a flag on the wall of the fort. By this heroic deed he made history in the splendor of dash and gallantry. On witnessing this rare dash, valiant blood thirsty warriors 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 to Gulab Singh. Jagirs of Lala Chabara and Ramgarh were given to Gulab Singh with authority to raise 200 horsemen. Gulab Singh went to Lal Chabara, two neighbouring village near Sialkot, took control of his Jagir and enrolled fresh sowars to raise his own army. Due to constraints of space, only one such daring feat is being enumerated.
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. With his similar other remarkable contributions, conscientious and loyal services, Maharaja Ranjit Singh could expand and consolidate his Empire. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had realised that control of Dogra country was a difficult task. His wisdom in enlisting services of able Dogras was at once obvious and prudent. The country side was disturbed. Each chieftain plundered his neighbour. Gulab Singh’s abilities were over taxed in restoring order. Hence Maharaja Ranjit Singh 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 when he was just 30.
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’.
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 Jeo Pota by Raj Tilak Celebration Committee Akhnoor and on 21 Oct every year at the Royal Retreat by Maharaja Gulab Singh Memorial Trust. His Highness left for his heavenly abode on 30th August 1858 from Srinagar at the age of 66. 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.


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