Army under Maharaja Ranjit Singh was large and strong. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s contribution to the military system of the Sikhs is considerable. The Sikhs had already established themselves very high in the array of fighting men over a period of nearly a century. The boldness of their character, the spirit of adaptation, the constant test of strength with authority and foreigners and the feeling of common heritage, bondage and destiny which was kept in the forefront by their leaders, were some of the contributory factors that made the Sikhs fearless fighters. They did not give up easily. They had fought most of their campaigns with many an initial disadvantage and handicap and even then came out victorious.
The main components of the Sikh army under Maharaja Ranjit Singh were cavalry, infantry and artillery. Men had to provide their own horses. The infantry was equipped with match-locks and consisted of the strongest and handsomest men. During the latter part of Ranjit Singh’s reign service in the infantry came to be preferred. A number of dependent chiefs also maintained their own retainers and these were called Bargirs. The Akalis formed another force of irregular cavalry. The Akalis were great fanatics. They had their own distinctive blue dress and equipment. Besides the Sikhs who formed the bulk of the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh there were Gurkhas and Muslims also. The dress of the Sikh infantry consists of a blue turban with one end loose and spread to cover the head, back of the neck, and shoulders, and regulation coat in imitation of the French; trousers of blue linen, tight at the ankles, musket pouch, etc., with black leather belt. The muskets used in the army under Ranjit Singh were of very inferior stamp.
During the period under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, European officers were much in demand. These were either French or English. The English were mostly deserters from the Company’s forces and seeking new careers while the French were in some cases already noted as soldiers and generals. The Frenchmen in the employ of Ranjit were known to be mostly men of high calibre but it is not known where their sympathies would have been in the event of a war with the English. At least Ventura is said to have offered to go over to the side of the English during the Second Sikh War in 1848. Even Avitable’s attitude in 1846 was not very encouraging. This was the composition and national character which remained predominantly Sikh till much later.
Ranjit Singh’s empire was based on an efficient and strong government which was well suited to the temperament of the Sikhs. The military turn and robust attitude to resist tyranny and aggression given by Guru Gobind Singh had become very deep rooted among the Sikhs by the time Maharaja Ranjit Singh appeared to lead them. Under him all the resources of the empire and the energies of the people, were devoted to expansionism, and to the production of military means and equipment. It is a historical fact that it is only triumphant militarism that always collects adherents and followers. This was so during the reign of Ranjit Singh also. By means of constant campaigning and successes that followed Ranjit Singh installed a new faith in his people which soon took the shape of national pride.
By the time Ranjit Singh had reached the zenith of his reign the entire Sikh community had become one standing army. The Sikh army under Maharaja Ranjit Singh was called the ‘dal khalsa’. This loyal organisation became a strong and efficient instrument in his capable hands. Ranjit Singh himself led most of the campaigns and even if reliable commanders were appointed he made sure that every thing went according to his plans which were always drawn out in detail in advance. Equally adept in diplomacy, which is a necessary accompaniment of successful general ship, Ranjit Singh more than once won a bloodless victory. Hence, the state and the entire community under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh became a military democracy, an ideal which dictators in recent times wanted to achieve but miserably failed.