Kids Corner

Above: A scene from the 1977 Seattle performance of the opera, "Le Roi de Lahore" (The King of Lahore) completed by Jules Massenet in 1877. The opera was inspired by Duleep Singh (who dabbled in writing operas) but was overly exoticized in orientalisms.

Daily Fix

Unfinished Business:
The Remains of The Last Sikh Emperor,
Maharaja Duleep Singh
Part III

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

Continued ...

 

 

PART III

I have received a barrage of emails and phone messages, both personally and through sikhchic.com, in response to the first two parts of this essay.

They constitute a range of well-thought-out suggestions covering the full gamut of positions on a variety of issues. I’ve kept track of the stance taken on some of the more crucial questions and find that there appears to be a consensus on at least a few.

Here’s a list of the most important areas covered and a rough percentage of support on each. There has by no means been unanimity on any of them, but quite surprisingly -- given how diverse a community we are and how spread-out we are in the diaspora -- there is a clear direction envisaged by the community as a whole.

My ‘poll’, however, is not scientific and claims no small margin of error. Moreover, I’ve not solicited any responses, merely jotted down notes on what I’ve received.

It appears that a majority of Sikhs around the world would like to see the following done vis-à-vis the remains of Maharaja Duleep Singh around the issues I‘ve highlighted:

a   The remains should not be taken off the British Isles. (87% of the responses I have received, directly and indirectly say so.)

b   Something should be done, but on British soil. (74%)

c   There should be no involvement of any persons, either as organizers or as dignitaries, from either Punjab (East or West) or India. (81%) 

d    The British Royal Family and Lord Iveagh should be involved in the goings-on. (76%)

e    All decision-making should be in Sikh-Briton hands. (78%)


I should add a word of extreme caution here. If the project managers given this extraordinary task are unable to adhere to all five of these wishes of the community (not just ‘most’), my advice then would be to follow Dante’s ominous words: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

That is, I would then suggest that pursuing the project will then be an utter waste of time, even counter-productive, and could cause damage and distress instead of goodwill. In such a case, it would definitely be better to leave Duleep Singh in his grave and we all go home.

*     *    *    *    *

I had promised to share with you my thoughts on what I think should be done with the remains. So, here they are.

A warning, first. If you find that the suggestions outlined hereunder are a tad too ambitious, remember that the project being attempted is on behalf of a community, not an individual, and needs to reflect that fact. When we undertake anything on behalf of the collective called Sikhdom, we owe to it far more than the best we would have for ourselves.

And … I claim no ownership in any of the following. I offer them as scattered, half-baked thoughts -- because they haven’t yet been tested by either time or debate. So, do what you will with them.


I      WHAT SHOULD BE DONE WITH THE REMAINS?

1    Sikh last-rites should be performed, on a scale befitting the stature of the last Emperor of the great empire of Ranjit Singh.

2    It should be sombre and dignified, and not turned into a gurpurab, mela, nagar kirtan, parade, public rally, or political event.

3    Other than its ceremonial segment -- which should entirely conform to Sikh maryada -- it should have no additional religious agenda, leaning or attachment.

4    It should have no political component, and strictly prevent the presence or usage of any political slogans, banners, literature, etc.

5    In addition, it should have NO speeches or lectures at any stage of the program … keeping in mind that this is a FUNERAL, no more, no less. The occasion is a solemn one, and every aspect of it must be consistent with that fact.

6    There is no need for a funeral procession.

7    The only components of the event should be, a) exhumation of the remains and transfer to the cremation site; b) Sikh last rites; c) cremation; and d) a permanent memorial marking the site.


II     EXHUMATION

Negotiations and arrangements for the exhumation of the remains from Elveden will have to be with Lord Iveagh as well as the relevant authorities, and should be done privately by the senior Sikh officials (“Sevadars”) given the responsibility for this project (hereinafter referred to as the “Funeral”).

The time, date and manner should be set keeping in mind when all of the arrangements can be expected to be completed, and the time needed to advise the community of the details of the Funeral.


III     LOCATION OF LAST RITES & CREMATION, AND OF MEMORIAL

1    A location should be chosen carefully so that it can serve as the site of the last rites and the cremation, as well as be ideal for the permanent memorial. 

2    One can expect several tens of thousands of attendees at the ceremony and cremation. Therefore, it should have ample open space and easy access from the major population centres and airports. And, of course, parking and other support facilities. Not only for the time period of the ceremony and cremation, but also on a permanent basis to accommodate visitors in the future.

3     It should also be a location conducive to the building of a grand memorial which reflects the gravitas of its immediate purpose as well as the glory of the Emperor it honours. It should be breath-taking both in its view and, later, in its design.

4     All of these criteria necessitate that the location be somewhat outside and distant from London, yet easily accessible from it via rail and road. London as the closest terminal would be ideal because it is central to the scattered Sikh-Brit concentrations in the UK, and also a good focal point for visitors from abroad. Moreover, it’ll then make an easy side-trip for those otherwise visiting England.

5    Ideally, a spot on the coast straight eastwards from London would work well, if one can locate a relatively affordable rural property overlooking the water. It should have reasonable proximity to a local community which not only welcomes the project but will also have the wherewithal to support it … and benefit from it as well economically. 

6    Of course, Elveden and neighbouring Thetford would’ve been ideal, but properties there are bound to be very expensive. And the added distance from other population centres may prove prohibitive.

7    On the other hand, if Lord Iveagh could be convinced to donate, sever and assign a few acres of land on one corner of the 22,000 + acres Eleveden Estate, which he currently owns, nothing could be better. As I’ve said earlier, Lord Iveagh is an honourable man. He is also both gracious and generous. This is not outside the realm of possibility.

  
IV     LAST RITES: CEREMONY & CREMATION

1      The ceremony should consist of an akhand paatth conducted on the location, concluded by the antim ardaas on the third day in the presence of the general congregation, followed immediately by the cremation in the immediate vicinity.

2      The akhand paatth should be done by qualified volunteers from across the diaspora who will sign up and be willing to come on their own steam. Special care must be taken to ensure that 50% of the paatthis are women, and that all constituencies of the world-wide Sikh community have an opportunity to participate in the 48-hour reading of the Guru Granth Sahib.

3     There should be no speeches. In fact, no spoken word, other than paatth and kirtan.

4     The ‘task’ of kirtan and bhog should be given to a group such as the Nishkam jatha with their role limited to this service alone. However, I would suggest the inclusion of a group such as that of Dya Singh, keeping in mind how he relates to young and old, Sikh and non-Sikh, with aplomb. 

5     The cremation itself can be conducted on the site by building a temporary facility by working closely with the authorities and conforming to all laws and regulations.


V     THE MEMORIAL

The memorial should be grand and yet simple. There is no dearth of examples in England where one can find the necessary inspiration.

There are some excellent Sikh architects in England -- I believe a couple have been written about right here on the sikhchic.com. I’m sure one or more will gladly offer his/her services.

There should be no image of Duleep Singh or any other person.

The Khanda and the Ik Oankar symbols, accompanied by appropriate quotes and historical plaques, and a grand Nishaan Sahib (the Sikh Standard) will be more than ample.

Later, a permanent exhibit and auditorium can be added on the property.

The only other suggestion I’d offer in this regard is that the selected architect(s) first make a trip to Washington, D.C., and spend some time studying the dozens of extraordinary memorials that stand around the Tidal Basin. He/she will be reminded that a memorial does not have to be like the Lincoln Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial (which indeed represent the epitome); something as simple and relatively inexpensive, such as the Vietnam Memorial, can achieve the same result.

[Before someone pounces at this, I’m not suggesting that any of these be imitated or copied. But they will inspire, even when originality is being sought.] 

If properly designed, something minimalist can make it all the more powerful … and keep the cost down.


VI    THE COST OF THE PROJECT

The whole project will require a lot of funds. But given the collective big heart that we Sikhs have and the big place we have given in it to Ranjit Singh and his memory, cost should not be an issue.

We can be innovative in a number of ways.

Here are some half-baked suggestions.

100 donors, each giving 10,000 Pounds Sterling, could be given a front seat to all the key components of the event. That would raise a million pounds.

The permanent memorial could be designed to include 12 pillars to honour the Misls -- the twelve sovereign states in the Sikh Confederacy brought together by Ranjit Singh to form the Sikh Empire -- which could be sponsored by twelve different donors. In return, each pillar could prominently boast the name of the donor … a unique opportunity to be centre-stage of history. The ‘price’? Each of the 12 could offer $500,000 (or, roughly 250,000 pounds sterling) for the unique honour. That could raise another 3 million pounds. Surely we can find a dozen such big hearts with matching pockets around the world?

There are a dozen other ideas; some will work, some won’t.

But I don’t think money will be an issue.

*      *     *     *     *

I’ll stop here.

The purpose of this exercise was to tease you into thinking outside the box. If you discard these suggestions and replace them with better and grander ones, all power to you.

