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Above: detail from the golden throne of Ranjit Singh which is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England.

Daily Fix

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





I’ve been following the dialogue recently unleashed by the news report that some people in Britain are considering exhuming Duleep Singh’s remains -- which currently lie buried in a Christian grave in Elveden, Suffolk, England -- and having them shipped back to Punjab in India for Sikh last rites and cremation. 

I’m not surprised that a majority of the responses from the Sikh public around the world, including in Punjab itself, has been to let the remains be in England and not bring them to the subcontinent.

Only a few think it wise or desirable to bring them to Punjab or India.

What I am surprised by, however, is that only two options are being considered: one, to take them back to Punjab and cremate them with the necessary hoopla; and two, let him ‘rest in peace’ where he is.

I’m afraid common sense dictates that neither of these options are in the best interests of Sikhs. Why aren’t other, better, easier options being put on the table?

Surely, this is a time to think outside the box, and look at the bigger picture -- which, of course, requires calm, sober, far-sighted thought by leaders who have no political or religious agenda, only the best for the community in mind.


To begin with, the first option is a definite, unequivocal no-no. There’s not a single good argument which favours the India option.

First of all, the Sikh Empire -- which Duleep Singh’s father founded and which he inherited as his last heir -- lies in West Punjab, which is in Pakistan today. The Pakistanis have no interest in this matter any more, and Sikhs would certainly not want to consider a land which now excludes all non-Muslims.

Then, Indian Punjab is in shambles. India is corrupt to the core. And pathologically antithetic to Sikh interests.  

Moreover, India as it stands today, but Punjab as well, does not have much of a nexus to Duleep Singh’s life -- other than the fact that it is home to the majority of Sikhs in the world today, and has Amritsar.

Amritsar is currently in the strangle-hold of politicians, Sikh and non-Sikh, who have little understanding about Sikhi, little interest in Sikh heritage, and a total preoccupation with power over and plunder of the land, oblivious of the rights and aspirations of the people. They have no interest in history or Duleep Singh, and would only want this option in order to milk it for personal aggrandizement. In the process they will invariably and inevitably ride roughshod over Sikh values and interests.

Furthermore, nobody is more paranoid today over Sikh aspirations than the Indian government -- after all it knows full well all the wrongs it has inflicted on its elite community. They’ll want to control the agenda and warp it once they see that the remains of Duleep Singh are heading back to Indian Punjab. Remember, the mischief the Indians are ready, able and willing to wrought did not end with 1984. It not only continues today but, I fear, may be escalating under the current crazies.
So, what do we have to gain by choosing India … a land now increasingly alien to everything that Sikhdom stands for?

Even more significantly, India is now in the hands of the very people who facilitated the fall of the Sikh Empire. In effect, one invader of Punjab was replaced by another. Bringing the remains into the arms of yet another enemy is bound to have both Duleep Singh and his father spinning in their proverbial graves!

Hand his remains over to a people who insult and demean us by labelling us “Hindu"? After 1947 and 1984, are we going to turn to those who have repeatedly murdered our innocent sons and daughters, expecting them to now honour our dead?

Why, in heaven’s name, would we now choose one -- an uncivilized and antagonistic land -- over the other with whom we have now arrived at a civilized and amiable relationship?


There is absolutely no reason why the remains should stay in a Christian grave today.

To begin with, they are the remains of a dead person. No matter what we do, it does not affect his ’peace’ -- we are Sikhs, for heaven’s sake, and we do not subscribe to such nonsensical mumbo-jumbo or superstition. 

The only peace we are, and should be, talking about is the Sikh community’s. Duleep Singh has long moved on and found his peace. We haven’t, at least vis-à-vis his mistreatment at the hands of the British.

Therefore, let there be no doubt about it, everything we do in this matter is about our peace, not his. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we need to acknowledge that in order to stay focused. 

Duleep Singh‘s Christian conversion was a fraud and a criminal act … on the part of his captors. As a child, he was separated from not only his mother, but shortly thereafter from all family members, and then from all Sikhs. He was put under the guardianship of a couple whose sole mission was to keep the child secure as a prisoner and to convert him.

