MAHARAJA DULEEP SINGH (1838-1893), the last sovereign of the Lahore Empire, was born at Lahore on 6 September 1838, the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. On 18 September 1843, at the age of five, he was officially proclaimed Maharaja of the Punjab with his mother, Maharani Jind Kaur, as  his Regent. The country was in a state of disorder and the army had become all powerful. Though little Duleep Singh attended all the council meetings seated on the royal throne, the real authority had passed from the palace to the cantonment and the military panchayats. The English, who had been watching the happenings in the Sikh State with more than a neighbour`s interest, were looking for an opportunity to strike and penetrate into the Punjab.

Matters were brought to such a pass that war between them and the Sikhs became inevitable. Hostilities in fact broke out in December 1845. The British who emerged victorious forbore to annex the State, but occupied a rich piece of the country between the rivers Beas and Sutlej under the peace treaty concluded on 9 March 1846. More stringent terms were imposed under the Treaty of Bharoval (16 December 1846), reducing the kingdom of the Punjab to a virtual British protectorate. The Regent was pensioned off ; the British government assumed the guardianship of the young Maharaja Duleep Singh during his minority ; and a British Resident was to direct and control the entire civil and military administration of the State of Lahore with a council of ministers which was to be nominated by him.

After the second Anglo Sikh war (1848-49), the ten year old Maharaja whom, under the Treaty of Bharoval the government was committed to protect and maintain until he attained maturity, was deprived of his crown and kingdom and the Punjab was annexed to the British dominions. On 6 April 1849, soon after the annexation, the deposed Maharaja Duleep Singh was formally introduced to his new `superintendent,` Dr John Login, a native of Orkney, Scotland, who had started his Indian career as a medical officer in the Bengal army. Duleep Singh was removed from the Punjab to Fatehgarh, a small village in Farrukhabad district in the then North-West Province, where he arrived in February 1850. John Login took a great liking to the Maharaja whom he treated like his own son.

Walter Guise was named his tutor. On 8 March 1853, Duleep Singh was quietly baptized a Christian at a private ceremony at Fatehgarh. The conversion was hailed as “the first instance of the accession of an Indian prince to the communion of the Church.” On 19 April 1854, the Maharaja and his party sailed for England where they reached in May 1854. In England Maharaja Duleep Singh lived in the first instance with the Login family and was presented to Queen Victoria who took very favourably to him. In January 1861, Duleep Singh visited India, but was not permitted to come to the Punjab. He halted at Calcutta where his mother, Maharani Jind Kaur, then living in exile at Kathmandu in Nepal, met him after 13 years.

Duleep Singh took her to England where she died after about two years later on 1 August 1863. In October the same year died the Maharaja`s most sincere and devoted guardian, Dr Sir John Login, on whom he had come to depend a great deal for negotiations with the British government for the settlement of his affairs. Maharaja Duleep Singh made another trip to India in the spring of 1864, this time with his mother`s ashes which, on being disallowed by the British to proceed to the Punjab, he consigned to the River Godavari. On his way back, the Maharaja married at the British Consulate at Alexandria in Egypt, on 7 June 1864, Bamba Muller, daughter of a German merchant, Ludwig Muller, and Abysenian Egyptian mother, Sofia.

On his return to England, the Maharaja and Maharani Bamba lived for the first few years at Elveden, a sporting estate, of which the Maharaja had got possession in September 1864. Maharaja Duleep Singh and Maharani Bamba had six children, Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh, Fredrick Victor Duleep Singh, Bamba Sofia Jindan Duleep Singh, Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh, Sofia Alexandra Duleep Singh and Albert Edward Alexander Duleep Singh, born between the years 1866 and 1979. The Maharaja now lived in the extravagant style of Victorian English nobility. He loved art; he was an accomplished musician, was fond of the theatre, of hunting and of hawking. He came to be known as one of the best shots in Britain and entertained the greatest in the land, including the Prince of Wales.

Maharaja Duleep Singh claimed from the British the landswhich  belonged to the family prior to the installation of his father as king of Lahore. To prepare a detailed list of his ancestral estates, Duleep Singh sent his solicitor, Mr Talbot of Farrer and Co., to India. He also invited his brother Kunwar Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia of Raja Sansi Estate to visit him in England. Reaching London in 1884, Thakur Singh stayed with the Maharaja, then putting up at Holland Park.

Kunwar Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia of Raja Sansi daily read out from the holy Guru Granth Sahib to the Maharaja and instructed him in the tenets of the Sikh faith. Thakur Singh had brought with him a document signed by the custodians of the Sikh Takhts (the highest ecclesiastical seats) in India confirming the prophecies about Duleep Singh`s restoration to the throne of the Punjab. These prophecies, attributed to Guru Gobind Singh himself, announced in crisp, aphoristic Punjabi: “He [Duleep Singh] will drive his elephant throughout the world … Dissensions will arise at Calcutta and quarrels will be in every home. Nothing will be known for 12 years. Then will rise the Khalsa whom the people of four castes will like …. Fighting will take place near Delhi…. When Delhi remains 15 kos away, the King will cease. Duleep Singh will sit on the throne and all people will pay him homage.”

