RAJAS OF THE PUNJAB, by Sir Lepel H. Griffin, first published in 1870 and reprinted in 1970 by the Languages Department, Punjab, Patiala, contains accounts of the principal Sikh princely states in the Punjab and of their political relations with the paramount power. The author admits that the title of the work is open to objection because of the omission from it of some of the important chiefs of the Punjab such as those of Kashmir and Bahawalpur.

The work is based mainly on the official records and papers of Delhi, Ambala and Ludhiana political agencies as well as on the despatches of Malcolm, Ochterlony, Matcalfc, Murray, Wade, Macnaghten and Prinscp, and official correspondence emanating from Port William, Calcutta, with regard to the relations of the British government with the protected states. The hook is divided into eight chapters, each dealing with an individual Sikh state.

The book opens with the history of the Patiala state, the largest in the Malva region. Its founder, Ala Singh (1691-1765) became as a result of his conquests “the most distinguished” among the Sikh chiefs of his day in that region. He allied himself with the Dal Khalsa to take possession of the Sirhind subdivision. He made Patiala his capital in 1752. In 1761 he was invested by Ahmad Shah Durrani with the title of Raja. Griffin considers him a “gallant and at the same time prudent” leader of men who “laid strongly the foundations of the most important of the cis Sutlej states.”

His successor Amar Singh (1748-1782) was the strong man of Patiala, Griffin being of the view that had he lived longer or had he been succeeded by a ruler as capable as he was, “the cis Sutlej states might have been welded into one kingdom and their independence might have been preserved, both against the Lahore monarchy on the one hand and the British Government on the other.” A notable feature in the history of the family was the emergence of women of extraordinary courage and political wisdom at periods of crisis. One of them was Rani Rajinder Kaur, granddaughter of Ala Singh, whom Griffin descibes as “one of the most remarkable women other age, possessing all the virtues which men pretend as their own.”

In 1785 she marched on Patiala from Phagwara where she had been and reinstated Nanu Mall as Diwan. She formed a coalition of the leading Sikh Sardars against Dhara Rao, the Maratha invader. In 1790 when the Maratha force commanded by Rane Khan Dadaji and `All Bahadar Peshwa knocked at the gates of Patiala, she made a journey to Mathura to settle the matter with Mahadji Scindia, viceregent of the Mughal empire. Sahib Kaur, daughter of Raja Amar Singh, was another prominent name in the Patiala annals. In 1791, she became the chief minister of Patiala at the young age of eighteen.

In 1795, when the cis Sutlej region was invaded by Nana Rao Maratha, she, gathering round her the forces of Jind, Kalsia, Thanesar and Bhadaur in addition to those of Patiala, defeated him at Mardanpur on the banks of the River Ghaggar near Ambala. Rani As Kaur, the wife of Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala, was a woman of great ability and her wise administration of the Patiala state during her husband`s reign and during the minority of her son, won the admiration of the neighbouring states, and was warmly praised by the British Government. Raja Hamir Singh, the builder of Nabha state, and his wife, Desu, have received tribute from the author.

He calls Hamir Singh “a brave and energetic chief,” and has all praise for Desu who fought bravely against Gajpat Singh of Jind who had taken her husband prisoner by treachery and attacked Sarigrur. Griffin agrees with Sir David Ochterlony`s assessment of Jasvant Singh, son of Hamir Singh, whom he called “one of the principal Sirdars under our protection, and by far superior in manner, management, and understanding to any of them I have yet seen.” He also refers to the continuous hostility between the states of Nabha and Patiala. Gajpat Singh, the founder of the Jind State, was on friendly terms with Patiala, but an enemy of Nabha.

His daughter, Raj Kaur, was the mother of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.The chiefs of Bhadaur, who trace their ancestry to Chaudhari Dunna, also belonged to the Phulkiari stock. The most famous chief of Bhadaur was Gauhar Singh. The village bards used to sing ballads in praise of his martial skill, his victories and his charity to the poor. Jassa Singh Ahluvalia, the founder of the Kapurthala state, was the leader of the Dal Khalsa and had fought many battles against the Mughals and the Durranis. His grandson, Fateh Singh, gave full support to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in war as well as in diplomacy.

He was the architect of the Tripartite treaty of 1805 between the British, Ranjit Singh and Jasvant Rao Holkar. The ancestors of the rulers of Faridkot had their seat initially at Kot Kapura. Hamir Singh made Faridkot his headquarters. Maharaja Ranjit Singh`s general, Muhkam Chand, seized Faridkot, but it was restored to the family after the Anglo Sikh treaty of 1809. Mandi, one of the Kangra hill states, first became tributary to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, but later on accepted British paramountcy. The minor Phulkiari families of Badrukhari, Dialpura,Jiundari, Kot Dunna, Laudhgharia, Malaud and Rampuria are touched upon in passing. B.J.H.