Also, the devil is in the details. Which is why I began by recommending people with impeccable track records to do the job. They have a history of doing things meticulously.

Therefore, I’ve purposely not dwelled on a dozen other major areas that need to be addressed: negotiations with the authorities; public relations; diplomacy; funding; marketing; accommodation; transportation, corporate sponsors; web-site; media; printed materials; film documentaries; souvenirs; etc., etc.  Same goes with issues such as what to do with the other graves of Duleep Singh's family currently beside his in Elveden. 

The project managers will know what to do when the rubber hits the road.

A parting word, though:

Please do it right. Or, don’t do it at all.

*     *    *     *    *

Please do continue with your own ideas, thoughts, suggestions … and reaction to the above … by posting them here.


CONCLUDED
 
July 21, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Gurpal Singh (United Kingdom), July 21, 2014, 2:58 PM.

Excellent ideas but I can't help thinking that 500,000 dollars multiplied by 12 would provide considerable education or employment opportunities for Sikh youth who are suffering here in thousands from the previous recession. It would also be more than enough to provide a glossy and well written book on the Sikhs and their contribution to the UK, to every single household in the UK, something I have been thinking of lately.

2: Roshan Kaur (Connecticut., USA), July 21, 2014, 3:08 PM.

A valid point, Gurpal ji. However, we should not only be doing all that Sher Singh ji has suggested and what you have suggested, but much, much more. Every time a project is put forward, we bring forth this very argument -- that is, we point out better things that can be done with that money -- and then, we do nothing! Why not take the first project, complete it, then turn to the next, and now charged with the energy that comes with success, find new funding and do more projects. And, if I may make another point, if the Duleep Singh Funeral project is truly executed well, it can achieve many other things at the same time ... including the excellent suggestion you made.

3: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 21, 2014, 4:59 PM.

As for all mortals, if there is a beginning, then the end must come. Guru Nanak knew that his dear soul mate's end was near. He broached the question of how Mardana would like his mortal frame disposed. The following was the poignant exchange: "Mardaneya, would you like to be buried like a Muslim, or have your body consigned to the river, or cremated like a Hindu, or like a Parsi put in the well of death to be devoured by vultures?" Guru Nanak then playfully added: "Mardanaya, what if we have you entombed in marble to make you famous throughout the world? Said the enlightened Mardana: "Wah, Baba, Wah, the whole life you taught that upon death, the soul is finally released from the mortal frame. Yet, you still want to imprison me in a marble tomb?". The following morning at amrit vela, Mardana passed away. His mortal frame was consigned to the River Ravi. "The separated soul is like the broken string of the rabab which no longer vibrates and makes its sound. God unites the separated souls with Himself, awakening their destiny." [GGS:934]. You decide what merit there is in disturbing his present resting place, as if Duleep Singh's soul is waiting to be saved as a gursikh by just shifting his bones.

4: Manjeet Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 21, 2014, 8:36 PM.

# 3, Bhai Sangat Singh ji: An excellent comment. I think Sher Singh ji is under the impression that cremation is a must in Sikhism. It is not. Mata Ganga ji, mahal of Guru Arjan, mother of Guru Hargobind, died at Bakala in 1621. Her dead body was immersed in the River Beas in deference to her wishes. She wanted her body consigned to water as had been her husband's and not cremated. The remains of thousands of Sikh soldiers lying in war graves around the world is further proof that in Sikhism the body can be disposed in many ways. At GGS:378.15, we are told, "thandi tatti mitti khayee ..." (the body is consumed by water, fire or earth). We would be better off doing sewa to the living and doing naam. Such grand gestures will not bring any benefit to the Sikhs. Such events will invariably be hijacked by self-serving interests. What needs to be done is better parchaar of Sikhi in an intelligible way. Naam will then become a life force for every Sikh.

5: Dya Singh (Australia), July 21, 2014, 10:59 PM.

Sorry, Sher Singh ji. Can't agree with you in this case. That grave I believe is more important than any monument as historical evidence of a sad episode in our history. In Sikhi the rule is to dispose of the remains in a proper manner. That was done. Now to go through an exhumation for saskar will just show how superstitious we are and there is no place for that in Sikhism. Leave history alone, I say. Let us go and do kirtan at the Elveden Church instead! There are graves of Sikhs in Australia which now help to unearth Sikh historical presence in Australia, giving us a sense of belonging here as Aussie Sikhs. Our Maharajah sleeps in the bosom of a nation giving our Sikh-Britons a strong sense of belonging in the country they live in. Teach all Sikh children our history and as evidence take them on visits to his grave. There is no better and poignant reminder of our history as a grave.

