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Sikh Heritage

The Images of Sikh Heritage

Jaquemont also had this to say of the Nihang Sikhs , whom he saw on his visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The Akalis, or Immortals , are properly speaking Sikh faqirs. Their rule compels them to be dressed in blue and always to carry arms. The sacred pool at Amritsar is their headquarters, but they often spread themselves over the Punjab in large and formidable parties. Ranjit wisely turns their ferocity to his own advantage. He enlists them in his armies, and employs them, preferably against his Mussalman enemies. He has at the moment about 4,000-5,000 of them in the army, which he maintains at Attock, ready to march against another fanatic, the Syed.

Nihangs or Akalis

Nearly all of them are mounted on ponies and armed with a spear or matchlock, others have only a bow or a sword. They are dressed in tattered blue clothes and most of them wear a long pointed headdress of the same colour, surrounded at its base with a polished steel ring like the brim of a hat. They are hideous to behold. They live on what they can take if it is not given to them; and hurl insults at those whom they dare not plunder. M. Allard, who has wisely made them friendly by his liberality, has nevertheless on one occasion been attacked by them. Sometimes they collect in parties of hundred and mingle among the Rajah’s attendants, and when they think themselves strong enough, they threaten him and demand money. They have more than once held him up to ransom in this way, but Ranjit has never ventured to take vigorous measures and gives a general order to put them in positions from which they have little chance of returning, and they usually come back in smaller numbers for they fight with desperate courage. Jaquemont’s views were corroborated by Steinbach. In addition to the regular and irregular army, the Lahore government also has in its pay a body of irregular cavalry (to the number of between two and three thousand) called Akalees. They are religious fanatics, who acknowledge no ruler or laws except their own. They move about constantly armed to the teeth, insulting particularly Europeans, and it is not an uncommon thing to see them riding about with a drawn sword in each hand, two more in their belt, a matchlock at their back, and three or four quoits fastened round their turbans. The quoit is an arm peculiar to this race of people. It is a steel ring, varying from six to nine inches in diameter, and about an inch in breadth, very thin, and the edges ground very sharp. They throw it with more force than dexterity; but not so (as alleged) as to be able to lop off a limb at sixty or eighty yards. In general, the bystanders are in greater danger than the object aimed at. Runjeet Singh did much towards reducing this race of people to a state of subjection, but he only partially succeeded. They fight with desperation, and are always employed on the most dangerous service.

Two Sikh Warriors

An impartial assessment of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) clearly brings out his great qualities. He converted a lawless region into an orderly and great kingdom – from the Sutlej (almost reaching Simla) including Ladakh, Peshawar, Multan, till the Khyber Pass and Sind. Re used force only sufficient to meet his requirements of maintaining power, and occasionally to obtain a horse that he took a liking to. (It is said that the campaign to get the horse Laili, apart from other objectives, cost him twelve hundred men and sixty lakh rupees). He abolished capital punishment and the smaller abuses and requirements of maintaining power were less gruesome in degree than the total lawlessness that was prevailing before his time. Uneducated and illiterate, he was also a man of the arts though he did not encourage his own paintings, perhaps because of his blind eye and smallpox marks. With great persuasion he sat for a sketch by Vigne, but even then, He was constantly turning away, so as to conceal his blind eye. Many paintings exist depicting him in his later years but not surprisingly there are hardly any showing him in his youth, which confirms the fact that painting came to the Lahore court after the subjugation of the Kangra hill States. He died a monarch and his authority was not diminished even in his later years when he was paralyzed.

He also used to adopt the children of his slain generals and looked after their welfare. Ernily Eden first noticed them with Ranjit Singh and observed that ‘he always has these children with him, and has married them to each other. They were crawling about the floor, and running in and out between Runjeet and G., and at one time the little boy had got his arm twisted around G.’s’ leg’ To an unmarried forty one year old spinster (and a Victorian one at that) these children violated the primary rule by being not only seen but also heard and felt.

Seeing them again when calling on Ranjit Singh some days later she bristled with irritation at their behaviour and that of their bibulous guardian: ‘Those two little brats, in new dresses, were crawling about the floor, and he poured some of this fire down their throats’. Schoefft believed that they received half their fathers’ income until they reached the age of fifteen, and if still alive after Ranjit Singh’s questionable supervision beyond that age, they were entitled to the whole revenue. (Aijazuddin).

With the collapse of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom, the art of traditional painting disappeared from Lahore and Amritsar but continued in the other British protected Sikh States like Patiala, Kapurthala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot and smaller places like Una . In fact, with the peaceful conditions encountered by these states under the patronage of the British, indulgence in the arts and court leisure activities increased considerably. The Lahore court artists soon migrated there and evidence exists of artists reaching there directly from Delhi and even Rajasthan (the Hindu mythological paintings at Sheesh Mahal, Patiala, give it the air of a Hindu palace)

Lord Ganesha with Ridhi & Sidhi

Lord Shiva & Parvati with sons Kartikay and Ganesha.


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