Special Issue


27 June 2009
170th Anniversary
of the death of
Maharajah Ranjit Singh

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From Smouldering Embers
 1.Watercolour painting of Maharajah Duleep Singh.Copyright British Museum.Image 2 Painting of Maharajah Ranjit on his favourite horse Leili. Copyright V & A Museum

170 years ago on 27th June 1839, Maharajah Ranjit Singh would breathe his last. For the Kingdom of Punjab and his subjects it was a tragic loss that would leave a vacuum never again to be filled. It is said that even as the embers of his funeral pyre smouldered the British would start to put their final plans for conquest of this most coveted territory into action.

The following excerpt from "Empire of the Sikhs" evokes the traumatic and seminal events of 170 years ago.

"There is a moving account of Ranjit Singh's last hours by C.H. Payne. Although he had managed to recover from yet another stroke, he had lost the power of speech, ‘and a curious and interesting sight it was now to behold the fast dying monarch, his mind still alive; still by signs giving his orders; still receiving reports; and, assisted by the faithful Fakeer Azeezoodin, almost as usual attending to affairs of state. By a slight turn of his hand to the south, he would inquire the news from the British secretary; by a similar turn to the west, he would demand tidings from the invading army; and most anxious was he for intelligence from the Afghan quarter. Clearly, the Lion was still the supreme arbiter of his natural habitat'

The end came on 27 June at five in the afternoon. As the cortège made its way through the capital to the cremation ground, the grief and lamentations of the crowds left no one in any doubt as to what Ranjit Singh had meant to them. He was the personification of a ruler who had earned the respect and love of many of his subjects, not through intimidation or the arrogance of power but by earning their goodwill through his unending concern for them, in which he never faltered. Prayers were said for him by all communities; his subjects knew that at no other time had people of all religious faiths had the liberty to live their lives according to their beliefs, and their grief was truly heartfelt." Empire of the Sikhs by Patwant Singh & Jyoti Rai 2009, published by Peter Owen

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