Jewels and Relics from Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Toshakhana
By Mohinder Singh
AFTER consolidating his victories and establishing an independent kingdom in Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh built a unique collection of jewels and relics. The world famous Koh-i-Noor is the most precious in the category of jewels and the Kalgee of Guru Gobind Singh in the category of relics. Apart from the relics of the Sikh Gurus, in the Toshkhana of the Maharaja were also preserved shoes, staff and prayer book of Prophet Mohammad which his father Maha Singh had acquired from Pir Mohammad Chhatha after the latter’s defeat in the battle of Rasulnagar. According to the popular tradition, the Maharaja showed same reverence forthe relics of Prophet Mohammad which he showed for the relics of the Sikh Gurus. The Maharaja used to start his day after listening to the recitation to Gurbani in the morning and taking a Wak from the famous Kartarpuri Bir.
Ranjit Singh did not wear a crown or sat on a throne in keeping with the egalitarian tradition of the Khalsa Panth.
The Maharaja’s fabulous wealth and relics were the envy not only of contemporary Indian rulers but also those of the officials of the East India Company. The following account of the nephew of Henry Edward Fane, an ADC of Colonel Wade, the British Political Agent posted in Ludhiana, describes the British astonishment over the fabulous collection of the Maharaja: "The dresses and jewels of the raja’s court were the most superb that can be conceived; the whole scene can only be compared to a gala night at the Opera. The minister’s son, in particular, the reigning favourite of the day (Hira Singh) was literally one mass of jewels; his neck, arms and legs were covered with necklaces, armlets and bangles, forms of pearls, diamonds and rubies, one above the another, so thick that it was difficult to discover anything beneath them."
During the marriage of Maharaja’s son Kunwar Naunuhal Singh, the Britishers not only saw the Maharaja wearing the world famous Koh- i -Noor and his sons and nobles’ jewels of fairy tales description, they also discovered to their dismay the unique training and skill of his troops, both traditional and those trained on European lines by the French generals employed by the Maharaja. Gifts assembled for the entourage of Lord Auckland, the newly appointed Governor General in 1838, also give an idea of the Maharaja’s generosity and hospitality for his state guests.
According to the account given by Misr Beli Ram, incharge of Maharaja’s Toshakhana, Macnaughten, the senior most officer accompanying the Governor General, was given 15 garments, a pearl necklace, a jewelled armlet and a jewelled pair of gold bangles, an elephant with a silver saddle and a jewelled sword.
More than his sons, nobles and distinguished guests, the Maharaja showed respect for the religious places dear to his Hindu, Muslim and Sikh subjects. The Maharaja gave tax-free endowments for religious places and gave costly gifts to Jawalamukhi temple and Baba Farid shrine at Pak Pattan. The Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar received Maharaja’s special attention and reverence. It was under the orders of the Maharaja that the entire shrine was re-decorated by beautiful inlay and floral work and walls and canopies of the Harmandir Sahib were inlaid with gold plating, which then onward came to be popularly known as Swarn Mandir or the Golden Temple. Whenever the Maharaja visited Harmandir to seek Guru’s blessings, he offered invaluable gifts, which are now preserved in the Toshakhana of the Golden Temple. A canopy embedded with 20 pounds of gold and studded with diamonds, emeralds, pearls and rubies, a bejewelled arm band, a sword with a gold handle studded with jewels and pearls, a peacock made of sapphire and gilded with diamonds, rubies and other precious stones and other invaluable jewellry items were presented to the temple by the Maharaja.
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 and the annexation of the kingdom to the British Empire in 1849, lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, took keen personnel interest in taking possession of the jewels and relics in the Toshakhana of the Maharaja.
An idea of the intrinsic value of the relics in the Toshakhana of Maharaja Ranjit Singh can be formed from the following remarks which Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, made when these objects were being dispatched to England for presentation to the Queen:
"It would not be politic to permit any Sikh institution to obtain either by way of gift (for the intrinsic value of them is significant) or by means of sale of these sacred and warlike symbols of a warlike faith."
After getting approval from the secretary of state, the following relics of Guru Gobind Singh were sent to England by ship after getting them heavily insured: "Shumsheer-wa- Sipar (Sword with Shield). The were presented on 30th Bysakh, 1880 sumbat (1823 A.D) by one Dya Singh of Peshawar to Maharaja Ranjit Singh who gave him a well and a suit of clothes (on return).
Dae-I-Ahinee (An iron weapon). A hill man brought this to the Maharaja 28 years ago. Neza (a lance) was presented to Maharaja Ranjit Singh by the Singhs of Ubchalnagar.
Chukker-I-Ahinee (A circular missile weapon of iron). An Akali Singh presented this to Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Utuk.
Shumsher Tegha (A scimitar). Taken from one Baba Bhartee
on 25 Mugger 1878 (or 1821 A.D) and made over to the Toshakhana, by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Kalgee-I-Kuch (A crest of glass in a silver case). A Sahibzada (descendent of Nanak) of Vyrowal brought this to Maharaja Ranjit Singh on 7th Chet 1881 (1824 A.D).
Burchee (A small spear). This belonged to Kumalgarh Raja (Chief of Mundee) who used to worship it. General Ventura got it, when he took the fort of Kumalgarh and presented it to the Kunwar Nau Nihal Singh in the month of Magh 1896. Burcha (A large spear) The Khalsa army got this at Jummoo when they invaded that place. The whole army used to worship it."
Ranjit Singh’s golden chair along with boxes full of jewels was also dispatched for the Board of Directors of the East India Company and the Queen. To ensure that young Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of the kingdom of Ranjit Singh, should not become a rallying point for the p eople of Punjab, he was surreptitiously converted to Christianity and hurriedly sent to England. To minimise all chances of his return to Punjab and claiming sovereignty after becoming of age, he was made to marry princess Victoria Gouramma of Coorg, also an Indian convert to Christianity and settled in Elveden Estate, near Cambridge especially purchased for him. A facade of a ceremony was arranged in which young price was made to present the famous Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria and 13 most valuable relics pertaining to Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the Prince of Wales. The remaining jewellry in the Toshakhana of the Maharaja was either taken over by the British officials in India or auctioned to public thus putting to an end of the glory and grandeur of the mighty empire of a mighty ruler of Punjab.
While great enthusiasm created during the tercentenary of the birth of Guru Gobind Singh in 1966 resulted in the return of the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh to India and their being placed at Takhat Sri Kesgarh Sahib in Anandpur, the sacred Kalgee of Guru Gobind Singh still remains untracked