Mehtab Kaur (c. 1782 – 1813) was the first wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire. She was the mother of Ranjit's reputed son, Maharaja Sher Singh, who briefly became the ruler of the Sikh Empire from 1841 until his death in 1843.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh with some of his wives
|Maharani of the Sikh Empire|
|Tenure||c. 1801 – 1813|
|Died||1813 (aged 30–31)|
Maharaja Sher Singh
|House||Kanhaiya (by birth)|
Sukerchakia (by marriage)
|Father||Gurbaksh Singh Kanhaiya|
Mehtab Kaur was the senior-most of Ranjit Singh's wives and according to historian Jean-Marie Lafont, the only one to bear the title of Maharani (high queen) while his other wives bore the lesser title of Rani (queen). After her death, the title was held by Ranjit's youngest widow Jind Kaur, who served as regent of the Sikh Empire (after Sher Singh's death) from 1843 till 1846 and was the mother of Maharaja Duleep Singh.
Mehtab Kaur, the only child of Gurbaksh Singh Kanhaiya and his wife Sada Kaur, was born in 1782. Although a Sikh, she bore the Muslim name "Mehtab" (مهتاب) which means 'moonlight' or 'splendor of the moon' in Persian. Her father, Gurbaksh Singh, was the only son and heir of Jai Singh Kanhaiya, the founder and chief of the Kanhaiya Misl.
The Kanhaiyas, who had replaced the Bhangis as the most powerful misl, disputed Ranjit Singh's father's (Maha Singh) right to plunder Jammu, and in one of the many skirmishes between the two misls, Gurbaksh Singh was killed in battle against Maha Singh in February 1785.
Mehtab Kaur's mother, Rani Sada Kaur, an intelligent, high spirited and ambitious woman, used to lend support of the Kanhaiya misl to Ranjit Singh till 1821, when she developed differences with him and as a consequence lost her territory to him.
Jai Singh agreed to betroth his granddaughter, Mehtab Kaur, to Maha Singh's son, Ranjit Singh. The Kanhaiya chief died shortly afterwards in 1789, leaving his estates to his widowed daughter-in-law, Sada Kaur, who took over the leadership of the Kanhaiyas.
As a teenager, Ranjit Singh took hardly any interest in the affairs of the state, making his mother, Raj Kaur, anxious for his future. She felt that marriage might bring him around to the responsibilities of life. She approached Sada Kaur to fix the nuptial date. Ranjit was fifteen years old when he left Gujranwala for Batala, the chief town of the Kanhaiyas, to wed Mehtab Kaur in 1796. This alliance between the two important Sikh families was a major event for Punjab. All the leading Sikh chiefs were present at the wedding.
After entering into a matrimonial alliance with the Kanhaiya Misl, Ranjit Singh wanted to consolidate his position further which could only be done by drawing some other misl to his side. He made suggestions to head of the Nakkais and early in 1798 took a second wife, who was the sister of Nakkai Sardar. The marriage turned out to be more successful than the first. His second wife bore his mother's name: Raj Kaur. She was renamed Datar Kaur and was warmly known as Mai Nakain and turned into Ranjit's most loved wife.
Ranjit's second marriage gave Mehtab Kaur an excuse to return to Batala and from there on she made only occasional appearances at her husband's home. It likewise soured Sada Kaur; however she accommodated herself to Ranjit's polygamous wander in light of the fact that she had set her heart on greater and better things and was resolved to see that for her own particular purpose and the purpose of her exclusive tyke (and her offspring in the event that she had any), Ranjit Singh do the arrangements that she had set for him.
Sada Kaur kept on trying to bring Ranjit Singh closer to her daughter and felt happy when Mehtab bore Ranjit his second son (and her first child) in 1804. Thanking God (Ishwar) the child was named Ishar Singh. The prince died in infancy - at the age of one and a half years. Mehtab Kaur was pregnant again in 1807 and gave birth to twin sons, Sher Singh and Tara Singh in Batala. Ranjit was near Jawalamukhi when he received the news of their birth, he rushed to Amritsar to pay a thanksgiving visit to the Golden Temple there. The birth of his sons was celebrated greatly. There was cheering in the illustrious camp and when Ranjit returned to Lahore, he gave away vast entire-ties in philanthropy and the city was enlightened for a few nights.
