Friday, Jul 01, 2022
Outlook.com

The Scattered Ashes of a Legend

Empire's marionette, Duleep Singh could only align his life with an idle absurdity

Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled the Punjab for forty years, 1799-1839. For six years after his death, his sons, the Sikh sardars, the Dogra rajas of Jammu, and the Brahmin generals of Meerut, all his creations, fought and slaughtered each other, as only the Punjabis can. The last of his acknowledged sons, Duleep Singh, born when the great maharaja was sick and dying, but acknowledged by him nevertheless, was put on the throne at the age of five. His mother, Rani Jindan, and the factious Sikh darbar presided over the crumbling Sikh Raj.

The inevitable clash with the British took place in December 1845 to February 1846. After the bitter battle of Subraon was lost, the British marched into Lahore. The little maharaja was made to sit with brown and white old men under a shimmering shamiana and signed a treaty of submission. The rich half of the kingdom, the Doaba, was seceded, and the little king was ruled over by Resident Lawrence. Three years later, in 1849, Dalhousie converted a minor rebellion in Multan into the second Sikh War and annexed the Punjab. The Sikh Raj was over. The boy raja was taken to Fattehgarh on the Ganges, under padre tutors, converted to Christianity, and five years later taken to England. Queen Victoria treated him as a colorful Indian mascot. He played with her children; lived at Osborne as a favoured guest, and became a star shooter of pheasants. Winterhalter painted him. He settled at Elveden, close to Thetford, near Cambridge.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement