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Maharaja Ranjit Singh


Bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, on sale in London on Oct. 09


London, Sep 08, 2008
Satish Mehta

The writer Chirsty Campbell describes Maharaja Ranjit Singh as “One of the greatest rulers of Northern India, who built an empire which stretched almost from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas. He was also called the Lion of Punjab.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's reign was also known for all round development, secular values and patriotic fervour. Keeping all these aspects in mind, the Amritsar has come up with many such things that reminds one of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rule.

The milk white sculpture, marble bust has been priced between £50,000 and £70,000 and will be be auctioned at the Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale on October 9 in London. Last year, a bust of Ranjit Singh's son, Duleep Singh, was sold for £1.7m.

Ranjit Singh crowned himself as the ruler of Punjab and willed the Koh-i-noor to Jagannath Temple in Orissa while on his deathbed in 1839. But there was dispute about this last-minute testament, and in any case it was not executed. On March 29, 1849, the British flag was hoisted on the citadel of Lahore and the Punjab was formally proclaimed to be part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore, the legal agreement formalising this occupation.

The gem called the Koh-i-Noor which was taken from Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk by Maharajah Ranjit Singh shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh suddenly died of a paralytic stoke in June 1839. He was succeeded by his imbecile son, Kharak Singh. On November 5, 1840, Kharak Singh die and the reign of his capable son Nao Nihal Singh also ended the same day while returning home from the cemetery after performing funeral rites of his father by the fall of an archway of the Lahore Fort. The following years witnessed intrigue and murders. The English were closely watching the happenings in the Punjab and they finally declared war is December, 1845 which ended in February 1846. Sikh army was defeated and Peace Treaty was concluded between Maharaja Dalip Singh, a minor son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the East Indian company. This peace treaty did not last long and second Anglo-Sikh war was fought in 1848-49. Finally the Sikh army was defeated and Punjab was annexed. The Maharaja Dalip Singh was pensioned off, all state property confiscated to the company, the celebrated diamond, the Koh-i-Noor surrended to the Queen of England on 24th March, 1849. This is how the Koh-i-Noor passing through many hands finally reached England.

The Governor-General in charge for the ratification of this treaty was Lord Dalhousie. More than anyone, Dalhousie was responsible for the British acquiring the Koh-i-Noor, in which he continued to show great interest for the rest of his life. Dalhousie's work in India was sometimes controversial, and his acquisition of the diamond, amongst many other things, was criticised by some contemporary British commentators. Although some suggested that the diamond should have been presented as a gift to the Queen, it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly. Writing to his friend Sir George Cooper in August of 1849, he stated this:

The Court [of the East India Company] you say, are ruffled by my having caused the Maharajah to cede to the Queen the Koh-i-noor; while the 'Daily News' and my Lord Ellenborough [Governor-General of India, 1841-44] are indignant because I did not confiscate everything to her Majesty... [My] motive was simply this: that it was more for the honour of the Queen that the Koh-i-noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift -- which is always a favour -- by any joint-stock company among her subjects. So the Court ought to feel.
Dalhousie arranged that the diamond should be presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh's successor, Duleep Singh, to Queen Victoria in 1851. Duleep travelled to the United Kingdom to do this. The presentation of the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria was the latest in the long history of transfers of the stone as a spoil of war.





One of the greatest rulers of Northern India

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born in 1780 in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan. At the time much of Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs as well as Afghans, who had divided the territory among factions known as misls. Ranjit Singh's father Maha Singh was the commander of the Sukerchakia misl and controlled a territory in west Punjab based around his headquarters at Gujranwala.

Ranjit Singh succeeded his father at the young age of 12. After several campaigns, his rivals accepted him as their leader, and he united the Sikh factions into one large state.

At the Golden temple much of the present decorative gilding and marblework date from the early 1800s. All the gold and exquisite marble work were conducted under the patronage of Emperor Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of the Punjab) was a heavy donor of wealth and materials for the shrine and is remembered with much affection by the Punjabi people. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, having a deep love for the teachings of the tenth Guru of Sikhism Guru Gobind Singh, also built two of the other most sacred temples in Sikhism. These are Takht Sri Patna Sahib, (intiation or birth place of Guru Gobind Singh), and Takht Sri Hazur Sahib, the place of Guru Gobind Singh's Sikh ascension into heaven.