This Needs Research - V: T. SHER SINGH
Who Was Lehna Singh Majithia?
EDITOR’S PREFACE: We live at a time when all the tools are
at our disposal to do excellent research and make serious inroads into
areas of Sikh history and thought which have hitherto been neglected.
There are good men and women around the world who have dedicated their careers to Sikh Studies and have both the independence and the resources to turn their attention to important questions which remain either unanswered to date or remain vague in the fog of time.
This is the fifth in a new series on sikhchic.com wherein we will attempt to pose some of these questions which come to mind, hoping that those entrusted with the mantle of scholarship will then find them worthy of attention, if they aren‘t already being delved into.
We invite readers to share with us any questions or areas of interest which intrigues them as deserving new or continuing research, and also explain briefly why such fields should be explored.
Today’s question: “Who was Lehna Singh Majithia?”
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Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia was a Minister in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s cabinet and a close counsel to him. As well, he was considered one of the bravest of his generals.
But his best contribution was as an engineer, mathematician, astronomer, poet, litterateur. He was oft described as the Sikh court‘s “wisest man”, “the best”, “the purest”, “the most cultured”, “kind and benevolent man”, “the most enlightened”, “the best scientific brain“, “credited with many scientific experiments“. “the most honest and able administrator of the Sikh Chiefs”.
‘He was also a skilful mechanic and original inventor. He designed a mechanism resembling a clock, showing the hour, the date, the day of the week and the phases of moon and other constellations. At the request of the Maharaja, he also modified the calendar and made a name for himself among the subcontinent’s astronomers of the time.’
He studied mathematics and astronomy, in the company of Kanwar (Crown Prince) Nau Nihal Singh (grandson and heir of Ranjit Singh), under the famous Akhwand Ali Ahmad from the North-West Frontier.
Lehna Singh translated Euclid (3rd-4th century BCE Greek mathematician, ’Father of Geometry’) from Arabic into Punjabi.
He was instrumental in helping General Claude Auguste Court, the Chief Ordinance officer of the Khalsa Army to perfect the art of canon foundry in Lahore, “which reached an excellence quite equal to that of English guns.”
Yet, little is known of the man today. Because we are prone to focusing on the military exploits of our ancestors, and not their intellectual pursuits and achievements?
There may be two other reasons why this giant from Sikh history has been neglected thus … I can’t even seem to be able to get the exact dates of his birth and death, albeit it may be because I haven’t dug hard enough. But should I need to?
First, as Punjab slid into chaos after Ranjit Singh’s death, egged on by British intrigue and treachery by the Hindu Dogra brothers, Lehna fled the anarchy, lured by more intellectual pursuits in distant places, including the city of Benares.
His absence at a crucial time -- many believed his presence could have provided the much-needed leadership -- has been criticised by many as cowardly. Shah Mohammed, in his monumental epic ‘Jangnama’ which records the course of the Anglo-Sikh wars, laments the departure of this extraordinary man.
There is another possible reason for his neglect by Sikh and Punjabi historians. When Lehna Singh died, he left behind a six-year old son, Dyal Singh, who later gained fame as the founder and owner of ‘The Tribune’ (the newspaper is still based in Chandigarh today) and The Punjab National Bank (also extant).
The problem? He was lured into the Arya Samaj den and notoriously became its exponent and supporter.
We as a community are scandalous in the precipitous dropping from our memory of anyone we find the slightest reason to disapprove of … Maharaja Duleep Singh, Khushwant Singh, Dalip Singh Saund, Bhagat Singh Thind, Simon Singh, are but a few names that come to mind instantly.
True, there has been excellent work done in recent years to reverse this stupidity. I believe it is time to do the same vis-à-vis Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia.
It boggles my mind how the ignorant in our community -- and we have our fair share of them -- can latch on to one negative, even if has little to do with the man himself, but totally ignore similar facets of his story which would dazzle any other observer.
Lehna Singh’s lineage -- despite the debacle that his youngest son turned out to be -- boasts scions such as Sir Sunder Singh Majithia (a stalwart of the Singh Sabha Movement), the great industrialist Surjit Singh Majithia, the inimitable artist Amrita Shergill … if that helps any. It shouldn’t be necessary, but then …
It is time a serious study is done on the life and work of this brilliant man and his legacy brought to light.
December 22, 2016