This site is a mirror of the original site, made in 2022 by Heraldry of the World. The original site is unaltered. This mirror functions as an archive to keep the material available on-line.
All rights remain with the late Hubert de Vries, the original site owner.







The Punjab Empire

West and East Punjab

West and East Punjab Police

Sikh Military Units








Maler Kotla






Back to India

Back to Pakistan



The Sikhs established their Empire in the Punjab after the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir in 1707. With the death of Aurangzeb the country saw a series of rapid governmental changes that stressed it into the depths of anarchy.  Taking advantage of this a certain Charat Singh, who was the head of one of the Sikh Clans, established his stronghold in Gujranwala in 1763. Charat Singh died in 1774 and was succeeded by his son, Mahan Singh, who in turn fathered the most brilliant leader in the history of the Punjab: Maharaja Ranjit Singh.  It was this remarkable leader who united the whole Punjab under one flag.  His rule stretched from the banks of the Jamuna to the Khyber and from Kashmir to Multan.  Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the most powerful of all the Sikh Rulers and ruled over 40 years. After his death in 1840 the Sikh Empire was divided into small principalities looked after by several Sikh Jagirdars. 

As a condition of the peace treaty after the first Anglo Sikh War of 1845, some British troops, along with a resident political agent and other officials, were left in the Punjab to oversee the regency of Maharaja Dhalip Singh, a minor. The Sikh army was reduced greatly in size. After a revolt in 1848 and under the Treaty of Lahore in 1849, the Punjab was annexed by the British East India Company, and Dhalip Singh was pensioned off. The Punjab became a province of British India, although a number of small states, most notably Patiala, retained local rulers who recognized British sovereignty.

The British Punjab province was partitioned in 1947 prior to the independence of Pakistan and subsequently, India. In India, the Punjab province was further partitioned into and forming Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.




The Punjab Empire


The arms of the Punjab Empire are a shield, a kutar or Indian dagger, and a sword. On the flag, called Nishan Sahib, these are displayed in black on a triangular orange cloth with a decorated bordure. This flag can be considered to be the flag of the Punjab rulers. [1]

Even when the origin of the Nishan Sahib is traced back to the time of Guru Hargobind (*1595-†1644), its oldest representation known sofar is on a picture of Charat Singh (r.1763-‘74) in procession. [2] The prince himself, behind his head a halo, is depicted with the usual Indian royal insignia: an almond-shaped screen, a fly-whisk (chamar) and an umbrella (chhatri). In front of him an ensign carries a banner (nishan) of the usual triangular form charged with the arms. The ensign himself has an orange turban crested with a blue tasseled pointed cap decorated with a silver trident. The trident, as we know, is the emblem of Shiva, and in this case may be identified as the emblem of the Punjab army.



Charat Singh on horseback with a bow over his right shoulder and a falcon in his left.

From a Rajastani style painted  manuscript called ‘Journey to Deccan’, 1770-’80 ca. [3]


A flag, probably of this design, was first installed on the top of the Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple) by Sardar Jhanda Singh of the Bhangi clan in 1771. In 1783 Udasi Mahants Santokh Das and Pritam Das brought from Dera Ram Rai (Dehra Dun) a tall sal tree in one piece and using it as the flagpost raised a Nishan Sahib in front of a bunga (a hospice or resting place) next to the Akal Takhat whence this bunga acquired the name Jhanda Bunga.

In 1820 Sardar Desa Singh Majithia whom Maharaja Ranjit Singh had entrusted with the management of Darbar Sahib replaced the wooden flagpost with a steel one covered with gilded copper sheets. Later a similar flagpost was also presented by the Maharaja himself but this was not erected till 1841 when the one installed by the Majithia sardar was damaged in a storm. Then the damaged flagpost was also repaired and erected by Desa Singh’s son Lahina Singh Majithia and two Nishan Sahibs of equal height have been flying in front of Jhanda Bunga since then. Both these flag posts were of solid iron.

From this time there is a representation of the Nishan Sahib on brass plates in the Gurudwara Baba Atal Sahib, a temple south of the Golden temple. These show banners with the same arrangement of dagger, sword and shield as on the painting of 1770-’80.



Detail of the brass embossed plates of the Gurudwara Baba Atal Sahib in Amritsar, 19th c.

Two flags charged with shield, dagger and sword. [4]


This Nishan Sahib may have been used well into the twentieth century as some photographs have been preserved showing it displayed on flagposts in front of Jhanda Bunga. Afterwards the arms were replaced by the khanda.



Two photographs of the Nishan Sahib, probably of the turn of the 19th-20th century [5]

The flags show the shield-sword-dagger emblem.


The Khanda


This may be the place to give some attention to the Khanda, the main emblem of Sikhism.



The khanda is the emblem of the Sikh Faith. The central double edged sword signifies truth, strength, freedom and justice. The circle or chakram, represents eternity and the two swords of Miri and Piri represent political and spiritual sovereignty.


‘The khanda is said to have been used by Guru Gobind Singh (*1666-†1708) to transform novices into warriors during their unique initiation ceremony and has remained a symbol, along with the chakram which he wore, synonymous with Sikh valour ever since. His injunction to remain ever-armed was obeyed by the faithful who covered their bodies and turbans in weapons as a tribute to their creator and destroyer.’