Before long, the only ‘non-Christian’ the child was allowed access to was a Hindu ‘Brahmin priest’ who became the child’s spiritual guide. Unknown to the child, the Hindu had already secretly converted to Christianity, and was obeying instructions from his masters who consisted of the guardian John Login and his wife, who then directly reported to the Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie.

The brahmin proceeded to tell the child tales from Hindu mythology, but described them mischievously as Sikh beliefs, and then taunted the child by making fun of them by juxtaposing them with Christian practices.

To make the story short, undue influence was placed on the minor until, through frustration, he asked to be converted. The trigger was when the child Duleep Singh was refused the company of his only playmate, ’Sammy’ (if I remember his name correctly, the son of a British officer in the same encampment), on the basis that he, Sammy, could not be allowed to play with non-Christians any more!

Thereafter, soon after his coerced conversion, the young boy was shipped off to England and remained a virtual prisoner of the government and confined to a life of exile within Britain for the rest of his life.

It wasn’t until he was a full-blown adult that one day he discovered details of Sikhi, the faith of his father and ancestors. It was quite by chance when he came across a book on the Sikhs in The British Library. [The precise title of the book is mentioned in his 'memoirs'.] He was bowled over by what he found out, especially the wide gap between the truth he had now discovered and what he had been told to be the Sikh Religion, by the Logins and their accomplices.

He rebelled and ultimately took Amrit -- on board a ship, where he had been stopped en route by British authorities from returning to Punjab.

Throughout his youth, he was denied a proper education. I have come across correspondence between government officials and Queen Victoria on this very issue: it is painful to see to what levels the Brits were willing to lower themselves in order to secure their empire.

Duleep Singh was refused ’permission’ to marry anyone but a Christian.

The only thing he was allowed to do was live the decadent life of British nobility -- his best and closest friend was the Prince of Wales (who later, after Duleep Singh’s death, was to succeed Victoria as King Edward VII), who himself lived a life of carefree debauchery. 
He ultimately had eight children, but none had any progeny. The government had insisted that none of them have children of their own, on the threat of having their income cut off completely if they disobeyed.

The ’income’ was part of the settlement resulting from the annexation of Punjab. The British Royal family envied and coveted the estatre Duleep Singh had acquired in Elveden, which they frequented as his guests.

Duleep Singh’s income was later cut off when he re-converted to Sikhi, ultimately leaving him destitute, hounded by debtors.

Disgusted by the mistreatment of his captors, he fled across the channel to Paris, vowing to never return to England.

By this time, he was sick and broken-hearted.

He was broke, the ‘pension’ -- the label the Brits gave to the settlement pursuant to the Treaty -- having been turned off unilaterally by the British, thus reneging on their agreements.

He was ill, I believe from poisoning. It was just dawning on him that his second wife -- who he had married after the first, Bumba Mueller, died -- was a spy planted by the Brits to keep an eye on him. They were afraid he’d escape from England, somehow get to Punjab, and lead a revolt against the Raj.

My belief, based on my own research, is that he was poisoned by her.

It was what he too was warned about his  sons, and later came to fear himself. 

[The British were adept at it. That’s how they had killed Napoleon on St Helena only a few decades earlier. And that’s how, I believe, they hastened Ranjit Singh’s death, also a few decades earlier. But this is another story for another day …]

Duleep Singh hid away in a hotel in Paris. Little did he know that a constant, around-the-clock guard of British spies had been placed outside the hotel to keep a close eye on him.

Immediately after he died -- a sick, poor, lonely, heart-broken man -- his body was snatched by the British intelligence operatives, and shipped back to England post-haste.

The Brits thought he was, like the proverbial elephant, worth more to their enemies dead than alive. They feared his funeral, if it took place in Punjab, could easily ignite a revolution.

He was hurriedly buried in Elveden where he lies today.

He is no longer a threat to Great Britain.

Today however, I fear he’ll be seen, though long dead, as a threat yet again -- this time around, by the desi cowards in India. That is, their small minds will fear that the return of his remains could arouse sentiments in Punjab.

It is, I believe, India who will not want his remains back.

Unless it is totally on their terms. Remember, they carry a lot of clout today with their bulging pockets. Therefore, if they do get their hands on the remains, they’ll want to control and distort the hoopla around it and keep a lid on it to ensure that it conforms to their own interests.

So, what other options do we have?

