The Sikhs

India Table of Contents

The Afghan defeat of the Maratha armies accelerated the breakaway of Punjab from Delhi and helped the founding of Sikh overlordship in the northwest. Rooted in the bhakti movements that developed in the second century B.C. but swept across North India during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Sikh religion appealed to the hard-working peasants. The Sikh khalsa (army of the pure) rose up against the economic and political repressions in Punjab toward the end of Aurangzeb's rule. Guerrilla fighters took advantage of the political instability created by the Persian and Afghan onslaught against Delhi, enriching themselves and expanding territorial control. By the 1770s, Sikh hegemony extended from the Indus in the west to the Yamuna in the east, from Multan in the south to Jammu in the north. But the Sikhs, like the Marathas, were a loose, disunited, and quarrelsome conglomerate of twelve kin-groups. It took Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), an individual with modernizing vision and leadership, to achieve supremacy over the other kin-groups and establish his kingdom in which Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims lived together in comparative equality and increasing prosperity. Ranjit Singh employed European officers and introduced strict military discipline into his army before expanding into Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Ladakh.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress