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Duleep Singh:
A Portrait

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND

 

 

 

Casualty of War: A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh’ is by renowned British artists, The Singh Twins -- Rabindra and Amrit Kaur Singh.

As the last Emperor of the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab, Duleep Singh was deposed from the throne by the British under the guise of The East India Company and exiled to Britain.

The painting was created as a response to pieces of jewellery in our collection which once belonged to Duleep Singh. Painstakingly rendered in all their details, the painting highlights their connection to one of the most important figures of British history.

Duleep Singh is depicted in all his splendour as the artists imagined him in his rightful position as Emperor of the Punjab. He wears the Sikh turban, the royal seal ring and the imperial black plume of Kingship.

He is adorned with some of the most famous jewels from the Lahore Treasury including a ruby necklace, an emerald belt and, around his left arm set between two drop-shaped diamonds, the legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond, the ultimate symbol of sovereignty and power.

The gateway and a pavilion of Lahore Fort recall the places of his childhood.

The Sutlej River in front of them is stained red with the blood of the Sikhs and other Punjabis who died resisting the latest set of invaders of Punjab, during the two Anglo-Sikh Wars.

The river marks the end of Sikh sovereignty as does the sun on the horizon, which can be seen as setting or rising, denoting the fall of the Sikh Empire and the rise of the British Raj in India.

IMPRISONMENT & EXILE

Two buildings at Fatehgarh, the place of Duleep Singh’s exile in India, are depicted. In the background there is the white bungalow of his ‘guardian‘, John Login. It still exists today, while Duleep Singh’s bungalow as well as the church in the foreground were destroyed during the Mutiny in 1857-1858.

With this detail the artists allude to the failed promises by the British to protect Duleep Singh’s interests on the subcontinent to which the quotation by Lord Dalhousie from 1848 in the top left medallion refers.

The fireworks relate to Duleep Singh’s first birthday as the deposed Maharaja in 1849.

CASUALTY OF BITISH GREED

The oblong pen case, enamelled bottle, and silver container with bird-shaped stopper are amongst Duleep Singh’s personal possessions in the collection of National Museums Scotland. Together with the square breast pendant, Duleep Singh is wearing on a pearl necklace. They were sold at an auction by his son and heir Prince Victor in 1899.

Next to them the artists chose to depict other items looted from the Sikh Treasury - the Golden Throne, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Order of Merit and the turban aigrette (kalgi) of the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh, raising the question of cultural ownership.

Maharaja Duleep Singh's personal possessions, as depicted, include:

*   Pendant of gold with rubies and glass stones: Punjab, 19th century

*   Bottle of gold, decorated with enamel in transparent green, brilliant ruby-red and dark blue: Rajasthan, 1800-1850

*   Armlet composed of a central rock crystal and ten smaller stones set in silver, the back decorated with enamel on gold: Punjab, 1800-1850.

*   Gold pendant with rubies and emeralds: Rajasthan, 1800-1850

*   One of a pair of makara-headed bracelets, gold with enamel, set with emeralds, diamonds and rubies: Rajasthan, late 18th / early 19th century

*   Ear ornaments: Gold, rock crystal, enamel, pearls, green glass: Punjab

*   Pendant of gold with rubies and glass stones: Punjab, 19th century

*   Bottle of gold, decorated with enamel in transparent green, brilliant ruby-red and dark blue: Rajasthan, 1800-1850


'BRITISH NOBLEMAN'

While still a child-prisoner on the subcontinent and removed from his mother, family and co-religionists, Duleep Singh was surreptitiously introduced to Christianity, the faith of his captors, and culture of Victorian society to become a British gentleman. The group of objects displayed on the right hand side of the Kashmir shawl in front of him refers to the different subjects in which he was trained. Although he continued to study Gurmukhi, Urdu and Persian, he also had to learn English, ‘The Boy’s Own’ among his reading.

In addition, Lady Login, his guardian’s wife, sent him a paint-box, geographical puzzles and mechanical toys (frog) from England for his amusement. In Fatehgarh he began to play the flute. It was also here that he was converted to Christianity, which is symbolised by the antiquarian book, a copy of the Bible the Governor-General of India, Earl of Dalhousie, gave Duleep Singh on his departure from India. [It was Dalhousie who had personally selected and employed Login as Duleep Singh's captor-guardian with instructions to effect his conversion to Christianity in secret ... a fact not made public for several years.]


A LIFE OF TWO CULTURES

Several elements in this painting, such as the archway under which Duleep Singh is depicted, highlight the dual cultural influences on his identity.

Despite the efforts to make him English he retained a sense of Punjabiyat throughout his life and finally re-converted to Sikhism. As a reminder of this, the artists added a Khanda, the emblem of Sikh religion, to the headstone of Duleep Singh’s grave.

It emphasises the significance of his Christian burial at Elveden Parish Church, Suffolk as a symbolic act by the British Government in its strategy to ensure that his rebellion would not challenge British rule on the subcontinent even after his death.

The standing figure of Duleep Singh in western attire is a copy of a mischievous caricature by Spy, published in ‘Vanity Fair’ in 1882. His diminished stature represents him as the ‘tamed’ English Christian gentleman, the role which the British establishment wanted him to assume.

BRITAIN’S FIRST RESIDENT SIKH

In 1993, the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust commissioned a coat of arms to mark the centenary year of his death.

As a historical figure and Britain’s first resident Sikh, Duleep Singh continues to be relevant today. His life story is inextricably tied to Anglo-Sikh history, politics and culture in the past and present, as well as the goings on on the subcontinent.

A lasting legacy of British rule in the Punjab, the Sikh homeland was torn apart as a result of the Partition of India in 1947. The map in front of Duleep Singh with a bleeding Punjab and the name of Pakistan written next to it alludes to this tragic debacle brought about by the precipitous flight by the British occupiers.

JOHN LOGIN

John Login, a surgeon in the service of the East India Company, became the warden of the deposed and imprisoned Maharaja Duleep Singh following the annexation of his kingdom by the British.

The inscription on Login’s tombstone was modified by the artists to refer to both, his role as keeper of the Lahore treasury and the feelings of grief which Duleep Singh expressed on the occasion of his death. His ambivalent relationship with Login is expressed by the shackles leading from the monument to Duleep Singh’s wrist. Login clearly took a personal interest in him. First and foremost, however, it was a service he rendered to the British Crown and for which he was made a knight.

John Login’s birthplace in Stromness, Orkney, Scotland, is referenced by the artists in the painting through the blue commemorative plaque.

 
[Based on The Singh Twins’ Artists Commentary, 2014. Edited for sikhchic.com]
February 2, 2015

 

Conversation about this article

1: Keith Hanger (London, United Kingdom), February 02, 2015, 7:14 AM.

Casualty of W-A-R? More like "Casualty of British Greed," if one reads history a little more carefully.

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A Portrait"









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