Writing in 1788, James Browne urged the East India Company officials to read his newly published An History of the Origin and Progress of the Sicks (sic), claiming: “A sect that makes religion and politics unite in its aggrandizement and renders the entrance into it so easy to all who desire to become members of it cannot fail to extend itself very far, and in the end to be exceedingly formidable to its neighbors.”1

Browne based his account on a Persian text written by his munshi (clerk), Budh Singh Arora, a Khatri from Lahore, supplemented by his own experience in negotiating with various Sikh chiefs between 1783 and 1785.2 For the next five decades, as the Sikhs became important rivals of the Company in the northwestern territories, colonial officials would continue to commission more histories of the Sikhs in Persian. Many of these later texts would become important sources for colonial officials writing about Sikhs as well as later historians of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century history. Often unacknowledged, frequently belittled, the works of such “native informants,” as Nicholas Dirks has noted, were crucial to creating a colonial archive of knowledge about South Asia. Yet colonial scholars and administrators frequently characterized indigenous scholarship as devoid of the ability to analyze, evaluate, and contextualize information.3