Monarch Mystique recounts the meteoric rise of Ranjit Singh, from a chieftain of Punjab to the Maharaja of the Sikh Empire.
The rise of the Sikh Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century paralleled the downfall of the Afghan Empire. Numerous invasions by Ahmed Shah Abdali in the eighteenth century had demoralised Punjab. Ranjit Singh's exceptionalism reversed this sentiment by registering victories against the Afghans. His army, the Khalsaji, became a symbol of fearlessness.
By the mid-1820s, there were only two powers in the subcontinent: the East India Company and Ranjit Singh. The rapidly changing alignments in Europe and ambition of the Company, made it imperative for it to adopt the dual policy of exploiting its strength and thwarting the growth of the Sikh Empire. Despite the machinations of the Company, the Sikh Empire continued to expand and retain its sovereignty until after Ranjit Singh's death. The Maharaja earned the respect of both the Afghans and the East India Company.
Ranjit Singh's persona was an enigma: he ruled in the name of the Guru, yet Sikhism was not the state religion. His currency matched the Company's rupee, but the king never visited Kashmir, his highest revenue earning state. Ranjit Singh never killed an enemy in cold blood or drove a foe to desperation, yet he lost many men when he marched his army 300 miles for a horse that had caught his fancy. His 'battalion' of dancing girls was famed, yet his attitude towards women was progressive. His sense of justice dictated that his most prized gem, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, be neither inherited by his son nor donated to a Sikh gurdwara. His dying wish was that it be given to the Hindu temple of Jagannath Puri in Orissa, outside the confines of his empire.