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7.10.7 Album

Recto. Album leaf. Portrait. Ranjit Singh seated on terrace, with inscription. Painted in gouache on paper. According to reg' Prince seated, blind in one eye.

unknown, Sikh Style
circa 1830
British Museum

Album leaf. Portrait. Ranjit Singh seated on terrace, with inscription, 1830, © The Trustees of the British Museum,

In the eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire was becoming weaker and weaker. The British were pushing into South Asia from their trading posts along the coast. A Sikh leader, Ranjit Singh, saw the opportunity to take control of a large area in Punjab. He established the Sikh Empire in 1799 and ruled it as Maharaja (King) Ranjit Singh until his death in 1839. Ranjit Singh was a very talented politician. He was able to keep both the British and local rulers and chieftains from attacking his kingdom. He was also able to sponsor a flowering of Sikh culture and artistic production during his reign. However, after his death and many brutal battles, the British took over his lands. How was Ranjit Singh’s position different from that of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh? What do you think it meant to Sikhs to have a Sikh ruler?

Mahajara is the official title for rulers of the Sikh Empire. As the first ruler of the Sikh Empire, Ranjit Singh is a major figure in Sikh history. Encourage students to consider the impact and significance of followers of the Sikh to be united under the same empire, namely the spread and “renaissance” of Sikhism through art, literature, and music. Ranjit Singh was different from the Gurus because he was a political rather than a religious leader. Having a political entity, a Sikh empire, was another major shift in the type of organizational structure of the Sikh community. The painting depicts Ranjit Singh with a blind right eye caused by smallpox contracted during his infancy.