UMDAT UTTWARIKH, lit. the choicest of histories, by Sohan Lal Suri, is a chronicle, in Persian, primarily of the reigns of Ranjit Singh and his successors. The original manuscript, in five volumes in shikastah hand, consisted of some 7,000 pages. A lithographed edition of the work was brought out, in 1880, by the author`s descendants, under the auspices of the Panjab University College, Lahore. The Registrar of the College, G.W. Leitner, had in fact taken the manuscript with him to the International Congress of Orientalists (1879) held at Florence where it was put on display :the manuscript was then returned to Harbhagvan Das, the grandson of the author, from whom it had been borrowed.

A committee of scholars was thereupon appointed to examine the work on whose recommendation it was taken up for publication. Volumes III and IV are also now available in English translation prepared by a modern scholar, V.S.Suri. In five volumes, known as daftars, the book covers the period from 1469, the year of Guru Nanak`s birth, to 1849, the year when the British annexed the Punjab. Daftar I (pages 166) brings the story of the evolution of the Sikh faith from the time of the Founder, Guru Nanak, to the onslaughts of Ahmad Shah Durrani in the middle of the eighteenth century.

A four page supplement attached to the volume gives brief information about some of the prominent Sikh courtiers. Daftar II (pages 408), deals with the lives of Charhat Singh, Mahan Singh and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Daftar III ( pages 764), subdivided into five parts, is a chronicle of the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from 1831 to 1839, ending with his death. It records the day to day proceedings of the Sikh court, including briefly the contents of letters received in the court from governors, princes, army generals or reporters from different parts of the kingdom.

The first part covers the year 1831, the second part comes to 1836, the third covers mainly 1836, the fourth 1838 and the fifth part, beginning with the birth of Prince Duleep Singh in 1838, describes some important events of the closing years of the Maharaja`s life such as his meetings with Lord Auckland at Amritsar, Lahore and Firozpur and the tripartite treaty with Shah Shuja` and the British government, Daftar IV (pages 218) is subdivided into three parts, with the first part (pages 74) dealing with the reigns of Maharajas Kharak Singh, Nau Nihal Singh, Sher Singh and Duleep Singh and the abrogation of Sikh rule ; the second part (pages 56) is an account of the life of Prince Sher Singh, and the third part (pages 88) deals with the reign of Sher Singh.

Daftar V (pages 175), covering the period from January 1845 to March 1849, deals with Maharaja Duleep Singh and the Anglo Sikh wars, ending in the annexation of the Punjab to the British dominions.Written in a polished literary style, `Umdat ut Twarikh is a very comprehensive and important document on Sikh times. The manuscript copy, presented in 1831 to Captain Wade, the East India Company`s political agent at Ludhiana, is still preserved in the Asiatic Society Library at Calcutta. It was at Captain Wade`s request that Maharaja Ranjit Singh had deputed the author to go to Ludhiana to acquaint him with “this blessed account.

References :

1. Kirpal Singh, A Catalogue of Persian and Sanskrit Manuscripts. Amritsar, 1962
2. Suri, V.S., `Umdat ut-Twarikh. Chandigarh, 1972-74