Historians differ over whether Sher Singh and Tara Singh were Ranjit Singh's biological sons. During March 1837, on the occasion of the marriage of Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh, Henry Edward Fane, the nephew and aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Henry Fane, who spent several days in Ranjit Singh's company, reported that the Maharaja never thoroughly acknowledged Sher Singh. The contemporary historian, Joseph Davey Cunningham, who attended the 1838 conversations between Ranjit Singh and Lord Aukland, also recorded that the Maharaja had doubts. However, Khushwant Singh, writing in 1962, considered that the rumours regarding the parentage of Sher Singh and Tara Singh were inaccurate and had been spread by Kharak Singh and his mother, Datar Kaur, in order to reduce the possibility of Ranjit Singh preferring Sher Singh, who was fast becoming his father's favourite. Despite his doubts, Ranjit Singh gave Sher Singh commands in the army and conferred honours on him, although Kharak Singh remained his favourite. However, no honours were bestowed on Tara Singh and he was not permitted to appear in court.
After suffering from a failing health, Mehtab Kaur died in 1813. At the time of her death, Ranjit Singh was at Amritsar, where the death of the former had taken place. Ranjit Singh did not go to the incineration and other condolatory functions. After a ton of claims and influences, Dewan Mokham Chand could take the Maharaja to Sada Kaur's derah, where he played out a portion of the critical functions of condolence.
In popular cultureEdit
- "The Panjab Past and Present". 20. Department of Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University. 1 January 1986: 122. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
- Noor, Harbans Singh (2004). Connecting the dots in Sikh history. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies. p. 67. ISBN 9788185815237.
- "The Sikh Courier International". 38-42. Sikh Cultural Society of Great Britain. 1 January 1998: 9. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
- "The Sikh Review". 53. Sikh Cultural Centre. 1 January 2005: 45, 86. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- "Punjab District Gazetteers". Compiled and published under the authority of the Punjab government. 1 January 1905: 226.
- "Calcutta Review". University of Calcutta. 1 January 1944: 74.
- Grewal, J.S. (1998). The new Cambridge history of India : II. 3 The sikhs of the Punjab (Rev. ed., 1st pbk. ed.). Cambridge[England]: Cambridge University Press. p. 249. ISBN 9780521637640.
- Chhabra, G.S. (2004). Advanced study in the history of modern India ([3rd ed.] ed.). New Delhi: Lotus Press. p. 155. ISBN 9788189093075.
- Lafont 2002, p. 251
- Lafont 2002, p. 252
- Lafont 2002, p. 258
- Richardson, John (1777). A Dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English. Clarendon Press. p. 1905.
- Singha, H.S. (2000). The encyclopedia of Sikhism (over 1000 entries). New Delhi: Hemkunt Publishers. p. 137. ISBN 9788170103011.
- Singh, Patwant; Rai, Jyoti M. (2008). Empire of the Sikhs : the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. London: Peter Owen. pp. 63, 169. ISBN 9780720613230.
- Garrett, Joseph Davey Cunningham ; edited by H.L.O. (1994). A history of the Sikhs from the origin of the nation to the battles of the Sutlej. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 175. ISBN 9788120609501.
- Singh 2008, p. 3
- Roy, Kaushik (2015). Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia. Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 9781317321286.
- Singh 2008, p. 6
- Griffin, Lepel (2004). Ranjit Singh and the Sikh hindrance between our developing domain and Central Asia (AES Repr. ed.). New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 108. ISBN 9788120619180.
- Singh 2008, p. 35
- Singh 2008, p. 8
- Noor, Harbans Singh (2004). Connecting the specks in Sikh history. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies. p. 70. ISBN 9788185815237.
- Singh 2008, p. 300
- Lafont 2002, p. 25
- Singh 2008, p. 62
- Fane, Henry Edward (1842). Five Years in India, Volume 1, Chapter VII, page 120. Henry Colburn.
- "Though reported to be the Maha Rajah’s son, Shere Sing’s father has never thoroughly acknowledged him, though his mother always insisted on his being so." 
- Cunningham, Joseph Davey (1849). A History of the Sikhs. London: John Murray. p. 186.
- "The Maharaja doubted: and perhaps he always gave credence to the report that Sher Singh was the son of a carpenter, and Tara Singh the child of a weaver, yet they continued to be brought up under the care of their reputed grandmother, as if their parentage had been admitted."
- Khushwant Singh 2008, p. 278
- Hasrat, B.J. "Sher Singh, Maharaja". Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Editor-in-Chief Harbans Singh. Punjab University Patiala.
- Fane, page 121
- "The Panjab Past and Present". 20. Department of Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University. 1 January 1986: 124.
- Sher-E-Punjab: Maharaja Ranjit Singh. IMDb. Retrieved 29 April 2017.