General Zorawar Singh – The Napoleon of India / East

(by)  Dr Surjit Singh Bhatti  

Formerly, Professor & Head, Dean (Sciences),  

Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.      

Sardar Zorawar Singh (1784-1841) was a famous General of the Empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1849), who ruled over Northern India. He was conqueror of the impossible terrains of the Himalayan mountains of Ladakh, Baltistan, Tibet and Skardu. Above all, he was a very honest and capable Statesman and led a life of exemplary modesty and restraint.  He did not amass any wealth for his descendants but left a brilliant legacy of achievements and noble leadership that caused the western writers of that time to call him the “Napoleon of India / East”. Like Napoleon, Zorawar Singh believed that victory belongs to the fearless and the most persevering.      

Source : Sikhnet 

Zorawar Singh was born in a Rajput family of Bilaspur (in Himachal Pradesh). He took up service as an Administrator under Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, a vassal of Emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Impressed by his ability and sincerity, the Dogra Raja first appointed him Commandant of Bhimgarh Fort and later Commissioner of all his forts. He was soon made Governor of Kishtwar. Zorawar Singh efficiently handled their administration and recruited local Rajputs, who excelled in mountain warfare, into Raja Gulab Singh’s army. In 1835, Zorawar Singh wrested from Chamba kingdom the region of Paddar, famous for sapphire mines, after a brief battle.  His ambition was to conquer the whole of Kashmir and its neighboring areas. Raja Gulab Singh made him a General and the Commander of his army.   

Ladakh is located towards the East of Kishtwar and Kashmir, with snow-clad mountains of the upper Himalayas. The principalities in this region were tributary to the King of Ladakh. In 1834, one of them sought Zorawar Singh’s help against their King. Zorawar Singh entered Ladakh with 5000 men and easily defeated the Ladakhis, called Botis. In 1835, he captured Leh. The King agreed to pay him a war-indemnity and an annual tribute. The Governor of Kashmir, Mehan Singh, incited the Ladakh chiefs to rebel but Zorawar Singh soon subdued the rebels, forcing the Raja of Zanskar to pay a tribute to Jammu. In 1836, Mehan Singh instigated the King (Gyalpo), to revolt but Zorawar Singh forced Gyalpo to submit. He then built a fort at Leh and placed there a garrison of 300 men.              

Baltistan is to the northwest of Ladakh, and to the north of Kashmir.  After defeating the Ladakhi rebels, Zorawar Singh added many loyal Ladakhis to his army, and invaded Baltistan in 1839. His brigade of 5,000, under prominent Rajput leaders from Kishtwar, captured the fort of Skardu and forced its Raja to surrender and pay annual tribute. Zorawar  Singh built a fort on the banks of the Indus river where he placed a contingent of his soldiers. He then advanced westwards, conquered the fort of Astor, and took its Raja prisoner.

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 Source : JAMMU DIARY @ DiaryJammu     

Tibet was next on Zorawar Singh’s agenda. In 1841, his 6000 troops marched into Ladakh and then from there he invaded Tibet from three sides.  Crushing all resistance, he  defeated the Tibetan forces there. Envoys from Tibet and agents of the Maharaja of Nepal surrendered before him.   

Zorawar Singh thereafter went on pilgrimage to Manasarovar and Mount Kailash. He had extended his communication and supply line over 450 miles of inhospitable terrain by building small forts and pickets along the way. The Supply Chain for the Dogra army over such a long distance failed despite Zorawar Singh’s meticulous planning. Due to intense cold, very heavy rains, incessant snowfall, and lightning for weeks together, many of his soldiers were taken ill and many others died. The Tibetans and their Chinese allies regrouped and advanced to confront his army. The Dogra Rajputs fought a fierce battle near Lake Manasarovar, in which General Zorawar Singh was killed on December 12, 1841.    

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