The eighteenth century was regarded as a 'dark period' in the history of the Punjab before N.K.Sinha and Had Ram Gupta turned their attention to this period. For both of them, however, the history of the region was synonymous with the history of the Sikhs and the twelve Misals, and both of them wrote on past politics.
This book takes into account the non-Sikh as well as the Sikh rulers of the eighteenth century who established themselves as autonomous chieftains in the Punjab after the weakening of the hold of the Mughal government and Afghan invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. Among the non-Sikhs were the Hindu chiefs in the hills and the Muslim chiefs in the plains of the Punjab. The book deals with their administrative organization, agrarian production, urban economy, jagirdari and state patronage as well as polity. Consequently, it adds altogether new dimensions to our understanding of the history of the Punjab in the context of historical writing on the Mughal Empire and the Sikhs. It makes a substantial advance upon all previous studies of eighteenth century Punjab.
The conclusions drawn by the author are based on information culled from contemporary sources in Persian, Punjabi and English, and from printed and manuscript materials produced by the British during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The map prepared by the author shows a large number of places identified on the basis of contemporary evidence. The Appendix gives basic information on nearly a hundred principalities, many of them identified for the first time. A much revised version of her doctoral thesis, the book embodies the results of a study meticulously carried out for nearly a decade.
Veena Sachdeva is Professor of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh. She specializes in social-economic and political history of medieval India. Her current research interests include state formation in late medieval Punjab, sacred centres in Indian civilization and medieval Indian monuments. In addition to nearly thirty articles on medieval India and medieval Punjab, she has also published a book entitled Kinship and State Formation: The Gills of Nabha, jointly with J.S. Grewal.
In a country ruled by 'seventy thousand sovereigns', it would be wrong to assume that 'any class could find happiness, contentment or rest'. This was Henry T. Prinsep's comment on Sikh polity during the late eighteenth century. His reference to the number of Sikh rulers cannot be taken literally. But there is hardly any doubt that their number was much larger than the number of new rulers in any other area of equal size in the former empire of the Mughals. What Prinsep does not mention, and perhaps did not know, is the fact that the number of non-Sikh rulers who supplanted the Mughals in the Punjab was equally large. The present study deals with all the new rulers in the area between the rivers Satlej and Indus, besides the hill principalities formerly attached to the province of Lahore.
Prinsep's assumption that the condition of the subject people could not be happy under 'seventy thousand sovereigns' raises the question of the effect of political change on the life of the people in the Punjab. This assumption can be examined with reference to the political organization, administrative arrangements, land revenue, patterns of state patronage and the main features of urban as well as agrarian economy in the territories of the numerous chiefs who came to rule over the Punjab in place of the Mughals. Since the conclusions drawn are not only new but also radically different from what has been said on the subject by most of the historians, it becomes almost obligatory to set forth all the relevant evidence in detail. In addition to the source material in Persian and Punjabi and the contemporary accounts of the European and native travellers, this study is based substantially on the unpublished records available at the National Archives of India, New Delhi.
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