Maharani Jindan Kaur
Jinda Kaur was the beautiful of the daughter of the Royal Palace Kennel Keeper, Manna Singh. She came to the attention of Maharajah Ranjit Singh who married Jinda Kaur in 1835 and in 1838 she gave birth to a son, Duleep Singh, who became the Maharajah in 1844 after the death of three successive monarchs following the death of his father Ranjit Singh in 1839.
Her fairy tale rise saw the Kennel Keepers daughter appointed as the Regent of the Punjab and became the most powerful woman in Northern India. With the provocation of War by the British East India Company in November 1845. The Maharani despatched the Sikh Army to the borders of the River Sutlej, to confront the British, who were camped on her southern border. The finale being the annexation of the entire Punjab, and the dethronement of her son Duleep Singh in 1849 after two Sikh Wars. Her infant son was made a ward of the British under the care of Army Surgeon Dr John Login, and exiled to England five years later. Jinda Kaur met a very different fate.
After the First Sikh War she had lost complete power and was imprisoned by the British. The Maharani was removed from Lahore and incarcerated in the Fort of Sheikhapura. She was later transferred to Ferozepur and after the annexation of the Punjab she was shifted to Fort Chunar but on the 18 April of that year she escaped disguised as a slave girl, and arrived at Kathmandu ten days later, under the protection of the Nepalese Government.
Here she was practical prisoner in Nepal, under its ruler Jung Bahadur, who grudged her of her every penny of the pension he said he allowed her. However all was not to end in gloom as in 1860, her son, by now an English aristocrat, sought to make contact with his mother through the resident at Kathmandu Col Ramsay, who remarked that ‘The Rani had much changed, was blind and lost much of the energy which formerly characterised her, taking apparently but little interest in what was going on.’ Jind Kaur and her son met at Spence’s Hotel, Calcutta, on the 16th January 1861, after some thirteen and half years apart. She was granted permission to come to England almost immediately.
A residence was taken up at No. 1 Lancaster Gate. Dr Login’s wife remarked on meeting Jind Kaur in 1861, ‘Jinda Kour was truly an object of commiseration when one contrasted her present with her former state…Health broken, eye sight dimmed, her once famed beauty vanished, it was hard to understand the power she had wielded through her charms, It was only when she grew interested and excited in conversation, that one caught glimpses, beneath that air of indifference and the torpor of advancing age, of that shrewd and plotting brains which had distinguished the famous ‘Messalina of the Punjab’. After a short spell at Mulgrave Castle, she was placed in the charge of an English lady at Abingdon House, Kensington. On the morning of the 1 August 1863, Maharani Jind Kaur passed away peacefully, her estate on her death valued at a mere £12,000.
Her body was temporarily housed at Kensal Green Cemetery where it lay until the spring of 1864, when Duleep Singh arranged for the body to be removed and transported to India for cremation. Her marble headstone which featured gurmukhi script and was unearthed by accident in 2006. It would have been smashed apart to remove the Maharani’s casket from behind it, for its passage to India. Barry Smith from the Friends Kensal Green Cemetery explained, ‘the broken slabs would then have been thrown to one side for later disposing, but thankfully someone forgot and they survived, because rubble was thrown on top and the marble stone was buried safely beneath it'. The headstone has since been restored and is now on display at the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life.
As for Maharani Jinda, she was eventually cremated at Nasik in Bombay where a small samadh (memorial) was built. For a number of years the Kapurthala State Authorities maintained the memorial until 1924, when her ashes were dug out and brought to Lahore by her grand-daughter, Princess Bamba Sutherland (eldest daughter of Duleep Singh) and deposited at the Samadh of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. The British later built a sewer canal over the Nasik memorial, and during the 1950’s the top of the memorial could be seen when sewer levels receded.
A memorial plaque to the Maharani was unveiled at the Kensal Green Dissenters Chapel in April 2009 by the Late Patwant Singh and is due to go on display in early 2010.