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Spring Cleaning In Duleep Singh's Thetford






We could not have asked for any better weather.  At 26 degrees Celsius, a light wind and a warm sun, the setting was set to make old, new again.

The story of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his family is well documented and has filled many pages on over the years. Similarly, many individuals and organizations have been involved with projects related to Duleep Singh and his family, including paintings, books, statues, exhibitions and a soon-to-be-released film starring Satinder Singh Sartaj.

Although collecting artefacts and memorabilia is in a way paying tribute and preserving part of the legacy of Duleep Singh and his tragic history, we have neglected some of the existing monuments and items in their upkeep.

The gravesites and headstones of Duleep Singh and some of his family -- he had been converted to Christianity by the scheming British Raj while he was still a child -- have been showing their age and appeared somewhat neglected, despite a constant stream of visitors.

For example, Bhupinder (Peter) Singh Bance is a published author and historian on, and collector of all things Duleep Singh, and dedicated to the furthering and preserving the legacy of the last Emperor of Punjab. Only a few years ago, he assisted in rescuing the original headstone -- found in three broken pieces -- which had been used for Rani Jindan‘s rushed but temporary burial (again, by the British authorities), at the Dissenters’ Chapel in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery.

Today, thanks to a timely intervention, it sits on loan and display at the Ancient House Museum in Thetford.

Our visit to Thetford and vicinity was to prove a busy afternoon, what with events organized at three separate locations. Guests, local community members and dignitaries included the Mayor of Thetford, Councillor Robert Kynbird (whose grandfather worked on the extensive 22,000 acre grounds of Duleep Singh‘s Elveden estate).

No such project would be complete in Thetford without the Town Crier, Mike Wabe, who arrived in full regalia to initiate the day’s goings-on.

To begin with, at the Elveden Church, the grave markers of Duleep Singh, his wife, Maharani Bamba, and his son Prince Edward Duleep Singh, were covered in shimmering yellow drapes displaying Khandas. 

A proclamation by the Town Crier was followed by a welcome from the Mayor.

Then, the three headstones -- newly cleaned, polished and buffed -- were unveiled and wreaths by various guests were laid, each accompanied by a jakara.

Earlier, the guests had been allowed a glimpse of the majestic interior of the nearby Elveden Hall, the palace owned and occupied by Duleep Singh during much of his exile in England.

The next stop was Blo’ Norton Church.

On the way, we passed by the former residence of one of Duleep Singh’s daughters. At the 1000 year old church, we were greeted by the locals and pointed out the historical connections with Duleep Singh’s son, Prince Frederick Duleep Singh: a plaque honouring him; an Honor Roll featuring the local citizens who had served in WWI, including Frederick himself; a picture of a young “Prince Freddy”; a hearse carriage that was used for the casket and burial of Prince Freddy … and so on.

Similar to the graves at Eleveden, Frederick’s grave on the premises had also been buffed, and the newly-cleaned stone was also unveiled during our visit with pomp and ceremony. 

Our final stop was the Ancient House Museum in Thetford which famously houses an exhibit on Duleep Singh and his family.

These sites are important connections for us Sikhs with our tragic history vis-à-vis the fall of the Sikh Empire and the last of the great era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh … a must-see for all of us and an important destination for our children if they are to learn about and from our rich past.

For pictures of the events please visit the Facebook page of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada.

July 22, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sarvjit Singh (Millis, Massachusetts, USA), July 23, 2015, 6:43 PM.

Can Duleep Singh's remains be cremated instead of left buried in a grave? It doesn't seem appropriate for us to be celebrating our sovereign's son buried in a Christian graveyard. I don't think the present day English will care.

2: Saroop Singh Sethi (Delhi, India), July 25, 2015, 12:25 PM.

I visited the graves last year. It is baffling to understand why this cleaning was needed. The church warden showed me around and the gravestones were structurally fine. They bore the signs of ageing which is natural. Not sure who is behind this work. Restoration and bleaching are not to be confused. Would we do this to the Red Fort or to Stonehenge? It is sad to read this article.

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