Maharaja Ranjit Singh
The One-Eyed Man
Muhammad Hassan Miraj
The Maharaja breathed his last on the fifth day of his sickness, the 15th of Asarh, 1896 (Bikrimi / Punjabi Calendar and 20 June 1839 Gregorian Calendar), Thursday, around dusk. It had already grown dark, Raja Dhiyan Singh, the Prime Minister was ordered to maintain calm in the city, in case riots broke out. The next day, in accordance with royal tradition, the dead body of the Maharaja was bathed and made up the way he appeared in court, in a royal dress and jewels. A podium of gold was prepared for his last rites.
His last two Rajput wives, Maharani Rajdai and Maharani Hardai, daughters of Raja Sansar Chand, ruler of Kaangra, started their preparations for Satti. At first, they declared all their estates and property including jewels, gems and stones to charity. Driven by the Maharaja’s love, they dressed up in their bridals and walked out of the palace, bare feet.
Amongst the men, Raja Dhiyaan Singh, the Prime Minister, declared that he would also burn to death with the Maharaja and ordered his effects to be given to charity. On seeing this, the nobles from the court came and persuaded him to change his decision. They pleaded that the Maharaja had chosen Raja Dhiyan Singh, amongst all men because of his wisdom and it was in the greater interest of Punjab that he looked after the affairs, run the state and guided the crown Prince Kharag Singh.
Raja Dhiyan Singh, however, refused to listen. Prince Kharag Singh then, walked up to him and convinced him to change his mind. He offered him to leave the assignment as soon as calm prevails, to which he agreed.
Both the Ranis, moved out of the palace and sat around Maharaja’s dead body. Geeta, the holy book, was placed on the Maharaja`s body. The Satti Ranis administered the oath on Geeta and the body of Maharaja, by Raja Dhiyan Singh and Prince Kharag Singh to fulfill their duties for the best of Khalsa Raj and the Punjab Empire.
The Maharaja’s dead body was lifted with great prestige. Hundreds of gold coins, minted with the Maharaja’s figure, were thrown in the air. A large number of servants and citizens accompanied the funeral procession. The procession was taken out from the western gate of Hazoori Bagh and it moved alongside the River Ravi, where it was placed on a heap of Chandan wood for cremation.
Prince Kharag Singh lit the fire. Both the Ranis sat in the fire, holding the head of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and 11 Kaneez (maids) sat on both side of the dead body, to be burnt with the Maharaja. Raja Dhiyan Singh went near the Ranis and requested for prayers for Prince Kharag Singh, the Sattis did not reply and stayed still with tight lips and closed eyes.
When flames flickered high, oil, ghee (purified butter) and scents were thrown in. A pigeon flew from nowhere and fell into the fire to become Satti. After a little while, it started to rain. The skies also seemed to mourn the death of the Maharaja.
After the fire finally extinguished, the bodies of the Maharaja, Ranis and the maids had completely burnt and the rituals had been completed, Prince Kharag Singh took a bath and returned to palace.
On the 4th day, the remains (of cremation) were dispatched honourably, to Ganga. The remains were taken out in the form of a procession. All the courtiers, who attended the royal procession, paid their respect to the Maharaja’s remains. The reagents of the area, from where the remains passed on their way to Ganga, came out to pay homage. On the 13th day, when the remains were finally merged into Ganga, millions were given to Brahmins and the last rites culminated.
The crown prince ordered to build a Tomb (Samadh) and valuable stones were called for across India. The tomb was under construction, when Maharaja Kharag Singh died. A pause prevailed throughout the regimes of Maharaja Sher Singh and Maharaja Duleep Singh.
Finally, when the British assumed the rule of Punjab, the tomb was completed. Many people visited the tomb in the coming years. On account of the heaviness of the upper Dome, cracks were observed in the eight supporting pillars. When British administrators observed this, they contacted me and as In charge of the buildings of Lahore, I was given the responsibility to stabilise and restore the tomb. I added eight more supporting pillars and the cracking pillars were strengthened through iron rings. To date, the Samadh is stable and attracts visitors throughout India.
Excerpts from Chapter 44, Tareekh-e-Punjab by Kanhaya Lal Hindi
Translated by Muhammad Hassan Miraj