Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) was one of the greatest rulers of Punjab
. He is still fondly remembered by the people of this region. Considered as the bravest and the most generous ruler of the 19th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was known for his secular nature and respect towards all religions.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh ascended the throne on April 12, 1801. During his 40 year tenure, he brought about peace and prosperity to his kingdom. The headquarters of his kingdom was Lahore (now in Pakistan). His secular nature ensured that there were no communal riots in his kingdom. He personally led the campaigns against other kingdoms and extended his territory. His worthiness as king, however, earned him the title of a liberator rather than a conqueror. His personal instruction to his soldiers was not to destroy any religious place, religious book, center of learning or crops. During any campaign, special attention was taken to protect the honor of a woman, even if she belonged to the enemy kingdom. The practice of capital punishment was totally abolished. The king adhered to this principle in his own life by not attempting to take anyone’s life. He took special care of the welfare of the farmers and soldiers, considered important for the prosperity and safety of the kingdom.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, though uneducated, was a wise and intelligent ruler. He was known for his farsightedness. He was open towards trade with foreign countries. He encouraged his people to learn a foreign language like English, knowing very well its global importance. He greatly believed in the freedom of speech. He was equally generous towards all religions. His sense of humour and presence of mind earned him many admirers.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh breathed his last on 27th June, 1839 due to a severe illness. While he was in his deathbed, people of all faiths offered prayers in their respective manners with hopes of saving his life.