When in August 1885, Kunwar Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia of Raja Sansi returned to the Punjab, Duleep Singh gave him Rs 1,000 for distribution of karah prasad, the Sikh ritual food, at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. The Maharaja himself decided to return to his motherland and left England on 31 March 1886 to settle down quietly in Delhi. He invited Thakur Singh to meet him at Bombay and arrange for his reinitiation into Sikhism. As the government was reluctant to permit Thakur Singh to receive him, Duleep Singh wrote to the Secretary of State: As my cousin, Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia, informs me that he fears permission will not be accorded him to go to Bombay by the Liutenant Governor of Punjab, and as I particularly desire to be rebaptized into the faith of my ancestors by some relative of my own, may I therefore beg your Lordship kindly to request His Excellency by telegraph on my behalf or permit me to do so, that the Sardar be allowed to meet me on reaching India.

The news of Duleep Singh’s likely return sent a thrill of expectation across the Punjab. The overnment warily stopped him at Aden. This was the advice it had from one of its leading Sikh supporters Mahamahopadhyaya Sardar Sir Attar Singh of Bhadaur. Stung by this insult, Duleep Singh resigned his allowance and forswore fealty to the British crown. One favour he sought was that the government continue payment of pound 500 each annually to the widows, respectively, of his superintendent, Login, and Comptroller, Oliphant. On 3 June 1886, he left for Paris. But before departing from Aden, he had, on 25 May 1886, received the rites of Sikh baptism which was arranged by Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia.

The Punjab at this time was astir with rumour. Anticipation filled the air. Reports were studiously kept in circulation that Maharaja Duleep Singh would lead a Russian invasion into India and overthrow the British. A network of secret communication was established; Duleep Singh`s emissaries kept filtering into India in spite of government vigilance. The most important of them were Ghulam Rasul, a wool merchant of Amritsar, who had lived for many years in the Sudan and Egypt, and Arur Singh of village Kohali (Amritsar), a Europeanized Sikh. The Maharaja`s statements and proclamations as from “the Sovereign of the Sikh nation and Implacable Foe of the British Government” were smuggled into the country for distribution. The Kuka Sikhs who had come into clash with the government in 1872 were the most enthusiastic in pro Duleep Singh activity.

The brain behind this entire movement for furthering the cause of Duleep Singh was Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia who had implanted the seeds of rebellion in the mind of the Maharaja and who had finally persuaded him to renounce Christianity and rejoin the faith of his forefathers. From Pondicherry, where he had taken asylum to escape British authority, he masterminded the operations in behalf of Duleep Singh. To win support for him, he visited secretly the Indian princely states and the Sikh shrines. He maintained an active liaison with people in distant places through a chain of servants, dependents and relations. Major Evans Bell`s book The Annexation of the Punjab and the Maharaja Duleep Singh, exhibiting the illegality and immorality of British occupation of the Punjab, was widely circulated. Pondicherry had become the seat of Duleep Singh *s peripatetic government with Thakur Singh as his Prime Minister.

Thakur Singh hoped that his sovereign would one day land in Pondicherry. The latter had in fact written to The Tribune (3 July 1886) the following letter: Although the Indian Government succeeded in preventing me from reaching Bombay, yet they are not able to close all the roads that there are in India; for when I return I can either land at Goa or at Pondicherry … Maharaja Duleep Singh left Paris on 21 March 1887 for St. Petersburg (Russia) where he tried to seek the help of the Czar. Arur Singh who had been with Duleep Singh in Russia brought from him secret missives including a circular letter for the exking of Oudh, Holkar, Scindia and the rulers of Patiala, Nabha, Faridkot, Jind and Kapurthala.

The princes generally implicated in the cause of Duleep Singh were Raja Bikram Singh of Faridkot, Raja Hira Singh of Nabha, the Maharaja of Kashmir and Raja Moti Singh of Punchh. From Russia Duleep Singh sent to Thakur Singh Sandhawalia a seal and letter in token of his appointment to the office of Prime Minister. I appoint you my Prime Minister should Sri Satguru Ji one day replace me on the throne of the Punjab. After Thakur Singh`s sudden death on 18 August 1887, his son Gurbachan Singh was invested by Duleep Singh with the title of prime minister and in 1889 Gurbachan Singh, Narinder Singh and Gurdit Singh were adopted by Maharaja Duleep Singh as his sons. But returning from Russia to Paris, Duleep Singh had a stroke and remained bedridden for three years, the passion and grand designs of former day pathetically congealed in his \ heart.

Drained financially and destitute of friends, he died in his humble hotel room in Paris on 22 October 1893. His body was taken to Elveden, England, where it was interred beside the graves of his family. Thus was completed a life cycle drawn, as it were, to stated requirements of the tragedian, the poet, the philosopher.

References :-

  • Alexander, Michael and Sushila Anand, Queen Victoria`s Maharaja Duleep Singh 1838-93. Delhi, 1979
  • Login, Lady, 5ir John Login and Ouleep Singh. Patiala, 1970
  • Bell, Evans, The Annexation of the Punjab and the Maharaja Duleep Singh. London, 1882
  • Cunningham, Joseph Davey, A History of the Sikhs. London,1849
  • Ganda Singh, Private Correspondence Relating to the Angfo-Sikh Wars. Amritsar, 1955
  • Campbell, Christy, The Maharajah’s Box.
  • India Office Record, British Library, London.
  • Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. II. Prince ton, 1966
  • Sun, Sohan Lal, `Umdat-ut-Twankh. Lahore, 1885-89
error: Alert: Content is protected !!