It’s time to think outside the box.

To Be Continued ...

July 8, 2014             

Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 09, 2014, 12:37 PM.

Well, I suppose another option would be to give him a Sikh funeral in Britain.

2: N Singh (Canada), July 09, 2014, 1:08 PM.

I believe he is buried next to his first wife Bamba Muller who gave him 6 children including Princesses Bamba and Sophia Kaur. Sophia herself was a suffragette. Also his son, Prince Edward Albert Duleep Singh is also buried by his side. I have visited the Maharaja's grave-site but it was a long time ago and I can't remember. My question is, what about his wife and son? If his body is exhumed, what about them? It is not appropriate to separate the family.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), July 09, 2014, 5:45 PM.

Very good article, but we forget again and again we shouldn't just be in Europe or the Americas as 'economic' migrants but as equals, participating at every level of society and government. And as such, we should be lobbying, pressuring, strategizing for our own promised land, a Sikh Sovereign State. Therefore, Duleep Singh and his great father need bringing to the whole world's attention.

4: Harpal Singh (Sydney, Australia), July 09, 2014, 9:04 PM.

How about giving him a Sikh funeral in Paris and building a monument there, as it was his wish to be cremated in the country where he dies?

5: Hardev Singh (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), July 10, 2014, 12:47 AM.

There was a time when visiting the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum or the Royal Geographical Society, while marveling at the vast collection of books, manuscripts, art and artifacts, in short, human history and culture, I was also incensed that so much of the material was "stolen" from other countries. Then I came to another realization. The British have excelled like no other in diligently studying, catalogueing, preserving and displaying securely and in ideal temperature conditions the collected works for the millions of visitors to their museums. Imagine if the throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was left in India. The gold would have been gradually chipped away or perhaps the whole throne would have been carted away to be never seen again. The British Imperial injustice to Maharaja Duleep Singh like so much else is a historical foot-note and his memory can be kept alive as is.

6: Narinder (New Zealand), July 10, 2014, 2:55 AM.

The author casually says "for heaven's sake" in this article to describe a frustration. But, as Sikhs, we do not aspire to the Christian 'Heaven and Hell' concept.

7: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), July 10, 2014, 5:38 AM.

Narinder ji (#6): You are absolutely correct. It is, however, now commonly used as a figure of speech which is bereft of any religious connotation. It is the English language equivalent of "Haa-e Rabba!"

8: MKS (New York City, USA ), July 10, 2014, 2:29 PM.

Every Sikh diaspora community needs to sink roots locally. And roots are sunk around an event or institution that the community comes to rally around, be it as a mourning or celebration. Maharaja Duleep Singh's life is the corner-stone of the Sikh-British experience. He is the link that bridges our lost Raj to the current struggles of Sikh-Britons and God willing the establishment of the Sikh Raj on British soil in the future. In my opinion, Duleep Singh's remains should remain in Elveden and he be given Sikh last rites. It should become the center of Sikh life in the UK. Sikhs should buy up homes around the cemetery and St Andrew & St Patrick churches. We should build a gurdwara as close as possible to where Duleep Singh is buried. Our presence should be the default image of the village and slowly we can request to take over custodianship of the cemetery and build a big memorial for Maharaja Duleep Singh.

9: TJ Singh  (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), July 11, 2014, 1:04 AM.

I agree with MKS. However, I think the British Sikh Sangat needs to go a step further as they have a duty to the Global Sikh Sangat to do so. An official apology should be sought from the Royal Family and British Government for the false Christian burial of an Amritdhari Maharaja. Secondly, a monument to the Sikh Maharaja should be erected in the form of him that I am sure many have seen a portrait of the young Prince in his teenage years. I also agree with T. Sher Singh about there being no place for the Maharaja in India but I do firmly believe the British Sikh Sangat should arrange for a formal Sikh ceremony to bless his long departed soul.

10: Harinder Singh (Punjab), July 12, 2014, 12:49 AM.

I think he should be given a befitting memorial both in Britain and in India.

11: Damandeep Singh Sandhanwalia (Amritsar, Punjab), November 06, 2014, 11:17 AM.

S. Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia was one of the people instrumental in bringing the Maharaja back into the Sikh fold and supporting his fight to wrest back the lost empire.

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

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