A contemporary picture, i.e. a 17th century rendering of it, remains to be found.






The khanda is clearly inspired by the former shield-sword-dagger arms on the banner but differs essentially from it as the shield, representing armed authority is replaced by the chakram, a religious symbol representing eternity.

An early representation of it is on the insignia of the Nishan-i-Phul, an order created by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala (1900-’38). [6]




Other Symbols


Other flags, dating from the first half of the 19th century, show some interesting symbols.

The first thing we remark is that they are red and not tenné or orange which means that they are of a different kind as the Nishan Sahib, that is to say, they display the colour usually associated (from Roman times) with the army.

  • The first banner displays a sun radiant which can be determined as the national emblem of the Punjab empire, all in agreement with many other sun-emblems through the ages and over the world.
  • The second banner shows what we may call the achievement of the Punjab Empire, probably the achievement of the army command. This shows the effigy of the Hindu warrior-goddess Durga, supported by two Hanuman-gods, armed with clubs.



Details of Sikh Battle Standards

from the collection of Lord Dalhousie as they are displayed at the Mansion of Colstoun, East Lothian, Scotland. Family tradition states that they were captured by Lord Gough at the Battle of Gujrat 21 February 1849.  [7]



In the three symbols we found we may recognize the symbols of the ruler, the empire and the state and in this respect the Punjab Empire was not different from many other civilized nations.


Punjab Province


The achievement of Punjab Province was:


Arms: Purpure, five barrulets wavy, in chief a rising sun radiant Argent.

Crest: A lion passant.

Motto: CRESCAT · E · FLUVIIS  (Let it Grow from the Rivers). [8]


West and East Punjab


The emblem of West (Pakistan) Punjab is a coat of arms. It is:


Arms: Argent, five waves Vert, in chief a crscent and star with outlines Vert and in base Punjab in arabic lettering also Vert.

Garland: Ears of rice, Argent, outlined Vert .


The emblem of East (India) Punjab is a seal.

It shows the Asoka Capital and its motto, being the emblem of India, surrounded by a bordure charged in chief with an ear of rice and in base with two swords in saltire and on the dexter and sinister the words ‘Punjab Sirkar’ in devanagiri and gurbani script. Below the seal is a ribbon with the title GOV[ernmen]T PUNJAB.

The emblem is tinctured  tenne (orange)


ð See illustrations in the head of this essay.


West and East Punjab Police



The ancient Pakistani Punjab Police arms shows the waves of the Government of Punjab coat of arms and the Pakistan crescent-and-star, surrounded by a garland of rice.

Nowadays the Pakistani Punjab Police uses the arms of the Pakistan Police i.e. the capitals PP, crested with a five-pointed star and surrounded by a garland. 





The India Punjab Police arms shows the capitals PP (Punjab Police), crested by the Asoka capital and surrounded by a garland. Below is a motto.

Sikh Military Units



Like in many other nations, the heraldry of the Punjab Empire consisted of battle standards and uniforms.


The standards of the smaller units showed different symbols, sometimes borrowed from religion as can be seen on these two standards. The first shows Kartikkeya, riding a peacock, the other Hanuman.

The standards are on a lithograph of a painting of Sher Singh (1841-’43) in procession. [9]



From a 19th century picture we may conclude that after the modernization of the army by Ranjit Singh, certain unities of the Punjab Army wore uniforms. The badge of the Royal Guard seems to have been a trident or, maybe, an early version of the khanda.[10]



Following the annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1849, disbanded Sikh soldiers were enlisted en masse to form a key component of the Victorian British Army. British officers were wise enough to maintain the potent symbolism of the independently minded Sikh warrior and readily utilised the chakram in regimental puggari badges. [11]




1st/11 Sikh Regiment

(1st K. G.O.) (2nd Ludhiana)

3rd/11th Sikh Regiment

(3rd Rattray’s) (4th)

5th/11th Sikh Regiment

(5th D.C.O)





The Sikh Light Infantry

The Sikh Regiment

1st/ 12th Frontier Force Regt.

(The 1st P.W.O. Sikhs)


Back to Main Page


© Hubert de Vries 2009-11-19

[1] The History of  Our Nishan Sahib.

[2] The origin of the Nishan Sahib is traced back to the time of Guru Hargobind (*1595-†1644) who hoisted a flag over the Akal Takhat (or Akal Bunga) at Amritsar as it was erected in 1606. The flag, the first of its kind in Sikh tradition was called Akal Dhuja (the immortal flag) or Satguru ka Nishan (standard of the true Guru).

[3] From: Daljeet, Dr.:  The Sikh Heritage, a search for totality. Prakash Books India Pvt. Ltd. 2004

[4] Randawa, T.S.: The Sikhs, Images of a Heritage. Prakash Books India Pvt. 2007.

[5] From:  The History of our Nishan Sahib citing: Khushwant Singh:  The Sikhs, 1953.

[6] Singh, Davinder: Hidden Heritage. The remarkable Nishan i Phul. 2006.

[7] Sikh Battle Standards at Lichfield Cathedral

[8] Douie, James: The Panjab, North-west Frontier Province and Kashmir. 1916.  

[9] From: The History...

[10] From: The History...

[11] Booker, H.H. : Indian Army Cap Badges.

Flag Counter In cooperation with Heraldry of the World