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Maharani of Lahores Gravestone Unveiled

12/3/2008 to 12/3/2008


MAHARANI JINDA’S GRAVE STONE TO GO ON DISPLAY

The headstone belonging to the Messalina of the Punjab Maharani Jinda Kaur unearthed some months ago will go on display at Thetford’s Ancient House Museum this week. The two foot by two foot marble stone lay untouched beneath the catacombs of the old Kensal Green Dissenters Chapel for over 140 years.

Experts are stunned that this remarkable piece of history has survived. Jinda Kaur was the wife of the one eyed ‘Lion of the Punjab’ - Maharajah Ranjit Singh, and her son was the dashing Prince Duleep Singh who was painted by the Victorian artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter.

In the mid 1840’s Jinda Kaur had given the British Government much trouble during her short reign as Regent and was removed from power and later brought to England where she died a year later.

Friends of the Cemetery, Barry Smith told of how the stone was stumbled upon by a complete accident, found under tonnes of rubble, dirt and human remains, in the disused Dissenters Chapel at London’s Kensal Green.

The find was only highlighted when a Sikh Gurmukhi script was seen on a piece of broken stone; further examination of the site recovered two more pieces of the jigsaw. The stone blackened by years of compost was then given to a local traditional grave restorer to put the pieces together and clean the marble to show its true white colour.

Historian Peter Bance, who translated the Gurmukhi Script was fascinated by its sheer existence and said ’Its amazing that a relic of the late Maharani has been discovered, as she was only in England for two years, and 6 months after her death her body was taken to India for its last rites, as cremation was illegal in Britain at the time. This is an exceptional Sikh Artefact

The story goes back to the middle of the 19th century in the Punjab, when the beautiful Jinda Kaur the daughter of the Royal Palace Kennel Keeper came to the eyes of Maharajah Ranjit Singh.

The Maharajah 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, and this marble headstone would have marked and sealed her velvet draped lead casket in the catacombs beneath the chapel, which was even remarked upon by Rudyard Kipling on his visit there.

In the spring of 1864, Duleep Singh left for India to arrange for the cremation of his mother’s body, and the headstone would have been smashed apart to remove the Maharani’s casket from behind it, for its passage to India. Barry Smith 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 catacombs in the basement of the Dissenters Chapel fell into disrepute in the early 20th century when the storing of bodies in catacombs became unfashionable and the age of glamorized Victorian mourning ceased. Peter Bance concluded ‘The fact that the Headstone was left in the catacombs by accident makes this story even more so fascinating.’

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.

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