6: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), July 22, 2014, 3:10 AM.

Bury, cremate, consign to water, whatever ... true, what you do is not important in Sikhi. Nor is it relevant here. Let's not go off on a tangent by meaningless distractions. Re Manjeet Singh ji's comment (@4): Naam by itself is not the life force in Sikhi. It is but one of a three-pronged approach to life. We have for too long neglected our Miri issues, and blown the horn of Piri (without practicing it either). The discussion over how to reclaim our history is about Miri. Our Gurus have warned us ... you neglect Miri and you lose your Piri. Which is exactly what we are doing today, and why we are in a bind.

7: Darshan Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 22, 2014, 3:23 AM.

The author warned us in Part I of this article that any discussion over disturbing Duleep Singh's peace or the desire to protect it is nonsense. He is dead, for God's sake. We are talking about bones. The suggestion by some to do nothing is exactly the example of dhendi kala (negative thinking) -- the opposite of chardi kala -- that we are in today. Every time an attempt is made to kick-start ourselves out of our lethargy, some of us stand up and quickly list all the other things we could be doing. Well, why aren't we already doing those 'other things'? Better parchar (#4)? What's stopping you now? This project under discussion doesn't suggest that we are to do nothing else. In fact it is meant to inspire us into getting off our butts and doing all the other things that need to be done ... the very same things we talk about ad nauseum but don't do, even though nothing is stopping us. I suggest we linger a little longer on the author's closing words on this page ... "Please do it right"! 'DO' is the operative word. What is the right way to do it, he has left it to the community. His main message, as I read it, is ... get going!

8: Kirat Kaur (Liverpool, United Kingdom), July 22, 2014, 3:26 AM.

I like the suggestions. They provide a great starting point for the project managers to mull on and then take off with whatever they decide is best. Thank you ... look forward to hearing other ideas as well.

9: Gurinder Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 22, 2014, 4:03 AM.

Re #4: One can practice Naam while building a memorial. Why does it have to be one or the other? Sikhi means doing Naam and Kirat at the same time. However, doing one and not the other is not Sikhi. Naam is not a license to be inactive. It governs all aspects of life, not replace them.

10: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 22, 2014, 5:20 AM.

Sardar T. Sher Singh's is a most welcome, imaginative and positive diversion from what, otherwise, could be a confrontation between those who wish to repatriate the Maharaja's remains and those who prefer to leave him where he is with his family. However, knowing the Sikh ground realities, I almost expected Sher Singh ji to conclude by saying, "and then I woke up!" (from a beautiful dream, of course.) Regrettably, we are a long way from reclaiming our great heritage through theo-political unity.

11: Jaimal Singh (United Kingdom), July 22, 2014, 6:33 AM.

We Sikh-Britons have a long-established and substantial presence in this wonderful country. Yet, we do not have a single institution or public structure which is a magnet to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, some place that would inspire us and inform others. T. Sher Singh's suggestion takes advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, grabs it and runs with it, dreaming big to create such a larger-than-life place. As he says, if done right, it could be that place where Sikhs and non-Sikhs could converge to learn more about Sikhs. It provides a real historical connection, and the magnitude that is a necessary ingredient to such grand visions. Let's build on what he suggests. Sure, improve on it. But let's not squander this opportunity.

12: Jessie (Montrel, Quebec, Canada), July 22, 2014, 6:41 AM.

I don't buy the 'there's no unity' moan and groan. If you are truly enlightened enough to realize that we need unity, then you're the one who controls the first step towards unity. Surrender your ego, and join the others ... on THEIR terms, not yours. There you go ... you'll have taken the first step towards unity, and started the big ball rolling. Why is it that it's always others who have to create unity and not us? It's the biggest cop-out of all!

13: Gurpal Singh (United Kingdom), July 22, 2014, 12:31 PM.

Lots of excellent suggestions. Jaimal ji, I like your idea of a magnet. Darshan ji, some of us are busy doing many of those very things! Whether it's opening Sikh schools, making exhibitions, researching State 1984 documents and so on. Although I take your point, this is achievable if we put our mind and chardi kala to it, the amount of money (which I appreciate was only a suggestion) was just something that grabbed my attention!

14: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), July 23, 2014, 8:33 AM.

Let us be clear here, no one wants to do "nothing" but it is what we do is the main question. However, I feel it should not include digging up the Maharaja's grave. That grave is our original historical monument. Another memorial was unveiled by Prince Charles. Why do we need to make another one?

