Thursday, December 08, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism

Only Maharani Jindan , the prima donna in the drama, which unfolded towards the end of the Sikh kingdom, was painted and sketched. Before joining Ranjit's boudoir she was the daughter of Ranjit's dog keeper, Manna.

No traces are there of other prominent Sikh ladies having been painted, though there were quite a few - starting with Sada Kaur, Ranjit's resolute mother-in-law (see in Sada Kaur section), who used her position in the Kanhaeys misl to help install Ranjit in the first place. Though she later fell out with him when she persisted, successfully, in foisting the claims of her daughter's son, Sher Singh, to the line of succession; Mehtab Kaur, another prominent wife of Ranjit Singh, who is said to have had forty six wives in all; or Chand Kaur, Kharak Singh's wife. Photographs exist of Daleep Singh's wife, Maharani Bamba Daleep Singh, who was half English and half Abyssinian. (see in Maharaj Dalip Singh section)

 

Rani Jindian

The last famous lady in the line was Princess Bamba Daleep Singh, later Mrs. Bamba Sutherland (as often written - 'she married a certain Col. Sutherland'). Much prior to that, most of the wives of the Sikh gurus were exceptional personalities, but none were painted. Among them were Bebe Nanaki (Guru Nanak's elder Sister) and Mata Sulakhani (Guru Nanak's wife), Mata Khiwi (Guru Angad's wife) who started the tradition of the langar, free kitchen, Bibi Bhani who was Guru Amardas's daughter, wife of Guru Ramdas and the mother of Guru Arjan Dev, Mata Ganga - Guru Arjan Dev's wife, Mata Nanaki - wife of Guru Hargobind and Guru Tegh Bahadur's mother, Guru Har Rai's wife and Guru Harkrishan's mother Mata Kishan Kaur, Mata Gujri - Guru Tegh Bahadur's wife and Guru Gobind Singh's mother, and Guru Gobind Singh's wives Mata Sahib Devan and Mata Sundri.
A shortcoming of paintings of the period of the Lahore court was the relative lack of a variety of subjects. Most of the Lahore court paintings show the seated Maharaja Ranjit Singh with his real and accepted sons Kharak Singh, Sher Singh, the infant Daleep Singh; the favourite boy Hira Singh is also shown with Naunehal Singh; Dhian Singh is respectfully standing at the back and occasionally shown with his brothers Suchet Singh and Gulab Singh of Jammu. Ranjit Singh is sometimes surrounded by his non-Sikh courtiers like his Finance Minister Dina Nath the Brahmin , his Foreign Minister Aziz-ud-din and Jamadar Khushal Singh, who was actually a Brahmin. Also included in some paintings are Europeans who organized his army - the Italians Ventura and Avitabile who were infantry experts, Allard who was his cavalry organizer and another French man, General Court, who trained and equipped his artillery. Also included were his friends from Afghanistan and other European adventurers. (In fact, all these elements of his court are brilliantly portrayed in a later oil painting of August Theodore Schoefft, a Hungarian who visited his court). Coupled with this was the fact that Sikh paintings on subjects other than portraiture were restricted in any case. The miniature paintings, thus, on surface appear to be very limited in diversity but to appreciate them one has to understand the historical events and the intrigues of the court - and then a great drama unfolds, which finally ended when the British defeated Maharaja Ranjit Singh's successors and disbanded the court of Lahore in 1849.


Maharaja Ranjit Singh with his sons, Maharaja Kharak Singh, Sher Singh & Dalip Singh. Raja Dhian Singh. Gulab Singh & Suchet Singh are also seen standing behind

 

Raja Dina Nath

Raja Khushal Singh

In fact, the British went to the extreme of auctioning the treasures of the court to recover their campaign costs, after dispatching the best objects to London - the Koh-i-noor, jewels and the golden throne.

Information regarding this period is available from a number of sources - the camp chronicle of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, 'Umdat-ut-Tawarikh', British government records and accounts of European travellers, artists and painters. The Umdat-ut-Tawarikn was a Sort of daily diary full of hyperbole and praises to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, though full of interesting facts. The British government records appear to be fairly accurate on information, but the most absorbing and relevant to this book are the accounts of the other Europeans, even though their superciliousness sometimes comes through. Generally these accounts are frank, appreciative as well as critical and chatty.

Fakir Aziz-u-deen

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