The Tribune - Spectrum

V. N. Datta

Mulk Raj Anand

Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon

Surjit Hans

Prithipal Singh Kapur

Shiv Kumar Gupta

Kirpal Singh

Mohinder Singh

Prabhjot Singh


The king who refused to sit on a throne
By Prabhjot Singh

AFTER the tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa, it is now time for Punjab to plan the festivities for the bicentenary celebrations of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, falling on April 12 this year. Against the lavish celebrations of the Khalsa tercentenary, the fund-starved state government has chalked out a plan to commemorate the occasion in a befitting but economical manner.

Incidentally, both the Khalsa tercentenary celebrations and the bicentenary celebrations of the coronation of Maharaja Singh have fallen during the current term of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state.

A portrait of the Maharaja With a provision of Rs 1.5 crore, the year-long celebrations will be set in motion on April 13, Baisakhi day, when the foundation stone of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Kala Bhavan will be laid at Patiala.

Besides, a portrait of the Maharaja would be unveiled, a commemorative volume would be released and a French writer, Jean-Marie Laffont, would be felicitated.

The main function would be held at Amritsar where a light and sound show on the Maharaja, fireworks' display and a horse show would be organised. Incidentally , it reminds one of the ambitious project the Punjab Government had announced on the occasion of the bicentenary celebrations of the Maharaja's birth in 198O. It had announced its plan to develop a new town called Ranjitgarh, near Phillaur. The project, however, never progressed beyond the announcement and was subsequently abandoned.

The only consolation for Phillaur has been that on March 24, this year, at the time of the last Passing Out Parade (POP) of the Punjab Police Academy that the historic fort has been named as the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Fort.


The Punjab Government now proposes to request the Union Government for a commemorative stamp on the Maharaja and also a major project to depict the life of the great Sikh ruler on the lines of the Kurukshetra panorama.

The Government also wants to put up bronze statues of the Maharaja riding a horseback in Parliament House in New Delhi, at Ropar and at the Ranjit Sagar Dam. The Punjab Government also proposes to bring to Punjab the last flag of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, currently in possession of a Scot. The flag apart, hundreds of artifacts belonging to 595 erstwhile maharajas, nawabs and rulers of various states in pre-Independence India are still in possession of the British Government.

The most precious of these artifacts is the Koh-i-noor, at present a 108-karat priceless diamond displayed at Tower of London under heavy security cover. Besides the Koh-i-noor, other items on display in the U.K are the "throne" or the chair used by the Maharaja in his durbar. Some of the artifacts belonging to Maharaja Ranjit Singh's regime have been displayed at Victoria Albert Museum, Osborne House and several other museums of Scotland and Britain.

No formal request to get back these artifacts, an inseparable component of India's heritage, has been made by the Indian Government to the British Government so far.

In fact, the British Government has been under tremendous pressure from several of the sovereign nations, which were once a part of its Imperial Empire, to return the artifacts and other valuable items of their historic interest, which the British had forcibly taken from the then rulers as a "gift" or otherwise. The demand has been supported by none other than Hillary Clinton, a US Senator and wife of the former US President Bill Clinton.

For example, the government in Greece wants its "Algin Marbles" back which have been in Britain since 1814, says Narpal Singh Shergill, a UK-based Punjabi NRI, who is also a member of the special committee constituted by the Punjab Government for the bicentenary celebrations of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Besides India and Greece, even Ethiopia , China and Italy have been pressing the British Government to return their artifacts. The World Jews Congress has been demanding 160 artifacts now displayed in various museums in Scotland.

The year 1801 was significant for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was during this year that his first son, Kharak Singh, was born to Rani Datar Kaur Nakai, alias Raj Kaur, on Phagun 12, 1857 Bikrami Samvat. The celebrations lasted full 40 days.

It was during these festivities that chiefs, notables and other prominent citizens decided to offer the title of Maharaja to him. The Baisakhi Day of 1858 Bk —April 12,1801—was fixed for the coronation.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, probably Lahore, c. 1835-40A grand durbar, attended by all the important Sikh sardars and misldars besides prominent Hindu and Muslim notables, was held for the purpose. After the performance of certain Sikh religious rites, Sardar Ranjit Singh was anointed with a tilak by Baba Sahib Singh Bedi. But he claimed no royalty for himself. For him, the Guru was the Sacha Padshah, the real king, while he himself was only a humble servant deputed for the service of the people, writes Dr Ganda Singh, maintaining that Maharaja Ranjit Singh desired that he should henceforth be addressed as the Sarkar.

After Sahib Singh Bedi daubed Ranjit Singh's forehead with saffron paste, a royal salute was fired from the fort. In the afternoon, writes Khushwant Singh in A History of the Sikhs, the young Maharaja rode on his elephant, showering gold and silver coins on jubilant subjects. In the evening, all the houses were illuminated.

Although crowned King of the Punjab, he refused to wear the emblem of royalty in his turban. He refused to sit on a throne, and continued as before to hold durbar seated cross-legged in his chair, which looked more like a bathtub than a fauteuil, or, more often received visitors in the oriental fashion, reclining on cushions on a carpet.

When he ordered new coins to be struck, these did not bear his portrait or his name but were named the Nanakshahi coins. The seal of government, likewise, bore no reference to him. The government was not a personal affair but the Sarkar Khalsaji of the people who brought it into being; the court for the same reason came to be known as the Darbar Khalsaji. The only title he preferred to be addressed was plain and simple Singh Sahib. Ranjit Singh did not want to, nor ever did, lose the common touch.

Ranjit Singh, writes Khushwant Singh, did not derive his title from either the Mughals or the Afghans; it was given to him by that mystic entity, the Panth Khalsaji.

He acknowledged no earthly superior. He was impelled by the weight of tradition that had grown up over the years, that it was the destiny of the Sikhs to rule (Raj Karega Khalsa) and that perhaps he had been chosen by the Gurus to rule.

Withal, the Maharaja was a Sikh of the Sikhs, writes Dr Ganda Singh. He ruled under the "protection of the Timeless one" — Akal Sahai. His coinage bore a legend that proclaimed that fact. It also acknowledged the realm had come to him through the ten Gurus :Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh. His army saluted him with the Sikh war-cry : Sri Wah-i-Guru Ji Ka Khalsa ! Sri Wah-i-Guru Ji Ki Fateh