15: Balkar Singh (Essex, United Kingdom), July 23, 2014, 9:02 AM.

So, let me get this straight: Since we have a Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, let's tear down all the others. Why do we need more than one, you say? Why don't you campaign to tear down all the Gandhi statues everywhere, considering we could keep one in Delhi? Let's never do anything bigger, better ... right? To answer just one of your bizarre statements, Kulwinder ji, as an example -- Duleep Singh's current Christian grave is the conqueror's monument marking its criminal acts and resulting victory over us. It is not O-U-R monument. We need to make our own memorials -- that doesn't mean that the grave marker cannot stay as a historical reminder, sans the remains.

16: Rup Singh (Canada), July 23, 2014, 10:39 AM.

@ #6 - Sher Singh: I totally agree, the separation of Miri and Piri is the root cause of most problems Sikhs face today. Can anyone help in explaining to me who this group is that wants to exhume the grave of the Maharaja? What is their track record of accomplishments and most importantly how and from whom have they received a mandate to carry this out?

17: Gurinder Singh  (Stockton, California, USA), July 23, 2014, 6:48 PM.

There was an article in the Pakistan daily, The Dawn, in 2009 declaring details about the treasury of the Lahore Darbar when the English took it from Duleep Singh in 1849. It was the richest treasury in the world. it took them one year to loot it and take all jewels to England. The Timur Ruby which was next only to the Kohinoor, was also in the Khalsa Sarkar treasury. It is worth noting that Maharaja Duleep Singh's eldest daughter Bamba had left England and settled in Lahore, considering it as her home and kingdom. She lived there for 49 years. She died in 1957 and was laid to rest in a cemetery called 'Angrezan da kabiristan'. There were precious paintings of the Lahore Darbar and those were sold to the Pakistan government by her caretaker, Karim Bakhsh. I wonder why the Sikh leaders of the new (Indian) Punjab did not support her.

18: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 23, 2014, 10:05 PM.

Digging up the Maharaja's grave does not seem like a good idea. However, to Rup Singh ji and others who would question the motives of the movers behind such initiatives, let me assure that much has been done for Sikh heritage and identity by the two sister organisations involved - Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust & Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail (try google). In this WW1 centennial and 1984 30th anniversary year, high profile Sikh initiatives to assert and promote Sikh independence and distinct identity should be expected. The British establishment is in a listening mode; more so, if the Sikh attention can be diverted from the British government's role in the 1984 invasion of Darbar Sahib and Panjab. One can see massive publicity which would be given by such projects (including the one outlined by T Sher Singh ji) to the proud Sikh heritage of an independent Sikh Kingdom and the manner in which the Sikh nation was deceived in 1849, and again a hundred years later in 1947 ... I must say that Sikhs outside UK tend to jump to ill-informed conclusions about evolving organisations and initiatives. I can therefore understand the frustration of Sikh-Indians or Sikh-Americans, etc. when we do the same! Solution? Let us share more information and make organisations more transparent and accountable as they evolve towards global initiatives.

19: Rup Singh (Canada), July 24, 2014, 3:21 PM.

@ 18 - Gurmukh Singh ji, thank you for your comments. I am not questioning the motives, I just asked how does a group or organization receive and from whom a mandate to basically carry out a task that affects past, present and future Sikh history. We have already lost a lot of Sikh heritage and treasures due to theft by enemies and mismanagement by our so-called leaders. Replacing the gold on the Darbar Sahib is one example of history lost by Sikhs themselves, that had a direct relation to the Sikh Empire.

20: Sukhdeep Singh (Stratford Upon Avon, United Kingdom), July 27, 2014, 3:45 AM.

Leave his remains be.

21: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), July 27, 2014, 6:57 AM.

My worry is that with disturbing his grave a precedent may be set and then a spate of grave-digging will follow all over the world wherever our Sikh soldiers were buried during WW1 and WW2. Including the grave of Pvt. Buckam Singh in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. I would much rather see some kind of memorial services held annually as a reminder to the community of our history in the Western hemisphere.

22: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, California, USA), July 29, 2014, 2:44 PM.

Nothing should be done with the remains, if any are in the grave. He is dead and gone, so why change anything? As far as I am concerned he is just another person whose time had come to leave this existence.

23: Ari Singh (Burgas, Bulgaria), August 02, 2014, 1:42 PM.

Fruitful discussion. I'm glad Sikhs in the West are drawing out their pens and key-boards more and more ...

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The Remains of The Last Sikh Emperor,
Maharaja Duleep Singh
Part III"









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